It was with good intention that I began this session with an example from N. T. Wright’s lecture about the authority of the Bible. Because of its surprising detail about God’s workings and what he allows his angels to do, we bogged down for quite a while in the story of the prophet Micaiah (1 kings 22:1-28). God intends to bring an evil king to judgment via death in battle. In a meeting of the heavenly court God seeks advice about how to lure Ahab to his doom. One angel offers to become a lying spirit to Ahab’s entire staff of prophets. God approves, telling him that the ruse will ultimately succeed.
Once we grappled inconclusively with a God who approves of a deliberate angelic deception, we looked at how God worked in the human side of the incident.
Wicked king Ahab of Israel wanted good king Jehoshaphat of Judah to ally with him in a battle with a common enemy. Jehoshaphat is willing, but want to seek assurance from God that this alliance meets his approval. Ahab’s 400 false prophets put on a great show, complete with special effects, indicating complete success in their joint venture.
Jehoshaphat, sensing that something is amiss, wonders if any prophets of his own God is available. Ahab grudgingly complies, warning that Micaiah never prophesies good things about him. Surprisingly, Micaiah at first parrots the false prophets about success.
This is so out of character that Ahab orders him to stop lying and tell him the truth. Micaiah then relates his vision of the heavenly court scene described above. (Micaiah is our only source for that information, by the way.)
At this point he orders the prophet imprisoned with rations of only bread and water until Ahab’s safe return from the ill-advised battle. During the battle Jehoshaphat barely escapes with his life, while Ahab meets his end from a random arrow while in disguise.
We never find out if Micaiah is ever released from prison.
So why do they both go ahead with the scheme – especially the one who asked for the second opinion from God’s prophet? That one has puzzled me for a long time.
Speaking about this, Wright says,
This is especially interesting, because the false prophets seem to have everything going for them. They are quoting Deuteronomy 33-one of them makes horns and puts them on his head and says, ‘with these you will crush the enemy until they are overththown’. They had scripture on their side; after all, Yahweh was thw God of Battles and he would fight for Israel. They had reason on their side; Israel and Judah together can beat these northern enemies quite easily. But they didn’t have God on their side.
Wright uses this story as an example of how God exercises his authority with this surprising statement:
God wanted to judge Ahab and save Israel. And so God delegated his authority to the prophet Micaiah who, inspired by the Spirit, stood humbly in the council of God and then boldly in the councils of men.
He later notes that
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing in order that it might be the foundation documentation for the church today and might bear God’s authority in doing so. And a book which carries God’s authority to be the foundation of the church for the world is what I mean by scripture.
He concludes, “Thus it is that through the spoken and written authority of anointed human beings God brings his authority to bear on his people and his world.”
Rather than just taking the good Professor’s word for that, we read through several Gospel accounts of authority being given to Jesus as well as his disciples. For instance, Jesus claims that his Father has given him authority to judge and to grant eternal life (John 5:19-29). As he spends the last night before his death with his disciples he is aware that his Father “had given everything into his hands” (John 13:3).
We also find Jesus giving authority over sickness and demons in Matthew 10:1-15. Jesus pronounces terrible judgments on any home or city or territory that rejects his disciples or their message. This suggests that he has made them fully accredited ambassadors of both Jesus and his Father. Luke 9:1-2 and 10:1-20 record similar delegations of authority.
Once he was resurrected Jesus reiterates his authority, this time “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) and instructs them to teach their own disciples to obey everything that Jesus commanded them. If teaching obedience to Jesus’ commands isn’t authority, I don’t know what is.
In short, God is not afraid to share his authority with his created beings who are willing to do things God’s way. This shouldn’t surprise us, since that was his whole purpose for creating humanity according to Genesis 1:26-28.
The events of Pentecost and the Book of Acts show us how God’s authority is exercised in the church by chosen human beings: through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts of insight, speech (whether in languages unknown to the speaker or inspired “prophetic” speech in the normal language of the speaker), wisdom, teaching ability, healings, songs, for worship or the ability to help others, etc. (1 Corinthians 12). Like a skilled conductor, the Spirit organizes the church by mobilizing the various gifts through inspiration of all of the active Spirit-led members of the congregation.
It was a diversity of such Spirit-led people who penned the words that we now call the books of the New Testament. They deliberately used the authority God gave them to record the stories about Jesus and the apostles, as well as directions and instructions for the early church and some of its next-generation leaders in letters preserved for us today.
We will discuss how these writings bear God’s authority to us in the next post in this series.