Complementarian Gaslighting

“Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception… The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.”

“In its milder forms, gaslighting creates a subtle, but inequitable, power dynamic in a relationship, with the gaslightee subjected to the gaslighter’s unreasonable, rather than fact-based, scrutiny, judgment, or micro-aggression. At its worst, pathological gaslighting constitutes a severe form of mind-control and psychological abuse. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society.”  (Preston Ni, MSBA, Psychology Today, April 30, 2017)

In other words, “gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity.” (wiki)  In essence, gas-lighting says to people, “What you think you see isn’t real.” It seeks to define reality for others, usually in a way that is self-serving.

How does it appear that gaslighting is used by some complementarian leaders?

In a bid to undermine the credibility of egalitarian scholars Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger, Wayne Grudem makes the following statements:

Referring to a complementarian article entitled, “Apostle to the Amazons,” by S.M. Baugh, Grudem says,

As Baugh’s title indicates, the Kroegers rely heavily on nonfactual myths (such as Amazon “women warriors”) to paint a picture of ancient Ephesus where women had usurped the religious authority over men: a “feminist Ephesus” in the religious realm. But their historical reconstruction is just not true. Baugh says, “the Kroegers…have painted a picture of Ephesus which wanders widely from the facts” (p. 155). With his expertise in the history of Ephesus, Baugh affirms, “No one has established historically that there was, in fact, a feminist culture in first-century Ephesus. It has merely been assumed.” (p. 154) [Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, p. 285]

Grudem also quotes another complementarian scholar, Albert Wolters, who said of the Kroegers, “Their book is precisely the sort of thing that has given Evangelical Scholarship a bad name.” Wolters also accuses the Kroegers of “linguistic blunders.” [Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, p. 285-286]

Why might these statements be considered examples of gaslighting?

Gaslight #1) Denying the reality of “Amazon women warriors” in connection with Ephesus.

Florence Mary Bennet presents the evidence that complementarians deny in her book entitled, “Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons”:

Evidently the invasion of Attica, an event probably first described in the Cycle, is the historic fact, as the Greek historians regarded it, on which all doubts about the reality of the Amazons might be broken, for as a memorial there were to be seen many tombs of these women in Greek lands…

Herodotus, it will be observed, keeps to the geographical theory of the Cycle, placing the home of these warriors on the banks of the Thermodon. Strabo clearly follows Herodotus and his successors, for he calls the plain about Themiscyra τὸ τῶν Ἀμαζόνων πεδίον, but Diodorus, giving the account of Dionysius of Mitylene, who, on his part, drew on Thymoetas, states that a great horde of Amazons under Queen Myrina started from Libya, passed through Egypt and Syria, and stopped at the Caïcus in Aeolis, near which they founded several cities. Later, he says, they established Mitylene a little way beyond the Caïcus.

In addition to Myrina in Aeolis and Mitylene on Lesbos, several cities of Asia Minor boasted that they were founded by the Amazons. [These cities were Ephesus, Smyrna, Cyme, Paphos, and Sinope.] Consistent with these claims is the fact that in this neighbourhood the figure or head of an Amazon was in vogue as a coin-type, and it is to be noted that such devices are very rarely found on coins elsewhere. [Florence Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons,]

Recent archaeological discoveries confirm Bennett’s findings:

Recent archaeological discoveries have unearthed evidence of women warriors. Their skeletons were buried with swords and daggers. The leader of the excavation, Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball reported, ‘These women were warriors of some sort.’ The site that was excavated is 1000 miles east of Greece where stories of ancient women warriors abound. In the fifth century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of Amazon women fighting Greek warriors. Greek artists produced paintings and sculpture pieces that portray women warriors riding horses. These art works were not simply fanciful imagination. The skeletal remains of women at the site showed that they were bow legged from riding horses from childhood. They were taller than most people at that period in history… Something else unusual was discovered. The excavation showed that the women had more wealth, power, and status than was customary at the time. The discovery provides additional support for the notion that women warriors may have been more common than uncommon. This archaeological evidence also supports the notion that women were aggressive. Perhaps the stories of Amazon warriors were not mere myths. The cliché ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ developed for a reason.” [Acquaviva, G.J. (2000). Values, Violence and our Future, p. 94]

Gaslight #2) Denying evidence of matriarchy connected with the Amazons of Ephesus.

