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WHAT’S THE FUSS OVER FEMALE PASTORS—PART 13: Paul Was Responding To The Artemis/Diana/Christianity Syncretism In Ephesus

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Several internal consistency clues support the idea that Paul was responding to the Artemis/Diana/Christianity syncretism in Ephesus, and that this false teaching was a threat to the church’s big-picture operation. If this is the correct interpretation, the proof of which we will consider momentarily, then Paul’s prohibition of women in ministry would be a matter of correct theological adherence to the Gospel as he would have taught it, not a matter of permanently silencing all women from teaching. First, the “surrounding text” step of proper interpretation is crucial. All the guidelines listed from 2:1 through 3:13 are related to the same thing: establishing order within the church. Within that box as the dominant category, we can draw the following chart of internal subcategories:

  1. Order within the Church; 2:1–3:13
    1. Prayer for Peace 2:1–8
    2. Issues regarding women 2:9–15
      1. They must dress and act humbly and modestly; 2:9–10
      2. They must be taught properly; 2:11
      3. They must be silent and cannot teach; 2:12
      4. They were formed after Adam; 2:13
      5. They were deceived; 2:14
      6. They will be saved in childbearing; 2:15
    3. Bishops’ conduct as husbands and heads of household; 3:1–7
    4. Deacons’ conduct as husbands and heads of household; 3:8–13

To avoid isolating one verse out of context, we need to establish borders around the text that forms a group. In the context of 1 Timothy, a natural group forms around verses 2:1 through 3:13, all pointing to a call for Timothy to establish order within the church. Today, we may find ourselves picking from the middle to distinguish what is “absolute” from what is “relative,” but the whole picture as the original author intended was to address the concern at hand: false teaching and the reparative phases of correcting it. Paul—whom we already showed in the last chapter as prizing a peaceful and systematic service gathering to prepare the saints to carry the message to the rest of the world—is here showing that the theological hiccups of false teachers were disturbing the orderly ministry of the Ephesians. So the “relatives” and “absolutes” can’t be identified until we link them to the “group” of correlating Scripture to form a whole. In other words, 1 Timothy 2:9–15 (from braided hair to childbearing) might seem like a garbled knot of information about women, but to the original readers of Paul’s epistle, they were unified as a whole teaching about women—which I have labeled “Issues about Women”—and they were further clarified by Paul’s intent to bring amenable worship parameters within the dominant category of “Order within the Church.”

As such, verses 9–15 must be considered together. What do childbearing and the Creation order and the Fall and braids all have to do with a woman teaching in the Ephesian church?

Let’s look at this verse by verse.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with [modesty] and sobriety; not with braided hair [and] gold, or pearls, or costly array.

We have already discussed this verse, and the meaning is clear: Paul wanted women to attend church with a humble and modest appearance. He didn’t want their hair or clothing to resemble the hetairai and pornai of that day who were beginning to set trends for women even outside their profession.

But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

If a woman is “professing godliness,” then she should dress in a way that matches her claim.

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

Here we arrive at an interesting plot twist that is repeatedly and tragically skimmed over. So much focus is placed on the “silencing” aspect of Paul’s words here that many don’t even realize the radical and countercultural gender-equality leap that Paul is introducing in his day. For only a moment, let’s consider only the beginning of this verse and allow the profound historical and cultural implications of these words sink in: “Let the women learn.” Today, because our culture and Christianity allow women to go to Bible colleges or seminaries, attend conferences, ask pastors questions, browse YouTube’s countless theological vlogs, buy study Bibles catered to women’s issues, etc., we gloss right over the first half of this verse. We can’t appreciate the veracity of Paul introducing a whole new freedom for women. Our eyes land on “silence” and “subjection,” and we let out a collective sigh over that moment we perceive to be Paul’s misogynistic lapse in judgment. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth! Both men and women need to stop, pull the cloud of regulation out of this moment, and be still long enough to deeply perceive what Paul just did with those four short words.

