As one who had authority?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Mark 1:1-28; Psalms 119:33-48

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Mark 1:22 “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

I had occasionally wondered at the significance of verse 22, when it is said that Jesus “taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes”.

Didn’t the scribes or teachers of the law had a lot of authority among the Jews? Otherwise, why would Jesus often speak against their authority as religious leaders who led the people astray with their hypocrisy? I have heard preachers who claimed that this verse means that the people were in awe of Jesus because He spoke with such power and might. That might be true in a general sense, but is that what verse 22 is talking about?

As far as I know, the scribes were mostly Pharisees who were also “professional” teachers of the law. They would often interpret oral traditions to suit the local context and situations. When they teach, they will quote each other as the authority and mostly the leading rabbis of the rabbinic schools. Therefore, when Jesus taught as His own authority, referring to Himself as the fulfilment of Scripture (Luke 4 recorded such an episode); the people were “astonished”! So it wasn’t so much that Jesus taught with “power” or “might”; but that He taught in His own authority since He is the Word.

How does an understanding of the above change the way I read the Bible?

If Jesus proclaimed the Gospel in His own authority; then those who heard it need to place ourselves under His authority. Hence, I am made more aware of the need to place myself under the authority of God’s Word (since He is the Word); and not trying to be the authority instead.

Placing myself under the authority of God’s Word means that I need to obey and act upon God’s Word for God’s sake. I should not try to cherry pick which verses to follow and which verses to ignore or hide away from. If I am doing that, then I am trying to be the authority of God’s Word, instead of placing myself under its authority.

I should also watch out for the temptation to be arrogant in the ability to interpret and understand God’s Word. If I do that, I am not placing myself under the authority of the Word; but merely trying to make use of the Word for self-proclaimed authority.

In a way, the Gospel of John began in the same tone as Mark 1: 22:

John 1:1-6 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

And so Jesus taught as One with authority since He was the Word in the beginning and all things were made through Him.

Help me Lord, to keep a posture of surrendering to Your authority of the Word; so that Your light may shine through in my obedience to your commands. Amen.