Authority in Religion
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3547. nomodidaskalos -- a teacher of the law
... ie a premier "teacher of the Law" who gave "expert " on issues in Jewish life and
religion. ... [3547 () implies someone with even higher authority than 3544 ...
// - 8k

English Congregational Creeds.
... He, I believe, drew up the Articles, and it was only in accordance with his
well-known character as a zealous antagonist of human authority in religion that ...
/.../ 102 english congregational creeds.htm

On the Authority and Certainty of the Sacred Scriptures
... the wisdom, the authority, and the power of the enemies who placed themselves in
opposition to this doctrine. Also by their love for the religion of their own ...
/.../arminius/the works of james arminius vol 1/disputation 1 on the authority.htm

The Suicide of Thought
... The modern latitudinarians speak, for instance, about authority in religion not
only as if there were no reason in it, but as if there had never been any ...
// the suicide of thought.htm

Dangerous Effects to Religion and Morality of the Doctrine of So ...
... Chapter XXVII."Dangerous Effects to Religion and Morality of the Doctrine of So
Weak a ... for it is by allurement that it stands, not by authority; by flattery ...
/.../the five books against marcion/chapter xxvii dangerous effects to religion.htm

The Society of Friends, or Quakers.
... other Church or sect in Christendom. They oppose all outward authority
in religion, though it be the letter of the Bible itself. ...
/.../creeds of christendom with a history and critical notes/ 107 the society of.htm

Of Councils and their Authority.
... cause, reason with reason, on the authority of Scripture, an authority not peculiar
to ... with spiritual prudence adopted to crush the enemies of religion who had ...
/.../calvin/the institutes of the christian religion/chapter 9 of councils and.htm

The Institutes of the Christian Religion
// institutes of the christian religion/

He Proceeds against his Opponent with the Choicest Arguments, and ...
... the choicest arguments, and shows that we ought to hold fast to the religion which
we ... not use your own creed, I would still confute you by the authority of the ...
/.../cassian/the seven books of john cassian /chapter v he proceeds against.htm

The Testimony of the Spirit Necessary to Give Full Authority to ...
/.../calvin/the institutes of the christian religion/chapter 7 the testimony of.htm

The Papal Syllabus, AD 1864.
... Seventeen errors (39-55). (44.) 'Civil authority may meddle in things pertaining
to religion, morals, and the spiritual government.'. ...
/.../ 30 the papal syllabus.htm

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Authority in Religion


o-thor'-i-ti rabhah; toqeph; exousia; exousiazo; katexousiazo; epitage; huperoche; authenteo; dunastes


