A Biblically based commentary on current issues that impact you
Binding and Loosing Part 1
False Spiritual Warfare Teachings
by Bob DeWaay
"I bind you, Satan!" is uttered in thousands of prayers every day in America.
"Spiritual warfare" books that teach Christian how to "bind Satan" are hot
sellers. Not only is Satan himself subject to continual verbal "binding," but a
whole host of demons and "principalities and authorities" of the heavenly realm
are also thus assaulted. Christians who practice this form of spiritual warfare
hope to forestall calamities and sickness, convert loved ones, and turn cities,
states and even the nation to righteousness. If binding Satan will do all this,
we should put this new spiritual technology into practice.
However, if this practice is not Biblical, it may be more harmful than
helpful. Those who teach and practice "binding and loosing" as verbal warfare
against evil have several Biblical passages that they claim support the
practice. The two most prominent ones are found in the book of Matthew: Matthew
16:19 and Mat- thew 12:28,29. Matthew 16:19 states, "I will give you the keys of
the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." By
combining that thought with the Matthew 12 passage, which speaks of binding the
"strong man," they draw the conclusion that we have the authority to bind Satan,
thus making his "goods" exposed for plundering. According to many followers of
this theory, the "goods" are money, political power, people, etc. The church
supposedly, therefore, has the opportunity to take world power away from Satan
and deliver it to ourselves.
Binding and Loosing
The crucial issue is whether this is what Jesus meant by these teachings.
What did He mean by the terms "bind" and "loose?" These words were commonly used
by Jewish rabbis. New Testament scholars agree that "binding and loosing," when
used in this way, retain the basic meaning that they had in the Jewish culture
of the first century.
For example, the THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT states under the
entries for "deo" and "luo" (the Greek words for binding and loosing used in
Matthew 16:19 and elsewhere), "Jesus does not give to Peter and the other
disciples any power to enchant or to free by magic. The customary meaning of the
Rabbinic expressions is equally incontestable, namely, to declare forbidden or
permitted, and thus to impose or remove an obligation, by a doctrinal
decision."1 TDNT draws the conclusion that this is the meaning of the words as
used in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18.
A. T. Robertson, one of this century's leading Greek scholars, also comments
on Matthew 16:19: "To `bind' in rabbinical language is to forbid, to `loose' is
to permit. Peter would be like a rabbi who passes on many points. Rabbis of the
school of Hillel `loosed' many things that the school of Schammai `bound.' The
teaching of Jesus is the standard for Peter and for all preachers of Christ.
Note the future perfect indicative..., a state of completion. All this assumes,
of course, that Peter's use of the keys will be in accord with the teaching and
mind of Christ."2 Dr. Robertson's comment about the use of the future perfect
tense is important. If we were to translate the passage very literally (though
awkwardly in English), it would read "...whatever you loose on earth shall
having been loosed in heaven." This shows that the disciples were not
unilaterally to decide a matter, thus binding "heaven" to their decision. It
means that their decision, as Dr. Robertson suggests, will be in line with what
already was God's mind on the issue.
Passing on an issue of doctrine or ethics does not equal shooting a verbal
barrage at Satan or another wicked spiritual entity. It is also quite different
from "loosing" the money needed or the job wanted, as some are now prone to
We can see how Peter and the others understood Jesus' teaching on binding and
loosing by examining their actions as recorded in the Book of Acts. Acts 15
records a dispute that arose about the behavior of Gentiles who were recently
becoming part of the church. Their customs were far different from the Jews, who
then made up most of the church. Should the new Gentile converts be required to
be circumcised and to keep other requirements of the Law of Moses? After "much
debate" (Acts 15:7), Peter stood up and asked, "...why do you put God to the
test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers
nor we have been able to bear?" (Verse 10). After James agrees with Peter,
quoting Scripture as proof, they reached the decision that the Gentiles should
abstain from idols, fornication, and what is strangled. No further burden was to
be placed upon the Gentile Christians. The apostles herein exercised the power
of binding and loosing, as given by Jesus.
