But I do not allow a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. 1 Timothy 2:12
Exercise Authority – You have got to be kidding me! That is probably the immediate contemporary reaction to the face-value interpretation of Paul’s remark. If what Paul says is really the biblical model for the proper actions of women, then a whole lot of us stand condemned on this one. Paul seems to be saying (and the Church seems to be endorsing) women are to shut up, be subservient and take care of the home. If this is really the biblical intention, then we sin when women are in authority, teach, direct, manage, preach or speak both inside and outside the Body. No wonder some women think Paul is a misogynist.
For more than a thousand years, the Church employed a Greek philosophical paradigm when it interpreted this verse. That Greek model comes directly from Plato and Aristotle who taught that women were defective men. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say Greek philosophers despised women, considering them intellectually inferior, emotionally immature and generally incapable of the actions and attitudes of men. The early church fathers were immersed in Greek philosophy so it is not surprising to find their exegesis reflects Plato and the Academy. As a result of this paradigm, the Church and the culture engaged in withholding education, development and leadership from women. Predictably, the result merely confirmed what the paradigm taught: women were inferior.
But Paul is no Platonist. He is a Second Temple rabbi. His approach to the role and status of women is based in Scripture, not philosophy. A thorough analysis of Paul’s full understanding of women would reveal exactly what he shares in Galatians 3:28. In the Body, there is no hierarchy! All the world’s false distinctions – Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – are overcome and set aside. So, what do we do with this apparent misogyny.
In the Greek text, Paul deliberately switches from the plural “women” when he talks about godly behavior for the whole congregation to the singular “woman” when he exhorts Timothy in this passage. In other words, Paul has a particular woman in mind, someone who is causing plenty of disturbance and distress among the Body. Paul directs this woman to be silent. Why? Because she is usurping authority, grasping at control that is not properly hers. The Greek verb here, authentein, is used only one time in all the New Testament and for good reason. It comes from the word authentes which means “a self-appointed killer with one’s own hand.” In other words, this verb is about domination, not leadership. It is associated with a murderer, an absolute dictator, a tyrant. Paul says this woman seeks to rule with an iron hand. Her actions must not be allowed because in the Body there is no place for an autocrat, whether man or woman. Telling her to be silent employs a Hebrew expression about serious contemplation of humility.
Paul, the apostle of unity in the Body, the messenger of equally distributed grace, the herald of the destruction of all class and gender distinctions, could not possibly instruct the Body to relegate one gender to the corner. This instruction is about an unruly, unrestrained person who wants to run the show. In this case, the subject is a women, but it could just as well have been a man. In the Body, this sort of action doesn’t work.
Oh yes, and Paul is so concerned about the circumstances and the woman involved that he doesn’t name her. Even in his discipline, he demonstrates consideration.
Now that you are no longer under the false, Greek-based misunderstanding of Paul’s concern, don’t you think it’s time to correct twenty centuries of mistakes?
Topical Index: women, authority, authentein, domination, 1 Timothy 2:12