Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority? Who can speak for God?
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Many preachers have claimed that they have “authority” in regard to biblical things. They have produced teachings (dogmas, tenets, doctrines, creeds), and then they have demanded people to obey and follow those teachings. But, what does the Bible say about authority? What did Jesus say in regard to such things? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority, on the human level? In other words: Who can speak for God, here on Earth?
This article takes a closer look at that matter. Even such concepts as “binding and loosing”, “seat of Moses”, “the true church”, “clergy and laity”, “ordination”, “priesthood”, “creeds”, “dogmas” and “doctrines” will be considered here.
Jesus gave his disciples and especially the apostles (people of the first century), certain powers and abilities. Does any of that apply to people who live here on Earth today? That matter is considered later in this article.
This study is not about “authority” in business or in the civil society in general, but only about “biblical authority”, “spiritual authority” or “religious authority”. What applies to the various “authorities” in the mundane society, is a separate matter.
Before studying what the Scriptures say about authority, it can be good to consider the origin of that word.
The English word “authority” comes from the Latin noun auctoritas which referred to such things as “production”, “invention”, “cause”. Auctoritas in its turn came from the noun auctor which was used in such meanings as “producer”, “father”, “progenitor”, “creator”, “maker”, “inventor”, “founder” and so on.
In short: The author of a given matter or thing is the one who made or established it.
The answer was actually given above. It is the author or originator of any given thing that has the authority over what he or she has created, produced, invented or written. This means that no mortal can have authority over the Scriptures. For, whom should we consider to be the ultimate authors of the Bible? That is, who inspired what the books of the Bible consist of? God the Father in Heaven and his son Jesus. So, it is they who have biblical authority, and not anyone else. [a] [b]
In that context, let us consider something Jesus said to his disciples:
Matthew 23:8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. (NASB77)
As you can see, the disciples were to have only one spiritual Father, God, and only one Master, Teacher and Leader, Jesus.
(The matter of priesthood is considered later in this article.)
Concerning the above-quoted Matthew 23:8–10 – it is true that Jesus said those things to his disciples, people of the first century. But certainly, that passage contains an important lesson even for people of our day.
a Important: Here, one must keep in mind, regarding the Bible, that all translations contain errors and bias and all too often even purposely slanted and twisted things. And, even the various Hebrew and Greek manuscripts have differences. (All today known bible-manuscripts are considered to be copies of earlier texts. Copies tend to contain errors.) And no, king James’ bible is not in any way an “inspired translation” as some want people to believe. Some call it “the authorised version”, but that authorisation did not come from God. The article nsa030.htm has more on that subject.
b It is of course clear that the apostles whom Jesus sent out in the first century, certainly had “authority”, because they acted on behalf of Jesus who had commissioned and sent them. But, they did not invent their own teachings; they only echoed what Jesus had said.
Sometimes, if the apostles did not have the word of the Lord on some specific matter, they might even express a private opinion, but then, they could make it clear that it was so. An example: “To all others I say (I, not the Lord) […]”, 1 Corinthians 7:12.
Please note that Jesus does not have any apostles or “representatives” here on Earth, today. – In the future, there will come forth persons who will be speaking for God, here on Earth: The two witnesses whom God will send to warn this world.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Jewish saints, regarding Jesus:
Hebrews 5:9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek” (NKJV)
Verse 9: It is Jesus and his Father who are the authors (originators) of mankind’s salvation.
Verse 10 and the word “priest” (Paul was quoting Psalms 110:4) – many churches have their priests, but the facts are that the New Covenant does not have any mortal priesthood. The saints had only one priest: The resurrected Jesus.
And then, one must understand that Jesus does not have any mortal “deputies” or “spokesmen” here on Earth, today. There is more on this, under the following headings.
A note: Some have produced a dogma where all believers are said to be “priests”, and even “kings”. But, that concept is based on a misunderstanding in regard to what the apostle Peter meant when he in a letter to some saints in a poetic manner cited certain Old Testament passages. The article noa030.htm has some notes on this.
Despite the clear facts which were discussed under the preceding headings, many preachers have claimed that they have “authority” over biblical things and even over believers. In essence, they have presented themselves as some kind of “mediators” or “spokesmen for God”. Some have even claimed that they act as “representatives of the government of God”. They have let it be understood that “common people” or “lay people” must obey “the clergy” or “the ordained men”.
Here, it can be good to know that the concept of “ordaining” does not have any support in the Greek text of the New Testament. The article nea020.htm has more on this.
Regarding the words “laity” and “clergy” – when it comes to the New Testament and the New Covenant, the concept of dividing people into a “laity” (“common people”) and “clergy” (“priesthood”) is totally unbiblical. Again, the saints had only one priest: The resurrected Jesus. The New Covenant simply does not have any mortal priesthood. – Many churches copy Catholic manners, and so, they have priests and altars and so on. But, that has nothing to do with how things were among the saints.
