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

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

Why is it helpful to look at this literature?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum

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

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

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

 

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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.”

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”)

References

[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, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book34.html.

[127] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Corybant.

[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, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Basil-of-Ancyra.

[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 sacred-texts.com.

[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 sacred-texts.com.

[149] Borgeaud, p. 42.

[150] “Gnosticism: Part III, the Nature of Gnosticism,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online, http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/G/gnosticism.html.

[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 http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/aristotle.

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

[154] Ovid, Amores: Book III, Elegy VII, http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/AmoresBkIII.htm#anchor_Toc520536659.

[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.