Evidence for the matriarchal culture of the Amazons of Ephesus abounds in ancient historical literature:

Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she [the nation’s Queen] relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude. She would maim the arms and legs of male children, making them useless for service in war. [Diodorus Siculus, as cited in Murphy, E. (1989). The Antiquities of Asia, p. 58]

[The women]…dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbors, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves, out of contempt for the male sex…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life…. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus. [Yardly, J. (1994). Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, p. 29]

Contrary to what complementarians Wayne Grudem and S.M. Baugh claim, there is indeed a historical basis for connecting the matriarchal culture of Amazon warrior women to Ephesus.

Even if all references to Amazons were pure mythology, however, it is related “mythology” that the Kroegers talk about in their book, “I Suffer not a Woman:” In particular, they discuss “the myth” of the Goddess Cybele, and the cult that worshiped her: “Cybele’s cult became widespread, not only in Asia Minor but also throughout the Greek and Roman World.” The Kroegers specifically make reference to her “legend” and her “myths” (p. 155). We read in 1st Timothy that Paul was concerned about a false teaching shared by those who were “devoted to myths” (1 Timothy 1:4).

Gaslight #3) Claiming there is no evidence of matriarchal spirituality in 1st century Ephesus.

The evidence that complementarians deny is available for anyone to review in numerous historical and archaeological sources:

The mythological goddess of the Amazons was known as Cybele. Florence Mary Bennett describes “the worship of Cybele under the form of the Black Stone of Pessinus in Phrygia. By order of the Sibylline books the cult was transplanted to Rome, in 204 B.C., as a means of driving Hannibal out of Italy. Apollonius represents the Amazons engaged in ritual exactly similar to that of Pessinus–venerating a black stone placed on an altar in an open temple situated on an island off the coast of Colchis. The character of the worship which he depicts makes it probable that he drew his information on this point from an early source, especially since we learn from Diodorus that the Amazons paid marked honour to the Mother of the Gods.” [Florence, Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons,]

We know the Cybele cult was present in Ephesus in the 1st century thanks to archaeological archives at Harvard University, which confirm the presence of the cult “through classical and Roman times.” (Cybele Sanctuary, Ephesus Turkey, Harvard University Library, Visual Information Access, Research Team for New Testament Archaeology, 1970-). Also, historical author Lynn Roller points out that even when the Temple of Artemis gained prominence in Ephesus, the cult of Cybele (also known as the Mother of the gods) “continued to be an important part of Ephesian life” (In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele, 1999, p. 200). Furthermore, the Emperor Julian was initiated into the Mysteries in Ephesus, as late as the 4th century AD [Select Works of the Emperor Julian, Volume 1], and he composed a Hymn to the “Mother of the Gods” []. Julian celebrated the castration of her priesthood, referring to it as a “holy and inexpressible harvest” [Elizabeth Abbot, (2000) A History of Celibacy, p. 320].

Internationally renowned Professor of History and Religion Philippe Borgeaud indicates that Cybele’s myth and cult were profoundly matriarchal:

Arnobius underscores that there is a story line “in this myth totally hostile to the male sex,” which is to say above and beyond the image of castration: hostile to male roles altogether (Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods, p. 108).

Borgeaud explains, with abundant historical citations, that Cybele’s priesthood consisted of men who were required to publicly castrate themselves in bloody rituals.

Did this matriarchal spiritual culture exist in 1st century Ephesus? Yes, indeed it did. Complementarian claims to the contrary are simply a denial of available historical evidence.

Gaslight #4) The accusation of “linguistic blunders.”

The Kroegers indicate that “authentein andros” could refer to “the murder of a man,” and further point out that this could be a reference to symbolic ritual, connected either to the goddess cult, or to a form of false teaching that was influenced by the goddess cult.

We have already observed that the male priests of the Cybele cult practiced ritual castration. They did this to symbolically re-enact the murder of Cybele’s mythological consort, a deity named Attis. According to the myth, Cybele drove him mad when she caught him in an act of infidelity.  He castrated himself and bled to death under a pine tree [John Ferguson, Religions of the Roman Empire, “The Great Mother,” pp. 13-31]. It is also known that one of the earliest Gnostic cults on record, in Asia Minor, based their theology on the mythology of Cybele. This is reported in Hippolytus’ “Refutation of All Heresies,” which is referenced in Philippe Borgeaud’s book. In this Gnostic theology, the lower nature was equated with masculinity, and the castration practiced by Cybele’s priesthood was viewed as a metaphor for “putting to death” the body and its passions, the very kind of false teaching Paul was warning against in 1st Timothy (see chapter 4:1-5).

