Typically, the person who holds the hierarchical or complementarian view of 1 Timothy 2:12 says something like this, “Say what you want, but 1 Timothy 2 makes it clear that women cannot be in authority over men…” Well, taken at face value as the English KJV articulates it one could agree. When we consider the limitations of our English translations the most problematic issue is the rendering of the verb authentein as authority. In Paul’s epistles, he regularly used the form of the Greek “exousia” when referring to the use of authority in the church (1 Cor. 6:12; 7:4; 9:4-6; 9:12; 11:10; 2 Cor. 2:8; 10:8; 13:10; Col. 1:13; 2 Thess. 3:12; Romans 6:15; 9:21). Considering the context of 1 Timothy 2:12 it is to be probable Paul was objecting to something other than the legitimate use of authority.
It must also be noted that the verb didaskein (to teach) is linked here to the verb authentein in what is called a hendiadys (two words joined by a conjunction to make a single point). “Don’t drink and drive” would be a good example. So a more accurate interpretation might be “don’t teach in a domineering way”. There are however, many more ways this verb can be translated. While this verse most often is used to defend a male-hierarchy in church leadership, most scholars suggests that this passage is anything but clear on the issue. Making dogma out of an unsubstantiated doctrine, as many have done on this topic, it seems, only serves to stroke the male ego and lacks considerably in edification of Christ body as a whole. Doctrine should never be built on a hapax legomenon (a word that occurs only once in an author’s writings or a text)1. It is impossible to infer the writer’s meaning when a word is used only once, hence, to interpret a text properly we have to think about “context, context, context.” Groothuis notes; “it is inconsistent to regard the dress code in 1 Timothy 2:9 as culturally relative, and therefore temporary, but the restriction on women’s ministry as universal and permanent.2
In 1 Timothy, Paul instructed Timothy on how to deal with heresy being spread by false teachers in Ephesus. There is no evidence in the Epistles to Timothy that Paul was writing to establish a permanent restriction on all women in ministry for all time nor can it be established that Eve’s deception (1 Tim. 2:14) is the basis for banning women from teaching, especially in light of Romans 5:12-14 where the offence is imputed to Adam. There are provided proofs in much of the New Testament of both men and women praying and prophesying, of corporate worship and spiritual gifts that are not restrictive of gender. There is also a number of women in the New Testament serving in leadership positions where clearly Paul is supportive of women’s participation, contradicting the idea that women are prohibited in ministry and must remain silent. (More on this in a bit)
The Origins of Female Subjugation
So where did the idea come from? The notion that women are to be subjugated to men are found in the writings of men such as Plato, Augustine, and Calvin. In all three we find a dualistic, hierarchical and sexist paradigm. For example, in Plato’s work entitled, “The Republic”:
Let me further note that the manifold and complex pleasures and desires and pains are generally found in children and women and servants…Whereas the simple and moderate desires which follow reason, and are under the guidance of the mind and true opinion, are to be found only in a few (all of them men), and those the best born and best educated…
Very true. These two, as you may perceive, have a place in our State; and the meaner desires of the (many) are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few… (Plato, 117.)
Seeing then, I said, that there are…distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing? This then is injustice…(Plato, 138)
You are quite right, he relied, in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex…(Plato, 138)
Plato in a dialogue between two philosophers express the notion that women are governed by emotion, where men are governed by reason. The assumption is that men must rule over women and violating a male-dominated social hierarchy is the definition of injustice.
Augustine, both a philosopher and theologian borrowed from Plato the importance of male authority and female submission.
It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater… This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serves the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationship between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.3
Notice the similar language in Augustine which originated with Plato. Augustine’s “justice” consist of a lower class (women, slaves, and children) being subject to the authority of the higher class, i.e. men. Here we see how a class-based, hierarchical society was formed in the church structure as the natural order of things.
John Calvin also inferred a doctrine of male authority and plagiarized on Augustine’s class-based society:
[Regarding Ephesians 5:22] Wives, submit yourselves. He [the apostle] comes now to the various conditions of life; for, besides the universal bond of subjection, some are more closely bond to each other, according to their respective callings. The community at large is devided, as it were, into so many yokes, out of which arises mutual obligation. There is, first, the yoke of marriage between husband and wife; secondly, the yoke which binds parents and children; and, thirdly, the yoke which connects masters and servants. By this arrangement there are six different classes, for each of whom Paul says down peculiar duties. He begins with wives, whom he enjoins to be subject to their husbands, in the same manner as to Christ – as to the Lord. Not that the authority is equal, but wives cannot obey Christ without yielding obedience to their husbands.
