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Authority in Religion

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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1. Various connotations of the word ‘authority.’—The familiar distinction between legislative, judicial, and executive authority is one that is not only convenient, but rational and necessary. These several kinds of authority differ in their respective sources and appropriate modes of expression, and may differ also in their respective repositories. Again, authority may be original or delegated. The latter, moreover, while on a different plane, is not one whit less real than the former. And, passing by other uses of the word, it will be found that the idea lying at the heart of them all is that of a right on the part of somebody to submission of some sort and in some degree on the part of somebody else. In other words, the use of the term ‘authority’ implies the existence of an ethical standard. We shall not, therefore, have reached the ultimate authority along any line until we have arrived at this ultimate standard of right, by which the reality of all other authorities is tested. To avoid confusion, then, in considering Christ’s teachings regarding authority in religion, we shall have at every step to take account of the particular kind of authority then being dealt with.

2. Christ’s conception of religion.—That Christ’s conception of religion must have conditioned and shaped His teachings upon authority in religion is too obvious to be questioned. Hence we must at least glance at His conception of religion; but as this subject is itself a large one, we can at most merely glance at it. Our Lord, of course, has nowhere given us a formal definition of religion, nor has He anywhere formally discussed its nature. At the same time, few, we presume, will affirm that Christ has left us wholly at sea upon such a point. By common consent, religion is a term of relation. For present purposes we may, without unwarrantable assumption, say that the terms of this relation are God and man. Further, without undue assumption, we may add that true religion and right relation between God and man are equivalent expressions. Our present question, then, resolves itself into this, What, according to Christ, are the essentials of right relation between God and man?

Now, for answering this question, three statements of our Lord seem to the writer to be of fundamental importance. (1) The first of these occurs in His high priestly prayer. ‘This,’ says He, ‘is eternal life, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ’ (John 17:3). Here the last clause may be an epexegetical addition of the Evangelist himself. With this statement naturally associate themselves, among others, those in John 10:10; John 3:5, Matthew 11:27. Now, certainly no one will even for a moment suppose that our Lord here lends any countenance to anything that can properly be called intellectualism. And yet it would be violent exegesis indeed that eradicated from His words the idea that right relations to God invariably imply, and ground themselves on, right conceptions of God. On any other view, what would be the propriety of the pronoun ‘thee,’ which certainly singles out from all other possible individuals or entities Him in the knowledge of whom Christ declares that ‘eternal life’ consists? If right conceptions of God are not essential to right relation between God and man, where, again, would be the propriety of the words ‘the only true,’ and the emphasis evidently centred upon them? (cf. also Matthew 11:27).

(2) A second passage of fundamental significance for Christ’s conception of religion is Matthew 22:37 ff. || Mark 12:28 ff. ‘Thou shaft love the Lord thy God, etc. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, etc. On these two commandments hangeth the whole law and the prophets.’ But that, according to the teaching of Christ, there is an emotional element in religion, is so generally recognized that it would be superfluous to multiply references, especially in such an incidental treatment of the subject as the present.

(3) The third passage that may be regarded as fundamental for our Lord’s conception of religion is Matthew 7:21 ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ This, like the last passage cited, is typical. It represents a group of statements that need not be reproduced here.

While, therefore, the first of these three great passages implicates man’s understanding in religion, and the second his emotions, this last implicates his will, as controlling his conduct and finding its legitimate expression through it.

What may be called, then, a qualitative analysis of Christ’s conception of religion reveals the fact, that it contains this trinity of elements bound together in the indissoluble unity of the rational soul. Were any of them totally lacking, there would be no real religion. On the other hand, the necessary interrelation and interaction between them are recognized by Christ in such declarations as, ‘If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself’ (John 7:17); ‘How can ye believe which receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not’ (John 5:44); ‘While ye have the light, believe on the light, that ye may become sons of light’ (John 12:36). Such is the essential unity of the soul, that it cannot experience depravation in one of its functions without all of the others being more or less affected thereby.

While, however, we can with a measure both of ease and of certainty make what we have ventured to call a qualitative analysis of Christ’s conception of religion, it would not be so easy to arrive at a quantitative analysis of it, and say just how much knowledge, how much emotion, and how much volitional activity must be present in order to the existence in the soul of any real religion. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of Christ as elaborating any views upon such a subject. We may refrain, then, from pressing our investigation into what would only be a region of arid and empty speculation. It is enough, if it has been shown that Christ’s conception of religion recognizes the essential unity of the soul, and involves its right relation to God in all its several powers or functions. To this conception His teachings regarding authority in religion will be found to conform. See, further, art. Religion.

