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Topic 14: 1 Timothy 2:8-15: Part 8: “…have authority over…”


This is the eighth part of a brief series of studies on 1 Timothy 2:8-15.  1 Timothy is an epistle to the Christians in Ephesus and seeks to apply pastoral Gospel centered wisdom to a difficult situation in which teachings of Artemis have found their way into the local church.

◆ “Theologians note that there is a great difference between women having authority with men and having it over them.  The former, dealing with a mutual exercise in authority, is appropriate in nearly every churchly instance outside of the distinctive functions of the pastoral office (e.g. preaching in the services of the congregation, leading formal public worship services and administering the Lord’s Supper …” (Lutheran Witness, September 1988, page 6).

In this study we assert the need to carefully distinguish between “usurp authority” and “have authority” and “exercise authority.”  There is a fundamental difference between “assertion to power” and “implementation of power.”

(A) “[vs 12] … or to have authority over men …”: The verb here is a hapex legomena (meaning it appears only in one place [here] in all of the New Testament).  Such words are difficult to translate clearly.

(B) The verb authentein, here translated “to have authority over,” has an unsavory flavor:

(1) “to domineer” (Arndt-Gingrich, page 120);

(2) “to have power over.  From authentesan actual murderer: esp. of murders done by those of the same family: also a self-murderer, suicide.  2. an absolute master or ruler” (Liddell and Scott, pg. 114);

(3) “… one who with his own hand kills either others or himself.  b.  in later Grk, writ. one who does a thing himself, the author … one who acts on his own authority, autocratic” (Thayer, page 84);

(4) “It comes from aut-hentes, a self-doer, a master, autocrat … to domineer …” (Robertson, page 570);

(5) “The etymology of the word is also obscure: it may come from auto-thentes, ‘the self involved in killing,’ or from autos-hentes, ‘achieving or realizing an action on oneself or by one’s initiative” (Wilshire, page 48);

(6) Josephus uses the noun form of authentein to describe Antipater, Herod’s son, accused of killing his two brothers and attempting to kill his father, and he employs the term to translate  “assassins, murders” of a Galilean Jew on his way to a festival (Lepper, “A Fresh Vision of a Woman’s Glorious Heritage in Christ,” pg. 46).

(C)  authentein and exousia are not synonymous.

(1) The first implies authority that is self-proclaimed and gained by “muscling in” and the second implies authority that is granted by someone else (John 1:12, 2 Corinthians 10:8).  One seeks authority and power on its own; the second receives power from others.

(2) Jesus himself addresses the innate human tendency (found in the disciples — and in us!) to use any “authority” we might have in a self-serving manner: “It shall not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:25-27).

(3) “… exercising authority on one’s own account – doing something on your own – and exercising authority generated from Christ are poles apart … the former can be selfish; the latter is always selfless …” (Lepper, page 46).  Cf. Luke 22:25-26.

(4) Nowhere does Paul forbid a woman to possess exousia, which is the power Christ imparts for the work of the Church.

(D) What are the translation options?

(1) The usual Greek noun used by Paul for “authority” or “power” that is granted by another [exousia] is not used here.

(2) Paul chooses instead a verb which has a negative connotation, “to domineer” or “to usurp” (Moffatt: “to dictate to men”; NEB: “nor must woman domineer over man”).

(3) So the thrust of the infinitive is not in “position” or “office,” but in the action someone takes independently.

(4) The thrust is not a neutral “have authority” (TEV, Jerusalem).

(5) The thrust is not a benign “exercise authority.”

(6) The “hard edge” to authentein would suggest that the King James Version’s translation, “usurp authority” (to take by force, acting on one’s own authority) or the New English Bible’s “nor must woman domineer over man” are translations preferable to the neutral “to have authority over” (RSV; NIV; TEV, etc.) or the benign “exercise authority.”

(7)  This understanding would fit the context: men are instructed to behave in the worship setting “without anger or quarreling” (1 Timothy 2:8), and women modestly and sensibly (verse 9) should not muscle their way in, seeking to domineer in the worship setting (verse 11).

