BY WHAT AUTHORITY?
“By what authority doest thou these things“? “Who gave thee this authority“? These two questions, asked in Matthew 21:23, were asked of Jesus by certain chief priests and elders of his day who were trying to trap him. Although their motives were not good, their questions showed that they understood the need for authority and that authority must come from one who has the rightful power to grant it.
Jesus responded by asking, (vs. 25), “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” The response of Jesus shows that there are only two sources of authority which are “heaven” or “men,” i.e., “divine” or “human.”
In our relationship with God, it is very important to understand the need for authority and where authority rests.
Actually, “standards” of authority are accepted in just about every realm and relationship. For example, we know that 16 ounces is equal to a pound, 12 inches to a foot, and 3 feet to a yard. These are accepted standards in our society. Imagine the confusion which would exist if everybody had their own standard of weights and measurements. Imagine also the turmoil if people were allowed to coin their own money or if no one was willing to submit to the decisions of our court system. An accepted standard is extremely important in secular matters; it is essential in our relationship to God.
Where does authority rest in religion? There are three possible answers. First, there is internal human authority. Conscience, one’s own judgment, personal tastes, and feelings are all examples of this type of authority. Second, there is external human authority. This is exemplified in custom, tradition, human creeds, and church councils. The third possibility is divine authority. This, of course, has God as the source, is centered upon Christ, and is recorded and revealed in the Bible.
Of the three possible sources mentioned above, it is clear that man must follow divine authority (Col. 3:17, I Pet. 4:11, II Jn. 9, Rev. 22:18-19, Gal. 1:6-10). Internal and external human authority produces confusion, denominationalism, and strife. The reason for this is stated in Proverbs 14:12 which says, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” It is impossible to achieve the unity which Jesus prayed for (Jn. 17:17-21) if we cannot at least agree upon the Bible as our only source of authority. The Bible might be called an infallible book by which fallible people are able to achieve the unity which Christ desires. Further, any attempt to use either form of human authority will allow innovations and additions into the Lord’s church. We must DEMAND authority from God’s Word for every belief and practice.
The question raised by the Jewish leaders of having authority and having it from the proper source is certainly important. Remember, all authority is either human or divine. From where do we get our authority?