Other 1st Century Jewish Writers Who Used Greek Words Like “Authentein”

I was recently reading an interesting paper about a 1st century Jewish philosopher named Philo. Like Paul, Philo wrote to warn people about a false “knowledge” (gnosis) of God. Also like Paul, Philo used a rare Greek word in the context of a warning against false teaching. While Paul used the word “authentein,” Philo used a similar noun, “authentes.” Here are a few excerpts from the paper, and some thoughts about why this may be significant for women’s equality in the church:

Heretical gnosis reached Palestine at least by the early first century. ‘Gnostic’ mystical doctrines were tolerated and fostered by some in orthodox circles, so long as ‘the honor of the Father in Heaven’ was served and the unity of God maintained. Thus a distinction was made between ‘true’ gnosis and ‘false’ gnosis, the latter characterized by arrogance over against God…

The Palestinian distinction between true and false gnosis is matched by, and preceded by, a similar distinction in the Alexandrian Diaspora. Philo distinguishes between the true and the false gnosis by stating that the true is characterized by following God, and is typified by righteous Abel, while the false, typified by Cain, is characterized by ascribing all things to the human mind. (https://www.dhushara.com/book/consum/gnos/jgnos.htm)

In his work entitled “the Worse Attacks the Better,” Philo talks about two opposing principles in the life of each person. One of these principles—which he metaphorically calls “Cain”–is at war with the other, which is metaphorically referred to as “Abel.”

A person who is dominated by Cain embraces a false “gnosis” of God. Such a person elevates the human mind over and above God. Philo describes the symptoms of such a life in the following terms:

If, therefore, you see any one desiring meat or drink at an unseasonable time [some Gnostics advocated a life of bodily self-indulgence], or repudiating baths or ointments at the proper season, or neglecting the proper clothing for his body, or lying on the ground and sleeping in the open air, and by such conduct as this, pretending to a character for temperance and self-denial [other Gnostics advocated a life of bodily self-denial], you, pitying his self-deception, should show him the true path of temperance, for all the practices in which he has been indulging are useless and profitless labours, oppressing both his soul and body with hunger and all sorts of other hardships. (The Worse Attacks the Better)

Sticking with his “Cain and Abel” metaphor, Philo explains that a person who embraces a false “gnosis” (knowledge of God) becomes a “murderer” of himself. Here are his exact words:

What is this that thou hast done, O wretched man? Does not the God-loving opinion which you flatter yourself that you have destroyed, live in the presence of God? But it is of yourself that you have become the murderer (authentes), by destroying from out of its seat the only quality by which you could live in a blameless manner. (The Worse Attacks the Better)

What is striking about this passage is that Philo describes a man who has embraced a false “gnosis” of God as an “authentes”–a “murderer” of himself.

Some complementarians argue that the practice of using “authentes” to refer to a “murderer” was obsolete by the 1st century AD; yet Philo–a first century author–used it in exactly this way. He is not alone. Flavius Josephus–another 1st century Greek speaking Jewish writer–also used “authentas” and “authenten” to convey this meaning.

Those familiar with the Greek language of Paul’s first letter to Timothy will probably recognize that Philo’s “authentes” is very similar to Paul’s use of the word “authentein” in 1 Timothy 2:12. Dr. Leland Wilshire, author of “Insight into Two Biblical Passages,” demonstrates that “authentes” is a noun form of the infinitive verb “authentein.” In other words, it is likely that the two words shared a similar meaning in the 1st century AD.

Some complementarians allege that while nouns like authentes may have carried a meaning related to murder, similar verbs (like authentein) did not. In making this argument, they ignore the work of egalitarian scholars Leland Wilshire and Philip B. Payne who provide examples of other verbs in Koine Greek literature that carried this meaning. The first verb, discussed by Wilshire, is “euthentekota.” It is used in a commentary on a famous Greek tragedy in which a man “murdered” his mother. The second verb, discussed by Payne, is “authentesonta.” It is used to highlight that a king (named Mithridates) was responsible for the killing of Roman citizens carried out by his soldiers. Even though the king did not do the killing himself, he was still responsible for the deaths. (See Payne’s discussion of 1st Timothy 2:12 in “Man and Woman: One in Christ”)

The significance of the parallel between Philo’s use of authentes and Paul’s use of authentein becomes especially apparent when we consider that both authors were 1st century AD Greek-speaking Jews, writing to warn people about a false “knowledge” or gnosis of God. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:20, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge (gnosis).”