Albert Wolters views the Kroeger’s work here as a “linguistic blunder” because he claims that associating the meaning of murder with “authentes” (a noun form of “authentein”) was “obsolete” by the 1st century AD. [Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 44, A Semantic Study of Authentes and its Derivatives, Albert Wolters]
Wolters’ claim is not a true statement.

1st century AD writer Philo Judaeus used “authentes” to refer to men who “put to death” a part of themselves. He refers to such a man as a “self-murderer.” [The Worse Attacks the Better” XXI 78,]

1st century AD writer Flavius Josephus used “authenten” to refer to the person who allegedly murdered Herod’s brother Pheroras by poison. [Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.582.1.]

Josephus also used the plural form of this same word, “authentas,” to refer to men who should have been prosecuted for perpetrating a murder. []

2nd century AD writer, Appian of Alexandria, used various forms of the same word–authentai, authenten, authentai, authentai—to refer to “murderers, a murderer, slayers, and slayers of themselves”:

Magistrates hesitate to be the “murderers” of 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. [Appian, The Civil Wars, 4.17.134 []

Despite Albert Wolters’ claim that the meaning of “murder” in relation to “authentes” was “obsolete” “after the classical period” [V-IV BC], we see that this meaning continued to be valid at the same time Paul wrote his letter [I AD] and even afterwards.  [For a summary of linguistic evidence that directly contradicts Albert Wolters claim, see Leland Wilshire’s “Insight Into Two Biblical Passages: The Anatomy of a Prohibition, 1 Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church.”]

The very false teaching that Paul warns against, and one that “a woman” may have been teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12, encouraged men to “put to death” the body and its passions.  In early Gnostic theology this form of asceticism metaphorically imitated the ritual castration of Cybele’s priests.

Even beyond the confines of early Gnosticism, Philippe Borgeaud points out that some Christians in 1st century Ephesus imitated Cybele’s priesthood literally. Again, we find this information in his book “Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary.” He cites the Acts of John, in which John (the Lord’s disciple) confronts a young man for blaming his sin on his bodily parts, and then castrating himself:

Young man, the one who gave you the idea to kill your father and become the lover of another man’s wife is the same one who portrayed your cutting off your member as a just act. Alas, you should have eliminated, not your bodily pars, but rather the thought that through their intermediary showed itself to be harmful. For the organs are not what does harm to man, but rather the invisible sources according in which all shameful impulses get started and manifest themselves. [p. 96]

It may also be important to note that men who practiced self-castration were prosecuted as “murderers,” under a Roman law passed in the 1st century B.C. by Cornelius Sulla. Castration was viewed as a form of murder committed against oneself [Schafer, P., ed. The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered, p. 76; see also “Circumcision and Castration Under Roman Law in the Early Empire,” by Ra’anan Abusch, in Elizabeth Wyner Mark’s, “The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite”]. On one hand, this practice deprived a man of future offspring; and on the other, it risked killing the man. Religious acts that might cause death became a special focus of this Roman law [Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, Cohen and Wheeler, p. 22; Magic Religion and Law, the Case of the Lex Cornelia de secariis et veneficiis, J.B. Rives, York University Toronto]. Could Paul have been prohibiting a false teaching that encouraged men to “put to death” a part of themselves, or even be “murderers of themselves” under Roman law? Yes, indeed this may have been the case.

Similarly, in the Greek Septuagint (a source frequently quoted by the apostle Paul in his letters), those who sacrificed their offspring to false gods and goddesses in murderous rituals were referred to as “authentas.”

Gaslight #5) The Kroegers give Evangelical Scholarship “a bad name” by sharing this historical information in their book, “I Suffer Not a Woman.”

No Mr. Wolters, what gives complementarian scholarship a bad name—and rightly so–is denying history for the purpose of subjugating women under the erroneous theological tradition of “male authority.”

1 Timothy 2:13-15: The Order of Creation? Saved through Childbearing?

Paul’s Reference to the Creation Account: His Message in Context

Some complementarians insist that Paul makes reference to the creation account in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 to reinforce the notion that women should not attempt to “usurp” male authority in the church.  An exploration of Paul’s Ephesian context in light of his expressed concerns about false teaching suggests a different interpretation.  Rather than protecting “male authority” from women, Paul seems to be intent on protecting the gospel message from an early form of Gnostic asceticism.

One of the earliest recorded Gnostic sects in this region drew their theological beliefs from the mythology of a goddess named Cybele.[i]  Her consort was a castrated male deity named Attis, and she was served by eunuch priests. The Gnostics viewed the castration of Cybele’s priesthood and Attis as a symbol for the renunciation of “the flesh.”  They viewed matter as evil, and sought to “put to death” the body and its passions.

