exousia vs authentein

Ostrich Clip Art

This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, and submission. See this index.

Five years ago, I posted a comment (PDF) on the Dalrock article “Straining Out Gnats” (PDF) 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” [PDF] designed to mock me).


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 (PDF) 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.


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 elsewhere, 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 discovered and fixed, the patriarchal interpretation also was switched from authentein being a negative sense to a positive sense.[2] This latter 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.



[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


  1. rey jacobs

    When the smart bois get into “the Greek actually says”…especially on a word found only once in the New Testament…they are to be ignored. They say authentein is found only once in the NT, which is supposed to prove that we need them to redefine it for us. But it proves the opposite. Who will know more about classical pagan usage of Greek words? Moderners who don’t read the pagan classics, especially pastors who view them as evil and would never touch them? Or the classically educated KJV translators? And they translated it “usurp authority over”…that is all we need to know on this.

    Furthermore, only stupid people think synonyms don’t exist in ancient languages. This is like the idiocy of making a big and FALSE distinction between agape and phileo. They both mean love, and the distinction between them is FAKE. An example, the story of Jesus asking Peter if he lives him, he uses both words. Dialogue of a story in one gospel will say phileo and in another agape….its the same dialogue! Greek has synonyms just like English. Power and authority for example in English:

    Biden doesn’t have the authority to do this student loan forgiveness without congress.

    Biden doesn’t have the power to do this student loan forgiveness without congress.

    Are they different statements? Let the smart bois apply themselves to the corpus of rey jacobs and see he only used the word power once and argue this means we need them to redefine it for us.

    1. Derek Ramsey

      There is no real evidence that authentein is a synonym of exousia. It is a hapax logomenon in the NT only. Though rare, it is not unknown in ancient literature. Cognates of authentein include:

      In Classical Greek:
      Authentēs — murderer or kin-murderer (e.g. Wisdom 12:6)

      In Hellenistic Greek:
      authentēs — murderer, perpetrator, sponsor, author, mastermind (of a crime or violence)
      authentia — sovereignty, absolute power, supreme authority (e.g. 3 Maccabees 2:29)
      authenteō — master, being powerful, being an author, of using force, of rulership and dominance, acting on one’s own, murdering someone. In short, “to dominate, get one’s way”

      4th Century Greek:
      authenteō — domineering, using force, act the despot

      The vast majority of these uses have a pejorative (or negative) sense, in the sense of coercion: an imposition of the domineering person’s will onto another.

      When the Syriac Peshitta translation was made, it used a word for insolence and bullying. Arabic, Sahidic, and Latin translations were all similar and took place when Koine Greek was still being spoken.

      I don’t see any indication of language drift that might account for the claim that the two words might be used as synonyms. At the very least, the one has a positive connotation and the other a negative connotation, even if you think they both mean ‘exercise authority’. By analogy, ‘usurp’ and ‘exercise’ are not synonyms.

      “When the smart bois get into “the Greek actually says”…especially on a word found only once in the New Testament…they are to be ignored.”

      This is a rough way of saying the standard hermeneutical practice: never base a doctrine on an unclear text. If the meaning isn’t clear, then you can’t be dogmatic. This is especially true of a word like authentein and a passage like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 which is far more unclear than just that single word.

      1. rey jacobs

        “authenteō — … get one’s way”

        So “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to get her own way with a man, but to be in silence.”

        That’s even more patriarichal. Thanks!

        1. rey jacobs

          Better yet, more clearly what it means But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to get her own way with a man, but to shut up.”

          After all, its talking about speaking. Teaching is speaking. Insisting on her own way is speaking, nagging really. You actually have clarified the passage. Congrats. The meaning is women don’t get to argue with men or try to teach us as if they know better but they need to shut up. As he goes on to talk about how Eve was decieved this fits perfect. Deceived women (all of them) are not to teach or pretend they know more than a man nor to insist on their deceived way (LGBT, Feminism, Woke) but just shut up. Let men argue it out, its not women’s place and when women enter into these arguments, when that is allowed, the wrong side always “wins” due to the shrillness of the shrews. That’s the meaning. Even as Eve was wrong but “won.”

        2. Derek L. Ramsey

          ““authenteō — … get one’s way”. So “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to get her own way with a man, but to be in silence.” That’s even more patriarichal. “

          Cherry picking the specific definition that fits your priors is eisegesis, as evidenced by leaving out the pejorative sense of “coercion: an imposition of the domineering person’s will onto another” on “get one’s way” because it doesn’t fit the assumption. You are trying to argue for a positive sense of authority by selecting a definition that seems to include this, that is, you’re looking for a loophole to get out of the clearly negative sense of the word.

          There is no point in having a discussion if your approach to interpretation is “I’ll interpret it according to whatever I’ve decided ahead of time that it must mean.”

          “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to get her own way with a man, but to shut up.”

          No English translation exists that says this because it fails to capture the sense of the word.

          “The meaning is women don’t get to argue with men or try to teach us as if they know better but they need to shut up.”

          Coercively imposing your will on someone is subjugating them, or making them subservient. No Christian—man or woman—is to treat another Christian in such manner. Your argument is essentially this:

          “Women should not subjugate men. They should not treat them as subservient. Therefore, men should subjugate women and men should treat women as subservient.”

          This is a logically invalid argument. That’s why the negative (or pejorative) sense of authority is largely considered a complementarian or egalitarian argument, not a patriarchal one. It must be interpreted as forbidding the use of authority (in a positive sense) in order to work as a patriarchal claim, but the evidence militates against this. If Paul wanted to do that, he would have used the word exousia, as he did in 1 Corinthians 7:4.

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