The Common Good

When it Comes to Biblical 'Authority,' Words Matter

In a recent post examining the biblical qualities of a leader, I considered the similarity between the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the qualities Paul requires for elders and overseers (1 Timothy 3:2-3), deacons (1 Timothy 3:8), and widows who also held leadership (1 Timothy 3:11). While many churches today have specific gender requirements for leadership, scripture is far more concerned with character than gender.

Related Reading

Take Action on This Issue

Circle of Protection for a Moral Budget

A pledge by church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs who have come together to form a Circle of Protection around programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world.

A reader wrote in to say that while gender should not be the primary issue, to "leave gender out of 1 Timothy" is not a fair or balanced treatment of scripture. What a wonderful comment! It is true; Paul is concerned with gender in 1 Timothy because the women at Ephesus were individuals whose leadership did not demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is objecting not to their gender, but to their leadership that domineered over men. We understand this because of the unique verb Paul selects for "authority" (1 Timothy 2:12).

Rather than using the most common Greek terms for authority or oversight, such as exousia or proistemo, Paul uses the term authentein -- a word that would have interested first-century readers. Why? Because authentein means to dominate, to usurp, to misappropriate, or to behave in violent ways even to the point of murder.

That is why various translations of scripture have translated 1 Timothy 2:12 in the following ways, as noted by Linda Belleville in Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy:

Vulgate (4th

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories


Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)