God’s Laws of Authority:
Priority & Basic Principles of Authority
by Gerald R. Thompson
Authority vs. Power
The Creator God is the ultimate source of power and authority in the universe. That He holds this infinite power is generally acknowledged when people refer to God as being omnipotent, all-powerful, or as the Almighty. People are much less inclined to acknowledge God’s infinite authority. It’s funny how we have convenient words for God being all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and existing everywhere (omnipresent), but no convenient word for Him as the source of all authority. Perhaps that betrays the human tendency to view ourselves as the ultimate source of our own authority.
Power and authority often go together, of course. “And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” (Lk. 9:1). “Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Pet. 3:21b-22). “These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.” (Rev. 17:13).
However, power and authority are not the same. Power primarily refers to strength and the ability to act. Authority normally signifies the lawful right to act. The word authority, in English, is derived from the word author, which helps explain its meaning. The phrase the author of our being is a common reference to God as Creator, who has all ultimate authority over us, because He alone has made us.
People have always craved power and authority. They want power to make things happen according to their own will, but they also want some semblance of authority as a way to stifle challengers. It’s not very enviable to be the king of the mountain, if anyone can knock you off the top at any time simply by using raw power against you. Authority, whether civil or moral, is a way to help make people submissive to your will even if they have the superior power. However, just because a person has either power or authority, does not mean they have the other.
The question is, which one is most likely to lead to the other? The might makes right school of thought (the preferable choice historically) says, in essence, grab as much power as you possibly can, then change the laws to keep you in power. However, God is more aligned with the right makes might perspective, as we will see.
But this helps explain the strategy long used by the power hungry. While grabbing power, use all the tools at your disposal, such as running for office and choosing “a life of public service” – often just a euphemism for feeding at the public trough. And to the extent possible, make things appear like God is on your side. Or at the very least, make an effort to be perceived as a religious person (actual religious belief is not required). If you can do both, so much the better.
That is why the preferred method of achieving great power historically was to use both civil authority and moral/religious authority as a means of keeping people in line. (Which is contrary to the modern evolved mind set of keeping government and religion completely separate.) In other words, to suppress the most opposition, convince people that your position of power is approved both by the laws of men and the laws of God. Once God is on your side, most people are less inclined to challenge your leadership.
We tend to view church and state as being some kind of polar opposites, but historically the more those two things are aligned, the more effectively they can be used to squelch dissent. Put aside any ideological objections to religious establishments and view it in purely pragmatic terms. Two sources of authority are better than one for shaping public opinion, and nothing is better than if those two sources happen to speak with one voice. For the purely power hungry, there is no better method of silencing dissent.
Thus, it should not really be a surprise to see in our supposedly enlightened times the resurgence of calls for religious states where governmental and religious functions are commingled. Religion and the state speak with one voice to coerce compliance, control the expression of opinions, suppress dissent, and discourage challenges to those in power. Sure, you have to abandon all sense of traditional morality as well as any reliance on established legal principles, and adopt a purely cynical view of society. But if your goal is world domination, it’s an obvious choice.
However, if despotic totalitarianism isn’t your thing, then it might be advantageous to examine a framework of authority adopted by a God who recognizes the difference between power and authority. Someone like the God of the Bible and nature, who allows for freedom of expression, open dissent, and holding people in positions of power accountable. A God who treats all people as equal under the law. And especially, a God who holds that the authority men possess is limited, those limits can be known, and should be enforced.
A God Of Authority
The God referred to in the phrase, the laws of nature and nature’s God, is the Creator who made not only the physical universe, but also all of the governing powers and authorities of the universe. His name is Jehovah, aka the God Most High.
And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.” (Gen. 14:19).
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities all things were created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16).
There is no one greater than this God. There is no hierarchy of deities – no pecking order, no big or little gods, no demigods or semi-gods, and no man-made gods. There is only one God, and He has chosen to manifest Himself on the earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
What is the immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet. (Eph. 1:19-22).
You have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Col. 2:10).
There is no realistic way to fight this God. We are creatures of God, and are merely part of the larger creation in which all powers and authorities are a part. There is nowhere anyone can go to escape God’s laws, and there are no limits to His jurisdiction. Our consent and approval are completely irrelevant to the question of whether we are captives to this system. Practically speaking, as I see it, once you know what the system is, just figure out how to work within it and make the best of it. But if you would rather beat your head against the wall for absolutely no possible benefit, don’t let me stop you. Just realize it will get you nowhere, in the long run.
