The Christian View of Authority
“There is no authority except by God.”—ROMANS 13:1.
1. To what is the word “authority” related, so why can it be said that Jehovah is the Supreme Authority?
AUTHORITY is linked to creatorship. The word “authority” is related to the word “author,” which means “one that originates, makes, or gives existence.” The Supreme One who gave existence to all creation, animate and inanimate, is Jehovah God. He is undeniably the Supreme Authority. True Christians share the feelings of the heavenly creatures who declare: “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.”—Revelation 4:11.
2. How did early human rulers in a sense admit that they had no natural right to dominate their fellowmen, and what did Jesus tell Pontius Pilate?
2 The mere fact that many of the earliest human rulers tried to legitimize their authority by claiming to be a god or to be the representative of a god was tacit recognition that no human has an inherent right to rule over other humans.* (Jeremiah 10:23) The only legitimate source of authority is Jehovah God. Christ told Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea: “You would have no authority at all against me unless it had been granted to you from above.”—John 19:11.
“No Authority Except by God”
3. What did the apostle Paul state concerning “the superior authorities,” and what questions do Jesus and Paul’s statements raise?
3 The apostle Paul wrote to Christians living under the domination of the Roman Empire: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.” (Romans 13:1) What did Jesus mean when he stated that Pilate’s authority had been granted to him “from above”? And in what way did Paul consider that the political authorities of his day stood placed in their positions by God? Did they mean that Jehovah is personally responsible for the appointment of each individual political ruler of this world?
4. What did Jesus and Paul call Satan, and what claim by Satan did Jesus not deny?
4 How could this be so, since Jesus called Satan “the ruler of this world,” and the apostle Paul labeled him “the god of this system of things”? (John 12:31; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4) Furthermore, when tempting Jesus, Satan offered him “authority” over “all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth,” claiming that this authority had been delivered to him. Jesus rejected his offer, but he did not deny that such authority was Satan’s to give.—Luke 4:5-8.
5. (a) How are we to understand Jesus and Paul’s words about human authority? (b) In what sense do the superior authorities “stand placed in their relative positions by God”?
5 Jehovah delivered rulership over this world to Satan by allowing him to live after his rebellion and after he had tempted Adam and Eve and had caused them to rebel against His sovereignty. (Genesis 3:1-6; compare Exodus 9:15, 16.) Jesus and Paul’s words must, therefore, mean that after the first human pair in Eden rejected theocracy, or God-rule, Jehovah allowed estranged humans to create authority structures that would permit them to live in an orderly society. At times, in order to accomplish his purpose, Jehovah has caused certain rulers or governments to fall. (Daniel 2:19-21) Others he has allowed to remain in power. Of rulers whose existence Jehovah tolerates, it can be said that they “stand placed in their relative positions by God.”
Early Christians and the Roman Authorities
6. How did the early Christians view the Roman authorities, and why?
6 The early Christians did not join forces with the Jewish sects who conspired and fought against the Romans occupying Israel. Insofar as the Roman authorities, with their codified legal system, maintained order on land and sea; built many useful aqueducts, roads, and bridges; and in the main acted for the common welfare, Christians considered them to be ‘God’s minister [or, “servant,” footnote] to them for their good.’ (Romans 13:3, 4) Law and order produced an environment that enabled Christians to preach the good news far and wide, as commanded by Jesus. (Matthew 28:19, 20) In all good conscience, they could pay the taxes levied by the Romans, even if some of the money was used for purposes not approved by God.—Romans 13:5-7.
7, 8. (a) What does a careful reading of Romans 13:1-7 reveal, and what does the context show? (b) Under what circumstances did the Roman authorities not act as “God’s minister,” and in this case what attitude did the early Christians adopt?
