The Bible and Authority
Very simple Why Mormonism Why the Bible? What is authority
Who has authority ONLY the Bible? The Word of God Which Bible?
Where do preachers get their authority?
How can they stand up and say "this is what God says"?

See also: 7 proofs of the apostasy | The Holy Grail (the loss of authority)


When Jesus set up the New Testament church, he called apostles, pastors, teachers, etc. The apostles kept the church in order. What the apostles wrote became known as scripture. But after the apostles died, the church fell into a serious spiritual decline (as might be expected).

Modern churches claim to be the church that Jesus set up. They claim authority from one (or more) of four sources:

Looking closely, we can see that all these claims are false.

Modern churches do not start with apostles as Jesus did. Consequently, they can have no serious claim to authority.

Is authority in the people?
(Is the church a democracy?)

Most churches have committes or synods that vote on any changes (e.g. women priests, marrying divorcees, etc.). But is the church a democracy or a theocracy?

Perhaps we do not need actual prophets, just good Christians who have a good understanding of the gospel?

This sounds good, until we ask to see such a Christian. Where is the mythical good Christian? Who can stand up as a spokesman for Christianity?

Do individual members speak for Christianity?

It is a reassuring fantasy that truth resides with "the priesthood of believers." This sounds fine until we remember that most believers do not know much of what their church teaches, other than what they learn from preachers and their fellow believers. Add the fact that individuals typically disagree over many details, and that fashions come and go in church beliefs (who preaches predestination any more?) and we can see that this is no guarantee. If even great preachers can get it wrong, why should the majority of believers be any better?

But the majority of Christians will tend to be right, even if they are uninspired?

This is just the argument for tradition. This is discussed elsewhere on this page.

Could God speak to the world through an assemblage of 'inspired' voting disciples?

If he does, then they should publish it as another book of the Bible, and inform the other churches of this wonderful event. But in practice they dare not - as one church will vote one way (e.g. to allow women priests and to remarry divorcees) and another church will vote the opposite way.

We could perhaps trust a vote if a majority of voters was inspired. But this makes the problem even harder - this would imply a claim to have not just one prophet, but hundreds, or even thousands!

Was the Bible Canon decided by vote (back in the great councils of the fourth to sixth centuries) ?

These early bishops did vote, but not on their own authority. They appealed to tradition (e.g. "we have always accepted these books") and to apostolic origin ("a real apostle wrote it"). They had become like the Pharisees and like modern evangelical churches - claiming no authority for themselves.

Do church leaders (who do not claim to be prophets) speak for Christianity?

Many churches have authority figures - the Catholics have the Pope, for example. But unless these figures can produce new scriptures, their words will always be inferior to the words of the dead prophets. Their words are not quite as reliable as they could be, or why not bite he bullet and admit that their words are scripture? Prophets and apostles speak words that carry equal authority with anything that has gone before.

Do the great and famous preachers speak for Christianity?

Look at the great preachers, the ones who can fill football stadiums - do they represent the authentic Christian voice? There are none more successful than the great TV evangelists - and we all know what became of them in the 1980s. Just think of names like Bakker, Roberts, Swaggert, etc. Are the great preachers really a guide to true Christianity? Of course, you get the occasional great leader - most notably Billy Graham - who seems to be consistently honorable. But even he has been criticized by fundamentalists for being too pro-Catholic. And of course, if we are looking for the great preachers who can fill the stadiums, then the greatest preacher of all has to be the Pope. Would protestants accept him? He is, after all, a sincere and well-informed believer.


It seems to me that the idea that "the believers have doctrinal authority" is at best a moving target, and at worst a great deception.

Does the Bible give authority?

If the Bible was so clear, we would not need new alternate translations, Sunday preachers, Bible study groups, or books like "What Christians believe". Clearly, the Bible is not enough to speak for itself. or perhaps the Mormons are the only ones to misunderstand the Bible? O.K., who does understand it? Who can tell us what it really means? Who speaks for Christianity?

Is authority is in the written word?

The idea that you can recreate the authentic Christian church from the scriptures is absurd. Is that what Abraham did? Or Moses? Or Christ? No. When the truth is lost, it must be restored in its original form from heaven. A few questions will illustrate this.

? If you find a copy of someone's will, does that give you the authority to act as executor?

? If you find a copy of some Acts of Parliament, does that give you authority to run the country?

? If you study the law, does that give you the authority to be a high court judge?

? I live in Britain. If I studied American politics, maybe I could tell everyone I was the official American ambassador to London. Do you think that the U.S. Government would accept me? What if I claimed that the existing U.S. ambassador was a charlatan and a fraud. Do you think the government would agree? Isn't it more likely that I would be locked up, or at least treated as a lunatic?

? So why do some Christians think that reading the Bible gives them the authority to run the church of God??? The idea is crazy- or blasphemous.

If you don't have the authority, then you don't have the authority. That's all there is to it.