1. Of Two Kinds

(1) External

(2) Internal

2. Universal Need of Authority

3. Necessity for Infallible Criterion of Truth

4. Ultimate Nature of Authority

5. It Is God

6. Different Ideas of God and Different Views of Authority

7. A Problem of Knowledge for Christians


1. In Old Testament

2. In New Testament

3. Common Elements in their Meaning


1. Old Testament Teaching

(1) Earliest Form Patriarchal

(2) Tribal and Personal Authority

(3) See rs and Priests

(4) Kings and Established Religion

(5) The Great Prophets

(6) The Canon and Rabbinical Tradition

2. New Testament Teaching

(1) Jesus Christ's Authority (a) His Teaching

(b) His Works

(c) Forgiving and Judging

(d) Life and Salvation

(e) Derived from His Sonship

(f) In His Ascended State

(g) Christ and the Paraclete

(2) The Disciples' Authority

(a) Derived from Christ

(b) Paul's Authority

(c) Authority of All Believers

(d) Authority over the Nations

(3) Church's Authority Moral and Personal

(4) Authority of the Bible


1. Appeal to Reason as Logos

2. Orthodox Dogma

3. Scholasticism

4. Ecclesiastical Absolutism

5. Reformation Principles

6. New Scholasticism

7. The Inner Light

8. Back to Experience

9. Distrust of Reason

10. Christian Skepticism


1. External

(1) Incipient Catholicism

(2) General Councils

(3) Romanism

(4) Papal Infallibility

(5) Inerrancy of Scripture

(6) Anglican Appeal to Antiquity

(7) Limitations of External Authority

(a) Not Infallible (b) Rests on Personal Authority

(c) No Apostolical Tradition Extant

(d) No Consensus of Fathers

(e) Bible Needs Interpretation

(f) Authority Necessarily Spiritual

2. Internal Authority


I. General Idea.

1. Of Two Kinds:

The term is of manifold and ambiguous meaning. The various ideas of authority fall into two main classes: as external or public tribunal or standard, which therefore in the nature of the case can only apply to the outward expressions of religion; and as immanent principle which governs the most secret movements of the soul's life.

(1) External.

A characteristic instance of the former idea of authority is found in A. J. Balfour's Foundations of Belief: "Authority as I have been using the term is in all cases contrasted with reason, and stands for that group of non-rational causes, moral, social and educational, which produces its results by psychic processes other than reasoning" (p. 232, 8th edition). The bulk of men's important beliefs are produced and authorized by "custom, education, public opinion, the contagious convictions of countrymen, family, party or church" (p. 226). Authority and reason are "rival claimants" (p. 243). "Authority as such is, from the nature of the case, dumb in the presence of argument" (p. 234).

Newman makes a kindred distinction between authority in revealed religion and conscience in natural religion, although he does not assign as wide a sphere to authority, and he allows to conscience a kind of authority. "The supremacy of conscience is the essence of natural religion, the supremacy of apostle or pope or church or bishop is the essence of revealed; and when such external authority is taken away, the mind falls back again of necessity upon that inward guide which it possessed even before revelation was vouchsafed" (Development of Doctrine, 86, edition 1878). From a very different standpoint the same antithesis appears in the very title of Sabatier's book, The Religions of Authority and the Religion of the Spirit. He knows both kinds of authority. "The authority of material force, of custom, tradition, the co de, more and more yields place to the inward authority of conscience and reason, and in the same measure becomes transformed for the subject into a true autonomy" (p. xxxiii, English Translation).

(2) Internal.

Martineau distinguishes the two types of authority to reject the former and accept the latter. "The mere resort to testimony for information beyond our province does not fill the meaning of `authority'; which we never acknowledge till that which speaks to us from another and a higher strikes home and wakes the echoes in ourselves, and is thereby instantly transferred from external attestation to self-evidence. And this response it is which makes the moral intuitions, started by outward appeal, reflected back by inward veneration, more than egoistic phenomena, and turning them into correspondency between the universal and the individual mind, invests them with true authority" (Seat of Authority, Preface, edition 1890).

Confusion would disappear if the fact were recognized that for different persons, and even for the same persons at different times, authority means different things. For a child his father's or his teacher's word is a decree of absolute authority. He accepts its truth and recognizes his obligation to allow it to determine his conduct. But when reason awakes in him, he may doubt their knowledge or wisdom, and he will seek other guides or authorities. So it is in religious development. Some repudiate authorities that others acknowledge. But no one has a monopoly of the term or concept, and no one may justly say to Dr. Martineau or anybody else that "he has no right to speak of `authority' at all."

2. Universal Need of Authority:

All religion involves a certain attitude of thought and will toward God and the Universe. The feeling element is also present, but that is ignored in theories of external authority. All religion then involves certain ideas or beliefs about God, and conduct corresponding to them, but ideas may be true or false, and conduct right or wrong. Men need to know what is true, that they may do that which is right. They need some test or standard or court of appeal which distinguishes and enforces the truth; forbids the wrong and commands the right. As in all government there is a legislative and an executive function, the one issuing out of the other, so in every kind of religious authority recognized as such, men require that it should tell them what ideas they ought to believe and what deeds to perform.

In this general sense authority is recognized in every realm of life, even beyond that which is usually called religious life. Science builds up its system in conformity with natural phenomena. Art has its ideals of beauty. Politics seeks to realize some idea of the state. Metaphysics reconstructs the universe in conformity with some principle of truth or reality.

