K Neill Foster

Binding the Strong Man-

The Missiological Perspective

A paper delivered to the Evangelical Missiological Society
March 21, 1997, Hatfield, Pennsylvania

by K. Neill Foster, Ph.D.

"How can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house"1

This passage from Matthew 12 has a parallel passage in Mark 3 and Luke 11. In all three contexts, the synoptic view is clear. Jesus is defending Himself against the accusation that He functions under the inspiration of Satan himself. Every kingdom divided against itself will fail, he asserts. However, Jesus seems to imply, when you bind Satan the strong man as He does, it is then a matter of course to spoil his house.


The question arises- Did Jesus bind the strong man? The commentators suggest that He did indeed bind the strong man in the hour of resisted temptation. Tasker says it most succinctly. "Satan is already bound though not so as to be rendered completely impotent."2

Barclay asks,

When was the strong man bound? . . . Maybe there is no answer to that question, but if there is, it is that Satan was bound during Jesus' temptations in the wilderness. . . . When Jesus faced the Tempter in the wilderness and conquered him, something happened. For the first time Satan found someone whom not all his wiles could seduce, and whom not all his attacks could conquer. From that time the power of Satan has never been quite the same. He is no longer the all-conquering power of darkness; he is the defeated power of sin. The defences are breached; the enemy is not yet conquered; but his power can never be the same again and Jesus can help others win the victory he himself won.3

If Satan indeed was bound, how did he get loose? And is he still going about as a roaring lion in this age?4 Certainly he is. Which brings us to a very important observation on the whole subject of binding Satan. Even the binding done by our Lord was situational and local, an interim binding of the strong man in a context of conflict and battle.

Moreover, the book of Revelation announces an eschatological binding of Satan5 which suggests, as the commentators seem to agree, that even the binding which surrounded Jesus' temptation and victory in the desert was a binding that was total and complete only in the context in which it took place.

The complete conquest of Satan took place at the cross. The prince of this world is already judged.6 The prince of this world is already cast out.7 Still, the counter kingdom exhibits its power in the interim. As a prince whose time is short, Satan the strong man, pursues his doomed cause relentlessly and malevolently. In this day, the day of the Church, as the battle is joined, the binding continues in anticipation of a coming day.


In addition, in this Matthew 12 passage, our Lord having already bound the devil in the wilderness, let us not miss that Jesus is explaining the process and is defending it. The defense of the faith is called apologetics.

Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the Christian religion (Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley 1984:13). It is also the defense and justification of the Christian world view, the Christian faith, the Christian God, the Christian servant (and all that is of Christ and God) against the attacks, slanders, counterfeits and deceptions of all the forces, powers and persons arrayed against them.8

According to these definitions, Jesus was certainly defending His ministry. He was being falsely accused, with the suggestion being made by the religious rulers that He was driving out evil powers by Beelzebub, the prince of the dark powers.

Notice further that Jesus explains that a kingdom cannot be divided against itself. Curiously, no one is arguing that nothing is happening as might be argued today. All concerned in this confluence of ideas in that back-and-forth battle of arguments are agreed that demons are being driven out. Apparently, the exit phenomena were totally convincing to all concerned.

But what is important for us is that this charge of Christ's being in league with Satan proves that there was something extraordinary to explain. If there had not been mighty works too remarkable to ignore and too notorious to deny, His enemies would never have taken refuge in so extravagant an hypothesis. . . we have evidence, unintentionally given in support of the miracles wrought by Christ.9

Notice also that according to the context, the strong man represents Satan. God is omnipotent, the devil is not. He is however, powerful. He may correctly be called the strong man. His power is great, but limited. He is potent, but not omnipotent.

The strong man has goods, indeed a house which may be plundered. He has treasures, and clearly those treasures may be spoiled. Moreover, to spoil Satan's goods, he must be bound so that his house may be entered and his goods plundered.

One gets the perception of a house, a cottage perhaps, or even larger dwelling, but a house as we perceive houses. And there at the door blocking all access is the owner of the house, a massive, hulking specimen of a person. Within are the treasures of this householder, but everyone realizes that access comes through the only visible door, guarded threateningly with this awesome and foreboding strong man. That is the picture my mind paints. If we pay attention to Luke who also records this incident, we realize further that the strong man comes "armed"10 So the strong man is guarding his treasures, and he is armed!

In fact, the Lukan account is rich with details not recorded by the other evangelists. Someone stronger must refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. The strong man is not just armed but fully armed. Attention needs to be given to the armory of Satan. With what does the leader of the counter-kingdom protect his treasures? When the attack comes on the strong man he is overpowered, and his armor in which he trusted is taken away. Is not Jesus telling all that there may be incidents of evangelistic and missiological nature in which the Church finally finds the strong man stripped of his armor and bereft of his arms? Could those times and places be connected with the great evangelistic ingatherings of history, the people movements from around the world where whole nations have rushed into the kingdom of God?