i. Christ’s teaching as to the ultimate standard of right, and the ultimate source of rights.—Obviously we need not expect to find Christ dealing with the ultimate standard of right under the forms of Western dialectics, or in the abstract terms of philosophy. At the same time, we need not despair of obtaining some insight into His mind even upon this question. For one thing, His mode of addressing His Father is significant. Especially is it so when we take into account the circumstances under which it was employed. ‘Holy Father,’ He says in His intercessory prayer; and again, ‘O righteous Father.’ Now, under the circumstances, this language is more, far more, than the ascription to His Father of the possession of the qualities expressed by the words ‘holy’ and ‘righteous.’ For we must not forget that Christ’s intercessory prayer was offered at the very crisis of His career. We cannot pretend to fathom the experiences of His soul in that hour. The prayer itself, however, as recorded in John 17, is tense with the emotions that wrought in our Lord’s soul as He poured it forth. He was, so to speak, getting His footing as the floods of great waters gathered around Him in their mysterious energy. And the bed-rock upon which He plants Himself is one lying out of sight so far as the visible providence of God is concerned. He assures Himself of its existence as a reality by turning away from what is taking place under the providence of God, and fixing His mind upon the nature of God. God’s nature is His voucher for the righteousness of the course of God’s providence towards Himself. In the time of stress that was upon Him, He fixes His eye upon God’s holiness and righteousness as His sole but sufficient guarantee for the existence of the qualities for which these words stand.

But, further, that Christ found the ultimate standard of right in God’s nature as expressed through God’s will, is clear also from such statements as these: ‘Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name’ (John 12:27 f.). Here, it will be seen, our Lord places Himself absolutely at the disposal of the Divine will. But this would have been sheer moral insanity, unless God’s nature contained the final norm of righteousness. And this language is by no means exceptional; for, as all know, the Gospel of John abounds with expressions of Christ making the will of God the standard to which everything is to be referred (e.g. John 4:34, John 5:30, John 6:38 f.). Nor is the case different when we turn to the Synoptics (cf. Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:10; Matthew 11:25 f., Luke 22:42). All these passages and others leave no room to doubt that Christ taught that the nature of God, as finding expression through His will, is the ultimate standard of right.

And as, for Christ, God’s nature is the ultimate norm of right, so for Him God’s will is the fountain and source of all particular rights. Wherever there exists a right upon the part of anybody to submission of any kind or degree from anybody else, such right exists in virtue of God’s ordering, and is delimited by God’s will. These statements, it seems to us, are involved in the passages already cited. All authority, in other words, is simply author-ity writ short and differently pronounced. A free creature, like man, may be, in a limited sense, an original source of power, but never of rights. His rights are all derived from, and bear the stamp of, the author of his being. Not only the primary and all-comprehending dependence, but all subordinate dependences and interdependences ground themselves ultimately on the relation that subsists between the Creator, as Creator, and the creature, as creature.

ii. Legislative authority in religion.—1. Term defined.—What we have called legislative authority is concerned primarily with duty. Its prescriptions, while mediated, at least so far as the knowledge of them goes, through the understanding, terminate upon the conscience and the will. It is the right to require or to forbid. It is the right to establish relations and define the duties or the privileges attaching to them. It is the first and most fundamental form of authority, cleaving closest to the etymological and logical sense of the word, which as already noted is simply author-ity. Legislative authority is really or approximately a creative function. In the case of God, of course, it is really creative. Behind it lies only the Divine nature, which alone conditions and regulates its exercise. From it arise all the relations of the creature to the Creator, and to his fellow-creatures, with the duties and the privileges that inhere in them, or that, in the wisdom of God, are, from time to time and under the particular circumstances, attached to them.

Now, according to our Lord’s teaching, all legislative authority in religion vests exclusively in God. He represents God as in the most absolute sense ‘Lord of the conscience.’ To Him it belongs to say, ‘Thou shalt,’ and to Him also to say, ‘Thou shalt not.’ As He has determined the relations between Himself and His creatures (‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth,’ Matthew 11:25; cf. also Matthew 19:4), it is for Him to define the duties emerging from those relations.

2. If, now, we pass to Christ’s teaching as to how this legislative authority belonging exclusively to God comes to expression, we find—(1) That our Lord is wholly silent as to the manifestation of God’s legislative authority in what we call ‘the laws of nature,’ using this phrase so as to include not only the laws of matter, but of mind as well, and also so as to include what St. Paul calls ‘the law written in the heart.’ For instance, nowhere does He directly advert to ‘the ordinance of heaven’ (Jeremiah 31:35 f., Job 38:33) as an expression of the Divine will; nowhere does He refer His hearers to the constitution of their own nature, physical, mental, or moral, as embodying an expression of the Divine will regarding this or that. There is, it may be, the glimmer of such a reference in passages like John 10:17 ff., Matthew 10:29 f., but it is at most a glimmer, and need not detain us.