[Regarding Ephesians 5:23] For the husband is the head of the wife. This is the reason assigned why wives should be obedient. Christ has appointed the same relation to exist between a husband and a wife, as between himself and his church. This comparison ought to produce a stronger impression on their minds, than the mere declaration that such is the appointment of God. Two things are here stated. God has given to the husband authority over the wife; and a resemblance of this authority is found in Christ, who is the head of the church, as the husband is of the wife.
And he is the savior of the body. The pronoun HE is supposed by some to refer to Christ; and, by other, to the husband. It applies more naturally, in my opinion, to Christ, but still with a view to the present subject. In this point, as well as in others, the resemblance ought to hold. As Christ rules over his church for her salvation, so nothing yields more advantage or comfort to the wife than to be subject to her husband. Tor refuse that subjection, by means of which they might be saved, is to choose destruction.4
It is not difficult to see the influence of Augustine’s dualistic, hierarchical and sexist philosophy in John Calvin’s commentaries.
These ideologies have been passed down from one culture to another, from one century to another and from one man to another and are as alive and well today as they were when Augustine penned his words. This dogma has been authoritatively laid down by the church as unquestionable “biblical truth.” Yet its basis rest with only established opinion and assumption and survives only on what one thinks is true rather than on any real biblical evidence.
Today, men such as John Piper and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood continue to portray a male dominated hierarchy as God’s will for humanity. It is crucial to recognize that John Piper and the other authors of the complementarian text entitled, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” base their conclusions not on the Scripture itself, but rather on John Calvin’s patriarchal commentaries:
Calvin properly interpreted 1 Timothy 2:11-15… He acknowledges exceptions to the general rule but argues that these exceptions pose no threat to the ordinary and constant system of government. As if anticipating the current debate, Calvin says, “If any one bring forward, by way of objection, Deborah (judges iv.4) and others of the same class, of women we read that they were at one time appointed by the command of God to govern the people, the answer is easy. Extraordinary acts done by God do not overturn the ordinary rules of government, by which he intended that we should be bound.”
Paul’s appeal to Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 makes clear the ultimate source of appeal: Scripture itself. Thus, for theological and historical reasons, the church or the elders cannot elevate women to a formal office of rule or instruction over men without violating the whole spirit of the law
However, they make no distinction between Scripture itself and John Calvin’s interpretation of it and in doing so they confuse the patriarchal traditions of men with the will of God. Others, such as Jacob Prasch, will give some allowances for women in ministry however limitations and conditions are enjoined. And like Piper and many others, the residue of Calvin and Augustine’s class-based sexist hierarchy is evident:
Whenever God used the women in Scripture under certain conditions and certain circumstance there was always a male authority figure present, even in the New Testament with Junia, the couple that helped Apollos and so forth. There will always be a male authority figure, the reason being that women are more venerable to spiritual seduction.6
When Prasch says God uses women in Scripture under “certain conditions” and “certain circumstances,” in effect he is agreeing with John Calvin’s assessment that “extraordinary acts done by God do not overturn the ordinary rules of government…,” an assessment lacking Biblical substance. Prasch limits women’s role in church ministry strictly to women and children, forbidding any women an office equal to or above that of the man. In a mini-series between May and July of 2016 women who serve in any form of leadership role over men it is implied they are a Jezebel and he dismisses them as feminist who have crept into the church.
The Greek verb authentein, translated “to usurp authority over” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a bit of a hermeneutical anomaly as it is only used here and is not used anywhere else in scripture. Nor was this verse used by Paul as a model for church leadership. According to Leland Wilshire, the verb authentein had a number of meanings in Greek literature other than “to exercise or usurp authority.” Most of them were related to some form of violence, including ritual violence done in the worship of a false god or goddess. In the Septuagint, the word “authentas” was used to refer to parents who sacrificed their children in worship to a false god.7 Between the years 200 B.C. and 200 A.D., some form of the word authentein had one of the following meanings.
- “doer of massacre”
- “author of crimes”
- “perpetrator of sacrilege”
- “supporter of violent actions”
- “murderer of oneself”
- “perpetrator of slaughter”
- “slayer of oneself”
- “perpetrator of evil”
- “one who murders by his own hand”8
Authority was one of the many possible meanings for the word “authentein,” it was by no means the most common meaning during the 400 years spanning the New Testament era. There are many other possible interpretations of “authentein,” based on all the meanings available, it can include prohibitions against perpetrating or supporting violence, sacrilege or even murder against men.