There are some ready interpretations. Carson insists that the reference to possessions preserves the metaphor of the house and has no relation to demonic possession except metaphorically.11 Are there not treasures of souls in his house? These teachings of Jesus Christ have direct bearing upon evangelistic endeavors and the missionary enterprise.


Timothy Warner relates the story of pioneer missionary ]ohn Paton which demonstrates the power of binding the strong man in order to spoil his goods. Three of the most powerful sorcerers in the New Hebrides Islands threatened to kill him through the power of an evil spirit named Nahak. Paton responded,

They have said they can kill me by Nahak, but I challenge them to do it if they can, without arrow or spear, club or musket, for I deny that they have any power against me . . . by their sorcery .12

Warner explains what happened:

When after a week these three demonized men were unable to do any harm to Paton - when they tried to resort to spears, God froze their arms in the air so they could not throw them - you may be sure that the people "heard" the gospel with a clarity with which they did not hear it simply coming from the mouth of the missionary.13

A similar incident took place in Gabon associated with the ministry of Don Fairley, pioneer missionary of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. A widow woman in an isolated village had become a believer in Jesus Christ. The persecution was intense and her life was taken. The opponents of the Message were emboldened to believe that the new teaching would not prevail.

However, a young man, an evangelist named Theophile Mouckagni became greatly reinforced by the martyrdom of the older woman. Believers multiplied and matters came to a crisis one evening. All the believers in the village were huddled together in a thatched hut. Encircled around were the shamans and other opponents of the gospel. After they had worked themselves into a fury of frenetic dancing, they seized lighted torches and approached the thatched roof. Though they sang and danced, approaching the hut again and again, thrusting spears through the walls of the frail hut, and then falling back equally as often, they found that they could not torch the Christians' thatched hut. That the powers had been bound in a missiological context there was no doubt. If some read of this incident and call it a power encounter, I'm agreeable, for that is what it surely was as well. A power encounter in which our Lord's binding power prevailed, publicly and dramatically.14


Currently, in Gabon, generations after the awful battles, the life and death struggles in the apostolic ministry of Don Fairley, and indeed the binding of the strong man, a great harvest has come. I have been in many of the fields of the world, but never have I seen men and women rushing pell-mell into the kingdom as in modem Gabon.

In the case of all evangelistic endeavors, the true treasures are the souls of men. Indeed, what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?15 The immense wealth of human souls under the control and domination of the strong man can be spoiled. The rescue takes place when the strong man Satan is bound. Then his house may be plundered.

Jessie Penn-Lewis's article in Alliance Weekly, "How to Pray for Missionaries,"16 is one of the clearest statements to relate Matthew's principle of binding and loosing to missions. Penn-Lewis had earlier addressed the authority of the believer in spiritual warfare in a missiological context at an 1897 China Inland Mission conference. 17

Peter Wagner writes,

It is my view that sound missiological strategy will take responsible, but aggressive, action to bind demonic strong ones, principalities, powers, territorial spirits, or whatever they might be called, who are serving Satan by keeping large populations in spiritual darkness. 18

In reality, the understanding that territorial spirits exist is not a new idea, but was taught a century ago by Jessie Penn-Lewis, referring to " 'Principalities' who rule over various lands."19 It is significant that she taught the concept in a missiological context - in an address at a China Inland Mission conference in London.

It is also important to disassociate with much of the teaching on territorial spirits in that it has a specious biblical foundation (almost none at all!). Still we know there was a Prince of Persia and we certainly know the counter-kingdom is hierarchical.20


Nevertheless, binding and loosing was a foundational understanding for the missionary ministry of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, dating back to 1937. It is rooted in actual missionary experiences of men like J .A. MacMillan and Robert Jaffray.21

In 1921, Corrie Judd Montgomery wrote,

Years ago we did not know how to loose people that were bound by the Devil. . . . Often our prayers cannot be answered until we are able to speak with authority and loose the one whom Satan has bound. . . . The Lord shows us in Matthew 12:29 that we "must first bind the strong man" before we can "spoil his goods." I can never begin to tell you what this power has meant in our ministry the last few years.22

Similarly, missiologists intent upon reaching unreached people groups and resistant populations need to pay attention to this Scripture. The proper interpretation seems to be that first the strong man must be bound, then the unreached peoples and resistant populations can be sprung free from the deception and control of Satan.

