By What Authority?

Authority is  concept that most people understand many situations.

  • Not everyone has the authority to make laws. If we did, chaos would reign because every individual would make laws that benefit themselves. Thus, we have a system of government that is designed to make laws and those who are elected are given the authority by the people to pass laws to govern our society. That authority comes primarily from the constitution of the nation or state as set forth by our founders.
  • Not everyone in a company has the same level of authority. Some have authority to purchase items for the company. Some have authority to make rules of behavior for employees of the company. Some have authority to grant time off for employees of the company. This authority ultimately is granted by those highest up in the company, whether it is the owners themselves in a private corporation or those appointed by the stockholders of a publicly held company.
  • In social organizations such as clubs or charities, there is a chain of authority that is generally established by a charter of some type. Those who lead in these organizations are bound to follow the charter or other guidelines set forth when the organization was created.

In each of the cases mentioned above, those who fail to recognize the ultimate authority in each situation can find themselves facing severe consequences for violating that authority. Most people understand and recognize this. It is part of why we have jails to house criminals and courts to settle civil disputes.

But, this concept of authority is neither new nor unique to the non-religious world. The Jews of Jesus’ day understood the idea of authority. Even more, they understood the concept of Divine authority. We have record of an occasion where they questioned Jesus about this very concept:

23 Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” [Matthew 21:23 NKJV]

As Jesus so often did, rather than give a simple, straight answer, He took advantage of the teaching opportunity and turned the question back on those questioned Him:

24 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: 25 “The baptism of John–where was it from? From heaven or from men?” [Matthew 21:24-25 NKJV]

Jesus’ response is interesting because it only gave them two choices for John’s source of authority: heaven or men. This is the crux of what we need to understand. When we claim we are serving or worshiping God, we must determine by what authority we are engaging in the activity we claim honors His name. Is what we are doing authorized by heaven (God) or men? Note in there reaction that they clearly understood the consequences of each choice:

25 … And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. [Matthew 21:25-27 NKJV]

They knew that whatever is authorized by heaven cannot be rejected. However, they had not followed John’s teaching and this would put them in an awkward position. By contrast, if they could justify themselves by saying it was from men. This would make their rejection of John’s teachings acceptable because the authority of men is not binding in spiritual matters. The problem for them was the multitudes. They believed John was a prophet and teaching was from heaven. So they dodged the question and said, “we don’t know.”

Many religious people today dodge the question in various ways:

  • The Bible is too hard to understand, we just can’t know what the truth really is.
  • My church says this is the right the thing to do.
  • This just feels right and I can’t believe God would be displeased with something that makes me feel so good.
  • If certain things in the Bible are true, that means a lot of people are going to be lost.
  • And the list goes on…

Because of the intent to keep these articles relatively short, we are not going to address each of these in this article, but we will in subsequent articles. But think about this as we close and you think about whether or not having authority matters…

  • Could a new hire at a company walk up and fire his boss because he doesn’t like something about her? Why not?
  • Can an employee use company funds for any purpose they desire? Why not?
  • Can a member of a charitable organization with a charter for raising funds for cancer research on their own decide to use the funds for hurricane relief? Why not?
  • Can lawmakers make just any law they want without any regard for the structure of our government? (I know that’s a loaded question when it comes to real life, but in principle?)

Why, if we can understand in every other phase of life, the importance of authority for what we do, is it so hard to understand that we must have authority for what we do to honor and glorify God? Clearly Jesus expected that men could know the difference.

In subsequent articles we will look at…

  • God has clearly revealed His will to mankind and expects man to understand and follow it.
  • The ability to communicate His will to man and expect man to honor it is one of the things that sets God apart from the idols of men.
  • Failure to recognize the authority of God and His revealed will carries significant penalties.

Dan Fontenot

(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in



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