Did Jesus Give Peter the Keys to Heaven?

Peter’s Keys

“And I will give unto thee [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19

There has been much confusion associated with “Peter’s keys.” Some have misunderstood the passage to mean that Christ had granted Peter exclusive right to open Heaven or to close Heaven to individuals. This is not the intent or teaching of Matthew 16:19. The LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY gives the following exposition for the Matthew 16:19 passage:

“Our Lord then promised to Peter and the other apostles ‘the keys of the kingdom.’ This meant that Peter would have the right to enter the kingdom himself, and would have general authority therein, symbolized by the possession of the keys.” The preaching of the gospel would be the means of opening the kingdom of Heaven to all believers and shutting it against unbelievers. The book of Acts shows this process at work.

Symbolism of Keys in the New Testament

“Keys” were the symbols of knowledge or the fruits of the scribal or teaching office (see Luke 11:52 where “keys” refer to knowledge). The “keys of the kingdom” refer to the Gospel of Christ. The use of those keys will build the church. Peter used the “keys” at Pentecost (Acts 2:14), at Samaria (Acts 8:14), and at the house of Cornelius the Gentile (Acts 10).

Meaning of Bind and Loose to the Jews

The expressions “shall be bound in Heaven” and “shall be loosed in Heaven” are examples in Greek [original language of the New Testament] of the periphrastic future perfect passive construction and should, therefore, be translated “shall have been bound already” and “shall have been loosed already” in Heaven. In other words, Peter’s pronouncement of “binding” or “loosing” is dependent upon what Heaven has already willed rather than upon earth’s giving direction to Heaven. (CRISWELL STUDY BIBLE, p. 1134)

A further explanation for Matthew 16:19, specifically referring to the meaning of “bind” and “loose,” is:

The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common in Jewish legal phraseology meaning “to declare forbidden or to declare allowed.” Peter and the other disciples were to continue on earth the work of Christ in preaching the gospel and declaring God’s will to men. The apostles were armed with the same authority as Christ possessed. Christ in Heaven ratifies what is done in His name and in obedience to His Word on earth.

There is also a definite reference here (Matthew 16:19) to the binding and loosing of church discipline (see Matthew 18). The apostles do not usurp Christ’s Lordship and authority over individual believers and their eternal destiny, but they do exercise the authority to discipline and, if necessary, excommunicate disobedient church members. (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. II, p. 61)

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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