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Don Stewart :: What Were the Various Sources of Authority for the First Christians?

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Don Stewart

The first Christians had four sources of authority. They included the Old Testament Scripture, the words of Jesus, the interpretation of Jesus' words by the Apostles, and the writings of the Apostles.

1. The Old Testament Scripture Was Authoritative

The Bible, for the early Christians, was the Hebrew Scriptures - the Old Testament. Since the first Christians were Jews they inherited the Old Testament as their sacred Scripture. To them it was of ultimate authority on any matter that it spoke. Appeal to the Old Testament Scripture was always decisive.

When tempted by the devil, Jesus answered with Scripture. Matthew records Jesus saying the following.

It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' . . . . Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test' . . . Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only' " (Matthew 4:4,7,10).

Paul wrote.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

Peter declared.

For it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16).

2. The Words Of Jesus Held Absolute Authority

Along with the Old Testament Scripture the words of Jesus held absolute authority for the first Christians. His words settled the matter on any issue. While Jesus accepted the absolute authority of the Hebrew Scriptures He claimed that He had authority beyond them. The early church treated the words of Jesus with as having equal or superior authority to that of the Old Testament.

3. The Interpretations Of The Apostles Had The Same Authority As Jesus

The Apostles, who were official representative of Jesus, interpreted the words and deeds of Jesus. Their interpretations were considered to be absolutely authoritative. When the apostles taught it was the same as Jesus' teaching. They carried on His teaching and added further explanations to the meaning of His ministry.

4. The Writings Of The Apostles And Their Associates Were Absolutely Authoritative

Along with the Old Testament, the words of Jesus, and the authoritative interpretations by the Apostles, the apostolic writings were also given unique authority. They were accepted with the same authority as their oral teachings.

The Apostle John penned these words about the apostle's authority.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you (1 Corinthians 11:2).

The people were expected to obey their writings.


The first generation of Christians looked to four different sources of ultimate authority. First, they had the written authority of the Hebrew Scripture. In them, they saw the predictions of the coming of Christ.

The words of Jesus were of the highest authority for those in the early church. His teaching on any subject was the last word.

Jesus specifically called and commissioned a number of men to be the infallible interpreters of His message. The teachings of the Apostles with respect to the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were held with the utmost authority.

Finally, the writings of the Apostles and their immediate associates were considered on the same level as their teachings - they were absolutely authoritative.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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