(2) But that the legislative authority of God is exercised mediately as well as immediately is also taught by Christ. (a) Thus the preceptive portions of the OT, though mediated by ‘Moses and the prophets,’ are really ‘the commandments of God.’ Moses and the prophets, quoad this matter, are, so to speak, merely the heralds of the ‘Great King,’ or, to borrow an OT account of the relation between the prophet and God, the former is the ‘mouth’ of the latter (Exodus 4:16; cf. Exodus 7:1). And so, while ‘Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother’ (Mark 7:10), this is still for Christ ‘the commandment of God.’ Further, that ‘the law of Moses’ was for Him the law of God appears from the fact that, when He was Himself tempted, and had to choose between two courses, what was written in Deuteronomy prescribed for Him the path of duty (Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 4:10-11). In the parable of Dives and Lazarus, our Lord puts these very significant words into the mouth of Abraham, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’ (Luke 16:29). The law in Numbers 28:9-10 (or perhaps in 1 Chronicles 9:32), according to which ‘the priests in the temple profane’ (ironical thrust at His adversaries) ‘the Sabbath and are guiltless’ (Matthew 12:5), was for Christ determinative of duty and of privilege. Indeed, He virtually puts it upon the same plane for authority as the primary intuition and verdict of conscience, namely, that ‘it is lawful to do good—on the Sabbath day’ (Matthew 12:12). Further, Christ’s summaries of ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 7:12; Matthew 22:37 ff.) bear impressive testimony to the fact that He regarded the whole preceptive portion of the OT as an expression of the will of God. ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, even so do ye also unto them,’ is, according to our Lord, but a just summary of ‘the law and the prophets’ in terms that may be appreciated by the moral sense of all men. He teaches that the whole OT, so far as it has to do with duty towards man, is but an unfolding, in relation to this or that set of circumstances, of the ‘Golden Rule,’ whose Divine origin and authority are self-evidencing (cf. Mark 12:28 ff.).

(b) Whether Christ represents the Apostles also as organs through whom God exercises His legislative authority is, perhaps, not quite so clear. Doubtless they were. But even passages such as Matthew 10:20; Matthew 16:18, John 20:23; John 16:13 may refer to a grant of judicial rather than of strictly legislative authority. The authority conferred in these passages is, indeed, large and significant, but none of them necessarily implies that the Apostles were to be organs through whom God would make substantive additions to the commands laid upon the human conscience. Nor has the writer been able to satisfy himself that Christ anywhere uses of them language either demanding, or even susceptible of such an interpretation. In other words, while he thinks it unquestionable that the Apostles were media through whom God exercised His legislative authority, he is of opinion that we have to go outside of the Gospels for the evidence of this fact.

(c) With Christ Himself, however, the case is different. No doubt much of the authority we find Him using in the Gospels is judicial and not legislative. At the same time, intermingled with His judicial expositions of the law of God, we hear Him lay His own commands upon the conscience. Not only does He declare what is the Law, and what its meaning (see above), but He enunciates many specific precepts that stand related to His comprehensive summaries very much as the statutes of the land stand related to its constitution.

‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,’ etc. (Matthew 6:19 ff.); ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine,’ etc. (Matthew 7:6); ‘Love your enemies, do good to them that hats you,’ etc. (Luke 6:27); ‘Repent ye, and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15)—will serve as samples. Very significant for Christ’s claims to be a special organ of the legislative authority of the Godhead is such a statement as, ‘The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath’ (Matthew 12:8), and equally so this other, ‘Ye call me Teacher and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am’ (John 13:13). In both these instances it is clear that Christ asserts for Himself an authority going beyond any that can with propriety be considered as merely judicial. The ‘Lord’ is a giver of law, not simply its interpreter. The same conclusion follows even more stringently, perhaps, when our Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one,’ thereby, as the Jews affirmed, and He Himself did not deny, ‘making himself (thyself) equal with God’ (John 10:30; cf. John 10:33, Matthew 11:27; Matthew 11:29 note the word ‘yoke’). And, finally, here we must not overlook Matthew 28:18 b ‘All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth,’ which certainly constitutes a claim comprehensive enough to include the authority to prescribe laws to the conscience. See preceding article.

(3) But to say that Christ teaches that all legislative authority in religion vests exclusively in God, is hardly to put the case either as fully or as strongly as it needs to be put. For not only does our Lord represent God as ‘Lord of the conscience,’ but with equal emphasis and great explicitness He teaches that ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to His word, or beside it in matters of’ religious truth and duty. (For the purposes of this article ‘His word’ here may be taken quite broadly for any form in which God has made His will known).

This explains His word at the baptism, when the Baptist ‘would have hindered him,’ and He said, ‘Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:15). So saying, He denies to the human reason the prerogative, by annulling or setting them aside, to pass judgment upon the propriety or the expediency of Divine prescriptions. Recognizing what is praiseworthy in the spirit of the Baptist, He at the same time sets the seal of His disapprobation upon all man-devised substitutions for, or modifications of, Divine ordinances. These are all either acts of open rebellion, or well meant but real usurpations of legislative functions pertaining exclusively to God. The same view finds yet more palpable and pungent expression in His rebuke to the Pharisees (Mark 7:6 ff.). And, as is well known, it was His resistance in word and deed to the traditions of the elders regarding the Sabbath—these being ‘beside’ God’s word—that earned for Him, with the Pharisees, the odium of being Himself a Sabbath-breaker (John 5, Matthew 12, Mark 3).

