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Who Has the Authority?

by Rabbi Gavri’el Moreno-Bryars and Assoc. Rabbi Mikha’el Bugg


In my recent debate with Don Preston, I noticed that he kept referring to “the inspired Apostle Paul.”  Of course, his intention was to establish Paul’s authority, since he relied on Paul a great deal (though to his credit, he also built one of his arguments primarily on 2 Peter).  I never disputed Paul’s inspiration, of course; I disputed Don’s interpretation of his, and others’, writings. 

However, this did cause me to consider the different approach Christians and Jews take to the matter of inspiration.  To the Christian, a work is either inspired or it isn’t.  This binary approach is how most of the Ekklesia for two thousand years has invoked Paul to teach an anti-Torah theology.  If Paul, “the inspired Apostle,” says that the Law is contrary to Grace and has been done away with, well, that’s that:  All previous writings are superseded by this new “inspired” revelation.  I’ve discussed in Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away With the Torah why this interpretation doesn’t stand even under this binary approach to inspiration—in fact, such an approach is actually dangerous:  If one previous revelation can be superseded by the NT, why can’t the NT be superseded by the Quran, the book of Mormon, or the teachings of David Koresh?

Clearly, Christianity does recognize the necessity of establishing different levels of authority, with all other teachings in subordination to the written Scriptures.  However, in this article I’d like to examine a different approach to understanding different levels of authority within the Scriptures. 

Not surprisingly, a Jewish approach.

Inspiration vs. Authority

To the Jewish mind, inspiration is not binary—that is, not simply a matter of “inspired” vs. “not inspired”—rather, the rabbis understand that there are many different levels of authority.  The Torah stands at the head of the Scriptures, followed by the Prophets, which in turn are followed by the Writings (e.g., the Psalms, Proverbs, etc.).[1]  Figuring out who, in a rabbinic debate or an apparent contradiction between two or more passages of Scripture, has the authority and should therefore be followed is not a trivial matter.

To illustrate this, let me ask the reader a question:  Hypothetically speaking, if Paul ever did contradict Yeshua, whose teachings would you follow?  I hope that all reading this said “Yeshua” (or “Jesus”) instantly, since it wasn’t Paul who died for our sins.  Nevertheless, there is a great disconnect in the Christian world:  While we acknowledge that Yeshua’s authority is far, far greater than His Emissaries’, many nevertheless respond to Mat. 5:17-19 by citing an apparent anti-Torah passage by Paul, as if all of Paul’s letters combined could really negate a single word of our Lord’s.  Similar tensions between Paul’s writings and, for example, the Epistle of Ya’akov (Jacob, or James, the Lord’s brother) are handled similarly.

The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to examine the various levels of inspiration and authority we find in the Scriptures and devolved from the Scriptures.  It is hoped that this article will serve to inspire discussion in the Body of Messiah that will cause us to re-evaluate our understanding of the New Covenant Scriptures.

The Father

The greatest of all authorities, of course, is our Father.  All authority devolves from Him.  Even Yeshua, His own Son, gave the Father precedence:

Therefore Yeshua answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19)

So Yeshua said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” (John 8:28)

"You heard that I said to you, 'I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)

This is not to deny Yeshua’s Diety, or his co-equal nature with the Father, for the same one who said, “The Father is greater than I,” also said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).  Your arm is co-equal in nature with your brain, but is still subject to it; so it is with Yeshua, who emanates from the Father as light does from the sun.[2]  As James R. White points out, “Difference in function does not indicate inferiority of nature.”[3]

As the Creator of the Universe and the Father of All, Adonai has all authority—and He has given that authority, that Name, to Yeshua HaMashiach (John 17:2, Eph. 1:20f, Col. 2:10, Php. 2:9).

Direct Words of God

Since all authority rightfully belongs to our Father and our King, it follows that the teachings and commands that come directly from His lips, as it were, have a correspondingly ultimate authority.  There are only two such sources—and in truth, they are one and the same source:


The Torah is the Firstfruits of Scripture, the foundation on which everything else is written.  It contains an inspired history, but more importantly, it contains the direct commandments of God Himself, given to Moshe, with whom Adonai spoke “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exo. 33:11; cf. Num. 12:8, Deu. 34:10).  All other prophets, save Yeshua Himself, heard the Word of Adonai only in “dark sayings” and saw His glory only in dreams and visions; with Moses, God spoke openly, plainly. As a result, it was “the original fountain of inspiration on which the later prophets drew.”[4]  In fact, the Torah’s centrality in all subsequent Scripture was so great that the Midrash held it, “What the prophets were destined to prophesy in subsequent generations they received from Mount Sinai” (Sh’mot Rabbah 28:6). 