An earlier article examined the possibility that Paul’s prohibition against a woman teaching something related to “authentein andros” in 1 Timothy 2:12 may be prohibiting ascetic teaching that encouraged men to “put to death” a part of themselves.  Available historical evidence demonstrates that some men who embraced this teaching also engaged in ritual self-harm that was prohibited by Roman law.  These practices included self-castration, self-flagellation and the taking of hemlock to suppress the passions.  That article is available here:

The Gnostic sect that embraced castrated Attis as a symbol of their ascetic beliefs also made significant alterations to the creation story found in Genesis. They praised Eve for eating the forbidden fruit to obtain divine “gnosis,” and viewed the serpent as a messenger of God.[ii] They combined the creation story in Genesis with the Cybele myth, which depicted a female goddess as the source of all life and purity, while male gods were portrayed as the source of all that is evil.[iii] By referring to the actual creation story as recorded by Moses, Paul highlights that while all men do come from women, the first woman came from a man. He also demonstrates that Eve as well as Adam played a role in humanity’s fall. Rather than endorsing a male-dominated “order of creation,”  Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 2:13-14–understood in their original context–simply correct the theological errors of ascetic Gnosticism.

Paul’s Reference to Salvation through Childbearing: His Message in Context

This brings us to an examination of Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 2:15: “But she will be saved through childbearing, if they abide in faith and love and holiness, with self-restraint” (Berean Literal Bible). “Saved through childbearing” is the phrase that has led to confusion for many theologians throughout church history. Once again, understanding Paul’s words in the context of his immediate concerns (asceticism influenced by mythology) can be helpful. Authors Philippe Borgeaud, Lewis Farnell and Marguerite Rigoglioso point out that while natives of Asia Minor called their goddess “Cybele,” Greeks who immigrated to the region gave her one of the names of their own goddesses; they called her “Artemis.”[iv] When the Greeks would give a foreign goddess one of the names of their own deities, the beliefs and practices of the different cultures would begin to merge. In some cases they would overlap; in others they would retain some of their original distinctions. (It is important to recognize that there were many variations of the goddess “Artemis” in the ancient world. We are concerned here only with the Artemis that was essentially a Greek perception of the goddess Cybele.) In the worship of Cybele/Artemis, marriage was traditionally frowned upon. This mythical deity preferred women to remain single and set apart for divine service; marriage was viewed as a form of betrayal. Women who married and became pregnant were afraid that the goddess might kill them in childbearing.[v] Whereas worshipers who knew the goddess as Artemis would offer animal sacrifices or other gifts to appease her wrath,[vi] male priests of the goddess Cybele would attempt to appease her by offering bloody sacrifices from their own bodies. Seneca, a Latin philosopher from the 1st century A.D., wrote to express his horror about this practice:

One cuts off his virile organs, another slashes his arms. How can they fear the gods in their wrath, who thus gain their favour when they are to be propitiated. Rather, gods who would demand this should not be served in any manner at all…. On the whims of kings some have been castrated, but no one ever, at the command of his lord, unmanned himself by his own hands. They slay themselves in their sanctuaries; they beseech the gods with their wounds and with their blood. If one has the chance to look closely at what they do and what they undergo, he will find these things to be so unseemly for decent people, so unworthy of freemen, so unlike the actions of the sane, that no one would doubt that they are mad, were they but mad with the minority; now, however, the crowding number of the insane serves as proof of their sanity.[vii]

In the context of 1st century A.D. goddess mythology, salvation from possible death in childbearing and ritual violence against men went hand-in-hand.[viii]

The Gnostics who drew inspiration from this mythology insisted that spiritual salvation required both men and women to become sexless.  Procreation (the creation of matter) was viewed as evil.[ix]

Paul writes to Timothy to tell him that salvation is not to be associated with pagan myths or a Gnostic renunciation of human sexuality. Rather, he explains that women will be saved through faith in Christ, that expresses itself in love and holiness.

