What Does the Bible Say About Women Pastors?
Does the Bible forbid women pastors?
Christians are divided on this issue, and to be upfront, it is a secondary issue and not one of primary importance (like the existence of heaven and hell, Jesus as the only Saviour etc.). Still, the Bible does address this topic, and in our effort to be faithful to the Scriptures, we need to carefully examine what the Word of God says and stand by it unapologetically. Additionally, the leadership of Jesus’ Church is an important thing to get right, so we should not approach this question flippantly.
The most straightforward text in the whole Bible on this issue is 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which says
 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
In today’s feminist society, these words may seem shocking and repulsive. Yet we must treat them with reverence as the Lord’s instruction. There are several mistakes that one can make when interpreting this passage. Here are a few:
- Isolate the passage from the rest of the New Testament. This may be the primary text on this issue, but it is not the only one. We should consider the entire scope of teaching to arrive at the most accurate view.
- Let our emotions get the better of us. When dealing with a potentially volatile issue, our emotions can override our thinking and lead us to false conclusions. We need to remain rational and interpret the Bible soundly and not based on our initial emotional response.
- Fail to embrace the spirit of the text. Words matter, but even Jesus pressed that we can become too legalistic if we do not grasp the general spirit that a text is written in.
- Allow culture to override Scripture. Our own understanding of certain words and phrases are shaped by the culture we live in. When studying the Bible, we are reading across cultures and so need to make a conscious effort to keep our culturally shaped views from intruding on the meaning of the text.
The obvious meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is that Paul is indeed forbidding women as pastors. It is the conclusion that one would come to from a plain reading of the text. The idea of teaching or exercising authority are the two distinguishing marks of an elder/pastor in the Bible (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). It is what separates elders from deacons and other members of the church. If Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, forbids these two functions from women in the Church, then he is closing off the opportunity for women to pastor men. Yet the matter is not so simple, so let’s probe a little further by asking some important questions.
What is meant by teaching and exercising authority?
Since these are the two functions that are explicitly spoken of, we should seek to understand exactly what meaning the author had in mind.
Thankfully, we do not need to get into complicated word studies to learn what Paul had in mind. The english translation is a sound translation of this text. The word “teach” in verse 12 has no hidden meaning to it. This word, and everywhere else it is used in the New Testament, means simply to instruct with authority. It is the function of elders/pastors to teach the truth and to contend with false teachers. Teaching can have a variety of styles to it, including preaching to large crowds or giving counsel one-on-one.
Similarly, exercising authority means exactly what it sounds like. This function in the New Testament belongs to elders, also known as “overseers”, who are to shepherd God’s flock as the leaders of Christ’s Church. Exercising authority is not the same as giving counsel, sharing wisdom, and in some cases making decisions. These are not functions that are being necessarily forbidden in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
What role or roles are being forbidden to women?
There appears to be only one role being withheld from women: as elders/pastors over men in the Church. Since the “teaching” and “exercising authority” duties are held by elders, and Paul specifically uses the phrase “over a man”, we should not extend these restrictions any further than Scripture does. This would mean that women could:
- teach children
- teach women
- teach youth
- have authority over children
- have authority over youth
- have authority over other women in certain circumstances
- function as a guest speaker in church gatherings
- write and publish
- speak on Christian radio/podcasts
These, and many other leadership roles, are not Biblically withheld from women. Essentially, anything that is not an elder role over men is within Scriptural bounds. Of course, women who are in positions of leadership still need to meet other spiritual qualifications and demonstrate competence for their role (as any leader would), but their gender would not alter their qualification in any circumstance other than eldership.
Isn’t this command from Paul based on his cultural views?
This is an important question. I have heard it said by many who permit women pastors that Paul’s command is not binding in modern times because of the cultural view of women in his day. For instance, it was common for men and women to sit on separate sides during church gatherings, and (some say) that women would attempt to speak with their husbands across the room if they did not understand what was being said by the preacher. This would warrant Paul’s command to “learn quietly” and “remain quiet”.
Another factor is that women were not commonly well educated in Paul’s day. They would have been unlearned, often unable to read at all, and therefore unfit to serve as teachers. By contrast, women in our society are often highly educated and there are no real distinctions in the ability to learn between men and women.