Only Yeshua matched—and indeed, surpassed!—the supreme level of inspiration given to Moses.  He was the prophet like Moses that God had promised Israel (Deu. 18:15-18)—and so much more.  For where Moses received the Torah in plain language from the very mouth of Adonai, Yeshua is the Torah!  He thus claims the unique right to properly interpret the Torah and to give still fuller teachings.  Where the prophets said, “Thus says Adonai . . .” and the rabbis say, “Thus say the Scriptures and the earlier rabbis . . .”, Yeshua says, “But I say unto you . . .” (cf. Mat. 5:22ff).  He even claims the title of the Lord of the Sabbath (Mat. 12:8), putting Himself over and above even the most important commandments of the Torah.  He is the substance of which the written Torah is the shadow (Col. 2:17). 

Where the rabbis cast out demons (cf. Mat. 12:27) in the Name of (that is, under the authority of) Adonai, Yeshua never invoked God’s Name when delivering someone from the Adversary; in fact, He commanded us to cast out the demons in His Name (Luke 9:1, 10:17).  He could do this because He carried God’s authority intrinsically in Himself as the Emanu’El, the God-With-Us.  The Pharisees recognized this implicit claim in the way in which He cast out spirits; the reason some of them accused Him of Satanism was that they would not accept that the one they had been arguing Sabbath halakhah (rulings) with was the One who gave the Sabbath in the first place!

All other authority on earth devolves from these two sources—or rather, this one source.  The Torah gives authority for later prophets to speak on behalf of God (Deu. 18:15ff), but it carefully limits that authority:

"Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.

"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.  But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deu. 12:32-13:5, NASB)

So few of my Sunday brethren have understood the full import of the above passage.  In short, it states that one cannot by the Spirit of God either add to or abolish any part of the Word of God, particularly the Torah.  Therefore, when we claim that Yeshua (or Paul!) came to abolish the Torah, we’re as good as calling Him a false prophet to our Jewish brothers and sisters.  We are also arguing that either Yeshua, the Living Torah, came to do away with Himself, or that the Eternal One has changed—both ideas plainly rank heresy and blasphemy!

Since the Torah grants authority to the later prophets, those who see visions and dream dreams, let us look next to them in God’s hierarchy. 

God-breathed Revelation

All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work.  (2 Ti. 3:16-17, CJB)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.  (2 Pt. 1:20-21)

Next in the order of Adonai’s hierarchy of authority are those Scriptures which were not spoken directly by the Eternal One “face to face,” but which were inspired by His Spirit. 

The subject of inspiration is one that confuses many, both in and out of the Body of Messiah.  For example, Muslims believe the Quran was precisely dictated to Mohammed by an angel, and therefore disparage the four Gospel accounts for being “inconsistent.”  Of course, inspiration aside, there is a world of difference between a single source writing down his theology and four independent witnesses providing their individual testimonies about a person’s life.  In fact, the differences in the way the Gospel accounts describe certain events—all of which can be reasonably harmonized—are actually an important piece of evidence that we really are reading four independent witnesses’ accounts, not four men who colluded to make up a story or one witness and three copycats.

This also demonstrates an important fact about Inspiration:  Prophets and apostles do not simply write down what they receive in a bat kol (voice from heaven), but write as filtered through their own personalities, abilities, styles, and perceptions.  This is why Isaiah, who was apparently of high enough birth to be known to both King Ahaz (Isa. 7:3) and the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest; 8:2), writes with such skill that the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, “For versatility of expression and brilliancy of imagery Isaiah had no superior, not even a rival. His style marks the climax of Hebrew literary article. . . . He is a perfect artist in words.”[5]  Amos, on the other hand, was a sheep-herder and a grower of trees, and until his call “neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 1:1, 7:14).  His style is considerably rougher.  We find similar differences in style among the Apostles.  Indeed, we can see considerable differences in style, vocabulary, and grammar depending on whether the given Apostle had the help of others in the translation or not—just consider the differences between 1 and 2 Peter or the Gospel account of Yochanan (John) and the Revelation, for example.