3. Necessity for Infallible Criterion of Truth:

"If we attach any definite intelligible meaning to the distinction between things as they really are, and things as they merely appear to be, we must clearly have some universal criterion or test by which the distinction may be made. This criterion must be in the first place infallible; that is, must be such that we cannot doubt its validity without falling into a contradiction in our thought... Freedom from contradiction is a characteristic that belongs to everything that is real. and we may therefore use it as a test or criterion of reality "(Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics, 18-19). A more skeptical philosopher writes:

"That the truth itself is one and whole and complete, and that all thinking and all experience moves within its recognition, and subject to its manifest authority, this I have never doubted" (Joachim, The Nature of Truth, 178). It is only a thoroughgoing skeptic that could disp ense with authority, a "Pyrrho," who holds suspense of judgment to be the only right attitude of mind, and he, to be logical, must also suspend all action and cease to be. There can be no question, therefore, except in total nescience, as to the fact of authority in general; and the problem to decide is, "What is the authority in religion?"

4. Ultimate Nature of Authority:

It is a problem involved in the difficulties of all ultimate problems, and all argument about it is apt to move in a circle. For the ultimate must bear witness of its own ultimacy, the absolute of its own absoluteness, and authority of its own sovereignty. If there were a court of appeal or a standard of reference to which anything called ultimate, absolute and supreme, could apply for its credentials, it would therefore become relative and subordinate to that other criterion. There is a sense in which Mr. Balfour's saying is true, "that authority is dumb in the presence of argument." No process of mediate reasoning can establish it, for no premise can be found from which it issues as a conclusion. It judges all things, but is judged of none. It is its own witness and judge. All that reason can say about it is the dictum of Paxmenides: "it is."

5. It Is God:

In this sense, there can be no question again among religious people, that the authority is God. The one idea involves the other. He alone is self-existent and supreme, who is what He is of His own right. If God exists, He is the ultimate criterion and power of truth and reality. All truth inheres in Him and issues from Him. The problem of authority thus becomes one with the proof and definition of God. These questions lie beyond the purpose of the present article; (see GOD). Their solution is assumed in this discussion of authority, although different theories of authority no doubt involve different ideas of God.

6. Different Ideas of God and Different Views of Authority:

External theories generally involve what is called a deistic conception of God. Spiritualistic theories of authority correspond to theistic views of God. If He is immanent as well as transcendent, He speaks directly to men, and has no need of intermediaries. Pantheism results in a naturalistic theory of truth. The mind of God is the law of Nature. But pantheism in practice tends to become polytheism, and then to issue in a crude anarchy which is the denial of all authority and truth. But within Christendom the problem of authority lies between those who agree in believing in one God, who is personal, transcendent and to some extent immanent. The differences on these points are really consequences of differences of views as to His mode of self-communication.

7. A Problem of Knowledge For Christians:

It is, therefore, a problem of epistemology rather than of ontology. The question is, in what way does God make known Himself, His mind and His authority to men generally? The purpose of this article is the exposition of the Biblical teaching of authority, with some attempt to place it in its true position in the life of the church.

II. The Biblical References.

1. In the Old Testament:

Only for

(1) rabhah (Proverbs 29:2): "to be great" or "many." "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." So the King James Version and the Revised Version, margin, but the Revised Version (British and American) "When the righteous are increased" (so BDB). Toy in the place cited remarks, "The Hebrew has: `When the righteous increase,' the suggestion being that they then have control of affairs; the change of a letter gives the reading `rule' which is required by the 'govern' of the second line."

(2) toqeph (Esther 9:29): "Esther the queen. wrote with all authority to confirm this second letter of Purim" (Revised Version margin "strength" [so BDB]).

