Wayne Grudem: Denying history to rationalize “male authority”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Complementarian Gaslighting

“Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation…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…. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society.”  (Preston Ni, MSBA, Psychology Today, April 30, 2017)

In essence, gaslighting says to people, “What you think you see isn’t real.” Evidence that supports someone’s perception of reality is systematically distorted or denied.  Gaslighters seek 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 seems to systematically distort or deny evidence that challenges a patriarchal interpretation of 1st Timothy 2:12.  Grudem insists that this verse prohibits women from “exercising authority” in the church (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, pp. 65-66).  The Kroegers, on the other hand, suggest that the apostle Paul may have been prohibiting a form of false teaching rooted in Ephesian goddess mythology (I Suffer Not a Woman, chapter 14).

Referring to a complementarian article facetiously 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 claimed that the “linguistic blunders” of the Kroegers, have “given Evangelical Scholarship a bad name.” [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 [Trojan] 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, http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/rca/rca02.htm]

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, http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/rca/rca02.htm]

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” [http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/toj/toj04.htm]. 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, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book7.html.]

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. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0147%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D582]

Josephus also used the plural form of this same word, “authentas,” to refer to men who should have been prosecuted for perpetrating a murder. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0148%3Abook%3D2%3Asection%3D236]

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. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+1.7.61&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232]

Roman General Marcus Perpenna is arrested for the murder of Quintus Sertorius.[http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D13%3Asection%3D115]

Those responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar are referred to as his “slayers.”[http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+3.2.16&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232.]

Cassius and Brutus brought about their own deaths by participating in the murder of Julius Caesar. [Appian, The Civil Wars, 4.17.134 [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+4.17.134&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232.]

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 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: https://equalityworkbook.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/pauls-concern-in-1st-timothy-false-teaching/

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.

Endnotes

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

ii The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at sacred-texts.com, http://www.sacred-texts.com/gno/gar/gar15.htm.

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,” http://www.theoi.com/Text/ClementExhortation1.html#2.

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 http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/jerome.asp.

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

 

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: https://equalityworkbook.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/pauls-concern-in-1st-timothy-false-teaching/

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.