The English word “laity” comes from the old Greek word laikos (“of the people”, “common”), related to the verb laikoô which had come to have the idiomatic meaning “to make common”, “to desecrate”. In other words, those who present themselves as “clergy”, put themselves on a “higher” level, above those whom they view as “common” people. The article nsa070.htm has more on this, and explains the actual origin of the word and concept “clergy”.
Many bible-versions contain wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that the saints were “ruled” by elders. But, it was not so. Let us consider something that Jesus said to his disciples:
Mark 9:33 And they came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. 35 And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.” (NASB77, highlighting added)
Verse 34, “but they kept silent” – obviously, they were ashamed of what they had done. Jesus was correcting them.
Also, the earlier quoted Matthew 23:8–10 records how Jesus made it clear to his disciples that they were not to call anyone here on Earth their “spiritual father”, and that they were to have only one Leader and Master in regard to spiritual matters – Jesus. And, he told them that they were brothers – equal.
Jesus made the note that in this world, there are those who lord it over others (Matthew 20:25–28, Mark 10:42–45, Luke 22:25–27). He told his disciples that among them, things were not to be so. Those who tried to make themselves “great”, were to be corrected and made to realise the error in their doings. But, many bible-translations do not convey that message in a clear way.
The article nea040.htm takes a closer look at Hebrews 13:7 and 17 and some other NT passages where a number of translators have made it seem that the saints were “ruled” by elders.
Luke 9:1 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. 2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. (AKJV)
Here, one must keep in mind that the above-quoted passage records something that Jesus said and did to and regarding those twelve men, and not to or regarding anyone in our day.
The power and authority which that passage mentions, was this: To heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. And also, Jesus sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God.
It is also clear that the apostles whom Jesus sent out in the first century, had “authority” in the meaning that they acted on behalf of Jesus who had commissioned and sent them. But, they did not invent their own teachings; they only echoed what Jesus had said.
And, the apostles did not act as “rulers” over the other disciples. What Jesus taught in regard to the internal relations between his disciples, was discussed earlier in this article. He pointed out that they were brothers (equal). They were not to have “ranks”, “titles” or “hierarchies”.
In a letter to the saints in Corinth, the apostle Paul (and Timothy) emphasised that matter, by using the Greek word doulos, “slave”:
2 Corinthians 4:5 For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves [Greek doulous] because of Jesus. (HCSB, comment added)
“We are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” – it is reasonable to assume that they were actually saying this:
2 Corinthians 4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves [as lords] but Jesus the Messiah as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
Here, Paul called himself and Timothy “slaves”, Greek doulous. It was Jesus who was the saints’ Lord and Master, and not anyone else. Keep also in mind Matthew 23:8–10 which was quoted earlier in this article.
Some preachers have built dogmas around Matthew 16:19, and they have caused people to think that Jesus was talking about them (those preachers), and not about the apostles. Also: Some have claimed or let it be understood that they have in some way “inherited apostolic authority”.
In connection with Matthew 16:19, let us consider even the preceding verse, 18.
The Catholic Church has taken Matthew 16:18 and 19 out of their context, and then built dogmas around those verses, regarding “primacy” and “the true church”. Later, many other churches have copied those Catholic dogmas and modified them, and used them for their own purposes.
But, the context shows that the subject was neither a “church” nor the apostle Simon Peter. The subject was Jesus himself. Let us begin in verse 13. It records that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” When the disciples had answered him, he asked them further, verse 15, “But you, who do you say that I am?” This time it happened to be Simon Peter who answered, and so, Jesus directed his comments at him (verses 18–19). But, this did not mean that Simon was singled out as one with “primacy”, as the Catholic Church claims.
More: Those who study related passages in the New Testament, will find that what Jesus promised to Simon, was promised even to the other apostles. In short: Jesus’ mention of “the keys of the Reign of the Heavens” – as the meaning of the Greek text is, Matthew 16:19 – meant that when the apostles had become immortals, they were to act as representatives of the Reign of God, as judges, assisting Jesus. That is where the immortal ekklêsia or assembly of Matthew 16:18 comes in. The article naa010.htm has more on this. It considers even the meaning of the words “you are a stone, and on this Rock I will build my assembly”.
So, regarding the in Matthew 16:18–19 mentioned immortal assembly with powers to “bind and loose”: The authority which verse 19 refers to, “the keys of the Reign of the Heavens”, was to be given to the apostles when they had become immortals. At that time, they were to act as judges, “binding and loosing”, on behalf of the Reign of God, see Matthew 19:27–28 et cetera.
