The Common Good

Examining Paul's Perspective on 'Authority'

"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 1Timothy 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
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