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Holman Bible Dictionary

Keys of the Kingdom

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What Jesus entrusted to Peter in Matthew 16:19 , whose interpretation has been the subject of much debate between Catholics and non-Catholics. Any solution must consider: (1) the role of Peter as a leading apostle, (2) Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ, (3) Jesus' word play regarding the “rock” (petra) upon which He would build His church, (4) the meaning of “binding” and “loosing,” and (5) parallel references to both “keys” and the other above-mentioned terms in biblical literature. (Compare Matthew 18:18 ; John 20:23 ; Romans 9:32-33 ; Ephesians 2:19-22 ; 1 Peter 2:4-10 ; Revelation 1:18 ; Revelation 3:7-13 ). See Keys .

The phrase “keys of the kingdom” surely relates to the authority given to Peter to “bind” and “loose.” This authority was delegated to Simon Peter but should not be understood as an arbitrary or even individual authority of Peter to save or condemn. Peter is a representative of the apostles, a fact observed from his frequent role as leader and spokesman. In Ephesians 2:20 it is not Peter but simply “the apostles and prophets” who are the foundation stone, with Christ Jesus the cornerstone. Moreover, in 1 Peter 2:4-5 (which possibly reflects Peter's own interpretation of Christ's words to him) Christians themselves are “stones” built upon Christ the “living stone.”

Furthermore, the authority given to Peter/the apostles cannot be separated from the heavenly insight and confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It is the revelation given to (and confessed by) Peter that called forth our Lord's blessing. Thus, we cannot overlook the confessional/theological component of Peter's apostolic authority. Peter's authority as an apostle was based upon his divinely given confession. Paul (like Jesus, Matthew 16:23 ) certainly felt free to criticize Peter when Simon's theology/behavior warranted correction (Galatians 2:6-14 ). Moreover, the authority to “bind” and “loose,” the result of receiving “the keys of the kingdom,” is a stewardship, a delegated authority from Christ (compare Matthew 16:19 with John 20:21-23 and Revelation 1:18 ; Revelation 3:7-8 ).

Finally, the related “key” passages in Scripture suggest that it is the preaching of the gospel that has been entrusted/delegated to the apostles. Though the gospel itself is certainly to be handed on (1 Timothy 6:20 ; 2 Timothy 2:2 ; 2 Peter 1:12-16 ), Scripture nowhere suggests that the “power of the keys” was either a personal privilege or an ecclesiastical office that could be handed on by Peter or anyone else. Rather, it refers to the stewardship of the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:10-4:1 ) entrusted to those historically unique eyewitnesses who as Christ's apostles could give authoritative testimony to the salvation that is found only in Him, a hope which could be confidently offered and promised (“on earth”) as an already present gift (“in heaven”) to those who confess Him. See Apostles, Disciples; Binding and Loosing .

Robert B. Sloan

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Keys of the Kingdom'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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