While these arguments point out some significant cultural truths, the problem with basing one’s opinion on them is that Paul does not base his command on culture or the level of education among women. So, these arguments do not really push against the actual reasoning Paul uses.
What is Paul’s basis for making the command?
Paul forbids women elders not based on culture or personal views but on the order of creation. This is made plain by the very next verses (1 Timothy 2:13-14):
 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
The “for” in verse 13 shows that what Paul is about to say is the basis for the command. Women cannot be elders (teach or have authority over a man) for or because Adam was created first by God, and it was Eve who was deceived by the serpent. This is important for a number of reasons.
First, the appeal to the creation order means that cultural barriers are removed. Adam was not formed first because he lived in a male-driven society. Neither did Paul choose this command because of cultural conditioning that had brainwashed his view. Instead, it was simply God’s plan to do it that way.
Second, the appeal to creation means that sin is not a factor. Adam and Eve were created perfect, and everything was “very good” before they sinned and the Fall took place. It can’t be argued that the order of creation is a mistake or is distorted because of sin, since there was no sin at that time.
Third, the appeal to creation means education level is not the basis for the command. There is no reason to believe that Adam and Eve were all that different in terms of their knowledge. Nothing from Genesis gives us any hint to believe that God’s choice to make Adam first had anything to do with learning abilities. Again, it was simply God’s choice to do it that way.
Fourth, the appeal to creation means that sexism cannot be accused. Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God; they are therefore equals with the same value as human beings. Neither is more important than the other, but merely different.
Was Paul right to use the order of creation as the reason to forbid women pastors?
In short, yes. If you were to suggest otherwise, you would be questioning that Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, therefore questioning if 1 Timothy even belongs in the canon of Scripture, and even subtly questioning if any of Paul’s writings belong in the Bible. If one would still put this suggestion forward, that is a topic for another blog post.
What about Paul’s mention of Eve’s deception? Is he implying that women are more gullible than men?
This is something that some scholars have suggested. However, I am not comfortable making that statement because I’m not sure that Paul was making a sweeping generalization about women. It could be argued that Paul is saying that women are more easily deceived than men and therefore not suited to lead as elders, and there are other passages that hint at the same thing (2 Timothy 3:6 for instance). Still, you could read the verse another way. Some have suggested that women were disqualified from eldership because their representative, Eve, lost them that opportunity by falling prey to the serpent’s deception. I am not convinced either way. I prefer to stick to Paul’s first and primary reason (the order of creation) and do not need any further explanation. God does not need to give reasons for his decisions in order for us to obey them.
Are there other verses that teach an exclusive male eldership?
Not exactly, but there are numerous passages and Biblical examples that would support this line of thinking. Some would include:
- Genesis 2:18-13. As already mentioned, the order of creation is the reason for male eldership.
- 1 Timothy 3:2. Just a few verses after the passage we are studying, Paul lists one qualification for eldership as being “the husband of one wife”. The assumption seems to be that elders would only ever be a “husband”, not a wife.
- Ephesians 5:22-33. In addressing how households should operate, it is plainly said that “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church”. The concept of headship indicates leadership. It seems fitting then, that as men are to be heads of their households, so also the family of God should have men as the head as well (under the ultimate headship of Christ). In addition, how could a woman pastor have authority over her husband in the Church while having him be her head in the home?
- Titus 2:3-5. This passage says that women should teach other women, be “working at home” and “submissive to their own husbands”, again showing a deference of leadership to men.
- Old Testament elders are men. There is no record of any of Israel’s elders being women. Instead, the family heads and community leaders are always listed as being men (Deuteronomy 1:13, Exodus 18:21 for example).
- Old Testament priests are men. The priests of Israel are all men in the lineage of Levi.
- Israel’s kings are men. There is no mention of any woman being queen over Israel.
- Israel’s judges are men, with the exception of Deborah. Only one woman is mentioned as being a judge over Israel, showing the pattern of male leadership to be consistent. More on Deborah shortly.
- The disciples and apostles are all men. Though there are some important women in the ministry of the early Church, none of Jesus’ disciples or the apostles are women.
These verses individually do not prove male eldership, but together with 1 Timothy 2:11-12, there is an overwhelming pattern of male leadership in the Bible.
What about women in the Bible who are leaders?
There are some women in the Bible exercising forms of leadership. How can we square the teaching of Paul away with their examples?