Turning again to the context of 1 Timothy 2:12, the grammar in this passage changes from the plural “women” in verses 9 and 10 to “a women” (singular) in verses 11-15, then back to “women” (Plural) in the next chapter. The type of “usurped authority” mentioned in 1 Tim. 2:12 cannot be biblically justified as an authority ascribed to men “husbands” because of the mysteries surrounding the verb nor can the subjugation of women be affirmed. Because of the many different meanings of the Greek verb authentein dogma is not defensible, especially if it is understood as it was used in the 400 years spanning the New Testament era and the historical setting and culture of the time.
The word authentein was considered vulgar by many in history much as “child molestation,” or “pedophilia” does today. Both are considered violent crimes against children and normal people look upon such an act with great disgust, the thought of such an act is so offensive it makes some people ill. This is the connotation of the word authentein.
It is possible that Paul may have had a specific woman in mind or he could have been referencing the goddess. It is most likely what Paul was dealing with was the cultural problems in Ephesus. Ephesus was the center for the temple of Artemis and the pagan ideas the women held were opposite of what is taught in Scripture.
The hierarchy of their priesthood was dominated by women and worship was directed to the “mother of the gods,” whose name was Cybele, known as Artemis by the Greeks. Men were permitted to become priest, but only if they first renounced their masculinity for life through the act of ritual castration. It would appear that Paul was addressing asceticism that led some of the early church fathers to seek to exercise control over women. It is an historical fact that throughout the history of Ephesus and Asia Minor that women had a tendency to dominate men, they expressed this domination through acts of violence ranging from murder to ritual castration. In light of this context, more likely than not, Paul’s intention was to prohibit the false teaching of asceticism as well as the violence against men that was traditionally associated with it. Not to mention, there is no other Scriptural support for the doctrine that women cannot hold a church office and be in authority over a man. An accurate translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 would read, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to support violence against a man.” If you throw in 2 Timothy 2:15 it is nonsensical to suggest a woman is saved by having children. It makes more sense that it is connected to the mystery cults of the Amazons who looked to Cybele for protection in child bearing.
To rule over or lord over is a carnal appetite. In Genesis 3:12 Adam stated; “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” The word “with” is eem having the specific meaning of “equally with,” this prepositional prefix is usually unrepresented in the English. From the beginning God created male and female to be equal, until the fall, that’s when everything changed. God told Eve; “…thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” Gen. 3:16. Most men would take this as a positive, it is not. Most men would understand this as the divine assignment of the husband’s leadership role over the women. This in no way asserts a male dominance over females and we should always remember that for a man to “rule” his wife only came into play after the fall. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Scripture tells us; “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” In the natural, our union and nature with Adam is demonstrated in the fall, it is seen in death, i.e., the carnal. But in Christ, our union and nature is in the recovery of life bought in His death, burial, and resurrection. So to, our nature is now of the divine (2 Peter 1:4) and in Christ we have escaped the corruption that in the world through lust, this includes mans “rule.” Paul taught equality within the body of Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The differences of gender makes no difference in Christian privileges and responsibility. Both male and female are “kings and priest unto God” (Rev. 1:6). National, social and even gender distinctions vanish and the cruel injustices done to women by man is diminished as they, just as the man, are under the eternal obligation of the gospel, which has freed them from the unworthy bondage of men giving them their true place in the world and the church.
- Good News for Women, A biblical Picture of Gender Equality. Groothuis; https://www.amazon.com/Good-News-Women-Biblical-Equality/dp/0801057205?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0
- (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, 153) ed. John Wijngaards, http://www.womenpriest.org.)
- . (Joyhn Calvin, Commentary on Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle, 1 June 2005, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 19 August 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom41.iv.vi.v.html)
- (Paige Patterson, “The Meaning of Authority in The Local Church,” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991) 260.)
- (The Wisdom of Soloman,” The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) 28 April 2003, http//www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/Septuagint/chapter.asp?book=29&page=12.
- (Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, Appian of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Harpocration, Phrynicus); Wilshire, 28-29
Some idea’s, content, and quotes in this article was also taken and used from:
I Suffer Not a Women: Rethinking 2 Timothy 2:11-15 In Light of Ancient Evidence; Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger; 1992 Baker Academic a division of Baker Publishing Group.
A God I’d Like To Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs; Bob Edwards M.S.W. 2014.