Other 1st Century Jewish Writers Who Used Greek Words Like “Authentein”

I was recently reading an interesting paper about a 1st century Jewish philosopher named Philo. Like Paul, Philo wrote to warn people about a false “knowledge” (gnosis) of God. Also like Paul, Philo used a rare Greek word in the context of a warning against false teaching. While Paul used the word “authentein,” Philo used a similar noun, “authentes.” Here are a few excerpts from the paper, and some thoughts about why this may be significant for women’s equality in the church:

Heretical gnosis reached Palestine at least by the early first century. ‘Gnostic’ mystical doctrines were tolerated and fostered by some in orthodox circles, so long as ‘the honor of the Father in Heaven’ was served and the unity of God maintained. Thus a distinction was made between ‘true’ gnosis and ‘false’ gnosis, the latter characterized by arrogance over against God…

The Palestinian distinction between true and false gnosis is matched by, and preceded by, a similar distinction in the Alexandrian Diaspora. Philo distinguishes between the true and the false gnosis by stating that the true is characterized by following God, and is typified by righteous Abel, while the false, typified by Cain, is characterized by ascribing all things to the human mind. (https://www.dhushara.com/book/consum/gnos/jgnos.htm)

In his work entitled “the Worse Attacks the Better,” Philo talks about two opposing principles in the life of each person. One of these principles—which he metaphorically calls “Cain”–is at war with the other, which is metaphorically referred to as “Abel.”

A person who is dominated by Cain embraces a false “gnosis” of God. Such a person elevates the human mind over and above God. Philo describes the symptoms of such a life in the following terms:

If, therefore, you see any one desiring meat or drink at an unseasonable time [some Gnostics advocated a life of bodily self-indulgence], or repudiating baths or ointments at the proper season, or neglecting the proper clothing for his body, or lying on the ground and sleeping in the open air, and by such conduct as this, pretending to a character for temperance and self-denial [other Gnostics advocated a life of bodily self-denial], you, pitying his self-deception, should show him the true path of temperance, for all the practices in which he has been indulging are useless and profitless labours, oppressing both his soul and body with hunger and all sorts of other hardships. (The Worse Attacks the Better)

Sticking with his “Cain and Abel” metaphor, Philo explains that a person who embraces a false “gnosis” (knowledge of God) becomes a “murderer” of himself. Here are his exact words:

What is this that thou hast done, O wretched man? Does not the God-loving opinion which you flatter yourself that you have destroyed, live in the presence of God? But it is of yourself that you have become the murderer (authentes), by destroying from out of its seat the only quality by which you could live in a blameless manner. (The Worse Attacks the Better)

What is striking about this passage is that Philo describes a man who has embraced a false “gnosis” of God as an “authentes”–a “murderer” of himself.

Some complementarians argue that the practice of using “authentes” to refer to a “murderer” was obsolete by the 1st century AD; yet Philo–a first century author–used it in exactly this way. He is not alone. Flavius Josephus–another 1st century Greek speaking Jewish writer–also used “authentas” and “authenten” to convey this meaning.

Those familiar with the Greek language of Paul’s first letter to Timothy will probably recognize that Philo’s “authentes” is very similar to Paul’s use of the word “authentein” in 1 Timothy 2:12. Dr. Leland Wilshire, author of “Insight into Two Biblical Passages,” demonstrates that “authentes” is a noun form of the infinitive verb “authentein.” In other words, it is likely that the two words shared a similar meaning in the 1st century AD.

Some complementarians allege that while nouns like authentes may have carried a meaning related to murder, similar verbs (like authentein) did not. In making this argument, they ignore the work of egalitarian scholars Leland Wilshire and Philip B. Payne who provide examples of other verbs in Koine Greek literature that carried this meaning. The first verb, discussed by Wilshire, is “euthentekota.” It is used in a commentary on a famous Greek tragedy in which a man “murdered” his mother. The second verb, discussed by Payne, is “authentesonta.” It is used to highlight that a king (named Mithridates) was responsible for the killing of Roman citizens carried out by his soldiers. Even though the king did not do the killing himself, he was still responsible for the deaths. (See Payne’s discussion of 1st Timothy 2:12 in “Man and Woman: One in Christ”)

The significance of the parallel between Philo’s use of authentes and Paul’s use of authentein becomes especially apparent when we consider that both authors were 1st century AD Greek-speaking Jews, writing to warn people about a false “knowledge” or gnosis of God. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:20, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge (gnosis).”

Paul’s description of those who embrace such a false knowledge is also similar to Philo’s. Here are Paul’s comments from 1 Timothy 4:1-4:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.

In Philo, false gnosis is responsible for a man’s spiritual death. Such a man would be an “authentes.”

In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul may very well be prohibiting a woman from a form of teaching (didaskein) that would similarly be responsible for the spiritual death of a man (authentein andros).

Some complementarians object to this thinking on the grounds that it is absurd to think Paul was forbidding a woman from “murdering” a man. The Ten Commandments would suffice to prohibit such an act. Paul would not need to write an additional prohibition in 1st Timothy 2:12. This is a straw man argument. Paul was not evidently prohibiting women from murdering men. What he may have been doing, however, is prohibiting a false teaching that encouraged a man to embrace a false knowledge of God, and thereby become a “murderer” of himself.  In this manner, a woman’s false teaching may have been responsible for a man’s spiritual death.

Again, some complementarians refer to this kind of thinking as “mental gymnastics.” It isn’t. In reality, it’s simply good ethnomethodology–a field of sociology that examines the cultural meaning assigned to words in their original historical context. In 1st century Greek literature, written by a Jewish author, “authentes” did indeed refer to a man who “murdered” himself–brought about his own spiritual death–by embracing a false knowledge of God. Paul may well have used “authentein” in a similar manner.