Paul’s description of those who embrace such a false knowledge is also similar to Philo’s. Here are Paul’s comments from 1 Timothy 4:1-4:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.

In Philo, false gnosis is responsible for a man’s spiritual death. Such a man would be an “authentes.”

In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul may very well be prohibiting a woman from a form of teaching (didaskein) that would similarly be responsible for the spiritual death of a man (authentein andros).

Some complementarians object to this thinking on the grounds that it is absurd to think Paul was forbidding a woman from “murdering” a man. The Ten Commandments would suffice to prohibit such an act. Paul would not need to write an additional prohibition in 1st Timothy 2:12. This is a straw man argument. Paul was not evidently prohibiting women from murdering men. What he may have been doing, however, is prohibiting a false teaching that encouraged a man to embrace a false knowledge of God, and thereby become a “murderer” of himself.  In this manner, a woman’s false teaching may have been responsible for a man’s spiritual death.

Again, some complementarians refer to this kind of thinking as “mental gymnastics.” It isn’t. In reality, it’s simply good ethnomethodology–a field of sociology that examines the cultural meaning assigned to words in their original historical context. In 1st century Greek literature, written by a Jewish author, “authentes” did indeed refer to a man who “murdered” himself–brought about his own spiritual death–by embracing a false knowledge of God. Paul may well have used “authentein” in a similar manner.

If this interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 is accurate, Paul’s reference to the story of Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is very enlightening. Gnostics referred to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as “divine gnosis.” They viewed the serpent as a messenger of God that was passing this knowledge onto Eve, who would then transmit it to Adam. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Paul may be addressing this Gnostic heresy by reminding Timothy that Eve did not receive “divine knowledge” from the serpent; rather, she was deceived, and when she gave the fruit to Adam, he ate it and consequently died. (See “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ From the Oppression of Patriarchy” for further details and documentation on early Gnostic thought)

Even the passage about being “saved through childbearing” begins to make sense in this context. Some Gnostics believed that a woman would lose her salvation by bearing children. Giving birth to a child, in their eyes, was an act that imprisoned another soul in a corrupt body. It was viewed as a terrible sin. Through childbirth a woman might lose her life (death by childbearing was common) and even her salvation.

A woman teaching an ascetic form of Gnosticism (bodily self-denial) in Timothy’s church might have encouraged a man to embrace a false knowledge (gnosis) of God that required celibacy, perhaps even within marriage. (Paul confronted a similar problem in 1 Corinthians 7:1.)

Paul’s response to this Gnostic teaching may then have been to remind Timothy that women will be “saved through childbearing” by having faith in Christ that shows itself in holiness (1 Timothy 2:15). This does not mean, as St. Jerome wrongly suggested, that a woman will be saved “by” bearing children; but rather that she will be saved by faith in Christ, and need not worry about losing her soul “through” the act of giving birth.

It’s interesting to note that both Philo and Paul appear to address Gnostic heresy that was formed by combining Judaism and/or Christianity with pagan myths. (For more information on goddess myths and their influence on early Gnostic beliefs, see Philippe Borgeaud’s “Mother of the God’s: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary.”)

Paul makes reference to the influence of “myths” in 1 Timothy 1:4. Ephesian mythology was particularly focused on “saving women in childbearing.” One way the Ephesian goddess could be appeased was by male priests who permanently renounced their masculinity through a ritual act of self-castration. Historically, native Ephesians called this goddess Cybele. Greeks called her Artemis, and Romans referred to her as Diana. Though Greco-Roman worship practices eventually dispensed with castration in favour of temporary celibacy for Artemis’ male priests, Anatolian men continued to honor their goddess (Cybele) through ritual self-castration. This practice continued in Ephesus through Roman times, and was even imitated by Christians who embraced extreme asceticism, notably in 1st century Ephesus. (See Daniel F. Caner’s “The Practice and Prohibition of Ritual Self-castration in Early Christianity” https://www.jstor.org/stable/1583869?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

This practice so alarmed Roman law-makers that Roman citizens were forbidden to participate in the rite. Those who violated this law were prosecuted under the Roman law “against murderers.” Depriving a man of his masculinity—and depriving both him and the Empire of future (male) offspring—was a crime comparable to murder. (see “The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite,” edited by Elizabeth Wyner Mark, and “Becoming Male in the Middle Ages,” edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler)

What does all of this historical information suggest?

