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: https://equalityworkbook.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/not-about-authority/.

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


[1] Wilshire, L. (2010). Insight into Two Biblical Passages, NY, New York: University Press of America, pp. 18, 20, 29.
[2] Eumenides by Aeschylus, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Aesch.+Eum.+34&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0006
[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.