If this interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 is accurate, Paul’s reference to the story of Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is very enlightening. Gnostics referred to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as “divine gnosis.” They viewed the serpent as a messenger of God that was passing this knowledge onto Eve, who would then transmit it to Adam. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Paul may be addressing this Gnostic heresy by reminding Timothy that Eve did not receive “divine knowledge” from the serpent; rather, she was deceived, and when she gave the fruit to Adam, he ate it and consequently died. (See “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ From the Oppression of Patriarchy” for further details and documentation on early Gnostic thought)

Even the passage about being “saved through childbearing” begins to make sense in this context. Some Gnostics believed that a woman would lose her salvation by bearing children. Giving birth to a child, in their eyes, was an act that imprisoned another soul in a corrupt body. It was viewed as a terrible sin. Through childbirth a woman might lose her life (death by childbearing was common) and even her salvation.

A woman teaching an ascetic form of Gnosticism (bodily self-denial) in Timothy’s church might have encouraged a man to embrace a false knowledge (gnosis) of God that required celibacy, perhaps even within marriage. (Paul confronted a similar problem in 1 Corinthians 7:1.)

Paul’s response to this Gnostic teaching may then have been to remind Timothy that women will be “saved through childbearing” by having faith in Christ that shows itself in holiness (1 Timothy 2:15). This does not mean, as St. Jerome wrongly suggested, that a woman will be saved “by” bearing children; but rather that she will be saved by faith in Christ, and need not worry about losing her soul “through” the act of giving birth.

It’s interesting to note that both Philo and Paul appear to address Gnostic heresy that was formed by combining Judaism and/or Christianity with pagan myths. (For more information on goddess myths and their influence on early Gnostic beliefs, see Philippe Borgeaud’s “Mother of the God’s: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary.”)

Paul makes reference to the influence of “myths” in 1 Timothy 1:4. Ephesian mythology was particularly focused on “saving women in childbearing.” One way the Ephesian goddess could be appeased was by male priests who permanently renounced their masculinity through a ritual act of self-castration. Historically, native Ephesians called this goddess Cybele. Greeks called her Artemis, and Romans referred to her as Diana. Though Greco-Roman worship practices eventually dispensed with castration in favour of temporary celibacy for Artemis’ male priests, Anatolian men continued to honor their goddess (Cybele) through ritual self-castration. This practice continued in Ephesus through Roman times, and was even imitated by Christians who embraced extreme asceticism, notably in 1st century Ephesus. (See Daniel F. Caner’s “The Practice and Prohibition of Ritual Self-castration in Early Christianity” https://www.jstor.org/stable/1583869?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

This practice so alarmed Roman law-makers that Roman citizens were forbidden to participate in the rite. Those who violated this law were prosecuted under the Roman law “against murderers.” Depriving a man of his masculinity—and depriving both him and the Empire of future (male) offspring—was a crime comparable to murder. (see “The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite,” edited by Elizabeth Wyner Mark, and “Becoming Male in the Middle Ages,” edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler)

What does all of this historical information suggest?

It tells us that despite complementarian claims to the contrary, words like “authentes” and “authentein” likely maintained a meaning in the 1st century AD that had nothing to do with a woman “exercising authority” over a man in church. It is more likely the case that the apostle Paul, like Philo before him, was writing to warn the church about a false teaching that would somehow be responsible for the death of a man. The teaching may have encouraged a man to embrace a “false gnosis” of God and thereby bring about his own spiritual death. And/or it may have encouraged a man to participate in the extreme asceticism of self-castration—a crime comparable to murder under Roman law.

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The Idolatry of Trusting in “Masculine Strength”

From cover to cover, the Bible is a lesson in NOT trusting in human strength and wisdom.

Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit so that they would allegedly be like God. They would not need to trust in God’s love for them, God’s provision, wisdom or power.

After eating from this forbidden tree, Adam began to rule over his wife.

Pharaoh ruled over the Israelites in Egypt through violence: through the strong arm and the master’s whip, through an armed force of horses and chariots.

Ancient customs across many cultures gave the right of inheritance to the oldest male: the offspring thought best able to use human strength to rule over home, land and slaves.

Rome prized male offspring and rewarded those who showed themselves strong through military conquest.

What has God’s response been to this celebration and reliance on “man” power?

Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise.

Pharaoh’s army was consumed in the Red Sea, and Israel was liberated.

God intentionally ignored the custom of giving power to firstborn sons in the case of Isaac (Ishmael was firstborn, but Isaac became the child of promise), Joseph (his brothers were older, but he became a ruler in Egypt), Esau (he was firstborn, but Jacob became Israel). David (his brothers were older, but he slew Goliath, delivered Israel from oppression and became King).

Deborah was chosen as a judge, prophet and ruler in Israel, even though there were plenty of men available.

Jael, a woman, slew the leader of an army of oppressors.

After delivering Israel from Egypt, every Israelite family was required to surrender their firstborn son to God. Why? Because God did not want them trusting in the “earthly custom” of depending on human strength. They were not to rely on the strength of the oldest male. They were to remember that they were delivered from Egypt by God’s “strong hand” and “powerful arm.” Instead of literally giving up their firstborn son, each Israelite family could pay 5 shekels. A Levite priesthood of all men would be dedicated to God as a sign that Israel would trust in God alone for strength, wisdom and provision; NOT in the limited, fallible resources of human beings—specifically men.

When Abraham trusted in the strength of his own flesh to fulfill God’s promise, he was told to circumcise himself as a reminder to trust in God alone.

God surrendered his own Firstborn Son to death on the cross, and then raised him up by Divine power, to free humanity from the oppression of sin.

In Christ, now, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female; we are all one. We have all been set free from sin and death, through faith in the love of God, made known to us in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

All followers of Jesus are called to surrender themselves to God as living sacrifices, desiring to know God’s love and to share it with a hurting world.

Every follower of Jesus Christ who yields to the leading of God’s Spirit is therefore referred to as being part of a “holy priesthood.”

God purposely did not choose those that “the world” considered strong to carry his message of freedom to humanity. He chose those whom the world “considered” weak and lowly.

