It Always Comes Down to Authority

 Mark tells us this in this day’s Gospel, that Jesus “spoke with authority and not as the scribes.”

What does this mean?

A cursory look at the definition of “authority” offers little help.

“The power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, or judge.”

No one would accuse Jesus of “exacting obedience”. Rather, he gave us reason to obey, warning us sometimes of the consequences of not obeying, but never does he force us to do his bidding.

Further, the word “power” seems inappropriate here.

Mark’s audience, as best we are able to discern, was under great pressure. That pressure came from Rome, who was at the time engaged in exacting its “authority” over the Jewish lands, especially in Jerusalem, the seat of the uprising.

Mark’s community, probably from somewhere outside Jerusalem, saw the brutality and ruthlessness of the Roman war machine.

So we must look elsewhere for what Mark meant by using the term “authority” as regards Jesus and his teaching.

I think that comes from his juxtaposition with the phrase “not as the scribes.”

We know that the scribes at the time were the “literalists” of their day. They interpreted the Scriptures and defined what was acceptable and what was not to the greater population. There were various codes to be adhered to, various practices that must be accomplished to be and remain in good standing as a Jew.

So they had a certain authority it would seem, since they declared the clean from the unclean, the pious from the not, yet, apparently they did not impress the population as speaking for God. Rather, they spoke as the established “church”. Few if any, so it seemed, thought of their teaching as anything but rote repetition of rules and regulations.

No, Jesus spoke as a prophet, one sent by God to EXPLAIN. A prophet is not a seer of the future, but one who assembles the “threads of the day” and explains what they mean for the average person. Prophets are sent when people “don’t see the obvious” and need to be told what is coming (if they don’t change their ways).

Mark goes further.

As I said, Mark’s community is under great threat. Mark, doesn’t stop with just explaining that Jesus has this “authority” and should therefore be listened to as a prophet. He fairly hits his community up the side of their heads!

Jesus cures a man cursed with a demon, and the demon shrieks, “I know who you are. The Holy One of God!”

No question now. Jesus is not just a prophet, he is God’s Holy One! “Listen to him,” Mark proclaims.

One can but imagine the uproar this caused in the synagogue that day. First this rather nobody from a small outlying village arrives and without schooling or training, speaks in the synagogue, explaining the scriptures in a way apparently new and quite different from the usual recitation of admonitions and blandishments. And then, he disrupts the sacred place with a healing, calling forth demons who shriek and create a ruckus.

“What is this?”

What indeed?

We can see in our mind’s eye, the crowds slowly walking away in small groups, whispering among themselves. We can imagine that the synagogue authorities watched all this and gathered too, to discuss this event, and what it might mean.

We all are required to obey certain authoritative acts. We must pay taxes, obey traffic laws, obey our parents, our bosses. That is normal, and for the most part good, for society depends on a degree of compliance voluntarily given.

However, we must always remember that there is a “higher authority”, one that always supersedes earthly rules. It is the authority written in our hearts by a loving God who has impressed upon us an ingrained “knowledge” of moral right. Jesus speaks as this “authority”. We read his words and ponder his teachings, recognizing that our hearts respond to the “authority” of his teaching.

While we often wish to rebel and take a “have you come to destroy us?” attitude, we know the truth of what He speaks.

Let us always shed evil and stand in the light of God’s truth.



13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 19:14:17

    This is lovely, Sherry, and it does such good work of getting to the nub of Mark’s story. The more I think about the “authority issue” the more I’m seeing there are really two strains: earned and inherited. The scribes inherited their authority by virtue of their scholarly offices; Jesus earns His authority by virtue of His astounding wisdom and power to speak to evil. And I think you’re spot-on about how we should respond to each. We respect those who inherit authority; but earned authority is trustworthy.

    I can’t begin to unravel how the Capernaum exorcism works. The ancients’ limited understanding of mental and physiological diseases hamper Mark’s ability to depict the man’s condition realistically. Yet he tells us enough to know the man was profoundly troubled and encountering Jesus–confessing Who Jesus is–becomes the key to his restoration. That’s something I can trust unconditionally.

    Thank you for such insight into a very problematic passage.

    Many blessings,


    • Sherry
      Jan 30, 2012 @ 10:42:51

      Yes Tim, I do agree. Authority is such a sticky thing. Where to draw the line. I can but think that God gives us the wisdom (if we listen) to know where that line is, and where we must stop and stand up for right. Jesus certainly, in all his teachings gives very good boundaries. I too wonder what the people of that time really witnessed there in Capernaum that translated into a “demon”. Certainly they believed in such things. I’m wondering if diseases that made a person jerky or otherwise “not normal” were often interpreted as such. You are right I think, that recognizing Jesus is the key to health, mental and physical!


