The New Testament Scriptures define the Source of authority.
Romans 13:1 (KJV) speaks of “power” and “higher powers” and the fact that “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” The NIV translates the original Greek word here as “authority” rather than “power.” In the NIV the Scripture reads, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
The writer of Romans simply stated the fact that GOD is the Source of all legitimate authority. Anyone trying to exercise authority that God did not establish can be said to have exceeded his (or her) authority. So how do we determine which authority is legitimate and which is illegitimate? The answer seems to lie in the definition of the (KJV) word “ordain” used in Romans 13:1.
The original Greek word that the editors of the KJV translated as “ordain” is the word tasso (Strong’s <5021>). It means: 1) to put in order, to station; 1a) to place in a certain order, to arrange, to assign a place, to appoint or; 1a1) to assign (appoint) a thing to one; 1b) to appoint, ordain, order. This is similar to what our military calls “the chain of command.” It refers to the fact that each person in the chain is accountable (we will consider this concept in a later article) to those under whose authority he/she operates.
Again, God is the SOURCE of all legitimate authority. The bottom line is… unless God (the Ultimate Authority, cf. Mt 28:18) has shared a portion of His authority (possibly through the “chain of command”) to an individual, any “authority” that they may claim is ultimately void and WILL be taken away!
Another point that can be drawn from this is that, although each person in the chain has some authority, they also have accountability. They are accountable to the person from whom they draw authority. The British Royalty and indeed, almost all nations proclaim their own “sovereignty.” However, no one is SOVEREIGN except God Himself. You can print it on coins and advertise it around the globe but, in the end, “[ALL] men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Mt 12:36).
Back to AUTHORITY:
There are four different Greek words that are the KJV editors translated as authority. That means that, from the perspective of the Biblical Greek writers, there were four distinctly different meanings for those four unique words. However, the KJV editors failed to find an equivalent English word for each of those meanings so they assigned the same word (authority) to all of them. If we distinguish between the original words and where (in the Scripture) they are used, we gain more knowledge about what God was actually saying in those verses.
The four Greek words translated into the English word “authority” (with limited definitions) are:
1. Strong’s <2715> (katexousiazo) refers to the exercising of power. This word is used in Mt 20:25 when Jesus spoke of the rulers of the Gentiles who “lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” Jesus said that this was NOT God’s plan. In verses 27 and 28 Jesus said that “whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” In other words, a person cannot, by chance of birth or by force of money or might, become “first” in God’s order. Instead, he or she will have to become a “slave.” They will have to forfeit their own “authority” in order to be ordained into God’s order of authority.
2. Paul wrote to Timothy (1Tim 2:1,2) that we are to pay proper respect and to pray “for everyone — for kings and all those in authority….” The reason he gave was so that we “may live peaceful and quiet lives.” The Greek word for authority in this case is Strong’s <5247> (huperoche) which refers to their position of elevation, pre-eminence or superiority. It does not deal with how they reached that position. Kings were often born into their position. Others may have bought it or taken their “authority” by force. Still, we are to pray for them. However, in 1Cor 15:24, (the same huperoche is used) when we are reminded that, in the final battle, Christ will destroy “all dominion, authority and power.” Meaning any “authority” which was illegal and not ordained by God.
3. The Greek word epitage, Strong’s <2003>, is used to describe an injunction, mandate or command. Paul used it in Titus 2:15 while mentoring a young pastor, “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” This word does not relate to how we normally think of authority. In the KJV, epitage is normally translated as “commandment.” Some things in the Word of God are absolute. Paul was telling Timothy that the minister of God has a MANDATE to preach those things regardless of their immediate approval or rejection.
4. The Greek word exousia (Strong’s <1849>) is translated in the KJV as power (69 times), authority (29 times), right (2 times), and 1 time each, it is translated as liberty, jurisdiction and strength. This is the word that the Centurion (in Mt. 8:9) used to describe himself as “a man under authority.” In the Roman military (and any other organization with authoritarian structure), he had be given the right to “tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.” But in order for that structure to hold up, he also had to be “under authority” and respond to the commands of those over him.
The word exousia was also used by Matthew (7:28,29) to speak of the way the crowds of people saw Jesus. They were “amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority.” In other words, they recognized that Jesus was in His proper place in the divine chain of command. He had not usurped authority (as “their teachers of the law” evidently had). It is not difficult to respond to the legal commands of one who is in his or her proper place of authority. Instead, it is when we perceive that someone has tried to exercise illegal authority that we tend to rebel.
This exousia authority is what has been “given” to us to enable us to make free choices in life. We are free moral agents because God has ordained it so in His authority structure. It is the underlying principle in Joshua’s most notable statement:
Joshua 24:15 “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Exousia is the means of our adoption into the Family of God. In John 1:12, “to all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he [God the Father] gave the right [exousia] to become children of God.”
The God-given authority/right/ability of each person to choose sets up another concept in the actual administration of authority. Although all legitimate authority comes from God, there can be major obstructions in the administration of that authority. All rejection of authority and even all rebellion & bloodshed are the effect of people’s CHOICE to NOT honor a particular authority – regardless of the source of that authority. (We will address this issue in the next installment in this series. In the mean time, you may wish to visit the Three Rivers Episcopal website to see how they view authority that apparently does not come from God.)