(A note: There is even another passage which mentions “binding and loosing”, Matthew 18:15–18. That was regarding how the disciples were to settle their internal disputes, verse 15, “if your brother offends you”, and so on.)
When it comes to the Scriptures – the Bible’s teaching has already been “set” and “bound” a long time ago, by its ultimate Authors, God and his son Jesus. No mortal is to form “dogmas” or tenets for others. (Here, one must keep in mind that later copies of what originally was said and written, and especially translations of those copies, contain many errors.)
Regarding dogmas and other such things: Is it correct and biblical to have dogmas and doctrines, and “doctors of theology” who produce them? No. Dogmas, doctrines, tenets, creeds, statements of faith and so on are compiled by men, and consist of teachings of men. The article nsa080.htm has more on the matter of “doctrines”.
In New Testament times, the scribes and the Pharisees felt that they could “set doctrine”. They had “seated themselves in the chair of Moses” (Matthew 23:2, NASB95) – that is, they had manipulated themselves into such a power-position that it almost seemed that they had the same position as Moses. But, they did not have any right to such a position. Jesus – who was the “second Moses” – repeatedly castigated the scribes and the Pharisees, with strong words. Here is an example of that:
Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (NASB95)
The articles noa120.htm has more on the Pharisees and also on the matter regarding the so-called “seat of Moses”.
Many preachers have talked about “the true church”, and claimed that “God has placed authority in his church” (or something like that). In other words: They have copied the old Catholic “true church” dogma, and modified it and used it for controlling people, the way the Catholic Church has done and does.
That dogma is false, of course. The article naa010.htm has more on that matter, including Matthew 16:18 which was mentioned earlier.
Regarding the “church eras” doctrine which some have promulgated, see the article naa031.htm.
The article nga060.htm explains the actual origin and meaning of the word “church”.
In Old Testament times, Moses and many other prophets spoke for God. Then, Jesus spoke for God, and it can be said that Jesus’ apostles (men whom Jesus in the first century chose, trained and then sent out) also did that, as they echoed what Jesus had said and taught.
Even in the future, there will be some who will be truly speaking for God, here on Earth: The two witnesses whom God will send to warn this world.
There have been many who have claimed themselves to be prophets or witnesses or spokesmen for God, or that they have been “sent by God”. Also, in some churches people have been caused to think that some preacher was or is “the Elijah who was to come”, or something similar. – Jesus warned his disciples, and said that many would come in His name, and deceive many. That is something that even people of our day should keep in mind.
Many translators have put into the New Testament phrases and wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that elders among the saints had or wielded “authority” over others. Please keep in mind that bible-translations are for the most part produced by churches and churchmen, for their own needs and purposes. Translators add and choose words, and bend and stretch and twist things, according to their own bias and goals and motives, or according to their employers’ bias, goals and motives.
A note: There is a cult around king James’ bible. It is important to understand that its production was ordered and controlled by king James I of England who for political reasons wanted a “new” bible (in reality, it was a slight revision of the 1602 edition of Bishops’ bible). James the king saw to it that certain wordings were written into his bible. Among the things that he wanted in it, was support for “church hierarchy” – he wanted to have that, in order to keep people under control, so that his own power-position would not be threatened. That is what he meant and referred to when he said, “no bishop, no king”. The article nsa030.htm has more on this.
Another note: Even the so-called “biblical” lexicons of Greek and Hebrew are written by churchmen and are dogmatic and biased. They can be of help in some ways, but all too often, they give the reader a wrong impression of what a given Greek or Hebrew word or phrase meant.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
On the King James translation. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → nsa030.htm
Are believers a “royal priesthood” or “kings and priests”, as some say? How should one understand 1 Peter 2:4–9? → noa030.htm
What does the Bible say about ordaining or ordination? How did the saints choose their elders? Were those elders “ordained”, and did they function as “priests” of some kind? → nea020.htm
On the words and concepts “clergy” and “laity”. → nsa070.htm
Did elders in the saints’ fellowships act as “rulers”? On the translation and meaning of Hebrews 13:7, 17 and 24 and certain other passages. → nea040.htm
Matthew 16:18, “I will build my assembly, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it”. What and where was the ekklêsia or assembly which Jesus said he would form? Was it an earthly religious organisation as some claim, or something else? → naa010.htm
“Church eras” – do they exist? Are there seven “eras of the church”, as some say – “Sardis era”, “Philadelphian era”, “Laodicean era” and so on? → naa031.htm
What does the word “doctrine” really mean? Likewise, what is the meaning of the terms “dogma”, “creed” and “tenet”? → nsa080.htm
What does the Bible say about the Pharisees? → noa120.htm
The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → nga060.htm
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