I will cover this subject in much greater detail below.
Authority Is Important To God
In the Beginning
From the beginning, authority issues have defined the human condition, but you’ve probably never heard things explained that way. And when I say beginning, I mean right from the very start of man’s creation, way back in the Garden of Eden. Think about it – and for a moment forget all that stuff about pride, desire, wanting to be like God, faith, and belief vs. unbelief. All those things figure in at some point, but they are downstream from the authority issues – so don’t let them interfere with your understanding of what is really going on.
Let’s break it down. On the sixth day of creation, the first people are standing before God and what is the first thing He says to them? “Hi, I’m God. How are you feeling? What do you want to do today?” Not quite. Or perhaps He said, “Now that we’re all here, show me your love and respect and bow down to Me.” Nope – not even close.
God said, in essence, “Reproduce and fill the earth. Take charge over the earth and the entire animal kingdom.” He also added, “You may eat any plant yielding seed (i.e., flowering plants), and every tree fruit with seeds.” (Gen. 1:28-29). Stop. Analyze. What are these statements? Grants of authority, each and every one of them.
God doesn’t start off with, “Now it’s your job to love Me and also love each other.” It’s not about trust or faith or belief. It’s all about authority. You are authorized to have children. You are authorized to take dominion. You are authorized to eat these foods. The first thing, and the only thing, God tells His new creation is what they are authorized to do.
Now comes the proviso – an exception, if you will. “Don’t eat the fruit of this one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen. 2:16-17). Stop. Analyze. What is that? A restriction or a limitation on the authority to eat plants originally granted. See? It’s not that complicated. Here are the things you can do, and here is the one thing you must not do. Again, it’s not about love or trust or faith or belief. Here is the limit of your authority – don’t exceed it.
In fact, everything about God’s early encounters with mankind relates to authority, even after the first conversation. Tend the garden. Name the animals. Choose a helper. (Gen. 2:15-23). Each of these is a task, carried out pursuant to some granted authority. Love’s got nothing to do with it.
What does this tell us? We may reasonably assume that whatever things God addressed first are the most essential for survival. So, if the very first concern God had for the welfare of the human race was to establish certain rules of authority, then that must be what was most important to Him. And if that is what was most important to our Creator, then it should be the most important concern to us, as well. See? Not that complicated.
Then, in Gen. 3, God deals with the consequences of what? – hate, mistrust, unbelief, lack of faith? No, with the consequences of disobedience (or, exceeding the limits of authority). And we’re still dealing with those consequences today. Yes, I’m saying that the Fall of mankind was at root an authority issue. God said, “Don’t.” People said, “We can if we want to.” And then punishment followed. Just think about the enormity of the consequences of the Fall, and then ask yourself whether authority issues are important to God.
The Mark of Cain
The very next encounter between God and people is equally instructive regarding authority. In Gen. 4, Cain murders his brother Abel. Yes, I actually mean to say murder, and not just kill – for Cain was not authorized to take his brother’s life. It was an unauthorized killing. We can talk about what made it unauthorized some other time – a lack of express authority to take a life, an implied prohibition flowing from the laws of nature, or whatever. For now, let’s skip to the end and focus on God’s response. Clearly, God regarded Cain’s actions as improper – unlawful – unauthorized.
What we have in Gen. 4:10-15 is the first ever bench trial, with Cain as defendant, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground as a witness for the prosecution, and God was judge. The initial sentence of judgment was one of forced vagrancy. Cain would be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth. Upon hearing the sentence, Cain objected that it was more than he can bear. (Note that Cain did not say, “But you never told me I couldn’t!” or “I didn’t know it was wrong.” Why? Because those were never in question.)
Cain had one further objection. “Whoever finds me will kill me.” To which God responded, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. (Gen. 4:15). Which begs the question – Why would God protect a murderer?
People often have the wrong idea about the mark of Cain. The mark was not an additional punishment or an identification of evil, but a form of protection. Cain’s mark was God’s way of preventing a revenge killing. If you are inclined to look for an analogy in prophecy, the mark of Cain was more like the protective seal of God on the 144,000 (Rev. 14:1), than the mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:16-18). Don’t assume the mark of Cain was an indication of evil, just because that’s the way it is portrayed in popular culture.