Indeed, at the beginning of His Galilaean ministry, our Lord is careful to disclaim, even for Himself, either purpose or authority to disannul any of God’s commandments. ‘Think not,’ said He, ‘that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil’ (Matthew 5:17). See, further, article Commandment, below. Thus He, as it were, anticipated and forestalled the malice of His own, and the mistaken zeal of a later day. The former made it a charge against Him that He taught contrary to Moses and the prophets; and the latter, strangely enough, has supposed that it honours Him by affirming the same. And, lofty as were the claims that He made for Himself, Christ still impressed it upon His hearers that He not only did not assume to lay upon them anything contrary to God’s revealed will but that He taught, and could teach nothing that was ‘beside’ that will (John 5:30, cf. John 5:19; John 8:28 f.). And that nothing ‘contrary to or beside’ the Scriptures correctly interpreted was to be tolerated, is abundantly evident from the finality attached to them in all Christ’s appeals to the OT. For Him its declarations were an end of controversy (Matthew 22:29; Matthew 19:4; Matthew 12:3 ff., John 10:35).

iii. Judicial authority in religion.

1. Term defined.—As legislative authority has particularly to do with duty, so judicial authority has particularly to do with truth: the former prescribes what one is to do or to be; the latter, what he is to believe: the former creates and defines relation and obligations; the latter declares and interprets them: the former is mainly concerned with the conscience; the latter, with the understanding. It is worth noting further that legislative differs from judicial authority in that the former is original and the latter derivative. Legislative authority, along with other things, prescribes who is to interpret the laws it makes, and how much of finality shall attach to their interpretation by different persons. At the same time, we should not overlook the fact that the most limited judicial authority, so far as it goes, is no less real than the most absolute. Further, judicial authority, though derived, is just as real authority as is legislative authority. And, finally, when the judicial function vests in the same person as the legislative, then the maxim, ‘The interpretation of the law is the law,’ receives its highest exemplification; for then the law and the interpretation of the law are but different modal manifestations of one and the same personal will or author-ity. For, in this case, the same character that guarantees to the conscience the righteousness of the relation or obligation created by the will of the lawgiver, guarantees also to the understanding the truth of the finding of the judge. And this, be it observed, is precisely the function of judicial authority, namely, not to create a right, not to make an idea correspond with reality, but to certify to the understanding the existence or non-existence of a right, the truth or the falsity of an idea or a statement. The vital importance of this distinction will appear more and more as the discussion proceeds.

2. Repositories.—As to judicial authority, our Lord teaches that it is distributed among a number of repositories, somewhat as the same I kind of authority in a modern State is distributed among a number of courts from the lowest to the highest.

In the case of such courts, no one thinks of denying to the least and lowest of them the character of a true court. Its jurisdiction may be limited, its decisions liable to reversal, but so long as it keeps within its jurisdiction, so long as the appeal from its decisions is pending, its authority is not only as real but as absolute as that of the highest court. Further, even the lowest court possesses a genuine independence: its functions cannot be discharged for it, nor can they be wrested from it by any other court. Further still, it is for each court, at least in the first instance, to interpret and declare the law by which it was created, and its duties and prerogatives under the law. Nor does the fact that it may err in the exercise of this right either nullify or invalidate the right itself. We elaborate this analogy thus in detail, because we believe that it will prove helpful in enabling us to understand our Lord’s teachings concerning judicial authority in the sphere of religion.

Proceeding now to note His distribution itself, we find that He accords the fullest recognition (1) to what is commonly known as the right of private judgment. For Him each individual is clothed with a large, though not an absolute or final, judicial authority. Indeed, it is safe to say that no one has surpassed Christ in the honour, and even—if such words may be used of Him—in the deference with which in practice He treated the judicial rights of the darkest and humblest human souls. Despite the supreme claims that He made for Himself, He habitually permitted both Himself and His claims to be put upon proof at the bar of such souls. Not only did He consent, like any other man of His day, to plead at the bar of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, but, while He always spake as one having authority, He never failed to submit His credentials along with His claims at the bar of the individual reason and conscience. But here we must particularize.

Christ taught, then, (a) That it is the inalienable prerogative of every man to verify for himself the truth of a proposition before assenting to it as true; and to verify for himself the rectitude of a command before yielding obedience to it as right (cf. John 15:24, Matthew 16:4; Matthew 11:4 ff; Matthew 9:6; Matthew 11:20).

(b) Further, as is involved in what has been already said, Christ teaches that the conclusions reached in the exercise of this prerogative are not to be, if, indeed, we should not say cannot be, dictated by any form of external compulsion. In many ways He emphasizes the position that the individual is to be left wholly untrammelled in the exercise of his judicial rights. What else, after all, is the meaning of His words to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence’ (John 18:36)? If men were to be left free to deal with His own claims, including, of course, His teachings, without constraint or compulsion of any kind, and to do this even when the decision reached affected not only His liberty but His very life, certainly He would have them no less untrammelled in dealing with every other question of truth or of duty with which they might find themselves confronted. Nor was it only the compulsion of physical force that Christ declined to countenance. He set the seal of His disapproval upon the more subtle and spiritual, but no less real compulsion of a tyrannical public or ecclesiastical opinion, whether formulated into a tradition or into a usage.