Jesus did not deliver humanity through a show of force, but through the apparent weakness of the cross, surrendering to the Roman authorities, to die the death assigned to disobedient slaves.

And so, when church leaders tell people that God made men to rule over women, when wives are told to obey the authority of their husbands, when church leaders tell us that Adam was meant to protect and provide for Eve through his “masculine strength”; they are reading their Bibles upside down.

It’s time for them, and those who follow their teaching, to repent of the idolatry of trusting in the limited and fallible “strength” of human males.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.'” (Jeremiah 17:5)

Twelve Jewish Men: Why the First Twelve Disciples were Male

Since Jesus initially chose twelve men to serve as his disciples, some believe that only men may hold positions of leadership in the church today.

This belief is incorrect.

This viewpoint neglects the fact that Jesus chose only twelve Jewish men to be his disciples. Anyone insisting that only men should teach, preach and lead in the church should also insist that all of these men be Jewish. In general, however, the church does not exclude Gentile men from any form of ministry. Inconsistently, though, many in the church continue to exclude women.

If Jesus’ selection of twelve Jewish men was not meant to be an enduring pattern for church leadership, why did he do it? Matthew’s gospel explains: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'” (Matthew 10:5-6, NRSV).

Later in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul reiterates the idea that Jesus’ message first had to be preached to the Jews: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (i.e. Gentile)” (Romans 1:16 NRSV).

Jesus’ mission “to the Jew first” was a fulfilment of the Messianic prophesy found in the book of Ezekiel:

I, the Sovereign Lord, tell you that I myself will look for my sheep and take care of them in the same way as shepherds take care of their sheep that were scattered and are brought together again…

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will find them a place to rest. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken. I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick…

I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them. I, the Lord, will be their God, and a king like my servant David will be their ruler. I have spoken. I will make a covenant with them that guarantees their security. (Ezekiel 34:11-25, GNT)

God, in Christ, came to search for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Jesus, a descendant of David, is the Good Shepherd who will be their King and make a new covenant with them. In going first to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, Jesus was showing the world that the promised Messiah had come.

The following passages from the New Testament confirm that Jesus was the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy:

  • Israel will be saved by “the Shepherd who does what is right” (Ezekiel 34:16): I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11, NIV).
  • The Good Shepherd will be God himself (Ezekiel 34:11): Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11, NASB).
  • The Good Shepherd would be the King of Israel (Ezekiel 34:23-24): And Pilate wrote a title also, and put it on the cross. And there was written, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19, ASB).
  • The Good Shepherd would be compared to David (Ezekiel 34:23-24): This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David” (Matthew 1:1, NIV).
  • The Good Shepherd would make a new covenant with Israel (Ezekiel 34:25): And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:20, NASB).

Jesus went first to the lost sheep of the House of Israel to fulfill prophecy, and demonstrate that he was in fact the promised Messiah. While this is understandable, it still does not explain why he specifically chose twelve Jewish men as his messengers. Understanding this requires an examination of the oral traditions of Judaism during the time of Jesus’ ministry. According to these traditions, only Jewish men were permitted to teach in the synagogues. This was not a law found in the Old Testament; it was an oral tradition developed by the Jewish Rabbis.i In choosing Jewish men, Jesus chose messengers who were legally permitted to speak in Jewish places of worship. His selection of twelve Jewish men points to the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the institution of the New. The Old Covenant was given by God through Moses to the 12 tribes of Israel; similarly, the New Covenant was given through Jesus to the 12 apostles of Israel. Once again, Jesus is demonstrating through his actions that he is instituting a New Covenant with Israel in fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.

Once Jesus had fulfilled the Old Covenant through his death and resurrection, he no longer limited his ministry to “the House of Israel,” and he no longer limited his messengers to men. In fact, the first people he revealed himself to after his resurrection from the dead were women. He then commissioned them to go and tell the twelve disciples about his miraculous victory over sin and the grave:

After the Sabbath, as Sunday morning was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Suddenly there was a violent earthquake; an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid that they trembled and became like dead men.

The angel spoke to the women. “You must not be afraid,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, just as he said. Come here and see the place where he was lying. Go quickly now, and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from death, and now he is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him!’ Remember what I have told you.” So they left the tomb in a hurry, afraid and yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Peace be with you.” They came up to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to them. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10, GNT)

After the Old Covenant had been fulfilled, an angel of God and Jesus himself first chose women to proclaim the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. This is why the women chosen by God are often referred to as “the apostles to the apostles.” We know three of these women by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the Bible tells us that there were “other women with them” (Luke 24:10). No men were present among the group that was first commissioned to proclaim the gospel message.

It was then upon both men and women that the Holy Spirit was poured out in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. This fulfilled the prophesy of Joel, who said that both men and women would be filled with God’s Spirit and proclaim his message:

Afterward I will pour out my Spirit on everyone:
your sons and daughters will proclaim my message;
your old people will have dreams,
and your young people will see visions.
At that time I will pour out my Spirit
even on servants, both men and women. (Joel 2:28-29, GNT)

Pentecost commemorated the day God gave the law through Moses to his people, Israel. Now, it would also be remembered as the day the risen Lord Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his people, the church. Men and women would now be God’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Anyone called by God and gifted by the Spirit to teach, preach or lead should do so.  This includes women and men, Jews and Gentiles.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8)

(This article has been adapted from Chapter 6 of “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ from the Oppression of Patriarchy”)

References

i Rabbi Eliezar, 1st century A.D.; as cited in Trombley, C. 2003. Who Said Women Can’t Teach? God’s Vision for Women in Ministry (p. 40). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos.

Responding to Complementarian Claims about the Language of 1 Timothy 2:12

Numerous egalitarian scholars have noted that “authentein”–the word used by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12–probably did not mean “exercise authority,” a translation we find in many of our English versions of the Bible.  These English translations make it appear as though Paul was prohibiting women from “teaching” or “exercising authority” over men in the church.  Egalitarian scholars such as Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger as well as Leland Wilshire have identified that words in the same family as authentein were often used to refer to violent crimes, or persons responsible for the death of themselves or others (see the Kroegers’ “I Suffer Not a Woman,” Appendix 1; and Wilshire’s “Insight into Two Biblical Passages”).