At that point in time God had not authorized anyone to punish murder. Such authority would not be granted until more than 1,600 years later, after the great flood. (Gen. 9:6). However, it’s not as though a revenge killing would be just as bad as what Cain did – it would be seven times as bad. Yes, that’s what sevenfold means. Which, if nothing else, shows how seriously God takes the whole issue of authority. Questions of authority are not merely a passing concern with God. Authority questions cut to the very core of what we can and cannot do in life. So we had better pay attention.
Gen. 4 exemplifies what I call the two Supreme Rules of Authority.
• First, God’s laws determine what is right and wrong, and man’s laws must conform to God’s.
• Second, it is never enough to know right from wrong. One must also determine to whom, and to what extent, God has granted enforcement authority.
Unfortunately, no one ever asks the second question. However, the second question is more important to God than the first – arguably seven times more important.
In other words, authority is a big deal to God. In fact, the whole question of defining what sin is, is an authority question. At root, sin is any violation of God’s law, the function of which is to tell us what things are right and what things are wrong. But ultimately, all questions of right and wrong are just authority issues – what things does God authorize us to do (right), and what has He prohibited us from doing (wrong)?
A Fixed Order of Authority
Authority doesn’t just happen by accident, nor is it a product of the survival of the fittest. God’s framework of authority has structure and organization. He actually has rules of authority, by which we can test whether someone’s claim to authority is justified. God is a God of order, and He has made the universe to reflect this fact.
“Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar the Lord of hosts is his name.” (Jer. 31:35). “Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.” (Ps. 74:16-17).
Just as the physical universe is regarded by the Lord as a fixed order, so the jurisdiction of every person (or the right to make, declare or enforce the laws of God) is determined by a fixed order. Nothing is left to chance, nor is it random. And He has not left us in the dark as to what these rules of authority are.
Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. . . . And consequently as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker’s will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature. These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the creator himself in all his dispensations conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. (W. Blackstone, 1 Commentaries on the Laws of England *39-40 (1765).)
The law of nature, by the obligations of which individuals and states are bound, is identical with the will of God, and that will is ascertained . . . either by consulting Divine revelation, where that is declaratory, or by the application of human reason, where revelation is silent. (James Kent, Commentaries on American Law 2-4 (1827).)
God is not only a God of authority, but He has prescribed a whole set of rules which constitute a fixed order of authority. He has revealed these laws of authority both in creation itself, which we can discover by observation and the use of reason (the law of nature), and in the scriptures of the Bible (the law of nature’s God). He has so plainly revealed these laws that if we claim to be ignorant of them, we have no excuse. And His laws are absolutely supreme – our laws, of whatever kind or description, need to conform absolutely to His laws.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20).
Now, let us see what, specifically, God’s general laws of authority are – not for ancient Israel, but for all people, everywhere, at all times.
As I mentioned earlier, ownership is authority, and ownership comes from being the creator of something. So if God created the world, then He owns it completely, and that gives Him ultimate authority over it. All authority we possess must be given to us, either directly or indirectly, by Him. The process of giving authority is referred to as delegation. It is now our job to trace the nature and instances of these delegations, their limitations, and how they are distributed among men. We need to ask the question: Where does authority really come from?
The Delegation Principle
The Delegation Principle of authority is that all human authority is delegated, not inherent. I break this main principle into three corollaries.
1. All authority ultimately belongs to God. In scripture, the relationship between the Creator and the creation is likened to a potter working with clay. God is the potter, people and nations are like clay to Him, and He can do anything He wants with that clay. He can make us into anything that pleases Him, even to the extent of reforming or destroying any nation or individual.
“Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.” (Jer. 18:6-10).
God’s authority even includes the right to destroy the creation which he made.
Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. . . . And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.” (Gen. 6:13,17).
God’s authority is not limited to material things, nor are His laws or His governing authority limited to physical laws (physics, chemistry, mechanics, etc.). As we have already seen, His authority extends to all thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities. Which means that God not only has the right to declare all rules of right and wrong behavior, but also who has what authority (if any) to administer those behavioral rules. In other words, God has the right to tell all thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities what they can and cannot do when ruling over people.