- Deborah. As the only female judge among 13 mentioned, Deborah is the most prominent example of female leadership in the Bible. Most certainly she performed duties such as teaching and exercising authority over men. The reason Deborah does not nullify the command in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is because she is not under the authority of the New Testament. Her leadership did not violate any commands in the Old Testament, the Bible of her day. Therefore, she does not stand as an example of female eldership under the New Testament framework.
- Huldah. The only female prophet of her day, Huldah also did not live under the authority of the New Testament, nor did she break any commands by functioning as a prophetess. Women were not forbidden from prophesying even in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:5).
- Esther. Esther served as queen while Israel was under Babylonian captivity. However, she technically was the queen of Babylon and not Israel. Not only this, she still was under the authority of her own husband, the king.
- Priscilla. In Acts 18:26, Priscilla’s name is mentioned before her husbands name. Some have taken this to mean that she was the more prominent figure in their ministry together. This may be true. However, in Acts 18, the couple pulls aside a preacher names Apollos in order to correct him on something he had taught. This appears to be a brief time of discipleship for Apollos under the couple’s care but does not necessarily mean that Priscilla did anything to contradict 1 Timothy 2:11-12. We should not assume this to be the case since Scripture is not clear about it. Apparently, this couple also hosted church gatherings in their house (Romans 16:5), but there is no mention that Priscilla is an elder of that congregation.
- Phoebe. While being described as a “servant” in the Church, there is no mention of Phoebe functioning in an elder capacity.
- Lydia. A wealthy businesswoman and worshipper of God, she is never said to be a pastor in the New Testament Church.
- Nympha. Like Priscilla, Nympha’s house functioned as a church gathering place, but there is no mention of her being a pastor of that gathering.
Quite simply, there is not one woman in the Bible who is explicitly mentioned as being in the role of elder/pastor. Conversely, every time the role is mentioned, it is done with masculine pronouns.
What about Galatians 3:28?
This verse is one that some cite as support for allowing women to be pastors. It states:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The phrase “no male and female” is taken by some to mean that there should be no distinctions based on gender in God’s Church. Yet this is not an acceptable meaning for two reasons. Firstly, the passage is speaking of the openness of salvation to all. The sacrifice of Christ and forgiveness from God is available to all people regardless of race, social status, or gender. Leadership is not in mind. Secondly, there must be gender distinctions within the Church, otherwise one would need to permit homosexual relationships as a God-approved practice. Granted, there are people who would make that claim, but again, that is for a different blog post.
Are there any circumstances where a woman could be a pastor?
I would argue that there could be. The main one that comes to mind is on the mission field, where the gospel has been recently introduced to a people group and there are only a few converts to the faith. If the most qualified person to lead that group (based on spiritual qualifications, doctrinal understanding, literacy etc.), besides the missionary, is female, then I would think that would be a suitable thing, if only as a temporary fix. Even still, I have never heard of such extreme circumstances and I do not expect that they would be very common.
Are women who are currently pastors sinning?
This may be the toughest question of them all. It does seem to me that women pastors are not obeying the Bible’s teaching on this subject and therefore would be doing something that God does not approve of. That is one way to define sin. At the same time, most women pastors – perhaps all – believe they are within the bounds of Scripture. I have never met a female pastor who believed that what she was doing is contrary to the Word of God. It would be much easier to call it sin if that were the case. But since women pastors are leading with sincerity, believing that they are not living outside the bounds of Scripture, I am not very comfortable calling it blatant sin. I will leave that judgment up to God. I would hope though that the teaching of the Bible is taken seriously and wrestled with before one takes on a position of authority in the Church.
When I have had these discussions with those who disagree with the view I’ve laid out, one challenge that is posed to me concerns the call of God. How can I refute that God has called someone into ministry? How can I question that a person has felt God’s call on their life? This is a tricky issue to navigate. On one hand I do not like to presume that I know God’s voice better than someone else. Nor do I like to imply that someone has wrongly heard God’s call. On the other hand, I believe that any time we “hear” God’s voice it should be tested first by the Word of God. If what we think we have heard is not approved of by Scripture, then we have not truly heard the voice of God. Again, this is a sensitive matter but an important one nonetheless.