What this means is that while “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2Ti. 3:16) and “not a matter of one's own interpretation” (2Pt. 1:20), nevertheless the Spirit did not make men into human word-processors, but rather inspired the words, imagery, etc. that He wanted written from those already within the authors’ minds and experiences.

Thus the critic’s complaint that the Bible lacks sufficient “scientific” data (in their minds) to be the Word of God is shown to be incredibly silly.  What good would such data do those to whom the Bible was written?  Indeed, exactly how would the authors suddenly have the right technical terms to explain the universe as our modern mathematical models do—and if they did, their writings would be such gibberish to their audiences that it is impossible to believe that they would preserve them and pass them down!

Prophetic utterances, though they (if true) are Divinely correct, are nevertheless beneath the authority of the Torah.  Where the Torah and Yeshua’s direct words and deeds were given “face to face” the prophets received them only in visions and dreams (Num. 12:6-8).  Indeed, as we have already seen, the Torah is the plumb line by which we are commanded to judge all later utterances, so that we can be sure that they came from the same God who appeared to Israel at Mt. Sinai.

Writing Prophets and the Other Writings

Of the God-breathed writings, those of the writing prophets—from the earlier prophets like Joshua and Samuel to the later prophets like Malachi, from the brevity of Obadiah to the immense body of work by Isaiah—stand at the top of the ladder of authority.   This can be seen simply by the fact that the Apostles did not simply make their halakhah (rulings) on their own authority, but instead looked back to the Tanakh (the “Old” Testament) to find both guidance and support for their decisions (cf. Acts 15:16-18 and Amos 9:11-12).  It must be understood that we do not set the Apostles beneath the Prophets by some arbitrary and artificial standard, or in order to ignore anything that they wrote which is inconvenient to us, but do so because the Apostles themselves put their authority beneath that the written Tanakh, as we will see in a moment.

The Tanakh, an acronym which means Torah, Prophets (Nevi’im), and Writings (Ketuvim), makes a division between the prophets and the writings, giving a slightly less honored and authoritative position to the latter, which includes the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, etc.  However, this distinction is not so clear-cut as it might first seem, as both the rabbis and the Apostolic writers quote, for example, the Psalms as prophecy.  In addition, though Daniel is clearly a prophet, he has long been relegated to the Ketuvim by the rabbis.  The Song of Solomon, on the other hand, is quoted repeatedly throughout the Talmud as both prophecy and a source of halakhah.  Since it is beyond the scope of this paper to do the level of analysis necessary to fully distinguish between prophets and other canonical writings, we will treat the two as one for our purposes here.

The prophets were not just foretellers of the future.  They were Israel’s historians, recording her past, their present, and her future, sometimes all in the same penstroke.  In this, they were the exact counterparts of the Emissaries of the Messiah, those we commonly call Apostles.


The Greek word apostolos (ἀπόστολος) means emissary, envoy, or diplomat.  (The Hebrew equivalent is shelioch, שלוח).  The Emissaries of Yeshua were those who were witnesses to His Resurrection, whom He personally sent out to represent Him, the King’s personal messengers.  They were prophets, and more than prophets, but still under the authority of the earlier prophets God had sent to Israel. 

We see many points of correspondence between the Apostles and the earlier prophets.  Both recorded not only futuristic prophecy, but the history of Israel and Israel’s King.  Both were given the authority to rightly divide the words of God’s Torah/Messiah.  And both received continuing Divine revelation in the form of “dark utterances” (e.g., Shimon Kefa’s rooftop vision in Acts 10 or Yochanan’s Revelation of the Messiah).  Indeed, we can see a similar division occurring among the New Covenant Scriptures and those of the Tanakh:


New Covenant Book


Gospel accounts

Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, etc.)


Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Zechariah, etc.)




