He taught as one who had authority
Authority as authenticity
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Mathew 7, 28–29)
Mathew’s gospel has these words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. What was that authority, the people saw in Jesus ? One thing, to be noted is, they were amazed; it is not sure whether it led to them following him. Anyway I won’t enter into that question, but remain with the question of authority. Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy says that authority has two meanings.
- The government exercised a certain authority over the people. (connected to certain right to rule; whether that right is just or not is another question).
- Romila Thapar is an authority on ancient Indian history (in the sense of, being an expert).
In Bible, most of the use of the word ‘authority’ may be related to the first connotation; God as the creator has authority over the world and the people and so on. But I think,that connotation is less suitable for the citation in the gospel of Mathew (7, 29). It is all the more unsuitable after the sermon in the 5th, 6th and 7th chapters of Mathew, where Jesus speaks of the beatitudes (blessed are poor in spirit etc), loving enemies, forgiveness, narrow path etc.
I think the second connotation makes a little more sense. Jesus may or may not be an expert in terms of the laws (I don’t have many sources to know his level of expertise). But even if he was an expert in that sense, that wouldn’t have surprised the people so much, as their leaders too had that expertise. So I think this is unsatisfactory too.
The above quote may give us a hint. Jesus had another level of expertise — an expertise based on authenticity, through which even the hard and difficult teaching could amaze people. His authenticity was that his preaching and life matched. His preaching and life were brilliant too.
Understanding authority as “authenticity” and less as “expertise” and much less as “power to rule” may be a tool for an authentic Church in the contemporary world.