One final thought
Something else should be said in all of this. While I believe that women do not qualify Biblically as pastors, I would say that does not automatically mean that men do either. Quite the contrary! The qualifications laid out for pastors in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are steep. Many men who currently occupy pastoral roles do not qualify. Being male is just one qualification; there are about a dozen others that are meant to weed out those who are not meant to lead God’s Church. This why James warns that “not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). These are words to be taken soberly. Jesus’ Church functions best when it’s leaders meet all of the qualifications that God has laid out in his Word. It is no small thing to live up to.
Great article! You hit all sides of the arguement and never stretch or take verses out of context.
I would have to disagree with you comment on Phebeo. Paul used the same word in Romans 16:1 to describe her as a deacon (though that word may be translated to servant, it is translated in other key texts as deacon).
Hi Christina, thanks for reading and responding. With reference to Phoebe, I would agree that Paul is calling her a deacon, and I believe the office of deacon is open to women. Being a deacon is not the same as being an elder/pastor.
Hi Jeremy, Phoebe was also referred to using the Greek word “prostatis.” In its verb form, when used of men, it is typcially translated “rule” or “lead.” In fact, the word is used to refer to the roles of both Paul and Timothy in the New Testament. Unfortunately, English translations like the King James translate this word as “rule” for men and “servant” for Phoebe, a woman. There’s no contextual or linguistic basis for the difference in translation. The translators of the King James Bible, however, lived in a profoundly patriarchal culture, and the church had long since done away with leadership for women via canon law. Canon law, by the way, is largely related to the research of a monk named Gratian; he based his understanding of women’s roles not on the Bible, but rather on Roman law and the commentary works of the early church fathers (e.g. St. Augustine).
Every word study I’ve seen says that this passage is calling Phoebe a servant or a deacon, a position that does have a sense of leadership to it. But I am not making issue of women as deacons or leaders in various forms other than that of elder/pastor, which Phoebe clearly was not.
Hey Jeremy, I did one of my Masters papers on this one. I ticked my prof off. Some findings; learning in silence was the role of the student. There is a time constraint on this command. What do you do once the woman has learned? Silence was a vow a student took from the teacher. Some cultures would take a 2 year vow of silence to learn from the teacher. What is expected once the 2 years is up? If you look at the deeper context of I Timothy we are dealing with “weak willed women teaching fables and wives tales.” This has to be read into the context. What do we do with Pheobe in Romans 16:1-2 who is called “Diakonos” (masculin) or Deacon, not deaconess or servant. It is assumed that a deacon is a servant, but the literal word is deacon. If you look in the rest of the New Testament the only other time diakonos is translated as servant it is where diakonos is used twice in the same sentence, the first time as deacon, second time as servant. Every other singular occurrence it is translated as deacon. The problem we have in the modern church is many men are not living up to the standard of eldership, lacking integrity, love, consistency. If a woman had all the integral qualities but lacked the gender should she be excluded and determined that this is not her gifting? The problem I have with excluding women is that we do not put the same standard on the men. I have known women leaders who I would follow in a heart-beat. In the passages where there are obvious cultural or social items that are being addressed (head-coverings, being saved through child bearing) we have to be careful with how far we go with the rest of the passages. In our modern world many churches are majority women in attendance (many divorced) and myself as a minister am not able to help and connect with the needs of the modern women. I see it as downright dangerous and not willing to put my relationship with Susanne in jeopardy that way. It only makes sense that we start exploring women in leadership to minister to the needs of women. We also have to see that I Timothy is a letter to Timothy. It is a response to questions that he asked and we can only do an autopsy so far to figure out what these questions were. If we have “weak willed ‘men’ who are teaching fables and wives tales” in leadership are they being removed? Paul is giving Timothy a standard based on the people that he is ministering to in Ephesus. At the center of Ephesus was a statue erected to the Godess Artemus, a powerful woman presence. Can you hear women roar? We have to read the social context into Pauls writings as well. Our role of Pastor is a modern creation/spin-off of the elder. If we want to be purists we should not have pastors, just elders, which some denominations have done. With regard to the women in the “Old” Testament we have to be careful. It should be regarded as the “Other” Testament and not “Old.” We still use laws that transcend time, culture and society (10 Commandments as an example) and if we start declaring exculsions based on being “Old Testament” where do we stop? I do not want a weak willed person excercising authority over me, man or woman. I want someone with God’s heart leading, teaching, guiding me, man or woman.