Apparently ignorant of Paul’s context and intended meaning, Latin theologians like St. Jerome concluded that women would be saved from sin by giving birth to children.[x] Similarly, in some complementarian circles today, women are told that they will demonstrate a saving faith in Christ by embracing the roles of wife and mother.[xi]

These patriarchal interpretations of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:15 deny the gospel of salvation through faith in God’s grace, and overlook what Paul’s comments likely meant to his original audience in 1st century Ephesus.


i Hippolytus of Rome, The Refutation of All Heresies, Book V.

ii The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at,

iii Edwards, Let My People Go, pp. 60-61.

iv Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods, p. 7-9; Farnell, L.R. (1977). The Cults of the Greek States: Volume II. New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, Publishers, p. 482; Rigoglioso, M. (2009). The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, p. 99.

v Rigoglioso, M. (2009). The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan; Demand, N. (1994). Birth, Death and Motherhood in Classical Greece. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press; Budin, S. (2015). Artemis. New York, NY: Routledge.

vi Budin, p. 95; “let her sacrifice an adult animal as penalty, and then go to the bedchamber”; Farnell, L. (2010). The Cults of the Greek States: Volume 2, New York, NY: The Cambridge University Press, p. 444, robes were offered to Artemis after childbirth, or on behalf of women who had died in childbearing.

vii Seneca, De Superstitione (fr. 34 Hasse), as quoted in St. Augustine, De civitate Dei 6.10.; cited in Borgeaud, p. 95.

viii Sir James George Frazer highlights the purpose of the bloody rituals of Cybele’s priesthood: “new birth and the remission of sins”: Frazer, J. (1994). The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, A New Abridgement from the Second and Third Editions, Ed. Robert Fraser, New York, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 358-359; Clement of Alexandria, a 2nd century A.D. Christian writer, makes reference to the bloody offerings of male genitalia as an atonement for sexual sin, in book two of his “Exhortation to the Greeks,”

ix The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, as cited in Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger’s “I Suffer Not a Woman,” p. 173.

x Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Book 1 §27, as cited at

xi Bruce Ware; as cited in Taylor, S. (2013). Dethroning Male Headship, Auburndale, FL: One Way Press, pp. 108-109.


Paul’s Concern in 1st Timothy: False Teaching

Based largely on Latin translations of 1 Timothy 2:12 from the 4th and 16th centuries (texts written by Jerome and Erasmus), theologians have concluded that the apostle Paul was prohibiting women from “exercising authority” in the church.  Mounting evidence strongly suggests that this conclusion is not accurate.

In his book entitled, Insight into Two Biblical Passages, Dr. Leland Wilshire examines every known use of the word authentein in the TLG Computer Database and the BAGD Lexicon during the four hundred year period surrounding the New Testament era (from the 2nd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D.). Throughout this period, some form of the word authentein is used to refer to violence, murder or another serious crime on sixteen separate occasions. Prior to the writing of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, other possible meanings occur only twice. One refers to a man negotiating a fare on a boat. The other refers to orators (public speakers) incurring the wrath of those in power. Following his comprehensive analysis of available evidence, Wilshire concludes that “the preponderant number of citations from this compilation have to do with self-willed violence, criminal action, or murder or reference to the person who does these actions.”[123] (Examples of authentein as violence, murder, dismemberment, poisoning, taking one’s own life, etc. available here: authentein as violence/murder.)

Complementarian theologians are reluctant to believe that Paul could be prohibiting women from instigating or supporting authentein andros in the sense of “violence or murder against a man.” (Andros is the Greek word for “man.”) They seem to find it difficult to imagine Paul needing to say something like this to a church. This difficulty may be attributed to the fact that Paul was addressing a very different audience facing issues that would be utterly foreign to the modern mind.

The Context of Paul’s Letter: Concerns About Ascetic Teaching

Throughout Paul’s letter, we see that he is warning Timothy to guard the gospel message against false teaching (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 6:20-21). The false teachers were preoccupied with “myths and endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4). In chapter 4, Paul explains that the false teaching was ascetic. In other words, it portrayed the body and its appetites–for food and sex–as evil (1 Timothy 4:3). Paul refers to this teaching as “demonic” (1 Timothy 4:1). Ascetic teachers encouraged people to renounce the body in pursuit of spiritual “gnosis,” meaning knowledge. At the end of his letter, Paul encourages Timothy to guard the gospel against opposing ideas that are falsely called “gnosis” (c.f. 1 Timothy 6:20-21).

