To Have Authority

###Curious bits of 1 Timothy###

The other thing that’s been bothering me lately is less of a hot topic, and at the same time a little more complex. It has to do with the second half of the sentence “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man,” in 1 Timothy 2:12. What does this phrase “to have authority over a man mean?” Once again, it sounds obvious and deeply offensive to the modern mind: Paul is a misogynist and wants to hold women down. More charitably, he’s establishing God’s order for church, possibly reaffirming a hierarchy that has been intrinsic to humankind from the beginning: that the men should be the leaders of the community.

That may be so, and if it is, it comes with a bundle of questions about how we are to implement such a hierarchy in our society, and how that might affect our worldview. But the thing that has my attention is the idea of hierarchy itself. As I mentioned earlier, as an American, I have this gut-level *need* to make everybody basically equal. I’m very content with the idea of meritocracy. I have no problem with admitting that there must be some kind of structure, some kind of decision and command process, and awarding positions of power to those who desire them and prove their capability to fill the role. That is, I’m an instinctive egalitarian, though I recognize that there are fundamental differences in temperament between men and women which may lead to different roles.

1 Timothy seems to fly in the face of my egalitarianism. First the word in the passage itself, “authentein,” to exercise authority, is not the normal word we see translated as “authority.” In fact, this is the only time the word is used in the entire New Testament. The normal word is “exousia,” meaning something along the lines of capacity, or a sphere of influence – “Tell us by what authority you do these things.” Exousia is the kind of authority we’re comfortable with. In a congregational church, the authority of God is understood to be vested in the congregation as a whole, so that they can appoint or remove the minister who operates under that delegated authority. An evangelical preacher insists that his message is not based on what he thinks, but upon the final authority of the scripture.

Authentein means something quite different. Part of the word is the Greek equivalent of the English word “himself,” and it contains the idea that it’s possible to order things on one’s own authority. You could even translate it something like “have self-authority.”

Is it even possible to have self-authority? To order and demand and insist on things being a certain way simply based on who you are? To a certain extent, yes: it’s exactly what Jesus did when he insisted that he had the authority to forgive sins. But the fact that Jesus could forgive sins is bound up in the fact that he was God in flesh. To say that anybody else has self-authority like this is preposterous. Such a person would be a usurper, a dictator, and illegal entity, a tyrant. This is why the King James authorized translation says, “I do not allow a woman to *usurp* authority over a man.”

In fact, one way of reading the text, favored by NT Wright, is to say that verse 12 is nothing more than Paul’s assurance to Timothy that he doesn’t intend, by allowing women to educate themselves, to instigate some kind of feminist revolution. Paul intends to elevate women to their proper place as men’s equals, not to establish them as tyrants over their husbands.

But I’m not satisfied. There’s also a grammar problem. Most translations say something about usurping or having power *over* a man. But this doesn’t read right in the Greek. A literal translation would seems to say, “I do not allow a woman to have self-authority *of a man*.” Curiouser and Curiouser. Now, my Greek is weak, and this may be a standard way of saying “over” in this kind of context, but it reads to me that Paul is saying he doesn’t allow a woman to have a man’s authority, that is, *the kind of authority that naturally comes with being a man*.

Lost lost! This is precisely the sort of thing that I don’t want to hear: that some people are naturally more equipped to be authoritative than others, that it is their right and responsibility to do so. Worse still is the implication that this distinction can be determined not only by natural demonstrations of leadership, but by certain easily marked physical attributes. Is he a man? Then he ought to be a leader. Is she a woman? Then she ought not to usurp the natural authority that comes with being male. Oh, who can deliver me from such a conclusion?