Thanks for responding thoughtfully. I’ll attempt to address your comments briefly.
(1) Phoebe was definitely a deacon or deaconess, but she was not an elder and that’s the role I am addressing in the article.
(2) Women were meant to learn so that they could teach, but not to teach authoritatively over men. Paul said “let women learn” which was a culturally shocking statement at that time. Still, he restricted their teaching freedom to exclude men. Women ought to use their gifts and serve Christ in all kids of ways, except the one way the God has withheld from them.
(3) You say we should explore women in leadership, and I would agree completely with the exception of eldership. I did mention that many men who serve as pastors are not qualified. Should they be removed? I would say yes. Churches ought to have stricter standards in hiring practices as well. In all honesty, I feel that a major reason that many churches struggle is because of having unqualified leadership. My encouragement would be to have only as many churches as there are qualified leaders, rather than going outside Scriptural bounds to place women in pastoral roles.
(4) Paul’s letter to Timothy was canonized, making it binding on the whole Church. Additionally, the teaching coincides with the rest of the New Testament teaching on leadership – always male.
(5) We do need to drop some things from the Old Testament as binding on the Church. The reason male leadership is not dropped is because it appears to be continued into the New Testament. Besides, the basis for male eldership is not based on the Old Testament but on creation, which alone should be enough to put the issue to rest.
(6) Women in Ephesus did have some issues in terms of idle gossip and teaching wives tales. Yet again, Paul did not appeal to this as the reason for his silencing them. He appealed to creation – there is no getting around it!
In the end, you can make a lot of interesting cultural and rational arguments but none from Scripture. This is a sensitive issue but we need to decide if God’s Word needs modification or not. Do we have a leadership crisis in the Church? You could argue that. But the response should be to stick to the standards of the Bible and not stray from it in an attempt to solve the issues. As I see it, approving women pastors is outside of Scriptural bounds and shows a lack of trust in God’s Word. We have to believe and live by the hard stuff of the Bible too, no matter how much we may want to bend.
The creation order in Genesis can only be binding assuming that one believes it happened precisely as written. I certainly don’t want to kick off a debate on evolution, but it is worth noting that not all Christians will accept that the Genesis creation account is factually accurate (even if it’s “true” in a more general sense), so your argument is not universal.
I don’t want to start a debate on scriptural interpretation either, because that is inherently a difficult issue. Two well-meaning, bible-believing, God-loving Christians can read the same passage of scripture and come to two very different conclusions. As compelling as “this is what Scripture says” arguments can be, they can be easily undercut by anyone who happens to interpret scripture differently. Even ‘secondary issues’ can have wide-reaching effects on an individual’s worldview. For example, your position says that, excluding physical/biological facts, men can do everything women can, but women cannot do everything men can. This is not necessarily direct sexism, but it absolutely creates a more sexist worldview. Men have this special ability women don’t.
My biggest problem is how arbitrary it is. As you rightfully note, there is absolutely no difference in education, intelligence, or capacity and ability for leadership between men and women. The bible saying that only men are allowed to do something at which both men and women can be equally qualified and skilled is completely baseless. And it’s worth noting that it is this one bit of the Bible which says no – not God directly; and possibly not even Paul. (The authorship of many of the epistles attributed to Paul, including 1&2 Timothy, are highly disputed). The possibility of an instruction – even one justified by an interpretation of Scripture – being primarily based on cultural norms (especially from a patriarchal and highly sexist culture) seems far more likely to me than God deciding on a whim to bar women from one specific kind of authority for no real reason other than “I created man first”.
More importantly, I’d argue that that the biblical support for women in positions of authority you mention ought to carry far more weight than you give them. In the context of that patriarchal and sexist culture, the fact that we have written records of women leading or educating men in any capacity is extremely significant. That is just not something that happened in the ancient world. That’s not something that happened at any point in history until extremely recently.
So how, exactly, is the lack of explicit reference to (specifically New Testament) women pastors makes an argument against them? There are other ways (some of which you note) to interpret this verse from 1 Timothy which allow for women pastors in general. If you started from one of those interpretations, one could easily see implicit references to women leaders and take that as viable evidence. It comes back to interpretation.