What many present-day scholars do not seem to recognize is that ascetic teaching during the New Testament era was commonly symbolized by ritual violence against men. One ascetic Jewish sect would forcibly circumcise Gentile men. Men who refused to submit to this procedure were murdered. When Paul was accused of teaching against mandatory circumcision, Jews from Asia Minor sought to murder him (Acts 21:17-32). One of the mystery cults present in Ephesus worshiped a goddess named Cybele; her priests were compelled to castrate themselves. Early Christian ascetics in the region began to imitate this cult, and also practice ritual castration. At the time Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, depriving a man of offspring through castration was viewed by Roman law as a form of murder. (details to follow)

Ritual Violence Against Men that was Connected to Ascetic Teaching

According to a well-documented article by Daniel F. Caner, entitled “The Practice and Prohibition of Castration in Early Christianity,” asceticism that included literal castration became a widespread problem in the early centuries of the Christian faith. Born at the end of the 1st century A.D., Justin Martyr wrote about a Christian man who wanted to castrate himself to disprove accusations that Christian “love feasts” (communion celebrations) were nothing more than sexual orgies.[124] In the Acts of John, a Christian man living in 1st century Ephesus castrates himself in a fit of remorse over committing adultery and murder. He is rebuked by John, the Lord’s disciple, who says the following:

Young man, the one who gave you the idea to kill your father and become the lover of another man’s wife is the same one who portrayed your cutting off your member as a just act. Alas, you should have eliminated, not your bodily parts, but rather the thought that through their intermediary showed itself to be harmful. For the organs are not what does harm to man, but rather the invisible sources according to which all shameful impulses get started and manifest themselves.[125]

Also writing about spiritual practices in the 1st century A.D., philosopher Philo Judaeus favourably compared Jewish ascetics to those who celebrated the “corybantian mysteries.”[126] The “corybantes” were “the attendants or priests of Cybele noted for wildly emotional processions and rites,”[127] during which they ritually castrated themselves.[128] Philo’s comparison of Jewish ascetics to the corybantes is not surprising. Jews exiled to Ephesus and the surrounding region by Antiochus the Great in the 2nd century B.C. were “noted for their easy assimilation of [native] culture and religion.”[129]

Citing Philo, author Elizabeth Wyner Mark explains that Jewish ascetics (known as the Essenes and Therapeutae) symbolized their renunciation of the body and its appetites not through castration, but rather through the ritual of circumcision. According to Wyner Mark, Philo compared circumcision to castration and viewed both rites as “apt metaphor[s] for spiritual progress.”[130] In addition to teaching asceticism symbolized by circumcision, leaders of the Essenes claimed spiritual authority by tracing their “endless genealogies” (c.f. 1 Timothy 1:4) back to the priesthood of Zadok.[131] Zadok was a priest during the reign of King David in Israel (2 Samuel 20:25).

A third century Christian writer, Hippolytus of Rome, discusses Jewish asceticism at length in his work entitled, “The Refutation of All Heresies.” He highlights one group of Essenes that would forcibly circumcise Gentile men. This sect viewed it as a form of sacrilege if Gentiles dared to speak of God or His Law without being circumcised. Gentiles who refused to submit to the procedure would be “slaughtered.”[132]

Hippolytus also writes about a group of ascetic Gnostics in the early church called the Naassenes. They drew inspiration from mythology concerning the goddess Cybele and her castrated consort, Attis. All of Cybele’s priests (known as the Galli) imitated Attis by practising ritual castration. Inspired by this example, the Naassenes lived their lives as though they had been castrated. Hippolytus viewed the Naassenes as the “grand source of heresy” in the early church.[133] Author and Professor of History and Religion, Philippe Borgeaud, highlights the widespread concern among church leaders from the second century onward that Christians would follow the example of the Galli, embrace extreme forms of asceticism, and begin to confuse Jesus’ mother (sometimes called “the Mother of God”) with the goddess Cybele (known as “the Mother of the Gods”).[134]

Writing in the 4th century A.D., Epiphanius (the Bishop of Salamis) also discussed castration in the context of ascetic cults that called themselves Christian. He attributed the literal practice to a sect known as the Valesians:

The Valesians, who “are all castrated except for a few…when they take someone as a disciple, as long as he has not yet been castrated he does not partake of animal flesh. But once they have persuaded or forced him to be castrated, then he partakes of anything whatsoever…. They not merely discipline their own this way, but often impose the same on strangers passing through, entertained by them as guests.[135]

By the 4th century A.D., castration in conjunction with extreme asceticism had become a wide-spread problem in the church. Hoping to stem the tide of ritual castration in the region of Galatia, Basil, the Bishop of Ancyra,[136] insisted upon disciplinary action to “check the many such eunuchs” who had “already grown prominent in the Church.” In his appeal to church leadership, Basil attributed the practice of physical castration by Christians in the region to the influence of “the Greeks of old.”[137] Caner concludes from this expression that Basil is referring to Cybele’s priesthood, “the Galli.”[138] Philippe Borgeaud explains that the men of Galatia who castrated themselves in honor of Cybele were known as “Gallo-Greeks” (i.e. “the Greeks of old”).[139] Ritual castration was eventually banned for Christians by the Nicaean Canons and the Apostolic Constitutions in the 4th century A.D..[140]