His ‘Do not your alms before men, to be seen of them’ (Matthew 6:1), was designed hardly more to eradicate pride from the souls of His disciples, than it was to hearten them to throw off the incubus of a perverted public and ecclesiastical sentiment which threatened to stifle Christian humility and Godwardness in their very birth. It was to disenthrall the souls of His disciples from all fear tending to paralyze the free action of the spirit in its quest for truth and in its witness to the truth, that He said, ‘Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him,’ etc. (Matthew 10:28); cf. Mark 10:29 f., Mark 7:9 ff., Matthew 12:1 ff., John 5:9.

(c) If what has been said be true, we are not surprised to find Christ teaching that every mind is equipped for the exercise of this high prerogative, that in a certain very true sense the mind has ‘the supreme norm of its ideas and acts, not outside of itself, but within itself, in its very constitution’ (Sabatier, Religions of Authority, p. xvi).

This also is involved in the passages already quoted. And what else can we make of such statements as these: ‘Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, to he loosed from this bond on the day of the Sabbath’ (Luke 13:16)? Where would have been the use of submitting such a case to ‘the stupid country archisynagogos’ (Edersheim), unless, stupid as he was, even he was so equipped as to be able to subject it to some sort of process of ‘inner verification’? Or, take the question put to the disciples, ‘Who do the multitudes say that i am?’ and what propriety would there he in it, unless it carried with it the implication that men generally—‘the multitudes’—were equipped for the forming of a rational judgment upon the truth and righteousness of His claims, and had some touchstone each within himself by which he could determine the truth or falsity of those claims, and the moral quality of the character and of the teachings that lay behind them? The possession of such a norm is involved in every argument framed, in every appeal made, and in every rebuke administered by Christ.

Not only does Christ recognize in every man the existence of such a norm, but He goes farther, and shows that He regards this norm as ‘supreme,’ in the sense, at least, that for the individual man there is no standard of truth or of right more ultimate than that embedded in his very constitution. Nothing can be substituted for it. Nothing can be used to supplement or to correct it. No appeal lies from it. Man has nought that he can do but to abide by the decisions reached in the use of it. ‘If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins’ (John 8:24) is no arbitrary sentence; but simply the announcement of the momentous truth, that the beliefs or unbeliefs of those whom He addressed would involve certain consequences for them, precisely because those beliefs or unbeliefs were theirs. Christ does not teach, of course, that men can make or unmake truth or right for themselves any more than for others. But He does teach that the conclusions that men reach in the use of the norm that is embedded in the very constitution of the mind are for them severally and individually final. It is this fact that constitutes the very heart of the solemnity of His words, when He says, ‘If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness’ (Matthew 6:23). The light that is in a man is the only light that is available for him. It is the light in which he sees light. It cannot itself be tested, so far, at least, as the user of it is concerned, by any other light (cf. also Matthew 13:9 and the principle laid down in Romans 15:30).

(d) Christ, moreover, is equally clear in teaching that in the proper use of the equipment given them, men may and always will arrive at correct judgments in regard both to truth and to duty—that is, in all cases and as regards all matters in reference to which they are called upon, or indeed are entitled, to form judgments. He recognizes, to be sure, the sad fact that men not only may, but as a matter of fact often do, give hospitable entertainment both to error and to evil. He is very emphatic, however, in asserting that this is their fault, and in no sense their misfortune. Whatever the difficulties of the teaching, they need not leave the soul in error or even in doubt. ‘If any man willeth to do his will,’ says our Lord, ‘he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself’ (John 7:17).

