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WHAT’S THE FUSS OVER FEMALE PASTORS—PART 14: The KJV’s “Usurp Authority” Was Not Translated As Such Until 1611

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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.”[i]

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.

The KJV’s “usurp authority” was not translated until 1611 (and prior to that, Tyndale used “have authority over”). By then, the “usurpation” connotation was a common one. But at the time Paul wrote 1 Timothy (circa AD 58–65), authentein was not used in that way. This might be why the Latin Vulgate and the New English Bible translate the word as “domineer.” The most frequent appearance of authentein within Hellenistic literature as it relates to Paul’s usage would be “master.” Therefore, his words should probably be translated, “I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to master over the man.” Whereas some would think “usurp authority over” and “master over” are synonymous, we still have to acknowledge that authentein has a history of associating with hostile and antagonistic activity, and that “mastering over” suggests a more aggressive takeover than, say, a diplomatic disagreement between a man and a woman over theology (or some equivalent). Yes, there certainly is a chance that the translation of “usurp authority” is correct, and many scholars (even egalitarians) accept this as a fact based on exhaustive lexicological exegesis (even despite the fact that historical evidence likely proves this word was not used in this way during Paul’s life). But that does not explain away the fact that, in relationship to the word’s etymological/historical roots, the “usurpation” referred to would be an antagonistic or hostile concept—“an imposition of the subject’s will” while someone’s “self-interest is being overridden”—not simply a peaceful woman preacher/teacher who is preaching the Gospel for the eternal sake of the lost.

Moreover: If Paul was accustomed to using the more conventional exousiazo or exousia, then why does he suddenly switch to a word that is so widely associated with aggression in this instance? Perhaps because he was referring to an aggressive or antagonistic takeover…and in this case, it’s not far-fetched to say that it would be a priestess/prostitute of Artemis/Diana whose pagan theology was misleading the believers in Ephesus.

But let’s consider, logically please, what we’re arguing about here. A woman standing behind a pulpit to draw the lost to Christ through her theological knowledge and the words of her mouth is not “usurping” anybody anyway. To “usurp authority” means to steal authority from someone else and harness it as one’s own. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines “usurp” first and foremost: “to seize and hold (office, place, functions, powers, etc.) in possession by force.”[ii] To assume that any woman preacher who uses her pulpit and her mouth to reach the lost is “stealing” the authority from a man and harnessing it as her own just because there may be another male in the congregation is a huge stretch! Who is stealing anything from anyone in this instance? If a woman were to stomp up on the stage, grab the microphone from her pastor, and present an uninvited preaching session, then yes, she would be usurping. Let’s face it: The evidence is stacked against the idea that Paul was automatically associating any female preacher/teacher to a usurper.

The bottom line on this whole authentein debate, in my opinion (as well as in the opinions of several other scholars who have weighed in on the issue), is that the word is rare and mysterious, and even if we were to pin down exactly what it meant in Paul’s day, we still have scores of preachers, teachers, linguists, and scholars who may all end up at a different contemporary application of it based on their own imprinting and cultural/individual approaches to study. For instance, let’s say that we were finally able to conclude that authentein meant “to hold power over.” Now we have a billion voices weighing in on what it really means to “hold power over the man.” Additionally, since so many ministers today preach only what today’s culture determines instead of looking at the circumstances at the time of the original writing—and because we are so far removed historically from the original culture and all that implies for a comparison of contemporary circumstances—many of these voices wouldn’t be correct, anyway. They would be basing their interpretation of what “holding power over” means within the limited concepts of a world radically unlike our own. This is already happening in regard to Scripture that is imminently clearer to present-day readers, so the “corporately conclusive” determination of such a rare and mysterious word as authentein—along with a “corporately conclusive” application to the calling upon women’s lives today—is likely never to happen on this side of eternity. Sometimes there is great wisdom in agreeing to disagree when it comes to the nonessentials.

Case in point: Aggression and domination aside (as those are the most obvious topics within the debate of authentein), does a woman “hold power over the man” simply by preaching the Gospel so that more lost souls will inherit the Kingdom of God? The Holy Spirit, Paul, and Jesus Christ evidently didn’t think so, or else all three of them contradicted themselves. If we rule that one out, it only leads to other questions: Does a woman “hold power over the man” by contradicting or correcting his theology like Priscilla was praised for doing? Perhaps, but then what happens when a female teacher recognizes a male heretic spreading false doctrine, and oh so many verses point to intervening? Should she disobey the verses that tell her to step in because she may otherwise be guilty of “holding power over” the heretic just because he was born male? (And don’t get me started on the gender/sex identification that would explode overnight in our modern day if Paul’s words were “conclusively” applied this way. We currently have churches popping up all over the country with ministers who feel they were created by God to “be” the gender opposite of their sexual identification at birth. If the day comes when this is the final word on the whole issue, a simple sex-change operation and legal-identification swap would be the only thing standing between a woman minister “becoming” a male minister. I’m not saying that this argument would hold any ground in conservative circles, but I am saying that there are people out there who—like some readers of the Queen James Bible, perhaps?—will make this connection.)