Perhaps the strongest critique of these observations comes from complementarian scholar Albert Wolters.  In his article in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Spring 2006) he makes a number of statements suggesting that this meaning–that of being responsible for death (as in the case of murder)–was no longer valid during the Hellenistic period, which is relevant to New Testament studies.  The New Testament was originally written in Hellenistic (also called “Koine”) Greek.

Here are some statements by Wolters to that effect:

after the classical period [510-323 BC], authentes, “murderer” had become archaic or obsolete. (Wolters, p. 52)

authentes “murderer”…the classical meaning of this word was no longer understood in Hellenistic times. (Wolters, p. 53)

To begin, Wolters’ definition of “authentes” as “murderer” is unrealistically narrow.  The same word was used to describe those responsible for death in circumstances other than intentional homicide.  Authentes could indeed have been used in reference to murder, but applied equally to suicide, accidental death, or even taking an action that later ended in someone’s death.

In the classical period, for example, Antiphon used authentes to refer once to a “murderer,” and again on another occasion in reference to a man who accidentally killed himself by stepping into the path of a javelin at a sporting event. The focus of the term was to identify the one responsible for the death, whether or not it was an intentional crime.i

Secondly, Wolters is mistaken when he says that this meaning was “archaic or obsolete” during Hellenistic times.

The following list contains a number of examples from the Hellenistic period, during which authentes was used repeatedly to refer to those who were responsible for the death of themselves or others.  Some of these examples are taken from the 1st century AD—the same time period that Paul wrote 1st Timothy:

Date: 1st century A.D.
Source: Flavius Josephus, Jewish Wars
Words: authentas, authenten
Meaning: murderers, murderer
Context: A Roman official named Cumanus neglected to prosecute those who had committed murder. Antipater is held responsible for the murder of Pheroras by poison.ii

Date: 1st century A.D.
Source: Philo Judaeus
Word: authentes
Meaning: self-murderer
Context: Philo speaks metaphorically about those who murder the better part of themselves through ascetic self-neglect and hypocritical living.iii

Date: 2nd century A.D.
Source: Appian of Alexandria, The Civil Wars
Word: authentai, authenten, authentai, authentai
Meaning: murderers, murderer, slayers, slayers of themselves
Context: Magistrates hesitate to pass the death sentence against a former Roman General named Marius. Roman General Marcus Perpenna is arrested for the murder of Quintus Sertorius. Those responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar are referred to as his “slayers.” Cassius and Brutus brought about their own deaths by participating in the murder of Julius Caesar.iv

Date: 2nd century A.D.
Source: Appian of Alexandria, Mithridatic Wars
Word: authentai
Meaning: those responsible for murder and dismemberment
Context: The citizens of Tralles hire a man named Theophilus to slaughter Romans.  He kills and dismembers them in the temple of Concord.v

Date: 2nd century A.D.
Source: Harpocration
Word: authentes
Meaning: murderer
Context: Murder can be done by one’s own hand or through the use of others.vi

Date: 2nd century A.D.
Source: Phrynichus Arabius
Word: authentes
Meaning: murderer
Context: A Greek grammarian wrote, “Do not use authentes for ‘master’ as the orators in connection with the law courts but for ‘murderer.’”vii

In his book entitled, Insight into Two Biblical Passages, Leland Wilshire also includes examples from historians Polybius (2nd century BC) and Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) that refer to those who are responsible for criminal action, death and murder.  Wolters accuses Wilshire of making an error.  He states that these historical examples are unrelated to “murder,” and that they are properly understood to mean simply that someone was the “doer of an action”:

The proposal by Wilshire, “1 Timothy 2:12 Revisited,” p. 48, to conflate the meanings of authentes “murderer,” and authentes “doer,” and thus to arrive at the sense “instigate violence” for the verb authentein in 1 Tim. 2.12 fails to observe (among other things) this difference in register. (Wolters, p. 65)

Wolters further claims that the “doer of an action” was really the “master of his own actions,” which was really just another example of “authority” used in a positive or neutral sense:

The rarity and lateness of authentes “doer”, as well as its exclusive association with the genitive of words denoting action, give reason to believe that this usage of the word is only seemingly distinct from that of authentes ‘master’. The doer or initiator of an action is conceived of as the master of that action, the one who is in charge of the action…(Wolters, p. 45)

Overwhelmingly, the authority to which authentes ‘master’ and all its derivatives refer is a positive or neutral concept. (Wolters, p. 54)

Do the examples from Polybius and Diodorus Siculus refer simply to “doers of an action” as Wolters claims?  Do they really represent “positive or neutral authority”; or do they refer to murder or being responsible for death, as Wilshire suggests?

To answer these questions, here are the three examples of “authentes” that are cited by Wolters from the histories of Polybius and Diodorus Siculus:

Diodorus Siculus Histories 17.5.4.6
“Bagoas, a eunuch in physical fact but a militant rogue in disposition, killed him by poison administered by a certain physician and placed upon the throne the youngest of his sons, Arses.  He similarly made away with the brothers of the new king, who were barely of age, in order that the young man might be isolated and tractable to his control. But the young king let it be known that he was offended at Bagoas’s previous outrageous behaviour and was prepared to punish the author of these crimes, so Bagoas anticipated his intentions and killed Arses and his children also while he was still in the third year of his reign.”

Bagoas is not merely the “doer” of an undisclosed or general “action” in this example.  He was a murderer.  He had someone assassinated by poison, and then went on to commit additional violent crimes.