Using the analogy of military strategy, other Christian leaders counsel binding the strong man before launching into a spiritual warfare offensive:

A wise leader should first attempt to knock out his enemy's command headquarters and air support. If these elements can be disabled, then enemy ground troops can be crippled and scattered at will.23

Biblical scholar William Hendrickson recognizes this missiological purpose in Matthew:

The devil is being, and is progressively going to be, deprived of his "furniture," that is, of the souls and bodies of men, and this not only through healings but also through a mighty missionary program, reaching first the Jews but later on the nations in general (John 12:31,32; Romans 1:16). . . . Note how also in Luke 10:17,18 the "fall of Satan as lightning from heaven" is recorded in connection with the return and report of the seventy missionaries.24

G. Campbell Morgan also understands Matthew's intent, holding the belief that the treasures, the "furniture" in the strong man's house are indeed lost souls:

God's children who have entered into His victory by the Cross, also know something of what it is to bind the strong one. His Cross is the force that sets us free to spoil the house of the strong one, and rescue other souls.25


There are reasons, I think, that the Holy Spirit has placed this pivotal passage in all three of the synoptic Gospels. Each in its own way reinforces the missiological and evangelistic intent in binding the strong man first. And loosing the evangelistic impulse. All too often, attempts are made to brush by the strong man to get at the work of the Lord. No Christian workers are more vulnerable to this error than the materialistic, secularistic, technological and spiritually insensitive missionaries from the Western world.

If this study draws any conclusion at all, it is that such "brushing by" procedure is a grave, grave error in kingdom work.


1. Matthew 12:29.

2. R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1961), 128.

3. William Barclay, The Daily Bible Study Series: The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 2:36-37.

4.1 Peter 5:8.

5. Revelation 20:2.

6. John 16:11.

7. John 12:31.

8. Elio Cuccaro, cited by K. Neill Foster, "Apologetics and the Deliverance Ministry," Evangelical Theological Society, 1995, 1.

9. Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1982), 176.

10. Luke 11:21-22.

11. D.A. Carson, "Matthew," The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 290.

12. Timothy M. Warner, Spiritual Warfare (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 128. 13. Ibid., 129.

14. David Thompson, "Beyond the Mist," Unpublished manuscript, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc.

15. Mark 8:36.

16. Jessie Penn-Lewis, Alliance Weekly, "How to Pray for Missionaries," June, 1937.

17. Penn-Lewis, The Warfare with Satan (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1963). 1

8. Peter Wagner, Blazing the Way (Ventura, CA: Regal Books), 67.

19. Penn-Lewis, The Warfare with Satan, 20.

20. Ephesians 6:12.

21. J. A. MacMillan, The Authority of the Believer (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1997).

22. Corrie Judd Montgomery, Triumphs of Faith, Oakland, CA, 1921,68.

23. Jim Croft, "Waging War in the Heavenlies," New Wine, March 1977, 7.

24. Wm. Hendrickson, New Testament Contemporary Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, 527.

25. G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell), 130.


Barclay, William.

1975 The Daily Bible Study Series: The Gospel of Matthew.
Philadelphia: The Westminster Press

Carson, D.A.

1984 "Matthew," The Expositor's Bible Commentary.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company

Croft, Jim.

"Waging War in the Heavenlies,"
New Wine, March 1977.


cited by K. Neill Foster, 1995" Apologetics and the Deliverance Ministry."
Evangelical Theological Society

Hendricksen, William.

1973 New Testament Commentary Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew.
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House

MacMillan, John A.

1997 The Authority of the Believer.
Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc.

1980 Encounter with Darkness.
Camp Hill: Christian Publications, Inc.

Montgomery, Corrie Judd.

1921 The Secrets of Victory .

n.d. Triumphs of Faith.
Oakland, CA

Morgan, G. Campbell.

1929 The Gospel According to Matthew.
Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell

Penn-Lewis, Jessie.

1963 The Warfare with Satan.
Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade

1937 "How to Pray for Missionaries."
The Alliance Weekly, June 12, 26

1912 War on the Saints
New York: Thomas Lowe

Plummer, Alfred.

1982 An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Grand Rapids, Baker Book House

Tasker, R.Y.G.

1961 The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary.
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans

Thompson, David

1997 Beyond the Mist, Unpublished manuscript
Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc.

Wagner, C. Peter.

1996 Confronting the Powers.
Ventura, CA: Regal Books

Blazing the Way.

Ventura, CA: Regal Books

Warner, Timothy M.

1991 Spiritual Warfare: Victory Over the Powers of This Dark World.
Wheaton: Crossway Books


During the writing of this book, missionary Wyman Nelson from Burkina Faso gazed at me through the steel webbing of shelves in our warehouse. At first, I didn't recognize him, but after he reminded me who he was, I quickly invited him and his wife to my office.