As we noted before, the Apostles appealed to the authority of the prophets as well as the Torah in making their halakhic rulings, appealing to them as a son would appeal to the teaching of his fathers or the rabbis appealed to the authority of the Tannaim (the rabbis who lived and taught before the Mishnah was written down).  For a short list of examples:


NT Passage

Prophetic Appeal

Replacing Judas

Acts 1:15-26

Psa. 69:25, 109:8

Inclusion of the Gentiles

Acts 15

Amos 9:11-12

Eating freely that which is sold in the market

1 Co. 10:25-26

Psa. 24:1, 50:12, 89:11

Speaking in Tongues

1 Co. 14:21-25

Isa. 28:11-12

Giving to charity cheerfully

2 Co. 9:6-11

Pro. 22:8 (LXX), Psa. 112:9

These are not simply instances of allusions to the Tanakh.  As John Calvin notes in regards to the Acts 15 passage, “We see now how the apostles took nothing to themselves imperiously, but did reverently follow that which was prescribed in the word of God” (emphasis mine).  If one person follows another, that very act of following implies a submission to authority. 

Why then, does Paul put prophets below apostles in 1 Co. 12:28?  It is possible that he spoke simply in chronological, rather than authoritative, terms, and was simply pointing out that the Master appointed Apostles before the Spirit made a new generation of prophets.  However, the more likely explanation, as we will see below, is that there is a distinction between the authority of a writing prophet—that is, one whose writing the Ruach has singled-out for preservation and canonization—and a “speaking” prophet, one who has written no canonical book. 

Nor should we consider all of the Emissaries to have the same authority.  There was clearly a hierarchy before Yeshua’s Ascension, and there remained one, with some amendments, after it. 

The Inner Three and The Twelve

And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.  (Luke 6:13)

At during His ministry, Yeshua had “many” disciples (John 6:60), seventy of whom He entrusted with the task of proclaiming Him as He went to Jerusalem the final time (Luke 10:1), and a hundred and twenty of which gathered in the upper room after His Ascension on Shavuot (Pentecost; Acts 1:15)—indeed, over five hundred, whom we assume to be His followers, witnessed His Resurrection (1Co. 15:6).  However, Yeshua picked Twelve to be His personal Sh’liochim, or Emissaries.  These Twelve were given leadership over Messiah’s Ekklesia, His Assembly of the Elect, including the right to “bind and loose” (Mat. 16:19, 18:18). 

What does it mean to have the authority to bind and loose?  It has nothing to do with spiritual warfare, nor is it a blank check to make a “new law” apart from the Torah, but as we show here, is the authority to make binding rulings on how to apply the Scriptures, to make halakhah, rulings on how the Assembly should walk.  This was not an authority that any of them could simply use independently of the others, which would have split the Ekklesia into twelve distinct camps, but one which required agreement between two or more of them (Mat. 18:19).  In fact, we see them coming together in a council to seek just such agreement in Acts 15, which such an important decision as how to receive the Gentiles who were coming to the L-RD was decided by no individual, but rather the “apostles and the elders . . . together” (v. 6).  Such a council is called a Beit Din (House of Judgment) in the Jewish community, requiring no less than three qualified rabbis to decide any important manner of halakhah.

While all Twelve were given this special calling to be the Emissaries of the King, there were three in particular who had a special closeness to Him, even receiving a foretaste of His future Glory at the Transfiguration:  Kefa (Peter) and the brothers Yochanan (John) and Ya’akov (James).  We see these three often in close discussions with their Master, even receiving (along with Kefa’s brother Andrew) a special briefing on His Second Coming, the Olivet Discourse.  These were the three that Yeshua spent the most time with, that He was closest to, and whom He revealed His teachings in a unique way.

Therefore, it is our contention that the writings of these three Emissaries (two, actually, as Ya’akov ben Zebedee was martyred before he left any writings; cf. Acts 12:2) take on a special importance and authority, second only to the Gospel accounts themselves.  That is, the epistles of John and Peter, as well as the book of the Revelation, should rightly be read directly behind the Gospel accounts, not relegated to the back of the book.  After all, these men were directly taught by Immanu’El, speaking to Him face-to-face just as Moshe had fifteen centuries earlier—it is therefore right and proper that we give great weight to their writings.  This is not to denigrate the other apostolic writers, but to properly elevate those closest to the Rabbi.