  2. Michael
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 16:05:47

    Having studied Political Science, particularly political philosophy and earning a degree in the same, I have researched long and hard on the very questions of “authority” and “power.” Both words are very closely related in the world of politics. A person who has no power to enforce laws, etc. is truly not an Authority. The word Authority here is capitalized for a reason though it is very seldom if ever capitalized in real-life usage. It is a title and therefore a noun. “The authorities entered his business with warrants and seized all his files and froze his assets.” The “power” to do so comes from the point of a gun — the ability to coerce compliance.

    When I speak of the authority of Jesus to say or do the things he did I speak of the authority that comes from a dimension completely alien to the physical dimension in which we live. His authority came (and comes) from the Holy Spirit of God who is the ultimate power and authority of all dimensions — spiritual and physical. This, I believe, is the distinction made when it was said that the authority was not as that of the scribes. The scribes were indeed authorities in the first sense. They were given power to coerce compliance to their dictates by the enforcement arm of the ultimate authority in the physical realm. The power of Capital Punishment was removed from them by Rome during the occupation but they appealed to the Roman Authority (Governor Pilate) to have their authoritative ruling in the case of Jesus upheld and by his approval exercised the power to carry out their judgment.

    When I speak to people of the Good News of the salvation possible through belief in Christ and when I speak of the Love that is God and its availability to all humankind, then I speak with authority! It is not I who speak but the Spirit of that ultimate spiritual authority and power which speaks through me as it wills to give utterance. I do not have the power to force salvation. Not even God has that. Salvation is an act of Free Will. But this authority which dwells in me as a result of my deliverance does give me power to defeat forces of evil in my own life.

    So “power” is instrumental here. It also gives me power to order my everyday actions to serve my Lord and Supreme Authority to follow his commands to love his children and to do for them in the world what I would have done to me and to do for them as in providing material comfort as best as it is my ability to do so.

    I am his servant and his subject. His yoke is light and though it is a yoke I wear it gladly. I joyfully submit myself to his authority and stand in continual awe of his infinite power.

    A final note. Another definition of “Authority” can be seen when referring to someone who is considered such an expert that their word is indisputable. We see it in court when we have “expert witnesses.” They are taken to be “authoritative” on the subjects within their specialized fields. Even though they may have no “power” behind their authority, they are considered authorities nonetheless by dint of highly Peer Reviewed academic careers. This also can be said of the “scribes” mentioned earlier after their power of enforcement was taken away by a militaristic government (Rome).


    • Sherry
      Feb 03, 2012 @ 16:37:30

      Thank you Michael. Your explanation is most interesting of the differing ways we can use the terms authority and power. There is little doubt it seems that Jesus’ impact on those who heard him speak was indeed profound and caused people to believe they had witnessed something very extraordinary indeed. That certainly was not lost on the Pharisees and no doubt they saw immediately that Jesus could be a problem for them if he continued to speak in ways different from their teachings. Of course, that ended up being most true. Blessings.


      • Michael
        Feb 03, 2012 @ 20:19:02

        We witness the “power” of Jesus in first his miracles and most importantly in his resurrection. This power points directly back to the authority of God in the Spirit given to Jesus to act in that power. Being born with the power ourselves of free will we are not forced to believe but the final authority and power from which Jesus spoke will become evident, painfully so for many (unfortunately), on the Day of Judgment when God will from the infinite power of his authority who gets the ability to share in eternal life and who is punished for not believing in the authority by being condemned to eternal death.

      • Sherry
        Feb 04, 2012 @ 12:44:15

        I’m afraid I don’t so much believe in hell Michael. It doesn’t fit with my understanding of God. I think we put ourselves through all the suffering in this life. God desires for us not to, but we are willful creatures of free will. I suspect we will be rather shocked when the time comes as to what is in store for us. More amazing than we can imagine I suspect.

  3. Michael
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 13:46:08

    Ah, we have a misunderstanding it seems. I don’t believe in Hell either. What I was referring to was eternal death. I do not believe in Universal Salvation either though. I think the options are eternal life in the spirit or eternal death of the spirit — non being . . .. If I don’t believe in the resurrection of the second born then I don’t think I can call myself Christian.

    With that I’ll withdraw.


    • Sherry
      Feb 04, 2012 @ 16:09:50

      Yes, I guess I did misunderstand to a degree. I don’t believe in eternal death as you define it. That suggests a God, at least to me, that is internally inconsistent with himself. I’m not sure what you mean by “resurrection of the second born”. Could you define that please?


