Does the word “head” in the New Testament refer to “male authority”?

Before answering that question, it will be helpful to see what the Greek word translated “head” meant in ancient Greek literature other than the Bible. The word is κεφαλή, and it is found in the following passages:

Greek: “Ζεὺς κεφαλή, Ζεὺς μέσσα, Διὸς δ᾽ ἒκ πάντα τελεῖται ῾τέτυκται” (Aristotle, On the Cosmos, LCL 401a).

English Translation: “Zeus is the head, Zeus the centre, from Zeus comes all that is.”

Greek: “Τεάρου ποταμοῦ κεφαλαὶ ὕδωρ ἄριστόν τε καὶ κάλλιστον παρέχονται πάντων ποταμῶν” (Herodotus, The Histories, 4.91).

English Translation: “From the headwaters of the river Tearus flows the best and finest water of all.”

In both of these passages, κεφαλή is used to represent “source.”

We find the same usage in the New Testament, concerning Jesus:

Greek: “καὶ οὐ κρατῶν τὴν Κεφαλήν, ἐξ οὗ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα διὰ τῶν ἁφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συνβιβαζόμενον αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ Θεοῦ” (Colossians 2:19).

English Translation: “They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

Greek: “ἀληθεύοντες δὲ ἐν ἀγάπῃ αὐξήσωμεν εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα, ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλή, Χριστός, ἐξ οὗ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα συναρμολογούμενον καὶ συνβιβαζόμενον διὰ πάσης ἁφῆς τῆς ἐπιχορηγίας κατ’ ἐνέργειαν ἐν μέτρῳ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου μέρους τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ σώματος ποιεῖται εἰς οἰκοδομὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

English Translation: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

In both Ephesians and Colossians, κεφαλή (head) is used to describe Jesus as the “source” of growth in his body, the church.

The same word, κεφαλή (head), is used in the New Testament to refer to the first man, Adam, as the “source” of the first women, Eve:

Θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι ὅτι παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἡ κεφαλὴ ὁ Χριστός ἐστιν, κεφαλὴ δὲ γυναικὸς ὁ ἀνήρ, κεφαλὴ δὲ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὁ Θεός (1 Corinthians 11:3).

“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

The human race was created through Christ (John 1:3); he is the “source” of “every man.” Adam, the first man, was the “source” of Eve, the first woman (Genesis 2:22). God was the miraculous source of Jesus’ incarnation as a human being (Luke 1:35).

Some complementarians insist that 1 Corinthians 11:3 speaks of God as the “authority over” Christ, Christ as the “authority over” man, and man as the “authority over” woman. The context of the passage, however, does not support this meaning. In 1 Corinthians 11:11, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that just as a man was the source of the first woman, so too is a woman the source of every man. Rather than supporting the notion that “source” should translate into some kind of hierarchical rank, Paul reminds this church that women and men share being a “source” of life equally: “Yet, as believers in the Lord, women couldn’t exist without men, and men couldn’t exist without women” (1 Cor. 11:11).  Paul is talking about “source” in the immediate context of this passage, not authority.

Despite all of these New Testament uses of κεφαλή to mean “source,” some complementarians will insist that “head” means “authority.”  Sometimes they will cite the following passages:

And he is the head (κεφαλή) of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Colossians 1:18)


…having raised Him out from the dead, and having set Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, above every principality and authority and power and dominion, and every name being named, not only in this age, but also in the one coming. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him to be head (κεφαλή) over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One filling all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)

Surely these passages tell us that Christ is the “head” in terms of having authority over the church, don’t they?

No, this is not Paul’s meaning.

The Risen Savior is presented here as having authority over demonic principalities and powers:For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Jesus is seated far above these principalities and powers, and we–his body, which is connected to the head–are seated there with him: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).

Jesus has authority over these demonic powers, and so does the church, in our union with Christ.  How did Jesus accomplish this for us?  By taking upon himself the form of a servant and dying on the cross: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). 

Jesus died and rose again, so that we might share his victory over sin, Satan and the grave.  This is what Paul means when he refers to Jesus as the “head of the body” and “the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18).  Once again, he is the “source” of our new life, and of our freedom from the power of a defeated foe.

