1 Timothy 2:12: Not about “authority”

Claiming to have made a thorough review of ancient Greek literature, one complementarian study concluded that Paul’s use of the word “authentein” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is properly understood as a prohibition against women “exercising authority” in the church (c.f. G.W. Knight, “Authenteo in reference to Women in 1 Timothy 2:12.” New Testament Studies 30, 1984: 143-157).

What information did this study miss?

The various forms of “authentein” that were used to refer to something much different than “authority” from the 5th century B.C. through to the 2nd century A.D..

Here are some notable examples:

Date: 5th century B.C.
Source: Euripides, “Iphigenia in Aulis”
Word: authentaisin
Meaning: murderers
Context: Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, says that they must not become “murderers” by sacrificing their daughter to Artemis.[105]

Date: 5th century B.C.
Source: Euripides, “Andromache”
Word: authenton
Meaning: murderers
Context: Hermione insults Andromache by accusing her of sleeping with those who murdered her husband.[106]

Date: 5th century B.C.
Source: Antiphon, Second Tetralogy
Word: authenten
Meaning: slayer of oneself
Context: In a hypothetical legal case, a spectator is portrayed as “slaying himself” by stepping into the path of a javelin.[107]

Date: 5th century B.C.
Source: Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes
Word: authenten
Meaning: murderer
Context: A trial is not to be held in the home of an alleged murderer, but rather at a neutral site.[108]

Date: 3-2nd century B.C.
Source: Greek Septuagint, Wisdom of Solomon 12:6
Word: authentas
Meaning: murderers
Context: Parents murder their own children by sacrificing them to idols.[109]

Date: 3-2nd century B.C.
Source: Greek Septuagint, 3 Maccabees 2:27-29
Word: authentias
Meaning: restrictions imposed by violence and murder
Context: Jews will be branded with the symbol of Dionysus; those who will not sacrifice to him are put to death.[110]

Date: 2nd century B.C.
Source: Polybius, Histories
Word: authenten
Meaning: murderer
Context: A man named Cassander is accused of perpetrating the Massacre at Moronea.[111]

Date: 1st century B.C.
Source: Diodorus Siculus, Histories
Word: authentas
Meaning: supporters of a violent attack, perpetrators of a murder
Context: Men hide swords under their togas to mount a violent attack on the Roman Senate; they murder the Senate guard.[112]

Date: 1st century A.D.
Source: Flavius Josephus, Jewish Wars
Word: authentas, authenten
Meaning: murderers, murderer
Context: A Roman official named Cumanus neglected to prosecute those who had committed murder.[113] Antipater is held responsible for the murder of Pheroras by poison.[114]

Date: 1st century A.D.
Source: Philo Judaeus
Word: authentes
Meaning: self-murderer
Context: Philo speaks philosophically about those who murder themselves.[115]

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 be the “murderers” of a former Roman General named Marius.[116] Roman General Marcus Perpenna is arrested for the murder of Quintus Sertorius.[117] Those responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar are referred to as his “slayers.”[118] Cassius and Brutus brought about their own deaths by participating in the murder of Julius Caesar.[119]

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 murder Romans.  He kills and dismembers them in the temple of Concord.[120]

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.[121]

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.’”[122]

Before, during and after the New Testament period, did the word used by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 (authentein) have a meaning other than “to exercise authority”? Yes, it certainly did.

To see how this meaning of “authentein” might fit Paul’s context in 1st century Ephesus, please feel free to read the follow-up article, “Paul’s Concern in 1st Timothy: False Teaching.”

P.S. It has recently come to my attention that some complementarian scholars deny the relevance of this information, claiming that it focuses mainly on noun forms of the word “authentein.”  They suggest that nouns such as “authentas” meaning “murderers” and verbs such as “authentein” meaning “to murder” are somehow unrelated.  They further suggest that verb forms of “authentein” used during or after the 1st century A.D. did not refer to “murder.”  All of these complementarian claims are quite simply false.

A literature review of verb forms of the word authentein yields the following results:

Use of the verb authentekota (sometimes transliterated euthentekota) is attributed to a 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D. writer named Didymos Chalkenteros, who commented on a “murder” in a play entitled “Eumenides” by Aeschylus.

Additionally, the verb authentesonta was used to explain that Mithridates (from the Mithridatic Wars) committed “murder” by command, even though he did not wield the sword himself.  The corresponding noun “authentai” is used by Appian of Alexandria to describe the same events.  We see in these two examples that noun and verb forms of authentein were both used to describe the same events, and that both carry the meaning of murder.

Verb and noun forms of authentein, referring to murder or some other violent crime, are discussed by numerous reputable scholars, including Leland Wilshire, Linda Belleville and Philip Barton Payne.

It would seem that some complementarians will attempt to simply deny evidence that does not support their patriarchal worldview.

More information is available regarding verb and noun forms of “authentein” used in ancient Greek literature in the follow-up article, “1 Timothy 2:12: Bias in Complementarian Research.”


[105] Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Eur.+IA+1190&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0107.

[106] Euripides, Andromache, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0089%3Acard%3D147.

[107] Antiphon, 2nd Tetralogy, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0019%3Aspeech%3D3%3Atetralogy%3D4%3Asection%3D4.

[108] Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0019%3Aspeech%3D5%3Asection%3D11.

[109] Septuagint, Wisdom of Solomon 12:6, http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/septuagint/chapter.asp?book=29&page=12.

[110] Septuagint, 3 Maccabees 2:27-29, http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/septuagint/chapter.asp?book=23&page=2.

[111] Polybius, Histories, https://www.loebclassics.com/view/polybius-histories/2010/pb_LCL160.429.xml.

[112] Diodorus Siculus, Histories, (English) http://www.loebclassics.com/view/diodorus_siculus-library_history/1933/pb_LCL423.113.xml?readMode=recto; (Greek) http://attalus.org/greek/diodorus35.html.

[113] Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.240.5, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0148%3Abook%3D2%3Asection%3D236.

[114] Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.582.1. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0147%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D582.

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

[116] 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.

[117] 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.

[118] 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.

[119] 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.

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

[121] 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.

[122] 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.

(From chapter 5 of “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ from the Oppression of Patriarchy”)


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