You cannot restore the lost church based on the Bible:

  1. Whenever the gospel has been restored in the past (by Moses and by Christ, for example), it has been by new scripture, not by studying the old. It was the Scribes and Pharisees who studied the old texts at length. Jesus had the living word.
  2. If God is unable or unwilling to tell us directly (through prophets), but has left us his last "Will and Testament", that seems to imply that God is dead.
  3. The New Testament is a record of church history, not an ecclesiastical instruction manual. It is not even complete (John 21:25). Nowhere does it define what the gospel is, how to baptize, what the duties of a priest are, and so on. We do not have an equivalent to the Essenes' Manual of Discipline or the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. And if we do not need such things, why not say so and stop pretending that the Bible can tell us what to do with the church.
  4. We do not have the original scriptures, only various translations and copies of copies of fragments. We do not even know if we have all the relevant books, since the canon was decided long after the apostles died, and was chosen from only what remained.
  5. Everyone interprets the same scripture in different ways. Why else are there so many churches, when Jesus implored that we should be one (John 17:20-23)?

If we copy what we see in the Bible, all we have is a copy. Not the original.

Following the Bible - or writing the Bible

All Christian churches but one try (to some extent) to follow the Bible. The Mormon Church is the one exception. It does not try to follow the Bible. Yet it is the most Biblical church on earth. Why? Because the Mormon Church wrote the Bible. Why should it waste effort trying to copy its own history? It is too busy creating new history.

In the same way, Jesus was the most Christian man who ever lived, yet he probably never read the New Testament (it did not exist in its present form for a long time after the crucifixion). He did read the "law and the prophets," or Old Testament, but he did not justify everything he did from that, as the scribes did. Instead, he spoke with authority (see Matthew 7:29).

The Mormon Church is the New Testament church restored to earth from heaven. Its real name in these last days is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The New Testament Church (nicknamed "the sect of the Nazarenes" - Acts 24:5 ) was the "Mormon" church of Roman times.

The Holy Spirit and the Apostles

Obviously the Holy Spirit is the ultimate guide to truth. But many people claim to have the spirit, and they disagree with and contradict each other. And if you are not living your life in harmony with God's words, how do you know that you are listening to the right spirit? The Holy Spirit is certainly part of the answer, but only a part.

Authority and the holy spirit

The Holy Spirit does not provide authority to run the church. The Holy Spirit can gives power, but not organization. God himself gives organization, with his son as head of the church. It is true that the Holy Spirit can give us direction from time to time, but it is too easy to lose (and to fake) this to be useful as a basis for organization.

As noted at the end of the page on 7 proofs of the apostasy, some people (such as Simeon) had the Holy Spirit even before Jesus was born. But that did not stop the Jewish church from being in a state of apostasy. It did not give Simeon the authority to do anything.

Second rate, imitation apostles

Most protestants claim that the Bible is all they need. But Catholics, Pentecostals and Charismatics recognize the need for apostles just as in Bible times. They tend to see "apostles" as just "those who are sent" (the literal meaning of the Greek word). Hence their "apostles" do not have the features of the twelve apostles in Jesus' day:

If not, they are not like the apostles of the Bible. They are some kind of inferior imitation.

Were the apostles intended to continue beyond the first century?

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Ephesians 4:11-14.)

Did the church arrive at a unity of faith by the second century?

Did the church cease to be tossed about by other doctrines by the second century?

If not, then the apostles were supposed to continue. But due to external persecution and internal problems with the church, one by one they were killed, and the church had just the problems that had been foreseen. See 7 proofs of the apostasy.

Do apostles need to have seen Jesus personally?

This was certainly an advantage in New Testanment times, as questions might arise concerning Jesus' mortal life. But the word "witness" used in the New Testament was "martus." It was also the word used for "martyr." In other words, the important thing was not being an eye witness, but to have strength of testimony and willingness to serve. Many (most?) of the martyrs seen by John in the Book of Revelation were born long after Jesus died, and probably never saw him. Similarly, when Paul refers to witnesses in Hebrews 12:1, he refers to the faithful saints he listed in Hebrews 10. Very few of them had seen Jesus, but their lives were their witness.

Today it is more common to have a vision of Jesus than we might think. Many people who have had "near death" experiences report seeing a Christ-like figure. Many ordinary people claim to have seen him (see for example the unflattering example in "How To Handle Bibliolaters"). I was recently reeading about Bob Dylan. He claims to have had a vision of Christ back in 1978.

Jesus said that the more blessed ones are those who have not seen, yet still believed (John 20:29). We know someone's faith by their works, not because they claim some miracle. Personally, I would prefer an apostle who had gained his knowledge the hard way to one who just claims to have had a special dream. But that is just my personal opinion.

Having said all that, many of the modern apostles have referred to being a "special witness" of Christ as something more than simply knowing by the Holy Ghost. A few have spoken reverently about seeing Christ personally. However, they tend to treat these things as sacred. To speak of these things too often would seem like atention-seeking, it would reduce the sacred value of such experiences, and would simply encourage sign-seekers.

