“it shall not be so among you”: authority and the bible

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

– Mark 10:32-45

In the above passage, and its parallel in Matthew 20, we are told that James and John want to be placed in positions of high rank when Jesus conquers Jerusalem. Their fellow disciples are incited to anger. Jesus, however, in his usual style, redefines the nature of the topic at hand. Authority is used by the Gentile imperialists for violence and control, but disciples of Jesus are to enact something different, a servant authority, even to the point of death.

Such a vision of authority stands in stark contrast to the authority of the world.

As we read this text, we must be willing to allow the text to read us. What does such a text mean for the way Christians approach issues of public life?

Can the approach of some Christian groups to the public issues of the day be genuinely described as servanthood?

Perhaps more fundamentally, since Christian views about public issues tend to be in some way based on the Scriptural narrative, what does biblical authority look like in light of Jesus’ teaching on authority?

Since biblical authority (whatever that may be) is actually a form of God’s authority, and since God’s authority is revealed most fully in Christ, what is the connection between Christ’s upside-down teaching on authority and our use of the Bible?


Posted on July 2, 2012, in Biblical Studies, Hermeneutics, New Testament and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I agree with you completely about christians, and the church, being servants and acting with humility – humility because we may be wrong and are prone to error, and servants because we are not greater than our master.

    I’m not so sure about what you mean about the Bible. Jesus was a servant yet it was often noted in the gospels that he spoke with authority. So I think the Bible can be used in a humble way, recognising our fallibility in interpreting, understanding and applying, yet still be authoritative if we are willing to accept its authority.

    Authority should never be demanded, but given willingly.

    • But Eric, to argue that Jesus spoke with authority is to circumvent my entire point – that in Mark 10 Jesus redefines authority! We can’t understand his teaching “with authority” without first discussing what he meant by it.

      What I am saying is that in your comment you seem to play Jesus’ servanthood off against his authority (“Jesus was a servant yet it was often noted in the gospels that he spoke with authority [emphasis mine]). My whole point was to say that according to Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10 we can’t do that. This has significant ramifications for how we view biblical authority.

      Perhaps, though, I have misunderstood your comment.



  2. G’day Matt. I think you have understood my comment OK. It’s not that I disagree with anything you say, just that I think there are more facets to the question. Yes Jesus was a servant and he calls us to be a servant too. But Jesus also says he will judge (and was already judging) the Jewish nation.

    So I can’t see that servanthood exhausts Jesus’ authority Therefore I’m not sure if we can simply take the servanthood aspect and apply that to the Bible and to God, without also applying the more conventional “judging” authority.

    But perhaps I would understand you better if you answered your own question: what is the connection between Christ’s upside-down teaching on authority and our use of the Bible?

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