Did the apostles ever utter "I bind you, Satan?" Not once is such an
utterance recorded in the New Testa- ment. It is not credible to assume that
they understood Jesus' teaching as an instruction to "bind Satan" through
prayers and verbal declarations and then never followed the instructions
personally. The church of the twentieth century should not understand and
practice the teachings of Jesus differently than the church of the 1st century.
If it does, the authority of Scripture is depreciated.
Other Bible commentators also believe that "binding and loosing" find their
meaning in rabbinical usage. Concerning Matthew 16:19, William Hendriksen
states, "The very wording - note `whatever,' not `whoever' - shows that the
passage refers to things, in this case beliefs and actions, not directly to
people. Binding and loosing are rabbinical terms, meaning forbidding and
permitting."3 Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, under the
entry "de " (to bind), states, "...by a Chaldean and rabbinic idiom to forbid,
prohibit, declare illicit: Matthew 16:19; 18:18." Each source I have checked
(including several not quoted here) agrees with this interpretation of these
words. I have to wonder if those modern teachers who have popularized the
"spiritual warfare" teachings that command the saints to "bind Satan,"
supposedly based on Matthew 16:19, have carefully researched the passage. They
should at least offer some evidence that suggests that the scholars of Biblical
Greek are uniformly wrong.
The authority to bind and loose is the authority to declare what is God's
mind on a matter of doctrine or practice. This is what the early church did in
Acts 15. To "bind" is to obligate, to "loose" is to remove obligation. The
future perfect tense ("shall having been bound") shows that this authority is
only valid when used in submission to Christ's word or teaching. It does not
give the church the authority to make up new teachings later in church history.
Binding in this context has nothing to do with speaking words to Satan or
Satan's House Plundered
Let us turn to Matthew 12:28,29, which at least is addressing the issue of
Satan and demons. The verses read, "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of
God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the
strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong
man? And then he will plunder his house." Upon hearing about Jesus casting out
demons, the Pharisees, those perpetual critics of Jesus, said that He "...cast
out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons" (verse 24). The Lord first
shows the illogic of their accusations by saying that if Satan was casting out
Satan, his kingdom would not stand. He then asks about their own misguided
deliverance attempts (the Jewish historian Josephus wrote about some Jewish
exorcism practices which were quite strange).
The verses we are studying describe Jesus' own interpretation of the powerful
deliverances He had accomplished. These were done by the Spirit of God and
showed the power of the kingdom of God in the person of Christ. In Christ, there
is a confrontation with the powers of darkness, and Christ is victor! The
Pharisees should have recognized this and committed themselves to Christ, but
they were unwilling. Jesus goes on to warn them about blaspheming the Holy
Spirit (verse 31) by accusing Christ of being of the Devil.
The key verse, which some claim as support for "binding" Satan through direct
verbal assault, is verse 29. In this passage, Jesus uses a metaphor to
illustrate His own mission. A strong man controls his own house until a stronger
man comes, binds him, and plunders the house. Luke 11:21,22 record the same
illustration. Luke does not use the term "bind," but says the stronger man
"...attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on
which he had relied..." (Luke 11:22).
New Testament scholar George E. Ladd gives the following interpretation of
Jesus' words: "Satan is a strong man. His palace or house is `this present evil
age' (Gal. 1:4), and his `goods' are men and women under his evil influence.
However, he has not been left in peace to manage his affairs. A stronger, Jesus,
has assailed and overcome him."4 The deliverances in the ministry of Jesus
demonstrated Jesus' power to deliver people from the power of Satan. The
spoiling of the kingdom of darkness will go on throughout church history, though
the final victory is not complete until Christ returns in glory.
"Bind," as used here in Matthew 12, is metaphorical terminology, not a magic
word, the utterance of which will stop the activity of evil spirits. That the
Luke account does not even use the word "bind" shows this. "Bind" is incidental
to the picture of a strong man's house being plundered. Whether victory is
accomplished by binding, overpowering, disarming, etc., is not as consequential
as the fact that it is a stronger man who must do it.