Finally, it is sometimes argued that Paul saw Jesus "last of all" (1 Corinthians 15:8), so therefore Jesus was not going to appear to anyone else. This argument backfires when we recall that Jesus appeared to John the Revelator after that, and has appeared to many people in vision since that time. Paul just referred to himself "last in the list I have just given."

Tradition and authority

In defense of Protestants

In this section I say strong things against Protestantism. This is not to say that everything Protestants teach is wrong, or that Portestants are bad people. However, they do teach false doctrines when it comes to the central point of authority. In this sense, they are just like the ancient Pharisees. Jesus largely supported what the Pharisees taught:

" Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do." (Matthew 23:1-3)

As the dominant church, it is likely that most of Jesus' followers started as Pharisees. The Pharisees, for example, had a better understanding of he resurrection than did their rivals the Sadducees. Indeed, some scholars have argued that Jesus himself, in many ways, was a good Pharisee. See "Jesus the Pharisee" (A critical evangelical response is here) and the book by Geza Vermes and other articles entitled "Jesus the Jew" (Click here for "Jewish voices about Jesus")

But when it comes to how the traditional mainstream church (the Pharisees) treats the prophets, which is the same way that Protestants treat the prophets, Jesus has very strong words to say.

Modern day Pharisees

Where authority is concerned, modern Protestant churches appear to model themselves on the Pharisees. Their concept of authority is based on not having authority - that is, there are no propherts or apostles. Nobody who can produce new scripture like the genuine apostles and prophets could. As with the Pharisees, everything is based on looking backwards to the old days when the church was healthier and used to have prophets. All doctrinal decisions are based on "what did the church do in Bible times?"

The main difference between the ancient Pharisees and modern conservative Protestants is the Pharisees were more honest in openly admiting that scripture need to be interpreted. Any thinking person can see that the Bible can be interpreted in more than one way (even Luther accepted this). Like the Pharisees, they condemn the living prophets by appealing to the dead prophets. For more about the Pharisees' attacks on Jesus, see the page on critics. For more about the ancient Jewish claims to authority, see

The real basis for Protestant authority is tradition: "this is the way we have always done it." I have been told by critics of the church that tradition is the real test of truth:

"traditional teachings" - a guide to truth?

A critic seemed to speak for many modern Christians when he wrote, "the further a person or group strays from traditional teachings the more likely they are to be in error."

Really? Is tradition an indication of truth?

Catholics, Protestants, Scribes and Pharisees say yes.

Jesus Christ said no. His religion upset the traditional churches in so many ways:

  • The traditional churches observed every detail of the scriptures (or so they thought),
    but Jesus said they had missed the point (Matthew 23:23).
  • The traditional churches taught that Messiah would come to free them politically.
    They were wrong.
  • The traditional churches said you should not do any kind of work on the Sabbath.
    Jesus disagreed (Matthew 12:2).
  • The traditional churches said you should wash your hands in a certain way.
    Jesus said no (Matthew 15:12).
  • The traditional churches said you could avoid honoring your obligations to your parents by dedicating your property to God.
    Jesus said you could not (Matthew 15:3-9).
  • The traditional churches said you should not eat with publicans and sinners.
    Jesus did just that (Luke 5:30).
  • The traditional churches said you should fast often,
    but Jesus and his disciples did not (Matthew 9:14).
  • The traditional churches said you should stone people for adultery,
    but Jesus had a very different approach (John 8:3-11).
  • The traditional churches taught that a sinful woman couldn't touch a rabbi,
    but Jesus disagreed (Luke 7:39).
  • And so they went on, "Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye." (Mark 7:13)

All these things seemed good traditions, drawing on the scriptures. But tradition is not a test of truth. If we claim to have a Biblical church, we must not have respect for tradition, but only for the word of God. Jesus even gave a parable - of the leaven - to warn people against the doctrines of the traditional churches (the Pharisees and Sadducees) - see Matthew 16:11-12.

Even if every church member believes the same thing for a thousand years (as the Roman church did), that does not make it more true.

John the Baptist had a simple response for the Pharisees, who apealled to their history and tradition:

Matthew 3:7-9:
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."

Jesus was even more bold:

Mathew 23:29-32:
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers."

Compare this to the message of modern Protestants: they condemn the Catholic church for (allegedly) killing the true Christians. But they accept most the Catholics' key practices and doctrines: the rejection of new prophets, a paid ministry, the belief in the trinity, etc., etc. And early Protestant sects were just as bloodthirsty (religious wars, burning witches, etc.) as the Catholics of the time.


In conclusion, the appeal to tradition alone is a very dangerous one indeed. If it could be shown that the Pharisees of Protestants have some other, additional claim to authority, then a look at what the majority believe might be a useful guide to roughly what is correct. Even that would make tradition just a second-rate test. But on its own, tradition counts for nothing.


The bottom line

"And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron."
(Hebrews 5:4)


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