2. In the New Testament:

(1) Most frequently for exousia; exousiazo; and katexousiazo:

(a) of God's authority (Acts 1:7): as the potter's over clay (Romans 9:21, right; Jude 1:25, "power"; Revelation 9, "power");

(b) of Christ's teaching and works (Matthew 7:29; Matthew 21:23, 24, 27 = Mark 1:22, 27 Mark 11:28, 29, 33 = Luke 4:36; Luke 20:2, 8 John 5:27, authority to execute judgment. The same Greek word, translated "power" in the King James Version but generally "authority" in the Revised Version (British and American) or the Revised Version, margin, appears also in Matthew 9:6, 8, to forgive sins: Matthew 28:18; Mark 2:10 Luke 4:32; Luke 5:24 John 10:18; John 17:2 Revelation 12:10);

(c) of the disciples, as Christ's representatives and witnesses (Luke 9:1, the twelve; 2 Corinthians 10:8, Paul); also of their rights and privileges; (the same Greek word in Matthew 10:1 Mark 3:15; Mark 6:7 Luke 10:19 = the Revised Version (British and American) "authority"; John 1:12 Acts 8:19 2 Corinthians 13:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:9 Hebrews 13:10 Revelation 2:26; Revelation 22:14 = the Revised Version (British and American) "right");

(d) of subordinate heavenly authorities or powers (1 Corinthians 15:24 1 Peter 3:22; and the same Greek word in Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12 Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10, 15 Revelation 11:6; Revelation 14:18; Revelation 18:1);

(e) of civil authority, as of king, magistrate or steward (Luke 7:8 = Matthew 8:9 [centurion]; Mark 13:34 Luke 19:17; Luke 20:20; Luke 22:25 = Matthew 20:25 = Mark 10:42; and Acts 9:14; Acts 26:10, 12 [of Saul]; and the same Greek word in Luke 12:11; Luke 23:7 John 19:10, 11 Acts 5:4 Romans 13:1, 2, 3 Titus 3:1 Revelation 17:12, 13);

(f) of the powers of evil (Revelation 13:2, "the beast that came out of the sea"; and the same Greek word in Luke 4:6; Luke 12:5; Luke 22:53 Acts 26:18 Ephesians 2:2 Colossians 1:13 Revelation 6:8; Revelation 9:3, 10, 19; 13:4, 5, 7, 12; 20:6).

(g) of man's inward power of self-control (the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 7:37; 1 Corinthians 8:9, "liberty"; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 7:4; 1 Corinthians 9:4, 5, 6, 12, 18, the Revised Version (British and American) "right"; 1 Corinthians 11:10).

(2) For epitage: commandment, authority to exhort and reprove the church (Titus 2:15).

(3) For huperoche: "for kings and all that are in high place" (Revised Version (British and American) 1 Timothy 2:2).

(4) For authenteo: "I permit not a woman. to have dominion over a man" (Revised Version, 1 Timothy 2:12).

(5) For dunastes: "A eunuch of great authority" (Acts 8:27).

3. Common Elements in Their Meaning:

Of the words translated "authority," exousia, alone expresses the idea of religious authority, whether of God, of Christ or of man. The other uses of this word are here instructive in as bringing out the common element in secular and religious authority.

The control of the state over its subjects, whether as supreme in the person of emperor or king, or as delegated to and exercised by proconsul, magistrate or soldier, and the control of a householder over his family and servants and property, exercised directly or indirectly through stewards, have some characteristics which also pertain to religious authority; and the differences, essential though they are, must be derived from the context and the circumstances of the case. In one passage indeed the civil type of authority is mentioned to be repudiated as something that should not obtain within the religious community (Matthew 20:25-27 = Mark 10:42-44 = Luke 22:25, 26). But although its principle and power are so entirely different in different realms, the fact of authority as determining religious thought, conduct and relations permeates the whole Bible, and is expressed by many terms and phrases besides those translated "authority."

III. Biblical Teaching.

A summary of the Biblical account of authority is given in Hebrews 1:1; "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 a Son [RVm]." Behind all persons and institutions stands God, who reveals His mind and exercises His sovereignty in many ways, through many persons and institutions, piecemeal and progressively, until His final revelation of His mind and will culminates in Jesus Christ.