Ya’akov (Yeshua’s Brother)

Ya’akov, or Jacob (usually, if improperly, transliterated “James”) has a very unusual position in the hierarchy of Scripture.  He was not among the Twelve; indeed, he and Y’hudah (Jude) did not even believe in Yeshua during His earthly ministry (John 7:5).  However, he (and we assume Yeshua’s other brothers) were blessed to see Yeshua in His Resurrection body (1Co. 15:7), was present in the upper room at Shavuot (Acts 1:14) and thereafter were staunch believers and leaders within the Ekklesia.  Paul even refers to Ya’akov as an Emissary, or Apostle (Gal. 1:19) since he was a witness to both Yeshua’s life and His Resurrection, and the Ekklesia has never challenged him that title.

It may seem odd to our modern sensibilities that one who did not follow Yeshua in life became so highly regarded that he receives the last word in the Jerusalem Council—indeed, he speaks of rendering judgment (Acts 15:19).  Whether this implies that his authority was accepted by the Council or whether he was merely rendering an opinion is not agreed on by Christian commentators.  Barnes, for example, writes of this verse, “It is the usual language in which a judge delivers his opinion; but it does not imply here that James assumed authority to settle the case, but merely that he gave his opinion, or counsel,” while Clarke maintains, “There is an authority here that does not appear in the speech of St. Peter; and this authority was felt and bowed to by all the council . . .”  Perhaps the most apt description of Ya’akov’s role is to compare him to the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court—he could not override the majority opinion, but it fell to him to describe it.

Though in our modern culture we frown upon (at least in theory) nepotism, the use of family connections to gain stature or position, in the ancient world it was the norm, and accepted as a proper part of the natural order.  It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that the Lord’s blood-relatives should have great sway and honor in the earliest Ekklesia—in fact, after Ya’akov was martyred, Eusebius tells us that leadership of the Jerusalem Ekklesia next fell to Symeon son of Clopas, who was said to be a cousin of Yeshua.[6] 

In addition, Ya’akov seems to have been well-regarded by the populace of Jerusalem, both believers and not, as a whole.  Eusebius reports that “on account of the excellence of ascetic virtue and of piety which he exhibited in his life, [Ya’akov] was esteemed by all as the most just of men.”  He goes on to record an early testimony by Hegesippus, “who lived immediately after the apostles,” that Ya’akov was a lifelong Nazrite, and was permitted by the priests who worship in the Holy Place of the Temple.[7]  While this latter tradition is not recorded by Josephus, he does record that Ya’akov’s murder at the hands of the priests created enough outrage “for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws” that they appealed to the Roman authorities to have the High Priest removed from office.[8]  This indicates that whether Hegsippus’ testimony is completely accurate or not, Ya’akov was held in such high regard by the vast majority of Jerusalem’s population that he became the public face of the new Nazarene movement.

Given the role and tacit authority that the Twelve extended to Ya’akov HaTzeddik (James the Just), perhaps the best way to view him is as an emissary for the Emissaries, a front man for the predominantly Galilean Nazarenes to the Judean populace.[9]  This puts his authority just a little below theirs, but also establishes that his epistle was doubtless written with their full approval, and ranks in authority just behind the letters of Kefa and Yochanan.


Our next unusual case is Sha’ul, more commonly known to the world as the Apostle Paul.  What makes Sha’ul so unusual to deal with is not his position as described by the Scriptures, but the assumed level of authority he is granted by most of the Christian world.  Derek Leman, writing about his early experiences as a new believer, notes,

The predominance of Paul was very noticeable to me.  After all, I barely knew who he was, so that when he was mentioned I took notice.  I found that the sermons at First Baptist were based on a text from Paul 90% of the time.  I also noticed that Christians seemed to regard Paul as a final court of appeal for any belief.

It didn’t matter if Jesus or one of the prophets had said the same thing.  People had to find a verse written by Paul to prove a point beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I quickly learned to follow suit.[10]

This high placement of Sha’ul in matters of authority seems to stem from two main roots:  1) He is certainly the most prolific writer of the New Covenant Scriptures, especially if we consider Luke, Acts, and Hebrews (more on the latter in a moment) to have been written by Luke under his apostolic authority, and 2) his writings are vital to the Church’s stance that the Torah has been set aside in favor of a new system of grace.  However, his authoritative position among the apostles is not nearly so high as that of his colleagues.

