Wayne Grudem: Denying history to rationalize “male authority”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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