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I was just wandering around and thinking about morals, when I came up with this sentence:

Why should I take someone as an authority over truth?

And then I realized that I generally see "authority" being paired with "on" rather than with "over", specially when we talk about how someone is an authority on Physics or Mathematics.

But at the same time I thought of how authority can also mean the right to rule over something, like a kindgom, or to rule over truth, in this case. I decided to do a quick Google search, and found this:

Luke 10:19 (New Living Translation) Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.

Out of the dozens of Bible translations, this was the only one that preferred to pair "authority" with "over" rather than "on" or "upon". Is this incorrect or just unused? Which of those should I use?

  • I think the usage of authority over in general is OK. For example, authority: "This office has authority over personnel matters. [=this office has the power to make decisions about personnel matters]" and "You don't have authority over me. [=you don't have the power to give me orders]". Bible translation is a different issue, and if it is your specific concern it should be a separate question. – user3169 Mar 30 '16 at 23:14
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Generally, when someone is an authority, the meaning is that they are an expert, and the preposition "on" is best. The abstract noun "authority", as a thing that you can have, uses the preposition "over." In that case, as you observed, "authority" carries the sense of control or responsibility, rather than knowledge.

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"[To be an] authority on" means they are an expert who has a great deal of knowledge about and can speak conclusively about a subject, and if they make an assertion (about whatever it is they're an authority on), you can believe them.

"[To have] authority over" means they have control over whatever it is that follows that phrase.

For example, someone who is an authority on storms can tell you a lot about how they form, move, and dissipate, and may be able to understand, explain, and predict what is happening with a particular storm. You wouldn't say they have authority over storms unless they can literally control the weather.

One who has authority over an enemy can control or crush that enemy, but would not be considered an authority on that enemy unless they really understood their enemy. In modern times, this is more commonly used in the sense of having responsibility to control some part of a government or other organization.

  • But then again, is the truth something tangible, meaning you can be an authority over truth, be the owner and control truth (like the Church in catholicism) or a concept you can merely know, a concept you can be an authority on? It seems to me that truth can be "changed" in a context, even though it can't be owned. – slashblock Mar 31 '16 at 1:51
  • We say "have authority over" but "are an authority on." Note the difference in verbs to go with the different meanings. – WBT Mar 31 '16 at 3:00

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