Sha’ul himself seemed to be ambiguous about his own position among the Emissaries.  On the one hand, he wrote, “For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2Co. 11:5).  But in an earlier letter to that same Assembly, he wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1Co. 15:9).  The Messiah had called him out, had given him the same message as the other Emissaries, and in that sense he was by no means inferior.  But because he had once persecuted the Ekklesia, he viewed himself as not worthy of that calling, as one who was only saved by an extra measure of the Eternal One’s grace.

That Yeshua had given him the same message as the other Emissaries is key to understanding Paul’s true level of authority:  “For if one comes and preaches another Yeshua whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully” (2Co. 11:4).  “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal. 1:8).  Therefore, we see Sha’ul himself basing his authority on conformity to the same Good News being preached by the other Emissaries.

Thus, we see him acceding to the authority of the Jerusalem Council, going to them to make his case for Gentile inclusion rather than simply striking out on his own.  We do see him publicly rebuking Kefa (Gal. 2:11ff), but this was evidentially an emergency situation that risked splitting the Ekklesia, and took place before the Council.  We also see that Kefa ultimately agreed with his logic, siding with him on that same Council, no doubt because of his own experience in seeing the Holy Spirit given to the Gentiles freely in Acts 10.  However, at no time does Kefa or any other Emissary ever indicate that they saw Sha’ul as having authority over them; rather, they treated him as a colleague.

This is important to note because it destroys the notion that everything written in Sha’ul’s letters has universal authority over the whole Ekklesia.  The Emissaries did not settle universal questions like the status of the Gentiles as individuals, but instead decided such matters as a body, in a Beit Din.  Sha’ul did have the authority to “bind and loose” over those congregations which he founded and which recognized him as their immediate leader, their connection back to the Twelve and Yeshua Himself, but not over the Body as a whole. 

Let us then look, for example, at the issue of head coverings as discussed in 1Co. 11.  Many Christians take this to be a universal command that women should wear head coverings and that men should not, and therefore condemn the Jewish practice of wearing a kippah or yarmulke in the synagogue.  For example, Clarke contends,

With his cap or turban on, dishonoreth his head; because the head being covered was a sign of subjection; and while he was employed in the public ministration of the word, he was to be considered as a representative of Christ, and on this account his being veiled or covered would be improper. This decision of the apostle was in point blank hostility to the canons of the Jews . . .[11]

Aside from the linguistic argument about this passage, Sha’ul simply does not have the authority to command all men everywhere not to wear a head covering—such a wide-sweeping decision would have had to come from the Jerusalem Council, just as the matter of Gentiles entering the faith did.  There were many priests who came to faith in Yeshua (Acts 6:7), and it was a command of the Torah that priests cover their heads while ministering in the Temple (Exo. 28:42)—in other words, while they were praying and prophesying (speaking God’s will).  How could we then understand Sha’ul to be making a universal command, since he would have to put himself over and above the Torah to do so? 

Therefore, recognizing Sha’ul’s limited authority in the Ekklesia as a whole, we must utilize the following rule in interpreting his writings:  Where Sha’ul speaks a command that can be found elsewhere in Scripture, then we understand him to be rightly dividing the Word in a universal interpretation.  But where Sha’ul gives a command or teaching that stands alone or unsupported—or worse, seem to be at odds with another Emissary or passage from the Tanakh—then we must regard him to be dealing with a local issue rather than arrogating to him a universal authority.  Indeed, this should be our rule in dealing with all of Scripture, for, “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” (Deu. 19:15)—even the Master Himself followed this rule on the matter of His own identity and teachings (cf. John 5:31ff)!

Y’hudah (Jude)

Like Ya’akov, Y’hudah was a brother to the Master who came to trust in Him after His Resurrection.  However, where Ya’akov received a high position within the Ekklesia, we do not know whether Y’hudah was equally regarded.  As late as the 4th Century, his short letter remained in the category of the disputed books,[12] though it was quoted by Irenaeus and Tertullian in the 2nd Century as Scripture.[13]  The mere fact of having once been disputed by no means undermines a book’s authority after its canonicity has been settled, especially when it has early attestation to its authorship, but nevertheless we should treat Y’hudah’s letter on the same level as Sha’ul’s.  Since his is a letter of exhortation rather than halakhah, this actually has little practical value in interpreting his words, but we include him here for the sake of completeness.