What does “κεφαλή (head)” mean in the New Testament? Regarding Jesus and Adam, it means “source.” Adam was the “source” of Eve, who was taken from his side; and Jesus is the “source” of life, growth and freedom in the church.  Referring to husbands as the “head” of their wives (Ephesians 5:23), Paul tells them, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

Is this language teaching male authority?  On the contrary, let’s look at the example set for us by Jesus himself:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

This example of NOT exercising authority over others is what husbands are commanded to imitate in the New Testament: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  Suggesting that this passage means that husbands should “rule over” their wives is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and modeled for us through his life (and death) of sacrificial service. 

When Jesus took upon himself the form of a servant, and was obedient to the point of death, he became the “source” of our life and freedom.  This is what “headship” means in the Bible, and this is the example we are commanded to follow:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)




Is Christianity a Male Supremacy Cult?

Simply put, the answer is “no.”

In the New Testament time period, Roman law and Jewish oral tradition did not view the testimony of women as reliable.  In spite of these cultural norms, women were the first to be chosen to bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection—the sign of his triumph over sin and death (Luke 24:1-10).

The apostle Paul tells us there is “neither…male nor female,” for we are all “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  In the body of Christ, men and women are called to serve according to their gifts, not according to their sex at birth (Romans 12:6-8).

In the book of Acts, we see women prophesying (Acts 21:9), and a woman named Priscilla teaching a man “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

Phoebe was a deacon who made leadership decisions about supporting the ministry of the apostle Paul and others (Romans 16:1-2).

Junia, a woman, was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).

If the New Testament tells us that women and men are equally redeemed, equally sanctified, and equally called to serve God in accordance with their gifts, why do we even wonder if Christianity teaches that women should be subordinate to men?

Because a male supremacy cult does operate within the church, and it does masquerade as Christianity.

One of this cult’s present-day leaders recently equated the doctrine of male authority–which he calls complementarianism–with Christianity: “So, the reason among all the other reasons that I mentioned and could mention that I believe complementarianism will endure is not a passing fancy–is not going to go away–is that no matter how great opposition to Christianity becomes, there will always be a remnant of complementarians willing to die for the truth” (John Piper, desiringGod, April 19, 2017).

John Piper may or may not realize it, but his belief in male authority and female subordination cannot be found anywhere in the teachings of Christ.  In other words, it is not Christian.

John Piper refers to himself as a 7 point Calvinist (traditionally Calvinism is viewed as having only 5 main tenets).  In other words, he derives his understanding of the Bible from the 16th century commentary work of John Calvin (desiringGod, January 23, 2006).

This is what Calvin had to say about women: “Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection and not take it ill that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex” (Calvin’s Commentaries: Vol. 39).

John Calvin did not take his view of women from the teachings of Jesus Christ; rather, he was strongly influenced by the 4th century commentary work of a man named Augustine (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III).

This is what Augustine had to say about women:

It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater . . . This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger.  This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power. (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153)

Augustine did not derive his view of women from the teachings of Jesus Christ: rather, he was influenced by what he referred to as “the books of the Platonists” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book VII).

This is what Plato had to say about women:

Let me further note that the manifold and complex pleasures and desires and pains are generally found in children and women and slaves….  Whereas the simple and moderate desires which follow reason, and are under the guidance of the mind and true opinion, are to be found only in a few, and those the best born and best educated…

Very true.  These two, as you may perceive, have a place in our State; and the meaner desires of the [many] are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few [the best born and best educated men]…

You are quite right, he replied, in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex….” (Plato’s Republic)

Is Christianity a male supremacy cult?  No, but there is a male supremacy cult within the church that claims to represent Christianity.

When human philosophy attempted to infiltrate the early church, the apostle Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

I believe he would say the same today, regarding the deceptive philosophy and human tradition of male authority.

The Elephant in the Room: Denying Reality to Justify Male Power

Complementarians celebrate that they have always had the same view of 1st Timothy 2:12. As far as they are concerned, it tells us that God created men to “exercise authority over women,” and that anytime a woman attempts to share this authority with men, it is a sin.