In the process of time, I mentioned that I was writing a book about binding and loosing. Wyman's face lit up, and it was soon evident that I had yet another dramatic incident.

About 1992 an evangelistic trip was planned to the town of Ye, among the Dafing tribe of Burkina Faso. For years, perhaps as many as forty years, attempts had been made to establish a church among these people. But it had never happened. This evangelistic campaign would be different. It was reinforced by five pastors, plus American visitors from the Pineview Church near York, Pennsylvania. The first day, the fairly large group spent the time in prayer.

That night the gospel was preached with little effect and much inattentiveness. The next day, more prayer.

Concurrently with the prayer focus, a man from the community began to banter with one of the pastors to whom he was related. Apparently, the conversation went something like this:

"I am stronger than you. The spirit we have is stronger than the spirit you have."

The missionaries and pastors in the team were mostly unaware of this side bar activity, that is, until the missionary leader, Rev. Steve Clouser prayed powerfully. His prayer concluded, "We now bind Satan in this tribe and in this town. In the name of Jesus Christ."

At that instant, the man who had been harassing the team and who had been sitting quietly and passively within hearing of the prayer meetings was suddenly struck from behind. Mrs. Nelson likened it to being hit with a baseball bat on the back of the neck. The man was flung out of his chair and spread-eagled onto the ground. He had taken a massive impact from the back. Groggily, he finally got to his feet and wandered away.

Only later did the pastor who was related to the man fill in the details. "Do you know who this man is who was harassing me? He's the most powerful witch doctor in this area, in this town. He's the man to whom everyone goes when sacrifices are to be offered."

That night and in the days that followed, the Dafing began to believe in Jesus Christ. There is a church there in that town today. And one godly leader now has sensed the change. He is now saying, "The light has come to the Dafing."

Indeed, it has. Through the public binding of the strong man - in a missiological context.


One day three pastors with whom we had been working on the mission field (Burkina Faso) came to our home to talk to us. They proceeded to lambast us with all kinds of accusations. We were quite taken aback, not only because of the nature of the accusations (they were all untrue) but also by the spirit in which they were made. We could not imagine what had provoked such an attack.

My wife left the room for a moment to check on something on the stove. While there, she called upon the Lord and then, recognizing the spiritual dimension of this otherwise unwarranted attack, she bound Satan. The moment she walked back into the living room and sat down, the pastor who was speaking (rather vehemently) abruptly stopped talking, as if he had been "unplugged." It was shocking and unexpected, much like the experience of being in a roomful of people chitchatting and suddenly, by coincidence, everyone stops talking at once. After a moment of silence, one of the other pastors said, "Let's pray and go home."

To me what is so striking about this incident is, first of all, the immediate and dramatic effect of the binding and secondly, the unfortunate fact that the spirit or spirits that had to be bound were operating through Christian workers.

Steve Clouser, Ouagadougou, Mali, January 15,1997.


For eleven years the CMA church in Mangnambougou quartier (neighborhood) in Bamako was trying to get land and put up a church building. They encountered many difficulties, and twice the government lost important papers that the church had submitted. Things were moving slowly, if at all. We realized that we were not up against merely human opposition, but we were fighting against principalities and powers. When we started to take the spiritual battle seriously, God led us to take five prayer walks in the areas surrounding the building site in the spring of 1993. We proclaimed the Lordship of Christ to the spirit world, we took authority over any powers who might have been hindering the obtaining of the papers, we bound the "strongman of Magnambougou" from working. Within a few months of doing those things, the new church buildings was up and in use for worship. So far as we were concerned, using our authority to bind demonic opposition in conjunction with the prayer walks was the key to the breakthrough in this church.


In the summer of 1992 God spoke to two of us in Bamako (Chuck Davis and Bill Trinidad) on two separate occasions about the need to start a prayer meeting with the specific intent of "binding the strong man." We met weekly for two hours: The first hour was in worship, the second in praying against the "strong men" operating in Bamako.

About six weeks after we started, an Islamic witch doctor tried to conjure up a spirit and send it on an errand. It was something he did regularly, and it had always worked before. But this time the demon did not manifest itself. The marabou kept calling the spirit, and it finally manifested.

In an angry tone of voice the witch doctor demanded, "What took you so long?!"

It answered him, "Il y a une force contre nous maintenant. C'est les cretiennes." "There's a force against us now; it's the Christians."

Our prayers of binding the strong man were having an effect in the spirit world. Apparently, the witchdoctor's ability to conjure and send the powers had been hindered by our praying.

Bill Trinidad, Bamako, Mali, 1997