Women of the synagogue were not allowed to learn nearly anything in the days before Christ. Their place was in the home. The Mishnah (the first major compilation of Jewish oral traditions, also known as the “Oral Torah”) highlights this profoundly. Gamaliel II (the grandson of Paul’s immediate teacher) was an associate with Rabbi Eliezer, who was quoted more in the Mishnah than most other rabbis in the final redaction. In Mishnah Sotah 3:4, he sheds some light on a bygone era when he says, “If any man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law, it is as though he taught her lechery.”[i] According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “lechery” means “inordinate (see inordinate 2) indulgence in sexual activity”[ii]; I followed the suggested redirect of “inordinate 2” and it read: “exceeding reasonable limits.”[iii] That is to say that a leading rabbi just a handful of years after Christianity’s birth suggested that merely by teaching his daughter the Law (oral tradition or Mosaic), a Jewish father was committing an offense so heinous as to be compared to teaching her to exceedingly defile her body. Although Rabbi Eliezer’s conclusion was an extreme one that may not have been shared by all rabbis throughout time, this “women don’t need to learn” mentality was the Jewish way of life for hundreds of years before Paul, who was, himself, a devout Jew trained under the very same traditions.


Outside of Jewish culture, women sometimes had equal rights to men when it came to being educated—as was the case in Corinth and Ephesus—but now Paul was setting a new precedent for all women from every background within the Church of the Messiah to learn! Such a concept would have been radical! Today’s reader stops at “silence” and “subjection,” but readers of Paul’s day would have stopped aghast at the words, “Let the women learn,” as a direct command from a man who had dedicated his entire life to Jewish tradition before Christ drastically changed him. That would have been their focus. In order to fully comprehend the innate tone of gender equality in Paul’s intent, we have to take a mind-journey back to the era in which he wrote and conceive the immensely countercultural scale of his words. He wasn’t just “letting them” learn as a casual acceptance of a norm within pagan culture, as Paul frequently condemned pagan culture. In an era and setting when and where many women weren’t expected to be taught, by saying “let them,” he was commanding that the practice of teaching women would be carried out. He wanted the women to be taught. This is the opposite of misogyny! Hold onto that concept for a moment…

Now consider how we, today, perceive the words “silence” and “subjection.” Because our culture places such distasteful associations with these words, we picture in our collective mind’s eye some woman sitting up straight in a pew or behind a desk with a head covering, enduring a chauvinistic lecture by a domineering male who is just reveling in his hierarchal power. But a more sincere and respectful picture can be painted when we look at the words in their original form. Paul said that a woman should learn in “silence,” which is translated from the Greek noun hesychia: “stillness, i.e., desistance from bustle or language.”[iv] It is used its adjectival form in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to describe a peaceful life: “And that ye study to be quiet [hesychios], and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” It’s also used in 1 Peter 3:4 in this way: “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet [hesychios] spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Nowhere is it meant to suggest an aggressive mandate of overbearing silence upon a person; contrarily, it suggests an enthusiastic and cooperative spirit from a person who is willing to learn more in an area of life in order to please God. In fact, there is an instance of its use in extremely close proximity to 1 Timothy 2:9–15. In the same epistle and the same chapter, we find in the prayer of peace: “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet [hesychios] and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (2:2). If we were to apply this word in this sentence the same way our modern culture wants to apply it to women, it might read: “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a mandatorily and continuously silent and oppressed but peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” See how quickly an assumptive interpretation can dramatically change the meaning of the Holy Word? Hesychia is a harmonious kind of silence, not an oppressive kind. Paul is saying that a woman’s nature during the learning process should be peaceful, not argumentative.

The second word, “subjection,” is the Greek hypotage: literally “subjection,” which is further described as “the act of subjecting; obedience.”[v] In a military application, the word describes one showing respect to the ranks above them. As Dr. John Bristow notes, “The word for subjection is the noun form of hypotassomai, which…is the voluntary willingness to be responsive to the needs of others (in this case, to the needs of others to listen, of themselves to hear, and of the teachers to communicate without noisy competition).”[vi] More simply, it describes a woman willing to sit through a teaching without giving into the temptation to laleo (“keep talking”)—which Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians—and that they should “subject themselves” (obey) under that teaching while they are actively involved in learning. They must become “quiet learners” who obey what they’re taught before they can even think about becoming teachers of a material they don’t understand. Indeed, as other scholars have pointed out, Paul, himself, learned in quiet submission under his tutor, Gamaliel, before he became a rabbinic scholar among the Jews.[vii]

And why might Paul want a woman to learn? Because he knew that—despite what any human thought or wanted—the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost had already equipped the women in the upper room to preach the Gospel to both genders, Jesus Christ personally inspired them to do the same (we’re getting there…), and it was imperative that these women do so with knowledge!

