Stuff The Bible Doesn’t Say Part 4: “Binding the Devil/The Spirit of….”

If you’re on twitter, you’ve seen them.  Any play on “Stuff my Dad says”, “Stuff Nobody Says”, or even “Stuff Runners Say”.  How about “Stuff the Bible Doesn’t Say?”   Let’s be honest here, most Christians don’t spend time in the word. I’m not talking about listening to someone else tell them what it means, I mean actually reading, learning, and studying the word.  This isn’t meant as a guilt trip, but it is what it is.  Most polls show that less than 10% of professing Christians have read the entire Bible.  If you ever wondered how so much goofiness gets passed off in the name of Christianity, that would be a good place to start.  Where do the other 90% get their info from if not from the inspired/inerrant word of God?  Well, they either hear it from someone else, they make it up as they go along, or they defer to what they feel (The good old “quiver in the liver”.)   Over the next several posts, I’ll look at some of the most popular verses that simply do not say what people try to make them say.  In other words, “Stuff the Bible Doesn’t Say.”

“Sometimes the immature 
Christian suffers bitter disappointment not because 
God failed to keep His promises, but because well-meaning Christians made promises “for” God that 
God Himself never authorized.” – R.C. Sproul

I’ll warn you ahead of time, this one might get a bit bumpy.  I’ve seen so much abuse of these verses that it makes my blood boil, so I might get a bit worked up here.  With that, today’s installment:

[18] Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

18Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅσα ἐὰν δήσητεἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ὅσα ἐὰν λύσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ.

(Matthew 18:18 ESV)

Here’s how I typically run into this one;   Someone confides to a brother or sister in Christ about something they are going through (illness, heartache, misbehaving child) and the response is “I bind the enemy right now, in Jesus name!” or “I bind that spirit of alcoholism/cancer/disobedience/sadness/etc. in Jesus name!)

What a great thought! We can bind bad stuff? I mean, just completely limit it’s impact on those around us?  That’s quite a promise!

The text does say that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, right?  Who is we? Does Whatever mean anything?

As always, let’s look at context:

In Matthew 18, Jesus is speaking with his disciples about the new kingdom. In this chapter are 5 sections of scripture, each of which deal with sin and how it is viewed/dealt with.  Let’s look at each to show the clear pattern here:

First, this passage:

[18:1] At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” [2] And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them [3] and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [4] Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
[5] “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, [6] but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Sin? Causing “one of these little ones” to sin.

Treatment:  It would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and drowned in the depth of the sea.

Second text:

[7] “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! [8] And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. [9] And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Sin? Sensual (Hand/Foot/Eye)

Treatment: Better to lose a limb than be thrown into hell.

Third Text:

[10] “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. [12] What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? [13] And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. [14] So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

(Matthew 18:10-14 ESV)

Sin: Going astray

Response: He will seek out the one that went astray.

Note: The fifth text follows this same line (Sin: Unforgiveness. Treatment: Not being forgiven).  However, our focus will on this fourth text:

(Matthew 18:1-6 ESV)

[15] “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. [16] But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [18] Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [19] Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. [20] For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

(Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)

The sin here is unspecified, but it is against the apostles to whom Christ is speaking.

Treatment? They are to go to him alone and discuss the error. If the man listens, they have “gained a brother”, but if he does NOT listen, go back with witnesses. If he STILL refuses to listen, tell it to the church.  if he won’t even listen to the church, consider him as a Gentile or tax collector and deal with him accordingly.  And here we find our text.

So let me ask you. Do you see anything in that text that speaks to binding and loosing of the devil, demons, sickness or spirits? Is it what the chapter is talking about at any point?  Had you not ever heard of the practice of “binding spirits” would you have ever seen that in the plain reading of this text?

What is this verse speaking to?  Church discipline.  How Jesus was instructing his disciples to deal with people who sinned agains them and who would not turn from their sin.  You will often see people quote Matthew 16:19:

[19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
(Matthew 16:19 ESV)

This makes it easy to make that verse say nearly anything you like, because the context is not very detailed.  However, we see that this subject is laid out in much greater detail in Chapter 18, and again in John 20:23 ”

[23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:23 ESV)

At this point you might be thinking. Fine, that’s your opinion, but it’s not what I believe.  This is more than one interpretation over another; church history and greek grammar both make the “binding the devil” position untenable.

1. The greek verbs used here; δεω (to bind) and λυω (to loose) are used in a rabbinical context. As Jesus is laying out the authority of the disciples to Peter, Jesus uses rabbinical language of the day which Peter would have understood easily.  The 2 major schools of rabbinical thought were the school fo Hillel and the school of Shimmai. It was said “The school of Shimmai binds, the school of Hillel looses.”   In this context, Jesus is telling Peter that he will have authority to legislate in these affairs (as the example of the unrepentant church member shows in our text.)

2. The greek verbs of δεω (to bind) and λυω (to loose) are future perfect passives. A more accurate translation of the greek here (although not very easy to read in english) would be “What you bind on earth must be already bound in heaven and what you loose on earth must be what is already loosed in heaven.”    (This isn’t simply my opinion, it’s the only way the greek works here.  The top greek scholars all agree; William D. Mounce, A.T. Robertson, William Hendriksen, et al.)

3. So, what we have here is not an action on the part of the apostles which then bound heaven to accept it. (Can you imagine the consequences of such a thing?) What we have in this text is a prior decree from heaven which the apostles had heavenly authority to dispense.

Why does the mishandling of this text as “binding spirits in Jesus name” make me so angry?

1. It’s blasphemy. The text does NOT state this. Twisting God’s word makes me angry. It places man in authority over God, binding a sovereign God to the will of man. That’s a huge problem.

