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.

1 Timothy 2:12: Bias in Complementarian Research

In 1984, George W. Knight III published a study on the Greek word “authentein.”  This is the word used by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12.  After examining a sample of 13 uses of the word (in noun and verb forms), Knight concludes that “the broad concept of authority is virtually present everywhere.”  He therefore supports the notion that Paul was prohibiting women from “teaching” and “exercising authority over men” in the church.

The first difficulty with Knight’s study is that it is quite small.  Thirteen citations is a small number of examples from which to make a general rule.  The second difficulty with Knight’s sample is more serious.  He discards information that does not support his patriarchal worldview.

He finds that a verb form of “authentein” was used in a 1st century commentary note on a Greek tragedy entitled “Eumenides” by Aeschylus.  The word is “authentekota,” and its meaning is “murdered.”[1]  The passage it describes reads as follows: “His hands were dripping blood; he held a sword just drawn.”[2]  The commentator notes that the character in the play, Orestes, had previously “murdered” his mother.  Knight’s handling of this example is problematic; he decides that it “helps little” with our understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12, and so he sets it “to one side.”  In other words, he discards it from his sample.[3]

In contrast to Knight’s handling of the word “authentein,” a study of 329 uses of the word found in the TLG computer database was published by Leland Wilshire in 2010.  Wilshire’s sample of the TLG is exhaustive, leaving out no examples.  He also includes examples found in the BAGD Lexicon.  At the conclusion of his study, Wilshire finds that at the time of the New Testament, the majority of citations “have to do with self-willed violence, criminal action, or murder or reference to the person who does these things.”[4]  A list of just some of these citations found by Wilshire and confirmed by my own independent study is available here:

Some complementarians have acknowledged Wilshire’s findings that “authentein” in one form or another often referred to something violent or murderous.  This includes numerous citations around the New Testament era, from the 2nd century B.C. through to the 2nd century A.D..  These complementarians suggest, however, that Wilshire’s study focuses mainly on “nouns,” and that the noun and verb forms of “authentein” are not related.

It seems as though they are forgetting Knight’s excluded example of “authentekota” as a verb form of “authentein” that referred to the act of murder.  Another complementarian scholar, Andreas Kostenberger, acknowledges the existence of “authentekota,” but says that because it is “unusual,” it must be a “mistake.”  He also then sets it aside.  Furthermore, Kostenberger says that there is “no evidence” that such a verb was “ever” used to mean “murder” outside of this example.[5]  In saying this, he is simply wrong.  Philip B. Payne highlights the use of the verb “authentesonta” to refer to the act of “murder” in the following citation: “Authentesonta itself does not require that one wear the sword himself…for Mithridates ordered them to kill.”  Payne highlights that “this incident is from 87 B.C..”[6]  Those who hired a man to commit “murder” in the Mithridatic wars are referred to by Appian of Alexandria as “authentai.”  In other words, the verb “authentesonta” and the noun “authentai” are directly related.

In addition to these two examples of verb forms of “authentein” referring to the act of “murder,” Leland Wilshire’s comprehensive study makes reference to more:

Among the secular writers of the late Roman period, there is also a bifurcation of meanings, some writers using the word to mean, “to murder or doing harm,” while others use the word, along with the Greek patristic writers, to mean “to exercise authority.”  Themistius, a philosopher and Rhetorician, from IV AD [the 4th century] uses it in context to mean, “murder.”  Sopater Atheniensis, a Rhetorician from IV AD, uses the word in contrast to autocheir in a context dealing with murder.[7]

Is George Knight III correct in his conclusion that “the broad concept of authority is found virtually everywhere” with regard to “authentein”?  No, his sample size is too small to form such a conclusion, and he chooses to exclude evidence that does not support his belief.  Is Andreas Kostenberger correct to suggest that there are no verb forms of “authentein” that refer to the act of murder?  No, he excludes one example as “a mistake” and simply seems unaware of others.

Egalitarian scholars Leland Wilshire and Philip B. Payne acknowledge that verb and noun forms of the word “authentein” are directly related to one another.  They also acknowledge that various forms of the word “authentein” carried meanings related to violence or murder.  They do not follow the example set by their complementarian colleagues who seem to deny evidence that does not support their beliefs.

An article that explores the meaning of “authentein” as some form of murder or violence in the context of  Paul’s first letter to Timothy is available at the following link:


[1] Wilshire, L. (2010). Insight into Two Biblical Passages, NY, New York: University Press of America, pp. 18, 20, 29.
[2] Eumenides by Aeschylus,
[3] Wilshire, L. (2010). Insight into Two Biblical Passages, New York, NY: University Press of America, p. 18.
[4] Wilshire, L. (2010). Insight into Two Biblical Passages, NY, New York: University Press of America, p. 29.
[5] Kostenberger, A., Schreiner T. (2016). Women in the Church, Third Edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
[6] Payne, P. (2009). Man and Woman, One in Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan p. 362.
[7] Wilshire, L. (2010). Insight into Two Biblical Passages, NY, New York: University Press of America, p. 25.

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,

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”)