Suffice it to say that we must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, and with as much proof that Scripture holds in support of women being allowed to teach, we have no choice but to conclude that whatever authentein meant to Paul, 1 Timothy 2:12 couldn’t have been an “absolute” or “normative” prohibition of all women teachers throughout all time—the evidence that Paul was addressing an isolated, cultural/local issue and “relative” regulation pertaining to the church at Ephesus is overwhelming. Again, this does not mean we shouldn’t apply 1 Timothy 2:12 to our lives today; it means we should apply it “after a fair comparison of the [cultural] factors have been determined, and in a way that preserves the spirit of the principles taught.” A comparison of the original circumstances must be similar (or exact) to our circumstances today when dealing with a “relative” and “restrictive” regulation such as this one, given by a man who elsewhere manifestly supports women teachers.

Now we come upon a set of verses (13–15) that, in light of all we’ve studied, appears to be rather confusing and unrelated.

For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

Several questions arise immediately: If the creation order assigned the authority to who or what was created first, then wouldn’t Adam be under the authority of all the animals? Paul already said that Adam, not Eve, was to blame for the Fall (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22), so is he now saying that the guilty party—the one “in the transgression”—was Eve? And if a woman will be saved in childbearing, what about a woman who never has, or can’t have, children? (More on the Fall in the next chapter.)

Countless ministers have connected the dots in this portion of the letter to say that because Adam was formed first, but the woman was deceived, then the man is supposed to be the head of a ministry or church and a woman cannot become a leading teacher or preacher because she might (and some say “will”) become deceived, like Eve was by the serpent. I don’t need to point out again how many times Paul commissioned women as church leaders, as I have done so already, but that fact dismisses this interpretation. Likewise, many speculators (of both genders) have pointed out, just as Paul did, that Eve was deceived, but Adam chose to do wrong. By this logic, male ministers are just as vulnerable to concocting false teaching, because their flesh tells them to twist Scripture to make it read how they want for their own agenda. So if interpreters want to use these verses about Eve to justify prohibiting female ministers who might be deceived, they should also allow Adam to be the justification for prohibiting male ministers on account that they might willfully teach falsely—and the fact that ministers are twisting Scripture all over the country at lightning speed for their own gain is not a secret. We all know it happens all the time. The argument here is not the fact that men would be considered more or less guilty of this “transgression” than a woman just because Paul said Adam was the guilty party. This is by no means a “gotcha” sentiment against men or a statement that women would be “better leaders” or any such nonsense. The argument here is that both genders are equally vulnerable to false teaching, both genders will be tempted via deception (Eve), both genders will make bad choices willfully (Adam), and these verses on the Creation order don’t say anything about church hierarchal order.

Conclusion? It doesn’t have anything to do with who’s allowed to preach, teach, or pastor a church.

That still doesn’t really answer the question of why these verses are placed here, so let me connect some dots of my own, based on the research compiled herein (and upon the conclusions of respected scholars):

  1. It’s clear by this point that women believed Artemis/Diana was the creator of all life (including the first man). So Paul, by pointing out that Adam was formed first, then Eve, would be reminding false teachers in Ephesus that even if Artemis/Diana existed in the minds of her believers, she couldn’t have been formed first—and these false-teacher women would be wise to accept that they, like Eve, were not given an authority advantage in the Creation order just because their goddess religion told them so.
  2. These false-teaching women, like Eve, would have been guilty of “transgression” if they had been deceived by this pagan idea and followed through with teaching others to partake of this theology, just as Eve followed through with coaxing Adam to partake of the forbidden fruit.
  3. Notwithstanding “she”—Eve!—shall be saved in childbearing (Genesis 3:15–16; 20) through the birth of the eventual Savior, which relied on Eve’s willingness to have children of her own to populate the earth as the first mother of the human race. Paul was referring to the promises made in Genesis that the Savior would arrive through the foretold childbearing of Mary, and that this Messiah would then be the Savior for all. This would also involve the male seed of Adam to produce the eventual Mary (mother of Christ), unlike the theology taught by the priestesses of Artemis/Diana that the Savior Jesus Christ might have been created by the goddess entirely without a male’s participation. These false-teaching women, like Eve, can be saved as well through the coming of the Savior “if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” This also serves as a logical explanation as to why the “she” becomes “they” in such close proximity.

However, one insight has yet to be shared…

The very first thing the reader should note within the “trouble passages” (verses 9–15) is Paul’s seemingly unexplainable grammatical switch in number. He refers to women (plural) in verses 9–10, then, in verse 11, he shifts to the singular, “Let the woman learn,” Greek gune (nominative case): “a woman; specially, a wife:—wife, woman.”[iii] He remains focused on one woman through the first half of verse 15, and in the second half of that verse, he reverts to plural.

Within my personal library, several university-level study materials point to this as proof that Paul was silencing only one woman who was guilty of false teaching.[iv] This interpretation suggests:

1) Paul received word that one woman was misleading one man, “the man” in verse 11 (likely her husband, since gune often referred to a wife). Between Timothy and himself, both knew exactly who these people were, so a lengthy explanation from Paul regarding what this woman was teaching wasn’t necessary within the letter.

2) Paul sent word back to Timothy telling him how to resolve the issue of “the woman.”

This is a fair and logical interpretation, in part because it answers all the questions that arise from this group of verses:

  1. It wouldn’t make grammatical sense to go from plural to singular and back to plural the way Paul does. Paul was a gifted writer, and if the Bible is inerrant and infallible, as Christians believe (and as the Word, itself, claims), then the switch from “women” to “the woman” and back again is not a mistake. It should be taken seriously.
  2. Despite all the evidence that ancient Ephesus was populated with domineering women who would have seen themselves as mediators between men and a deity (Artemis/Diana, Christ, etc.), many continue to reject the notion that this city was as full-scale pagan as the evidence suggests. Whether their resistance to all the evidence is rational or not, this interpretation allows the issue to drop, permanently. One does not have to accept the idea that Ephesus was wholly entrenched in a state of constant and chaotic paganism in order to accept that one woman could have been a completely sold-out heretic with much influence in her own marriage.
  3. Throughout 1 Timothy, Paul uses gender-inclusive pronouns when he addresses the problem of false teachers (1:3, 6; 4:1; 6:21). Therefore, we have proof that women and men—both genders—were teaching falsely. Here, however, he switches to “the woman,” suggesting a solitary female was at the center of at least some of the false teaching that Paul’s whole letter addressed. Based on historical and archeological evidence of religious activity at the time, we can reasonably conclude that women—and within this interpretation, the woman—had bungled the Creation order to include Artemis/Diana, the Great Mother of Asia from whom all life originates, in the mix.
  4. Understandably, the Creation order section of text poses many interpretational problems. However, if the concern in the trouble passages is a solitary woman and her false teaching about the Creation order, then Paul’s reestablishment of the Creation order was needed to correct one woman’s false teaching. We can never know what the woman’s exact teachings were, but based on evidence, we can glean what the correction was: 1) The man was created before the woman, and therefore, a woman did not create man—i.e., Artemis/Diana (or any other venerated pagan goddess) could not have created mankind; 2) Paul recognized that the “woman” false teacher in Ephesus was deceived, like Eve was deceived; Paul’s letter to Timothy does not negate that Paul said elsewhere that the sin was Adam’s, it only serves to enjoin Eve in the “transgression” through the error of allowing herself to be deceived by the “false teaching” of the serpent; 3) while Paul is discussing the Genesis account here, he points to childbearing (with Adam’s involvement) as the way that Christ eventually came to save us all, including the “woman” false teacher, through Mary’s giving birth (Genesis 3:15).

If this interpretation is correct, all the questions of how the Creation order relates to Paul’s message to Timothy fit flawlessly into context of one female false teacher.



For those who may be wondering why Paul referred to this false teacher as “woman” instead of calling her by name, he was also known to do this with men, such as the contentious person in Crete (cf. Titus 1:5, 11; 3:10) and the man guilty of incest in Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1, 5).

From this point, Paul deals with the qualifications of overseers, pastors, preachers, bishops, deacons, and the subject of godliness in chapter 3. Verses 3:6–7 list a telling instruction for the overseer: He must “Not [be] a novice… Moreover, he must have a good report.” He must have built up a good report, i.e., he can’t be a recent convert. Paul is holding the men accountable to being quiet learners before being leaders, in the same way that he is holding women accountable to learning before teaching. No male or female should teach until he or she has learned.

But it is also within this section of the epistle that we observe what might be the biggest argument within this entire investigation that the modern-day Church is abusing 1 Timothy!