Egalitarians take a different approach. I’ve completed a literature review of some of the most common egalitarian explanations of this passage. I’ve read the work of Gordon Fee, Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger, Philip B. Payne, Sharon Hodgin Gritz, Linda Belleville, Leland Wilshire, Gilbert Bilezikian, Katharine Bushnell, Charles Trombley and others.

All of these scholars note that when talking about authority, Paul usually uses the word “exousia” in the New Testament (32 times). In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul uses a different word, “authentein,” and he only uses it once. My first encounter with the word “authentein” outside of the New Testament occurred when I read the Wisdom of Solomon in the Greek Septuagint. Here a noun form of the same word, “authentas,” is used to describe parents who sacrificed their children to false gods and goddesses in secret rituals. This was my first indication that Paul probably did not see “authentein” simply as a synonym for “exousia.”  This impression has since been affirmed by many years of related research.

In addition to noticing that Paul uses “authentein” rather than “exousia” in 1 Timothy 2:12, many egalitarian scholars also see that 1st Timothy is a warning against a false teaching that was somehow “ascetic.” Ascetics taught that the body and its passions are evil. They commanded people to abstain from marriage and to avoid eating foods that might stimulate the passions (see 1 Timothy 4:3-4). Usually this meant avoiding meat and wine.

Many egalitarian scholars also note that this kind of asceticism was connected with a false teaching eventually called “Gnosticism.” The Gnostics taught that denying the body and its passions would enable people to receive special revelation knowledge (gnosis in Greek) from God. In 1st Timothy 6:20, Paul warns Timothy to guard the gospel message against the “profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge”–gnosis.

Some egalitarian scholars also note that Gnostic asceticism in Ephesus and the surrounding region was influenced by pagan goddess mythology. Sometimes the goddess is identified as Artemis, sometimes she is called Cybele. When the Greeks first immigrated to this region, they began to confuse Cybele (who was already there) with one of their own goddesses, Artemis; so it isn’t difficult to see why both goddesses are mentioned in egalitarian literature. In addition to being “ascetic,” Paul identifies that the false teachers in Ephesus would, “devote themselves to myths” (1 Timothy 1:4).

Paul’s use of “authentein” instead of “exousia” in the context of a warning against Gnostic asceticism based on myths suggests a number of possible interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12:

1) Some scholars see Paul as prohibiting the teaching that a woman was the “author” of man. “Authentein” is sometimes translated as “author,” or “the person ultimately responsible for something,” in ancient Greek literature. Goddess mythology in Ephesus did teach that women were the authors of men. Female deities were responsible for creation, and male deities were more often connected with evil.

2) Some scholars see Paul as prohibiting a woman from teaching a man in a “domineering” fashion. At least by the 2nd century A.D., the word “authentes” began to be used as a synonym for “despotes,” meaning “tyrant” or “despot.” In the goddess myths of Asia Minor, women were dominant. In the 4th century, 1st Timothy 2:12 was translated into Latin, and the word used for “authentein” was “dominari.” Latin commentaries explained that this meant a woman was not to have “domination” over a man. Some commentaries said that a wife was not to be “domineering” with a husband.

3) Some scholars see Paul as prohibiting a woman from simply assuming authority that was not rightly conferred upon her by the church. Again, women influenced by local goddess mythology may have had some sense that they had a special connection with the divine, and that this entitled them to teaching and leadership positions on the basis of gender alone. (Today, we see men making the same erroneous assumption.)

4) Finally, some egalitarian scholars see that just as “authentas” referred to murderous rituals in the Wisdom of Solomon, so too did the goddess cults regularly practice ritual violence against men. Men in these cults were called “slayers of themselves” in Roman literature of the 1st century. They offered sacrifices to the goddess from their own bodies. Ascetic Gnostics interpreted the mythology and practices of these cults as confirmation that the body and its passions are evil and must therefore be “put to death.” On numerous occasions throughout Greek literature extending into the New Testament period words such as “authentas, authentes, authenten, authentai, euthentekota, authentesonta, etc.” were used to indicate murder or violence done to oneself or others, either literally (as in the case of the goddess cults) or figuratively (as in the case of ascetic Gnosticism).  I find evidence for this viewpoint most compelling.  Anyone interested can read more about that here:

So what do we do with all of these possible egalitarian interpretations?

