When I was in college, I studied classical guitar. As you can imagine, the mix of students studying the coolest musical instrument ever ran the gamut. On one end was me, the strait-laced rule follower who studied music because of its inherent logic and beauty, and at the other end were the hard rockers who played guitar to “stick it to the man.” One of my friends in the latter group had a bumper sticker on his guitar case: “Question authority!” That was my first exposure to Timothy Leary’s counter-cultural slogan. Still, even so, I understood the attitude it represented: Authority was a bad thing, and those that practiced it shouldn’t be trusted.
But what if someone good exercised authority? What if that authority was used for good? Certainly, authority can be misused, but in and of itself, authority is not bad or good. Authority is simply the power to make things happen; whether authority is good or bad depends on who exercises it.
The word for authority in the New Testament is ἐξουσία (exousia), and it has the same basic meaning as the English word: “the power to command, the right to control.”1 It represents the ability, whether drawn from person or position, to make things happen. Sometimes this word is applied to human rulers, as in Romans 13:1, when Paul states, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (NET). Often, though, in the New Testament the word refers to spiritual powers, that is, entities in the spiritual realm that have the power to act and often act contrary to what God desires. Paul famously uses the word this way in Ephesians 6:12 when he states, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” These spiritual entities use their power against God and those who have faith in His Son.
But there is an even more important authority in the New Testament, one who has authority and exercises it perfectly—our Lord Jesus Christ! His teaching had authority beyond any other teacher’s (Matt 7:29). His authority allowed Him to forgive sin and to heal (Mark 2:10–11). In his resurrection, Christ was given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18). And in His ascension to the right hand of God, all authorities—whether on earth or in heaven—are subject to Him (1 Peter 3:22). Christ has perfect authority, and He exercises it perfectly!
So, should we question authority? Not when Christ, the Savior of the world, has it. When He exercises His authority, we have no reason to worry. We can have faith that His authority is perfect, and He will use it perfectly for our good in accordance with God’s will.
About the Contributors
Before beginning his faculty service Dr. Burer worked for many years with Bible.org as an editor and assistant project director for the NET Bible. He was also instrumental in the completion of the New English Translation-Novum Testamentum Graece diglot, published jointly by Bible.org and the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft of Stuttgart, Germany. An ordained minister, Dr. Burer is active in his local church and has ministered frequently with The Evangelical Alliance Mission in France. He has served as a visiting teacher at the Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique in Vaux-sur-Seine, France. His research and teaching interests include Greek language and exegesis, the Gospels, and Jesus studies.