The meaning is that Jesus is stronger than Satan and that the casting out of
evil spirits in His ministry proves that fact. The "goods" that are "plundered"
are people, previously held in bondage. This plundering has been going on since
the Day of Pentecost. The coming of Jesus and the "binding" of Satan liberates
the souls of people who were all of their lifetime subject to slavery (Hebrews
2:15). How is this accomplished? The Bible does not leave us in the dark. It is
not accomplished by people continually shouting "I bind you Satan" into the
Hebrews 2:14,15 declares "Since then the children share in flesh and blood,
He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render
powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver
those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives."
Victory Through The Cross
The Bible consistently ties the conquest of Satan's kingdom of darkness and
the liberation of its subjects to the Incarnation, which leads ultimately to the
cross. The stronger man is Jesus, not us. When the author of Hebrews says that
it was "through death" that Jesus would render the devil powerless to hold his
captives, he can only be referring to the cross where Christ paid for our sins.
Colossians 2:13-15 sheds further light on this: "And when you were dead in your
transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together
with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the
certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to
us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He
had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them,
having triumphed over them through Him." The margin of the NASB, as quoted here,
has a note indicating that the last "Him" could be "it, i.e., the cross." This
agrees with the original Greek. Christ triumphed over the forces of darkness
through the cross. If the "goods" of Matthew 12:29 are people held in bondage,
then the "binding" of the strong man that accomplished their release was through
We can better understand this by contemplating how it was that humanity first
came into this bondage. The book of Hebrews describes human bondage as the "fear
of death." We know that death is the penalty for sin. Satan's first lie, as
recorded in Genesis 3, was that Eve could sin and not die as God said she would.
When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, sin entered human experience for them
and all of their descendants. As Paul declares in Romans, the wages of sin is
death. Romans 5:12 explicitly says that sin and death spread to all because of
the original sin. We were born sinners by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians
2:3), in bondage to the "strong man." Spiritual death was our present reality,
and ultimate death our certain destiny, unless God did something to rescue us!
It is no wonder that the passage in Hebrews 2 calls human bondage, "The fear of
The way Christ was ultimately to "bind" the strong man and plunder his goods
was to die a substitutionary death on the cross, paying the penalty for us. Now
liberated by faith from spiritual and eternal death, we walk in victory because
of the power of God. Christ's victorious encounters with demons before the cross
were demonstrations of His Messianic mission and His power over evil. However,
they were not an end in themselves. Had Jesus not gone on to die for our sins,
the "houses" (Matthew 12:43-45) that had been "swept" clean would have remained
empty, inviting places for evil spirits to return. Those delivered from
particular spirits during the public ministry of Jesus were still spiritually
dead sinners like everyone else. They were still needing to have the penalty for
their sins to be paid, so that if they responded in faith to the gospel, they
would be born of the Spirit and their "houses" thus filled. These were delivered
from certain demons, but still needed to be transferred as individuals from the
house of Satan into the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13).
John 12:31,32 also show importance of the cross in the defeat of Satan and
the deliverance of people from his domination. These words of Jesus came during
the week immediately preceding His crucifixion. He said "Now judgment is upon
this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted
up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." The next verse tells us
explicitly that Jesus was speaking of His death on the cross. The casting out of
Satan, and the drawing of men (previously "bound" by the Evil One) to Christ is
accomplished through the cross! This confirms our interpretation of Matthew
The deliverences recorded in the Gospels were demonstrations of the power of
the kingdom of God and the Messianic mission of Christ. The liberated people
were freed from certain temporal bondage. Yet, clearly more was necessary. John
7:39 says, "But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were
to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet
glorified." The reception of the Holy Spirit is the end of spiritual death,
which was the universal human bondage. Thus the cross (through which Christ was
"glorified") is the key to the "spoiling" of Satan's power and kingdom. The
Devil has no power to hold in his house anyone who believes the gospel, because
any legal authority to do so is removed.