(E)  Authority [exousia] can also be given (Matthew 28:18) or acknowledged.

(1) The text does not deny women possessing authority in the church.

(2) The text does not forbid these receiving authority from others or having authority acknowledged.

(3) The text does not deny the church bestowing authority on women who have received from the Spirit the gifts of preaching and teaching and pastoring and have had these gifts recognized and affirmed by the church.

(F) There are no instances in Greek literature from Paul’s era where authentein is associated with ecclesial authority.  This would suggest Paul is here not discussing guidelines for the pastoral office.

(G) The text is about obtaining authority in a process of self-promotion and arrogating it to oneself.

(1) The text is not talking about exercising authority over men with respect to the public administration of the Office of the Keys.

(2) There is no discussion of “ordination” as we in today’s church understand it in this passage.

(3) The text never mentions “office” or “position” but instead describes how Christians are to relate to and serve one another.

(4) Paul never uses the term “pastor” or “presbyter” in this passage.

(5) There is no express word here in this Scripture forbidding women in the office of ministry.

(6) The text does not speak to “authority” of women whose authority is granted  through gifts of the Spirit and learning and then recognized by the Church.

(7) The text is a correction of an abuse of a privilege already granted (compare 1 Corinthians 11:5).

(8) The text does forbid “usurping” authority, obtaining it through aggressive self-aggrandizement, in a way not compatible with the Christ-servant model.  “To usurp” is the opposite of the servant ministry Jesus taught and modeled (John 13:14; Mark 10:43-44) and Paul fostered (Philippians 2:3-8).

(9)  That Paul needs to say this indicates that the opposite behavior was taking place.

(H) The text does not speak to women in offices serving men and other women with the Gospel.  The text contains caution to women on how to use their positions of responsibility for service and not domination.  (What is applicable to women regarding sin is also applicable to men.)

(I) But to have “authority” recognized requires also submissiveness to the discipline of learning and to the Word (verse 11).

(J) Verse 11 instructs women to learn with quiet, receptive spirits, instead of engaging in activities that result in “usurping authority over men” (verse 12)(King James Version) or “lording it over men.”

(K) Not to “usurp authority” should be paired with “but to be in quietness” (receptive to learning).  Verses 11 and 12 begin with “quietness” and end with “quietness.”

(L)  In secular literature authentein is translated “to claim to be the author of something” or “to be responsible for the initiation of something” or “to begin something” or “to kill someone” or “to lay claim to property as being one’s own” (cf. Kroeger, I  Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence).

(1) Hence, Kroeger suggests a possible translation: “I do not allow a woman to teach nor begin some (new doctrine) about men.”

(2) This translation would fit the context of the letter to Timothy, namely the environment in which the theology of the Artemis cult in Ephesus was rampant.

(M) “[vs 12] … over men …”:  The word, in Greek, is singular, “man,”  suggesting one “husband” rather than all “males.”

(N) Compare also Paul’s instructions to males in 1 Timothy 2:8.

(O) When the CTCR equates “order of creation” with “usurping authority over men,” it clearly weights a bias in favor of males.

(1) What the creation accounts suggest is that male and female relate as “equity with differences.”

(2) Any “usurping of authority,” whether by females or by males, violates God’s paradisal intent for humanity.

(3) Is it godly for males to “usurp” (take by force, deny by “show of right”) ministry grounded in Spirit-given gifts to women?

(P) “Yet this is the only biblical text that appears specifically to forbid female leadership; therefore, those who wish to use this prohibition to impose a permanent ban on women in leadership must somehow demonstrate that the meaning of authentein in this verse points unequivocally to authority in the ordinary, neutral sense of exousia” (Groothius, Good News for Women, pg. 215).

The Christian community in Ephesus had problems with women “pushing in” and “domineering” with false teaching.  Paul’s pastoral approach says, “No, this is not the process.  The process is wait; first be submissive to the teaching process, learning with a receptive attitude. Then you will be ready for leadership.”