Kristen, who comments here frequently, has put together two articles on “biblical” authority. Here is the premise in her own words:
God cannot be found in the Bible to be setting up a “someone always has to be in charge” system of top-down human hierarchy. Someone, in fact, does not always have to be in charge. Sometimes it works just fine to have no one in charge, or a group of equals in charge. It really depends on the circumstances.
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.
So where did the idea come from, that God has ordained top-down chains of command, both in earthly and in spiritual relationships, with human authority structures in every area of life?
1. The Greek “Great Chain of Being”
a. Plato philosophized about the Ultimate Good.
b. Aristotle equated Plato’s Ultimate Good with his idea of God.
i. Aristotle believe God was the author of all good things.
ii. Aristotle graded things in relation to their goodness or “perfection.”
c. The students of Plato and Aristotle built upon these thoughts and concluded creation is graded in a hierarchy, “from the Supreme God down to the last dregs of things, mutually linked together and without a break.” ~Macrobius
2. The Christian”Great Chain of Being” (Alan Myatt)
a. Christian apologists adopted the “great chain of being” philosophy to defend their faith.
b. In the middle ages, the church defined the “great chain” into three estates:
i. Church officials led by the pope
ii. Ruling class: kings, nobility and knights
iii. Peasants and merchants
c. The church declared this chain was God’s created and established order.
i. ” Any violation of the established authority within each estate was seen as a threat to the creation order, and subversive to the state and to the stability of Christian culture. ” (Alan Myatt)
ii. “Any attempt to leave one’s place in the chain was therefore an act of rebellion.” (Alan Myatt)
3. The Elizabethan “Great Chain of Being”
a. During the 1500’s the hierarchy was graded even further with a “top spot” heading up each class.
i. For example, the lion as the “king” of beasts is born at this time.
ii. Dolphins were considered first of the fishes, and the emperor first of men.
b. It was a common assumption that all of creation followed a hierarchical “created” order.
“In the earth God has assigned kings, princes with other governors under them, all in good and necessary order. The water above is kept and raineth down in due time and season. The sun, moon, stars, rainbow, thunder, lightening, clouds, and all birds of the air do keep their order.” (Ibid, p. 88. The Homily of Obedience written in 1547)
4. Hierachial interpretation is found all over the world.
a. Greek pagan philosophy birthed our Western understanding of hierarchical authority, but the East is influenced with hierarchy structure as well.
b. Because hierarchical schema is so pervasive in human thought, we interpret the biblical text accordingly, regardless if hierachy is actually present.
Part 4 will explore the existence of hierarchy in the Godhead.