Diodorus Siculus Histories 16.61.1.3
“For, speaking generally, it was not merely the perpetrators of the sacrilege but all persons who had the slightest connection with the sacrilege that were hounded by the inexorable retribution sent of Heaven.  In fact the man who first schemed for the seizure of the shrine, Philomelus, in a crisis of the war hurled himself over a cliff, while his brother Onomarchus, after taking over the command of his people, now become desperate, was cut to pieces in a battle in Thessaly, along with the Phocians and mercenaries of his command, and crucified.”

Those who pillaged the shrine at Delphi brought upon themselves the retribution of the gods: their own deaths.   In no sense were these men merely “doers” of an unidentified action.  They committed a crime against the gods, and they died as a result.

Polybius Histories 22.14.2.3
“Philip was exceedingly taken aback by this, and after hesitating for long, said he would send Cassander, the author of the deed, as they said, in order that the senate might learn the truth from him.  Both now and at subsequent interviews with the legates he exculpated Onomastus on the pretext that not only had he not been present at Maronea on the occasion of the massacre, but had not even been in the neighbourhood; fearing in fact that on arriving at Rome this officer, who had taken part in many similar deeds, might inform the Romans not only about what had happened at Maronea, but about all the rest.  Finally he got Onomastus excused; but sent off Cassander after the departure of the legates and giving him an escort as far as Epirus killed him there by poison.”

Cassander was the perpetrator of the Massacre at Moronea, and was as a result of this action himself killed by poison.  In contrast to Wolters’ viewpoint, Cassander was also not the “master of his own actions” in this account, he was acting under the orders of King Phillip of Macedon.

Yet another example from Diodorus Siculus Histories, not mentioned by Wolters, refers to a group of men who actively supported a violent attack on the Roman Senate that resulted in the death of the Senate guard.  These men were referred to as “authentas.”viii  These men were also not the “masters of their own actions”; they waited for a signal from the leader of the conspiracy, Gaius Gracchus, before striking the Senate Guard down with swords they had concealed under their togas.

Has Albert Wolters demonstrated that “authentes” no longer kept the meaning of “murder” (or more properly being responsible for death) during the Hellenistic period?  No, he has not.  In fact, the very examples he uses to support his point actually retained the meaning of those who were responsible for the death of themselves or others.

The meaning of “murderer” or “being responsible for death” remained very familiar to the 1st century Greek speaking world.  In the Greek language of 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul may indeed have been prohibiting someone (who happened to be a woman) from a form of false teaching that would somehow “be responsible for the death of a man.”

Appendix:

Some Contextual Details that May Help us to Understand the Nature of Paul’s Warning

-The false teaching of ascetic Gnosticism in this region encouraged people to practice a form of “self-mortification” (putting oneself to death) that attempted to annihilate the body’s appetites and human emotion.  In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul warns Timothy about those who forbid marriage and prohibit the eating of certain foods.

-Gnostics taught that it was a good thing when Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam.  They viewed this fruit as a symbol of divine “knowledge” (“gnosis” in Greek).  They also taught that all life came through a woman.  This can be contrasted with Paul’s language in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, in which he explains that Eve was deceived, and that Adam was actually the source of Eve’s life.  Just as giving the fruit to Adam–and his choosing to eat it–led to his death, so too might the false teaching in Ephesus lead to death.

-Writing a warning against the “false gnosis” of ascetic self-neglect, Philo Judaeus—writing in the same century as Paul—described a man who practiced this as an “authentes,” a “murderer of himself.”  Philo explained that such a man was attempting to please God in his own strength, and compared this man to Cain in the book of Genesis. Just as Cain killed Abel, so too would a man end up bringing about his own death (spiritually) by embracing this false teaching.

-Some ascetics, including a young man in Ephesus (according to the apocryphal Acts of John), blamed their bodies for sin, and castrated themselves as a result. This practice was prohibited by the Roman Law against “murderers and poisoners” enacted by Cornelius Sulla in the 1st century B.C..

-Some men, influenced by the mythology of the Eleusian mysteries, attempted to “mortify the passions” by using hemlock, a potent poison.  This use of hemlock was also prohibited by the Roman law against murderers and poisoners, on the grounds that it might lead to the death of a man.

-Some Jewish ascetics were also zealots who taught that any Gentile who dared to speak of God or the Law must be circumcised.  Men would be circumcised by force; those who resisted would be “slaughtered,” according to 3rd century AD writer, Hippolytus of Rome.  The practice of forcibly circumcising men, or murdering those who resisted, was also explicitly prohibited by the Roman law against murderers and poisoners, enacted just prior to the New Testament period.

-Some Ephesian goddess cults discouraged women from getting married and bearing children.  Women who decided to get married and have a family had to offer sacrifices to the goddess.  They were concerned that if they did not do this, they might die in childbearing.  See Paul’s language in 1 Timothy 2:15 about women being “saved in childbearing” through faith in Christ that would show itself in love and holiness.  Also, Gnostic cults that drew inspiration from this mythology worried that “generating matter” (e.g. having a child) would jeopardize their salvation.  See 1st Timothy 1:4, where Paul warns against those who “pay attention to myths.”

-In Appendix 1 of “I Suffer Not a Woman,” Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger share a number of possible scenarios in which Paul may have prohibited “authentein” in the sense of ritual violence, or death that was either real or symbolic.  Many of these examples relate to either the mystery cults or early forms of Gnosticism.

-In his book entitled “Insight into Two Biblical Passages,” Leland Wilshire explains that Paul may use “authentein” as a reference to violent arguments about false teaching in the church of Ephesus.

-In his book entitled “Man and Woman: One in Christ,” Philip B. Payne identifies that “authentein” retained its violent connotations in 1st century Hellenistic Greek.  He provides examples of both nouns and verbs that refer to murder, and suggests that Paul may have been referring to metaphorical death in a sense that would have been understood by the Ephesian congregation.

-Possible translations of 1st Timothy 2:12, in light of this information, include:

  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to be responsible for the death of a man
  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to instigate violence against a man (Wilshire’s proposal)

Currently, the only English translation of the Bible that acknowledges the violent connotations of “authentein” in 1st century Hellenstic Greek is the International Standard Version, which reads, “Moreover, in the area of teaching, I am not allowing a woman to instigate conflict toward a man.”  I believe this translation is a step in the right direction.

