This article on authority is a little over 2,300 words. My goal is to present it as a helpful Bible study.
It begins with the use of the word “authority” in the bible. Englishman’s Concordance Authority — exousian. Then, to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words — public domain quote it free and concludes with the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia public domain.
VINES (Strong’s #1849 — Noun Feminine — exousia — ex-oo-see’-ah ) denotes “authority” (from the impersonal verb exesti, “it is lawful”).
From the meaning of “leave or permission,” or liberty of doing as one pleases, it passed to that of “the ability or strength with which one is endued,” then to that of the “power of authority,” the right to exercise power, e.g., Matthew 9:6, 21:23, 2 Corinthians 10:8, or “the power of rule or government,” the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g., Matthew 28:18, John 17:2, Jude 1:25, Revelation 12:10, 17:13, more specifically of apostolic “authority,” 2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10, the “power” of judicial decision, John 19:10, of “managing domestic affairs,” Mark 13:34 .
By metonymy, or name-change (the substitution of a suggestive word for the name of the thing meant), it stands for “that which is subject to authority or rule,” Luke 4:6 (RV, “authority,” for the AV “power”), or, as with the English “authority,” “one who possesses authority, a ruler, magistrate,” Romans 13:1-3, Luke 12:11, Titus 3:1, or “a spiritual potentate,” e.g., Ephesians 3:10, 6:12, Colossians 1:16, 2:10, 15 1 Peter 3:22 . The RV usually translates it “authority.”
In 1 Corinthians 11:10 it is used of the veil with which a woman is required to cover herself in an assembly or church, as a sign of the Lord’s “authority” over the church. See JURISDICTION, LIBERTY , POWER , RIGHT , STRENGTH.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia public domain.
New Testament Teaching
(1) Jesus Christ’s Authority
When He began to teach in Palestine, all knowledge of God, and all exercise of His authority were mediated through the priests and scribes, who however claimed the Old Testament as their source.
Christ was neither the destroyer nor the creator of institutions. He never discussed the abstract right or capacity of the Jewish orders to be religious teachers. He enjoined obedience to their teaching (Matthew 23:2-3).
Still less did He question the authority of the Old Testament . He came not to destroy, but to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17).
But He did two things which involved the assertion of a new and superior authority in Himself. He repudiated the scribes’ interpretation of the law (Matthew 23:13-16), and He declared that certain of the provisions of the Mosaic law itself were temporary and tentative, and to be replaced or supplemented by His own more adequate teaching (Matthew 5:32, 39, 44, 19:8-9).
In doing this, He was really fulfilling a line of thought which permeates the entire Old Testament. All its writers disclaim finality and look forward to a fuller revelation of the mind of God in a day of Yahweh or a new covenant or a Messiah.
Jesus Christ regarded these expectations as being realized in Himself, and claimed to complete and fulfill the development which had run through the Old Testament.
As such, He claims finality in His teaching of the will of God, and absolute authority in the realm of religion and morals.
(A) His Teaching
His teaching is with authority. His hearers contrast it with that of the scribes, who, with all the prestige of tradition and establishment, in comparison with Him, entirely lacked authority (Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32, John 7:46).
(B) His Works
His authority as a teacher is closely associated with His works, especially as these revealed His authority over that world of evil spirits whose influence was felt in the mental disorders that afflicted people (Mark 1:27, Luke 4:36).
(C) Forgiving and Judging
In His claim to forgive sins , sanctioned by works of healing, He seemed to exercise a Divine prerogative (Matthew 9:6, 9:8, Mark 2:10, Luke 5:24).
It implied an infallible moral judgment, a power to dispense with the recognized laws of retribution and to remove guilt, which could only inhere in God.
All these powers are asserted in another form in the statement that He is the final judge (John 5:27).
(D) Life and Salvation
He therefore possesses authority over life and salvation. The Father gave Him authority over all flesh, “that whatsoever thou hast given him, to them he should give eternal life” (John 17:2 the American Revised Version, margin).
This authority begins in His power over His own life to give it in sacrifice for men (John 10:18).
By faith in Him and obedience to Him, men obtain salvation (Matthew 10:32,11:28-30). Their relation to Him determines their relation to God and to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 10:40, Luke 12:8).
(E) Derived from His Sonship
When challenged by the chief priests and elders, the established religious authorities, to state by what authority He taught, He gives no categorical reply, but tells them the parable of the Vineyard.
All the prophets and teachers that had come from God before Him were servants, but He is the Son (Matthew 21:23-27,37, Mark 11:28-33, 12:6, Luke 20:2, 8, 13).
The Fourth Gospel definitely founds His authority upon His sonship (John 5:19-27). Paul deduces it from His self-sacrifice (Philippians 2:5-11).
(F) in His Ascended State
In His ascended state , all authority in heaven and on earth is given unto Him (Matthew 28:18). It is not only authority in the church, and in the moral kingdom, but in the universe.
God has set Him “far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21, compare Colossians 2:10, 1 Peter 3:22, 1 Corinthians 15:24, Revelation 12:10).
(G) Christ and the Paraclete
His authority in the church as revealer of truth and Lord of spirits is not limited or completed within His earthly life. By His resurrection and exaltation He lives on in the church.
