Understanding Apostolic Authority


What teaching has authority? Scripture. We know His Word is God-breathed. Each individual word inspired, but ultimately the text’s meaning carries the authority. John MacArthur habitually says, “The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture.” God makes it clear, what we believe matters because the truth reveals Him and His work.

After Christ’s ascension, the apostles’ role begins to fully develop as it pertains to doctrine and authority. God commissioned the apostles to articulate authoritative truth. Ultimately they will write, under divine inspiration, Scripture. But the question comes up often, “Why can’t someone write Scripture today?” “Is God’s Word really closed.” The answer, “Because God called the apostles to dispense the authoritative truth. It is one of their unique roles.” No apostles exist today commissioned by His will.

God gives the apostles the role to communicate doctrine. They were the lead authority and no one else is granted this authority. The doctrine includes testimony of Jesus’s ministry and the theological interpretation and writings of His life, death, and resurrection. They will write God’s inspired word. But they are not inspired, the text is. They have a unique role to communicate and establish truth. Their role is serious enough that failure to align with apostolic teaching equates to failure to have communion with the Father in heaven.

The early church understood their role. In fact, the reason false gospels bore apostle names (Gospel of Peter) resides in the reality that even false teachers understood apostolic authority. They knew a book would be rejected if it had no apostolic validation, so they tried to make it appear apostolic in origin. It is assumed the early church knew what apostle was behind Hebrews in order otherwise it would not have been accepted as Scripture.

Apostolic authority is a significant truth. I fear the modern church may have little to no understanding of it’s role as evidenced by the rise in personal revelations, dreams, and other practices among teachers where the source of truth is anything but Scripture. If given the opportunity to influence a systematic theology, this truth should be included as it’s own section under the doctrine of Scripture.

Jesus Initiates authority

The head of the church, Jesus, initiates apostolic authority. In a text famous for other reasons, Jesus informs the disciples they have an amazing ministry under His authority. Matthew 21:18-22,

Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. Seeing this, the disciples were amazed . . .

This text is often used to communicate Jesus indictment on Israel. This is accurate. But do not neglect the second half of the text. The disciples ask, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” Notice Jesus answer isn’t “I’m judging Israel (although he is), instead His answer emphasizes the future role given to the apostles.

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Although He mentions prayer, this isn’t really a teaching on how to pray. Instead, it recognizes the apostles will pray to Him, under His authority, and He will use them to carry the torch of His ministry as the church is built up. They will do exactly as He has done, amazing things to continue the ministry. Often, when I hear “amazing things” I want stories that defy nature. But salvation itself is an amazing feat. Walking dead are made alive. That’s the amazing work God does when He saves His children.

Matthew ends His Gospel noting the apostles work under HIs authority, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (28:18-20).

Why recognize their authority

How important is it to agree with the apostles doctrine? John reiterates, to have fellowship with the Father a person must have fellowship with the apostles. John outlines why their voice matters. 1 John 1:1-4, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life.” John emphasizes how the apostles physically interacted with Jesus. Their testimony is personal, not originated in an ivory tower, by themselves as the result of some hippy drug induced party.

John carries on about what they proclaim, “and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us” what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also.” The apostles testify about Jesus for this purpose: “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

John’s point remains simple. The apostles testify and provide the biblical doctrine we need to have eternal life with the Father. In order to have a relationship with the Father, we must agree with their testimony. Failure to agree with the apostles should leave a person doubting his or her relationship with the Trinity.

other authorities?

Biblical doctrine not only provides knowledge for salvation, but to live a sanctifying life under Christ. At some point the Galatian churches began listening to other doctrines, under a different authority, on how they should live. Commonly referenced as Judaizers, this group advocated believers return to living under the Law. Their primary emphasis seems to be circumcision. The first note from Paul to them, “Who has apostolic authority?”

Paul affirms, there is no other source for divine theological authority than the apostles, so why are they listening to these men? In the first 12 verses, Paul reiterates His apostolic authority (and by implication denounces the Judaizers). “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)” (Galatians 1:1).

Paul goes on to denounce any other source, but apostolic authority, for Gospel truth, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9). Unless what you hear agrees with the apostles, you have every reason to reject it. Satan often appears as an angel of light. He knows how to package error in a beautiful way. I don’t care how moving she is when she speaks, when she tells you God personally told her something (and it doesn’t agree with Scripture and come from her reading the text), you have every reason to doubt her words and probably should reject them.

God revealed the truth, directly to a group of men, the apostles. Paul says, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

This testimony is true for all the apostles. God commissioned them to write Scripture and proclaim what they witnessed. Never again will any other group be given this role or function. We have apostolic tradition in Scripture. God intends us to look to it for the source of revelation, to follow for sanctification, and to use to test doctrine.



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About Jason Vaughn

Jason is a graduate of the Master's Seminary and the pastor of Cornerstone Las Vegas, a Grace Advance church plant. He loves Christ, his wife Kyla, sometimes his kids :), the church, missions, people, and coffee. You can also follow his podcast at https://soundcloud.com/user-201412896.