Binding and Loosing/Good Eye vs. Bad Eye; (belated) Scripture Kung Fu Friday!

Catching up on some blogging today after a restful weekend.  Thought I would post what should’ve been last week Friday’s “Scripture Kung Fu Friday” post today instead.  Better late than never, correct?

The passage we’ll look at today is Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The words bind and loose in this passage may not have been the best translation into English, and as a result, this sentence is often very confusing for many Christians.  In the past, when a scholar was translating a Greek passage back which was originally idiomatic Hebrew, he typically either translates literally, ending up with something that makes no sense in English; or he risks an educated guess, ending up with something that is proper English, but has almost nothing to do with the original meaning of the Hebrew.

Probably the best example of this happening is the translation of Matthew 6:22-23, particularly in the NIV (New International Version).  Matthew 6:22-23 is translated as, “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

This is a great example of showing how confused translators can get when they don’t understand idiomatic Semitic language, particularly something that could be described as “slang.”  The words “healthy” and “unhealthy” here actually are Greek words for “Good” and “Bad.”  The NIV even notes this in the footnotes on the page and states that the words mean “Good” and “Bad.”  The translators didn’t understand the idiomatic language, and changed the words to “healthy” and “unhealthy” to attempt to have them make more sense to an English reader.

What the translators didn’t seem to know is that the phrase “Good Eye” means someone who is generous in idiomatic Hebrew, and the phrase “Bad Eye,” means someone who is stingy in idiomatic Hebrew.  The phrase “good eye” and “bad eye” for generosity (or lack thereof) are still used to this day in Jerusalem.  In Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus was teaching about the results of being generous (good eye) and not generous (bad eye).

In any case, we now know from rabbinic literature (and other ancient sources) that the words “bind” and “loose” were commonly used in the first century to describe something that was forbidden (bind) or permitted (loose).  The Mishnah is filled with rabbinic rulings on what is “loosed” (permitted) or “bound” (forbidden).

In this instance, it appears that Jesus is giving Peter the authority to make decisions regarding the life of the church.  Decisions or rulings Peter makes will have the authority of Heaven behind them.  His decisions will be upheld by God and whatever Peter forbids, Heaven would forbid; whatever Peter permitted, Heaven would permit.

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