2. Some authority has been delegated to men. Since God is the only uncreated being in the universe, He is the only one whose authority is inherent. Everyone else takes by delegation. Even Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (Jn. 8:28b). This may be understood to be a form of delegation. But it’s easy to confuse what authority Christ was given by reason of His divinity, and what He obtained as a man. Has God, in fact, delegated authority to regular people? Yes, He has.
Primarily, these delegations have been made through the various covenants between God and men. Historically, in America, this collection of authorizations has been referred to as the laws of nature’s God. Thus, the very first conversation between God and people when He authorized them to have children, exercise dominion, and to eat certain plants, is often referred to as the Adamic covenant. In a later delegation of authority following the great flood, often called the Noahic covenant, God told people to eat meat and to institute capital punishment for the crime of murder.
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. … And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 9:3, 5-6).
For convenience, I’ll continue to look at the Adamic and Noahic covenants as a way to flesh out the basic principles of God’s laws of authority.
3. God reserves for Himself all authority which has not been delegated. We already know that God reserves the right to judge all the nations throughout history, even to the point of again destroying the entire creation as a means of enforcing His word and His law.
. . . by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Pet. 3:5-7).
It is only logical, if authority vests in the creator of something, and we are merely creatures made by God, that people can never have the full scope of authority which God has. Whatever authority God delegates to men, there must always be some aspects of authority which He keeps for Himself, and which it is impossible for people to exercise, because to exercise it would require us to be gods. Thus, people can never truly destroy the earth, or even be really capable of it, because God alone has the authority to do so. It is an authority which is reserved.
(This fact alone should make you reconsider all those Hollywood films depicting the end of the earth, whether by the actions of mankind, asteroids or by alien attack. What sheer and utter nonsense. God is simply not going to allow anyone or anything to usurp his position and authority as the creator and destroyer of the world. This is His world, baby. It also puts into perspective all the political hoopla over our supposed moral duty to save the planet. What moral duty? On the basis of what morality? What stupidity. No one can, or will, save this planet except for God.)
This is a bedrock principle having many ramifications. For example, God alone can read our minds and judge our hearts. This is both a statement of authority and capability. Nothing good can come from human attempts to penetrate the mind of others via science. Similarly, using the organs of law and government to judge a person’s thoughts or intentions, to ascertain a guilty conscience, to punish opinions, or to force a person’s education or re-education is inherently ill-conceived. Yet, whole industries of people are constantly engaged in attempting to do these very things. What does that say about us, except that we desire to be gods?
There is also the question of who picks up the slack, as it were, whenever God has failed to (or decided not to) give a particular authority to anyone specifically. To whom, for example, has God given the authority to explore outer space? If the answer is no one specifically, does that authority stay with God in the heavens, or is it picked up by, say for example (I’m just being totally random here), civil government? The logical consequence of which is, if civil government is the lord of the heavens (outer space), then civil government must be God. And the corollary which follows is, if that is true, our authority must all ultimately come from civil government (i.e., men), and there is no God. So ask yourself – Who is the Lord of the Heavens – God or men/government?
The Limitation Principle
The Limitation Principle of authority is that all human authority is limited, not absolute.
1. Human authority extends only to that which God gives him. We already know that no person’s authority originates with themselves. Everything we have authority to do must be given to us by the Creator. The logical extension of this line of reasoning is that unless a specific authority has been delegated to us, we don’t have it. This is the universal principle of enumerated powers.
You may be familiar with this idea as a principle of constitutional interpretation. The constitutional principle holds that the federal government only has those specific powers which are expressly enumerated, or expressly stated, in the text of the Constitution. Powers not delegated are reserved to the people or the states. (See, Tenth Amend.) In other words, there are no implied (or unexpressed) powers. If a power isn’t expressly delegated, it does not exist.
However, the law of enumerated powers (broadly speaking) is not only a constitutional principle, nor is it merely a school of thought among scholars. It is the way the universe works, because that is the way God made it.
We have already seen that no one could punish Cain for murdering Abel because God had not authorized anyone to exercise jurisdiction over the law of murder. Until the authority to punish murder had been expressly delegated after the great flood, no one could rightfully claim it had been granted. That is what the law of enumerated powers is: anything not expressly delegated is necessarily withheld.