How should a woman sit in on a lesson today—a lesson of any kind, not just those limited to religious settings? If she has been taught any respect whatsoever, she will sit still and be quiet while the class is in session. She will learn “in silence” by not disrupting the class with retorts or chatter, and in “subjection” by submitting herself to that lesson. Think back to what we learned about 1 Corinthians 14 and Paul’s unwavering standards of respect between a teacher and a student. Paul held high the ideals of a professor or preacher being allowed to share knowledge (even interactively, if it’s done so with respect) without having to bang a gavel. In 1 Timothy 2:11, Paul wasn’t saying that all women throughout all times and under all circumstances have to take a man’s word as the final one and have no opinions for themselves. Why does our modern culture make so much more of Paul’s words here than what is actually said? As this rule of respect is golden for every age, why wouldn’t we want all students to respect a teacher while in the learning process?

The important thing to remember is that this sentence of Paul’s not only carries an order of how the teaching should be received while the recipient is a student; it also commands that women should be allowed to be students. If they are never students, then they can never be teachers of correct theology. The issue of whether they can eventually become teachers by Paul’s following words, however, is the next natural question in sequence, since it appears to starkly contradict internal consistency.

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

First of all, since the gifts of the Body members Paul wrote of in several places were gender-inclusive, we already know that a woman teaching the Gospel cannot be prohibited. Also, if women are here forbidden to teach or hold authority over the men, and that is an “absolute” regulation for all times and places, then we have to figure out why Paul: a) allows women to be prophets in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5), and b) lists prophets as the greatest authoritative ministry in the Body of Christ, just under the apostles but above the teachers/preachers/pastors in 1 Corinthians 12:28. If we apply all of this brand of logic to a military-rank comparison, as Gilbert Bilezikian did in Beyond Sex Roles, this is like telling a woman she has to lower herself to a “captain” whilst simultaneously being promoted to a “colonel.”[viii]

The words “I suffer not” here are from the Greek ouk (“not”) and epitrepo (“do I permit”). The verb epitrepo, the exact grammatical variant of the word as Paul wrote it in this sentence, is first person, singular; it is being used in the present tense. So, a more accurate rendering into English would be, “I am not currently permitting,” as opposed to the inaccurate, “I will never permit.” After a serious dig into the uses of this word in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament; Genesis 39:6; Esther 9:14; Job 32:14; also: Wisdom of Solomon 19:2; 1 Maccabees 15:6; 4 Maccabees 4.17–18), Professor John Toews notes that the word is used to address isolated, present-tense circumstances (i.e., affairs occurring at the time it was written), not universal situations throughout all time.[ix]

But the really tough meat to chew in this verse is the relationship between “teach” (didaskein) and “to usurp authority” (authentein). The word “teach” here has been isolated by some scholars as its own “absolute” regulation, but the majority of available research points to the conclusion that authentein is a copulative word to didaskein. Put more simply, the kind of teaching prohibited here is defined by whatever authentein means within this context, because authentein serves to qualify didaskein. Logical support for this, based purely on common sense within the overall “internal consistency” picture, is that: a) Paul commissioned women to teach; b) Jesus Christ commissioned women to teach (next two chapters); c) the Holy Spirit commissioned women to teach, so therefore; d) if teaching is anywhere prohibited within Scripture, it must be qualified (limited) to a certain kind of teaching, and therefore it is a “relative” and not an “absolute.” Thus, the qualifier here, authentein, is a key element to our study, as it explains what kind of teaching the prohibition addresses. But before we visit the exasperating complications raised around the translation of authentein, it’s crucial to point out that Paul normally used a completely different word with a much more common understanding in the Hellenistic period.

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 6:12, the words “be brought under the power” were translated from the Greek exousiazo: “to control:—exercise authority upon, bring under the (have) power of.”[x] The feminine noun variant of this word is exousia: “(in the sense of ability); privilege, i.e. (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely, magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence:—authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.”[xi] And this is in no way the only time Paul used exousia or its variants; he used it in plenty of other verses when describing “authority over” (1 Corinthians 7:4, 9:4–6, 9:12, 11:10; 2 Corinthians 2:8, 10:8, 13:10; Colossians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:12; Romans 6:15, 9:21). In the Strong’s database, this word is translated sixty-nine times in the KJV as “power,” and twenty-nine times as “authority.”[xii] Twice elsewhere, when Paul was referring to “having dominion over,” he used the word kyrieusei (Romans 6:14; 2 Corinthians 1:24). One would think that if Paul was prohibiting a woman from “bringing a man under her power” or “having authority/dominion over,” he would have used the same words he had already used in other writings that were: a) clearly known at the time, and b) familiar to his reading audience by default of repetition. Yet here, in this one specific instance, Paul uses a very uncommon verb, authentein, which the translators of the KJV chose to mean “to usurp authority.”