Any account of Christ’s teachings as to the judicial authority vested in the individual would be fatally defective if it overlooked a saving like Matthew 11:27 (cf. John Joh_14:9 b, John 8:19 b, John 17:26). ‘No one knoweth the Son,’ says Christ, ‘save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.’ This is not the place for a detailed exposition of these remarkable words. So much, however, is clear upon their very face, namely, that there is a knowledge of God for which men are wholly dependent upon Christ. Again, it is evident from John 14:9 b. that whatever other elements this knowledge of God contains, it is a knowledge that is mediated through the understanding. ‘He that hath seen me,’ says our Lord, ‘hath seen the Father.’ The same conclusion follows inevitably from the great emphasis which Christ laid upon His teaching function. But how is a man to test the correctness of propositions for the very knowledge of the contents of which, and much more for their accuracy, he is ex hypothesi wholly dependent upon Christ? We have said that Christ teaches that it is the prerogative of every man to bring every proposition, to the truth of which be is expected to assent, to some sort of process of ‘inner verification’; but here are matters which, ex hypothesi, men must accept upon testimony, albeit it is the testimony of no less a witness than Christ Himself. Have we here, then, an inconsistency in Christ’s teaching? We think not. We test our telescope; we satisfy ourselves that the laws of its structure are the same as those that obtain in the structure of the eye itself. It is just as truly an organ of vision as is the eye itself, though, of course, an organ of vastly greater range. What it discloses to us we could not apprehend without it. Much that it discloses to us, we either only gradually come to comprehend, or find to be at present incomprehensible to us. But whether we comprehend what we apprehend through the telescope or not, we accept its disclosures, and at least refer them to the large and vague category of what we call facts of existence, and wait expecting to be able to make a closer classification with our advancing knowledge, or the further development of our powers. And, while we never reach the point where we are able with our own eyes to verify the facts given us through the telescope, yet, when we have used the norm in our eye upon the norm in the telescope, and have thus proved a complete correspondence between the two, we have an unshakable conviction that they are not two but one, and that what has been disclosed by the norm in the telescope is assented to by the norm in our eye, as much so as if we had been in a position to bring the norm in our eye to bear directly upon the phenomena revealed to us through the telescope. Just so it is in the case of the individual and Christ. For the knowledge of certain facts regarding God and Christ, and concerning God in Christ, we are absolutely dependent upon the testimony of Christ. We cannot verify the correspondence between that testimony and reality by ourselves comparing it with the reality. The reality here is as inaccessible to our immediate inspection as the phenomena of stellar space would be, apart from the telescope. What then? Does Christ call upon us to surrender the very badge of our individuality, when we are dealing with His statements? Does He claim that His statements must be accepted without our being able to subject them to any process of ‘inner verification,’ the latter being, of course, the only possible real verification? Not at all. What He does claim, however, is that when we have assented to His trustworthiness, we have assented to the trustworthiness of His statements. Obviously, if He is as He claims to be, ‘the Truth,’ and we have satisfied ourselves of this by the same rational and moral processes by which we satisfy ourselves of any other propositions whatever, then in verifying Him, so to speak, we have verified His statements, as truly and as certainly as if we were capable of comparing those statements with the great realities to which they relate. Otherwise, where would be the sense in examining witnesses in our courts? And how else do we verify the ultimate facts given us, in the frame of nature and in the constitution of our own being—which, be it observed, are after all but the testimony of God,—except by verifying God? That we can do, of which proposition the simple proof is that we do it. For nothing is more certain than that ‘it is impossible for God to lie.’ This is the ultimate axiom upon which not only all certainty, but the possibility of any certainty depends.

Christ’s teaching in reference to an external revelation, and our absolute dependence upon His veracity for the truth and the righteousness of its contents, do not impinge in the least either upon His teaching as to the judicial authority with which each individual is invested, or upon the true and proper autonomy of the soul. For He constantly teaches both by implication and by direct assertion that it is possible for men to verify Him, so to speak, and that it is at once their privilege and their duty to do so. And how exquisitely tender is His subtle appeal to His disciples to apply to His moral being that norm embedded in the constitution of their minds, when He says, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you’ (John 14:2).

(2) While Christ accords a large judicial authority to the individual, it is, as already stated, neither an unlimited, nor an absolutely final authority. In His famous words to St. Peter, He speaks of ‘my church’ (Matthew 16:18), and in His equally celebrated words to Pilate, of ‘my kingdom’ (John 18:36). Now it is no doubt true, as Dr. Vos has shown (The Kingdom of God and the Church, ch. ix.), that these expressions are not absolutely coterminous in their respective connotations, the ‘church’ being but one phase of the ‘kingdom.’ Still, even this being true, it follows that the Church is an organized body, with officers, laws, and members. Now it is clear, from what Christ says of the Church, that the authority vested in her, and exercised through her officers, is a purely judicial authority. The Lord is her lawgiver. From Him alone she receives all the laws by which she binds the consciences of men. Her sole functions are to declare and to apply the law of Christ. To make any laws for her own members or for others is beyond her prerogative.

That such is her authority as set forth in the teachings of Christ appears from such statements as, ‘If thy brother sin against thee, go show him his fault between thee and him alone: … But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, etc. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican’ (Matthew 18:15 ff.); ‘Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, etc.: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,’ etc. (Matthew 28:19 f.).

The criticism of the former passage by B. Weiss can hardly be regarded as invalidating it as a proper source of information as to our Lord’s teaching concerning the Church (see his NT Theol. i. p. 141). It is fair, we think, to assume that the charge contained in the latter passage was addressed to the Apostles, not as such, but as representatives of the Church in all ages.

As will be observed, the judicial authority ascribed to the Church in these sayings of our Lord has a twofold aspect. In Matthew 28 she is authorized to declare the law of Christ to those without her fold with a view to bringing them into subjection to Him. And in both sayings she is empowered to unfold that law to those within her pale. The necessity for both aspects of her judicial authority is as obvious as is the grant of it. If it be her function to extend the Kingdom, then it must also be her prerogative authoritatively to declare the nature and laws of the Kingdom. And again, if the term ‘kingdom’ as applied to the Church is not a hopeless misnomer, then she must have authority to determine what the law of Christ demands of the citizens of the Kingdom, and when this or that citizen is conforming to the law. See, further, art. Church.

