December 18 2021

There are some misunderstandings concerning Matthew 18:18 where it is says: “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Some of my earlier instruction on this verse consisted of it relating to the binding and loosing of demons. However, Yeshua never used a method to bind a demon–He simply cast them out of people. 

Matthew 18:18 is speaking of the judicial system that was set up about 1500 years before Yeshua. It was implemented during the time of Moses, and served as a pattern for a justice system centuries later. Israel had in their communities and sometimes in their synagogues a Beit Din, which is house of judgment. 

Moses was the first to establish these courts. It began as a suggestion in Exodus 18 by Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, that he appoint men, or officials, to decide certain issues that arose among the tribes of Israel. Cases that were too difficult for them decide would be sent to Moses.  

Exodus 18:25

“And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of ten. 26. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.”

Also, Numbers 11:16-17

“So the LORD said to Moses: ‘Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacles of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.’”

Seventy men were ordained, and with Moses, made the council a total of seventy-one. After Moses, Israel continued to maintain this number for their judicial system, the overseer was called a Nasi (Hebrew for prince), and took the place of Moses. This council developed into the Sanhedrin, the great court. In the Second Temple period, these seventy-one officers met on fixed occasions at the Temple (Hebrew Beit HaMikdash) in the place called the Chamber of the Hewn Stones. In this period, the council was presided over by two officials (zugot, or pair), one was the Nasi (prince) and the other Av Bet Din (father of the court). 

All villages and towns had a Beit Din. If a village consisted of less than one hundred twenty men, their Beit Din would consist of three judges that would exercise authority over civil matters. They had jurisdiction in matters of divorce, conversion of a non-Jew, fines, and the dissolving of vows, etc.

The Beit Din in larger towns or cities consisted of twenty-three appointed judges. This council was known as the Lesser Sanhedrin. They had jurisdiction over most criminal matters, including capital cases. 

Using this information will help us to see what is going on Matthew 18:15-20. 

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17.  And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18. “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

In the above, we see a hypothetical situation where a brother may sin against another, and Yeshua gives the procedural outline that follows the dictates of Torah and the legal authority established in the synagogue or community. At that time, in verse 17, there was no church established in Israel. Yeshua and His disciples either met at houses/homes, synagogues, along the Sea of Galilee, the mountain, and the Temple. There was no church. I hope this truth does not cripple anyone’s faith, but discovery of the nuggets of truth should be one of priority. The Greek word that was translated to church is the word ekklesia. The more appropriate term should be council, assembly, or the House of Judgment. It should not be church.  

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Ecclesia, Greek Ekklēsia, (“gathering of those summoned”), in ancient Greeceassembly of citizens in a city-state. Its roots lay in the Homeric agora, the meeting of the people. The Athenian Ecclesia, for which exists the most detailed record, was already functioning in Draco’s day (c. 621 BC). In the course of Solon’s codification of the law (c. 594 BC), the Ecclesia became coterminous with the body of male citizens 18 years of age or over and had final control over policy, including the right to hear appeals in the hēliaia (public court), take part in the election of archons (chief magistrates), and confer special privileges on individuals. In the Athens of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the prytaneis, a committee of the Boule (council), summoned the Ecclesia both for regular meetings, held four times in each 10th of the year, and for special sessions. Aside from confirmation of magistrates, consideration of ways and means and similar fixed procedures, the agenda was fixed by the prytaneis. Since motions had to originate in the Boule, the Ecclesia could not initiate new business. After discussion open to all members, a vote was taken, usually by show of hands, a simple majority determining the result in most cases. Assemblies of this sort existed in most Greek city-states, continuing to function throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods, though under the Roman Empire their powers gradually atrophied.

 

So, in the New Testament, ecclesia (signifying convocation) is the only single word used for church. It (ecclesia) was the name given to the governmental assembly of the city of Athens, duly convoked (called out) by proper officers and possessing all political power including even juridical functions.

 

Now, in Hebrew the word for ekklesia would be kehillah from the root kol (voice) which formally meant “to call together” or “call to an assembly”. Kehilla is a group of people with a common interest or goal (community).

This word is found in Nehemiah 5:7, “After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, ‘Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.’ So I called a great (gadol) assembly (kehillah) against them.” 

In Matthew 18, Yeshua is directing the disciples to use the ekklesia, or kehilla, the local assembly, their court of law, in matters of when a brother sins against, injures, seriously maligns, damages or otherwise harms a person. Hurt feelings were not legitimate complaints to be addressed by the appointed judges. The instruction is for the wounded party to go privately to the offender and attempt to make peace. If this should fail, then the offended is to take one or two brothers with him as witnesses. This has now become a legal procedure. The presence of the additional witness is added so that the matter can be brought to trial. 