There are numerous examples of this in the scriptures. No one could eat meat until God said they could. God wasn’t simply ratifying or acknowledging what people were already doing in Gen. 9:3. Until He spoke the words of authorization (an express delegation or enumeration), that authority had been withheld.
Other examples abound. Saul lost his kingdom because he took it upon himself to offer a sacrifice that he had not been authorized to make. (1 Sam. 13:8-13). Athaliah was put to death because she took it upon herself to seize the throne of Israel by force, knowing full well that only male heirs of the king were authorized to sit on the throne. (1 Ki. 11:1-16). Uzzah lost his life when he reached out to stabilize the ark of the covenant, because no one was authorized to touch it except indirectly with poles. (1 Chr. 13:9-10).
In none of these cases was a perceived necessity sufficient to overcome the lack of an express delegation. It didn’t matter that Saul felt it necessary to offer the sacrifice in order to prevent the army from scattering. That necessity did not function as a justification for him to go beyond the limits of his authority. Same for Uzzah, who thought it was necessary for him to prevent the ark of the covenant from falling. Mere necessity is neither an express delegation, nor a justification of authority. Necessity alone grants neither rights nor powers.
Accordingly, my earlier statement can be modified as follows: no person’s authority originates with themselves or from mere circumstances. For that is what necessity really is: a mere circumstance, which is not a delegation. A delegation requires words granting authority.
2. Human authority is limited by the terms of the delegation. Human nature being what it is, we all tend to abhor the idea that our authority is strictly limited to expressly enumerated powers. So we play word games, implying and inferring things that are in fact unsaid. But the implications only ever go in one direction – that of expanding our authority, never shrinking it. When in doubt, assume more. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, etc.
We see this all the time in the political sphere. The federal government today exercises all sorts of powers that were never actually granted by the Constitution. Things such as federal police power (the FBI, etc.) which was left exclusively to the states, courts that operate in secret (FISA Court), federal agencies independent of the three branches of government, federal regulation of land use, health care, and communications, and a whole host of other things. One of my favorites is the supposed oversight power of Congress – but there is no oversight clause in the Constitution. All of which federal powers were never expressly granted, but have only been unlawfully implied (and not by the framers, but by later generations).
However, God has not given us a world where authority may be continually expanded as a result of implication, perceived necessity, or longstanding custom. In God’s universe, it is better to ask permission, than to commit the sin of presumption.
For example, the Dominion Mandate (Gen. 1:28) gave people authority over the earth, the fish, the birds, and every living thing on the earth. However, people are never referred to as “things” in the Bible, but as “beings.” Thus, the Dominion Mandate confers no authority – express or implied – for people to rule over each other, because the Mandate confers no jurisdiction over beings. Dominion authority is limited to animals, plants and the ground. The jurisdiction to rule over people must be derived from somewhere else (that is, from some other express delegation), such as the consent of the governed.
This does not mean we ought to read God’s word woodenly. The Dominion Mandate grants families the right to bear children (to be fruitful and multiply). Do we read this to mean that parents may reproduce, but may not provide for, educate, or discipline their children? No – other scriptures make it clear parents are not only authorized, but have a natural duty, to do these things. But while we infer that families are to provide for each other, and even parents in their later years, we do not infer that children may discipline their parents, or that husbands may discipline their wives. Our reading and understanding of God’s delegations of authority must be consistent with the whole counsel of God.
The task we have is to continually be aware of what God has actually said, and to test any power or authority we might want to exercise against the totality of scripture. It’s all laid out for us right there, if we would only consult it. There is no excuse for remaining blissfully ignorant of the divine limitations on our authority, and just acting as if God will approve whatever we do if it’s done with a good motive. Motivation is important, but it doesn’t eliminate the need to adhere to God’s actual words. Good intentions do not excuse ignorance. The road to hell is paved with … you know.
3. No one defines his own authority. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” (Mat. 10:24). “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (Jn 13:16). A fundamental principle of the law of nature is that any recipient of a delegated authority – such as a servant, or a messenger – is not free to define the scope of his own authority. What that delegee is authorized to do is limited by whatever the delegator has decided. The recipient is not greater than the grantor.
