An alternative translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is to take gune to mean wife and aner to mean husband. As discussed earlier, the words are completely ambiguous in the Greek, and the distinction can only be found from the context.
Because the Greek language uses the same word for woman and wife, Paul sometimes uses the word in both senses in the same context, assuming for rhetorical purposes, as the language assumes, that adult women are married. This leaves the translation of gune in many contexts very difficult, since in our culture such an assumption is not permitted.
Let’s see if we get a better result by translating gune as wife and aner as husband:
A wife should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a wife to teach or to have authority over a husband; she must be peaceable. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the wife who was deceived and became a sinner. But wives will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Translated in this manner, the verse becomes a prohibition of a wife’s usurping authority over her husband, not women having authority over men. And notice the appropriateness of the translation. Only wives should be saved through childbearing. Paul would hardly expect unmarried women to seek this route to salvation!
While this translation does not resolve all difficulties with the passage, it has much appeal. After all, Adam and Eve were husband and wife. Wives are to be complements for their husbands. And nowhere does the Old Testament require women in general to be subject to men in general.
The meaning of “exercise authority.”
We must next consider the meaning of “exercise authority,” which is a translation of authenteo. Commentators disagree as to the meaning of authenteo. This is the only time the word is used as a verb in the New Testament. Authenteo means to dominate or “usurp authority.” It would hardly be consistent with submission to dominate.
While “exercise authority” is a possible translation (as in the NIV), Paul always uses other words for “exercise authority,” and so his selection of this unusual term must be intended to carry some special meaning. If he just wanted to say “exercise authority,” why vary from his normal vocabulary?
Moreover, authenteo is phrased in contrast to “be in quietness” (mistranslated “be silent” by the NIV). “Domineer” best suits the evident contrast. Thus, the King James Version is better than the NIV in translating “usurp authority.”
Standard Greek dictionaries confirm this conclusion. Strong’s Dictionary defines authenteo —
to act of oneself, i.e. (fig.) dominate:-usurp authority over.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines the word —
to exercise authority on one’s own account, to domineer over, is used in 1 Tim. 2:12, A.V., “to usurp authority,” R.V. “to have dominion.” In the earlier usage of the word it signified one who with his own hand killed either others or himself. Later it came to denote one who acts on his own authority; hence, to exercise authority, dominion.
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996) translates,
one who acts on his own authority, autocratic, … an absolute master … to exercise dominion over one … 1 Tim. ii.12.
Spiros Zodhiates The Complete Word Study Dictionary-New Testament (AMG International, Inc.: 1992) translates —
to use or exercise authority or power over as an autocrat, to domineer (1 Tim. 2:12).
The Revised Standard Version translates “have dominion.” Many other translations are similar: New English Bible: “domineer over”; American Standard Version: “have dominion over”; Living Bible: “lording over.” Of course, many other translations, including the NIV, translate “authority over.”
Osburn, Women in the Church 2, p. 82, comments,
Both from the first century BC, a papyrus in Berlin clearly has the meaning “to domineer,” as does Philodemus, who mentions “dominating masters.”
Osburn points out further examples of the meaning domineer in the writings of early Christians, pp. 217-219, John Chrysostum (4th Century) and Hippolytus (3rd Century).
Quite clearly, “exercise authority” in the NIV is mistranslated, and should instead be rendered “domineer.” Thus, Paul does not prohibit women from having authority — in the church or elsewhere. He simply reminds them that self-willed rule is unchristian. Indeed, the New Testament is clear that no one may domineer, including men in general and elders in particular.
(1 Pet. 5:1-3) To the elders … Be shepherds of God’s flock … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
(1 Pet. 5:5-6) Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another …. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
This leaves the question, then: what does Paul intend by prohibiting a woman from teaching? If a woman may exercise authority, so long as she doesn’t domineer, then may she teach in a non-domineering manner? Certainly, Priscilla was allowed to teach Apollos.
In his Women in the Church 1, Osburn states,
For reasons that must be explained in detail elsewhere, I am of the opinion that the “teaching” in v. 12 is not “teaching” per se, but specifically “domineering teaching.” The authentein [domineer] is taken by complementarians [hierarchicalists] to mean “exercise authority,” but stronger arguments exist for taking it to mean “domineer,” paired with “submissive” in v. 11 and in contrast to “peaceable/quietness.” Both “teach” and “domineer” have “man” as a direct object (here in the Greek genitive case because “domineer” takes that case). When, in Greek, two verbs are joined in this way, the nearer qualifies the farther. Hence, the lack of quietude/peacefulness that is stressed both before and after this admonition is countered by “not to teach in a domineering way.”
Page 112, relying in part on Herbert W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (rev. G. Messing; Cambridge, Harvard University Press 1956), pages 364-365.
Everett Ferguson points out that the new edition of the Bauer-Amdt-Gingrich-Danker lexicon shows that this construction is often parallel, so that the second phrase does not necessarily modify the first. At best, Ferguson has shown that Osburn’s construction is not necessarily right, leaving us to find the correct result based on historical and literary context.
On the other hand, in Women in the Church, Osburn provides several New Testament examples in this construction where the second clause (“domineer” in this case) defines and limits the first clause (“teach”), p. 221, including Acts 4:18, Gal. 1:16-17; 1 Tim. 1:3-4; and Acts 16:21. Greek scholars call this construction hendiadys.
Of course, the distinction between a hendiadys and parallel construction must be made in the context of the entire Bible. Which translation is most consistent with Gen. 1-2?
And so our translation becomes —
A wife should learn in peaceableness and full submission. I do not permit a wife to teach her husband in a domineering way; she must be in peaceableness. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the wife who was deceived and became a sinner. But wives will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Thus, Paul prohibits wives from teaching or otherwise exercising authority so as to dominate their husbands. Certainly, this would violate the command to be submissive.
Notice that the translation corrections suggested by Osburn are not essential to the argument. It’s enough simply to realize that the prohibitions are a product of the culture in First Century Ephesus. The rule that wives are to be suitable complements to their husbands is eternal. The application of the rule varies from culture to culture.
The correct interpretation is best found in a sound theology, which finds Genesis 3 to be a curse and Genesis 2 to be the ideal to which Paul calls us. More on this in the next post.