In summary, asceticism was a prevalent movement within Judaism and early Christianity. Numerous ancient sources (cited above) agree that Jewish and Christian ascetics were both influenced by mythology concerning the goddess Cybele. The castration of her mythological consort Attis was viewed as the ultimate symbol of an ascetic “renunciation of the flesh” in pursuit of spiritual “gnosis” (knowledge). Some ascetic groups viewed Attis’ emasculation as an example to be followed metaphorically. They were taught to live as if they were emasculated.[141] Others, like those mentioned by Justin Martyr, the Acts of John, Basil and Epiphanius, followed the example of Attis and the Galli literally. Ascetic teaching in the New Testament era was often known for its practices of fasting, celibacy, circumcision, ritual castration and sometimes even the outright murder of men. It is this form of false teaching in Ephesus that appears to be the focus of Paul’s concern.

Cybele, Attis and the Galli

Cybele, also referred to as “the Mother of the Gods,” was a deity worshiped in an area of the world known as Anatolia (modern day Turkey).[142] This part of the world is also referred to as Asia Minor. Mythology concerning this goddess and a subordinate male deity (named Attis) emerged in two regions within Anatolia: Lydia and Phrygia, [143] Ephesus, the destination of Paul’s letter to Timothy, was located on the Western fringe of what was once called Lydia. The oldest literary evidence for the myth of Cybele and Attis in this region dates back to the 4th century B.C..[144] In most versions of the myth, Attis was the companion and lover of the goddess. A central feature of the mythology, and related cult worship, was Attis’ castration. Caught in an act of infidelity by the goddess, he castrates himself in a fit of remorse and bleeds to death under a pine tree. In some versions of the myth, he is raised from the dead by the goddess, purged of his masculinity–the alleged source of his sin. This purging via castration was then re-enacted by men wishing to join Cybele’s priesthood in an annual celebration held on “The Day of Blood.”[145] These castrated priests, the Galli, would then serve the goddess by becoming oracles, telling people’s fortunes for money.[146]

Though the Greeks and Romans would come to dominate Asia Minor politically, author and historian Lynn Roller demonstrates that the worship of Cybele remained “an important part of Ephesian life.”[147] This influence would persist through the New Testament era into the reign of the Emperor Julian (4th century A.D.), who was “secretly initiated at Ephesus,” and composed a hymn “to the honor of Cybele, the mother of the gods, who required from her effeminate priests the bloody sacrifice.”[148]

Even a glance at the story of Cybele and Attis demonstrates why this particular myth was so inspiring to ascetics. It seemed to epitomize their belief that the source of evil was located in the body. Attis’ self-castration was viewed as an act of atonement and purification:

He [Attis] lacerates his body with a sharp stone, practicing on himself the type of bloody mortification that the Galli will later imitate. He lets his long hair down, thus designating the spoiling of his betrayed virginity, and is heard uttering: “I deserved it, I am paying exactly for my error with the price of my blood. Oh! May the parts [of my body] that have made me do wrong, yes, may they disappear!” He removes the burden from his groin, and no sign of his virility remains.[149]

Drawing inspiration from this myth, ascetics within Judaism and early Christianity continued to symbolize their renunciation of the body through the genital cutting of circumcision or castration. Like the Galli, ascetic Gnostics also believed that this renunciation would enable them to access secret, spiritual knowledge.[150]

Castration, Circumcision and Murder, Under Roman Law

If the apostle Paul was talking about “castration” in 1st Timothy 2:12, why would he use a word that was typically understood to mean “murder?” Under Roman law of the 1st century A.D., castration was referred to as a form of “murder.” The law was known as the Legis Corneliae de sicariis et veneficis: “The Law of Cornelius Sylla against murderers and poisoners.”[151] The word “sicariis” is Latin for “murderers.” It is the Latin equivalent of the Greek word authentas. If written in Greek, the Roman law against castration could have been called “the Law of Cornelius against “authentas.” “Sicarii” is also the title that was given to the Jewish ascetics who would forcibly circumcise Gentile men, sometimes murdering them. Castration, forcible circumcision, and the outright murder of men were all prohibited under Cornelius Sylla’s law.

To understand why the Romans included castration as an example of murder, it is necessary to understand their thinking about human reproduction. Drawing from Aristotle’s view of human biology, a dominant perspective was that “the soul” of every living human was already present in the seed of the man. At conception, the woman merely provided “soil” for the seed to grow.[152] Through Roman eyes, depriving a man of his offspring through the act of castration was as good as murder.