It tells us that despite complementarian claims to the contrary, words like “authentes” and “authentein” likely maintained a meaning in the 1st century AD that had nothing to do with a woman “exercising authority” over a man in church. It is more likely the case that the apostle Paul, like Philo before him, was writing to warn the church about a false teaching that would somehow be responsible for the death of a man. The teaching may have encouraged a man to embrace a “false gnosis” of God and thereby bring about his own spiritual death. And/or it may have encouraged a man to participate in the extreme asceticism of self-castration—a crime comparable to murder under Roman law.

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The Idolatry of Trusting in “Masculine Strength”

From cover to cover, the Bible is a lesson in NOT trusting in human strength and wisdom.

Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit so that they would allegedly be like God. They would not need to trust in God’s love for them, God’s provision, wisdom or power.

After eating from this forbidden tree, Adam began to rule over his wife.

Pharaoh ruled over the Israelites in Egypt through violence: through the strong arm and the master’s whip, through an armed force of horses and chariots.

Ancient customs across many cultures gave the right of inheritance to the oldest male: the offspring thought best able to use human strength to rule over home, land and slaves.

Rome prized male offspring and rewarded those who showed themselves strong through military conquest.

What has God’s response been to this celebration and reliance on “man” power?

Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise.

Pharaoh’s army was consumed in the Red Sea, and Israel was liberated.

God intentionally ignored the custom of giving power to firstborn sons in the case of Isaac (Ishmael was firstborn, but Isaac became the child of promise), Joseph (his brothers were older, but he became a ruler in Egypt), Esau (he was firstborn, but Jacob became Israel). David (his brothers were older, but he slew Goliath, delivered Israel from oppression and became King).

Deborah was chosen as a judge, prophet and ruler in Israel, even though there were plenty of men available.

Jael, a woman, slew the leader of an army of oppressors.

After delivering Israel from Egypt, every Israelite family was required to surrender their firstborn son to God. Why? Because God did not want them trusting in the “earthly custom” of depending on human strength. They were not to rely on the strength of the oldest male. They were to remember that they were delivered from Egypt by God’s “strong hand” and “powerful arm.” Instead of literally giving up their firstborn son, each Israelite family could pay 5 shekels. A Levite priesthood of all men would be dedicated to God as a sign that Israel would trust in God alone for strength, wisdom and provision; NOT in the limited, fallible resources of human beings—specifically men.

When Abraham trusted in the strength of his own flesh to fulfill God’s promise, he was told to circumcise himself as a reminder to trust in God alone.

God surrendered his own Firstborn Son to death on the cross, and then raised him up by Divine power, to free humanity from the oppression of sin.

In Christ, now, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female; we are all one. We have all been set free from sin and death, through faith in the love of God, made known to us in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

All followers of Jesus are called to surrender themselves to God as living sacrifices, desiring to know God’s love and to share it with a hurting world.

Every follower of Jesus Christ who yields to the leading of God’s Spirit is therefore referred to as being part of a “holy priesthood.”

God purposely did not choose those that “the world” considered strong to carry his message of freedom to humanity. He chose those whom the world “considered” weak and lowly.

Jesus did not deliver humanity through a show of force, but through the apparent weakness of the cross, surrendering to the Roman authorities, to die the death assigned to disobedient slaves.

And so, when church leaders tell people that God made men to rule over women, when wives are told to obey the authority of their husbands, when church leaders tell us that Adam was meant to protect and provide for Eve through his “masculine strength”; they are reading their Bibles upside down.