And I’d definitely like to contest your rejection of Old Testament examples of female leaders in Israel. This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone use “New Covenant” to argue for MORE arbitrary rules being placed on the Church. If Old Testament women were allowed to lead and teach men, how exactly did Christ’s sacrifice take that ability away? I can absolutely see how Christ’s death and resurrection frees us from the Law; I cannot see any way in which that event arbitrarily withholds and opportunity previously granted to half the human race. Isn’t the New Covenant supposed to bring freedom?
At the end of the day, I look to the person of Christ. What I see is someone who consistently raised women up, defying the social and cultural sexism of his time. And I see someone who always gave logical reasons for everything he taught. Christ’s teachings are not irrational and arbitrary; they’re based on love and common sense. From Matthew 15:17 (food can’t defile because it’s passed through the body), to Mark 2:27 (the sabbath is made for man), Jesus actively dismantles the arbitrary rules and limits of the religious leaders in favour of love, compassion, and inclusiveness. I cannot see that Jesus sitting down with a brilliant woman gifted in teaching and saying, “Of course my child, teach the world about me, lead my sheep – just make sure no one you teach with a ‘Y’ chromosome is over 18; that would be totally wrong”. If there exist women with the gift of teaching and leadership, and we are told to use our gifts to glorify God, that, to me, is perfectly clear evidence that they should be allowed to use those gifts to honour God in any way they can.
Hey Jon, a few things you mentioned jumped out to me. One is your initial comment that the order of creation argument only works if you take the account literally. I’ll agree with you that I don’t want to start a debate down that road! You are right – one’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 would change if a person saw Genesis 1-2 as allegory. I would counter to that person that the reference to Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy 2 ought to make them reconsider if Genesis was literal or allegorical.
To be clear, I don’t “reject” OT examples of women who lead. All I am saying is that they did not function as NT elders and so you can’t compare the two as if they are the same.
Last, I’m not comfortable with your final paragraph. Jesus is without doubt the Word become flesh, and so he is the perfect representation of God. Yet in saying that he would see things differently than Paul you are undermining the Holy Spirit as the author of the whole Bible. Jesus DID in fact seem to agree with Paul – he chose only men as his disciples, for instance. But even more, if the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible, then no part of the Bible is overridden by Jesus. Instead, it MUST be congruent because it comes from the same God.
Your post is an excellent representation of the Bible commentary work of St. Augustine in the 4th Century A.D.. These views once more became predominant through the work of Calvin during the Protestant Reformation. Today, there has been a resurgence of these views through a Neo-Calvinist movement led by complementarian leaders like Owen Strachan.
Unfortunately, Augustine’s work does not do justice to the operative verb in 1 Timothy 2:12: “authentein.” Here are the results of an exhaustive study examining the meaning of this word from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D., completed in 2010 by Leland Wilshire:
-Polybius used the word authenten, 2nd century B.C., to mean the “doer of a massacre.”
-The word authentian is used in III Macabees, 1st century B.C., to mean “restrictions” or “rights.”
-Diodorus Siculus used three variations of the word (authentais, authenten, authentas), 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D., to mean “perpetrators of sacrilege,” “author of crimes” and “supporters of violent actions.”
-Philo Judaeus used the word authentes, 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D., to mean “being one’s own murderer.”
-Flavius Josephus used the words authenten and authentas, 1st century A.D., to mean “perpetrator of a crime” and “perpetrators of a slaughter.”
-The apostle Paul used the word authentein once during the same time period as Diodorus, Philo and Josephus. [I believe, therefore, that it likely had a similar meaning, particularly given an Ephesian context, see below]
-Appian of Alexander used the word authentai three times, and the word authenten twice, 2nd century A.D., to mean “murderers,” slayer,” “slayers of themselves” and “perpetrators of evil.”
-Sim. of the Shepherd of Hermas used the word authentes, 2nd century A.D., to mean “builder of a tower.”
-A homily by Pseudo-Clement used the word authentes once, ? A.D., to mean “sole power.”
-Irenaeus used the word authenias three times, 2nd century A.D., to mean “authority.”
-Harpocration used the word authentes, 2nd century A.D., to mean “murderer.”
