Wednesday, October 10

binding and loosing

A fellow missionary loaned me his copy of a fascinating Rob Bell book entitled, "Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith". I love books like this that stretch my thinking and have a way of overturning my theological cart of pat answers to everything. On the back cover is the statement, "Just because I’m a Christian and I’m trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn’t mean I’ve got it nailed. I’m contributing to the discussion." How often I have wanted to say this very thing. "We have to test everything...I thank God for anybody anywhere who is pointing people to the mysteries of God."

What follows are a few lines quoted from pages 50, 54-55.

"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." --Jesus

What [Jesus] is doing here is significant. He is giving his followers the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. He is giving them permission to say, "Hey, we think we missed it before on that verse, and we've recently come to the conclusion that this is what it actually means."

And not only is he giving them authority, but he is saying that when they do debate and discuss and pray and wrestle and then make decisions about the Bible, somehow God in heaven will be involved...

Jesus expects his followers to be engaged in the endless process of deciding what it means to actually live the Scriptures...

The Bible has to be interpreted. Decisions have to be made about what it means now, today.

The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don't is the ultimate in arrogance. To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into it and come out with a "pure" or "exact" meaning is not only untrue, but it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy.

I have heard people say their church is growing because they "just teach the Bible"...They aren't objective, and they aren't just telling people what it says. They have interpreted it and made decisions about it, and this particular... version--their version--is striking a chord with people, and so they are coming to hear more of this take on the Bible...

The Bible is always coming through the interpretation of someone. And that's because binding and loosing require awareness.

Awareness that everybody's understanding of the Bible rests on somebody's binding and loosing.


Jim said...

Speaking of new interpretations, how does he come up with this interpretation of Matthew 16? Obviously, I'm not reading the context - he probably explained before this.

But it's quite an unusual interpretation - and since he's basing all this following theology on it, I'd be curious to see what he bases it on.

Camel said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I'd love to know what you think about the whole book.
Anonymous IMB guy

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...

Be careful with relativism! When we yield on the point of absolute truth, we give room for aberrant theology.


Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


I just re-read some of Bell's statements. One of the great heresies of the late 20th century was the cultural hermeneutic.
When you give yourself permission to re-interpret Scripture based on culture, you are in real danger. Bell is advocating just that, based on his statements that you quoted. Jesus never gave us such permission. Bell's statements are dangerous. Use his book as an anchor the next time you go fishing.

GuyMuse said...

Jim, Camel, and Kevin,

Thanks to each of you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

I can't speak for the author of the book, but would share the following thoughts based on my understanding of what I have read so far...

God is infinite. He is mystery. He is deep. There are many layers of "knowing God". Once one layer is discovered it opens up a whole new layer of questioning and discovery. Once we think we have everything figured out--our definition of truth--God allows something to come along that will challenge that. He does this because He wants us to truly know Him. How deep are we willing to go and challenge our presuppositions about God in order to know him deeper?

His point of "binding and loosing" is that everything we interpret about the Bible is either us or someone else saying THIS IS THE CORRECT INTERPRETATION. It is possibly an interpretation built upon some facets of the truth, but are we so sure it is the WHOLE truth?

Having said the above, there are some mysterious things about God that we do accept as truth, without understanding the mystery: the incarnation, how God became man, born of a virgin. Yes, I accept this. But is it wrong to want to probe deeper and understand "how these things can be?" Is it wrong to want to peel back layers and try to understand why God would want to do such a thing? This is what this book is about. Going deeper. Questioning. Discovery. Wrestling with God about things we have just accepted without ever admiring all that is implied in what God has done.

Burkhalter Ministry said...

I agree there are some issues that need to be wrestled with, especially when the Scriptures are silent on an issue or "vague." for instance, one of my brothers in the Lord is getting ordained and in the council he was asked about whether or not he thought babies went to heaven when they died. My brother didn't really have an answer so my advise to him was to wrestle with the Scriptures and God b/c he will probably have to deal with it someday.

However, i must say that most of the Bible I read is pretty clear cut on issues. I think often people get caught up into interpretation too much and not obeying what they know (including myself).

By the way, I agree with the previous brother that Bell's "interpretation" of that passage is curious to say the least...I don't see that Jesus is talking about interpreting the Bible in that passage.

GuyMuse said...


Like I said in my post, it is an interesting book that seeks to stretch one's everyday assumpltions out of the box.

There are many issues that we take for granted as being the "correct" interpretation. You mention babies dying and their going to Heaven. But where did we get that idea? Somebody had to determine that was a correct Biblical interpretation by connecting the dots between several passages and coming to the conclusion that many of us hold today. That "somebody" is the one who "loosed" this for the rest of us.

Again, I am not speaking for the author, but simply trying to convey what it is he says. There is an interesting passage in Acts 15 that the author brings out; the part where "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...they are making a monumental decision in the history of Christianity and the best they can say is that it seems like it is the best decision?...they at best claim guidance from the Spirit of God, but they even hold that loosely...with their "seems" they leave room to admit...they have action to take, but also understand that God is at work as well...there is this inherent assumption that they are on a journey...and God is with them every step of the way."