It’s time for them, and those who follow their teaching, to repent of the idolatry of trusting in the limited and fallible “strength” of human males.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.'” (Jeremiah 17:5)

Responding to Complementarian Claims about the Language of 1 Timothy 2:12

Numerous egalitarian scholars have noted that “authentein”–the word used by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12–probably did not mean “exercise authority,” a translation we find in many of our English versions of the Bible.  These English translations make it appear as though Paul was prohibiting women from “teaching” or “exercising authority” over men in the church.  Egalitarian scholars such as Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger as well as Leland Wilshire have identified that words in the same family as authentein were often used to refer to violent crimes, or persons responsible for the death of themselves or others (see the Kroegers’ “I Suffer Not a Woman,” Appendix 1; and Wilshire’s “Insight into Two Biblical Passages”).

Perhaps the strongest critique of these observations comes from complementarian scholar Albert Wolters.  In his article in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Spring 2006) he makes a number of statements suggesting that this meaning–that of being responsible for death (as in the case of murder)–was no longer valid during the Hellenistic period, which is relevant to New Testament studies.  The New Testament was originally written in Hellenistic (also called “Koine”) Greek.

Here are some statements by Wolters to that effect:

after the classical period [510-323 BC], authentes, “murderer” had become archaic or obsolete. (Wolters, p. 52)

authentes “murderer”…the classical meaning of this word was no longer understood in Hellenistic times. (Wolters, p. 53)

To begin, Wolters’ definition of “authentes” as “murderer” is unrealistically narrow.  The same word was used to describe those responsible for death in circumstances other than intentional homicide.  Authentes could indeed have been used in reference to murder, but applied equally to suicide, accidental death, or even taking an action that later ended in someone’s death.

In the classical period, for example, Antiphon used authentes to refer once to a “murderer,” and again on another occasion in reference to a man who accidentally killed himself by stepping into the path of a javelin at a sporting event. The focus of the term was to identify the one responsible for the death, whether or not it was an intentional crime.i

Secondly, Wolters is mistaken when he says that this meaning was “archaic or obsolete” during Hellenistic times.

The following list contains a number of examples from the Hellenistic period, during which authentes was used repeatedly to refer to those who were responsible for the death of themselves or others.  Some of these examples are taken from the 1st century AD—the same time period that Paul wrote 1st Timothy:

Date: 1st century A.D.
Source: Flavius Josephus, Jewish Wars
Words: authentas, authenten
Meaning: murderers, murderer
Context: A Roman official named Cumanus neglected to prosecute those who had committed murder. Antipater is held responsible for the murder of Pheroras by poison.ii

Date: 1st century A.D.
Source: Philo Judaeus
Word: authentes
Meaning: self-murderer
Context: Philo speaks metaphorically about those who murder the better part of themselves through ascetic self-neglect and hypocritical living.iii

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 pass the death sentence against a former Roman General named Marius. Roman General Marcus Perpenna is arrested for the murder of Quintus Sertorius. Those responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar are referred to as his “slayers.” Cassius and Brutus brought about their own deaths by participating in the murder of Julius Caesar.iv

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 slaughter Romans.  He kills and dismembers them in the temple of Concord.v

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.vi

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.’”vii

In his book entitled, Insight into Two Biblical Passages, Leland Wilshire also includes examples from historians Polybius (2nd century BC) and Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) that refer to those who are responsible for criminal action, death and murder.  Wolters accuses Wilshire of making an error.  He states that these historical examples are unrelated to “murder,” and that they are properly understood to mean simply that someone was the “doer of an action”:

The proposal by Wilshire, “1 Timothy 2:12 Revisited,” p. 48, to conflate the meanings of authentes “murderer,” and authentes “doer,” and thus to arrive at the sense “instigate violence” for the verb authentein in 1 Tim. 2.12 fails to observe (among other things) this difference in register. (Wolters, p. 65)

Wolters further claims that the “doer of an action” was really the “master of his own actions,” which was really just another example of “authority” used in a positive or neutral sense:

The rarity and lateness of authentes “doer”, as well as its exclusive association with the genitive of words denoting action, give reason to believe that this usage of the word is only seemingly distinct from that of authentes ‘master’. The doer or initiator of an action is conceived of as the master of that action, the one who is in charge of the action…(Wolters, p. 45)

Overwhelmingly, the authority to which authentes ‘master’ and all its derivatives refer is a positive or neutral concept. (Wolters, p. 54)

Do the examples from Polybius and Diodorus Siculus refer simply to “doers of an action” as Wolters claims?  Do they really represent “positive or neutral authority”; or do they refer to murder or being responsible for death, as Wilshire suggests?