In my profession as a therapist, we would often use an analogy involving an elephant to describe a situation in which each person in a group had an understanding of one part of a larger situation. All of the people in the analogy are in a dark room, and they attempt to identify the elephant by touch alone. One person would discover the trunk of the elephant, another the ears, another the legs, and another the tail. The danger highlighted by this analogy is that all of these people might focus exclusively on their part of the elephant, divorce it from others’ findings, and begin to argue about what they have found. The one grasping the trunk might conclude it is a snake, while someone else grasping a leg might insist that it is a tree etc. In reality, they each have a hold of one part of something very large and very real—the elephant.

All of the egalitarian scholarship I have just referred to is excellent. It is based on years (sometimes decades) of credible scholarship. All of it points to different aspects of the same larger theme: Paul’s warning against ascetic teaching based on myths that gave priority to women over men. In other words, Paul is not talking about women merely “exercising authority” over men in the church. Those that insist he is are simply ignoring the elephant in the room so that that they can continue to justify the human tradition of male power.

Ephesians 5:22: When Men Add Commands to the Bible

Paul’s alleged command in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives submit to your husbands,” forms the foundation of the complementarian view that husbands must exercise authority over their wives in Christian marriage.[i]  This supposed command is often supplemented and reinforced by headings that have been added to the biblical text by translators.  Immediately above Ephesians 5:22 in the Open Bible: New King James Version, for example, we read the heading, “Wives: Submit to Your Husbands.”  The New American Standard Version adds yet another statement of obligation directed exclusively to wives in Ephesians 5:24: “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”

In the oldest available Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (Parchment 46 and Codex Vaticanus), Ephesians 5:22 does not say, “Wives submit to your husbands.”[ii]  Neither the heading, “Wives Submit to Your Husbands,” nor the additional phrase in Ephesians 5:24 telling wives that they “ought to be” submissive can be found in any Greek manuscripts whatsoever.

In this passage, the apostle Paul introduces the idea of “submission” in Ephesians 5:21.  After telling all Christians to “be filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18, he then explains what this will look like: “submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  In other words, all Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit are to relate to one another with Christ-like humility and a willingness to serve.  Ephesians 5:22  then adds the phrase “wives to your husbands” as an example of what this mutual submission will look like.

In grammatical terms “be filled with the Spirit” is the imperative verb; “submitting one to another” is a participle phrase (that describes being filled with the Spirit); and “wives to your husbands” is yet another phrase that qualifies “submitting one to another” by providing an example.  Simply put, “wives to your husbands” is not a complete sentence; it cannot stand on its own as a separate command.  There is no new and separate command directed only to wives.  Patriarchal translators create the illusion that there are two different kinds of commands–one in Ephesians 5:21 directed to all Christians, and another in Ephesians 5:22 directed exclusively to wives.  The added command appears to reinforce a gender-based hierarchy in Christian homes.  It is important to recognize that this is not grammatically possible in the Greek text of the oldest available manuscripts.  It is only possible if a second imperative verb is inserted into verse 22.[iii]  The submission that exists in marriage from wives to husbands is one example of the humility and loving service that all Christians who are filled with the Spirit are called upon to demonstrate.

In Ephesians 5:24  Paul does not tell wives that they “ought to be” submissive to their husbands.  Rather, he makes an observation regarding “the way things were” in ancient Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures.  The verb he uses in verse 24 in reference to wives is “hupotassetai” (are subject); it is a present, indicative, middle or passive verb.  When understood in the passive voice, it is not a command; rather, it is used to describe something as it already is.[iv]  The same verb, in the same tense, mood and voice is used in Luke 10:20: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject (hupotassetai) to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (NASB).  The disciples discovered that unclean spirits “were subject” to them, in Jesus’ name.  This was not a command; it was an observation.  The same verb, in the same tense, mood and voice is used again in 1 Corinthians 14:32: “and the spirits of prophets are subject (hupotassetai) to prophets” (NASB).  Paul is explaining that a prophet’s spirit “is subject” to him or her.  This means that people have control over when and how they might prophesy.  Again, this is an observation, not a command.