Additionally, according to Hippolytus, one of the mystery cults castrated men chemically, by using hemlock.[153] The use of hemlock to inhibit sexual desire is also referred to in the work of a first century A.D. Roman poet named Ovid. He associates its use with “the magic arts.”[154] Using potions to render a man impotent was referred to as a form of “magica” (i.e. sorcery) under the Lex Cornelia.[155] It was covered under the section referring to “poisoners.” The Latin term for “poisoners” (venificis) can also mean “sorcerers.”[156] Using hemlock for the purpose of repressing a man’s sexuality could also have the unintended side effect of killing the man. The punishment for administering the potion was exile. The punishment for causing death was either crucifixion or being “thrown to the beasts.”[157] First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus describes the murder of a man named Pheroras by poison. This poison was allegedly prepared by a woman from Arabia skilled in the use of potions that affected sexual desire. The murderer in Josephus’ account is referred to as an authenten, “murderer.”[158]

If we understand Paul’s use of the word authentein in the context of the ascetic teaching he was warning against, 1 Timothy 2:12 would read as follows: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to support violence against a man.” The violence could include ritual castration–a prevalent expression of asceticism that was viewed as a form of murder by Roman law. It might also include the forcible circumcision of Gentiles, and the murder of those who refused to submit to this procedure. It could also refer to the administration of hemlock to rid a man of sexual desire–a practice which risked killing the man.

If Paul is indeed prohibiting ascetic teaching that would encourage various forms of ritual violence against men, it is understandable that he would also tell the church of Ephesus to respect and pray for the Roman authorities:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV)

It is also understandable that he would tell the men of the congregation not to be angry:

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. (1 Timothy 2:8, NIV)

And of course it is understandable that Paul would then tell “a woman” not “to teach or support violence against a man” (1 Timothy 2:12).

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


[123] Wilshire, L. (2010). pp. 28-29; see also Parchment 1208 & Philodemus’ Rhetorica.

[124] Caner, D. (1997). The Practice and Prohibition of Self-Castration in Early Christianity. Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 51, #4, p. 396.

[125] Borgeaud, P. (2004). Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary, trans. L. Hochrath. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, p. 96.

[126] Philo, The Contemplative Life,


[128] Borgeaud, p. 92.

[129] Kroeger, C. (1986). 1 Timothy 2:12: A Classicist’s View, in Women, Authority and the Bible, A. Mickelsen Ed., Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, p. 240.

[130] Wyner Mark, E. (2003). The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite. Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press.

[131] Edwards, B. (2013). Let My People Go: A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded. Charlotte, NC: Createspace, p. 48.

[132] Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book IX, Chapter XXI.

[133] Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book V, Chapters 1 through VI.

[134] Borgeaud, p. 101.

[135] Caner, p. 406.

[136] Basil was a 4th century Bishop and Greek theologian who took a stand against heresy,

[137] Caner, p. 403.

[138] Caner, p. 403, note 32.

[139] Borgeaud, pp. 74-76.

[140] Caner, p. 397.

[141] Hippolytus, the Refutation of All Heresies, Book IV.

[142] The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, tr. by Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, [1913], at

[143] Borgeaud, p. 33.

[144] Borgeaud, p. 34.

[145] Ferguson, J. (1970). The Religions of the Roman Empire. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, P. 29.

[146] See Cybele, Attis and the Galli, as described in Borgeaud’s “Mother of the Gods,” Farnell’s “Cults of the Greek States Volume 2,” Ferguson’s “Religions of the Roman Empire,” and Peter Sodergard’s “The Ritualized Bodies of Cybele’s Galli.”

[147] Roller, L. (1999). In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele, Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, p. 200.

[148] Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2, by Edward Gibbon, [1781], at

[149] Borgeaud, p. 42.

[150] “Gnosticism: Part III, the Nature of Gnosticism,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online,

[151] Gaii Institutionum Iuris Civilis Commentarii Quatuor, Gaius, trans. Edward Poste, London, Oxford at the Clarendon Press. M.A., M.DCCC.LXXV.

[152] Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Books I & II; Sicero, as cited at

[153] Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, Book V, Chapter III.

[154] Ovid, Amores: Book III, Elegy VII,

[155] Rives, J. (2006). Magic, Religion, and Law: The Case of the Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficis.

[156] Hart, J. (1853). Epitome of Greek and Roman Mythology. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott Grambo & Co. P. 160.

[157] Rives, J. (2006).

[158] Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.582.1.