To answer these questions, here are the three examples of “authentes” that are cited by Wolters from the histories of Polybius and Diodorus Siculus:

Diodorus Siculus Histories 17.5.4.6
“Bagoas, a eunuch in physical fact but a militant rogue in disposition, killed him by poison administered by a certain physician and placed upon the throne the youngest of his sons, Arses.  He similarly made away with the brothers of the new king, who were barely of age, in order that the young man might be isolated and tractable to his control. But the young king let it be known that he was offended at Bagoas’s previous outrageous behaviour and was prepared to punish the author of these crimes, so Bagoas anticipated his intentions and killed Arses and his children also while he was still in the third year of his reign.”

Bagoas is not merely the “doer” of an undisclosed or general “action” in this example.  He was a murderer.  He had someone assassinated by poison, and then went on to commit additional violent crimes.

Diodorus Siculus Histories 16.61.1.3
“For, speaking generally, it was not merely the perpetrators of the sacrilege but all persons who had the slightest connection with the sacrilege that were hounded by the inexorable retribution sent of Heaven.  In fact the man who first schemed for the seizure of the shrine, Philomelus, in a crisis of the war hurled himself over a cliff, while his brother Onomarchus, after taking over the command of his people, now become desperate, was cut to pieces in a battle in Thessaly, along with the Phocians and mercenaries of his command, and crucified.”

Those who pillaged the shrine at Delphi brought upon themselves the retribution of the gods: their own deaths.   In no sense were these men merely “doers” of an unidentified action.  They committed a crime against the gods, and they died as a result.

Polybius Histories 22.14.2.3
“Philip was exceedingly taken aback by this, and after hesitating for long, said he would send Cassander, the author of the deed, as they said, in order that the senate might learn the truth from him.  Both now and at subsequent interviews with the legates he exculpated Onomastus on the pretext that not only had he not been present at Maronea on the occasion of the massacre, but had not even been in the neighbourhood; fearing in fact that on arriving at Rome this officer, who had taken part in many similar deeds, might inform the Romans not only about what had happened at Maronea, but about all the rest.  Finally he got Onomastus excused; but sent off Cassander after the departure of the legates and giving him an escort as far as Epirus killed him there by poison.”

Cassander was the perpetrator of the Massacre at Moronea, and was as a result of this action himself killed by poison.  In contrast to Wolters’ viewpoint, Cassander was also not the “master of his own actions” in this account, he was acting under the orders of King Phillip of Macedon.

Yet another example from Diodorus Siculus Histories, not mentioned by Wolters, refers to a group of men who actively supported a violent attack on the Roman Senate that resulted in the death of the Senate guard.  These men were referred to as “authentas.”viii  These men were also not the “masters of their own actions”; they waited for a signal from the leader of the conspiracy, Gaius Gracchus, before striking the Senate Guard down with swords they had concealed under their togas.

Has Albert Wolters demonstrated that “authentes” no longer kept the meaning of “murder” (or more properly being responsible for death) during the Hellenistic period?  No, he has not.  In fact, the very examples he uses to support his point actually retained the meaning of those who were responsible for the death of themselves or others.

The meaning of “murderer” or “being responsible for death” remained very familiar to the 1st century Greek speaking world.  In the Greek language of 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul may indeed have been prohibiting someone (who happened to be a woman) from a form of false teaching that would somehow “be responsible for the death of a man.”

Appendix:

Some Contextual Details that May Help us to Understand the Nature of Paul’s Warning

-The false teaching of ascetic Gnosticism in this region encouraged people to practice a form of “self-mortification” (putting oneself to death) that attempted to annihilate the body’s appetites and human emotion.  In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul warns Timothy about those who forbid marriage and prohibit the eating of certain foods.

-Gnostics taught that it was a good thing when Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam.  They viewed this fruit as a symbol of divine “knowledge” (“gnosis” in Greek).  They also taught that all life came through a woman.  This can be contrasted with Paul’s language in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, in which he explains that Eve was deceived, and that Adam was actually the source of Eve’s life.  Just as giving the fruit to Adam–and his choosing to eat it–led to his death, so too might the false teaching in Ephesus lead to death.

