In the Pirates of the Caribbean movie Jack Sparrow (one of the main characters) asks his crew: “What do the keys do?”. He gets back a very simple answer he was not looking for – “the keys open things?”

In Matthew 16:19, Yeshua tells his disciple Peter that he will be given the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  They would enable him to “bind” (or forbid) and “loose” (or permit) things on earth and it would be done in heaven as well.

“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.” (Matt. 16:19 NIV)

Behind the Judeo-Greek text is a Hebrew concept of the מַפְתְּחוֹת מַלְכוּת הַשָׁמָיִם (maftechot malchut hashamaim) – “keys of the kingdom of heaven”. What do these keys do? In this case “a key” מַפְתֵּחַ (mafteach) is a tool that opens the door into God’s domain. In Hebrew פֶּתַח (petach) is “an opening”. In Mishna, פְּתִיחָה (peticha) is “an introduction” (also an opening of something that follows). Both words come from the verb “to open” פָּתַח (patach). For contrast, the Hebrew verb “to close” is סָגַר (sagar) and to “lock” or “fasten” is נָעַל (naal). Neither word is related to the idea of a key in Hebrew, because the primary purpose of “a key” מַפְתֵּחַ (mafteach) is not to lock, but “to open” פָּתַח (patach).

Apostle Peter (whether on his own or as a chief representative of the twelve) has the power of the keys, but those keys are not used to “lock up” Heaven, but to open it.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Senior unable to afford Classes online Thank you for the Brief explanation today on Keys given to Peter.

  2. Peter did indeed open the Gates or ‘Doors of Heaven’ to the world – To the Jew in Acts 2, when 3000 Jewish men were converted, then in Acts 8 when Peter went to the Samaritans – who had been taught by Phillip, yet needed Peter to usher the Holy Spirit in their midst. Acts 10 finishes the “loosing” with the opening of the Door to the Gentiles with the conversion of Cornelius and his Holy Spirit baptism. Peter, given the Keyes by Jesus, opens the door to the Jew, the Gentile and the Samaritan.

  3. Prof, you say Mafteach is tool that opens a door into God’s domain. Paul teaches to pray by the spirit and to pray with the mind. When the Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire on the disciples, they underwent a metamorphosis. They became bold and the Word became life to them. Peter was the one who got up and boldly spoke of things he clearly didn’t understand prior to that. God’s domain which you mention is a spiritual domain. Only by the spirit can it be revealed. I believe the keys to the kingdom is the Holy Spirit.

    • A very insightful observation! Yeshua said these things to Peter at the moment of his confession that he is the Messiah, the son of God. And he added that the Spirit of God clearly revealed this to him. So Peter already had some dose of God’s Spirit in his life.

  4. It sounds strange that both something forbidden and something permissible in a legal sense would open heaven. Is the rock in Matt 16:18 Jesus? If so binding and loosing would not be the revelation of Christ, but the promise of Christ to complete what He has begun in us. (Phil 1:6). “We” (law-free) didn’t have vocab words for legal stuff, but Jesus didn’t care so I call it building fences around the Torah or the second death NOT. It was quite shocking to respond to Law in a law-free doctrine.

    • Actually, the act of forbidding and allowing things (legislating) comes as a result of successfully accessing the heavenly council by using those keys. Keys open understanding and wisdom to guide the community.

  5. English senior. Loving the emailed lessons, Bible teaching is in short supply in church so these are valuable lessons, Thank you

  6. When a christain cannot speak in tongues does it mean he hasn’t the holy spirit or must all christains speak in tongues

    • That is a question for your spiritual leader. I was under the impression that there are many spiritual gifts in the NT teaching.

  7. I am fascinated by your explanations. We, my wife and me, find ourselfs in the prayer movement and co-ordinate the Children’s Prayer Network in South Africa, (CPNSA ).My question to you, spiritual gifts as we find them in the New Testament, are there a correlation between them and the gifts you find in intercessory prayer?

  8. I was wondering what you teach about the fourth commandment—that is “remember the Sabbath day” that was established on that original seventh day after His creation of this world in six days (Gen. 2:1-3).? Thanks for your answer, Chuck Starnes

  9. What are your thoughts regarding the keys as the symbol of the authority over the house of David by his master of the house, as in Isaiah 22:20-22? “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” It seems that the key applies both to opening and shutting, locking and unlocking.

    • That is a great question and a very nice reference. I have to think about this a bit more, but my experience tells me we fail to understand the mechanics and this misinterprets the language. Take what is called an “English Lock” colloquially. It shuts and latches the door automatically and there is no deliberate “locking” action required. So the key is used to merely unlock, but the locking action is automated.

  10. Could you please advise me if the keeping of the Passover and other ceremonies recorded in the Bible are still binding on Christias.

  11. I did a study on binding and loosing in 1997ish. I understand the idea of the key opening. I looked into my limited knowledge of Strongs concordance extensively on binding and loosing. If I understand correctly there is a positive and negative side of binding. (More)

  12. The positive side is binding our will to the will of God. That’s biblical. (Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). We are to have the mind of Christ. So I bind my mind to His mind in prayer. It really helps. (More)

  13. It helps because I’m praying The Word over myself. And Our Creator watches over his word to preform it. That’s just a smidgen ive discovered.

    • Yes, you are right. I bind God’s words to my body (as Jewish tradition teaches) and commandment implies – Deut 6:8.

    • We are glad that you are finding our articles enlightening. You’ve already started your path into Scripture, but there’s so much more that awaits you! Consider enrolling in our immersive online courses: The Stories of Jewish Church I: Acts 1-5 or . We guarantee that they will deepen your understanding of Scripture and enrich your faith experience.

  14. Good evening, I have often heard this scripture quoted in the context of intercessory prayer and spiritual warfare, “binding” the operative powers of demons, and then “loosing” whatever good and scriptural thing one is praying for. Is that in any way a correct application?

    • I assume you read the article. Nothing about demons… in the context. The simplest application is that the apostles had the authority to make rules in their community, because God endowed them with wisdom!

  15. Hi Prop Pinchas Shir

    A very fascinating topic and study on ‘binding & loosing’! Wow… I’ve been asked to expound on Matthew 18:18-20 and dont want to add/omit anything from the original text that isn’t there! So thank you for your insight! ????

  16. John 6:45 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by GOD.’[a] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from HIM comes to JESUS. now the LORD says in Mathew scribes You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. question: how they did it?

    • Well, it does not say that exactly, but the simple answer is that incorrect (mistaken) teaching can mislead a person and as a result, they cannot (will not) reach or access a certain outcome, a reality of God (i.e. the kingdom). If I tell you that it is impossible for you to jump higher than I foot high and you, believe me (because you respect me), you may never do (try) that and may never become a great jumper. So I did not let you become what you could have…

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  17. This ‘keys of the kingdom’ teaching took place at Ceasarea Phillipi where there is a shrine to the demi god, Pan, a fertility god located at a grotto where water issued from within, considered an entrance or gate to Hades.

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