exousia vs authentein

Ostrich Clip Art

Five years ago, I posted a comment at the Dalrock blog about Paul’s instructions regarding the supposed authority of men over women in the church. I said this:

The grammar of 1 Tim 2:12 is highly ambiguous. [..] The proper interpretation rests on the rendering of authentein, a word only used once in the NT (!!). In the hundreds of known uses, it implies aggressiveness and abuse. It does not refer to the normal use of authority (exousía). A better rendering would be to abuse authority in a dominating way.

This set off a firestorm (including a follow-up post entitled “Bespoke Epistles” designed to mock me).

Firestorm

Gunner Q responded incredulously:

You claim the Bible had a severe translation error that went undetected for millenia until sex-pozzed clergy discovered it in the 1980s… a correction that just happened to legitimize their PREEXISTING attitudes and practices?

Boxer said:

Do you understand why the men in this forum have a problem with these tortured attempts at hermeneutics? They have a source which is very clear, only to be told (and not just by you) that “it’s actually not clear at all… it means something totally different than it’s surface-level semantics would suggest… there’s a deep structure here that you’re missing, because you are too stupid to understand it… but I can interpret it for you, provided you do what I say, and give me your money…”

Cane Caldo said:

It is not strange that where natural authority is exercised that the term is exousia, but where a woman exercises authority over a man is authentein.

Info said:

The only reason it was not exousia is that the husband is not the state. He doesn’t have the power to execute his wife the same way the state can execute criminals. [..] Exousia was used in Romans 13 in reference to government Authority who had the power of life and death. Yet was not used in regards to teaching. The bible seems to interpret itself quite well.

Info’s doppelganger would reappear at the Sigma Frame blog to make the same point again:

As for Exousia. It is interesting it is correlated with coercive power like Authority of civil Government. Like the Authority that comes with bearing the sword.

Not a single person on Dalrock’s or Sigma Frame’s site challenged any of these claims. Not a single one.

Response

Paul does not use exousia—the Greek word for authority—in either in Ephesians 5 (talking about a wife submitting to her husband) nor in 1 Timothy 2 (talking about a woman teaching). Those would have been perfect opportunities to declare that men/husbands have authority over women/wives, but he didn’t. Instead, he chose words that didn’t mean “exercising authority over” or “to lead.” Despite this, they still argue that he meant leadership authority anyway because the Bible has been misinterpreted and mistranslated for around fifteen-hundred years. The idea that the church could be wrong for so long is just too great a hurdle to overcome. They’d rather embrace a lie.

All of these objections hinge on one thing in particular: that authentein in 1 Timothy 2 means the normal use of authority. If it didn’t mean the normal use of authority, then it invalidates the claim that women can’t teach in church because they are not permitted the normal use of authority.[2] I’ve noted this before:

[Regarding authentein] “to usurp” or “to dominate” has a negative sense, which is a complementarian or egalitarian argument. Virtually all patriarchal positions rely on it having a positive sense.

To a man, none of them could accept the idea that authentein was an abusive or dominating form of authority, insisting that regardless of what it actually means it must refer to the normal use of authority. Because authentein  is a Hapax Logomenon, it remains unclear what the precise meaning of the word is, just about the only thing we know for sure is that it means something other than exousia.

Let’s now focus on the info doppelganger’s claim: that exousia refers to government authority, those who can enforce the law with the full threat of violence. There is one problem with this, and it is a huge one. Paul uses exousia in the context of marriage. He just doesn’t do so in the places that they think involve authority.

The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. — 1 Corinthians 7:4 (REV)

Finally! Paul uses exousia—authority—in a non-judicial, non-governmental marital sense. And what does he do? He tells women that they have authority over a man’s body! In fact, both men and women possess the same exact authority. There is no ambiguity here. On the key issue of sex (and the sin of deprivation of sex), both husbands and wives have full authority.[1] By Paul’s own words, it is proven false that Paul used the ultra-rare authentein instead of exousia because both are the normal use of authority but exousia is only applicable with respect to government authority.

Now let’s focus on Cane Caldo’s claim that when a woman exercises authority over a man it is a perversion of nature and when a man exercises authority it is natural. Not only is this circular reasoning—it assumes that a woman cannot teach in order to prove the interpretation of authentein means a woman cannot teach—but it doesn’t make sense in light of 1 Corinthians 7:4. Women can and do have authority over their husband’s body. This proves that a woman can indeed exercise authority over a man in a natural way.

As a secondary grammatical note, nowhere in the patriarchal passages[3] does Paul ever use the Greek words for ‘lead’, ‘leader’, ‘authority’, or the preposition ‘over’ in the context of men’s and women’s responsibilities. The phrase “a woman exercises authority over a man” is an artificial construction not found nowhere, except for 1 Corinthians 7:4, where a woman’s exercise of authority over a man is expressly supported.

As for Boxer, I believe he was being facetious. He knew full well that the commentators embrace the authority of the ‘source’ English translation over the authority of the Greek original. For only a small cost, he can explain why his version is correct! Boxer’s comment is a clever warning about bias and finding only what you want to find.

Lastly, Gunner Q’s incredulity is not warranted. The Bible warned of the antichrist, which arose in the 4th century. Many in the church have bought the lie that the Roman Catholic Church was the only church to persist, and so accept its doctrines without question. But the Antichrist has been consistently rejected by the remnant church up until just after the Protestant and Radical Reformations when the Roman Catholic Church lost state power and the church was set free. All I will say is that if you follow the antichrist, who was promised to come, you get false doctrine.

It is also ironic that when the grammatical errors in the KJV were pointed out, the patriarchal interpretation switched form authentein being a negative sense to a positive sense.[2] This is a modern change, a correction that just happened to correspond to the preexisting patriarchal biases.

It’s been five years since I made the original comment and my claim still holds up. The arguments against my claim are not valid. Nevertheless, men everywhere cling to false conceptions about what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about authority.

 

Footnotes

[1] If one were really into creative interpretations, you could say that authority regarding sex is literally a matter of life or death. This would imply that they should not deprive each other’s reproduction rights: husbands and wives should not fail to make babies except for a short time by mutual consent.

[2] The reason the KJV, which uses authority in a negative sense, is still able to be used as a patriarchal text is because it uses an interpretation of the grammar that maintains the patriarchal flavor of the text. However, this grammatical interpretation has long since been rejected by many scholars. When using the correct grammar and authentein in a negative sense, the interpretation is decidedly complementarian or egalitarian. This is why the modern patriarchal interpretation uses authentein in a postive sense.

[3] The patriarchal passages are: 1 Corinthians 11:1-15, 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15; Titus 2:3-5; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1; Colossians 3:18-19

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