Teaching With Authority

A brief look at Yeshua’s authority in comparison with rabbinic authority

The Gospel of Matthew begins by setting the stage for the important truths which will follow. It begins,

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)

It begins by giving us the genealogical re­cord of Jesus, setting the stage for us to un­derstand his Davidic heritage from his ma­ternal ancestry. But the Hebrew behind this passage is more revealing. Franz Delitzsch, in his translation of the New Testament into Hebrew, renders the beginning of this verse as “seifer tol’dot Yeshua haMashiach” — the “book of the generations of Jesus, the Messiah.” When we read this, we can easily connect the Gospel story of Jesus to the various ac­counts of biblical figures introduced by this phrase, or a variation thereof… “eileh toldot,” — “these are the generations of…” And not only does Matthew connect his readers to the line of noteworthy biblical personages, but he traces Jesus’ lineage through King David and all the way back to Abraham, establishing his credibility for messianic candidacy. Before he tells the story of Jesus, or quotes any of his teachings, he first establishes him as an au­thoritative voice to whom his readers should hearken. This is also the case with the begin­ning of our Pirkei Avot, a minor tractate of the Mishnah which deals primarily with Jewish ethics. It begins:

Moses received the Torah from Sinai, and trans­mitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. (m.Avot 1:1)

Why should we listen to the wisdom of these Jewish sages? The answer is because they are part of a direct line of teachers who received the Torah from their teacher, who received it from their teacher, etc. all the way back to when Moses heard the very voice of God at Sinai.

There is a distinct difference, however, in the authority of the voices of these various rabbis and that of Jesus. In order to estab­lish their authority, the sages must trace their Torah learning back to another reputable sage from which they received their teaching. This is only reasonable. In order to have authority, one must have received it from a previous authority. Otherwise one is only a usurper.

Jesus, however, is a different case. Although Jesus’ authority did not come from another rabbi, he did receive it from the ultimate authority. He is in the category of a prophet, for he received it directly from his Father. He said, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). And just a few verses later he emphasizes this again by saying, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father” (vs. 38). He later says explicitly, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak”1 and then again, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” 2

The Jewish leaders of his day questioned, and at times challenged, his authority. At one point during the feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles), Jesus went up to the Temple and began teaching. The people who heard him were amazed at his teaching, knowing that he was not one of the students of the rabbis. He heard their discussion and addressed their bewilderment by telling them how they could know that he was speaking with authority.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. (John 7:14–18)

People were constantly amazed at Jesus’ teaching, because he was constantly “teach­ing them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”3 There are multiple reasons as to why this was said of him. One of these reasons could have been his traditional way of teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount we hear him expounding upon a series of ethical prin­ciples from the Torah in which he introduces each one of them by saying, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” In his expounding and “fence-making” (See “Building Fences” in this issue), his unique terminology could have been an indication of his authoritative claims, saying to his listeners, “You have literally understood this commandment to mean such-and-such… but I say to you this is the Spirit behind the commandment” and thereby he establishes a fence to protect against the violation of the Spirit of the commandment. However, we will find that this is only one aspect of his claims of authority being recognized.

Jesus was continually questioned as to where he received this authority. The teachers would ask him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 4 Jesus did not give a direct answer, but turned their question back around to see if they could even comprehend that there existed an authority which was divine in nature, bypass­ing the chain originating with Moses. He asked them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 5 When they could not respond, he knew they were not ready for his answer and therefore told them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” 6

Not only was Jesus’ authority recognized by way of his Torah teaching, but extended to his sway over the physical universe as well. Through his command the lame would walk, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the mute would speak and the demons would be driven out. Even the elements of nature came under submission to his authority when he spoke. Upon seeing these miracles, the people associated these miracles as validation for his teaching. They exclaimed, “A new teaching

with authority! He commands even the un­clean spirits, and they obey him.” 7

Not only does he command unclean spir­its, but he claims to have the authority to for­give sins as well. He generally demonstrates this through a miracle of healing which con­firms that he does indeed have this author­ity. Before he heals the paralytic, he tells him, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And in order to deflect thoughts of his words being merely arrogance and blasphemy, he gives evidence of his authority by adminis­tering healing to the man. “which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”— he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” The response from the spectators of such demonstrations of au­thority was one of amazement. Matthew re­cords their response.

When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God,8 who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:8)

However, Jesus said his authority did not end here, but was extended even unto the hereafter.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29)

 

Jesus has the ultimate authority in both heaven and on earth. Let us never forget this powerful truth as we look into the teachings of other rabbis and sages from the days of our Master. He is our ultimate authority. 

  • 1. John 12:49
  • 2. John 14:10
  • 3. Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32
  • 4. Mark 11:28
  • 5. Ibid. vs. 29
  • 6. Ibid. vs. 33
  • 7. Mark 1:27
  • 8. This verse is recorded almost as if Matthew were recording the use of a specific and early beracha (blessing), whose formulation is quite similar to the various berachot (blessings) we have recorded for us in the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book.

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