Hebrews, An Unusual Case

Here we come to the book of Hebrews, a rather difficult book as far as authority is concerned because of its anonymity.  Of course, anonymity is in and of itself no disqualifier of a book to be considered Scripture—consider the books of Samuel (much of which was written after the prophet’s death) and Kings, or many of the Psalms.  However, without certainty to the identity of the author, we must be cautious in our interpretation of a book, for we have no way of putting it into the context of the author’s life and authority.  In addition, Hebrews was numbered among the disputed books that were eventually accepted into the canon, especially in the West—again, not a disqualifier of a book from the canon, but a sign that it should be read in the light of a more sure book, not the other way around.

On the other hand, the book’s authority was readily accepted in the East, where it was believed to have been written by Sha’ul, and it is quoted by Clement of Rome, who wrote in the first century, as well as by Pseudo-Barnabas (from the same period), and Polycarp and Irenaeus in the 2nd Century.  It was slow to be accepted in part “because individuals in the heretical Montanist sect appealed to Hebrews for one of their erroneous doctrines,” and in part because those in the West stressed “apostolic authorship rather than apostolic authority as the correct test of canonicity.”[14] 

The problem is compounded in the case of Hebrews because of its universal scope.  Where Sha’ul’s letters can be understood to have local authority over those they were directly written to without needing to grant them universal authority in all matters, Hebrews has little of what we might be able to consider local halakhah, instead focusing on universal and metaphysical matters.

The book has variously been ascribed to the pen of Sha’ul, Apollos, and Priscilla.[15]  An early tradition, passed by Clement of Alexandria through Eusebius, holds that Sha’ul wrote the book in Hebrew and Luke later translated it into Greek, thus explaining why the book’s vocabulary is closer to Luke’s than to that of Sha’ul’s letters.[16]  However, even if Apollos or Priscilla were the original authors, this book may still be rightly ascribed Pauline authority if not authorship.  This being the case, we can ascribe this book an authority equal to Sha’ul’s other writings.

How does this affect our interpretation of this unusual volume?  First, as we have already noted, no other book of Scripture may supercede or override the Torah; therefore, we cannot take Hebrews to have enough authority to actually say that the Torah has been done away with in place of a “New Law,” as most Christian commentators believe!  If indeed it made that claim, it would fail the test of Deu. 12:29-13:5, and we would have to regard it as a non-canonical work of heresy!  We would likewise have to regard it as heretical if we understood it to mean that the Levitical priesthood had been forever done away with, since this would violate both Num. 25 and Jer. 33:20-26!

Therefore, we may regard Hebrews as an Inspired commentary on the Torah’s commands for the Tabernacle service and the spiritual reality to which the Tabernacle was a type, but just as we would not accept a commentary’s authority to overthrow Yeshua’s command to, for example, continually forgive our brother, neither can we accept Hebrews as having the authority to overthrow any part of that which it is commenting on.  (See our article on Hebrews chapters 7-10 for a more in-depth study of this issue.)

Non Canonical Sources

All other sources of authority are beneath and subordinate to the written Scriptures.  These may be divided up into three main categories:

Other Emissaries and Speaking Prophets

When speaking to a friend on the subject of the gifts of the Spirit, he commented that if we really thought that there could possibly be prophets alive today that we would have to regard their words as sacred Scripture, with an equal level of authority.  Not quite.  As we have already seen, even within the Scripture, there are differing levels of authority, and the Scriptures plainly teach that not all prophets have such a level of authority as to be written and passed down for all time.  There were whole schools of prophets in King Saul’s day—in fact, he prophesied among them for a time (2Sa. 10:10f)—but only a handful of prophets’ words were recorded for us in Scripture. 

A passage in the Talmud claims, “Many prophets appeared on behalf of Israel, double the number who left Egypt [twice 600,000]; but a prophecy that was needed forever was recorded, and one that was not needed [forever] was not recorded” (b. Megilla 14a).  Likewise, the Renewed Covenant speaks of many having the gift of prophecy and sharing their prophecies, but only those of the Emissaries and a handful of others are recorded for us.  It is these lesser “speaking prophets” that Sha’ul doubtless referred to when he placed the Emissaries above them (1Co. 12:28). 

