printable version

Binding and Loosing
By J.R. Ensey
The current interest in spiritual warfare has prompted many questions concerning angels and demons and how they relate to men in general and Christians in particular. Some have ventured very close to the extreme. Others have drawn back from any consideration of supernatural involvement in our lives because of certain excesses. Still others are confused about what to believe. We need a clear note on the subject.

Pentecostals have always believed in utilizing God’s power to discomfit the enemy. We have seen many instances where those desiring deliverance from Satan’s grip were freed. We have seen the captives of hate, lust, alcoholism, substance addiction, homosexuality and sins of every description loosed from those bonds. We emphasize, perhaps more than any other religious group, the realities of Luke 4:18. We witness the power and authority of the gospel in the lives of our constituents weekly.

But virtually every heresy is based on some variation or perspective of truth. Any virtue taken to excess becomes a vice. This is true also when applied to the subject at hand. We believe in demonic power, but how does it operate and what are its limits? The suggestion that every event in our daily lives is staged by supernatural powers can drive one insane. It can certainly rob a Christian of his God-given peace (John 14:27; Colossians 3:15). Somewhere there is a balance, an understanding, a perspective which can keep us victorious over all the power of the enemy. If we live by scriptural principles and do not get carried away with ego-inflating philosophies, we can maintain our balance in these difficult times.

We do not want to see this Pentecostal revival movement divided, torn, and ravaged by decisive elements. To evangelize the world is our commission, and to accomplish that we will need unity, togetherness, mutual trust. We will also need a firm grip on the simplicity of the gospel, and a determination not to be moved away from the basics we know are truth to popular philosophies that are highly speculative and outside of biblical boundaries (I Timothy 1:4; Colossians 1:23).

Let’s examine one of the issues currently in the spotlight of attention—“binding” of demons and “loosing” of angels.

There are three references which are called on to support the theory that Christians have the authority to bind demon spirits and assign angels to perform certain tasks: Matthew 12:29— “Or else, how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.” Matthew 16:19— “And I will give unto thee 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 18:18— “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


Do these passages establish the doctrine of individual Christians “binding” (constricting the work of; rendering helpless) the devil? If so, why are there no examples of this being done in the Scriptures? Not one apostle or preacher either bound the devil or loosed angels in the Bible. This encourages us to believe this may be an erroneous assumption.

Let’s consider the first reference in Matthew 12:29. Jesus had just delivered a deaf and blind man who had been bound in that way by demon power. The Pharisees assumed he was casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Jesus discerned their thoughts and then explained how foolish their thinking was. “If Satan casts out Satan, how would such division enable his kingdom to stand?” He indicated that His work was accomplished by the Spirit of God (v. 28) and proved that His kingdom had come to the Jews before they anticipated it. He gave an illustration: “How could a thief enter and rob a man’s house unless he first bind the strong man (the householder himself)?” Jesus is speaking of Himself and His ministry. He would not establish a superior and victorious kingdom without first demonstrating power and authority over His adversary. He would do a redemptive work on Calvary that would set the captives free and spoil the kingdom of Satan (Luke 4:18, Ephesians 4:8).

Perhaps the real background of Matthew 12:29 and Mark 3:27 is found in Isaiah 49:24-26: “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered, for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and thy shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”

It is obvious that the “strong man” is Satan and the Stronger One is Jesus. The place or stronghold of Satan is the carnal heart of man. The attack upon the strong man comes suddenly and with surprise. The sword of the Spirit—the Word of God—is employed in the battle. This anointed Word is “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The truth (Jesus: “I am the Truth”) comes to the conscience of man, convincing him of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The truth impacts man’s heart—not in word only “but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (I Thessalonians 1:5). When receptivity is enjoined in the heart, and obedience is accomplished, the chains of bondage are burst asunder and the shackles of sin fall away. Thus freedom comes to the human soul. “He that the Son hath set free is free indeed” (John 8:36). Every soul so freed is a victory of Christ over Satan—a trophy snatched from the clutches of “the strong man.” Souls are the spoils of the battle. Every man won to God proves the power of Christ over the power of Hell. Salvation puts into the hands of Christ and at his disposal all of the talents, abilities, energies, endowments of mind, and influences formerly used in the employ of the devil. Jesus has recovered—redeemed, if you please—those things lost in the Fall. He has bought back through the struggles of His humanity, particularly by His death on Calvary, all that was lost by the original sin in the Garden. Peter’s words in I Peter 3:18, 19 are relevant here: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” Not only did Jesus recover access for us to eternal life, He “led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men...apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” Christ was totally victorious in His mission! The Stronger One had taken the spoils from the “strongman’s house”!

