1 Timothy 2:12: Authority or Domination?

I don’t intend this blog to become a place for debating subjects like the role of women in church. There are plenty of other places where such subjects are discussed. But I would like to record here a response which I made to a posting on Justin Taylor’s blog, on The Meaning of “Authority” in 1 Tim 2:12. Justin quoted me as writing, in a comment on an earlier posting of his:

The problem here is that in 1 Timothy 2:12 the Greek word αὐθεντεῖν is not correctly translated ‘exercise authority’. Its exact meaning is debatable, but it clearly seems to imply some kind of usurpation of proper authority, and perhaps a domineering attitude which is not at all Christian.

Justin continued:

One of the problems in the blogosphere is that comments can be made like this (without argumentation or links to argumentation) and people can assume that this is based on solid scholarship, when in fact it isn’t. The best scholarly work on this shows it to be false.

He continued by quoting from an article by Andreas Köstenberger in an attempt to prove his point that αὐθεντεῖν authentein means “exercise authority”.

I replied:

One of the problems with the blogosphere is that people like you, Justin, can assert that a particular work is “the best scholarly work” and accuse others of not basing their arguments on sound scholarship, without any requirement to prove their points. And they believe you because they are already predisposed in your favour.

I am sure that Köstenberger et al’s work is excellent scholarship. But that by no means implies that they have the last word on this subject. IH Marshall’s scholarship also has a very high reputation, but, according to the review of Köstenberger’s work on Amazon by Alan S. Bandy, “Marshall’s commentary on the Pastorals (1999) … argued for a negative sense of both “teaching” and “exercising authority”” in 1 Timothy 2:12.

As for Baldwin’s research into contemporary use of αὐθεντεῖν, while I can accept that neither of the two allegedly attested occurrences certainly mean “domineer”, the simple fact is that neither of them certainly means “exercise authority” in a positive sense either. The example from Philodemus does not in fact clearly read αὐθεντεῖν at all, for the text has been conjecturally reconstructed, and one translator seems to have understood it as more like “domineer” than “exercise [proper] authority”. Baldwin doesn’t give enough context to the 27 BC quote to determine whether there are any negative connotations. The 2nd century AD Attic lexicon’s “to have independent jurisdiction” may be the best guide to how Paul used the word, and this would of course be a misuse of authority in a Christian setting. The only other occurrence within several centuries of Paul’s time (leaving aside Ptolemy’s astronomical speculations), that in Hippolytus, can also be translated in a positive or a negative sense. 4th century and later occurrences are irrelevant in my opinion. Well, you say that Köstenberger accepts that Baldwin’s study “falls short of absolute proof“. That sounds to me like a very British understatement!

So, Justin, while like Denny I accept that the meaning of αὐθεντεῖν is controversial as well as debatable, it is quite clear that my interpretation is based on solid scholarship, that of IH Marshall among others. Of course solid scholars can differ, and they do here. But the implication is of course that no one can with confidence interpret this verse as forbidding women from all leadership positions in the church, still less imply (as certain recent statements seem to) that those who do not enforce such a ban are heretics and worse than unbelievers.

0 thoughts on “1 Timothy 2:12: Authority or Domination?

  1. Hi Peter,

    it’s James from the b-hebrew list. I found the argument interesting about the two different interpretations of the word αὐθεντεῖν. However, I can’t help but noticing that in the wider context of the scripture it really doesn’t change much of what is being said.

    Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and came to be in transgression. 15 However, she will be kept safe through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and sanctification along with soundness of mind.

    There isn’t really a great deal of room for interpretation of a woman’s place in the family and the wider context of the rest of the bible including Paul’s other letters and also Peter’s makes it quite clear that the feminine role is different to the masculine one.

  2. James, thanks for your comment. As I said, I don’t want to get into a discussion of these issues here at the moment. So for now I will just say that there is a huge amount of literature available on this, which demonstrates that none of Paul’s or Peter’s writings on the subject necessarily contradict the egalitarian position.

  3. Pingback: Speaker of Truth » Blog Archive » Is 1 Timothy 2:8-15 ignored?

  4. Pingback: NIV 2011: Denny Burk condemns it, most are lukewarm - Gentle Wisdom

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