The first peculiarity is that authentein does not occur anywhere else in the Bible—Old or New Testament. Because we cannot rely on Paul’s use of this word elsewhere for an internal comparison of how he would have used it in a sentence, the only places we can look are in extrabiblical documents in ancient Greek. Understand that some words—even in English—can have more than one common meaning, even when the word is spelled the same in all variables. This is called a homonym. For instance: “Row” as a verb is the action that propels a boat forward, but as a noun, it refers to a line of regularly-spaced objects. Authentein, as it appears in ancient Greek documents, is similar. It means different things to different writers as it is used in a sentence. However, despite all available instances, it remains a very rare word with definitions in such contrast that it’s harder to pin down what Paul would have meant.

From the list provided by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott in the Greek-English Lexicon, we retrieve the following instances of authentein in its noun form, authentes: “murderer” (Herodotus 1.117; Euripides, Rhesus 873; Thucydides 3.58; Euripides, Hercules Furens 1359; Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2.754); “suicide” (Antipho 3.3.4; Dio Cassius 37.13); “one from a murderer’s family” (Euripides, Andromache 172.2); “perpetrator,” “author” (Polybius 22.14.2; Diodorus Siculus 16.61); generally “doer” (Alexander Rhetor 2S); “master” (Euripides, The Suppliants 442; Leidon Magical Papyrus W 6.46); “condemned” (Phyrnichus Arabius 96.3); “murder by one in the same family” (Aeschylus, Eumenides 212; Agamemnon 1572).[xiii]

Thesaurus Linguae Graeca, an online computer database, uncovered only 306 uses of authentein between 200 BC and AD 200 (four hundred years total, at the center of which was Christ). Although 306 sounds like a very small number, in light of how often it is discovered in ancient texts, this was actually a thrilling find. Among the uses listed, these were the most common: “doer of a massacre,” “author of crimes,” “perpetrators of sacrilege,” “supporter of violent actions,” “murderer of oneself,” “sole power,” “perpetrator of slaughter,” “murderer,” “slayer,” “slayer of oneself,” “authority,” “perpetrator of evil,” and “one who murders by his own hand.”[xiv]

New Testament scholar Scott Bartchy lends the following insight: “The verb authentein clearly bears the nuance of using such absolute power in a destructive manner, describing the activity of a person who acts for his or her own advantage apart from any consideration of the needs or interests of anyone else.”[xv] Based on Bartchy’s conclusion, the following verses in 1 Timothy regarding the creation order are perfectly aligned, because women are not supposed to dominate men. Women and men are to rule alongside each other in mutual unity.

Egalitarian Walter Liefeld writes in his article, “Women and the Nature of Ministry,” from the Journal of the Evangelical Society: “A perplexing issue for all is the meaning of authentein. Over the course of its history this verb and its associated noun have had a wide semantic range, including some bizarre meanings, such as committing suicide, murdering one’s parents, and being sexually aggressive. Some studies have been marred by a selective and improper use of the evidence.”[xvi]

One of these “marred” translations Liefeld referred to (and I am tempted to agree) might have been the one given by Richard and Catherine Kroeger. Their calculations, based on a substantial cultural investigation into the word, was that authentein should be translated “to engage in fertility practices” (1979 conclusion) or “to represent herself as originator of man” (1992 alternative conclusion; although this one holds some merit, as we will see shortly).[xvii] Cultural support for this interpretation would be: a) we know that one meaning of the word authentein is “author” (i.e., “originator”); and b) native religions of Anatolia (surrounding Ephesus) taught that Artemis/Diana was the divine source through whom all life began. Who would teach such a thing? False teachers. What does 1 Timothy centrally condemn? False teachers. Surrounding text support would be that the very next verses in the epistle reestablish the creation order, essentially putting such a woman teacher in her place.

