Reflections: The Key to the Keys in the Bible?

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Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study. Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means ‘to lead out of.’ That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.

The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means ‘to lead into,’ which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.

Obviously, only exegesis does justice to the text. Eisegesis is a mishandling of the text and often leads to a misinterpretation. Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting. Eisegesis is concerned only with making a point, even at the expense of the meaning of words.

~ Got Questions?.org, “Question: ‘What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?’

I got into a silly argument online the other day. It was about whether or not Peter had received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and what that all meant. However, the really silly part was the unbiblical assertion that no man had received the keys to the Kingdom.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

~ Mt 16:18-19

The argument was about as illogical as it gets. It starts out with something totally unrelated.

I’m sure many are aware that “rock” here comes from two different words and thus we have varying translations. “Peter” is the Anglicized version of the Greek word “petros”, which is a small rock or stone. However, when Jesus says He will build His Church upon “this rock”, the Greek word is “petra”, not “petros”. Since Peter is a male, the male form of the word obviously referred to him, but Jesus now says it will be built upon “petra”, the female form of the word, and thus definitely does not refer to Peter. Rather, it refers to a large immovable rock, such as one in which a tomb would have been carved out of (for more information, see the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry website article “Is Peter the rock on which the Church is built?“).

So, evangelicals in general understand that Christ meant not that the Church would be built upon Peter, the little rock, but upon Christ Himself, The Rock.

However, that is a separate and distinct statement from “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. Notice the preceding “and”, which means that there are two ideas here that are somehow related. Obviously, Christ gave the keys to someone here, and that someone is identified as “thee”. We can argue all day long about who “thee” refers to, but it is disingenuous to say that Christ was referring to Himself. Even if Christ built the Church upon Himself and not Peter, does that somehow mean the disciples and especially the apostles were given no authority at all?

A key is a symbol of authority. In particular, it means someone is trusted with locking up and unlocking something. Something that is locked up is guarded. Someone with a key does the guarding and ensures only those who are authorized gain admittance. The guard has authority over access to something.

Frankly, it is a clear statement that Jesus gave authority to someone or something. To say otherwise is to contradict the Savior Himself.

Stranger yet, the argument did not end there. The person went on to state that Jesus alone holds the Key of David. This person also claims that Jesus was the one who holds the key to the bottomless pit. However, this person provided no biblical proof that these keys are related, let alone the same.

The word key(s) occurs eight times in the KJV. Out of these, we can identify six different keys. Let’s look at each of these.

1. Physical keys. In Jdg 3:24-25, Eglon had been killed by Ehud the Benjamite inside “the parlour”, and his servants are nervous about interrupting him while using the bathroom. Finally, they dig out a key to unlock the door and find him dead inside.

2. Key of the house of David. Isa 22:20-22 has a prophecy about Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who will take over the government from Shebna. In commiting the government to Eliakim, God says, “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder”. Eliakim here is a Messiah type of figure, and this is evident from Isa 9:6-7, often recited at Christmas time, in which the government of God is placed upon the shoulder of Christ.

The second Scripture makes it clear that Jesus carries the Key of David. In Rev 3:7, Jesus refers to it in the address to the Church in Philadelphia. Here also, Christ talks about opening and closing doors and how no man can undo these actions.

3. Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. As we already saw in Mt 16:19, Jesus said He would give “thee” the keys to the Kingdom. Notice, though, that this talks about binding and loosening, not opening and shutting. It also says nothing of no man being able to undo them. In addition, the Key of David is a single key, while here Christ refers to “keys” as in plural. These cannot be the singular Key of David, then.

4. Key of knowledge. In Lk 11:52, Christ castigates those who are experts in the Law for taking away the key of knowledge. Keys provide access, and they colluded with the Pharisees in burdening the people with extra rules that had nothing to do with righteousness. In addition, Christ accused them of not only blocking entrance to others but actually not entering in themselves.

5. Keys of hell and death. In Rev 1:18, Jesus appears before John and declares He has the keys to death and Hades. In context with 1Co 15 and many other verses in the New Testament, it should be obvious that Christ not only conquered death but was granted power over it in its entirety.

6. Key of the bottomless pit. Again, notice that in both passages, Rev 9:1 and 20:1, this is a singular key. This would distinguish it from the keys, plural, of hell and death. The bottomless pit is a special place reserved for Satan for 1,000 years, and then he is released for a time (20:2-3). This is a separate key.

On a somewhat related note, some believe the angel with the key to the bottomless pit must be Christ. This is partly based upon appearances in the Old Testament of the “Angel of the LORD”, who many times is believed to be the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. However, I know of no situation in the New Testament where this is so! Once Christ is risen, he is referred to as Christ or as Jesus, but never an angel. That’s because the New Testament clarifies Who He is, whereas it was somewhat hidden in the Old. It seem evident to me that this angel with the key to the bottomless pit is simply an angel (although perhaps one of high rank), and thus we have another instance where Christ had given a key to another being.

It seems pretty clear to me that these keys do not have to be, and most probably are not, the same. In fact, it would be impossible to reconcile 2 – 6 as being the same in every case, if for no other reason than the number of keys.

It seems illogical even from a practical standpoint to insist upon them being the same. I have a set of car keys, and I have a set of house keys. Even in the set of house keys, I may give my sister a key to the front door and back door but not the garage. I definitely wouldn’t give her my car keys! By some people’s reasoning, though, they imagine these as one key without any copies. Worse, they provide no logical biblical evidence to support such an assertion.

So, we can disagree upon the precise meaning of the keys, since they are merely symbols, we can disagree upon whom Jesus gave the keys to, but in the end we must not read our preconceived notions into the Bible passages and insist they are the same key or that no keys were given from Christ to others.


  1. This is kind of like the ‘binding and loosing’ authority given to Peter. The Catholic church used this scripture to change God’s laws. That obviously doesn’t pass the sniff test.

    I’ve heard other interpretations of this scripture. 1) That it refers to administrative matters (installing traffic codes is not the same thing as changing the constitution, for example). 2) That it was a stark warning how a church leader might act if given total power.

    • I don’t see how you can get #2 from the context. “I give you” does not equate to “You will take”, after all. Neither does the reflection of binding and loosening on earth happening in Heaven sound anything like someone grabbing total power but rather a willingness for the Father to allow certain things to happen in both places.

  2. Yeah, I agree with you about point number two. I was just reporting an interpretation that I read in a couple of different places.

    (I think what they meant was: if you’re doing bad stuff on earth, then you’ll carry that into the universe when given power; which God obviously won’t allow. Hence, their interpretation about it being a stark warning).

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