This is the core meaning of the illustration which Jesus used here. He was merely rebutting the accusations of the Jews who accused Him of casting out devils by the power of devils. Jesus used the allegory to point out their error. To make it say more than that is to stretch it beyond its purpose. Certainly there is no suggestion that Jesus was attempting to establish the idea that particular cities or geographical areas were “strongholds” of Satan and that Christians are to “bind” the evil spirits before attempting to evangelize and preach the gospel there.


The second reference in Matthew 16:17-19 has to do with the church. Here Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom to Simon Peter. Keys have two basic functions: one, to open doors, and second, to symbolize authority given to a steward who would administer the affairs of the master’s household. Peter used the keys to do both in the Book of Acts (Acts 2 and Acts 15). Binding and loosing were involved in both of these events. It would seem that Jesus’ words refer to binding the message of the gospel, making certain factors mandatory, and establishing the doctrinal parameters of the gospel. Peter was given the keys—the power and the privilege to unlock the door of New Testament salvation. He did this in Acts 2 when he preached the message on Pentecost and told the Jews to “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). The Gentile door to that same salvation was opened first by Peter to Cornelius, a Roman, in Caesarea (Acts 10). In both instances, he bound repentance-producing faith, water baptism and the infilling of the Holy Ghost as imperatives of the gospel. In the process, they were loosed from certain ordinances (Colossians 2:14) and out-dated requirements (Acts 15:24; Romans 4:11).

The Greek terms “shall bind” and “shall loose” are in the future perfect tense and indicate that what Peter said under the inspiration of the Spirit had come from heaven and was bound or loosed in heaven. Some versions render the phrase “shall have been bound”—showing an action terminated in the past but still having effect in the present. Peter was acting in his God-appointed capacity as a steward of the kingdom (I Peter 4:10; I Corinthians 4:1), and was therefore binding and loosing. G. Campbell Morgan makes this observation: “These phrases were perfectly familiar to the Jew...we find them in the literature of the time. They said, ’Shammai binds this, but Hillel looses,’ which simply meant Shammai makes this obligatory, but Hillel leaves it optional. Binding simply meant an authoritative declaration concerning what must be done, or what must not be done. Loosing meant permission given to men to do or not to do. It was purely and simply a Hebrew method of describing ethical authority.”

In Acts 15 the Church in conference bound certain requirements and loosed its members from others (v. 28). That conference decreed that Christians should refrain from (tasting, drinking, ingesting) blood, from eating the meat of animals which have been strangled or offered to idols, and from fornication.


In Matthew 18:15-20, the discussion centered around spiritual restoration of a brother who has sinned. It clearly demonstrates the authority of the church to “bind and loose” according to ethical standards already recognized in heaven.

In his book, “A Guide To Church Discipline,” Carl Laney agrees with Morgan: “The terms binding and loosing reflect language used by the rabbis when making decisions regarding the applications of a particular law. In making decisions, they would either impose the obligation of the law (‘bind’) or remove the obligation of the law (‘loose’). By these rabbinic declarations, certain activities were either prohibited or permitted. This terminology was also used by the rabbis in a judicial sense to declare a person free or liable to punishment. Drawing upon this Jewish background, Jesus gives to the church, represented by the disciples, the authority to ‘bind’ and ‘loose.’ The church exercises its authority to ‘bind’ when it imposes discipline upon an unrepentant sinner. The immediate context (v. 17) suggests that the ‘binding’ applies primarily to the excommunication of the sinning saint. The power to ‘bind’ and ‘loose’ is essentially the authority to administer corrective discipline in the local assembly of believers.”

A list of “works of the flesh” are submitted by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21. He ends it with “...and such like.” That left it open so additions could be made to the list. Who is authorized to interpret what “and such like” should include? Who could add to the list? The church—the body of Christ—by way of the teaching ministry. The church has authority to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). That authority evidently did not extend to include declarations that would conflict with Scripture or current revelations to those apostles who were writing the Bible. They worked in counsel with one another and in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, as with missionary appointments in Acts 13—“It seemed good to us and to the Holy Ghost....” What was bound on earth was bound in heaven.


