Cool stuff! I just learned. Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis” talks about it all.
In Jewish culture, there were lots of Rabbis (teachers) who each had their own interpretations of the scriptures. If a rabbi took on a student, that student was agreeing to live under the “yoke” of that rabbi – the “yoke” was the different ways that the rabbi interpreted the scriptures. He would allow some things and not allow others based on this “yoke.” For example – One rabbi might say you can walk a certain distance on the Sabbath, but if you went any further that would be “work” and it would violate the Sabbath. Another rabbi might permit you to walk further, but forbid other things. It’s all in the interpretation – or the “yoke.”
If a student didn’t quite understand what a rabbi meant the rabbi would say, “You’ve abolished the Torah.” but if the student understood it completely the rabbi’s response would be “You’ve fulfilled the Torah.”
When Jesus first preached that He was there to “fulfill the law, not to abolish it,” the Jewish listeners heard a whole different thing than we do. He was basically saying – I understand all this better than anyone. This is partly why Jesus had som many followers. Most rabbis were teaching the yoke of some other well-respected rabbi – but Jesus wasn’t. He was teaching a whole new yoke. It was rare that anyone would have the guts to say, “My interpretation is new and it’s better than anybody else who came before me.” One way the people could judge whether they were speaking the truth or not, was by who else supported this teaching.
For a student to become a rabbi himself – he had to be validated by two other rabbis who would lay hands on him and pray over him. This is why Jesus’ baptism was so important – the two “rabbis” who laid hands on Him were. The voice of one crying in the desrt (John the Baptist) and the voice from heaven. (God, the Father)
A new “yoke” interpretation would take on the sounds of “you’ve heard it said…but I tell you…” which in many ways was bashing the previous teachers. The process of allowing certain things and forbidding others was called “binding and loosing.” The “bind” it was to forbid it. To “loose” something was to allow it. So a rabbi would “bind” certain practices and “loose” others and eventually when he’d give his disciples authority to bind and loose, it was called “giving the keys to the kingdom.”
Listen with new ears now as Jesus says in Matthew, “I will give you the keys to 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.”
It is very significant to recognize that Jesus is giving his followers authority to make new interpretations of the Scriptures.