Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Authentein in Wolters

I will write what I can tonight. Let me start with Al Wolters' conclusion to his article on authentes in 2006. It is justified? He writes,
Secondly, there seems to be no basis for the claim that auvqente,w in 1 Tim. 2.12 has a pejorative connotation, as in ‘usurp authority’ or ‘domineer’. Although it is possible to identify isolated cases of a pejorative use for both authentew and authentia, these are not found before the fourth century AD.135 Overwhelmingly, the authority to which authentes ‘master’ and all its derivatives refer is a positive or neutral concept.136
First, most other authors do not cite authentes as evidence. If someone asks me I will find a citation on why that is so. Andreas Kostenberger does not cite it so I will let it pass for another time. Tonight I will write about the verb authentew. According to Wolters' we should restrict this discussion to occurrences of the verb authentew before the fourth century AD.

There are four occurrences in the running. However, let's examine a statement by Kostenberger first from July 30, 2008 on Between Two Worlds.
    What, in essence, is the argument of the book?
    ..... H. S. Baldwin takes up the matter of the likely meaning of authentein. The KJV translates this word “usurp authority,” and more recently many feminists, such as I. H. Marshall, have argued that the word has a negative connotation. If so, they say, Paul prohibited only women’s negative exercise of authority in the church, as well as women’s false teaching, not their exercise of these functions, properly conceived. Baldwin’s study shows that authentein was an exceedingly rare word in NT times that occurs in the NT only in 1 Tim 2:12 and elsewhere only once or twice prior to the writing of 1 Timothy.
    3. So, then, in the case of 1 Tim 2:12, is the word study method by itself inconclusive?
    Yes, I believe that’s right. The fact that lexical study in this case, owing to the limited data, of necessity remains inconclusive leads naturally to the next chapter in the book, where I consider the sentence structure of 1 Tim 2:12. Specifically, I proceed from the known to the unknown. The first word linked by the Greek coordinating conjunction oude (“or”) is the word “teach,” didaskein, which is frequently used in the Pastoral Epistles and virtually always has a positive connotation, referring to the instruction of the congregation by the pastors and elders of the church (e.g. 1 Tim 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2).

    The upshot, then, is the following: if didaskein (“to teach”) has a positive connotation and oude (“or”) always links verbs of like connotation, it logically (and syntactically) follows that authentein must have a positive connotation as well, thus invalidating the argument by most evangelical feminists.
Notice carefully that Kostenberger says that authentew occurs only "once or twice" prior to the writing of 1 Timothy. He does not cite this evidence, but he appears to wish to confine the discussion to these one or two instances. Why one or two?

In his second response he says that didaskein - to teach - "virtually always" has a positive connotation in the pastoral epistles. But here is Titus 1:10-11,
    For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. 11They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.
The argument is that both didaskein (to teach) and authentein (unknown) must have the same connotation, either negative or positive. The claim is that didaskein must always have a positive connotation, and therefore, authentein (meaning unknown) must also have a positive connotation.

However, didaskein has a connotation which runs from negative to positive. We know that. So, does authentein also have a connotation that also runs from negative to positive? Let's look at the evidence.

Wolters writes,
    1) Philodemus, Rhet. 2.133 Sudhaus (= P.Herc. 220), dated to the mid-first century BC. If Sudhaus’s restoration of the fragmentary text is correct, then the verb authentew occurs here for the first time. He restores the text as follows: (Full text here.) και συν αυθεντ[ου]σιν αν[αξιν] It is possible, however, that the text should read αυθεντ[αι]σιν instead of αυθεντ[ου]σιν, in which case we have a form not of the verb authentew, but of the noun authentes. If we do read the verb, then its meaning here, according to standard lexicographical reference works, is ‘rule’ or ‘have authority over’.
Note how hypothetical this citation is. If it is properly reconstructed then it is form of authentew. What is even more unusual is that Wolters offers no meaning other than a standard lexicon meaning. He tacitly admits that there is no way to derive the meaning of this word from the context.

This possible occurrence of authentew contributes no information about its possible meaning. If other authors cite "those in authority" this is by accident, as the summary of this fragment does include this phrase but not as a translation of authentew. Wolters is fully aware of this.

