Scholarship Alert… a look at what Paul really said

Marriage Minute # 144 From my book, Marriage Minutes, available from

An Egalitarian looks at I Timothy 2:12

This will be about marriage by the time I am through with it. It is already about marriage since it is about the nature of women and men in the eyes of God. And, it is a needed discussion in this book since it is one of the most misinterpreted verses in the entire Bible. It is used to keep women out of church leadership, and as an intentional by-product, to keep women out of equality in homes and marriages. This scripture is misused in bolstering what is called Masculine Protest, a belief that men have certain unearned privileges, simply by virtue of being born male, privileges generally denied to women. Here is the verse, in the New American Standard Version…
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

I will give what I consider a better translation at the end of the article. I prefer the New American Standard in most cases, but like most other translations the NASB has missed the mark. Here is why I say this…
The troublesome word in this verse is the one usually translated “to exercise authority”. It is the Greek word, αὐθεντεῖν, authentein, an infinitive form of a quite rare Greek word. In fact, in all of scripture, it only appears here in this verse. When Paul and all the other writers refer to authority in any other verse, they use some other word, and all the other words for authority are well known, well used, and well defined. So, if we want to know the meaning of the word we must go to other Greek documents of the time period. Even in doing this, the search is difficult.
I am very grateful for the scholarship of several people, especially in this verse. A few years ago several scholars compiled a computerized databank of Greek words, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, found at the University of California-Irvine. Words were catalogued from practically all the extant sources that could be found. Books, letters, poetry, signs, legal documents, and other sorts of Greek writings were sorted in this databank in order to give us a look at how the words were used in each context. This lexicon records such usages from the 8th century B.C. all the way through A.D. 1453, around 2200 years of the history of the Greek language.
I am also indebted to Leland Wilshire and his excellent book, Insight Into Two Biblical Passages.
A thorough look at this history reveals that the word “authentein” was a word that originally meant “one who with his own hand kills either others or himself”. Fragment 645 by the Greek writer Euripides uses the word to mean “murderous ruling desires”. Another reference points to “Saturn as the Ruler of the soul…”. Still another reference is found in the worship of an Archangel, proclaimed as “the Ruling Sun”. Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-95) employs the word in only two places in Jewish Wars to describe the perpetrator of a crime. It is not until the end of the second century, A.D., that the word appears as a signifier of “authority”, in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, and Clement uses the word in most occasions to signify criminal behavior and abuse of power. His majority usage is “to take it upon one’s self to commit murder with impunity”. His additional usage of the word to simply mean “authority” does not, in my opinion of the context, suggest any particular legitimacy to the authority. The full bifurcation of the word into tracts of legitimate as well as illegitimate authority does not appear until the fourth century. Furthermore, it is not translated into an English form, Author, any sooner that the 13th century.
So, why does Paul deviate from his usual collection of words for authority and, in this one verse, use this obscure word for “murderous rule”? I suggest that the answer is found in Paul’s original premise for writing this letter to Timothy. See I Timothy 1: 3 “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,…” (NASB). Paul and Timothy were contending with teachers of false doctrine, chiefly the forms of Legalism, and Gnosticism found in Ephesus. While written chronicles of Gnostic doctrine do not proliferate until many years later, Paul’s frequent use of certain phrases found in Gnosticism, which he employs in his effort to disapprove of them, suggests that Gnosticism, at least in oral tradition, was flowering in the first century. I will refer to some of these terms below, and I suggest that this word, authentein= murderous rule, is one of those terms.
A particular strain of Gnostics, now known as Ophitic Gnostics, taught a number of heretical beliefs, among them that,
• The god who created the mind was superior to the god who created the body,
• The god who created Woman acted prior to the creation of Adam, and some Ophitic Gnostics taught that different gods created the two people, Adam and Eve,
• That, according to a group within Gnosticism, the god who created the material Earth including the human and animal body, was a female deity thereby giving the power to “rule” to females of each species,
• That a superior god was the savior of the mind and soul, while a lesser god was the savior of the body,
• That Adam was deceived into thinking that he was created first, and further deceived into thinking that he was superior to Eve,
• That the sin of Adam was different from the lesser sin of Eve, and
• That Eve was actually the one who was to have power over the human race by virtue of being female, and that she could enforce this power by any means necessary,
• But that she was to refuse childbearing, except in highly controlled situations , because childbearing would mean that she was taking part in creating evil and fallen flesh and losing her control (and her salvation),

Let’s revisit the text now. I Timothy 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority….. [murderous rule]….. over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. …..[this is Paul refuting the idea that Eve was created first, and that she was created separately by a different god] …..14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, …..[refuting the idea that Adam was deceived]…..fell into transgression. …..[the same transgression] 15 But (women) will be preserved through the bearing of children …..[refuting the idea that childbearing meant the loss of salvation]…..if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

It should be becoming clear by now that Paul was fighting Gnostics, and not fighting women. May I suggest the following expanded translation based upon the information I have presented.
I Timothy 2:12
“But I do not allow a woman to teach murderous rule, or to exercise murderous rule over a man, but to remain in a teachable spirit . Because it was Adam who was created first and then Eve right along with him, and by the same (and only) God. Furthermore, Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived fell into the same transgression even as did Adam. But, she is preserved through the bearing of children (the call to have families did not become the enemy with Eve), if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

Here, we come to that great theological question, “What does this have to do with anything?”
If Paul is arguing against Ophitic Gnosticism, and not against women, does the verse have any usage in the life of the 21st century believer. It does have a use, but it is not the usage that many people make of it. It is commonly used 1) to keep women out of ministry, and 2) to keep women in other inferior positions in life. Both of these usages have no justification if we look at this passage in the light of the full evidence about authentein and the evidence about the culture of Gnosticism. Paul had no intention to say what many people think he said, and I believe that he would be shocked and utterly dismayed to find out how so many people have misinterpreted him.
Legitimate usage of this verse is found in at least four admonitions:
• That God did not intend any battle between the sexes, especially one that involves “murderous rule”
• That men and women were created by the same God, created in His Image, to live in healthy relationships,
• That both men and women are to conduct themselves in love, without wrath, dissension, or a clamorous spirit,
• That we are not to fear the normal life of the healthy family, marrying and having children, and that this family should not be seen as an arena for power struggles about salvation, or about personal power (especially abusive power)

This entry was posted in Biblical Equality (Male-Female), Identity in Christ, Marriage and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Scholarship Alert… a look at what Paul really said

  1. This is excellent, Gerald! So much teaching in one well-written post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *