Thursday, April 13, 2017
A STRANGE GREEK WORD DISRUPTS THE DOCTRINE OF FEMALE SILENCE AND SUBJUGATION
1 Timothy 2:11-12 is considered by many to be the Bible’s clearest statement against women functioning in authoritative roles of leadership in the Church. It reads, Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
For many, this passage has become a canon within the canon and is used as the standard by which every other Biblical passage about women is measured. Passages that show women functioning in positive roles of leadership are not given equal status by those who wish to confine women to supportive, subordinate roles in the church.
This, of course, is poor hermeneutics, for the passages that show women functioning in teaching and leadership roles must be given equal consideration with this passage. The leaders at the Azusa Street Revival (1906-09) understood this and admonished their constituents,
The only safeguard from deceptive spirits is by rightly dividing the Word of God, to keep out of fanaticism. We must rightly divide the Scriptures and compare scripture with scripture so that there is no confusion, and no deceptive spirit or wrong teaching may creep in (The Apostolic Faith, January 1908).
Legitimate Questions are Raised by Paul’s Use of a Strange Word
The real kicker, however, for those who use this passage to restrict the role of women, is the fact that Paul uses a strange Greek word that neither he nor any other New Testament writer ever uses. It is the word authentein, which is translated as “authority” in this passage.
The normal Greek word for authority is exousia and it is used by Paul and other New Testament writers over one hundred times. Why doesn’t Paul use it here? Why in this one place does he use this strange Greek word?
The obvious answer is that Paul uses this strange Greek word because he is not addressing the normal exercise of authority in the church. If he wanted to address the normal exercise of authority, we would expect him to use the normal word for authority--exousia. His use of this strange word indicates that he is addressing a unique and strange situation that exists with Timothy in Ephesus.
The Meaning of this Strange Word
Authentien is a very negative word and was used, no doubt, by Paul to address the negative situation Timothy is confronting in the church in Ephesus. Because it is found only here in the New Testament, it has been necessary to examine ancient Greek literature to determine its meaning.
From around 600 B.C. up to the time of Paul, authentein carried the meaning of “gaining the upper hand” with connotations of control, dominance and even violence. In one case, it was used of a murder. The murderer was said to have committed authentein against the victim (Hyatt, Paul, Women and Church, 96).
From around the time of Paul and onward, authentein begins to take on a new shade of meaning. Although the original meaning persists, it is now also used to refer to someone who claims to be the author or originator of someone or some thing. In fact, our words “author” and “authentic” are derived from authentein (Hyatt, Paul, Womenand Church, 96).
Paul obviously uses this strange word to address a strange and unique situation that was occurring within the church in Ephesus at the time. The problem in Ephesus was, in fact, the reason for him writing the entire letter of I Timothy.
The Reason Paul Wrote I Timothy
The traditional view that Paul wrote 1 Timothy to provide a church manual to guide the church organizationally is simply not true. I Timothy 1:3 clearly show that Paul wrote this letter to address false teaching in the church in Ephesus. He wrote, As I urged you when I went into Macedonia--remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine.
The phrase “no other doctrine” in this verse is a translation of the one Greek word, heterodidaskelein. This word literally means “different doctrine.” It comes from two Greek words; heteros meaning “other” or “different,” and didaskelein meaning “teaching” or “doctrine.” The NIV translates this word as “false doctrine,” the NASB as “strange doctrines,” and the NRSV as “different doctrine.”
This verse clearly shows that Timothy’s purpose for being in Ephesus is to confront false teaching. It is also clear that Paul’s purpose in writing this letter to Timothy is to encourage and instruct him in his unpleasant task. This understanding provides the setting for accurately interpreting what Paul is saying in this letter.
Dr. Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College, tells how his understanding of I Timothy 2:11-12 was transformed when he accepted the fact that I Timothy is not a manual of church order.
After teaching I Timothy within the context of it being a personal letter addressing the false teaching Timothy was confronting in Ephesus, Fee wrote, “The results astonished us. And after a few more times through the PE (Pastoral Epistles) with other classes, I became fully convinced of the correctness of this point of view” (Hyatt, Paul, Women and Church, 90).
Paul’s True Concern
This means that Paul’s concern in I Timothy is not women teaching, but the teaching of false doctrine by both women and men. He not only silences “a woman” in 2:11-12, but he also silences two men in 1:19-20 who had made shipwreck of “the faith.”
Without commenting here on the nature of the heresy Paul is confronting (I do this in Paul, Women and Church), suffice it to say that the historical setting of the letter and Paul’s use of this strange Greek word make it clear that he is not presenting a church order for all churches everywhere. He is, instead, addressing a unique situation in Ephesus and he never intended for his words to be applied to all women everywhere.
This understanding of I Timothy 2:11-12 harmonizes it with other passages where Paul recognizes women functioning in leadership roles. These include the coworkers and fellow ministers whom he recognizes in Philippians 4:3, a female apostle in Romans 16:7, and close friends mentioned in Romans 16:1-5 who functioned in leadership/pastoral type ministries.
I Timothy 2:11-12 can no longer be used to confine women to subordinate roles merely because they are women. Women can now be free, without reservation, to function in whatever role or ministry God may call them. As Jesus said to the woman who had been bent over for eighteen long years, Woman you are loosed from your infirmity (Luke 13:12).
This is of vital importance for seeing the body of Christ mobilized and for the fulfilling of the Great Commission. This is not a “woman” issue. This is a church issue and an issue for world evangelism. It is also an issue of proper Biblical interpretation.
Yes, a strange Greek word sets women free and speaks volumes to the church today.
This article is derived from Eddie Hyatt’s latest book, Paul, Women and Church, available from Amazon and from his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. To read about the Int’l Christian Women’s Hall of Fame that he and his wife, Dr. Susan Hyatt, and friends, are establishing, go to https://www.gwtwchristianwomenshalloffame.com/