Translation Issues

Translation Issues


Alternative Translations?

In the search for an explanation in harmony with the rest of New Testament teaching, we offer several alternative translations. Some are indicated in standard versions like KJV, RSV, NIV, NRSV; some are suggested in commentaries and books. The bringing in of alternative translations may seem a neat, but deceptive way of sliding round an unacceptable statement: re-translate it to one’s preference and the problem is gone! This, of course, is not our aim – nor, we hope, anyone’s. In many cases no one particular translation is correct, or several may be correct. Where words have a range of meaning, there can be many possibilities. Which one adequately conveys the meaning of the author cannot be known with certainty. In presenting various translations, we have not sought to say: “This one is correct, and this alone, and this solves the problem.” We simply aim to show that various translations are possible, and that different outcomes are reached depending on how one chooses.


The Greek WordsAnthropos,Aner, andGyne

There are two words in Greek which can be translated “man”. Anthropos generally means “man” or “mankind” (as distinct from God). The plural is anthropoi which usually means “men and women” or “people”, or “human beings”. The other word is aner (plural andres) which usually means “man/men” as distinct from “woman/women”. It also is the Greek word for “husband”. Gyne means “woman” or “wife”. Whether aner should be translated “husband”, or gyne “wife” depends on the context and (as indicated by the translations) this is often a matter of opinion, dependent on the translators’ understanding.

For example, in 1 Timothy 2:12 the NRSV offers the following:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man.

But the footnotes indicate the translation could be:

I permit no wife to teach or to have authority over her husband.

If the first is correct, the context is wider, and presumably in a church setting. If the second, it appears to be restricted to a home setting, or to a husband and wife matter within a church setting.


Have Authority” or “Dominate?

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority (authentein) over a man.                                                       (1 Timothy 2:12, NIV)

There is disagreement among scholars as to the meaning of the word authentein which occurs only here in the New Testament. Suggested translations are “have authority” in a good sense, or “dominate” in a bad sense.[1]

Authentein contains within it the Greek word “self”, and self-assertiveness in an undesirable sense is one of the meanings attributed to it. The King James Version translates it as “usurp authority”; NEB “domineer over man”; RSV, NRSV, NIV and GNB “have authority”; the Jerusalem Bible “tell a man what to do”; Revised English Bible (1989) “dictate to the men”. W. E. Vine, in Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (1940) defines it as:

to exercise authority on one’s own account, to domineer over.... 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.

The difficulty is that an answer cannot be sought by simply looking up the word in Greek dictionaries or in word books (as in W. E. Vine, quoted above), because they derive their definitions by deduction from usages elsewhere in Greek literature. The discussions tend to be circular, because some subjectivity inevitably creeps in when scholars examine the context and draw conclusions. Translators in turn base their translations on the results of academic research. Over the last twenty years the existence of the TLG (Thesaurus Linguae Graecae = Treasury of the Greek Language) – a computer database with as many Greek texts as can be found – has made a wider analysis possible, but this has not settled the matter.

By typing authentein into any internet search engine (like Google), many hundreds of entries will be listed, many copying from one another, and some repeating material many decades old.

The most recent analyses using the TLG seem to be by H. Scott Baldwin (1995)[2] and Albert Wolters (2000), repeated in the 2005 edition of Women in the ChurchAn Analysis and application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (editors)[3]. H. Scott Baldwin, studying the verb authentein, considers “the one unifying concept is that of authority” and he lists the following as possible meanings in 1 Timothy 2:12: “to control”, “to dominate”, “to compel”, “to influence someone”, “to flout the authority of”. Which is the appropriate meaning has to be decided by context. Albert Wolters, after examining the associated noun, authentes, considers that “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’”. He would approve, therefore, the translation “have authority”. But the meanings given by H. Scott Baldwin do seem to us to be pejorative (e.g. “dominate”, “compel”) and we should not assume that “the one unifying concept is that of authority” is the same as saying that authentein basically means “have authority” in a good sense. Other writers continue to maintain the word has a negative meaning. I. H. Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (1999), writes: “Ideas such as autocratic or domineering abuses of power and authority appear to be more naturally linked with the verb in view of the cognate nouns authentes and authenteia”.[4] Bruce W. Winter (2003)[5] concludes his discussion on authentein: “... it seems that here the term carries not only the connotation of authority but also an inappropriate misuse of it.”[6]

In view of the authority which Paul elsewhere considers acceptable for sisters such as his fellow workers (1 Corinthian 16:16), it seems reasonable to think that the word authentein bears the meaning of exercising a dominating and therefore undesirable influence or authority. The normal word for “authority” in an acceptable sense is exousia, the verb being exousiazein. Paul uses it several times: “... the wife does not rule (exousiazein) over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule (exousiazein) over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4); “... the authority (exousia) which the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Corinthians 13:10).