However, many scholars have refuted the theological and lexicological breakdown of the Kroegers’ conclusion, and for many (lengthy and complicated) reasons related to even the tiniest syntax and accent relationships. I, too, believe that swallowing their conclusion to the extent that they implemented it takes a lot of imagination and stretching. Yet, for all the scrutiny they gained in their interpretation of one word (that was already widely recognized to be one of the most mysterious in ancient Greek), they did put together the following list of cultural and linguistic factors, a list that has been extensively acknowledged among scholars for hundreds of years, and one their book exhaustively and credibly cited: 1) Ephesus, as well as the surrounding regions, was simply crawling with people who practiced erotic pagan religions that placed women equal to, and often above, men in aggressive and sexual positions of authority;[xviii] 2) historical evidence shows instances in Ephesus and nearby regions that women had collectively usurped the authority of men in religious settings (especially those related to the temple of Artemis/Diana in Ephesus);[xix] 3) the words authentein and its noun form authentes are repeatedly associated with some form of extremely aggressive behavior;[xx] and perhaps most importantly, 4) there exists a substantial argument based on historical evidence that authentein and authentes were not employed to mean “having power or authority” until “the second century after Christ”![xxi]

Wow…now there’s a thought.



Professor of Religion Albert Wolters came to the same determination about the final item on this list in the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism (note that I have removed Greek characters and replaced them with English characters for flow):

With respect to the meaning of authentein in 1 Tim. 2.12, my investigation leads to two further conclusions. First, the verb authentein should not be interpreted in the light of “murderer,” or the muddled definitions of it given in the Atticistic lexica. Instead, it should be understood, like all the other Hellenistic derivatives of authentein, in the light of the meaning which that word had in the living Greek of the day, namely “master.” Secondly, there seems to be no basis for the claim that authentein in 1 Tim. 2.12 has a pejorative connotation, as in “usurp authority” or “domineer.” Although it is possible to identify isolated cases of a pejorative use for both authentein and authentia, these are not found before the fourth century AD 135.[xxii]

At the time 1 Timothy was written, the common language in the Hellenistic era was Koine Greek. Insight for what the verb authentein might have become by this time can be credited to Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall, exegesis professor at the McMaster Divinity College: “In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteo refers to a range of actions that are not restricted to murder or violence. However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden, because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.”[xxiii]

Don’t miss that… “An imposition of the subject’s will.” Someone’s “self-interest is being overridden.” Such circumstances do not have to be murderous or violent for them to also be inappropriate, and in the moment that a subject’s will is imposed by another to the point that he or she is entirely overridden, a usurpation has most definitely occurred.

UP NEXT: The KJV’s “Usurp Authority” Was Not Translated As Such Until 1611

[i] Mishna Sotah 3:4, as translated by: Herbert Danby, D.D., The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1933), 296.

[ii] “Lechery,” Merriam-Webster Online, last accessed July 24, 2017,

[iii] “Inordinate,” Merriam-Webster Online, last accessed July 24, 2017,

[iv] “Strong’s 2271,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 24, 2017,

[v] “Strong’s G5292,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 24, 2017,

[vi] John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said about Women, 71.

[vii] Richard and Catherine Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman, 75.

[viii] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 135.

[ix] John Toews, The Bible and the Church: Essays in Honor of Dr. David Ewert (Shillington, Hillsboro, KS: Kindred Press, 1983), 84.

[x] “Strong’s G1850,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 24, 2017,

[xi] “Strong’s G1849,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 24, 2017,; emphasis added.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1940, last accessed July 25, 2017,

[xiv] List obtained from: Gail Wallace, “Diffusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb: More On Authority (Authentein),” The Junia Project, last accessed July 25, 2017,

[xv] Scott Bartchy, “Power, Submission, and Sexual Identity among the Early Christians,” Essays on New Testament Christianity (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1978), 71–72.

[xvi] Walter Liefeld, “Women and the Nature of Ministry,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (30:51), 1987.

[xvii] “The Meaning of Authenteo,” Bible Discussion Forum, last accessed July 25, 2017,

[xviii] Richard and Catherine Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman; As it relates to the subject of sexually aggressive women/priestesses in ancient culture surrounding Ephesus, the entire book makes this argument. Although I do not agree with some of the conclusions this couple makes, I strongly suggest this as a staple research book for every serious student of New Testament culture and history.

[xix] Ibid., especially page 89.

[xx] Ibid., especially chapters 6–9 and appendices 1–2.

[xxi] Ibid., 90.

[xxii] Albert Wolters, “A Semantic Study of Authentein and Its Derivatives,” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2006, 11.1.54; originally published in Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism, 2000, 1.145–175; emphasis added.

[xxiii] As quoted in: “1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (Part 4),” Marg Mowczko, last accessed July 25, 2017,

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