  4. Michael
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 04:39:38

    If Jesus was the first born Son of God and was then resurrected from the dead after his crucifixion, then every subsequent child of God (Christian) becomes by definition the “second born” if they also gain eternal life after the death of their earthly body. We become the second born upon the satisfaction of two requirements set forth by Christ as stated in the Gospel of John,

    “Jesus answered, “ . . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” John 3:5 (NIV)

    Being born of the water can be taken to mean being born into the world in the flesh as that is the way humans are born with an issue of water expelled from the womb when the amniotic sack breaks just before birth. It is symbolized in ritual by the sacrament of Baptism. Being born of the Spirit is not an empirically provable feat and occurs when the Comforter that was sent back by Christ after his ascension into heaven comes into our life and assures us of the truth of his Christhood and our salvation. This happened before the fact with Peter.

    Peter stated with Authority that Jesus was the “Son of the Living God” and Jesus responded by saying that this information did not come from sources provable by “flesh and blood” but by “[His] Father in Heaven.” Peter was already born of the Spirit at this point by evidence of his revealed knowledge of something that could only be known through the Spirit. (Matthew 16:17-20 NIV)

    In the passage Jesus also speaks of the “Gates of Hades” (verse 18) which is commonly also referred to as “the realm of the Dead.” It is my understanding that this passage is taken by the Catholic Church to be the reasoning that Peter was considered to the first Pope by his acknowledgment of the Messianic nature of Jesus and that Jesus said,

    “. . . on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of t. . . of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (verse 18-19)

    However if you do not believe in eternal death then this passage might not make much sense, because it implies a dichotomy of existence just as the one before does when it says that unless you are born of the “water AND the Spirit” that you cannot “enter into the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God to me is eternal life after the cessation of my physical life. Not being born of the spirit is to me entering into Hades (the realm of the dead) after the cessation of my physical life.

    It is not to me some place out of Dante Alighieri with demons with pitchforks and pools of excrement and fire. It is eternal separation from the Love of God by being able to live in that glory and peace of the Spirit. It is death plain and simple. Forever NOTHINGNESS. I do NOT believe in Universal Salvation. I DO believe in the resurrection of Christ and the Resurrection of the Second Born. My proofs come from scripture but more importantly they are revealed in my spirit by the one Spirit sent by Christ.


    • Sherry
      Feb 05, 2012 @ 10:19:25

      Thank you Michael for explaining in such detail. I do understand what you mean now and I have no issue with it whatsoever. I appreciate your thoughts about Peter. I am not one of those Catholics who think that Peter was the “first pope”, in fact the structure of the “church” did not begin to coalesce until centuries later, in my opinion. I am most familiar with the concept of “eternal death” as you use it, and I know that many agree with you. I am untroubled by references to “hades”. Hades is a greek word referring to the mythological underground place where people go upon death. It has its reference to Sheol which is the Jewish word. In Latin it becomes Pergatorium or purgatory. I’m not sure, but I don’t think that most of these definitions relate to a place of necessarily permanent abode. I simply don’t believe that there is any permanence to such a place, but rather it is a place of cleansing and learning. No doubt plenty would disagree with me, but I have an enormous problem with theology making sense otherwise. I do thank you so very dearly Michael for your willingness to spend so much time and effort to make yourself clear to me.


      • Michael
        Feb 05, 2012 @ 11:40:45

        Once again we are in agreement, Sherry. I no more believe in a physical place called Hades than I do a place called the Inferno (as Dante called it. Nor do I believe in ANY place or “land” of the dead.

        The English translation of the New Testament was taken from the Greek and this I believe was the reason for the Hades reference. Jesus may indeed have used the Jewish reference of Sheol or its Aramaic equivalent. In any case I believe it was a Metaphor. It could be just as easily rephrased as “on this rock I will build my church, and [Death itself] will not overcome it.”

        As I said earlier, dead is dead and there is no experience of to the dead of a place of habitation. A corpse does not know a grave, or a tomb, or a funeral pyre etc. Similarly, a dead spirit does not know life in the presence of God. It is simply and irrevocably dead.

        Now I see you have a new post called “Going Forth to Serve.” I think I’ll toddle on over to it and take a peek. 🙂

  5. Michael
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 06:48:59

    Reblogged this on Prepare Ye The Way!.


    • Michael
      Feb 05, 2012 @ 11:30:42

      This reblogging in my blog was aborted. I explained the reblogging and its abortion in an administrative post in my blog in a post called “Experimenting.”

      Sorry for any confusion.


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