When the biblical authors talk about what someone “should” or “ought” to do, they typically make use of the Greek words “opheilo” or “dei.”[v]  One example of such a statement is found in Luke 13:14: “But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, ‘There are six days in which work should (dei) be done ; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’”  The teachers of the Law are telling people how they “should” behave.  They are talking about a legal obligation, expectation or command.  They are telling people what to do.  Another example is found in Luke 18:1: “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought (dein) to pray and not to lose heart” (NASB).  Jesus was telling his disciples what they “ought to” do.  He is giving them instructions that they are meant to follow.

Paul’s use of hupotassetai (are subject) with regard to wives in Ephesians 5:24 is the same as Luke’s use of the same word regarding unclean spirits and the spirits of the prophets.  In these texts, the Greek words opheilo and dei are absent.  Translators of the NASB version of the Bible acknowledge that they have added the phrase “ought to be” to the text of Ephesians 5:24. [vi]  This phrase is not found in any Greek manuscripts of this passage.[vii]  Paul is not telling wives what they “ought to” do; rather he is describing a situation that already existed at the time he wrote his letter.

To understand the situation Paul is referring to, it is helpful to become familiar with the Greco-Roman and Jewish literature of the New Testament era, concerning the relationship between husbands and wives.  According to Greek philosophy, which was embraced throughout the Roman Empire, a man was indeed the “lord” of his household, and women were “subject” to his authority.  According to Aristotle, women were to be viewed as the slaves and possessions of a man.[viii]  A similar view of women was proposed by the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria.[ix]  In the eyes of 1st century Greeks, Romans and Jews, men did indeed exercise lordship over women, children and slaves.

This is the culture Paul is addressing in his letter, and he correctly observes that wives “are subject” to husbands.  Instead of affirming this role, however, Paul says something very different; he tells husbands to imitate the love of Jesus, who laid aside his divine authority to make himself a servant: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV).  Unlike the passive verb Paul uses to describe the pre-existing submission of wives, the verb directed towards husbands is present, active and imperative.  Simply put, it is a command.  Paul is indeed telling husbands what they “ought to do.”  In fact, he uses this exact language not with wives, but rather with husbands in Ephesians 5:28: “So ought [ophelousin] husbands to love their wives.”  This is not a command that Greek, Roman or Jewish men would have been accustomed to hearing.  Men filled with the Spirit, however, would “submit” themselves to other Christians–including women, including their wives: “submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ.”

In its original language and cultural context, how might we understand the apostle Paul’s overall message in Ephesians 5:18-28?  Be filled with the Spirit, submitting one to another, just as wives do to husbands, and just as the church does to Christ.  Husbands, you ought also to love and serve your wives, just as Christ loved and served the church, giving His life for her on the cross.

A patriarchal/complementarian reading of Ephesians 5:21-28 rejects the notion of mutual submission in Christian marriage.  It insists that just as Jesus was the Lord and Master of the church, so too must a husband be lord and master of his wife.  In other words, according to patriarchal theology, it is the “lordship” of Jesus that husbands are told to imitate in marriage.

Jesus fills many roles in his relationship to the church.  He is our “Lord.”  He is our High Priest.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is our Teacher.  He is the Chief Cornerstone of God’s living temple, the church.  He made himself a servant and was obedient to the point of death on the cross to atone for our sins.  Among all of these aspects of Christ’s ministry on earth, husbands are told to imitate only one:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind–yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27, NRSV)

Husbands, love your wives, make yourselves a servant, just as Christ loved and served the church, even to the point of death on a cross.

The apostle Paul teaches the same principle of mutual servanthood in his letter to the Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave [doulos],
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, NRSV)

Christians seeking to have “lordship” over others in the faith are firmly rebuked by our Saviour:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, NIV)

Jesus reminds his followers that they have One Leader, and that is Christ alone.  All of Jesus’ followers are “siblings” and “equals”:

Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.  But the greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:10-11, NASB)

Every Christian is called to love as Christ has loved us (John 13:35).  In the body of Christ, and in Christian homes, husbands are called to love, not to be lords over their wives.