7 A careful reading of the first seven verses of Romans chapter 13:1-7 reveals that political “superior authorities” were “God’s minister” to praise those doing good and to punish those practicing what is bad. The context shows that God, not the superior authorities, determines what is good and what is bad. If, therefore, the Roman emperor or any other political authority required things that God prohibited or, conversely, prohibited things that God required, he no longer acted as God’s minister. Jesus stated: “Pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:21) If the Roman State demanded things that belonged to God, such as worship or a person’s life, true Christians followed the apostolic counsel: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
8 The early Christians’ refusal to practice emperor worship and idolatry, forsake their Christian meetings, and stop preaching the good news brought persecution. It is generally believed that the apostle Paul was executed upon the orders of Emperor Nero. Other emperors, notably Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Decius, and Diocletian, also persecuted the early Christians. When these emperors and their subordinate authorities persecuted Christians, they were certainly not acting as “God’s minister.”
9. (a) What remains true of the political superior authorities, and from whom does the political beast receive power and authority? (b) What can logically be said of Christian submission to the superior authorities?
9 All of this serves to illustrate that while the political superior authorities serve in some respects as “the arrangement of God” to maintain an orderly human society, they remain a part of the worldly system of things of which Satan is the god. (1 John 5:19) They belong to the worldwide political organization symbolized by “the wild beast” of Revelation 13:1, 2. That beast receives its power and authority from “the great dragon,” Satan the Devil. (Revelation 12:9) Logically, therefore, Christian submission to such authorities is relative, not absolute.—Compare Daniel 3:16-18.
Proper Respect for Authority
10, 11. (a) How did Paul show that we should be respectful to men in authority? (b) How and why can prayers be made “concerning kings and all those who are in high station”?
10 This does not mean, however, that Christians should adopt a brazen, defiant attitude toward the political superior authorities. True, many of these men are not particularly worthy of respect in their private, or even their public, lives. Yet, the apostles, by their example and by their counsel, showed that men in authority should be treated with respect. When Paul appeared before incestuous King Herod Agrippa II, he spoke to him with proper deference.—Acts 26:2, 3, 25.
11 Paul even stated that it is appropriate to mention worldly authorities in our prayers, particularly when they are called upon to make decisions that affect our lives and Christian activities. He wrote: “I therefore exhort, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, offerings of thanks, be made concerning all sorts of men, concerning kings and all those who are in high station; in order that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness. This is fine and acceptable in the sight of our Savior, God, whose will is that all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) Our respectful attitude toward such authorities may lead to their allowing us to carry on more freely our work of trying to save “all sorts of men.”
12, 13. (a) What balanced counsel regarding authority did Peter give? (b) How may we counteract “the ignorant talk of the unreasonable men” who create prejudice against Jehovah’s Witnesses?
12 The apostle Peter wrote: “For the Lord’s sake subject yourselves to every human creation: whether to a king as being superior or to governors as being sent by him to inflict punishment on evildoers but to praise doers of good. For so the will of God is, that by doing good you may muzzle the ignorant talk of the unreasonable men. Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God. Honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God, have honor for the king.” (1 Peter 2:13-17) What balanced counsel! We owe total submission to God as his slaves, and we give relative and respectful submission to political authorities sent to punish evildoers.
13 It has been found that many secular authorities have the oddest misconceptions about Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is usually because they have been misinformed by malicious enemies of God’s people. Or it may be that all they know about us they learned from the mass media, which are not always impartial in their coverage. Sometimes we can break down this prejudice by our respectful attitude and, where possible, by providing the authorities with an accurate picture of the work and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For busy officials, the brochure Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Twentieth Century provides a succinct explanation. For fuller information, they can be supplied the book Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, a fine instrument that deserves a place on the bookshelves of local and national public libraries.
Authority Within Christian Homes
14, 15. (a) What is the basis of authority within a Christian household? (b) What should be the attitude of Christian wives toward their husbands, and why?
14 It goes without saying that if Christians are required by God to show due respect for worldly authorities, they should likewise respect the authority structure established by God within Christian households. The apostle Paul outlined in concise terms the principle of headship that obtains among Jehovah’s people. He wrote: “I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) This is the principle of theocracy, or God-rule. What does it involve?
