Part FIVE: Greek Verb ‘authentein’ Not to be Translated “have authority over”

Most English translations translate this word with the sense “to exercise authority over,” but it should be noted that while New Testament authors write about “ruling, exercising authority” frequently, they never use the word ‘authentein’ in doing so (rather, they use ‘kurieuein‘ or ‘exousiazein’). Actually, the word ‘authentein’ was used with what appears to be a wide range of meanings, but the research of Pierre Chantraine, whose area of expertise is the study of the origins of words, reveals that this word’s variety of meanings are actually all related. He points out that the noun form of word (‘authentes’) was used to designate the person beginning or being responsible for an action, situation or state, reflected during pre-New Testament times by its use to designate both: 1) a person in charge of, or ruling over, something (“ruler”), and 2) a person ultimately responsible for a terrible crime, usually murder (“murderer”).

Further, by the New Testament era, ‘authentes’ was being used to denote an “originator” or “instigator” (this sense is also reflected in the word’s adjective form ‘authentikos’ which, like the English adjective “authentic”, has the sense of “original” or “genuine”). Regarding the actual verb form ‘authentein’, Eusebius (ca. 260-340 AD) uses it with the sense of “to begin something, to take the initiative, or to be primarily responsible for it” in writing about the creative activities of God. Athanasius (mid-fourth century) suggests leniency for those who defected under compulsion but had not themselves instigated the problem.

The church fathers did also use ‘authentein’ to mean “rule” or “bear authority”, but this meaning is only found in documents written after the first century AD. Further, the fact the New Testament bears witness to women providing vigorous leadership calls into question that this is the meaning Paul had in mind when he used the word ‘authentein’ in 1 Tim 2:12. 1 Tim 5:5-10 speaks of widows who are to be enrolled as members of the clergy. Rom 16:7 refers to Junia as an “apostle”. Rom 16:1-2 speaks of Phoebe as a “deacon” and a ‘prostatis’ (“overseer, guardian, protector”); a verbal form of this word is used by an early church father to designate the person presiding at communion, and is used in 1 Tim 5:17 for elders who “preside” (or “rule”) well, and in Rom 12:8 with the sense of “rule”, and in 1 Thes 5:12 with the sense of “hold authority over.” Phoebe’s office as ‘prostatis’ appears to have authoritative responsibility similar to that of an elder.

In the late Renaissance (an era when scholars studied classical texts more thoroughly than is customary today and had at their disposal materials to which we no longer have access), another definition of the verb form ‘authentein’ was included in Greek dictionaries: “to represent oneself as the author, originator, or source of anything” (this definition relates specifically to situations where the verb ‘authentein’ is used with an accompanying word in the “genitive” case, as is the case in 1 Tim 2:12). Basil, in a letter written close to 370 AD, appears to use it in this sense. This meaning for ‘authentein’ continued to be included in Greek dictionaries produced after the Renaissance era, right up to the mid-nineteenth century. However, Greek dictionaries published in the second half of the nineteenth century started to leave out this definition of the word. And it is interesting to note that the exclusion of this meaning from the dictionaries coincided with the rise of a questioning of the Greek words in the text of 1 Tim 2:12. For example, Charlotte Bronte has one of the heroines in her novel Shirley say of Paul’s words in 1 Tim 2:12: “I account for them in this way: he wrote that chapter for a particular congregation of Christians, under peculiar circumstances; and besides, I dare say, if I could read the original Greek, I should find that many of the words have been wrongly translated, perhaps misapprehended altogether. . . .”

To summarize, taking ‘authentein’ as expressing what sort of teaching is prohibited to women (as developed at the end of Part FOUR), we end up with this sense for 1 Tim 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator of man.” This would be a prohibition against a woman engaging in heretical teaching related to who, between Adam and Eve, came first. Part SIX will delve into what was being said about Eve during this era.

The way verse 12 concludes is usually translated with the sense “to be in silence.” The  Greek word here is ‘hesuchios’, and the adjective form of this word is used in 1 Tim 2:2 not to designate a person being “silent”; rather, it is used to designate a particular quality of life, that is, a “quiet” life in compliance with the law rather than resistance, and in harmony with one’s neighbors rather than wrangling and hostility, an appropriate quality to be demanded by Paul of women who are teaching heresy, and thus, upsetting the harmony of the church in Ephesus.

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