Notice that the previously quoted Colossians 2 passage speaks of nailing the
"certificate of debt" to the cross (verse 14). Satan's ability to keep humans in
bondage was not based on his great spiritual power, but on the legal debt we had
before God. God cannot lie, and God said that the penalty of sin is death. The
"decrees against us" of Colossians 2:14 are the things contained in the Law. The
Law of God dictated that we are cursed (Galatians 3:10) and must die. We were
spiritually dead (lacking the Holy Spirit) for this very reason. By canceling
the certificate of debt through the cross, Christ delivered us from the power of
Satan. God is proved true, and Satan a liar. The soul that sins must die; but
Christ died for us, that we might be liberated. This was how Christ "bound" the
strong man and plundered his house.
This teaching lays the basis for understanding the methods and teachings of
the apostles. The New Testament apostles did not teach or practice the binding
and loosing theories now taught in many churches. Peter, John, Paul, and the
others knew the basis and authority they had to see people liberated from the
power of Satan and translated into the household of faith. Paul describes it in
1Corinthians: "For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing
foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is
written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the
clever I will set aside." ...has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
...God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save
those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom;
but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles
foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the
power of God and the wisdom of God." (1:18,-20b,21b,22-24).
Paul was confident that a message that might seem foolish to some, the
preaching of the cross, was the means God would use to save those who would
believe. This message shows the "power" of God. There is a popular alternative
now being taught by many.
The "binding and loosing" theory contends that people will not be saved as
long as the "strong man" is still active. Because the Bible does teach that
there are "principalities and powers" in the heavenlies, some theorize that
certain evil powers rule over certain geographical territories. This may be
true, though it is not clearly taught in the Bible. No New Testament passage of
Scripture teaches us to identify or seek to manipulate "territorial
There is the incident in Daniel about "the prince of Persia," but this was
only revealed to Daniel after the angel Michael had already fought the battle
(see Daniel 10:12- 13). Daniel did not personally "bind" any principalities in
this passage. Daniel was humbling himself and praying to God, not consciously
doing "spiritual warfare." Even if there are evil "principalities" over
geographical areas, this does not prove that it is our God-given task to bind
them verbally. We are now being taught that we must do what God never instructed
us to do, and what Christ and His apostles never did. This is unacceptable no
matter how many "pop" spiritual warfare books are being sold.
God Reigns Now!
Psalm 47 declares that "God is King over all the Earth" and that "God reigns
over the nations" (verses 7,8). Psalm 103:19 says, "The Lord has established His
throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all." The book of Job
reveals that Satan needed permission from God to bring calamity upon Job. The
principalities and powers (both the good and the bad ones) in the heavenlies are
under God's authority. Rebellion and evil spiritual power are real and
dangerous, but not outside God's ultimate and final control. If Christians are
concerned about these principalities they should appeal to God who is in final
authority over them.
The false teachers described in 2 Peter 2 and Jude took it upon themselves to
rail against these and the Word of God rebukes them for it: "...those who
indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring,
self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas
angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment
against them before the Lord" (2Peter 2:10,11). This warning is repeated in Jude
8,9 where it says that Michael the archangel "... did not dare pronounce against
him [the devil] a railing judgment, but said, `The Lord rebuke you.'"
Today many Christians fearlessly overstep their bounds and go "where angels
fear to tread." Emboldened by their over-stated power and authority, they daily
do what even Michael dared not do. Satan is not disturbed by these verbal
barrages; but God is displeased with such behavior. Those who would use
extra-biblical spiritual warfare techniques to place themselves in rulership
over principalites and powers in the heavenlies are usurping God's rightful
place of authority.
Spiritual warfare teachers have been told about this problem with their
practice. The response of some has been, "Yes, but we are higher than the
angels. The angels cannot do this but we can." Besides the questionable
assertion that now we are higher than the angels (see Hebrews 2:6-9), this
response ignores the clear teachings of the 2Peter and Jude passages. Jude
clearly states that those who "revile angelic majesties" are wrong for doing so
and cites Michael as an example. "If Michael did not dare do this, even more
should you refrain from such behavior" is the logic of Jude 8-10. It is amazing
what modern teachers will do to get away from obeying the Scripture. They are
rebelling against God in their zeal to fight Satan.
Victory over Satan and his hosts is achieved through submission to God and
His Messiah, Jesus Christ. The terms of Christ's Lordship are clear in the
Bible. Only through the obedient embracing of the cross are we His disciples.
