A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

April 11, 2015

Do You Doubt My Authority?

     Today my husband and I will be celebrating the last Sabbath of the Passover with a faithful group of Believers.  We will be presenting a historical view of the Exodus, and reading the Bible's account of the first Passover and its past, present, and future significance, both to practicing Jews and faithful Christians.  I say, "we", because I want to comment on a divisive issue within the Church and among some denominations.  I will be presenting a lesson prior to our Passover meal, while my husband will lead our group through a more formal ceremony of eating and prayer.  Together, we will lead our worship and observance.
     I understand that to some, the fact that a woman has a leading role in such religious ceremonies, is troublesome.  Those who object will most likely refer to 1 Timothy 2:11-12:  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.  Because men were part of our gathering, some would find my role objectionable.
     By the way, this is the only verse within the entire Bible that I can find that speaks to a woman not having the authority to teach men.  So, without a confirming witness, I decided to take a deeper look at this conflict and see within what context the Apostle Paul made this statement.
     As always, I find that our English translations of the Bible leave something to be desired when comparing them to the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.  Such is the case with the central word in the argument against women leading men in instruction ... it's the word, authority.  It seems that a study of Paul’s letters shows that he regularly used a form of the Greek word “exousia” when referring to the use of authority in the church.  But in this particular verse, Paul used the word "authentein".  This unusual Greek verb is found only once in scripture and rarely in extrabiblical texts, where it is usually associated with aggression.  Authentein is translated as “domineer” in the Latin Vulgate and New English Bible and as “usurp authority” in the Geneva and King James Bibles.
     So if Paul used the word exousia when talking about the use of authority in the church in 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Colossians, 2nd Thessalonians, and Romans; why would he choose to use authentein to refer to the same thing in 1 Timothy?  Could he have been referring to something else?
      This is where the context of this passage is so important!  In the case of 1 Timothy, Paul was writing a personal letter instructing Timothy about how to deal with heresy being spread by false teachers in Ephesus. This is spelled out at the beginning of the letter: "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies…".
      On the surface, there are a few things to consider when correlating this warning with the suggestion that Paul meant women had no authority in the church.  1)  Could it be that most of the teachers of false doctrine in Ephesus were men, and that women might have had little training in theology; making them subject to repeating these false doctrines?  It would seem to me that Paul might have been warning the Ephesians that any interest in these false doctrines by women might become dangerous to the Church.  If that is the case, then this warning in 1 Timothy is specific to that church in Ephesus, at that time -- not meant to be a permanent restriction on all women for all time.
     2)  Keeping the context of this letter and these verses in view, remember that Paul was writing to the Church in Ephesus; a city known for its worship of goddesses, as well as heretical Gnostic teachings.  Some of the Gnostic texts of the time sometimes described Eve as Adam’s teacher. She is also depicted as superior to Adam, as preceding him, and as giving life to him in some way (part of the goddess obsession).  His admonition that women should not assume authority over a man might have been in answer to these Gnostic teachings.  (The Gnostic teachings on Eve could be what Paul is referring to in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 when he pointedly explains that Adam is the superior one, not Eve.  Reading these verses out of context to what was going on in Ephesus gives a completely different meaning).
     3)  Then there is the contradiction between other examples of Paul's writings where he provides instructions for women praying and prophesying in church (1 Corinthians).  When Paul mentions the spiritual gifts, he does not state that women are restricted from receiving any of the leadership gifts.  And it is interesting to note that he takes special care to record commendations to a number of women serving in leadership positions (Romans 16).  Can we agree that Paul is generally supportive of women’s participation, which contradicts the idea that women must be silent?
     But I keep coming back to that word authentein.  The mystery of why Paul used that particular word instead of his more common use of exousia drove me to dig deeper.  Why did he include this passage about women and authority in a letter that began by warning against false doctrines and myths?  As expected, the uncertainty of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, has resulted in much historical study of the times.
The goddess Cybele and her consort, Attis
     It seems that in Timothy’s time and locale, the goddess Cybele (called Artemis by the Greeks) was worshipped through violent rituals against men that symbolized the murder/suicide of a false god named Attis.  In his letter to Timothy, Paul repeatedly warns against false doctrines, mythology and extreme forms of self-denial (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 4:1-5, 6:20-21), even referring to the false teaching and related practices as “demonic”.  The violent act symbolizing the death of Attis was indeed an extreme form of self-denial.  Male priests of Cybele and Attis renounced all sexual feeling, irrevocably, through ritual castration.
     When the 5th Century Christian theologian Jerome translated 1 Timothy for the Latin translation of the Bible, he forever changed the meaning of our contested verses.  Let me explain.  He translated the key verb authentein as "to exercise authority", and rendered it more in terms of “having dominion over” or “dominating” a man.  Prior to Jerome's translation, the word more commonly referred to the instigation or commission of an act of violence, suicide or murder.  In the Greek Septuagint, for example, a noun form of the word (authentas) refers to those who engaged in ritual violence in the worship of a false god.
      Are you starting to see the connection between Paul's initial warning against false doctrines and false gods or myths, and the more accurate interpretation of giving his prohibition against women teaching or instigating ritual violence against men?  It's all in the context of what was going on in Ephesus!  The nature of Paul’s concerns, the most common meanings of the verb “authentein,” and the religious and cultural context in which these verses were written are all lost in Jerome’s Latin translation of 1 Timothy 2:12-15.  Subsequent translations into German and English followed Jerome's misleading example.  Concerns about women becoming involved in false teaching and violent rituals were replaced with warnings against leadership and teaching roles for women in the Church.  It seems very possible that Paul's true counsel was lost in translation!
     I recognize that this new understanding I have projected is only a theory; and I also discern that it will likely not change the 1600 years of bias against women as having a place in the Church's ministry as teachers.  (Note that I said "teachers", not pastors -- this is NOT an argument for women Pastors or Preachers).  Believe me, I am no feminist looking to usurp the leadership of men -- I am simply trying to put forth the argument that the Lord has bestowed the spiritual gifts of teaching and prophesying and wisdom upon women as well as men.  Why would any man deny himself the benefit of learning from a woman whom the Lord had blessed?  Certainly, Priscilla played a major role in furthering Apollo's education on the full gospel of Jesus (Acts 18).  Again, it's ironic that in a time when women could not be legal witnesses, Jesus Christ chose women as the first witnesses of his resurrection.  We can still be witnesses of His glory today, to all who will listen.

For a more comprehensive look at the ancient Gnostic teachings, false doctrines, and translation errors that contributed to our confused understanding of 1 Timothy 2, please click here.  My thanks to Bob Edwards for his outstanding research and commentary.

Acts 2:17-18    And it shall come to pass in the last days, God declares, that I will pour out of My Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy [telling forth the divine counsels] and your young men shall see visions (divinely granted appearances), and your old men shall dream [divinely suggested] dreams. Yes, and on My menservants also, and on My maidservants, in those days I will pour out of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy [telling forth the divine counsels and predicting future events pertaining especially to God’s kingdom].



  1. I don't have any problems about what you say in the article. I just had a problem with the confrontational title.

    1. All I can say is, I'm confused. But thanks for taking the time to comment.