Yeshua states in verse 17, that if the offender refuses to hear them, tell it to the kehilla, the assembly, or council. He continues: “But if he refuses even to hear the kehillah, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” If the offender did not agree with the verdict issued by the council, he would be excommunicated from that body of believers. 

The ekklesia was a civil body politic that was independent from worldly kings and governors, and was permitted to operate during the Roman occupation of Israel. It was an independent self-government under the covering of the Torah, and not a religious organization for meeting on Sunday.

Let us continue to look at Matthew 18:19,

“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.20. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

“So, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This is speaking of deciding if a particular biblical commandment was applicable to a contemporary situation. Jewish rabbis bound the law when they determined that a commandment was applicable to a specific situation, and they loosed the law when they determined that a word of scripture was not applicable under a certain specific circumstance. 

An example of this was the Apostle Paul who loosed the Law/Torah on non-Jews who were being converted to The Way. The Way was the name given to those who accepted Yeshua as their Savior. In the past for a Gentile to be converted they had to be circumcised, this would make them a citizen of Israel. However, when the apostle brought this issue to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, this law was loosed. The Jerusalem Council issued their decision that circumcision would not be necessary for the Gentiles to be considered saved. This was loosed on earth and heaven. 

Acts 15 is an excellent example of binding and loosing, that is, the way the Teachings of the Torah were applied to these issues that emerged in the mission field. In verse 19, “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God.” They had rendered a judgment, given a verdict, on the issue of circumcising the non-Jews. 

What Teachings or Laws did the Jerusalem Council determine the Gentiles to be bound under in Acts 15? 

They bound the Gentiles to certain Laws that were in effect immediately: “to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from eating blood.” The Council also gave instruction for Gentiles to attend synagogues so they would receive the Teachings of Torah: “Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” Verse 20-21.

Finally, the last two verses in Matthew 18,

19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Many want to apply this verse to their prayer meetings, that simply agreeing on a certain request, they can force God’s hand (manipulate Him) to move in the direction they desire. But these verses must be interpreted in the light of a legal courtroom setting where two judges agree on a particular matter, and according to Yeshua, will also be honored by His Father. 

The Jewish concept is that verdicts should be given in accordance to the Torah. There is also in the Jewish mind that God’s presence, His Shekhinah (Divine presence) dwells with those who read and study His Teachings. One of the best-known expressions of this idea is found in Mishnah tractate Avot (3:2), which reads, “But two who are sitting together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, the Divine Presence [Shekinah] rests with them.” Another is found in the Talmud Berachot 6, “When three sit as judges, the Shekinah is with them.” Of course, His presence is among those who honor Him in righteousness and justice. 

The passage in Numbers 11:25, speaking of the seventy: “Then the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders.”

For the shekinah to rest upon the judges for righteous verdicts, these judges had to meet certain criteria, Deuteronomy 16:18-20,

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. 19. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. 20. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”

With Matthew 18:19-20, “where two or three come together,” two is sufficient for a verdict, three would be unanimous. A proper sense of verses 19 and 20 can be read in the following Talmudic extracts: 

A judge who gives an honest judgment cause the Shekinah (the Divine Presence) to dwell in Israel, as it is written: “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the [judges].” And he who does not give honest judgments causes the Shekinah to depart from Israel, as it is written: “’Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,’” says the LORD. Sanhedrin 7a quoting Psalm 82:1 and 12:5 respectively.

How do you know that if three are sitting as beit din the Shekinah (the Divine Presence) is with them? For it is said: “He gives judgment among the [judges].” Berakot 6a

God’s presence on the beit din lends divine authority to the decisions reached by the judges. Yeshua is speaking in the same sense. When the disciples make legal decisions by a majority vote (where two come together) or by unanimous vote (where three come together), He is endorsing their verdict. First Fruits of Zion, D.T. Lancaster, Gospel of Matthew, the Vayishlach portion. 

Additional notes: 

Yeshua is giving them permission to set up their own judicial system, and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is the proof of it. 

It should be noted that it was very uncommon for the death penalty to be administered by the Lessor or Greater Court. The sages in the Talmud state that any court that would execute as often as once every 7 years—or, according to an alternative tradition, 70 years—was considered “murderous.”  Makot 7A.

When Israel came into their land, the numerical basis of thousands, hundreds, fifties and rulers of ten was then allocated to officers on a more local level with judges being established in every town of the tribes.

Deuteronomy 16:18

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment.” 

Yeshua loosed the Law of Sabbath, that is, to do good on Sabbath. Matthew 12:12 and Mark 3:4. Also, Yeshua healed people on the Sabbath as a visual of His millennial reign. There will be no sickness, or disease during that time. 

 

Ecclesia | ancient Greek assembly | Britannica

The Beit Din (jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

Beit Dins and Sanhedrin | My Jewish Learning

What Is a Beit Din? – Questions & Answers (chabad.org)