Kristen, who comments here frequently, has put together two articles on “biblical” authority. (The original articles by Kristen Rosser are at No Longer Qivering.) I want to learn her information well, so I jotted down a simple outline of her study. Please browse the outline, then if your spirit it so led, go over to the full articles to read her extended insights. Posted with permission.
1. The difference between authority and leadership
a. Authority is legal power, or a right to command or to act; power, rule, sway.
b. Leadership is the state of being the one leading or commanding.
c. This article is about authority, not leadership.
2. In the New Testament, God’s is sovereign over all human authority.
a. In Romans 13:1 (Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.), Paul is repeating the Old Testament sentiment that “God was the ultimate Source of all authority.”
b. God has assigned the Higher powers, or human authority, for our good.
c. “Paul is not saying that God has exercised His sovereignty so controllingly that every earthly ruler, good or evil, is there by God’s divine plan. “
3. Jesus taught there is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of God.
a. In Matthew 20, Jesus teaches God’s kingdom is nothing like the world’s.
i. Only God, not even the man Jesus, assigns the places of power.
ii. God levels hierarchy, “The first shall be last.”
iii. Jesus tells the disciples not to exercise authority over others. Instead, greatness is measured by service. The top spot is given to slaves.
“Those who sit at Jesus’ right and left hand, according to Jesus, will not be at the top of a hierarchy, taking authority over others. They will be at the bottom, lifting up others.”
b. In Matthew 18, Jesus says who the greatest is in God’s kingdom.
i. The disciples were concerned about hierarchy structures. They asked, “Who is at the top?”
ii. Jesus answers, “A child.”
*Children had no status or social importance.
iii. In God’s kingdom, man’s hierarchy is irrelevant.
c. In Matthew 23, Jesus warns his disciples not to seek positions of authority.
i. Teacher, Father and Master were the top tiers of the social hierarchy of that time. The Pharisees desired the benefits of these titles.
ii. Jesus says, “Don’t be called Teacher or Father or Master. I am all those things. You are siblings.” (Gender inclusive Greek word used here.)
iii. In Roman times, siblings were equal, except for the first born who took preeminence. Romans 8:29 calls Christ the firstborn of God’s spiritual family. The rest of us are equal siblings.
iv. We are brothers and sisters under God alone.
d. In John 13, Jesus reveals how to be great in God’s kingdom.
i. He behaves as a slave and washes his disciples feet.
ii. He tells them to copy his behavior. “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
“If the Firstborn does this, how much more should the equal-status younger brothers and sisters do the same?”
4. Follow the faith of your leaders.
a. Hebrews 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.”
i. Peitho (translated in KJV as Obey) means to trust, listen or be persuaded by.
ii. Hegaomei (translated in KJV as them that rule over you ) also means in the verb form to consider. As a noun it can mean to follow the faith of someone. Not the person himself. This is seen earlier in Hebrews 13:7.
b. Paul clarifies this idea in Philippians 3:17. Paul asks us to follow his example.
c. In contrast, 1 Cor. 3:4 discourages the Corinthians not to follow him. They should only follow God.
5. The early church was not led by hierarchy of authority, but by many leaders.
a. Peter does not title himself, but includes himself amongst those whose example should be followed. (1 Peter 5:1-3)
b. “The New Testament speaks of a plurality of leadership, rather than of individual authority. Some elders lead well and some are good at teaching (1 Tim. 5:17), but there is no indication that elders in the New Testament exercised authority as individuals over others.” (Tucker and Liefeld, Daughters of the Church, Zondervan Publishing House (1987), p. 469, quoting in part Holmberg, Paul and Power, Fortress (1978), p. 119. Emphasis in original.)
c. Titus 2:15, “These things speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority.”
i. Authority is the Greek word epitage. It refers to a command from deity that is to be shared.
ii. Titus receives epitage…not individual authority (exousia). He speaks God’s Word.
6. The disciples were not given personal authority. Jesus shared His own.
*Matthew 28:18-19, “All power has been given to me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore. . . .”
Part three will look at the origins of the “chain of command.” Hint: it isn’t from the Bible.