Did he exceed his authority?
What is authority?
The word “authority” has many meanings in today’s language. Here are some of the definitions that I found on the web:
- the power or right to give orders or make decisions; “he has the authority to issue warrants”; “deputies are given authorization to make arrests …
- (usually plural) persons who exercise (administrative) control over others; “the authorities have issued a curfew”
- an expert whose views are taken as definitive; “he is an authority on corporate law”
- official permission or approval; “authority for the program was renewed several times”
- The power to enforce rules or give orders; Persons in command; specifically, government; A person accepted as a source of reliable information … en.wiktionary.org/wiki/authority
“The power to … give orders.” That is what many people find most despicable about authority. It is also where we often feel that someone “exceeded” their authority. There are many small people who try to exercise their “authority” over the wrong people. Here is a quote that I read recently which puts that facet of the definition into perspective…
No tyranny is so irksome as petty tyranny: the officious demands of policemen, government clerks, and electromechanical gadgets. – Edward Abbey
Although the humorous jab about electromechanical gadgets doesn’t mean much in our present discussion, the other parts are applicable. Young people from the ’60s (perhaps much earlier) till now have felt that it is their duty to resist “authority” – both the function and those who represent it – in order to “reset” the authority structure.
The confusion of contemporary meanings of authority has fueled the flame of rebellion in our society. But in the Bible, authority is clearly defined. Here are some notes from my recent study on Biblical authority:
OLD TESTAMENT: I only found two references in the KJV for “authority.”
- In Esther 9:29 (NIV), “So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm ….” The Hebrew word is found at Strong’s number <08633> and refers to power and strength. It is the kind of authority that people sometimes call “tyranny” and often leads to rebellion and bloodshed. This usage only refers to the method used by the Queen – which may or may not be according to God’s plan for the use of authority.
- In Proverbs 29:2 the Hebrew word is found at Strong’s <07235> and actually means “majority” rather than authority. From the NIV reading, “When the righteous thrive [are in authority or majority], the people rejoice.” This is a true proverb and SHOULD still be appropriate but it still does not tell us anything about God’s plan for the use of authority. So, this is not really pertinent to our discussion either.
The NIV translates several Hebrew words as “authority.” Perhaps the best would be in Da 4:31 “King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you.” The Hebrew word is Strong’s <04437> and is defined as royalty, reign, kingdom, kingship or kingly authority. This verse tells us something about authority in that God has the right to remove anyone’s “authority” if their actions are not to His liking. God said in Da 7:14 that Nebuchadnezzar had been given that authority (same Hebrew word) and since he was no longer using it appropriately, it would be taken away.
Next installment: The Source of Authority