Published by Worldview Publications
May/June 2003 

“By What Authority . . .”1

YHWH created, sustains and will shortly transform the universe. Because he is the One-and-Only Creator, YHWH is Ultimate Authority.2 As the ultimate Author of all things, God necessarily acted by command to bring the universe into existence. Likewise, when God acted to endow mankind with a derivative god-consciousness about 10,000 BCE,3 mankind lived under his command and, in the image of the Creator, issued commands:

And the Lord God commanded the man . . . [A]nd God said . . . , Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. — Genesis 2:16; 1:28, emphasis supplied.

Mankind’s primitive god-consciousness — residing in the right temporal lobe of the brain in right-handed people and in the left-temporal lobe in left-handed people — provided authoritative direction. Positively, the endowment of this commanding god-consciousness hastened the development of humanity, giving mankind a tremendous advantage in competing with other life forms and in contending with the physical elements of nature. It also led to great advantages involving the utilization of inanimate elements and the domestication of plants and animals.4 Negatively, this god-consciousness also was used by mankind to domesticate other human beings. This soon led to the over-domestication of others through violence, war, bloodshed, enslavement and death.5 Because man had begun to extend dominion over his fellow man, God acted about 3,000 years ago to terminate god-consciousness and its attendant “grand-domestication.”

The Struggle Over Authority

In the absence of its commanding god-consciousness, mankind sought “to make contact with his lost ocean of authority. . . . Prophets, poets, oracles, diviners, statue cults, mediums, astrologers, inspired saints, demon possession, tarot cards, Ouija boards [etc.] . . . all are the residue of [god-consciousness] . . . that was progressively narrowed down as uncertainties piled upon uncertainties.”6 All of these instrumentalities claimed to be invested with divinity and therefore with legitimate “authority.”

. . . [M]ankind as a whole has not, does not, and perhaps cannot relinquish his fascination with some human type of relationship to a greater and wholly other, some mysterium tremendum with powers and intelligences . . . to be approached and felt in awe and wonder and almost speechless worship.7

On one hand, imperial authority emerged. And there has been no substantive difference in the concept of imperial authority from the time of the Pharaohs of Egypt in the twentieth century BCE to Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany in the twentieth century CE. The Pharaohs believed that they were the emanation of God. Adolf Hitler “believed that the mortal and the divine were one and the same: that the God he was seeking was in fact himself.”8

On the other hand, during the Axial Age (800-200 BCE) the conviction emerged that authority resided, not in the power structures, but as “idea,” “reason,” “logos” (word) in the spirit/soul/mind of the educated individual. Authority was therefore autonomous to the human self.

As the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer put it in his magnum opus Truth and Method, “It is the general tendency of the enlightenment not to accept any authority and to decide everything before the judgment seat of reason.” Which simply means, of course, that reason became the sole authority in matters of truth, including those having to do with faith and practice.9

The conflict over the nature, legitimacy, power and, particularly, the locus of authority has persisted for millennia. We are reminded of

the story of the two seventeenth-century Englishmen who were arguing the issue of who had the greater authority, the bishop or the magistrate. “Oh,” said the one, “tis the bishop who has the greater authority, for the bishop can say, ‘Ye be damned,’ while the magistrate can only say, ‘Ye be hanged.’” “Aye,” replied the other, “but when the magistrate says ‘Ye be hanged,’ ye are hanged.”10

Given the millennial contentions between the authority of the power structures and the authority of the autonomous self, it is startling to find that, in the postmodern world emerging over the last 25 years, “no absolutes are recognized, no meta-narratives allowed, and all points of view [are] determined by one’s point of viewing. . . . ‘It seems to me’ is all we can say.”11

Not surprisingly, we are left with a fraudulent self-consciousness that is “‘hollow at the core’” and with a so-called freedom defined by “‘an emptiness or absence of identity.’”12 “The postmodern ethos is characterized not only by the loss of the self but also by the embrace of its demise.”13 Postmodern man lives in a “world without God and therefore hell, and . . . [his] human freedom without God is ‘a raw will grounded in nothing, a bottomless abyss of self-consciousness.’”14

YHWH’s Revelation of Authority

The age-long struggle over authority is particularly disturbing in view of YHWH’s own revelation of his authority over 3,000 years ago. YHWH revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as the Authoritative One, “Who would ‘be’, would ‘become’ and would ‘effect’ on behalf of his people.”15 To the Chosen People whom he liberated from Egyptian slavery, YHWH was authoritatively present in the burning bush, in the cloud and pillar of fire, and on the smoking mountain. He was actively present in their crossing of the Red Sea, in their wanderings through the desert, and in the gifts of manna, quails and water. He was symbolically present in the wilderness Tabernacle as the Shekinah, and in the Urim and Thummim.16 Even more profoundly, the Tabernacle and its successor, the Temple, were metaphors of YHWH himself — of his authority, of his promised coming, of his emptying (kenosis) himself of uncreation by adopting Creation as his own reality, thus becoming authoritatively human.

