The Common Good

When it Comes to Biblical 'Authority,' Words Matter

In a recent post examining the biblical qualities of a leader, I considered the similarity between the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the qualities Paul requires for elders and overseers (1 Timothy 3:2-3), deacons (1 Timothy 3:8), and widows who also held leadership (1 Timothy 3:11). While many churches today have specific gender requirements for leadership, scripture is far more concerned with character than gender.

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A reader wrote in to say that while gender should not be the primary issue, to "leave gender out of 1 Timothy" is not a fair or balanced treatment of scripture. What a wonderful comment! It is true; Paul is concerned with gender in 1 Timothy because the women at Ephesus were individuals whose leadership did not demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is objecting not to their gender, but to their leadership that domineered over men. We understand this because of the unique verb Paul selects for "authority" (1 Timothy 2:12).

Rather than using the most common Greek terms for authority or oversight, such as exousia or proistemo, Paul uses the term authentein -- a word that would have interested first-century readers. Why? Because authentein means to dominate, to usurp, to misappropriate, or to behave in violent ways even to the point of murder.

That is why various translations of scripture have translated 1 Timothy 2:12 in the following ways, as noted by Linda Belleville in Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy:

Vulgate (4th

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