“Where two or three are gathered … in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
Greater works than He did in the flesh will be done in the church, because of His exaltation: (John 14:12), and by His sending the Paraclete , “Comforter” (American Revised Version) (John 14:16).
The Paraclete , which is the Holy Spirit, will teach the disciples all things, and bring to their remembrance all that He said unto them (John 14:26).
He has many things to tell them which in the days of His flesh they cannot receive, but the Spirit of truth shall guide them into all truth (John 16:12-13).
And the Paraclete is neither separated nor distinct from Him in His exalted and permanent life (John 14:18,28).
Herein is the authority of Christ made complete and permanent. His teaching, works and character, as facts outside of men, even while He lived, and still more when He was dead, could only partially and imperfectly rule their spirits. “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip?”
In the day of the Spirit’s revelation “ye shall know that I am in my Father” (John 14:9, 20). Nor, again, did or could He define the truth as it applied to every contingency throughout all time, while He lived under the limitations of time and place.
Such a revelation, if it could have been given, would have been quite useless, for men can only apprehend the truth progressively and in relation to the position they occupy in time and place.
But by His permanent spiritual presence in the church, He enters into, inhabits and governs its whole life and determines for it what is true and right at every stage of its development. (See Forrest, Authority of Christ , 202-3.)
To ask whence Christ derives or how He possesses the authority above described, is to raise the whole question of His metaphysical existence.
Empirically, we see it issuing from two facts which are essentially one — H is filial consciousness and His moral perfection.
These chiefly are the empirical facts which the church has sought to interpret and express in the metaphysical doctrine of the Incarnation. (See Forrest, op. cit.)
(2) The Disciples’ Authority
The first disciples acknowledged Christ in all things as their Lord and Master, not the teaching they had heard, nor the example they had witnessed, but Christ in His permanent, living presence.
They pray to Him to fill Judas’ place among the Twelve (Acts 1:24-25). He gave the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:33).
In His name they perform their miracles (Acts 3:6, 9:34). With Him Saul meets on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:5, Galatians 1:12).
From Him they receive the teaching and commands which they deliver to the churches (1 Corinthians 11:23).
But they too exercised an authority which is derivative, secondary, and dependent upon Him.
(A) Derived from Christ
While Jesus Christ yet lived He gave the Twelve, and again the Seventy, authority to cast out unclean spirits and to heal all manner of diseases, while they went about preaching (Matthew 10:1, Mark 3:15, Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1,10:19).
After His resurrection He gave them commission to bear witness for Him, to baptize and to teach all nations (Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:48-49).
Paul also traced his authority to preach directly to Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:1,12). From Him they received their endowment with the Holy Spirit for the work (Acts 1:5,33).
(B) Paul’s Authority
Paul claimed for himself, and by inference, for the other apostles, authority to exercise discipline in the churches, “which the Lord gave for building you up” (2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10).
All the church’s ministers exercise oversight and admonition over the churches (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2:2).
(C) Authority of All Believers
The authority of sonship, and of participation in the tree of life belongs to all believers (John 1:12, Revelation 22:14 ).
(D) Authority over the Nations
And in virtue of their faith they have authority over the nations (Revelation 2:26, 20:4).
Christ makes them to be kings (Revised Version (British and American) a kingdom) and priests (Revelation 1:6), a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).
In all this we are to see the authority of faith, of character, of men who are messengers of Christ because they are in living union with Him. It pertains to no office or institution, and exists only where Christ reigns in men, and therefore, through them.
(3) Church’s Authority: Moral and Personal
It is moral and personal and more concerned with life than with doctrine. Paul was the greatest teacher of the early church, but he claims no infallibility, promulgates no dogma, imposes no standard of orthodoxy beyond faith in Christ.
He reasons, argues and persuades men to accept the gospel he had received of the Lord, but he knows no other authority than the truth as it is a living fact in Jesus Christ.
In the Pastoral Epistles we certainly read of a “sound doctrine” which should be taught and believed, but it has not crystallized into a creed, and the only condition of salvation laid down is living faith in Jesus Christ. See DOCTRINE .
The authority of the apostolic church, then, is in the first place that of individual men in whom Jesus Christ lives, a direct personal and individual authority.
It is true that the individual can only live the Christian life, and therefore know the Christian truth, in a society, but that does not impair the individual and personal character of his witness.
Yet as the church lives a collective life, there is a sense in which it may be said to bear a collective witness. Men are naturally more readily impressed by an idea held by the many.
That is right in so far as the probability of the truth of a doctrine increases with the number of minds which approve it.
That is the element of truth in the Catholic dictum “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (“what is believed everywhere, always, and by all”).
But the assent of the many does not constitute the truth of an idea or fact, nor enhance its authority. And there are levels of truth to which only few minds can attain, so that the assent of the many may be a presumption against the truth of an idea.
And in the last resort, men do not accept ideas with mind and heart, because many believe them, but because of their inherent truth, their power to govern their minds. And the essential truth of a doctrine is no greater, whether one or a million accept it.
The apostolic church recognized this principle, for it never claimed for itself greater authority than that of a tutor to bring men to Christ, the one Lord. Peter, Paul, John, each knew Christ in a degree, and each spoke of Him as well as he could, but none of them claims to say all, or demands that his own teaching should absolutely rule men’s minds, and the collective authority of the church can never rise higher than that of its best spirits.
~ Bill Bremer