Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 13, 1960
NUMBER 23, PAGE 4-5a

"By What Authority Doest Thou These Things"

Robert H. Farish, Lufkin, Texas

"And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he saith unto them, it is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer: but ye make it a den of robbers. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them." (Matt. 21:12-14) This is a description of the activities of Jesus which aroused the indignation of the chief priests and the scribes. The next day the chief priests and elders came to Jesus and asked him, "By what authority doest thou these things?" (Matt. 21:23)

This question is a proper question when the motives back of it are pure. In religious matters it is always proper to inquire into the authority back of doctrines and practices. Every person has the responsibility of checking the authority back of the practices which are proposed for church activity. God has always required his people to know "the word which Jehovah hath not spoken." (Deut. 18:21) In the New Testament, it is written, "Prove the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)

Why then did Jesus answer these religious leaders as he did? The question they raised was a proper question and yet Jesus turned it back on them by asking them a question which required them to distinguish between human authority and divine authority. He proposed a question with the promise to answer their question when they had answered his. His question had to do with the authority back of John's baptism — "Whence was it? from heaven or from men?" (Matt. 21:25) The way these religious leaders acted revealed the condition of their hearts, a condition already known by Jesus who knew what was in man. They refused to answer the question because it was not good policy. Either answer that they could give would show them up as not qualified to be the religious leaders of the people. Their pride and practical infidelity disqualified them as leaders of God's people. Jesus by his question exposed their hypocrisy.

The divine authority back of Jesus' actions was proved by the signs which he did. These proved that he was "a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him." (John 3:2) These priests and elders revealed the gross condition of their heart in their action of asking about Jesus' authority, when the evidence of that authority was right before their eyes. They closed their eyes and stopped their ears and demanded a demonstration which would irresistibly force its way into their gross hearts. They had opportunity to know by what authority Jesus did the things he did, for on the day before this incident Jesus healed in the temple.

The situation is essentially the same as that which is related in Matt. 12:38, 39. "Then certain of the Scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, Teacher, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet...." Just preceding this request for a sign, Jesus had performed a sign and had defended it against the charge of the Pharisees who had said that Christ performed the miracle by Beelzebub. These people were not simply asking for an exhibition of his divine authority; they were asking for an irresistible demonstration. The Lord refused to give such and stated that no greater or more impressive sign would be given except the sign of Jonah the prophet. This climactic sign was the resurrection of Christ from the grave after the elapse of three days and three nights. It was by the resurrection from the dead that "he was declared to be the son of God." (Rom. 1:4) These people who had allowed their hearts to get into such a gross condition did not acknowledge his divine authority even when this sign was given. They hired the guards at the tomb to lie about it.

Knowing the condition of the heart of the ones asking the question enables us to understand our Lord's action in calling upon them to answer a question on the matter of authority. Jesus called upon these men to tell him what kind of authority was back of John's baptism. "Whence was it? from heaven or from men?" Was it divine authority or was it human authority? The insincerity of these men is seen in their reasoning. They reasoned that they would be in disfavor with the people on the one hand while they would have to admit practical infidelity on the other. Their reasoning was altogether based on policy. Just as they had ignored the divine origin of John's baptism, so were they ignoring the divine authority which Jesus had for his actions in cleansing the temple.

It was by divine authority that Jesus did these things and God himself gave him this authority.

The question of the authority back of religious doctrines and practices will always be in order. Disagreement and division in religious matters are evidence that some religious doctrines and practices are from man. So the need continues in our day to "prove the Spirits whether they are of God," or as Jesus expressed it, "Whence is it, from heaven or from men?"

We cannot establish that doctrines and practices are from heaven by performing miraculous signs as did Jesus and his apostles. But we establish divine authority by showing that the Scriptures teach the things which we believe and practice. The Scriptures are from God (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:37); anything authorized by the Bible is from heaven. Let us illustrate with a few examples.

Baptism in water for the remission of sins is from heaven. (Mark 16:15, 16; Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:36, 39; Acts 10:47, 48 etc.) These are some of the scriptures which authorize baptism in water for the remission of sins. Read these passages. Now the question, baptism in water for the remission of sins, "Whence is it from heaven or from men?" Ask your preacher to tell you whence it is. If he says heaven, then ask him why he doesn't preach it. If he says from men, you need to advise people of his infidelity.

The doctrine of one church with divine approval, whence is it, from heaven or from men? "There is one body." (Eph. 4:4) This one body is the church. (Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18) Here is divine authority for the doctrine of one church. Which will you believe, heaven's revelation or men's speculation. The wisdom of the world grants to men the right of a church of one's choice but the revelation of heaven limits men to the church of God's choice.

The doctrine of the "impossibility of apostasy," whence is it from heaven or from men? The doctrine is expressed in Article eleven of Hiscox's manual — "We believe the Scriptures teach that such as are truly regenerated being born of the Spirit, will not utterly fall away and perish, but will endure unto the end....." Do you accept this doctrine? Where did it come from?

Notice that this manual which is from men, says, "We believe the Scriptures teach." But here is what the Scriptures say on this point. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor. 10:12); "....but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected" (1 Cor. 9:27); "My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." (Jas. 5:19, 20) These and many other passages of scripture teach that a child of God can so sin as to be finally lost.

How can one who claims to respect the Bible as the word of God claim to believe that the Bible teaches the very opposite from what these scriptures plainly say? This is from heaven. Why then don't you receive it? Too many religious people of today are like the Pharisees of old in their willingness to make "void the word of God because of their tradition." The doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy is a human tradition and must be rejected in favor of the doctrine of the Bible which is from heaven.

Another doctrine which should be examined to see whether it is from heaven or from men is the doctrine of "justification by faith only." In the 1894 edition of "The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church South" this doctrine is found in article (9). The concluding statement is "wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort."

This doctrine of "justification by faith only, whence is it, from heaven or from men? The Scriptures teach "being therefore justified by faith." (Rom. 5:1) But this is a far cry from being "justified by faith only." What do we have from heaven on this point? "Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" (Jas. 2:24); "But wilt thou know, 0 vain man, that faith apart from works is barren" (Jas. 2:20); "Thou believest that God is one, thou doest well, the demons also believe and shudder." (Jas. 2:19) "Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21) The teaching of these passages is from heaven, hence the doctrine of "justification by faith only" is from men and must be rejected or the one holding to it is "a partaker of the evil deeds" of all who proclaim this human doctrine.

Every person has the responsibility to apply the question, "whence is it, from heaven or from men?" to every religious doctrine and practice which he holds or contemplates embracing. To accept any doctrine or engage in any practice in religion which is not authorized by the scriptures is to be either guilty of ignorance of the scriptures, or of practical infidelity. Neither is excusable in those who have the opportunity to know the will of God.