Why the need for authority?
Authority in religion is necessary because the nature and being of deity dictate it. According to Jeremiah 10:23, man cannot provide it for himself. It is not his place to dictate how he relates to God, or to what moral laws he is engaged. Otherwise, it is by feelings and personal preference that we conduct ourselves in this life. Feelings, unfortunately, can be deceptive (Proverbs 16:25) and personal preference is subject to change. So how we relate to God must be directed by a greater authority; an objective, divine, supreme authority. Because of His ultimate sovereignty, it is God’s place to define authority for us – the rights and wrongs, the how of religion, the nature of our relationships with each other. Deuteronomy 12:1-8 is very revealing. Specifically notice verse 8, which says, “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” This kind of attitude denies accountability and responsibility.
Of course, many balk at the claim that it is God’s sovereign place to dictate our lives. In response, Paul reminds his readers, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?” (Romans 9:20-21). In Athens, Paul noted that God was the one who made the world and all the things in it, that “He is Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). We need God’s authority because without it, we are just wanderers in this world. We lack direction and purpose. After all, the very meaning of life is: “Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Jesus Is The Final Authority
While God spoke to mankind in many ways throughout the ages – through prophets and poets like Moses and David – in this final age, the culmination of God’s revelation is through Jesus Christ. Even men like David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) and Moses (Deuteronomy 18:14-19) knew that a Final Authority would one day come. Others like Abraham (John 8:56) also recognized the need for Jesus Christ and rejoiced over the culminating figure of God’s revelatory force. Hebrews 1:1-2 notes that “in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He has made the world.” While God has revealed Himself in diverse ways throughout history, He was perfectly manifested in His Son (Matthew 11:27).
Everything Jesus spoke was truth directly from God. It was and is authoritative over all mankind, for all time. “I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world…When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me… If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:26-32). And who can deny John 14:6? “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one can come to the Father but through Me.”
It is undeniable that Jesus’ words serve as the final authority in all matters. He also brought His listeners back to the word, just as He said, “He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me. And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me. I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness. And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12:44-50).
The Need For Further Revelation?
With all of this being said, it is important to recognize that Jesus’ message was often very limited in its scope. He had a specific purpose in His ministry, and it was not always for the benefit of all people. He repeatedly stated that the primary mission of His earthly ministry was to go to the Hebrews (Matthew 10:5-6, 15:24) so that they might have the opportunity to hear the Gospel first. He served as the fulfillment of the Law given at Mt. Sinai to the Israelites (Romans 10:4, John 1:17, Matthew 5:17-20). So even though Jesus was given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), we have to keep His ministry within its context. He came to fulfill the Law, to finish it, to satisfy the requirement for a perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10, 19-22). He left His apostles behind to build up the product of that sacrifice: His Kingdom. He told the apostles, “You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and In Samaria, and unto the outermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:18).
What Jesus left behind was a group of apostles who would help establish what He had decreed: that all people be given the opportunity to be saved through the sacrifice. Peter explains it thus: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him…You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil…And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:34-43).
Before the death on the cross, though, Jesus prepared His apostles for the massive responsibility that they would shoulder during the early years of the church. Even though He would leave them personally, His power and influence would be felt in the person of the Holy Spirit. Notice some of the Spirit’s characteristics in John 14:15-18, 25-26 and John 16:13-15. His work was the divine revelation of truth to the apostles, so that they could teach the message to all people:
- “He will teach you all things”
- “He will remind you of all things I have spoken to you”
- “He will guide you into all the truth”
- “He shall speak unto you those things that He shall hear”
- “He shall show unto you things to come”
The Spirit would serve as a guide, a helper, and a teacher. Thus, imbued with the power of this divine person, the apostles would be able to defend the Gospel before all audiences, both great and small, powerful and meek. They would know what to say in the moment of need (Matthew 10:17-20) without any fear. The apostles’ words are not just interesting or informative, but binding on all people for all time. They carry the same stamp of authority as the very words that Jesus spoke. Whatever would be bound by an apostle on earth would have heavenly approval (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18). In 1 John 4:6, it is written, “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us.” Paul noted that the things he taught were not mere words of men, but were imparted directly by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). Similarly, he elaborates in Galatians 1:11-12, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it though a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The Authority of the Apostles’ Literature
What an apostle wrote bore the same authority as what he said. “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). By reading their messages, we can share the same knowledge that was given to them miraculously. “That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:3-5). Other passages also stress the same immediate link between the apostles’ words and the words of Jesus (1 Corinthians 14:37, 2 Peter 3:2), the words of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11-13), and the words of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Furthermore, what the apostles wrote was intended to be authoritative to all churches. Their letters were to be shared and distributed (Colossians 4:16):
- “Thus I direct in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17)
- “And he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17)
- “But in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God…” (1 Timothy 3:15).
The apostles considered their writings sacred scripture (2 Peter 3:16), and explained that the only way to make a man adequate and complete for every good work was to apply the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Their literary works were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21) and a failure to follow them by Christians was to result in being withdrawn from (2 Thessalonians 3:14). Fellowship with other Christians is determined by adherence to scripture (2 John 9), including New Testament epistles and the Gospels. After all, Jesus Himself concludes that His words will be the final judge of this world (John 12:48).