2. It is the very thing spoken of in the quote I always use:

“Sometimes the immature 
Christian suffers bitter disappointment not because 
God failed to keep His promises, but because well-meaning Christians made promises “for” God that 
God Himself never authorized.” – R.C. Sproul

You want to see Christians suffer bitter disappointment? Tell them you’ve “bound the spirit of cancer” and then watch their loved one die.  I know there is nothing academic or scholarly in what I’m about to say, but I want you to hear me clearly; This is crap, and if you’re telling people this nonsense, you need to stop it. Immediately.

Seriously, if you believe, after viewing this verse in context, that you have the ability to bind spirits, and agree with 2 or more people and anything you claim in Jesus name will happen, you need to get off of your computer and get to work.  If you’re short on ideas about where to get started with your “binding”, here’s a good start:

This is Madelyn.  She lives in this remarkable place with a couple hundred of her friends:

I’ve recently spent time with some amazing folks from St. Jude.  They would gladly close their doors tomorrow if you could, you know, go ahead and bind that “spirit of cancer”.  Here’s the address:

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
262 Danny Thomas Place
Memphis, TN  38105-3678

I’ll buy your plane ticket.  If you prefer not to fly, I’ll personally drive you there.  We can leave tonight.

Or maybe your spirit binding has a more international flair. How about this one?

I have no idea how to neatly wrap this one up. I’m angry. I’ve seen the damage that happens when Christians, even with the best of intentions, start claiming that things are “bound” only to watch people die.  It’s nonsense. It’s not in the text.  Why didn’t it stay “bound”? In the end, it’s faith in your faith rather than faith in a sovereign God who works ALL things to the council of His glory.

If you’re in the middle of a dark time right now, please take a moment to read my post on “Why Bad things happen to Good People”

This is a huge verse to a lot of people, and I’m sure I stepped on more than a few toes. Before you react, before you write the comment or send the e-mail, take a breath and open your Bible.  Read it. Carefully. Prayerfully. In context.


The Space Shuttle and American Evangelicalism

Roger Boisjoly.  Never heard of him?  He would have probably preferred it that way.  See, Mr. Boisjoly, who passed away last month, was an aerospace engineer.  Literally, a “rocket scientist”.  And by all accounts, one of the smartest guys you’d ever meet.  Why does he hold any notoriety? Why would I bring him up in a blog about Christianity?   Because Mr. Boisjoly paid a great deal of attention to something very “trivial” in the massive scope of the space program; the “O” ring.

Mr. Boisjoly had found data which indicated that in cold weather, the “O” rings, which sealed the shuttle’s multi-stage booster rockets, would stiffen and unseal.  In an internal memo, he predicted a “catastrophe of the highest order”, “involving loss of human life”.

On January 27, 1986, Boisjoly reported to his superiors that a launch during such cold weather would be too dangerous, that the seals would likely fail and “if the seals failed the shuttle would blow up.”  For hours, he argued with colleagues and managers to stop the launch.  They initially agreed, but then moved forward.

“I am appalled,” said NASA’s George Hardy, according to Boisjoly and our other source in the room. “I am appalled by your recommendation.”

Another shuttle program manager, Lawrence Mulloy, didn’t hide his disdain. “My God, Thiokol,” he said. “When do you want me to launch — next April?”

“We thought that if the seals failed the shuttle would never get off the launch pad,” Boisjoly said. So, when Challenger lifted off without incident, he and the others watching television screens were relieved.

“And when we were one minute into the launch a friend turned to me and said, ‘Oh God. We made it. We made it!'” Boisjoly continued. “Then, a few seconds later, the shuttle blew up. And we all knew exactly what happened.”

The explosion of Challenger and the deaths of its crew, including Teacher-in Space Christa McAuliffe, traumatized the nation and left Boisjoly disabled by severe headaches, steeped in depression and unable to sleep. When I visited him at his Utah home in April of 1987, he was thin, tearful and tense. He huddled in the corner of a couch, his arms tightly folded on his chest. But he was ready to speak publicly. – NPR online “Remembering Roger Boisjoly”, February 7, 2012

This sounds far too similar to discussions within American christianity today.  Those who point out departures from orthodoxy, wrong ideas about God, are painted as “nitpicky”, “divisive”, “arrogant”, or “unloving”.   In an era where more information is readily available to the church than ever, we perish due to a lack of knowledge.   We quickly brush aside the battles of councils past, completely unconcerned with accuracy.  We sacrifice precision in speech and thought on the altars of unity, growth, and relevance.  In an attempt to avoid anything dogmatic, we eschew theology altogether.. yet ironically, what we create isn’t a lack of theology, but a vacuum in which members create their own aberrant theologies.  “Deeds not Creeds” leads to wrong-headed ideas about what it is we are doing in the first place.

To draw the analogy with the space shuttle, why would you bother a new brother with something as insignificant as the “O” ring of “persons” vs. “modes” in the Trinity?  Because it matters! Because God has revealed Himself to us in His word. How, then, shall we fashion for ourselves inaccurate (at best) or false (at worst) ideas of God to worship?

As I begin this blog, it is my sincere desire to write precisely about the orthodox, historical,  Christian faith.  My heart is for those who seek to know Him more, lest we be like those who neither know, nor care about the accuracy of the faith.  For if we love our Master, we will love to know Him more, and the study of knowing God is Theology.  (Not “feeling” God, not looking inside yourself for your views of Him, rather externally to how He has revealed Himself to us through his word.) Theology matters.  Truth matters. Accuracy matters… because He matters.