-Writing a warning against the “false gnosis” of ascetic self-neglect, Philo Judaeus—writing in the same century as Paul—described a man who practiced this as an “authentes,” a “murderer of himself.”  Philo explained that such a man was attempting to please God in his own strength, and compared this man to Cain in the book of Genesis. Just as Cain killed Abel, so too would a man end up bringing about his own death (spiritually) by embracing this false teaching.

-Some ascetics, including a young man in Ephesus (according to the apocryphal Acts of John), blamed their bodies for sin, and castrated themselves as a result. This practice was prohibited by the Roman Law against “murderers and poisoners” enacted by Cornelius Sulla in the 1st century B.C..

-Some men, influenced by the mythology of the Eleusian mysteries, attempted to “mortify the passions” by using hemlock, a potent poison.  This use of hemlock was also prohibited by the Roman law against murderers and poisoners, on the grounds that it might lead to the death of a man.

-Some Jewish ascetics were also zealots who taught that any Gentile who dared to speak of God or the Law must be circumcised.  Men would be circumcised by force; those who resisted would be “slaughtered,” according to 3rd century AD writer, Hippolytus of Rome.  The practice of forcibly circumcising men, or murdering those who resisted, was also explicitly prohibited by the Roman law against murderers and poisoners, enacted just prior to the New Testament period.

-Some Ephesian goddess cults discouraged women from getting married and bearing children.  Women who decided to get married and have a family had to offer sacrifices to the goddess.  They were concerned that if they did not do this, they might die in childbearing.  See Paul’s language in 1 Timothy 2:15 about women being “saved in childbearing” through faith in Christ that would show itself in love and holiness.  Also, Gnostic cults that drew inspiration from this mythology worried that “generating matter” (e.g. having a child) would jeopardize their salvation.  See 1st Timothy 1:4, where Paul warns against those who “pay attention to myths.”

-In Appendix 1 of “I Suffer Not a Woman,” Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger share a number of possible scenarios in which Paul may have prohibited “authentein” in the sense of ritual violence, or death that was either real or symbolic.  Many of these examples relate to either the mystery cults or early forms of Gnosticism.

-In his book entitled “Insight into Two Biblical Passages,” Leland Wilshire explains that Paul may use “authentein” as a reference to violent arguments about false teaching in the church of Ephesus.

-In his book entitled “Man and Woman: One in Christ,” Philip B. Payne identifies that “authentein” retained its violent connotations in 1st century Hellenistic Greek.  He provides examples of both nouns and verbs that refer to murder, and suggests that Paul may have been referring to metaphorical death in a sense that would have been understood by the Ephesian congregation.

-Possible translations of 1st Timothy 2:12, in light of this information, include:

  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to be responsible for the death of a man
  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to instigate violence against a man (Wilshire’s proposal)

Currently, the only English translation of the Bible that acknowledges the violent connotations of “authentein” in 1st century Hellenstic Greek is the International Standard Version, which reads, “Moreover, in the area of teaching, I am not allowing a woman to instigate conflict toward a man.”  I believe this translation is a step in the right direction.

References:

[i]Antiphon, 2nd Tetralogy, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0019%3Aspeech%3D3%3Atetralogy%3D4%3Asection%3D4; and Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0019%3Aspeech%3D5%3Asection%3D11.

[ii] Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.240.5, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0148%3Abook%3D2%3Asection%3D236; and Falvius Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.582.1. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0147%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D582

[iii] Philo, The Worse Attacks the Better XXI 78, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book7.html.

[iv] Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.7.61, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+1.7.61&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232; Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.13.115, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D13%3Asection%3D115; Appian, The Civil Wars, 3.2.16, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=App.+BC+3.2.16&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0232; 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.

[v] Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 4.23, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0230%3Atext%3DMith.%3Achapter%3D4.

[vi] Harpocratian, Lexicon in decem oratores Atticos, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:2013.01.0002:letter=a:entry=aifentes&highlight=au%29qe%2Fnths.

[vii] 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.

[viii] Diodorus Siculus, Photian Fragment 35.25.1.

 

 

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.

 

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.