2 thoughts on “To Have Authority”

  1. My deepest understanding on the subject deals with corollaries to the refinement physics universe models or God’s temporal revealment of on how the universe works. However deep understanding does not mean I can easily or accurately articulate it. Where I would end up with the explanation could be summed up with two Fortune Cookie truisms: First things may not work the way you think they work but it rarely matters if remain within the center of common experiences. The second is from quantum mechanics, the stuff that make much of our modern technology possible, that measurements are only True the moment they are made and do not necessarily indicate anything about the past or the future. I’ll bring the two into the discussion that follows:

    We all agree that 1 Timothy was a letter from Paul to Timothy. Of course not a simple letter of today as it involved scribes and couriers and all the first century processes for sending a letter across political domains. He also wrote with authority from God as spelled out in 1 Timothy 1. Paul’s intended audience for the letter was limited. Later, at the time of the canonization of the bible this letter was included. I suspect that it along with other of Paul’s letters even contributed to the canonization process as I have learned many of them were gathered together prior to the canonization as a sort of pre-bible. One criteria of canonization was universality – Is the book being read and practiced in the churches throughout the Body of Christ? This criterion addresses the degree to which the people of God recognize and accept the authority of the book under consideration. Since 1 Timothy was unanimously agreed to be included, the people of God recognized and accepted 1 Timothy as true Circa 300 AD. Here is were it becomes sticky, 2700 years later the audience has changed because God is a living God and has reveled more and speaks to us in today’s reveled world frame of reference. It is certainly not in the center of my common experience that God has deemed a hierarchical order of his Church based on sex. What would Paul write to me today if I were Timothy? Or to ask the same thing what does God say to me today directly or indirectly? Well if I had any doubt about it 28 years ago I would have married differently. My walk with the Lord has produced many doubts and resolved a few but this has not been one of them.

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  2. -second try at post, first got clipped somehow-
    Well insomuch as this passage has affected me personally I’ll give my thoughts; even though it will go against family harmony.

    First I will to put on the table my bias. I also have your stated bias that America is about equality and leadership is rightly given to those who have the desire, education, experience and demonstrated works. In addition my Family was stated 28 years ago today when Judy and I were married in her church by a women pastor. I thought a the time a women pastor was different because I had never attended a church with a women pastor but I have not considered it then or now that there was anything wrong with it. However that is not a universally shared view, and some would claim we have been living in sin for 28 years and that Julie is a bustard mostly because of 1 Timothy 2:12. I assume that is the view with in some of the family given what I know of the doctrine they espouse. I am grateful of it never being voiced.

    My deepest understanding on the subject deals with corollaries to the refinement physics universe models or God’s temporal revealment of on how the universe works. However deep understanding does not mean I can easily or accurately articulate it. Where I would end up with the explanation could be summed up with two Fortune Cookie truisms: First things may not work the way you think they work but it rarely matters if the things remain within the center of common experiences. The second is from quantum mechanics, the stuff that make much of our modern technology possible, that measurements are only True the moment they are made and do not necessarily indicate anything about the past or the future. I’ll try to bring the two into the discussion that follows:

    We all agree that 1 Timothy was a letter from Paul to Timothy. Of course not a simple letter of today as it involved scribes and couriers and all the first century processes for sending a letter across political domains. He also wrote with authority from God as spelled out in 1 Timothy 1. Paul’s intended audience for the letter was limited. Later, at the time of the canonization of the bible this letter was included. I suspect that it along with other of Paul’s letters even contributed to the canonization process as I have learned many of them were gathered together prior to the canonization as a sort of pre-bible. One criteria of canonization was universality – Is the book being read and practiced in the churches throughout the Body of Christ? This criterion addresses the degree to which the people of God recognize and accept the authority of the book under consideration. Since 1 Timothy was unanimously agreed to be included, the people of God recognized and accepted 1 Timothy as true Circa 300 AD. Here is were it becomes sticky, 2700 years later the audience has changed because God is a living God and has reveled more and speaks to us in today’s reveled world frame of reference. It is certainly not in the center of my common experience that God has deemed a hierarchical order of his Church based on sex. What would Paul write to me today if I were Timothy? Or to ask the same thing what does God say to me today directly or indirectly? Well if I had any doubt about it 28 years ago I would have married differently. My walk with the Lord has produced many doubts and resolved a few but this has not been one of them.

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