(3) The supreme and final judicial authority belongs to the Holy Spirit, whose findings are mediated proximately through the Scriptures, and ultimately through the Prophets, Apostles, and Christ Himself. We have seen that, while both the individual and the Church may, in the proper use of their respective equipments, arrive at a knowledge of truth and right in reference to all matters of truth and duty upon which they are respectively entitled to formulate a judgment; yet, as a matter of fact, neither the Church nor the individual does always arrive at such knowledge. Now the very statement of this position implies the existence of some standard by the use of which faulty judgments, when reached, may be detected as such, and corrected. This standard, according to Christ, is, in the last resort, to be found nowhere else than in the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles, and Himself. The finality and the infallibility of these teachings are, so our Lord teaches, guaranteed by the fact that they proceed directly from the Godhead, through the immediate agency of its great executive, the Holy Spirit, whose instruments or organs the Prophets, Apostles, and He Himself were. If we may use the term ‘Scriptures’ as a somewhat loose synonym for the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles, and Christ, then the Scriptures are, or, as with admirable accuracy the Westminster Confession puts it, ‘the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture’ is, ‘the Supreme Judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined … and in whose sentence we are to rest’ (ch. i. sec. x.).

(a) That Christ conceived of the teachings of the Prophets, or the OT, as constituting, as far as it went, a court of last appeal in matters of religion, is strikingly evinced in His two summaries of those teachings already referred to: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, etc.… Thou shalt love thy neighbour, etc.… On these two commandments hangeth the whole law and the prophets’ (Matthew 22:34 ff., Mark 12:28 ff., Matthew 7:12). But God being love, it is just in love that religion finds its highest and fullest expression. That standard, therefore, which being adhered to leads to love, is the final standard.

The same point of view as regards the OT finds expression in the words, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.… If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead’ (Luke 16:29; Luke 16:31). The implication in Dives’ plea was that it was his misfortune that he had come to that place of torment. These words distinctly disallow that implication. They affirm both the sufficiency and the finality of the OT in all matters connected with the salvation of those to whom that revelation was given. And so the Sadducees are told (Matthew 22:29), ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures,’ etc., which means, of course, that they need not have erred had they only gone to the Scriptures in the right spirit. Upon all questions raised by His adversaries, it was to the teachings of the OT that Christ Himself continually appealed as the final authority. Quoting Hosea, He said to the Pharisees, ‘If ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless’ (Matthew 12:7). Thus the standard to which He brings their judgment of Himself and by which He exposes its falsity and wickedness, is the teaching of the OT. His ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone’ (Matthew 23:23), is but an application of the standard of the OT for the testing of Pharisaic teachings and practice. Further, He recognizes the oughtness of these teachings, when they concern the tithing of mint, anise, and cummin, as truly as in the weightier matters of judgment, mercy, and faith. Especially significant are words like those in Mark 12:35 ff. (cf. Matthew 22:41 ff., Luke 20:41 ff.): ‘How say the scribes that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit, The Lord said unto my Lord, etc. David himself calleth him Lord, and whence is he his son?’

(b) Besides the passages already cited, the following show that Christ represents His Apostles as being the organs of the Holy Spirit in such sense that their teachings, qua Apostles, are ultimate and infallible in all matters of faith and duty: ‘And I also say unto thee, That thou art Peter, etc.… I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:18 f.). The same promise is made to the Apostles, no doubt to all of them, in Matthew 18:18. In John 20:22 f. we read, ‘And when he had said this he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.’

B. Weiss (NT Theol. i. 142, footnote) regards Matthew 18:18 as addressed to ‘the disciples in the wider sense,’ and avoids bringing the statement into collision with the facts of history only by finding in them ‘nothing else than the authorization of the Apostles to proclaim the message by means of which men are called into the Kingdom’ (ib. p. 139, where he is commenting more particularly upon Matthew 16:19. On the other side see art. ‘Power of the Keys’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. iv.). To most persons, however, such a view of this passage will appear inadequate. Dr. Chas. Hodge, believing that the grant of power made in these words was not designed to be limited to the Apostles, seeks to avoid collision with the facts of history by representing it as made to the invisible Church (Church Polity, p. 35 ff.). This, however, will seem to many as little satisfactory as is Weiss’ view. That the words were addressed to the Apostles, and to no others, appears probable, not only from Matthew 16:18 f. and John 20:22 f., but even more so from a comparison of Matthew 18:1 ff. with Mark 9:33 ff. That the Church also, according to Christ, was invested with a limited judicial authority, has already been shown.

The full character and extent of the power with which Christ represents His Apostles as being clothed appear conspicuously in the words, ‘And whosoever shall not receive you nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house, or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily, I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city’ (Matthew 10:14 f. With this should be compared Matthew 11:24). The sufficient ground for such a statement is furnished by the words also spoken of the Apostles (and subsequently of ‘the seventy,’ who received a similar, but more temporary commission, Luke 10:16)—‘He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me’ (Matthew 10:40, cf. John 13:29).