It seems strange therefore if Paul had intended to say that a woman should not exercise authority as such over a man that he does not use the normal word exousiazein, the meaning of which is comparatively straightforward.

Authority, in a good sense, is rightly possessed by God alone. Jesus said:

He who speaks on his own authority [literally: “from himself”] seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.                               (John 7:18)

For I have not spoken on my own authority [literally: “out of myself”]; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.                                                     (John 12:49)

When authority is rightly exercised by Jesus, by Paul or by any human being, it is a delegated authority. If authentein suggests an authority which is not delegated but seized (KJV “usurp authority”), or exercised in a dominating manner, this would reasonably explain Paul’s objection to a woman exercising it over a man, or a wife over husband – or, of course, vice-versa.

If, on the other hand, authentein does simply mean “have authority” in a neutral sense (as urged by scholars like G. W. Knight III, and given in various translations), the context of 1 Timothy – the crisis of false teaching and practice which Paul commissions Timothy to sort out, problems in the behaviour, attitude and dress of women in Ephesus, their need to learn rather than to teach – all these need to be borne in mind when assessing this comment in the light of Scripture elsewhere, and before seeking to make any modern application.

It will be interesting to see if research on Greek usage comes to any agreed conclusion in years ahead. At the moment, looking at the debate in books and on the internet, those who favour the wide involvement of women in church work tend to argue that authentein means “exercise a dominating authority”, while those who consider it unscriptural for women to take any leadership or teaching positions, argue that authentein means “exercise authority” in a good sense (and that Paul forbids this to women). The issue is not settled, therefore, by debate over the usage of authentein in Greek literature. The position we adopt in this book is to consider Scripture as a whole, and on that basis we consider the Bible does support teaching and leadership by women, as by men, provided they are properly taught and behave in a Christ-like manner.


[1] I Suffer Not a Woman – Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, Richard & Catherine Kroeger (1992). This book has been much quoted and much criticised. The writers aim to give detailed background and analysis, to compare parallel grammatical usages in the New Testament, and explain how translation alternatives are reached. They suggest (page 103) that 1 Timothy 2:12 should be translated, “I do not permit woman to teach nor to represent herself as originator of man.... For Adam was created first, then Eve.” We quoted this in our 1996 draft version of this book. Their suggested translation of authentein as “claim to be the originator” has received some, but not general, acceptance.

In their notes they also refer to a fourth possibility which relies on understanding didaskein (“to teach”) as governing a dative case rather than the usual accusative. This construction is used in Revelation 2:14: “Balaam, who taught Balak [dative] to ...”. This would then produce something like: “I certainly do not permit people to teach a woman that she is superior to a man but she is to behave quietly. For Adam was created first, then Eve.” If such a translation is correct, Paul is objecting to what is taught to women, not by women, but we would like to see some definite support amongst reputable scholars before advocating a translation like this.

The Kroegers’ book has been critically reviewed by S. M. Baugh in Westminster Theological Journal, Vol 56, 1994, pages 153-171, “The Apostle Among the Amazons”. S. M. Baugh disagrees with their grammatical analysis and their claims about Artemis and the influence of the priestess of Artemis.


Several aspects of S. M. Baugh’s review has been critically reviewed in turn by Dennis McCallum in 2006 ( and by Alan G. Padgett “The Scholarship of Patriarchy (on 1 Timothy 2:8-15)” (see

[2] See Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin, eds, Baker Books (1995). Also in this book, Andreas J. Köstenberger argues that for reasons of Greek syntax, if “teach” has a positive meaning (as often in the New Testament), so too should authentein. But in the Pastoral Epistles “teach” can have a negative connotation (Titus 1:11, 1 Timothy 1:7, 1 Timothy 6:3), so by Köstenberger’s argument, this could lead to authentein as also having a pejorative meaning in the context. The 2nd edition of this book in 2005 claims repeatedly to have established the meaning of authentein and its usage along with “teach”, but careful examination indicates that this claim has not been substantiated.

[3] See “A Semantic Study of authentes and its derivatives,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 1 (2000), 145-75. For a review of studies on authentein, see “The Evangelical Debate over Biblical ‘Headship’” by David H. Scholer, available on

[4] I. H. Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (1999), page 457.

[5] Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows (2003) pages 116-119.

[6] It is also worth noting how Jerome rendered the word authentein, for he was familiar with New Testament Greek as a living language. Jerome in the Latin version gives “dominari” which has a range of meanings, some pejorative: “to be or play the master, to have dominion, bear rule, tyrannise”. Jerome uses “dominari” in his translation of Luke 22:25, where Jesus instructs his disciples that they are not to do this. TNIV (2004), the latest update of the NIV, gives: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man”. In the footnotes it points out that “woman” and “man” may mean “wife” and “husband” respectively, and it also offers: “I do not permit a woman to teach a man in a domineering way” or “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise (or have) authority over a man.”

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