About that verb— AUTHENTEO in 1 Tim. 2

One of the mistakes often made in studying controversial words in the Bible is a failure to consider the entire semantic range, the range of meanings a word can have. This becomes all the more problematic when you are dealing with a hapax legomena— a word that appears exactly once in the NT, like the verb AUTHENTEO. And the mistake is not merely failing to look at the full range of meanings of this word, but also failing to even consider cognate words, nouns, verbs, etc. that are brothers or sisters to this word, sharing the same stem. Here the Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek is a big help. Clustered together on p. 337 (of an astounding 2431 pages!) are the following words— AUTHENTEO, AUTHENTES, AUTHENTIA, AUTHENTIDZO, AUTHENTIKOS. Here a reminder is always in order— words only have meanings in particular contexts, not in the abstract. It is not true that ‘in the beginning was the dictionary’! No, a dictionary is a detailed study of how words are used in differing contexts, and this becomes important in the case of a word like AUTHENTEO.

First of all, what all these words share in common is they are strong words— for example the verb AUTHENTEO in some contexts can mean to commit homicide, it is talking about a use of authority or power that is often morally wrong or illegitimate (see Aeschylus Eum. 42a). Similarly, AUTHENTES as a noun can refer to one who commits murder on his own initiative, a killer (for example in Herodotus 1.117.3 and other examples). Again we are talking about a misuse of power or authority. The word can also refer to committing suicide, viewed in a negative light (Aeschylus Agam. 1573). The related verb AUTHENTIDZO means to seize (BGU 103.3). And AUTHENTIA refers to absolute power or authority.

In regard to our particular passage and verb Montanari suggests the translation ‘to have full authority over’. The question however that has to be raised is— Is Paul correcting a problem here, an abuse of power or authority, or not? The verb and its cognates often refers to a strong, and indeed abusive use of power or authority. Are there signals in the context of 1 Tim. 2 that it might have such a meaning here? First of all, without question in context Paul is correcting first men and then women— he tells the men to stop grumbling and lift up holy hands in prayer, and he tells the high status women to dress more modestly, listen and learn, being in full submission to the teaching, and then he adds ‘I am not now permitting women (presumably referring to the same high status women) to teach or to exercise/usurp full authority over men.’ As my former GCTS classmate Philip Payne showed in detail long ago (see his book Man and Woman: One in Christ) the phrase ‘I am not permitting’ in that verbal form does not mean ‘I would never on principle permit’. Indeed the better translation in light of the context is ‘I am not NOW permitting’. The verb in that tense and in a context like this never means ‘I am permanently banning’. It is a limitation reflecting particular circumstances. Gary Hoag’s recent book (Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and 1 Timothy) discussing high status women in Ephesus sheds lots of light on the possible circumstances that could lead to such a temporary ban. The situation seems to be that there were high status women, literate women who had previously played important roles in some of the pagan cults in Ephesus, even offering instruction, and apparently presumed they could carry on with such roles in their new religion, Christianity. Paul says in essence— ‘not so fast, you need to listen and learn, before you start assuming authority and teaching’. Apparently these women were even usurping the roles of people like Timothy himself without authorization. Paul puts a stop to such a ‘seizing of power and authority’. In other words, he’s correcting an abuse or a problem, not laying down a mandate that women should never teach men under any circumstances.

What about the theological rationale that Paul adds after this key sentence? It too has been embroiled in controversy. And much depends on a close reading of the Genesis story and the meaning of the word ‘deceive’. If we study how Paul uses it here, and elsewhere in regard to Eve (2 Cor. 11.3) he is implying that she was not properly instructed before she seized the moment and took action in regard to the forbidden fruit and then instructed her husband to eat it! How do we know this? Go back to the Genesis story and read it closely: 1) only Adam received the instruction ‘thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. Eve was not present to receive such instruction, so 2) she must have received instruction on this from Adam, but inadequate instruction because she says ‘we are not even to touch the fruit’. That was not what God actually said to Adam; 3) in any case, Adam was right there with Eve while she was having her little chat with the snake and could have told her— JUST SAY NO. He did not. 4) Eve was deceived due to inadequate instruction and due to unauthorized seizing of the initiative. She took the fruit, she ate, she handed it to Adam, he ate, and the rest is history, a bad history of human fallenness. 5) notice however that Adam is primarily blamed for the Fall, including in Paul’s letters, not Eve (see Rom. 5.12-21). He sinned knowingly, not being deceived, and he allowed his wife to usurp authority over him and take action etc. In other words, that story as well is about the abuse of power and authority by a woman. Notice that Paul does not say that Eve was deceived because she was emotional or because she was illogical or because she was a woman, There is nothing like that in 1 Tim. 2 and such a thing should not be assumed ever. Paul is talking about Eve as an inadequately instructed woman who, like the high status women in Ephesus, seized the initiative and began teaching, usurping the roles of the authorized teachers there. Paul rules out such an abuse of power and privilege. What he does not do in that text is suggest that women simply shouldn’t teach men under any circumstances.

There is an old Latin dictum—- ‘abusus non tollit usum’. It means literally ‘abuse does not take away proper use’, or more fully in this case the abuse of a privilege does not rule out the proper use of a privilege. What we know about earliest Christianity is that persons were appointed by the apostles to be elders and deacons in local churches. Leaders in local church didn’t just assume teaching authority, they had to be authorized by others, and not merely by God or the Holy Spirit either as the Pastoral Epistles make rather clear. Either Paul or his co-workers were to appoint such people for local churches. The early church did not have a non-hierarchial or Baptist sort of polity. So, Paul is saying that these high status women must listen and learn before they could be authorized to teach and lead. This in no way rules out their legitimate exercising of such privileges thereafter, if it had been discerned that they had the gifts and graces to do it.


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