Please, if you haven’t digested anything else I’ve written so far in this series, digest this…

Here, in chapter 3 verses 2–13, Paul tells the church in Ephesus that male leaders cannot be: single; married without children or married with only one child; married with children who aren’t in complete subjection to his authority “with all gravity;” married to wives who gossip; or married to wives who default in their faithfulness. Further, a male leader must not be abusive to his wife, a recent convert without “good report,” lacking in self-control, unteachable, or without a stable reputation even to those outside the church. If 1 Timothy 2:11–12 applies as an “absolute” that women cannot be leaders in the Church just because “the Bible says so,” then 1 Timothy 3:2–12 applies as an “absolute” for the men because “the Bible says so.” No male is allowed to be in leadership if he hasn’t yet taken a wife and had at least two kids who are old enough to prove themselves obedient in “all gravity” and at all times. No male is allowed to be in leadership if his wife gossips or shirks her “faithfulness” responsibilities. No male is allowed to be in leadership if other people—even those outside the church (3:7)—have slandered his public reputation. And what of the “self-control” issue? Does that regard temperament? Or does that extend to other subjects of behavioral restraint, such as diet? (I know a great number of obese pastors whose eating habits are “out of control.”)

The list goes on and on. Yet, how many single pastors do we see today? How many are still waiting for the Lord to bless them with a child? How many have children who misbehave? How many are married with well-behaved children, but whose wives always have a big, juicy story to tell? How many are married with well-behaved children and submissive wives—and whose ministry and teaching are dead-on correct according to Scripture—but who aren’t accepted in their town?

None of these men is qualified to lead. Not one of them. Nope.

Sorry to break that to you.

That is…unless we are able to acknowledge that 1 Timothy 3:2–13 is a “relative” regulation for men. Have we done that in our modern culture today? Irrevocably so, yes. Have we done the same for women? Absolutely not, because our culture embraces the double standard when it suits a particular agenda, such as power. Women who stand up and preach despite the resistance are told to “sit down, shut up, and repent,” lest they be an “apostasy woman.”

The condition of the church in Ephesus was so bad that Paul had no choice but to implement what Professor Gilbert Bilezikian called in Beyond Sex Roles “a sort of congregational martial law.”[v] The rules had to be as strict as ever…and fast. Weeding out the false teaching was Paul’s number-one priority, and at least one female was (and perhaps many were) at the forefront of the pollution. We should still apply all these rules if we find ourselves in the same position as Ephesus, but if not, then we shouldn’t find ourselves under the same rules. Period.

In chapter 4, Paul once again acknowledges the harsh realities of those who “depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and [false] teachings of demons” (4:1–5), followed by godliness again, and in chapter 5 he gives instructions on how to live as a family unit in the church. Chapter 6 returns for one last sweep through warnings regarding false teachers, and it ends with the exhortation to fight the good fight of faith. The apostle’s farewell is, as usual, warm: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called [false teachings]: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen” (6:21–22).

In conclusion: Paul and Timothy, as a team, had a lot of damage to repair in the city of Ephesus. I believe Bilezikian nailed it when he summarized 1 Timothy, concluding that a comprehensive understanding of the cultural, historical, linguistic, and circumstantial study on the epistle shows, and I quote:

  • that the apostle Paul wrote this epistle to a church in a state of terminal crisis;
  • that he drastically curtailed the ministries of both women and men to save the church from self-destruction;
  • that the restrictions Paul laid down in this epistle were temporary measures of exception designed to save this particular church from disintegration;
  • that the remedial crisis-management provisions mandated in this passage remain valid for all times since they are relevant to churches that fall into similar states of dysfunction.[vi]

Without skipping to the very end of this reflection just yet, one last string of verses in 1 Timothy need to be shown herein. The ESV renders this beautifully: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (6:3–5; emphasis added).

Let that “absolute” from Paul sink in for a moment…

If any person does not agree with the words of Jesus Christ, he or she only craves—with an “unhealthy craving”—to bicker over words…

Sounds pretty clear to me.

But if Jesus Christ inspired women to preach—with the words of His mouth—then wouldn’t those who disagree with Him be guilty of this—guilty of craving this very kind of petty-semantics rivalry and “quarrels about words”?

I could not have asked for a better segue into this next chapter.

UP NEXT: The Women Jesus Knew

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

[ii] “Usurp,” Merriam Webster’s Dictionary Online, last accessed August 23, 2017,

[iii] “Strong’s G1135,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 25, 2017,

[iv] For instance: Dr. Deborah M. Gill and Dr. Barbara L. Cavaness Parks, The Biblical Role of Women, 144–146.

[v] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 139.

[vi] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 132.

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