Sunday, February 27, 2011

Power and Authority

What would you say is the difference between these two concepts? I think that the first results from searches at are sufficient for our purposes:

power n. ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.
authority n. the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.

In short, power is ability to act, and authority is justification to act. Power is derived, through Anglo-Norman French, from the Latin posse, “to be able.” Authority is derived, through Old French, from the Latin auctor, “originator, promoter.” The etymology of power makes logical sense with the above definition, but the etymology of authority is not so logical at first.

Originate is derived from the Latin origo, “source, origin,” and promote is derived, through Middle English, from the Latin pro-, “forward,” and movere, “to move.” So, by association, authority is the condition of being the source or origin of something or the ability to move something forward. Now we are getting somewhere: going back to the dictionary definition, it is logical to equate words like control, command, and determine with source and promote.

Now that our definitions are sorted out, here is my next question: between power and authority, which of the two, if either, is appropriate for humans to have?

Genesis, in the creation narrative, records God giving man (here meaning both men and women) dominion over the rest of creation. Dominion, to me, seems to be more along the lines of power, but then note the all-important point of God giving that dominion – in short, authorizing that dominion.

God is the source of all power, and God can grant that power to, for example, humans. Humans, then, seem to be best suited for authority, or the justification to act, as I paraphrased the definition above. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Thus, because of the relationship we can have with God through Jesus, we have authority also to exercise over the creation.

I think most would agree as to the danger of unrestrained or unauthorized power. Adam and Eve were not authorized to take the fruit, but they used their physical power to tear it from the tree and eat it regardless, and we can all see what consequences that has had on the whole of creation.

The Bible (and world history) is full of examples of people exercising power, and the good results that come when that power is authorized, and the bad results that come when it is not. The key, I believe, is that whenever we as humans exercise our capabilities to act freely, we must keep in mind the lordship of Christ, and submit to His authority over us. Jesus in fact modeled this submission in His relationship with the Father, and we would do well to imitate it.

This is Rubio, over and out.

No comments: