Many of us have learned the helpful distinction between power and authority. We know that might doesn’t equal right. You might have the power, or the ability, to do something. That doesn’t mean you have the right, or the authority, to do it. A man might have the power to beat up on his wife. But of course, he does not have that authority. He is under the authority of God who commands him to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25). A woman might have the ability to get her husband to let her boss him around, but she has no right to do so. She doesn’t have the authority. She is to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ (Eph 5:22).
It’s interesting that the term for authority used by Paul when he forbids women from exercising authority over a man is a different word the Bible usually uses for authority. People have tried to use this to argue that Paul isn’t forbidding the exercise of authority over men so much as he is forbidding the domineering exercise of power. Let’s take a brief look at the two terms.
The term Paul uses when forbidding women from exercising authority over men is authenteo (1 Tim 2:12). This is the only time in the New Testament this term is used. The Greek word exousia refers to the right to or authority over something. Its verb form is exousiazo. Those who received Jesus by faith, John says, God has given the right or authority (exousia) to be called children of God (John 1:12). Jesus says that all authority (exousia) has been given to him (Matt 28:18). Paul says that neither a wife nor a husband have the right, or authority (exousiazo), of or to his or her own body, but the other exercises this right or authority (1 Cor 7:4). So the terms commonly used for authority or to have authority are exousia and exousiazo.
Now, it appears that those promoters of women having authority over men in the church have a point if you consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:4. There seems to be a mutual exousia described here by Paul. But exousia, whether translated right or authority, is something that is granted by someone else. Paul’s point is simply that the man and the woman are both under the authority of God who brought them together. Therefore, neither has the right to withhold his or her body from the other.
Such authority (exousia) is something that is established by someone higher up, namely God. Authenteo is exercising authority whether such authority is given or not. It’s impossible for my wife to exousiazein over me in the sense of being my boss, since God has not given her such exousia. But it is conceivable for her to authentein over me. This is why Paul forbids it. He knows that it’s possible. He doesn’t forbid exousia, since it’s impossible to take that for oneself. It is rather a matter of fact that God either gives or doesn’t give it. A woman’s exousia in respect to her husband is that she has the right to his body and affection as her head. Paul doesn’t need to forbid or allow this. He simply asserts it as true.
This brings me to the main topic of this article. There is a helpful distinction between authority and power. One might seem to have the ability to do something, but this doesn’t mean he has the authority. For example, a husband might have the ability to beat up on his wife, but he in no way has the authority, or right, to do so. And yet, as we distinguish between power and authority, or might and right, we should note that they can never be separated.
The Scriptures hardly ever use the term power (dynamis) to describe illegitimate power. It usually describes the miracles of Jesus (Matt 7:22; 11:20, 21, 23; 13:54; Mark 6:2; 1 Cor 12:10, 28; Gal 3:5) or God’s power to carry out and accomplish his authority to save. Most notably, we see this in Romans 1:16, which describes the gospel as the power of God to salvation for all who believe; 1 Corinthians 1:18, which describes the word of the cross as the power of God to those who are being saved; and 1 Peter 1:5, which describes God’s power as that which is preserving us through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Now, it is true that dynamis is used to describe powers, which have no authority to separate us from God (Rom 8:38), but most of the time, power (dynamis) describes legitimate power by which God accomplishes his will either outside of us or within us.
So while this distinction between power and authority is helpful, we should be careful not to go too far with it. Here’s another example. Perhaps you have heard that there are many women who are perfectly capable (have the power or ability) to be pastors, but God simply doesn’t call them; they don’t have that authority. Now, certainly, it is true that there are, thank God, many women who are good at confessing the gospel and explaining it. I personally learn much from the women in my Bible classes who often give great insight. But if we claim that many women have the power to do the work of a pastor but not the authority, we miss a very important point about power and authority. Yes, they may have the power to pose as pastors and even explain the Scriptures. But this power is necessarily corrupted if they are trying to be pastors and exercise authority (authentein) over men. And not only is it corrupted. It is incompetent. True power flows out of true authority.
This means that it isn’t as if power doesn’t matter as much as authority. Many of us know the great scene from Bo Giertz’s novel, The Hammer of God, in which a pious woman, Katrina, gives a dying old man the gospel, which the pastor, Savonius, was unequipped to deliver. After she has comforted him with the gospel, she then tells the dying man to ask the pastor for Absolution and the Sacrament. She directs him to the man whom God has sent. She had power, the power of the gospel, which Savonius, plagued by rationalism, did not possess. And yet, she acknowledged that though she may have given him the gospel, as every Christian should, God had not called her to be the man’s pastor. She did not have that authority. Savonius had the call. He had the authority. This is a great example of the power of the gospel putting to shame the power of a man, and yet extolling the authority of the office.
But should we conclude from this that Katrina had the power to be a pastor even though she did not have the authority? This is where we should dig a bit deeper. She had the power of the pastoral office, just as every Christian does. In other words, she had the gospel in her heart, in her hears, and in her mouth (Rom 10:8). But did she have the power to be a pastor? Now, I have emphasized in previous posts that the pastoral office is purely functional. No function, no office. There is no such thing as an ontological possession of the office apart from the task of performing the duties of the office.
And yet, at the same time, we should understand that the power of the gospel, which every Christian has — the power of the ministry itself — is a bit distinct from the power or ability to be a pastor. A woman can’t be a pastor. It isn’t just that she doesn’t have the authority or right to be one. She, in fact, does not have the ability to be one. Certainly, she has the ability and the duty to speak the gospel. And that gospel she speaks is just as valid and certain in heaven where Jesus Christ, with all his angels, prophets, apostles, and ministers, declares it. But this is a bit different from having the power to be a pastor.
You see, being a pastor doesn’t simply mean that you are good at confessing and explaining the gospel. This, to be sure, is the essence of the ministerial office, which every Christian possesses by virtue of faith in this office of the gospel (1 Cor 3:21-23). But a pastor must have other abilities, which accompany such teaching. First, he must be a man. He must be the husband of one wife. He must be able to manage his household well, not be given to drunkenness and fits of wrath (1 Tim 3:1:2 ff). A pastor isn’t required to be a man simply because those are the rules. It isn’t as if we take a disgraced pastor out of office merely because he broke a law, but we all know that if we were to make an exception then he would do a fine job. No! If a pastor isn’t a man, then this pastor will not be able to do what God calls pastors to do. If a pastor does not manage his household well or falls into disgrace, then he will not have the ability to be a pastor. We don’t exclude those who don’t fit these requirements simply to avoid public stigma. We exclude them also because they are demonstrably incompetent teachers.
Sure, they might be able to explain the gospel well within their own stations. But they do not have the ability, they do not have the power, to teach in the way God calls pastors to teach. A woman might be smarter than her pastor. She might be able to understand God’s Word better than her pastor. But one thing she does not have that her pastor has is this. He’s a man, and she isn’t. So even if he isn’t as good at teaching, this does not change the fact that manliness is essential to being a good pastor. Abuse, namely him not being a good teach, does not nullify the fact that being a man is essential to the kind of teaching God requires of this public office. In fact, it affirms it all the more.
If a pastor is bad at teaching then the church with her ministers should examine him, teach him, and be patient. If he isn’t as gifted of a teacher as others, then find a place for him where he can make use of the abilities God has given him. And if he can’t at all teach, then he shouldn’t be a pastor. But with all this said, manliness is essential to the ability to teach and lead the flock. This is because teaching is more than simply Words. It is also an example, as St. Paul admonishes Timothy (1 Tim 4:12), “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
A woman is necessarily incompetent to teach in this way since it is simply impossible for her to give a manly example. She can, by God’s grace, give a motherly, womanly example, winning over her own husband by the inward beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pet 3:1-4). The older women teach the younger women about the Christian life of a wife and mother (Tit 2:3-5). This isn’t merely morals and good behavior, but good works as they reflect a confession of the gospel. I don’t have the ability to teach the younger women in the way an older, wise woman can. I do, however, have the ability by God’s grace, as well as the duty and authority, to teach younger women as their brother and father. To be sure, the power of the Word is the same. But the power in the example is unique to each station.
Paul tells the leaders of the church at Corinth to be men (1 Cor 16:13). Is he referring to the pastors? Perhaps. Is he referring to the heads of the households? This is likely the case. It is necessary for those who exercise authority, whether specifically as pastor or as fathers in the congregation, to be men. Every Christian is taught to do his or her duty according to his or her ability, or power (2 Cor 8:3). But this power is unique to each according to the station God has placed that person. A man can nurture his children, wash their clothes, cook them meals, read them stories, and bear their burdens. But he cannot be their mother. If she isn’t around, then, of course, there are many things he must do. But not only does he not have the authority to be a mother, since God doesn’t call men to be mothers; he also does not have the ability to be a mother. And the same is true of mothers. They might have to labor more if dad isn’t around. But it is impossible for them to be fathers. If they tried then they would be bad at it. They might be good at trying, but they would necessarily fail at the task.
It is good for us to emphasize the importance of authority, and that while someone might seem to have the ability to do something, he does not necessarily have the authority or right to do it. And it is also important to point out that while one might not have the authority, God still provides the power when needed. For example, when the Soviets kill all your pastors and put your husbands in gulags, then God provides to pious mothers the ability to teach their children. They are authorized as Christians and mothers to confess the gospel, which is the greatest power in heaven or earth. These are wonderful mothers. But they aren’t fathers. And they aren’t pastors. That’s impossible. So as we unpack this distinction between power and authority, we must also conclude that power without authority is not only illegitimate. It is also less powerful. Might doesn’t equal right.
But we must also add, right gives the might. Women not only aren’t allowed to be pastors. They also wouldn’t be good at it. Not only is it against God’s authorization for women to exercise authority over men. They are also not good at it. Men who have been removed from office because of false doctrine or public disgrace might have the ability to explain God’s Word on blogs or in books. But they are necessarily incompetent teachers of the church. God knows what he’s doing when he creates men and women with their respective roles. He knows what he’s doing when he gives the requirements for the office of bishop.
So in summary, if you don’t have the authority to do something, then this means that you also don’t truly have the power to do it either. You might have the power to do something that looks like it. But might isn’t really might without the right to carry it out. The gospel is the power of God because it reveals the righteousness of God for faith (Rom 1:17). This is the righteousness Jesus fulfilled (Matt 3:15) by fulfilling the Scriptures (Matt 5:18). So as we each enjoy this saving power in our lives, we carry out our God-given duties according to the strength he provides. And we confess together that with all the different authority God gives in different stations in life, the greatest authority we have is that of receiving by faith sonship from God through Jesus.
So use the authority of faith to believe and confess the power of the gospel within your station in life. In this way, you are saved by the power of God no matter how lowly your station is, whether as a mother bearing and rearing children (1 Tim 2:15), a husband doing his duty toward his wife (1 Pet 3:7), or any Christian bearing his cross (1 Pet 2:21). No matter what your specific authority is in your earthly duties, there is a promise of God’s gospel, his saving power, applied to each of these stations. And he promises to work it all out for your good (Rom 8:28). And when you do the duty God has given you, whether as a pastor, a father, a mother, a child, a worker, or a servant of all, then you can be certain that your sufficiency is from God (2 Cor 3:5), and your labors are not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).