1. Old Testament Teaching:

(1) Earliest Form Patriarchal

The earliest form of authority is patriarchal. The father of the family is at once its prophet, priest and king. The consciousness of individuality was as yet weak. The unit of life was the family, and the father sums up the family in himself before God and stands to it as God. Such is the earliest picture of religious life found in the Bible. For whatever view may be taken of the historicity of Genesis, there can be little doubt that the stories of the patriarchs represent an early stage of religious life, before the national or even the tribal consciousness had developed.

(2) Tribal and Personal Authority

When the tribal consciousness emerges, it is clad in a network of customs and traditions which had grown with it, and which governed the greater part of the life of the tribe. The father had now become the elder and judge who exercised authority over the larger family, the tribe. But also, men of commanding personality and influence appear, who change and refashion the tribal customs. They may be men of practical wisdom like Jethro, great warriors like Joshua, or emergency men like the judges. Moses stands apart, a prophet and reformer who knew that he bore a message from God to reform his people's religion, and gave Israel a knowledge of God and a covenant with God which set them forever apart from all other peoples. Other tribes might have a Jethro, a Joshua and a Jephtha, but Israel alone had its Moses. His authority has remained a large factor in the life of Israel to the present day and should hereafter be assumed as existing side by side with other authorities mentioned.

(3) See rs and Priests

In our earliest glimpses of Hebrew life in Canaan we find bands of seers or prophets associated with religion in Israel, as well as a disorganized priesthood which conducted the public worship of Yahweh. These features were probably common to Israel and neighboring Semitic tribes. Here again the individual person emerges who rises above custom and tradition, and exercises an individual authority direct from God over the lives of the people. Samuel, too, was a prophet, priest and king, but he regarded his function as so entirely ministerial, that God might be said to govern His people directly and personally, though He made known His will through the prophet.

(4) Kings and Established Religion

In the period of the kingship, religious authority became more organized, institutional and external. The occasional cooperation of the tribes developed into nationality, and the sporadic leadership of emergency chieftains gave way to the permanent rule of the king. Priests and prophets became organized and recognized guilds which acted together under the protection and influence of the king, along the lines of traditional morality and religion. The Hebrew church in its middle ages was an established church and thoroughly "Erastian." We know very little of the details of its organization, but it is clear that the religious orders as a rule offered little resistance to the corrupting influences of the court and of the surrounding heathenism.

(5) The Great Prophets

Opposition to corruption and advance to higher levels of religious life invariably originated outside the recognized religious authorities. God raised for Himself prophets such as Elijah, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah, who spoke out of the consciousness of an immediate vision or message or command from God. In turn they influenced the established religious authorities, as may be seen in the reformations of Hezekiah and Josiah. All that is distinctive in the religion of Israel, all revelation of God in the Old Testament, proceeded from the inner experiences of the irregular prophets.

(6) The Canon and Rabbinical Tradition

In the Judaism of the post-exilic period, the disappearance of the kingship, and the cessation of prophecy produced new conditions which demanded a readaptation of religious authorities. The relative position of the priesthood was greatly enhanced. Its chiefs became princes of Jerusalem, and exercised all the powers of theocracy that remained under foreign rule. And new developments emerged.

The formation of the canon of the Old Testament set up a body of writings which stood as a permanent and external standard of doctrine and worship. But the necessity was felt to interpret the Scriptures and to apply them to existing conditions. The place of the old prophetic guilds was taken by the new order of rabbis and scribes. Gradually they secured a share with the priests in the administration of the law. "In the last two pre-Christian centuries and throughout the Talmudic times, the scribes tsopherim, also called the wise chakhamim, who claimed to have received the true interpretation of the Law as `the tradition of the Elders and Fathers' in direct line from Moses, the prophets, and the men of the great synagogue,. included people from all classes. They formed the court of justice in every town as well as the high court of justice, the Sanhedrin in Jerus" (Kohler in Jew Encyclopedia, II, 337). In the time of Christ, these courts were the recognized authorities in all matters of religion.

2. 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, 34, 39, 44; Matthew 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, 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; Matthew 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; Mark 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).

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Authority in General

Authority in Religion

Authority Over Your Children

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