In Judaism, binding and loosing has long been understood to be a legal designation.
During the days of Jesus, these antonyms were used to describe certain religious
decisions. The term bind meant to forbid, and loose meant to permit. There are
numerous examples of this in rabbinical literature.
To understand this, we must know that first century rabbis were constantly called
upon by their communities to interpret scriptural commands. For example, the Bible
forbids working on the Sabbath but does not define what specific activities constitute
work. As a result, the rabbis ruled as to which activities were permitted on the
Sabbath and which were not. They bound or prohibited certain activities and loosed
or allowed others.
Peter was given the keys, or the authority, to bind and loose concerning scriptural
questions with the early Church. An example of this practice can be found in Acts 15,
during the controversy over whether or not Gentiles should be admitted into the
fellowship without first being circumcised.
After the apostles and elders convened in Jerusalem, Peter showed an example of
loosing when he ruled that both Jews and Gentiles were part of Gods covenant. (Acts
15:9) Then James, the pastor of the Church at Jerusalem, gave an example of
binding when he required the believing Gentiles to abstain from the four
characteristic practices of the pagans (Acts 15:13-20).