All I can say it is a fascinating read. I highly urge you to get the book and read for yourself. It is one of those books that will definitely challenge your thinking.

Gary Snowden said...


I haven't read the book, and I'm not sure either that the binding/loosing statement of Jesus refers to the practice of biblical interpretation, but the general thesis that we should hold our convictions with a certain degree of tentativeness due to our own cultural biases is certainly apropos. I think a couple of the comments above reflect the discomfort that produces in us when we would prefer to trot out our pat answers to every question. I think there are clearly some non-negotiable truths that are repeatedly taught in the Scriptures that we can affirm with a great deal of confidence, but I would agree that to refuse to entertain alternative interpretations of some debated passages reveals a great deal of arrogance and not humility.

GuyMuse said...


If we knew and understood everything we would be like God. Part of knowing Him is discovering those layers of beauty, truth, wisdom, etc. If we come to the point of believing we have everything all figured out, we are inclined to set up a monument to our thoughts. These can quickly turn into idolatry.

victor said...

Guy, I really appreciate your thoughts on this book and your spirit in the comments. Velvet Elvis is one of the best books I've ever read; I'm glad other people are finding it helpful on their journey.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for stopping by. I agree with you, it is a great book. Not only a good, interesting read, but extremely encouraging if given a chance. I too highly recommend people read this book.

In Christ Alone said...

This discussion has been very interesting to me and to see how the understandings and interpretations of Bell's book strikes each of us a little differently. I enjoy your thoughts - Guy - about uncovering the layers of God and coming to understandings of Him and His mysteries and vastness and I love to look at works of the saints (discovering and wrestling) with requested revelation and by His Spirit to see where He is in the words, the ideas, the life of the work. Is this wrong? I don't have a picture that God does not want us to question or to go to that deeper place....with His counsel and direction ... it leads to His Truth, doesn't it? I am far from a scholar on the Bible but I love to hear discussion on the Word and this one has lead me to this passage. It may not relate to what y'all are saying but it enthralled me. Always going cool. Thanks to all.

1 Corinthians 2:9-11

9 But, on the contrary, as the Scripture says, What eye has not seen and ear has not heard and has not entered into the heart of man, [all that] God has prepared (made and keeps ready) for those who love Him who hold Him in affectionate reverence, promptly obeying Him and gratefully recognizing the benefits He has bestowed].

10 Yet to us God has unveiled and revealed them by and through His Spirit, for the [Holy] Spirit searches diligently, exploring and examining everything, even sounding the profound and bottomless things of God [the divine counsels and things hidden and beyond man's scrutiny].

11For what person perceives (knows and understands) what passes through a man's thoughts except the man's own spirit within him? Just so no one discerns (comes to know and comprehend) the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

In Him,

GuyMuse said...

In Christ Alone,

I think the passage you quote from 1 Corinthians is quite appropriate to this post and discussion. "Exploring and examining everything, even sounding the profound and bottomless things of God..." I find it fascinating to explore the bottomless things of God. John speaks of eternal life being to KNOW HIM. This is what eternity is about, exploring, examining, discerning, sounding, wrestling, seeking to know our Creator. The more we know, the more we know that we don't know.

Thanks for a wonderful passage of Scripture.

Jim said...

Well, I guess if the book was meant to bring on discussion, it succeeded! ;)

There is certainly a lot of agreement here. I hear everyone saying that there is a lot of mystery in God, many (an infinite number of) "layers" to explore.

I hear ...mostly... an agreement that there are some things that the Bible is clear on. That we must believe if we're to trust the Bible at all.

I still don't hear an answer to how he comes up with this interpretation of "binding and loosing". If we're going to wrestle with Scripture, it's not "open season" - for example, we can't make a passage say whatever we want. No matter how we may disagree, there are still wrong ways to interpret.

Maybe I should say "binding and loosing" refers to the fact that we should "bind" everyone who doesn't read the New Living Translation and "loose" NLT missionaries on the world! That's my interpretation. :)

And in Acts 15 - "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us"... remember, it "seemed" good to the Holy Spirit too. Does that mean the Holy Spirit wasn't sure? He was just interpreting the situation as well as He could? It sounds like they were pretty sure to me!

A time to be sure, a time to hold things more loosely... a time to hold fast and not budge, a time to let go. A time to be convinced, a time to be uncertain. A time to say "this is the Truth" and a time to say "I could be wrong". But it's always time to have grace, humility and love.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for the additional thoughts that you bring to the discussion. I agree with you that we are all probably a lot closer to one another's thoughts on these things than differences. I would encourage all reading to pick up a copy of the book. He deals with both the "binding and loosing" and the Acts 15 "seemed good to the HS" a lot better than I have.

Where this whole discussion of "binding and loosing" gets interesting is when he deals with the 66 books of the canon. How they were chosen, etc. While the Holy Spirit was definitely in charge of the process, He worked through the council and those books "bound" were not included, and those books "loosed" were included in what we have today. I better not say more, so as to not open up a larger hole in our can of worms, but it does make for interesting, challenging reading! :)