Let the Bible interpret itself. In none of the above situations does the context indicate that Jesus is talking about constricting the operation of evil spirits or loosing (commissioning) angels to perform certain tasks. In fact, there are no Bible examples of such activity by the New Testament church. Assigning angels is an idea currently popularized by Roland Buck and publicized in the book, Angels on Assignment. Its charismatic co-authors Charles and Frances Hunter are also publishing books and videos on “How To Heal The Sick.” If we believe their spirit guides were truly angels sent from God, our theology needs a major overhaul and Galatians 1:8 requires a complete re-interpretation.

Attempting to bind evil spirits or exorcise them from geographical locations is not a worthy objective, although we would like to run the devil out of the universe. No one yet has been known to exercise that kind of authority. Paul nor Peter nor James were able to do it. Saints through the centuries were not successful, if indeed they ever attempted it. Those today who have talked and written of it have not done it. It is the stuff of novels in the vein of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. These novels are fiction, based more on vivid imagination than on biblical truth.

Satan is defeated in our lives not by our supposed power to send him whimpering to the corner, but by our skillful use of “the weapons of our warfare—faith, righteousness, truth, the Word of God, peace, and prayer (Ephesians 6:12-18; II Cor. 10:45). The devil tries to defeat us by tempting us to cast aside the faith (I Timothy 1:19), and/or commit some sin which would embarrass both the church and God. He attacks us through the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (James 2:15-17; Matthew 4:1-11). When we reject him soundly, he pulls away in defeat, only later to return to try again, perhaps taking a different approach (Matthew 4:11; James 4:7; I Peter 5:8,9). At that we go on our way, doing God’s work and will—and if the devil gets in our way, God will help us handle him in whatever manner necessary. Our job is to preach the gospel and evangelize the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), not to try to make a “ministry” out of dealing with the devil.

What has become of those who stressed these supernatural ministries to excess in their ministries? One need only to observe their lives—whether classical Pentecostals, Charismatics, or independents, Oneness or Trinitarian—to see spiritual and mental collapse, immorality, alcoholism, heresy, divorce or some other serious malady. Many ultimately leave an organized fellowship, citing a desire for more “freedom” for the operation of their “ministry.” One authored a book entitled, Imprisoned in the Brotherhood. The idea that the majority of brethren do not “understand” is common among those focusing almost exclusively on supernatural ministries. That’s not to say those who center their ministries on sensational aspects are bad people. Even sincere persons can be drawn away into deception. Heresy, misguided assumptions, and speculations open men’s lives up to more and more spiritual error, ultimately bringing defeat and moral collapse.

The spiritual graveyards are full of self-anointed “religious Rambos” who set out to blast enemy camps with imaginary bazookas. Man is no match for Satan. There is no need to boast ourselves against him. Jesus told his disciples not to rejoice so much that devils were subject to them, but that their names were written in heaven. Even Michael when contending with the devil dared not bring an abusive condemnation against him, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9).

We are not told everything about the spirit world, such as the ranks of demons, or the hierarchy of angels. Glimpses afforded us in the Scriptures (Dan. 10:13; Ezekiel 28:13-19; Luke 10:18; Jude 9) are insufficient to construct elaborate absolute doctrines upon. To do so is to risk delusion and heresy. To build a scheme of spiritual warfare based upon obscure passages has led some into deception and defeat. Paul’s concern was that Christians would not be drawn away from the “simplicity of the gospel” (II Cor. 11:3-7).

To repeat the Latter Rain errors of the 40s and 50s would be tragic indeed. Those excesses and spiritual abuses cost the Pentecostal movement many churches and believers. Deception abounded. Prophecies were given which never came to pass or were motivated by self-interests. Ditto for tongues and interpretation. Men were lifted up with pride when spiritual gifts made others view them with awe. Some viewed themselves as “little gods.” Power over people was never the motivation for the exercise of spiritual gifts. Paul said it must be love (I Corinthians 13). One would need to have seen some of the Latter Rain operators at work to realize that a “hangover” of beliefs and practices may still be observed today.

We pray that God will give us wisdom to guide us in these matters. May the word of God always be our plumbline, common sense our daily companion, and love our only motivation.
back to top