A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (1 Tim. 2:11-12, TNIV).
How often have you heard the 1 Timothy 2:11-12 passage used to exclude women from teaching or holding positions of authority in the church? Yet, what is often missed by those unfamiliar with the Greek is that Paul selects an unusual Greek word when speaking of authority, in verse 12. Rather than using the most common Greek terms for authority or oversight, like exuosia or proistemo, Paul uses the term authentein—a term that would have caught the attention of first century readers! Why? What does this word mean?
When Paul says that he is not allowing women to assume authority or authentein over men, the word he chose was used in his day to suggest a domineering, misappropriated, or usurped authority. Authentein can also mean to behave in violent ways. It can even mean murder! (For further study, see “The Scholarship of Patriarchy”). Authentein appears only once in Scripture, in 1 Timothy 2:12, and it was used by Paul and other non-biblical authors to connote authority that was destructive. For this reason, various translations of Scripture rendered the special sense of this word more clearly. According to Linda Belleville in Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 was translated by the:
- Vulgate (4th – 5th century AD) as, “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to domineer over a man”
- The Geneva Bible (1560 edition) as, “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to usurp authority over the man.”
- King James Version (1611) as, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over a man.”
- The New English Bible (1961) “I do not permit a woman to be a teacher, nor must woman domineer over man.”
This unusual Greek word makes it clear that what Paul is objecting to in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, is leadership which is unhealthy. Were the Ephesian women domineering over men because they had been deceived by false teachers? Is this the reason Paul asks them to learn in silence, or studiously, in the preceding verse? Does Paul insist upon their continued education because like Eve who had been led astray by Satan’s half-truths, the women in Ephesus had also embraced misinformation? Is not the remedy for deception learning in silence, or serious study?
Isn’t it ironic my friends that today we are being led astray by half-truths once again? It is true that Paul prohibits women in Ephesus from teaching or holding authority over men. However, the fullest truth is that the authority Paul seeks to limit is not that of women, but that which is domineering, and even abusive. Therefore, the issue is not gender, but a misuse of authority, which the unusual Greek word makes clear.
Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. May the Lord of all truth bring greater clarity to our churches as it concerns this passage. And may our Bible translations also make clearer the fullest impact of Paul’s use of authentein. Pray towards this end, will you?!