(מִפתֵח, maphte'ach, an opener, Jg 3:25; Isa 22:22; "opening," 1Ch 9:27; κλείς; from its use in shutting, Mt 16:19; Lu 11:52; Re 1:18; Re 3:7; Re 9:1; Re 20:1), an instrument frequently mentioned in Scripture, as well in a literal as in a figurative sense. The keys of the ancients were very different from ours, because their doors and trunks were generally closed with bands or bolts, which the key served only to loosen or fasten. Chardin says that a lock in the East is like a little harrow, which enters half way into a wooden staple, and that the key is a wooden handle, with points at the end of it, which are pushed into the staple, and so raise this little harrow. SEE LOCK. Indeed, early Oriental locks probably consisted merely of a wooden slide, drawn into its place by a string, and fastened there by teeth or catches; the key being a bit of wood, crooked like a sickle, which lifted up the slide and extracted it from its catches, after which it was drawn back by the string. But it is not difficult to open a lock of this kind even without a key, viz. with the finger dipped in paste or other adhesive substance. The passage Song 5:4-5 is thus probably explained (Harmer, Obs. 3:31; vol. i, 394, ed. Clarke; Rauwolff, ap. Ray, Trav. ii, 17). Ancient Egyptian keys are often found figured on the monuments. They were made of bronze or iron, and consisted of a straight shank, about five inches in length, with three or more projecting teeth; others had a nearer resemblance to the wards of modern keys, with a short shank about an inch long; and some resembled a common ring, with the wards at its back. The earliest mention of a key is in Jg 3:23-25, where Ehud having gone " through the porch and shut the doors of the parlor upon him, and locked them," it is stated that Eglon's " servants took a key and opened them'" Among the Assyrian monuments are extant traces of strong gates, consisting of a single leaf, which was fastened by a huge modern lock, like those still used in the East, of which the key is as much as a man can conveniently carry (Isa 22:22), and also by a bar which moved into a square hole in the wall. SEE DOOR.
The term key is frequently used in Scripture as the symbol of government, power, and authority. Even in modern times, in transferring the government of a city, the keys of the gates are delivered as an emblem of authority. In some parts of the East, for a man to march along with a large key upon his shoulder at once proclaims him to be a person of consequence. The size and weight of these oftentimes require them to be thus carried (Thomson, Land and Book, i, 493). So of Christ it is said, "And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Isa 22:22; Re 3:7). He also has the " keys of hell and of death" (Re 1:18; comp. 9:1; 20:1). Our Saviour said to Peter, as the representative of the apostles generally, upon whom collectively the same prerogative was on another occasion conferred, " 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 16:19; Mt 18:18)-that is, the power of preaching the Gospel officially, of administering the sacraments as a steward of the mysteries of God, and as a faithful servant, whom the Lord hath set over his household. This general authority is shared in common by all ministers and officers in the Church. The grant doubtless likewise included the authority to establish rules and constitutional orders in the Church, to which Christ himself gave no special ecclesiastical form, but left it to be organized by the apostles after his own resurrection. This power, too, in a subordinate degree, is delegated to the Church of later times; for it is noteworthy .that even the apostles have not definitely prescribed any specific form of Church polity, and this is therefore, in a great measure, left to the discretion of each body of Christians. Indeed, the settlement of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity, as a basis of Church- membership and ecclesiastical discipline, appears to be the only explicit element of the authority conferred in these passages by Christ to his apostles-and this exclusively belonged to them, inasmuch as their office was not transmissible; so that the canon of Scripture, as well as the essential points of Church constitution, have been completed by them for all time. SEE SUCCESSION. As to Peter himself, it is a gratuitous assumption on the part of Romanists that the authority was conferred upon him personally above his fellow-disciples, since in the other passage the general "ye" is used in place of the individual " thou." It is true, however, that as Peter was here addressed as the foreman, so to speak, of the apostolical college, he was eventually honored as the instrument of the introduction of the first Gentile as well as Christian members into the Church (see Ac 2; Ac 10), a fact to which Peter himself alludes in a very unassuming way (Ac 15:7). The association of this authority with the power of absolution is another unauthorized gloss of the Roman Catholic Church; for the passage in which this is conferred (Joh 20:23, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained") stands in a very different connection, and is evidently to be interpreted of the exclusively apostolical right to pronounce upon the religious state of those to whom, by the imposition of hands, they imparted the peculiar miraculous gifts of the primitive age (see Ac 8:14-17; Ac 19:6). In accordance with the above analogies, the "key of knowledge" is the means of attaining to true knowledge in respect to the kingdom of God (Lu 11:25; comp. Mt 23:13; Lu 24:32). It is said that authority to explain the law and the prophets was given among the Jews by the delivery of a key. SEE BIND. The Rabbins say that God has reserved to himself four keys-the kev of rain, the key of the grave, the key of fruitfulness, and the key of barrenness. SEE KEYS, POWER OF THE.