References:

[i]Antiphon, 2nd Tetralogy, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0019%3Aspeech%3D3%3Atetralogy%3D4%3Asection%3D4; and Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0019%3Aspeech%3D5%3Asection%3D11.

[ii] Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.240.5, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0148%3Abook%3D2%3Asection%3D236; and Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.582.1. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0147%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D582

[iii] Philo, The Worse Attacks the Better XXI 78, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book7.html.

[iv] Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.7.61, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+1.7.61&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232; Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.13.115, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D13%3Asection%3D115; Appian, The Civil Wars, 3.2.16, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+3.2.16&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232; Appian, The Civil Wars, 4.17.134, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+4.17.134&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232.

[v] Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 4.23, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0230%3Atext%3DMith.%3Achapter%3D4.

[vi] Harpocratian, Lexicon in decem oratores Atticos, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:2013.01.0002:letter=a:entry=aifentes&highlight=au%29qe%2Fnths.

[vii] Lobeck, C. Rhematikon sive verborum graecorum et nominum verbalium technologia, as cited in Payne, P. (2009). Man and Woman, One in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, p. 364.

[viii] Diodorus Siculus, Photian Fragment 35.25.1.

 

 

An Egalitarian Review of Bible Translations

The chart below compares how a number of English versions of the Bible handle certain passages that have become notorious for gender bias in translation.  The chart does not compare all available English translations, nor does it examine all such controversial passages.

The Bible versions being reviewed include: the Common English Bible (CEB), the New English Translation (NET), the International Standard Version (ISV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the King James Version (KJV).

Questions considered:

  • Does the version use gendered (male) language, when the oldest available manuscripts do not? (Genesis 1:27, and 2:7)
  • Does the version suggest that male authority is a divine mandate, or that women will “desire to control” men? (Genesis 3:16)
  • Does the version portray the leadership of women as inherently misleading? (Isaiah 3:12)
  • Does the version introduce negative accusations against a female character in the Bible that are not found in the oldest available manuscript evidence? (Judges 19:2)
  • Is the version inconsistent when describing ministry roles for men and women? (Romans 16:1-2)
  • Does the version change the name of a female apostle to a man’s name, or does it call into question her apostolic ministry? (Romans 16:7)
  • Does the version appear to presume that authority in the church or in the home must be “male”? (1 Timothy 2:12)

This review reflects my own personal impressions of the passages as they appear in each version.  Different readers may get different subjective impressions when they read a particular passage.

Translations with a check mark appear free of androcentric, patriarchal and sexist language in those specific passages.  They also appear to have a higher degree of accuracy when compared with the oldest available Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts.

Definitions, According to the Oxford Living Dictionary

AndrocentricFocused or centered on men.

Patriarchal: Relating to or denoting a system of society or government controlled by men.

Sexist: Characterized by or showing prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

Bible chart photoRanking (Gender Accuracy in the Old Testament)

  1. The Common English Bible (CEB), and the Good News Translation (GNT): 4 out of 5.
  2. The New English Translation (NET): 3 out of 5.
  3. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 2 out of 5.
  4. The International Standard Version (ISV), The New International Version (NIV), The New American Standard Bible (NASB), The King James Version (KJV): 1 out of 5.
  5. The English Standard Version (ESV): 0 out of 5.

Ranking (Gender Accuracy in the New Testament)

  1. The International Standard Version (ISV): 3 out of 3.
  2. The Common English Bible (CEB), The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), The New International Version (NIV): 2 out of 3.
  3. The New English Translation (NET), The Good News Translation (GNT), The English Standard Version (ESV), The New American Standard Bible (NASB), The King James Version (KJV): 0 out of 3.

Summary

The most gender-accurate Bible translations of the Old Testament, as evaluated by these criteria, are the Common English Bible (CEB) and the Good News Translation (GNT).

The most gender-accurate Bible translation of the New Testament, as evaluated by these criteria, is the International Standard Version (ISV).

The least gender-accurate translation of both Old and New Testaments, scoring 0 for each category, is the English Standard Version (ESV).

Bible translations and books that I have personally found helpful on my egalitarian journey are available at the following resource page: http://www.awakedeborah.com/other-resources/

Wayne Grudem: Denying history to rationalize “male authority”

Hoping to prove that the apostle Paul was warning against “female authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12, Wayne Grudem sets out to deny historical evidence that does not support his viewpoint.

He is determined to disprove egalitarian claims that 1 Timothy 2:12 is possibly a warning against an early form of ascetic Gnosticism, influenced by Ephesian goddess mythology.

One key point of his argument is his assertion that ancient Ephesians did not ever “conflate” or “syncretize” the Greek goddess Artemis with an indigenous Anatolian goddess referred to as “the Mother of the Gods.” (Syncretism is the blending of one deity and related mythology with that of another.) Grudem dismisses evidence that “Artemis was syncretized to the Anatolian Great Mother” as “fragile” and “tottering” (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, pp. 665-666).

Ancient hymns written between the 7th century BC and the 3rd century AD directly contradict Wayne Grudem’s claim—further lending support to this egalitarian perspective.

Describing Homer’s work in VII BC, internationally renowned authority on “the Mother of the Gods,” Philippe Borgeaud, makes the following remarks:

“The Homeric hymn addressed to the Mother of the gods retains the anonymity to better render it universal and salutes her, at the end, by associating her with all the other goddesses: ‘I salute you in this song, as well as all the goddesses together.’ The formula is remarkable and rings out respectfully with the traditional custom: ‘I shall think of you in all my other songs.’ Yet there is only one more appearance of this formula in the entire corpus of the Homeric Hymns. This time, and it is certainly not by chance, it is applied to Artemis of Ephesus.” (Mother of the Gods, from Cybele to the Virgin Mary, p. 9).