Historic Judaism recognized “prophetic dualism” — that is, the distinction between the authoritative Creator and his Creation. At the same time, it explicitly rejected the monism of pantheism, which declares that the authoritative God is everything, and everything is God. Historic Judaism also rejected the philosophic dualism between the mortal fleshly body and the immortal soul. And it rejected Gnostic dualism, which claims that the good God is imprisoned in a fleshly body by an evil creator-god.17

At the same time, Judaism failed to plumb the depths of its own authoritative symbolism. It failed to discern that the Temple prefigured the coming of YHWH as a human being. It failed to discern YHWH’s own sacrificial death. And it failed to understand that, by his death, YHWH did not terminate Creation as such but, rather, inaugurally terminated the old Creation, which exists by command. By irrevocably emptying himself of uncreation, YHWH forever terminated uncreation as self-existent essence (ousia) and also ended uncreation as nothingness (nihilo) or the abyss (abysso).

So it was that Judaism failed to witness YHWH’s own embodied resurrection as the authoritative New Creation, existing not by command but by consent — existing by the inauguration of a familial dualism in which YHWH is not us nor are we him. Rather, he is relationally with, for and to us, and we are relationally with, for and to him and to each other. In this authoritative New Creation, YHWH is our Adamic Father, our Friend, our Brother. And we are his children and siblings to each other — regardless of color, race, gender, age and any other biological, cultural or historical differences.

The bottom line is that authority, the legitimate and effective power of God unto salvation, is not a burden to be borne but a gift to be enjoyed. . . . [In Matthew] the priests and the elders ask, “Who gave you this authority?” Jesus summoned his disciples and “gave them authority” for ministry. And his resurrection words on the mountain were, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Apart from that divine giving, . . . [no one has authority in oneself]. The gift is from God and it is manifested in its transforming power.

Perhaps that is why the questions of authority as posed by Matthew — both the question to Jesus and the question of Jesus — go unanswered in his Gospel. They are left for us to answer for ourselves — and for our ministry.18

That answer is that YHWH eternally and irrevocably emptied himself to become the ultimate inaugural human being known as Jesus Christ. And this so that he might be forever with, for and to us as our Friend and so that he might imminently transform us into his own image (John 15:15; 1 John 3:2).

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:1, 2.


  1. Matthew 21:23. The English words author and authority are from the Latin word auctor, which means “creator” (see American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “author,” “authority”). (go back)
  2. For an alternative consideration of authority, see Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Civil Authority.” (go back)
  3. See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990). (go back)
  4. See ibid. (go back)
  5. See Karl W. Luckert, Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire: Theological and Philosophical Roots of Christendom in Evolutionary Perspective (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991). (go back)
  6. Julian Jaynes. “The Quest for Authorization,” in Jaynes, Origin of Consciousness, p. 320. (go back)
  7. Jaynes, Origin of Consciousness, p. 318. (go back)
  8. Timothy W. Ryback, “Hitler’s Forgotten Library: The Man, His Books, and His Search for God,” Atlantic Monthly 291, no. 4 (May 2003): 90. (go back)
  9. Thomas W. Gillespie, “A Question of Authority,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 24, no. 1 (2003): 1. Quotation from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), p. 241. (go back)
  10. Gillespie, “Question of Authority,” p. 3. (go back)
  11. Ibid., p. 8. (go back)
  12. Ibid., p. 5. Quotation from J. W. Burrow, The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848-1914 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 147. (go back)
  13. Quotation in a book review by Andrew Purves, “Grenz, Stanley J. The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2001,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 24, no. 1 (2003): 157. (go back)
  14. Gillespie, “Question of Authority,” p. 6. Quotation from Burrow, Crisis of Reason, p. 150. (go back)
  15. See Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1960), pp. 38-49. See also Exodus 3:14. (go back)
  16. See Exodus 28:30. See also Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-ROM ed. (1997), s.v. “Urim and Thummim.” (go back)
  17. “DUALISM, the religious or philosophical doctrine which holds that reality consists, or is the outcome, of two ultimate principles which cannot be reduced to one more ultimate first cause. Dualistic systems have appeared in philosophical (metaphysical) as well as moral forms, both of which have exerted considerable influence on the history of religions, including the history of Judaism. . . .
          “While Judaism can thus be said to have been consistently anti-dualistic in the sense of recognizing only one ultimate cause and source of all being — including the opposites characteristic of being — there is another sense in which biblical and prophetic religion can be said to be dualistic. It assumes a radical distinction between the absolute being of God, and the contingent being of all other i.e., created) things.” — Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-ROM ed. (1997), s.v. “Dualism.” (go back)
  18. Gillespie, “Question of Authority, p. 9. (go back)


Copyright © 2003 Worldview Publications