If we start with the premise that all human authority does not originate with ourselves, but comes from someone else (ultimately tracing back to God), then this limitation becomes an inviolate rule. We never get to set the limits of out own authority. The scope of any authority we exercise in our human existence is always defined not by us, but by the one who gives us authority. When we attempt to define our own authority, we essentially claim that we are the source of our own authority, which is tantamount to claiming to be God.
I stress that this is an inviolate rule because popular culture today is rife with the motif that things created can and will rise up against their creators. We see this motif in numerous variations, whether monsters created by men which destroy their creators, in the rise of machines and/or artificial intelligence against humanity, or in the rebellion of demonic forces attempting to overthrow the one true God. All such cultural motifs are ultimately an allegory for the desire of mankind to rise up and not only be like gods, but to throw down all challengers to our own divinity, including the Author of our being.
Practically speaking, all such overthrows are doomed to fail. Another fundamental principle of the law of nature is that no creature can ever be greater than its creator. Mankind will never create anything which will ultimately destroy humanity. The machines will never rise up. Satan and his demon hordes will wage war against the Almighty, but lose. People will never become gods. Sorry to burst your bubble. Why fantasize about, and allow yourself to be entertained by, a scenario that simply isn’t possible and will never happen? Isn’t that the definition of folly?
We know, of course, since human nature is corrupted, that whenever anyone makes an effort to define their own authority (especially when it comes to ruling over other people), they will tend invariably to excess. And all excess authority I claim for myself ultimately robs someone else who has that authority lawfully. Now it may be another person or institution I deprive by my usurpation, or it may be God’s reserved jurisdiction that I rob, but all such excesses step in someone else’s jurisdiction and work an evil. That is why, in God’s authority framework, defining our own authority is something we simply must not do.
The legally defined offense of contempt can be understood in this light. Contempt is the unauthorized assumption of jurisdiction to declare one’s own authority. In effect, a contemptuous litigant declares that he has authority to judge his own case, and that his authority is superior to the jurisdiction of the judge. By the Mosaic law, a person guilty of judicial contempt was to be executed. “And the man who acts presumptuously by not listening to . . . the judge, that man shall die.” (Deut. 17:12). Although contempt isn’t a capital offense among Gentile nations today, the unauthorized assertion of jurisdiction is still a serious offense in God’s eyes.
The Diffusion Principle
The Diffusion Principle of authority is that human authority is diffuse, not concentrated.
1. God distributes authority to many people at a time, not just a few. The means God has chosen to use to delegate authority to people is the covenant. We have already briefly mentioned the first two of these, the Adamic covenant and Noahic covenant. Both of these illustrate the Diffusion Principle beautifully, because both covenants apply to all people living today. (You can’t get any more diffuse than that.)
The Adamic covenant, though given initially only to two people, is nonetheless applicable to all the descendants of those first people. Humanity would have been short-lived if, in fact, only the first two people had been authorized to procreate and have children, but their children were not likewise authorized to procreate. For the human race to survive, the authorization to procreate must be a continuing authorization for all people. And since all people ever born subsequently are descendants of those first two people, all people alive today are authorized to procreate after the manner of Adam and Eve.
However, the Adamic covenant, taken as a whole, is a package deal. The authorizations to have (and raise) children, to take dominion over the animal kingdom and to subdue the earth, and to eat plants for food, were all spoken to the same people in the same context at the same time, in the same sentence. Thus, they rise or fall together as a unit – the provisions cannot be separated from each other. If the authority to procreate attaches to every person alive today, then so does the authority to rule over the animal kingdom, to subdue the earth, and to eat plants.
The same is true for the Noahic covenant, which by its terms is expressly made applicable to all the descendants of the people it was first given to. (Gen. 9:9.) If we assume the biblical account is accurate (i.e., that literally everyone alive at the time was killed in the flood except for the eight survivors to whom the covenant was spoken), then everyone alive today is a descendant of Noah as well as Adam. Meaning, the authorities granted in the Noahic covenant apply to all people today.
Again, this is a necessary consequence, if the authorizations and promises of the Noahic covenant are to have any real significance. I refer, of course, to the sign of the rainbow and God’s promise not to flood the world again. Can anyone possibly suggest, if this sign and promise are to have any covenantal meaning at all, that they apply to only some of the people on the earth, but not all? No, of necessity, either this promise applies to everyone alive today, or it is meaningless.