In the second century AD, the following evidence of syncretism was copied from an earlier hymn:

“All Mortals who live in the boundless earth,
Thracians, Greeks and Barbarians
Express your fair name, a name greatly honoured among all,
Each in his own language, in his own land.
The Syrians call you Astarte, Artemis, Nanaia,
The Lycian tribes call you Leto the Lady,
The Thracians also name you as Mother of the Gods,
And the Greeks Hera of the Great Throne, Aphrodite,
Hestia the Goodly, Rhea and Demeter.
But the Egyptians call you Thiouis (because they know) that You, being One, are all other goddesses invoked by the races of men.” (Greeks and Barbarians, Kostas Vlassopoulos, p. 308)

Writing in the 3rd century AD, Hippolytus of Rome recounts the following hymns of one of the earliest ascetic Gnostic cults on record, believed to flourish in the province of Asia during the late 1st, early 2nd centuries AD. Here Attis, the consort of “the Mother of the Gods,” is syncretized with other gods:

“Whether you descend from Cronos or Zeus, happy one, or even from Rhea, salutations, great god, Attis, plaintive music of Rhea. The Assyrians call you Adonis, the thrice regretted, all of Egypt calls you Osiris, Greek wisdom names you the heavenly horn of the moon god, the Samothracians call you saintly Adamna, the Hemonians Crybas, and the Phrygians sometimes Papas. Sometimes corpse, sometimes god, or the sterile one, or the shepherd, or the cut green ear, or male player of the syrinx, who gave birth to the fruit-laden almond tree.” (Borgeaud, p. 107)

Other historians describe syncretism between Artemis of Ephesus and the Anatolian Mother of the Gods in detail, offering even more evidence. These historians include Florence Mary Bennett, John Ferguson, and Lewis Richard Farnell. The evidence presented by these historians is far from fragile or tottering; it is simply not something Mr. Grudem is apparently willing or able to see.

If someone refuses to see evidence that contradicts his or her beliefs, that does not mean the evidence is “fragile” or invalid. In my opinion, Wayne Grudem does not give us an objective appraisal of history.

In fact, the very evidence he tries so hard to deny is what compelled me to change my mind about 1 Timothy 2:12. Given abundant historical information that is well documented by numerous reputable historians (that have no vested interest in complementarian/egalitarian debates) I can no longer in good conscience continue to believe that Paul was ever worried about women “exercising authority” in the church. It is more likely that he was indeed warning Timothy about a false ascetic teaching that was influenced by native goddess mythology.

Women May “Exercise Authority” in the Church: New Evidence to Help us Understand Paul’s Comments in 1 Timothy 2:12-15

The following article examines uses of the word “authentes” in ancient Greek literature other than the Bible.

Why is it helpful to look at this literature?

When the apostle Paul wrote 1st Timothy in the 1st century AD, he used a word that is found nowhere else in the New Testament.  That word is “authentein.”  Beginning with a man named Origen in the 3rd century AD (roughly 200 years after Paul wrote his letter) commentaries began to interpret Paul’s language as prohibiting women from “exercising authority over a man” either in church or in the home.

The commentators who did this (Origen, Augustine, Jerome, etc.) used Plato’s philosophy as an interpretive guide to the Bible.  Plato believed that the “natural order” of the created world was based on hierarchical categories.  He taught that men must rule women, just as free men must rule over slaves.  Any “mingling of the classes” would result in social disorder (Plato, the Republic).

By examining ancient Greek literature between the 3rd century BC and the 2nd century AD, we find that the word used by Paul, “authentein,” frequently carried a meaning other than “exercise authority.”  In the Greek Septuagint Bible, for example, Jewish scholars used “authentas” (a noun from of the same word) to refer to parents who “murdered” their children by offering them as sacrifices to false gods (Wisdom of Solomon 12:6).  Throughout ancient Greek literature, we find that noun and verb forms of “authentein” were frequently used to refer to those who were directly or indirectly responsible for someone’s death.  This death could be intentional or unintentional; it could refer to killing others or oneself; it sometimes referred to a literal “death,” and sometimes referred to putting someone or something “to death” metaphorically.  An article that includes a survey of these meanings from the 5th century BC through to the 2nd century AD is available here: 1st Timothy 2:12: Not About Authority.

Recently, as I was doing research for a friend, I found yet another example of “authentes” used to mean something other than “exercise authority.”  This example is found in a non-biblical story known as “the Shepherd of Hermas, Parable #9.”  I believe the use of “authentes” in this parable sheds even more light on our understanding of Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 2:12-15.

For anyone who hasn’t read this parable, it contains a vision of a tower made up of many stones. The stones are actually people, and the tower is the church.

The “authentes” of the tower comes to examine the stones to see if they are worthy to be included in its construction (9.5.6). Those that are considered worthy have renounced the desire for women and embraced “continence”–sexual abstinence (9.15.2). They have been brought to the tower by virgin women (9.3.4). In fact, stones not brought to the tower by virgins are described as “unsightly” (9.4.6).

Those who did not embrace continence after professing Christ would be judged unfit for the church, and “cast out” by the tower’s authentes (9.13.8-9).

In this role, the authentes functions as the tower’s architect, designer, originator. It is made “according to his will” (9.5.2). He also functions as the inspector or judge of all the stones (9.5.6). He decides which stones will “enter into the Kingdom of God” (9.12.5), and which stones will be “condemned to death” (9.18.2). In fact, it is directly in the role of inspector or judge that the term “authentes” is used.

Many scholars believe that the Shepherd of Hermas was written either in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD. Another writer during the 2nd century AD, Appian of Alexandria, also used “authentes” in a similar manner. To be precise, he used the plural form of the same word, which is “authentai.” Appian was referring to magistrates who were contemplating sentencing a man to death. They were hesitant to pass the death sentence because despite his crime, the man was renowned for his public service to the Roman Empire (The Civil Wars 1.7.61).

