Saturday, March 15, 2014


I will briefly be addressing, albeit in a two-part post, what is one of the more talked about Church issues of our modern times. Yet it may be the single issue that is most burdened with incorrect translations of the text of the scriptures themselves. [For reasons we will see.] The subject is, "Authority in the Church."

I say briefly because this is neither a theological study on the subject of authority nor an exhaustive exegesis of the many bible texts that do refer to it. It is simply a blog post, with all it's limitations,  that I trust will add a little bit of clarity on how we got to where we are today and what the bible really does say about Church authority when it does speak about it. So this post is intended to be a little bit of a guide to any person wishing for more insight into a local congregation and it's relationship to authority in light of the text of scripture instead of tradition and history alone.

First, I want to address a major PROBLEM WE FACE....

The Greek word for "authority" is "exousia." It comes from a verb that means (1) to do something without hinderance or (2) the right to do something or the right to be over something. The power of authority [influence] and of right. [privilege] 

This word exousia is used 103 times in the New Testament but only used one time regarding believers with other believers and that is in reference to marriage where it is said that each marital partner is to have "authority" [exousia] over the other partner's body in sexual matters. [1 Corinthians 7:4]  You can see that it is a mutually shared right as described by this verse. 

I repeat, this is the ONLY time the word "
authority" [exousia] is used in the entirety of the New Testament when dealing with the relationships of believer to believer and it is with regards to Christian marriage relationships only and BOTH have it. [So much for the man having final say in all matters.]

Someone will ask, "But what about the passages that refer to the husband being the "head over the wife?"  Great question! That word "headKephale in Greek, in Ephesians 5 and Corinthians 11, was NOT a Greek word for "authority" generally speaking at all. In the passages mentioned, the word "Kephale"  [pronounced kef-a-lay] which in common [koine] Greek had an entirely different connotation to it [source or beginnings] and which will have to be a separate study altogether. [Maybe even a part-three to this post.] 

But, regardless, there is only one "Head" [Source/beginnings OR authority] over the Church and that "Head" isn't an elder, pastor, deacon or member.  It is Christ alone. Suffice it to say that Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11, and chapter 14 in 1 Corinthians as well, are referencing something entirely different than "exousia" or "authority," which was, as you would imagine, frequently used in reference to Christ.

Some of those 103 times when "exousia" was used are times when it is spoken about Christ and are when He is seen...

Executing judgment__John 5:27, having authority over His own life and resurrection__John 10:18, having authority over all to give eternal life__John 17:2, to forgive sins__Mark 1:22, 9:6, Luke 5:24, to heal__Matthew 9:8, to cast out demons__Mark 1:27.

He is said to have ALL authority and because of that He is head over ALL other authorities__[
Matthew 28:18, Colossians 2:10]

I read a study where it was legitimately pointed out that this word was also used of believers when referring to...

Becoming sons of God__John 1:12, casting out demons__Matthew 10:1, to one day have authority over cities at His return__Luke 19:17, and even to access the tree of Life__Revelation 22:14. [Never believer over believer.]

Then it was used of people in general when referring to...

Property__Acts 5:4, the right to eat food offered to idols__1 Corinthians 8:9-11 [translated "liberty"] and several other places for various things.

But what is missing is ANYPLACE in the text of scripture where it is used
concerning believer over believer in the context of the Body of Christ called the Church of the New Testament.

Nor is it ever used with any "office" of pastor or deacon since no office of that nature existed in the early Church, as we shall see further along in this post. 

The Body of Christ [the Church] does have "authority," but it is derived from our Lord's action on her behalf. There is an authority of the Word of God as well. But, as mentioned, He has given all of us who make up the Church "derived authority." It's interesting to note that this authority it is translated "freedom" in 1 Corinthians 8:9 and that authority or freedom is to be used explicitely for the welfare and freedom of others and not for any rule over them  and it is NEVER because of ANY authority residing in anyone's position in the Church.

It is true that historically writers have presented the concept of "authority" in the Church emphasizing the idea of being "over others," but that is a cultural concept and is not a biblical mandate at all. Jesus made that crystal clear, it seems to me, with His rather stark statement in Mark 10:42-45 where He says that, while the Gentiles do exercise rule "over others," [there it is] it is NOT to be that way among believers.

There are two false concepts held by many in the local church historically that have fostered a propagating of the concept of church authority as" being over" rather than a true biblical pattern.

One is an unfortunate division between clergy and laity where the former does the work of ministry and the latter pays the salary of the former as a kind of professional minister. I'm not saying to pay someone on staff is wrong. But what I am saying is that the division between clergy and laity is not biblical as all believers are called to be ministers and there are no elevated positions. 

The other is the "office" idea for Pastor and Deacon with an authority inherent within the "office," which is simply not found in the text when correctly translated.

Neither of these concepts is the biblical viewpoint for authority in local Church life as our study to follow will reveal.

Both of these concepts will be dealt with next time in the second part of this post.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


I know I can get a bit of commentitis at times, but you've stumped me!

All I can say is: You have hit the bullseye, as usual!

"Neither of these concepts is the biblical viewpoint for authority in local Church life......" AMEN!

Romans 8:29 speaks to me about the subject at hand.

Victorious said...

This is a wonderful explanation, Paul, on authority and the correct interpretation in various applications.

While authority may not be inherent in the "office" of a pastor, I think it's entirely appropriate to use the word "responsibility" wouldn't it? Because just thinking of all the responsibilities involved in caring for members overwhelms me. I have great respect for those who are called to this ministry.

Thanks for this post!

Mary Ann

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Your kind of condition you call "commentitis" is one with which I wish many could be infected. We'd ALL be better off. ;)


I totally agree that "responsibilities" is a good word for the pastoral or bishoprick [overseer] ministry. But I also see that word applied to every single member of the Body [Church] of Christ along the lines of whatever giftedness they might possess by the Spirit which is intended for the edification of all the members.

But the older one [elder] who is gifted with the teaching of the Word ministry is certainly worthy of double honor according to the scripture. But, as you well understand, that IS NOT synonymous with authority except the authority the Word has over us all.

Victorious said...

But what I am saying is that the division between clergy and laity is not biblical as all believers are called to be ministers and there are no elevated positions.

hmmm...If one gift and the one gifted are more visible, prominent, and worthy of double honor, it is logically (for most) perceived as being an elevated "position."

I find it interesting that it is the "elders" who are mentioned as being worthy of double honor and that includes those who preach and teach. The same chapter (1 Tim. 5) speaks of elders as both women and men, but by the time we get to verse 17, "elder" has become male only and in most churches an "office."

Funny how much teaching and preaching today must be devoted to untwisting scripture from previous erroneous interpretations. I'm happy it is, but it just strikes me as a bit humorous.

My question is why do you suppose elders who preach and teach are worthy of double honor? And technically, wouldn't that apply to those who teach in various classes within the present church system; i.e. Sunday school, etc?

Paul Burleson said...


It is a bit funny, but even more sad maybe.

You asked...My question is why do you suppose elders who preach and teach are worthy of double honor? And technically, wouldn't that apply to those who teach in various classes within the present church system; i.e. Sunday school, etc?

I don't have an answer for any why question unless it is explicitly stated in scripture and I know of no answer to why preaching and teaching elders are worthy of a double honor.

It could be because of the significant and eternal nature of the Word itself which has real authority attached to it and a double portion of humility is needed to properly handle the word, so maybe there's a connection to the honor thing since God exalts the humble. Maybe!!

I'm thinking it WOULD apply to any and all who teach the word, but especially to those who are older assuming, because of the meaning of the word "elder," they've done it longer.