Volume XXXVIII, #42: The Chain of Authority
Authority is the power to give commands and expect obedience. There are 3 links in the chain of authority in Scripture: God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), prophets and apostles, the Bible. Pretty simple! When Pharaoh asked, “Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?” (Ex 5:4) he found out real quick! As Creator, God has the power to give commands and expect obedience. “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deut 12:32).
God then bestows His authority onto humans by speaking His authoritative word through them. These spokesmen for God are called prophets. He told Moses, “Go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (Ex 4:12). As God’s mouthpiece, Moses spoke with God’s authority and performed miracles to prove it (Ex 4:2-7)! What’s more, God gave Moses permission to bestow that authority on Joshua by laying hands on him! No other prophet was given this ability. “Lay your hand on him and commission him in their sight...you shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him” (Num 27:18,20). We see the same pattern in the New Testament! Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Jesus then sends the Holy Spirit to bestow the apostles with His authority by making them His mouthpieces! Jesus told His apostles, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (Jn 14:26). In Acts 2:4, the Holy Spirit comes on the apostles and from that point on they spoke with the same authority as Jesus! It’s why the apostle Paul could say, “For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess 4:2) and “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor 14:37). They also performed miracles to prove their authority (Mk 16:20).
What’s more, the apostles, like Moses, were given special authority to make people prophets by laying their hands on them. “When Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying” (Acts 19:6). The apostles and the prophets they laid hands on (like Mark and Luke) wrote their revelations down for us in the pages of the New Testament, completing the final link in the chain of authority. God, prophets and apostles, Bible. “Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Thess 2:15).
Sadly, many today want to add links to the chain. Some believe after the apostles died there was a succession of authoritative men after them. The problem with this is twofold. 1) Only the apostles had the power to lay hands on people to make them prophets. Simon the sorcerer tried to buy that power from them and was rebuked. “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:19). This means once the apostles and the prophets they gave authority to died, that was the end of the authoritative line. 2) The New Testament never tells us to look forward to additional sources of authority like church councils, popes, angels, or personal revelations from the Holy Spirit in the future. It always points us backward to the teachings of the apostles and prophets. “Remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Pet 3:2; Jude 17). Some claim the Holy Spirit still speaks to them today, but how? The apostles never laid hands on them. Also, where are the miracles to back up that claim? Also, why? The apostles wrote down everything we need in Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). The chain of authority is complete; it stops with the Bible. In my experience, any additional source of authority is artificial and tries to change what the Bible says. May it never be!