Appian used the same word (authentai) again to refer to men who participated in the murder of Julius Caesar (The Civil Wars 3.2.16). The word signifies that they were responsible for Caesar’s death. Appian uses “authentai” yet another time to explain how the actions of such men (their involvement in Caesar’s murder) eventually led to their own deaths (The Civil Wars, 4.17.134). In other words, they were responsible for their own demise.

Though complementarians (i.e. those who teach “male authority”) have stated that using “authentes” to refer to murder or being responsible for someone’s death was “obsolete” by the New Testament era (Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 44, A Semantic Study of Authentes and its Derivatives, Albert Wolters), a look at primary sources even into the 2nd century AD tells us otherwise. (The same journal article also says that the meaning of “murder/responsibility for death” was to be associated with Attic, not Koine Greek, yet Appian wrote in Koine.)

Over and over in complementarian literature we’re told that the meaning of “authentein” in 1 Timothy 2:12 could only be a reference to “positive authority.” In other words, for women to “exercise authority” over men in the church is wrong, simply because they are women.

That is not the meaning we find in our primary sources. In the Shepherd of Hermas, the “authentes” functions as the one who inspects the stones and passes judgment on them, condemning them “to death” (9.18.2). He is also the “designer” of the tower, the church. In the works of Appian of Alexandria, authentai are magistrates (judges) with the power to sentence people to death, they are murderers, or they are people whose actions result in their own deaths.

How might this meaning relate to the apostle Paul? In a nutshell, Paul was warning the church against a false teaching known as “asceticism.” It encouraged people to “put to death” the body and its passions. In fact, the false teaching Paul was warning against seems very similar to some portions of the Shepherd of Hermas. Men who did not embrace “continence” (sexual abstinence) would be “cast out” of God’s kingdom. Paul may have used “authentein” as a reference to men “putting to death” the part of themselves related to their passions. Experiencing desire in this belief system was viewed as a sin. Women and men were expected to embrace “continence,” even in marriage. Failure to do so would put their salvation in jeopardy. (See also Paul’s reference to women who may have been concerned about being “saved” in childbearing: 1 Timothy 2:15. If they had accepted the false teaching of asceticism, having sex and bearing children would have jeopardized their salvation.)

Some men who blamed their bodies for sexual sin literally castrated themselves in an attempt to rid themselves of bodily passion. The Acts of John provides an example of a man doing this in 1st century Ephesus (1.236), the destination of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Others who hoped to rid themselves of desire would use hemlock, a potent poison. Both self-castration and the use of hemlock had the same intended outcome: “mortification of lower masculinity” (The Origins and History of Consciousness, Eric Neuman, Part 2, p. 253). The “sacrifice of lower masculinity” was viewed as “the precondition of spirituality,” and a prerequisite for salvation (Neuman, p. 253).

A Roman law initially passed by a proconsul in Asia Minor named Cornelius Sulla in the 1st century BC attempted to limit these activities on the grounds that they robbed a man (and the Empire) of future offspring, and also risked killing the man (Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen & Bonnie Wheeler, p. 22; Magic Religion and Law: The Case of the Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficiis, p. 59). In English, this law would be referred to as the “Law Against Murderers and Poisoners.”

Could Paul have been warning Timothy about a false teaching that encouraged men to “mortify” or “put to death” their “lower masculinity” as a condition of salvation? I believe so. This meaning fits both Paul’s language and his immediate context. Also writing in the 1st century AD, Philo Judaeus similarly used “authenten” to refer to men who metaphorically “put to death” or “murdered” a part of themselves. Appian of Alexandria, as we have seen, used “authentai” to refer to men who were responsible for their own literal deaths. Flavius Josephus (also writing in the 1st century AD) used “authenten” to refer to death by poison (Jewish Wars 1.582.1). Men who practiced ascetic self-mortification were prohibited from self-castration and using hemlock in a law written by a proconsul in Asia Minor of the 1st century BC on the grounds that they might be responsible for their own deaths.

In other words, if we are willing to put complementarian claims aside and look for ourselves at available evidence, it does not appear that the apostle Paul was warning anyone about “female” authority. Rather, it seems he was concerned about the false teaching of asceticism, and practices associated with it that might result in either the literal or metaphorical death of a man.

In light of this information, how might we more accurately interpret 1 Timothy 2:12?

“I do not permit a woman to engage in teaching that would be responsible for the death of a man.”

Leland Wilshire offers another similar interpretation: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to instigate violence against a man” (2010, Insight into Two Biblical Passages, pp. 29-32). If Paul was concerned about ascetic self-mortification and related practices, it is self-inflicted violence that would have been encouraged or “instigated” by the false teaching.

Authentes was sometimes used to refer to someone who “supported” a violent act (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica. Book 34/35 chapter 25 section 1 line 4), so another translation could be, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to support violence against a man.”

Since authentes was used by Philo to refer to men who metaphorically “put to death” a part of themselves, another translation could be, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to support the self-mortification of a man.”

Paul addresses “a woman” because at least one of the false teachers in Ephesus was evidently female. He identifies male false teachers in 1st Timothy 1:20; so it appears he was concerned about the nature of the teaching, not the gender of the teacher.

Addendum

From the Shepherd of Hermes, we can also see why some egalitarian scholars point out that “authentes” can refer to the “originator” of something. In addition to being the judge who would condemn people to death, the “authentes” of the tower was also its “designer” or “architect.”

From the Shepherd of Hermes, we can see why other egalitarian scholars point out that “authentes” was sometimes used as a synonym for absolute master or “despot.” The tower’s “authentes” was also referred to as its “despotes.”

In the 2nd century AD, a Greek grammarian named Phrynicus Arabius pointed out that some orators in the law courts were using “authentes” and “despotes” interchangeably. He disagreed with this practice, stating that authentes should only be used to refer to someone responsible for murder (Lobeck, C. Rhematikon sive verborum graecorum et nominum verbalium technologia, as cited in Payne, P. (2009). Man and Woman, One in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, p. 364.)