Crossfunction: Who has the "power of the keys"?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Who has the "power of the keys"?

A question from a reader...

My quick question after reading your article “Answering objections against Peter and the Keys” is:

Why did you not mention Matthew 18:18 in your reply to ‘Jesus spoke to Peter as a representative of all believers. Therefore, Jesus gave the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" to all believers, not just Peter.’

Matthew 18:18 seems to me an evidence that the right or responsibility of using the keys, if not the keys themselves, is given to all the disciples or all those present in the group at that time.

My interest in the history of interpreting the number of the keys as “two” led to your article, which I enjoyed reading. Thanks.

Dear S,

Thank You for writing to me with Your kind words and Your question.

You asked why, in Matthew 18:18, did I not mention that this verse shows that the “right or responsibility” of the “keys” is promised to all believers, not just Peter.

To understand Matthew 18:18 we must also understood Matthew 16:18, where Jesus promises the “keys” to Peter ( The keys represent authority, and in this context they represent authority to govern the Church. In the presence of the apostles Jesus speaks directly to Peter, in the second person singular form of speech, and promises to give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, as well as the power to bind and loose.

Matthew 18:18 does not actually mention the keys. The context of this verse is set by the preceding text, especially verses 15-17, where Jesus affirms the definitive authority of “the church” in settling controversies and maintaining unity among believers. Individual believers do not have the authority to settle a matter for the whole Church, but numerous Bible passages attribute this sort of authority to the Church’s leaders: specifically, the apostles. It is in this context that Jesus says “the disciples” have the power to bind and loose. But they don’t each have this power on their own, to use as they see fit. They have it only so long as they are united to the one who holds the keys of authority: Peter. Therefore the power to bind and loose is essentially an apostolic power, but it can be exercised only in union with Peter and his successors.

Later, in John 21:15-17, in the presence of the disciples, Jesus specifically commands Peter to “Feed My lambs! …Feed My lambs! …Feed My sheep!”. This makes very clear that Jesus had singled out Peter for a unique role among his brother apostles. Peter was to be like a shepherd to the apostles and to all believers: caring for them, and guiding them. This is why Jesus gave solely to Peter and his successors the keys of authority by which they would rule the Church.

All believers share in that authority, in a subordinate way, when we unite ourselves to the spirit of Christ and maintain brotherly unity with the apostles, especially Peter and his successors.

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