By Marvin L. Weir
The matter of authority gets to the heart and core of every issue that causes religious division. This means that recognizing divine authority is of utmost importance to all that are concerned with their soul’s salvation. The will of man has long been pitted against the will of God. The chief priests and elders challenged the teaching of Christ in saying, “…By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one question, which if ye tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why then did ye not believe him. But if we shall say, From men; we fear the multitude; for all hold John as a prophet” (Matthew 21:23-26).
Simply speaking, authority is the power one has to demand obedience. It is the right to command. Thayer defines authority as “1) power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases, permission; 2) physical and mental power, the ability or strength with which one is endued, which he either possesses or exercises; 3) the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege); 4) the power of rule or government (the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed).
One must always bear in mind that God is the Creator and man is the created. The created never has the right or power to make demands of the Creator!
THE LORD AND SAVIOR HAS ALL AUTHORITY
The words of Christ could not be more clear than when stating, “…All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). God said, “…This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5). Such is the reason the writer of Hebrews says, “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
But how does Christ speak to us today? He speaks to us through His inspired word. The authority of Christ and the authority of the Bible are inseparable. Jesus drives this truth home in saying, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). The source of the Bible is clearly identified. Peter says, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Man has the obligation to respect the truth Paul so clearly stated, “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR DIVINE AUTHORITY?
Divine authority is needed because man is not capable of successfully directing his own steps. God’s prophet, Jeremiah, said, “O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Human authority is not reliable because it is a product of fallible man. As God said to his people, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways …” (Isaiah 55:8). The Creator intended for the Word of God to be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalms 119:105).
The opinions of folks will always differ, but opinions are not to be our source of authority. The wise man reminded, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; But the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Yes, the right to command belongs to Christ, and because of this truth the Scripture says, “And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
WARNING AGAINST REFUSING DIVINE AUTHORITY
The eternal principle is made clear when Moses said, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). John, in the last book of the New Testament, warns, “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
God’s word is truth (John 17:17), and it is only truth that will save one from his sins (John 8:32). Truth must be taught not in part but in its entirety. A little truth mixed with a little error is deadly! The apostle Paul knew the danger of only teaching partial truths and thus he proclaimed, “Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). Many who profess to be members of the body of Christ need to resurrect this scripture from wherever they have buried it!
BIBLE AUTHORITY RECOGNIZED AS BEING ABSOLUTE
It is sad to realize that today even many who are members of the Lord’s church will argue that one does not need authority for all that he does in religion. Yet, the apostle Paul sets forth a principle regarding the necessity of authority that will be binding as long as this earth stands. Paul told the Colossian brethren, “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). To do something in the name of the Lord is to do it by His authority! Peter affirms this principle in saying, “if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God …” (1 Peter 4:11). The Old Testament also affirms this eternal principle regarding authority. God told Jonah, “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee” (Jonah 3:2). Any teaching or preaching not authorized by God is in vain and for naught!
A “THUS SAITH THE LORD” IS NEEDED
One of the greatest errors being perpetuated today is that one may do anything not expressly forbidden. The truth of the matter is that one must have a “thus saith the Lord” for what he does in religion. Do you remember when King Saul decided to offer the sacrifice because he thought Samuel would not arrive in time? The issue is not whether Samuel will arrive in time to make the offering – the issue is that King Saul is not qualified to make the sacrifice. When Samuel arrived he said to Saul, “Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Sacrifice without obedience is worthless!
Do you also remember the reason Nadab and Abihu were killed by God? The scripture says, “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1-2). It is an “un-get-aroundable” point that Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” unto God. It was “strange” because it was fire that “he had not commanded them.”
The silence of the Scripture is to be respected, but one must understand that silence does not authorize. The question is not “where does the Scripture forbid a action,” but rather “where does the Scripture authorize an action.”
GENERIC AND SPECIFIC AUTHORITY MUST BE UNDERSTOOD
Generic authority has often been illustrated by using the Master’s command to the apostles, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations …” (Matthew 28:19). They were to go, but how were they to go? They could walk, ride an animal, or take a boat. Epistles were sent to some places were the apostles could not go in person. But the gospel was to be set forth and disciples made in all nations.
Specific authority is restrictive in that it specifies what God wants done. One can search through the New Testament in a reliable translation and never find the command for Christians to “make music” in worship. God is very specific in stating that a person is to “sing” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). This rules out man getting to decide “how” he is going to make music. If one respects the authority of the Scriptures he will make music by singing.
Generic and specific authority are derived in only one of three ways – by direct command, approved example, or necessary inference.
HONORING GOD’S WORD AS THE SOURCE OF AUTHORITY BINDING
As has been said so many times, “The Bible is not divided over what the Bible says, but over what it does not say.” God has the right as Creator to command His creatures. One will either respect and honor Bible authority or reject and spurn it. To claim to love the Lord and ignore and spurn His authority is a disgrace (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus said, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The great problem today is a“lack of knowledge” just as it was during Hosea’s day (Hosea 4:6).
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE
The Scriptures reveal that God’s Word is everlasting (1 Peter 1:25). Jesus says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). A truth that must never be forgotten in respecting the authority of God’s Word is this: “For ever, O Jehovah, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalms 119:89).
J.H. Thayer, The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1981), p. 225.
Please e-mail me (Marvin L. Weir) if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
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