No Priesthood Authority in the New Testament?

The word “authority” (Greek exousia) is found all over the New Testament. It is used 102 times. But never do we find it used for the concept of “priesthood authority” professed by our LDS friends. Let’s take a look at the many ways the word is used.

Bauer’s lexicon (the industry standard in Biblical studies) summarizes the uses of exousia into the following categories: 1. Freedom of choice; the right to act, decide (John 10:18). 2. Ability, capability, might, power (Revelation 11:6). 3. Authority, absolute power (Luke 4:6). 4. Ruling powers, both human and cosmic (1 Corinthians 15:24).

The Gospels tell us that Jesus grabbed attention immediately when he began to preach, because he spoke “like one having authority” (Matthew 7:29 = Mark 1:22 = Luke 4:32). He didn’t speak like the rabbis, who quoted long lists of “Rabbi So-and-So said” citations to back up their teaching; he was able to speak on his word alone, and people knew that it was from God.

Jesus grabs more attention when he claims and proves to have the authority to forgive sins, a department that ultimately belonged to God alone (Matthew 9:6 = Mark 2:10). Jesus shares with the Twelve the authority to cast out demons and to heal, i.e. the power to speak and make it happen (Matthew 10:1 = Luke 9:1).

After Jesus cleanses the Temple, the Jerusalem leaders demand to know by what authority Jesus acts and speaks (Matthew 21:23-27 = Mark 11:28-33). Jesus counters by asking where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a question they are afraid to answer. Pilate thought he had authority over Jesus, but Jesus reminds him that he has no authority except what was given him from above (John 19:10-11).

At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus makes it clear that he commands far more than his earthly audience ever could have fathomed up till then: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me.” (Matthew 28:18) The fact that he commands such authority gives us the grounds for his Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Some authority will never be delegated. God has fixed times and seasons by his own authority (Acts 1:7). Jesus says he has the authority to judge (John 5:27). Only God has the authority to cast people into Gehenna / Hell (Luke 12:5). And while we are told that God allows the powers of evil to exercise some measure of authority here and there (Luke 22:53, Acts 26:18, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 13:2), God also reserves the option to shut that authority down at any time. Paul compares God to the potter who has the authority (= sovereign right) to do with the clay whatever he chooses (Romans 9:21).

So what authority has God given to us? John writes in John 1:12 that to as many as received Christ, to them he gave the authority (authorization?) to become children of God. (Notice that none of us were children of God before we received that authorization.) God has given authority to leaders like Peter (Matthew 16), Paul (2 Corinthians 10:8), and Titus (Titus 2:15 – the word used here is the less common epitagÄ“). And God appears to have given to a select few today the power to heal and/or to cast out evil spirits, although each such person must be judged by their fruits.

But the only authority given to believers at large, both men and women, is based entirely on our faithfulness to God’s word in what we proclaim and practice. No one has been given a trump card to say, “I am right and you are wrong, because I have the authority to speak and act for God.” Our authority stands or falls entirely on our fidelity to what God says, which listeners must judge for themselves. Authority cannot be claimed; it must be earned.

But is it possible that the “priesthood authority” claimed by the LDS church was edited out of God’s word after the first century AD by a church that had fallen away from the truth? Such a move is nearly impossible. It’s been tried before. In 140 AD, Marcion tried to remove everything Jewish from the New Testament. He kept a mutilated Gospel of Luke, and ten mutilated letters of Paul. Talk about taking out “plain and precious” parts! But Marcion failed. There were too many copies out there to change them all. And even Marcion’s chop-job did not get hidden, thanks to Tertullian, who gave us the details.

Priesthood authority to speak and act for God? We won’t find it in the canonical New Testament. We will only find it in the latter-day writings of a man whose character as a prophet must be judged on its own merits. The priesthood authority that he claims is only as valid as his credibility as a prophet. Find out more on that subject at