Isaiah (Part 35): Authority (Lesson 4)

08/31/2012 14:33


To wrap up our side study of authority, we need to look at certain New Testament texts that mention authority. Returning first, however, to Philippians 2, we see once again what our hearts should be. We are to “make [our] own attitude that of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). We are to imitate Jesus, and Jesus had an attitude of humility. Although he existed in the “form of God” (read that as holding the essence of God—in other words, he was God with all the attributes [transcendent and condescendent] that we understand to be God), he did not grasp after that simply for his own exalting purpose, but humbled himself to the form of a man.

I think we often misunderstand Jesus on earth. As N.T. Wright has said, we easily construe Jesus “as a demigod, not really human at all, striding through the world as a divine, heroic figure, untroubled by human questions, never wrestling with vocation, aware of himself as someone from outside the whole system, telling people how they might escape the wicked world and live forever in a different realm altogether. This is the worldview out of which there grew—and still grows—gnosticism…” (The Challenge of Jesus, p.24). The Bible, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus was a man—a real man—fully man.

But does understanding Jesus as a man conflict with Gospel accounts? The people who heard him were astounded because he taught “like one who had authority” (Mt 7:29). He told them that the law said one thing, “but I tell you” something beyond the law by which to live for God in righteousness. He stood in the boat and commanded the wind and the waves to be still. He ordered the demons to let loose of the man living among the tombs. How can this humble and fully human Jesus be acting with such authority?

Nothing we have spoken of regarding authority is in disagreement with what we see in Jesus. In the beginning, back in the Garden, before sin corrupted the world, God established three relationships. God designed perfect relationship with humanity with God as authority and humankind as subordinate. God established perfect relationship between humankind and the rest of creation with humankind as authority and the rest of creation as subordinate. And he determined equality of essence and value in the perfect relationship designed for humans with each other.

In the Gospels, we view Christ as perfect human in these relationships. As man he is subordinate to God while in perfect relationship with him. Among humans, he submits himself for the good of others, demonstrated in the foot washing and also in his road to the cross. But he does act in authority over the rest of creation in calming wind and sea and commanding the demons. Thus, there is both humility and authority in his activity as a man. So with us does humility and authority exist. But we must keep it in its proper context. In Luke 9:1-2 and 10:17-20 we see Jesus give this same authority to his disciples. And in Matthew 19:28 we learn that Christ’s followers will judge (be in an authoritative posture) to those who do not submit to Christ. But in all this—in all the Gospels’ accounts—we never see Christians in an authoritative hierarchical structure with other Christians.

So, then, what does Paul mean when, in Titus 2:15, he tells Titus to encourage and rebuke with authority? Note carefully that Paul does not tell Titus to act within his own authority. Just as Jesus spoke the words of his Father (John 14:10), so Paul tells Titus to speak the words of Christ. And it is Christ’s authority that carries through. We are all responsible to encourage, correct, and admonish each other. But the authority does not come from personality or position; all authority belongs to Jesus who, Paul tells us, received that authority through his perfect life, death, and resurrection. Thus, the responder does not submit to the authority of pastor, teacher, or other Christian. The responder submits to Christ and his authority.

Even Paul’s correction in 1 Corinthians 5, if carefully read, is not demonstration of his own authority. He rebukes based on Christ’s authority against identified sin. Failure to comply would not be met by Paul’s enforcement, but by Christ’s. The Corinthians were responsible to Christ.

One final passage we must review is 1 Timothy 2. Paul uses a word translated authority in verse 12 that merits discussion. The traditional (last couple of hundred years) view is that Paul orders that women should not teach or have authority over men in the same way as men are allowed to teach and have authority over women (and other men). But that view shakes off the Bible’s teaching of all human relationship with each other as submissive with no authority but Christ. To understand 1 Timothy 2, we must understand the context.

Paul begins the letter explaining its purpose: Paul says in 1:3-4, “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.” This is Paul’s purpose because Ephesus, more than any other location of the time, had a problem in the church with the influence of a cultural bent toward mythology. A little background to the mythology of Ephesus is in order.

While many of the surrounding nations worshipped the same panoply of Greek gods, various regions venerated one or more of the gods to a greater degree than the others. It was so in Ephesus which was known for their worship of Artemis. (Recall the riot in Act 19:21-41.) The fact that Artemis was a female god played greatly to both the background of Artemis and the activity of worship in Ephesus. According to the mythology, Gaia was the original being / original god. She formed (gave birth to) Uranus who became her husband. Uranus became jealous of their offspring and began killing them. Cronus, one of those offspring, overthrew his father and became the ruling god. But Cronus, helped by prophecies from both Gaia and Uranus that one of his children would also overthrow him, began the same activity that his father pursued and began killing off his own offspring. He did so by swallowing the infants as they were born. His wife Rhea deceived Cronus by wrapping a rock in a blanket and claimed it was their son. Cronus immediately swallowed the enveloped rock, believing he had rid himself of another child. Therefore, that son, Zeus, escaped death and did grow up to usurp his father’s throne.

Zeus and a lover, Leto, had twins. Artemis was the first delivered followed (in a few days and with delivery help from Artemis) by Apollo. In Greece Artemis was known as the virgin goddess, a lesser goddess of hunting. However, across the Aegean in Ephesus, a temple was built to Artemis who became known as a protectress of animals and as goddess of fertility.   

This was the religion and culture of Ephesus. The Ephesian church, just as most churches of any time period of human history, allowed elements of this pagan religion to seep into their worship. Since women were considered more spiritual and acted as the leaders of worship in the pagan society, church women began to take a more dominant role within the church. Paul worried about this conscious and/or subconscious authority claim by these women wrote to Timothy to correct it.

Paul begins his instruction (promised in the 1:3-4 purpose verses) in chapter 2. He says, first of  all that even though the church lives within this pagan society, the answer is not to build walls and flee into monastic hiding, but rather to pray for everyone—even those whose true civil authority impacted the church. The reason for prayer was twofold. First, they were to pray so that those civil authorities would allow them to lead untroubled lives—in other words, allow them to conduct their church affairs without interference. But prayer was also important because it was not supposed to be an “us against them” attitude. Rather they were supposed to impact the others because God wanted everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).

Paul then explains their authority. The authority for salvation comes from Christ. Christ is ransom (2:6); Christ is mediator (2:5); and Christ is the message (2:7). Verse 7 may be a bit puzzling because on telling Timothy that he is a messenger (a herald) of the gospel, Paul insists this is so by saying, “I am telling the truth; I am not lying.” Why is Paul so insistent? Paul is writing to Timothy—someone he has known since Timothy’s childhood, and someone who has worked with Paul for years in mission work. Timothy knew Paul. Timothy knew that Paul was a herald of the gospel. He had watched Paul heralding the good news of Christ literally for many years in many cities/countries. Why did Paul feel it necessary to insist on the point as if Timothy would be doubting him?

I believe it is precisely because Timothy was so familiar with Paul’s ministry that the insistence was necessary. Timothy, a young man, seems to be a bit fearful of his responsibility, much like the disciples were as Jesus approached them the last time in Matthew 28. They are wavering and wondering how they could possibly continue this ministry without their leader, Jesus. Jesus comes to them and, in a word of comfort, tells them that they need not fear because all authority belonged to him. Paul now is doing the same thing with Timothy. Timothy is fearful because he is on his own in a violently pagan city like Ephesus. Paul is the great superapostle who preaches before kings and governors, who plants churches, and leads mission teams and debates the philosophers at Mars Hill. Timothy is sure that he can’t replace Paul in Ephesus. He is feeling his own inadequacies and wants to leave. But Paul tells him at the beginning to remain (1:3). He tells him not to let anyone despise him or disregard him because of his youth (4:12). And he gives him the comfort of knowing that it was not by Paul’s authority that any church was established; it is all through the authority of Christ. Paul is not telling Timothy that Jesus is the ransom because Timothy did not know that. Timothy knew, but needed to be reminded of where authority comes from. It didn’t come from Paul. Jesus was the ONLY mediator between him and God. Paul was no intercessor. Timothy had to understand that not by Paul’s authority or power was anything done for God; Paul was just a messenger a herald—exactly as Timothy was. And so Paul insists, making sure that Timothy understands his role and the role of any Christian witness—we witness of Christ and his death, resurrection, mediation, and salvation. We witness of his authority.

Once Paul presents that message to Timothy, he goes on to tell him how that should look in the Ephesian church. Men are to pray, to petition, to intercede, to give thanks to God who holds the authority to combat the falsehood. They are not to assume authority and become angered in arguing their points (2:8).

Women are also not to assume roles of authority. Understand that in the pagan Artemis worship, the women dressed elaborately with gems of moonstone, crystal, and pearl, and wore saffron robes which they would then shed and continue naked in their worship. The worship was led by women—female priestesses. In the mythology, Gaia was the first being, and Artemis was of first importance in Ephesus. Throughout the generations of gods, the women (Gaia, Rhea, Leto, Artemis) not only were superior spiritually, but deceived the men (Uranus, Cronus, Zeus) in accomplishing what was good and right. No wonder Paul follows the line of thought he does in verses 9 through 15. He is countering every point of this pagan mythology.

Paul’s argument is that the pagans have it wrong. The worship of godly women is not concerned with elaborate or immodest dress. Women are to be clothed in good works. (2:9-10) Women are not more spiritual; gender does not give special privilege in the worship of God. (2:11-12) Gaia was not the first being; Adam was. (2:13) And it was not a string of men that were deceived; Eve, a woman, was deceived. (2:14) And then in a little play on ideas, Paul uses the thought of Artemis as the goddess of fertility by arguing that still women would be saved through childbearing—that child was our Savior, God, come into the world as human to be Messiah.

Now, with that context, let’s look closer at verse 12. The word translated silent is the Greek hesychia. In the sense used here, it appears that it means “without officious meddlesomeness.” This is the same way Paul uses it previously in the chapter in verse 2, speaking of a quiet life (not a silent one).

The word authority is translated from authentein, used only here in the New Testament. In the Apocrypha and other classical Greek, the word denotes an absolute mastery over, even to the point of violent domination (as descriptive of murderers). So Paul is interested that women not dominate in worship in the church as was done in the pagan worship outside the church. Notice that no mention is made that men should have this authority. No one, according to Christ, should have such authority (Mt 20:25-26). Understanding that word from the Greek should help us understand that this is no mere prohibition about women talking in church. It is prohibition against the attitude of authority usurped from Christ to be held by anyone else.

The “or” in the first phrase separating “to teach” from “to have authority” is not a separation of ideas. The one idea naturally spawns from the other. In other words, the phrase may be better understood as “I do not allow a woman to teach in order to have oppressive domination over a man (as is happening in the pagan culture).” This sense of the “or” is supported by such structures as found in Matthew 6:20 “But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in IN ORDER TO steal.”

Therefore, in this passage, a thorough study reveals that from the culture/society of Ephesus, the age and attitude of Timothy, the Greek words used, the flow of the entire passage, and the framework of authority discussions by Jesus and by Paul elsewhere, this verse cannot be interpreted in a way ignoring all of that to state superficially that men must hold authority in teaching matters over women. The text just doesn’t say that.