Those who enter through the door of the sheep (John 10) are true. Those who come
to Him, He delivers from the powers of darkness. The Good Shepherd always
protects His sheep from those who would rob, kill and destroy (see the Shepherd
and sheep allegory of John 10). Nevertheless, we are told by some that
evangelism will not go on successfully in certain areas until "binding and
loosing" is performed by numerous Christians. They teach that spiritual
principalities must be identified and bound for even Christians to be delivered
from Satan and his evil emissaries. Some teach that if we can get revelations
about the names of the particular evil spirits ruling the realm with which we
are concerned, this is even better (some deem it essential).
The "binding" is accomplished verbally. Preferably, large groups of
Christians are to gather frequently and, in unison, shout into the air "I bind
you spirit of (whatever) over Minneapolis," etc. There are other nuances to the
teachings and practices; but they share the common assumption that Satan must be
verbally bound for any progress to be made by the Christian church.
"Star Wars" Theology
There are many problems with these theories, not the least of which is the
obvious fact that the New Testament knows nothing of them. I call this "Star
Wars theology." Popular spiritual warfare teachers urge us to fly by
"revelation" into the heavenly realm and "duke it out" with the forces of
darkness there resident. Attempts to do this sometimes become so prevalent that
Christians unwittingly are spending more time speaking (although negatively) to
Satan and his hosts than to God. The apostles prayed to God when they got into
trouble. Please consider Acts 4:21-33. The passage is too long to quote in
entirety, but it concerns the first major persecution that broke out against the
Peter and John were "threatened" and told they could no longer teach in the
name of Jesus. When the saints heard of this, they "immediately bound the spirit
of unbelief ruling over the city." NO! They "lifted their voices to God with one
accord and said, `O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and
the sea, and all that is in them." (Acts 4:24). They quoted Scripture about the
sovereignty of God and said a prayer to God! They went on and quoted more
Scripture, "Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The
kings of the earth took their stand and the rulers were gathered together
against the Lord, and against His Christ." (4:25,26).
They further prayed about the sovereignty of God in verse 28, concerning what
was done by wicked men against Jesus, "...to do whatever Thy hand and Thy
purpose predestined to occur." Those who uttered this prayer had a different
theology than do many today. They saw the providence of God in the situation
they faced, not merely the work of principalities and powers of darkness. They
did not utter one word against any power of darkness in the heavenlies.
Evidently they had not been to the latest spiritual warfare seminar! What they
ask next in their prayer is crucial to understanding the apostolic view of
spiritual warfare. They prayed, "And now Lord, take note of their threats, and
grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou
dost extent Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name
of Thy holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4:29,30).
They prayed to God for the boldness to speak His word! Preaching the gospel
authoritatively is exactly what they did, as recorded in the rest of the Book of
Acts. God would do signs and wonders as He willed (see Hebrews 2:4). As Paul
said, "the Jews ask for signs...but we preach Christ crucified" (1Corinthians
1:22,23). Acts 4:33 tells the results of their prayer, "And with great power the
apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant
grace was upon them all." God's power changes lives morally.
1Corinthians 1:18 - "For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing
foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." This truth
needs no embellishment with extra-Biblical theories of the "Star Wars" sort.
Modern binding and loosing theories are binding and "losing" because they
mislead the saints. The time spent verbally "binding" Satan could have been
spent praying to God and preaching the gospel.
Next month we will look at Paul's ministry in Ephesus to see how he brought
the message of the gospel into this pagan, demonized city. The Holy Spirit has
placed much of the historical record of Ephesus and the church founded there in
the New Testament. This will allow us to understand spiritual warfare as
practiced by the first century apostles.
Issue 1 - April 1992
- Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Eerdmans, Vol. II, page 60.
- Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson, Baker, Vol. 1, page 134.
- The Gospel of Matthew, William Hendriksen, Baker, page 651.
- The Presence of the Future, George E. Ladd, Eerdmans, 1974 (1984 edition), page 151.
Published by Twin City Fellowship
Critical Issues Commentary
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Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995 The Lockman Foundation.
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