-Phrynichus used the word authentes once, 2nd century A.D., to mean “one who murders by his own hand.” (Wilshire, 2010, p. 28)
Whereas the word authentein was used on rare occasions (e.g. by Irenaeus) to denote authority, it was much more commonly used to indicate something violent, murderous or suicidal. In the Septuagint, a noun form of the word “authentas” is used to denote human sacrifices to a false god.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he warns against: false teachers, mythology, extreme forms of self-denial, doctrines of demons and ideas that are falsely called knowledge. If authentein is understood in this context, and in light of its most common uses during the New Testament era, Paul may also be warning against the teaching and practicing of ritual violence against men.
The priestessess of a cult that was centered in Ephesus did in fact preside over an annual ceremony that involved the ritual castration of men who wished to serve the goddess. The castration symbolized the death (by castration) of an immoral god named Attis. In this “mythology” the female goddess was the source of all life and purity. The male god, on the other hand, was a source of evil, deception and betrayal. He was killed by castration, then raised back to life without his male genitalia. In this new sexless form, the goddess considered him to be pure and worthy enough to serve her.
These priests underwent ritual castration, they fasted from various foods and were not permitted to marry. In his letter to Timothy Paul explains that he is warning against false doctrines that do indeed teach people to abstain from certain foods and avoid marriage. The eradication of the body’s appetites was portrayed as the path to connection with the gods.
This goddess (Cybele was her name) was worshipped mainly by women as the deity that would save them (spiritually) should they die in childbirth. Archaelogical findings in Miletus, just south of Ephesus, provide us with this information. You may notice that Paul makes reference to salvation in childbirth in 1 Timothy 2 as well. Further, by the second century A.D. the goddess myths related to creation were being combined with the Genesis account by groups calling themselves Christian. Eve took on characteristics of the goddess, as the source of life, purity and wisdom. Paul’s reference to the Genesis account, in which Adam was a source of life and Eve also played a role in humanity’s fall would correct this kind of error.
You do a good job of representing the views of the early church fathers and the Latin Vulgate. Unfortunately, Jerome viewed women as “classed among the greatest evils.” Augustine equated men with the spirit and women with the flesh. He insisted, therefore that just as the spirit must rule the flesh, men must rule over women. He admittedly got this idea from Plato’s philosophy, not the Bible.
Sadly, subsequent English translations of the Bible followed Jerome’s example. Recent archaelogical discoveries and the completion of an online database containing all known ancient Greek literature (including over 300 examples of the word authentein) shed new light on 1 Timothy chapter 2 and the meaning it likely had for Timothy and his new church in Ephesus.
Food for thought, I hope.
Hi Jeremy, you really have been thoughtful, thank you for that. And yes, I agree that this issue is complex. I hope that you get a chance to investigate those resources. I found them very “eye-opening.”
Regarding the complementarian tone of Scripture, I agree that it is there–but see a dramatic shift from the oldest Greek manuscripts to present-day English translations.
Commands are added to the text (e.g. “Wives be subject to your husbands” Eph 5:22, wives “ought to be subject” to husbands in Eph. 5:24).
Headings are added to the text (e.g. Wives Submit to Your Husbands, in the NKJV).
Verbs translated as “lead,” “rule,” “manage,” for men, are translated differently for women: serve, succor, help.
The verb authentein evolving over time from something violent or sacrilegious to the simple exercise of authority.
King James saying that it’s bad for women to rule, when the Septuagint says it’s bad for tax-gatherers to rule etc.. There are so many examples of a patriarchal bias in biblical translation, this could go on for some time.
I honestly couldn’t believe that the Bible had been handled so poorly. That was the biggest sticking point for me. That’s why I had to see for myself from the manuscript evidence, and why I had to learn New Testament Greek.
What I found through that process staggered my mind. Bushnell’s book looks at this very thoroughly. Most translation committees historically have been made up of all men, most if not all of whom held a patriarchal view of gender relations. In some cases, the English translations almost seem to convey the opposite message as what can be found in the Greek text. It was very alarming and anxiety-provoking.
I came to accept that whereas the original Scriptures penned by the apostles were truly “God-breathed,” the work of scribes, interpreters and translators evidently was not.
This doesn’t mean we can’t have confidence in the Bible, but it does mean that we should “study and show ourselves approved” so to speak. The manuscript evidence is more available than ever through technology, and so are excellent courses in the ancient languages along with online lexical aids etc..
Thank you for patiently reading all of the thoughts I’ve shared, and responding with grace. I’m thankful for the exchange.