(c) That Christ claimed for Himself a judicial authority that was absolute and final, needs hardly to be illustrated. It appears from such facts as that He taught as one having authority (Mark 1:22; Mark 1:27, Luke 4:36); He always commanded and never merely counselled (Matthew 28:20, Luke 8:55, Matthew 10:5); while unfailingly tender, He did not tolerate even well-meant correction (Matthew 16:22 f.); He invited, expected, and demanded of His disciples the most complete and unreserved surrender to His teachings and to His will.

His ‘hypocoristic expressions’ or ‘endearing diminutives’ (see art. by Professor B. B. Warfield in Bible Student and Teacher, Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] 1904, p. 515 ff.) indicate not only His attitude towards His disciples, but, indirectly, that He expected their attitude towards Him to be one of unquestioning docility, dependence, and submission (Luke 12:32; Luke 10:3, John 10:7; John 10:16; John 13:15, Matthew 18:19 et passim). Both His authority and the nature of it are less veiled behind the very common designation of ‘disciples.’ ‘A disciple,’ says our Lord, using the figure of meiosis, ‘is not above his teacher’ (Matthew 10:24). The very terms of discipleship demand the same absolute self-abnegation upon the disciple’s part that Christ Himself had manifested towards His Father. ‘If any man,’ says He, ‘will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). In the saying, ‘Ye call me Teacher and Lord: and ye say well: for so I am’ (John 13:13), ‘teacher’ is suggestively united with ‘Lord.’ And not less suited to arrest the attention is the statement, ‘But be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren’ (Matthew 23:8).

Once more, Christ declared Himself to be ‘The Way, and the Truth, and the Life’ (John 14:6); He invited men to believe in Himself just as they believed in God (John 14:1); He conditioned His blessings upon the acceptance of His ‘yoke’ and His teachings (Matthew 11:29). Nay, He conditioned men’s everlasting salvation upon their unquestioning acceptance of His statements about Himself (John 8:24; for the repetition of this thought in a slightly different form see Matthew 23:37 f., Luke 13:34 f, Luke 19:41 f.). The word that He spake was to judge them at the last day (John 12:48). His words are God’s words: ‘The words that I say unto you, I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me he doeth the works’ (John 14:10). In a word, He and the Father are one (John 10:30); seeing Him, one sees the Father (John 14:9); the ‘Spirit of truth’ in guiding into all truth was to glorify Him, ‘for,’ said our Lord, ‘he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine: therefore said I that he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you’ (John 16:14 f.).

Thus when we reach Christ in the matter of religion, we have reached the fountainhead. It were idle to look for a court in which to review and put to the test His findings in regard either to truth or to duty. Such, certainly, is His own teaching upon the subject. See preceding article.

iv. Executive authority in religion.

1. Term defined.—The function of executive authority, as needs scarcely be said, is simply and solely to give effect to the legislative will and to judicial findings. Of itself it originates nothing, interprets and declares nothing. It simply does. More need not be said, because executive authority is so obviously and so markedly distinct from both legislative and judicial, that there is no danger of its being confused with either the one or the other.

2. Repositories.—(1) Our Lord obviously teaches that as every individual is a repository of judicial authority, so every individual was designed to be, and every individual Christian is, an executive agent of the Godhead. It is His constant contention that it is for doing the will of God that men exist, whether as creatures or as Christians. The end of His whole teaching function was to set men doing, and to guide them in doing, the will of God. It was the gravamen of His complaint against those, like the Pharisees, who ought to have been His disciples, but were not, that instead of doing the will of God, they did the lusts of their father, the devil (John 8:44). The end that He set before those professing to be His disciples was, ‘So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). The first three petitions that He puts on their lips are, ‘Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.’ The badge of discipleship (Matthew 12:39), the only accepted evidence of love and of loyalty (John 14:15), a condition sine qua non to salvation (Matthew 7:22 ff.), was that His followers should do the will of God. It was His ceaseless theme, elaborated now in this form and now in that, that the end of life is not getting, or having, or being ministered unto, or thinking, but being and doing the will of God. To go into details here would require the incorporation in this article of a very considerable part of all four Gospels, and would be superfluous.

(2) The passages already cited show that Christ represents the Church in her corporate capacity as the great executive agency of God for the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom as a witness among all nations, making disciples of all nations, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded. Executive and judicial authority here complement each other.

(3) That Christ ascribes executive authority to the Prophets is perhaps a fair inference from such a passage as Mark 7:6, in which our Lord refers to Isaiah not merely as an interpreter of God’s law, but as a teacher of God’s people. But the inference is not to be strained. And for evidence of the executive authority unquestionably exercised by the Prophets, we have to turn elsewhere than to the Gospels. The case is different with the Apostles. The mission of ‘the Twelve’ (Matthew 10) points clearly to the fact that they were invested with authority to diffuse the knowledge of the gospel, and to use a variety of agencies to gain men’s attention and win their allegiance to it. The same follows from Luke 24:44 ff. and Acts 1:8. But as to the details of their executive functions we learn but little from the Gospels. It is different, however, in the case of Christ. He applies to Himself (Luke 4:17 ff.) th

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Authority in Religion'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​a/authority-in-religion.html. 1906-1918.