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

End Notes:

[i] In his online article entitled “The Myth of Mutual Submission,” Complementarian Wayne Grudem claims, “the Greek text clearly specifies a restriction, ‘Wives, be subject to your own husbands,’”

[ii] “P46 is a papyrus manuscript which dates from about 200. It is one of the oldest manuscripts we have. B is Codex Vaticanus, which is one of the best manuscripts we have, dating from about the fourth century. Neither of these manuscripts has a verb in verse 22,”; Photograph of Parchment 46:; Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “It is probable that the Gr. original has no verb here,”;  Nestle GNT “Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν,”

[iii] The first instance on record of a second command “submit” being inserted into the Greek text of Ephesians 5:22 occurs in the middle of the 4th century A.D..  This alteration of the Greek coincides with the shift in Bible translation and commentary that we find in the 4th century work of St. Augustine and St. Jerome.

[iv] Hart,, pp. 3-4.


[vi] New American Standard Bible: Text Edition with Illustrated Dictionary-Concordance (1977). New York, NY: The Lockman Foundation, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. X & 819.

[vii] Parallel Greek texts of Ephesians 5:24,

[viii] Aristotle, Politics, Book I, Part II, translated by Benjamin Jowett,

[ix] Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis,

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.

Changing Genesis 3:16 to Rationalize the Subjugation of Women: A response to planned changes in the ESV Bible.

Immediately after both Adam and Eve choose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden, God predicts how this decision will impact the relationship between the sexes. He says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16, NIV). The subjugation of women by men is depicted as a tragic outcome of humanity’s decision to turn away from God and try to make our way without Him.

Sadly, patriarchal theologians have interpreted Genesis 3:16 not as a consequence of sin, but rather as a reflection of God’s will for husbands and wives. One complementarian website offers the following interpretation: “Eve will try to usurp her husband’s role as head, but God is requiring Adam to keep her from doing so.”[1] There are two problems with this kind of thinking. First, the passage does not say in any language (Hebrew, Greek, English) that a woman would desire “to usurp her husband’s role as head.” Rather, the passage simply says that while Eve will “desire” (long for, turn towards) her husband, he will “rule over” her. In Hebrew, the word translated “desire” is teshuqa. The same word is used in the Song of Solomon, in reference to a man’s desire for the woman he loves: “I belong to my beloved, and his desire (teshuqa) is for me. Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages” (7:10-11, NIV). Is this man desiring to “usurp the authority” of his romantic partner? No, he is not. There is no suggestion that teshuqa, either in the Song of Solomon or in Genesis 3:16, is a desire to usurp someone’s authority. Second, a patriarchal interpretation wrongly assumes that God’s prediction, “he will rule over you,” is actually a divine command: “he must rule over you.” Eve is portrayed as rebelling against “God’s created order,” and Adam is allegedly appointed to “keep her in her place.” The Hebrew text says none of this. Through patriarchal commentary, a horrifying consequence of humanity’s fall into sin (the male domination of women) is wrongly depicted as “the will of God.”

To reinforce a patriarchal interpretation of the passage, the publishers of the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) have recently announced that they are making changes to the English text of Genesis 3:16. The text is being changed from, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” to “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”[2] In addition to ignoring the meaning of the Hebrew word teshuqa (desire for) as it is used in Song of Solomon, the ESV also ignores the meaning of the Greek word used for desire in Genesis 3:16 of the Greek Septuagint. (The Septuagint is a 2nd century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.) The Greek word used to describe Eve’s “desire for” her husband is apostrophe. Writing in the first century A.D., historian Flavius Josephus used this word to mean turning to someone for deliverance. Here is an English translation of Josephus’ account:

But still, because there appeared no other way whither they could turn themselves for deliverance (apostrophe), they made haste the same way with the soldiers, and went to Claudius.[3]

Roman Senators who were previously opposed to the Emperor Claudius were deserted by the Roman army. With no other course available to them, they turned to Claudius for leniency, reaffirming their allegiance.

Born in the second century A.D., a Greek philosopher named Philostratus used apostrophe in a similar manner. In this account, servants of a man named Herodes turn to the people of Athens as a “haven”:

The terms of the will were as I have stated, and Atticus drew it up by the advice of his freedmen, who since they saw that Herodes was by nature prone to deal harshly with his freedmen and slaves, tried in this way to prepare a haven for themselves (apostrophe) among the people of Athens, by appearing responsible for the legacy.[4]

Expecting to be treated harshly by Herodes upon the death of his father Atticus, household servants turn to the people of Athens for refuge.