15 Respect for theocracy begins in the home. A Christian wife who does not show due respect for her husband’s authority—whether he is a fellow believer or not—is not theocratic. Paul counseled Christians: “Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ. Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:21-24) Just as Christian men have to submit to Christ’s headship, Christian women should recognize the wisdom of submitting to the God-given authority of their husbands. This will bring them deep inner satisfaction and, more important, Jehovah’s blessing.
16, 17. (a) How can children reared in Christian homes distinguish themselves from many youngsters today, and what incentive do they have? (b) How was Jesus a fine example for young ones today, and what are they encouraged to do?
16 Theocratic children are happy to show proper respect for their parents. Of the young generation in the last days, it was foretold that they would be “disobedient to parents.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 2) But to Christian children the inspired Word of God says: “You children, be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20) Respect for parental authority pleases Jehovah and brings his blessing.
17 This is illustrated in the case of Jesus. Luke’s account states: “He went down with them [his parents] and came to Nazareth, and he continued subject to them. . . . And Jesus went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:51, 52) Jesus was a 12-year-old at the time, and the Greek verb form used here emphasizes that he “continued subject” to his parents. So his submissiveness did not end when he entered his teens. If you young ones want to progress in spirituality and in favor with Jehovah and godly men, you will show respect for authority inside and outside your home.
Authority Within the Congregation
18. Who is the Head of the Christian congregation, and to whom has he delegated authority?
18 Speaking of the need for order within the Christian congregation, Paul wrote: “God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace. . . . Let all things take place decently and by arrangement [or, “according to order,” footnote].” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40) For all things to take place in an orderly fashion, Christ, the Head of the Christian congregation, has delegated authority to faithful men. We read: “He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work . . . But speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—Ephesians 4:11, 12, 15.
19. (a) Whom has Christ appointed over all his earthly belongings, and to whom has he granted special authority? (b) What delegation of authority takes place in the Christian congregation, and what does this call for on our part?
19 In this time of the end, Christ has appointed the collective “faithful and discreet slave” over “all his belongings,” or Kingdom interests on earth. (Matthew 24:45-47) As in the first century, this slave is represented by a governing body of anointed Christian men to whom Christ has given the authority to make decisions and appoint other overseers. (Acts 6:2, 3; 15:2) In turn, the Governing Body delegates authority to Branch Committees, district and circuit overseers, and elders within each of the more than 73,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the earth. All these devoted Christian men deserve our support and respect.—1 Timothy 5:17.
20. What example shows that Jehovah is displeased with those who lack respect for fellow Christians in authority?
20 With regard to the respect we owe to those in authority within the Christian congregation, an interesting comparison can be made with the submission we owe the secular authorities. When a person violates a human law that God approves, the punishment meted out by “those ruling” is, in fact, an indirect expression of God’s wrath “upon the one practicing what is bad.” (Romans 13:3, 4) If Jehovah is angry when a person breaks human laws and lacks proper respect for worldly authorities, how much more must he be displeased if a dedicated Christian flouts Bible principles and shows disrespect for fellow Christians who are in authority!
21. What Scriptural counsel will we be happy to follow, and what will be considered in the following article?
21 Rather than incur God’s displeasure by adopting a rebellious or independent attitude, we will follow Paul’s counsel to Christians in Philippi: “Consequently, my beloved ones, in the way that you have always obeyed, not during my presence only, but now much more readily during my absence, keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is the one that, for the sake of his good pleasure, is acting within you in order for you both to will and to act. Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you are shining as illuminators in the world.” (Philippians 2:12-15) Unlike the present crooked and twisted generation that has brought upon itself an authority crisis, Jehovah’s people readily submit to authority. They thus reap great benefits, as we shall see in the following article.
See the preceding article.
By Way of Review
□ Who is the Supreme Authority, and why is his authority legitimate?
□ In what sense do the superior authorities “stand placed in their relative positions by God”?
□ When do the superior authorities cease to be “God’s minister”?
□ What authority structure exists within Christian families?
□ What delegation of authority exists within the Christian congregation?
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Jesus stated: “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar”