Types of Authority in Formative Christianity and Judaism

By Bruce Chilton; Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

2

APOSTLES AND BISHOPS: A POLARITY OF POWER IN EARLIEST CHRISTIANITY

Institutional authority appears in no uncertain terms during the emergence of Christianity in its Classical and Orthodox form. Indeed, the certain and even absolute terms of reference which are claimed only emphasize an equally remarkable feature of Christian institutions of political authority: different institutions, sometimes concurrently, claim comprehensive authority over the Church. For that reason, our task in this chapter is to understand the grounds and the forms which institutional authority took in the Church at its earliest stages. Only by grasping that diversity will this complex phenomenon be understood. Two forms of authority will concern us here: the authority of apostles, and the authority of bishops. Each form takes Jesus as its ground of authority, but in a distinctive sense; each understands that its horizon of power is bounded only by heaven. There are, to be sure, other forms of institutional authority within early Christianity, some reflected within the New Testament itself. They could be equally trenchant in their claims (as we will see in some of the examples taken up in Chapter 4), or susceptible of incorporation within an apostolic or episcopal paradigm (as we will also see in Chapter 4), but the tension between apostolic authority and episcopal authority marks the principal polarity of tension within the institutional understanding of the Church in its classic form. The concern of the present chapter is simply to understand those two poles, how they came to be and how they functioned. How they related to one another and other forms of authority in the Church is the concern of Chapter 4. We also leave aside, until Chapter 6, a discussion of the authority of the Emperor, on the understanding that it was a late development which reflects more the environment within which episcopal

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