The use of apostrophe to mean turning towards someone for refuge or deliverance has a very long history. In the 5th century B.C., a historian named Herodotus used this word to explain that the Greeks had no one to turn to for water, but the god they called Zeus:

Greek land is watered by rain, but not by river water like theirs, they said that one day the Greeks would be let down by what they counted on, and miserably starve: meaning that if heaven send no rain for the Greeks and afflict them with drought, the Greeks will be overtaken by famine, for there is no other source of water for them [i.e. no one else to turn toapostrophe] except Zeus alone.[5]

The Perseus Digital Library from Tufts University explains that apostrophe was commonly used throughout the history of ancient Greek literature to mean, “when one turns away from all others to one, and addresses him specially.”[6] Reflecting this meaning, an apostrophe also became a literary device used in epic poetry; it occurs when a character turns away from one person (often a god or a judge) and turns suddenly to another person in a desperate appeal for sympathy, support or deliverance:

Apostrophe is turning away from the normal audience…and the addressing of another, second audience, surprisingly chosen by the speaker… Apostrophe is, so to speak, an emotional move of despair on the part of the speaker.[7]

Eve’s circumstances in the Garden of Eden mirror the contexts in which we find apostrophe used in ancient literature to represent a turning away from a god or a judge, and to an unexpected source for refuge. Eve (like Adam) had turned away from God by disobeying his command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Soon to be expelled from the garden, she would turn towards Adam (apostrophe). Rather than being the support she hoped for, however, he would now “rule over her.”

The male domination of women is portrayed in the book of Genesis as a direct consequence of human sin. Rather than accurately reflecting this biblical truth, the new ESV translation misrepresents Eve’s desire as somehow contrary to Adam’s rule. She is made to appear resistant to what is portrayed as Adam’s divinely ordained authority. In other words, a tragic consequence of humanity’s sinful choice is wrongly portrayed as God’s design.

It should be noted that the mistranslation of the new ESV does not appear to be simply an error. Some founding members of the highly patriarchal Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) have served on the ESV Advisory Council and Oversight Committee.[8] On their website, the CBMW endorses the ESV as “unapologetically complementarian.”[9] In other words, they firmly believe that patriarchy–the rule of men–is God’s will for humanity, and they evidently plan to alter the Bible’s language to conform to this belief. Their approach to the Bible brings to mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

How can you say, “We are wise,
and the law of the Lord is with us,”
when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes
has made it into a lie? (Jeremiah 8:8, NRSV)

End Notes:

1 Golden, S. (2012). Answers in Genesis: Is Male Headship a “Curse”?


3 Josephus, Judean Wars,

4 Philostratus the Athenian, Vitae Sophistarum Carl Ludwig Kayser, Ed.,,0638,003:2:1:4&lang=original.

5 Herodotus, The Histories, A. D. Godley, Ed.,

6 LSJ, A III:\&la=greek&can=a%29postrofh\0&prior=th=sd%27&d=Perseus:text:1999.01.0009:card=742&i=1#lexicon.

7 Sebastian, B. (2013). Apostrophe to the Gods in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Lucan’s Pharsalia and Statius’ Thebaid,

8 ESV Translators,


(From Chapter 2 of “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ from the Oppression of Patriarchy”)


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,

[106] Euripides, Andromache,

[107] Antiphon, 2nd Tetralogy,

[108] Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes,

[109] Septuagint, Wisdom of Solomon 12:6,

[110] Septuagint, 3 Maccabees 2:27-29,

[111] Polybius, Histories,

[112] Diodorus Siculus, Histories, (English); (Greek)

[113] Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.240.5,

[114] Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.582.1.

[115] Philo, The Worse Attacks the Better XXI 78,

[116] Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.7.61,

[117] Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.13.115,

[118] Appian, The Civil Wars, 3.2.16,

[119] Appian, The Civil Wars, 4.17.134,

[120] Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 4.23,

[121] Harpocratian, Lexicon in decem oratores Atticos,

[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”)