But then we have that whole package deal thing going on again. The authorizations to repopulate the earth, eat meat, and implement capital punishment for murder, were all given to the same people (and their descendants) in the same context, at the same time, and in the same speech, as the promise not to flood the earth again. Which leads to a similar conclusion, namely, that everyone alive today has the benefit of these promises and authorizations, as much as the promise of the rainbow.
2. God hasn’t given any person total authority. As the preceding discussion shows, God didn’t just give dominion to some people, and not to others. He gave dominion (procreation, dominion and food) to everyone, diffusely. There are no concentrations of dominion authority among men. I don’t have to go through you, or get your permission, to exercise dominion authority, nor you through me. I don’t have the right to hold you accountable for your exercise of dominion authority, nor do you to hold me accountable. Why? Because we each received that authority directly from God, and He alone can hold each of us accountable. Dominion authority is diffuse – no one has more than anyone else, and there is no pecking order with respect to dominion.
Similarly with respect to the Noahic covenant – the authority granted is diffuse. There are no concentrations of power or authority to repopulate the earth, to control the meat supply, or to exercise capital punishment. Yes, that’s exactly what I said, and exactly what I mean. Unless, of course, your Bible explicitly says that the authority to exercise capital punishment was given to civil government and/or civil rulers. It doesn’t? Neither does mine.
In fact, if you just think about it honestly, when the Noahic covenant was made, there were no civil governments or civil rulers. There weren’t even any nations in existence at that time – there were only eight people, all in the same family. So how could the authority to exercise capital punishment belong exclusively to civil governments? When and by what mechanism was that authority transferred on behalf of all persons living today?
There is absolutely nothing in the language or context of either the Adamic or Noahic covenants to suggest that among the recipients of God’s authorizations, some people received more authority than others. No one received supervisory authority over others, and no one at all was ever put “in charge” of how the terms of the covenant were to be carried out. In fact, the opposite is true: equality is the rule among the beneficiaries of God’s covenants.
What is true for the Adamic and Noahic covenants holds true for the later covenants, as well. Even though the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants pertain primarily to the nation of Israel (rather than the whole of humanity), yet the same principle of diffusion applies. Certainly no one under either the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants has more authority than anyone else, which is to say that equality is the rule among all the Jewish people. God never put anyone in charge of the Promised Land under the Abrahamic covenant (which perhaps helps explain why so many people are claiming that authority for themselves even today).
Also, the national government implemented under the Mosaic government was perhaps the most decentralized national government ever on the face of the earth. Just keep in mind the statement of Jdg. 21:25, and think of it not as a value judgment, but merely as a fact. Namely, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. No one was king. What does that say? Authority and power were diffuse. No one was in charge. No one supervised anyone else.
Granted, the Davidic covenant has become a special case. Instead of diffusion, there is now a concentration. Originally granting authority over the throne of Israel to the male descendants of David (but no one in particular), it has now become vested exclusively in one individual, Christ. So there is one significant covenantal exception to the diffusion principle. But that exception applies solely to Jesus as the God-Man, not to any mere man.
But when the church covenant came on the scene, what was the rule? Authority to become a member of the body of Christ and to take the gospel to the world was not limited to the people who initially heard the Great Commission. Nor was the authority granted to merely the descendants or designees of those people. Rather, the authority of the Church was granted to all who believe, equally with respect to each other. No person or group was granted more or special spiritual authority compared to others.
Further, no one was given supervisory authority, and most importantly, no one on earth was put in charge of the Church. What? Did you think God was going to change His whole modus operandi of dishing out covenant authority just because the Church was involved? Not a chance.
3. The diffusion of powers is the rule. God has spread His delegations of authority around so that everyone has some God-given authority, but no one has it all, nor even a preponderance of the available authority. Everyone is in charge of themselves for some purposes, and responsible to others for other purposes. But no one is ultimately higher than others, or the top dog’ in society. Equality is the rule, and there absolutely are no exceptions. None.
In God’s framework, all individuals have the same authority compared to each other, all families have the same authority as each other, all nations have the same authority as each other, and all churches have the same authority as each other. So what has been the historic and universal human response to this? Why, to concentrate power among certain individuals, certain families, certain nations, and certain churches, of course. But that is never what God intended. In fact, I would characterize all such attempts as inherently evil.