Authority Words in the Bible

It turns out that the word “authority” in English translations of the Bible covers a whole range of Greek words. Which are not the same at all.

There’s “exousia” and all of its derivatives, which usually are the words used in the Gospels. No problem there. There’s an interesting Esther LXX version that has Esther along with Mordecai sending out letters with authority.

Then there’s “those in authority,” which is really “hyperoche,” preeminent people or superiors.

Then there’s the Titus “with all authority,” which is “meta pas epitage,” where epitage means a command, and a bunch of other similar meanings. It’s not the Gospel thing where Jesus is teaching with authority; it’s Paul telling Titus to teach it like he’s ordering it.

The bit about women not usurping authority over a man is “authentein,” which originally could mean “to do something oneself” (which is where we get our word “authentic”), but which eventually meant “to domineer over somebody else, in a self-appointed way.” I think this is significantly different from “usurp authority,” unless there’s some Greek literature example I’m missing. “Don’t let women push men around” is significantly different than “don’t let women run anything involving men.” It’s more like, “Thou shalt not be Karens.” Adding that they should be “in silence” means “and mind your own business” in Greek.

While I was poking around, I looked at the verse about “let the women learn,” and it’s got some interesting things going on.

“Gyne en hesychia manthaneto en pase hypotage.”

Okay, the first interesting thing is “manthaneto,” which is from the same rootword “matheo,” to learn, as “mathetai,” disciples or students. 3rd person singular, present imperative active.

Yup, it is a command, and “gyne” is singular, in the nominative case.

The other interesting thing is that the sentence is set up with “en hesychia” and “en pase hypotage” separated by “manthaneto,” which is a nice stylish way to put it. It’s not supposed to be a nasty comment, IMHO. But how can “silence” be nice? And “hypotage” means subjection, right?

Well, let’s go to “hypotasso” first. It was originally a word about arranging a Greek phalanx in a military way. The men in a phalanx were fellow citizens, not slaves, and they normally would have no command over each other. But they’d elect or choose some military leader, and obey him in battle and in the field. He wasn’t better or worse than them; they had put him in charge. He had command, as we saw above with “epitage,” but he fought in the same phalanx line with all the rest.

So no, this isn’t some weird slavish submission thing. If it had been, why would Jesus have been subject to His parents, in Luke 2:51? (“en hypotassoumenos”) He was by nature the boss of them, their God and Messiah. But like the citizens of Athens, He chose them and obeyed them voluntarily, because it made sense to Him in the situation.

Secondly, “silence” isn’t a bad thing in Christianity or in Greek secular literature. Someone who lived in silence was someone who didn’t meddle in his neighbor’s business. Hesychia was seen as the root of Christian mysticism, because it let you listen to God.

In general, a good disciple of a secular philosopher would listen receptively and take it all in. He would regard himself as under orders while learning, even if he later went off and did his own teaching.

Secular female disciples would ask questions of their teacher and try to spend a lot of alone time with the teacher, but from various verses in Paul, this wasn’t seen as fitting for Christian women. The female disciples of Jesus traveled around and spent time with Him in an aboveboard way, just as the informal female rabbinical students (mostly relatives or daughters of rabbis) did. And maybe that’s why we don’t hear about female Christian disciples getting the sexual harassment that was standard for female secular philosophers and students.

“I do not permit women to teach” is clearly about formal teaching, during Mass, because Paul compliments how Timothy was taught Christianity at home, by his mom and grandma.

And finally, the whole chapter begins with Paul talking about unauthorized men who presume to teach crazy talk while sinning, and the men who believe them. So yeah, people take some of these verses as anti-woman, when really Paul is just telling all these people to quit doing crazy stuff at church.

1 Comment

Filed under Greek Bible Stuff

One response to “Authority Words in the Bible

  1. Reblogged this on Head Noises and commented:
    People: :are crazy in a different way:

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