Likewise, the Twelve and Sha’ul were by no means the only Emissaries called by the L-RD; for example, we have Bar-Nabba (Barnabas), who was called to be an Emissary alongside Sha’ul (Acts 13:2, 14:14).  There is the possibility that Sha’ul refers to Adronicus and Junias (or Junia, a woman’s name!) as Emissaries in Rom. 16:7, though the interpretation of this passage is disputed. 

There are some who believe that God still calls men (and women) to be His Emissaries today.  Even if that’s the case (and if it is, it is our suspicion we call such individuals missionaries in the modern vernacular), such individuals remain firmly under the authority of the Scriptures and the Twelve, and if we regard Sha’ul’s authority to be limited—and Kefa considered them to be Scripture (2Pt. 3:15f)!—how much more so should we consider that of any modern claimants to the title!

Therefore, there is no reason to believe that a modern prophet or apostle, if such exist today, would necessarily have any kind of universal authority over the Ekklesia or would not be subject to correction from the Scriptures just like everyone else.  He could call for repentance and warn of judgment just as the Biblical prophets did, but just as the prophets of old, we must judge all their utterances by the original wellspring of Torah and Yeshua (cf. 1Jn. 4:1ff).  Understanding this simple truth averts a world of error.[17] 


One of our most difficult tasks as disciples of the Messiah is being “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2Ti. 2:15).  For too long has the Body of the Messiah has mishandled the Word, treating Paul as the ultimate authority in our faith and practice.  Rabbi Sha’ul would be spinning in his grave if he knew that we were turning almost solely to his writings instead of the words of the Torah—both Written and Living—that he was trying to point us to.  Ironically, but not recognizing the limits of Sha’ul’s authority, we put words into his mouth which dishonor this humble servant of the Holy One. 

Understanding the limits of one’s authority in the Scriptures by no means undermines the worth of their words.  Instead, it gives us the right tools to understand their true intent.  Instead of seeing Paul as the champion of the overthrow of the Law, we instead understand Rabbi Sha’ul to be teaching about the correct application of the Torah, which has always taught the truth of salvation by the Holy One’s grace received by trusting Him as a prerequisite to keeping His commandments.  It is just this Torah which Sha’ul fully submitted to his whole life.



[1] It is significant that while in Christian Bibles Daniel is grouped with the great writing prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, while in Jewish Bibles he is relegated to the Writings.  This is supposedly because he writes in Aramaic rather than Hebrew in several chapters, but this is hardly sufficient reason—after all, Jonah uses large numbers of Aramaic loan-words, yet it is still regarded as part of the Prophets.  The more likely explanation is that Daniel was ”downgraded” because of his Seventy Weeks prophecy (ch. 9), which proves that the Messiah would have to come before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

[2] This illustration is used by Athanasius in Four Discourses Against the Arians, ch. 25.15:  “For, as the illustration shows, we do not introduce three Origins or three Fathers, as the followers of Marcion and Manich'us; since we have not suggested the image of three suns, but sun and radiance. And one is the light from the sun in the radiance; and so we know of but one origin; and the All-framing Word we profess to have no other manner of godhead, than that of the Only God, because He is born from Him.”

[3] White, James R. The Forgotten Trinity (Bethany House, 1998), p. 66

[4] Cohen., p. 141

[5] ISBE, “Isaiah,” an e-Sword module

[6] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.11

[7] Ibid., II.23

[8] Josephus, Antiquities XX.9

[9] There existed in Yeshua’s day an extensive rivalry between the Galilean and Judean Jews.  The latter regarded those of Galilee as little more than hicks who didn’t properly follow the Torah.  See our article on Galatians 2 for more detail.

[10] Leman, Derek, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork (Mt. Olive Press, 2005), p. 2

[11] Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, 1Co. 11:4

[12] Eusebius, VI.14

[13] Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Moody, 1986), p. 294, chart

[14] Ibid., pp. 294 and 299, emphasis original.

[15] See Morris, Leon, Hebrews (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Zondervan, 1981), pp. 6-7, for a discussion of these possibilities. 

[16] Eusebius, VI.14

[17] One almost has to wonder if it was the abandonment of this wellspring that brought about the loss of the gift of prophecy as it was had in the days of the Emissaries.

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