Wolters continues with the next piece of evidence,
    2)The papyrus BGU 1208.38, dated to 27 BC, where we read the following: καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐθεντηκότος πρὸς αὐτὸν περιποιῆσαι Καλατύτει τῶι ναυτικῶι ἐπὶ τῷ αὐτῶι φόρωι ἐν τῆι ὥραι ἐπεχώρησεν. The verb occurs here with the preposition pros, and is taken to mean ‘to have full power or authority over’ by Liddell–Scott–Jones.67
Once again, only a lexicon reference. There is no way from the context to derive a meaning for the word authentew. Grudem, in Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth remarks about this passage,
    The translation of this text is disputed. G. W. Knight, 145, gives Werner's translation here. ... P. B. Payne ... implies that the translation of D. Peterson is superior, "When I had prevailed upon him to provide, ... This passage is about a hostile relationship, his action is called 'insolence' in the text." It is difficult to evaluate the strength of Payne's argument. ... However, the meaning of "compel" does seem appropriate. (page 680)
My take is that Grudem and others understand that this is a case where one private citizen prevailed on another private citizen to do something, in this case to pay the ferryman within the hour.

Wolters mentions as the third piece of evidence, Aristonicus Alexandrinus, On the Signs of the Iliad. He admits that most people overlook this occurrence. I am going to mention it very briefly only since few others cite it as evidence either way. It is as either the "author" or the "doer" of the word.

I am taking a break here because these are the only occurrences of authentew prior to the writing of the epistle to Timothy. More tomorrow. So far little light has been shed on the meaning of authentew. I cannot promise more in the later evidence.


tom said...

thanks for this...let me see if I understand your line of thinking: the only usages of the verb form authentew/-ein prior to the NT are inconclusive; thus there is no prior evidence from outside the NT to understand the NT context of usage. Further Kostenberger's argumentation is flawed. In fact, following K's logic we should admit a range of meanings to auth. just as with 'teaching'...thus speaking against his conclusions and in favor of yours. (Though all that depends on accepting his understanding of the structure of the syntax/logic, something that would have to be independently verified.) Thus we are left with the NT, and the 1 Tim. passage to understand based on the context in the NT.

Ok; Wolters, however, rests a lot of his position on the word-family, not just the verb form...and there is lots of evidence (before, during and after the time of the NT) for his understanding of the verb form based on his understanding of "the cognates of authentns, which are all chronologically later than authentns itself, and derived from it. The semantic picture here is much less complicated, since the senses of the derivatives, as Chantraine has pointed out, are all based on authentns in the meaning ‘master’. (p 4)

So, in the absence of direct evidence for the verb form in 1 Tim. Wolters is leaning on the root form from which cognates (including the verb form) are purportedly derived...and he provides some hefty evidence for the plausibility of such derivations...and nothing against it. Well, there is the 'exception' of the sense of 'murderer' which he also attends to carefully. It might seem that that negative sense is what 'you' might want to use to establish the 'domineering'/overbearing/quenching sense of authority in 1 Tim., which Paul prohibits for women over men (and the NT in general, prohibits in all cases). If you did want to go that way, then there are the historical and philogical objections which Wolters notes (Attic, not Koine, and though appearing again after 312, with distinctives which also argue against the propriety of that sense in 1 Tim.; one might also wonder why Paul would want to highlight that sense in this case when such oppressive abuse of authority would not be an is-sue (;-)at all within the NT ethos).

So, do you find nothing of value in the 'word-family' approach, with root forms and senses sharing meanings with the derivatives (supported contextually / exegetically as well, not just based in abstract linguistic theory re etymological derivation)? In the absence of the evidence we seek re the verb form directly, and in the presence of such 'overwhelming'(his word) consistency of meaning within the word-family and the (claimed) absence of (unaccounted for) inconsistency, is there nothing to learn or gain from this exercise?

back to you...with blessings!

Sue said...


Thanks for your close attention to detail.

The word family approach has been used to establish the meaning of "murderer" and other extremely negative associations. Therefore, many complementarians shy away from it. I don't think it is necessary to consider authentein as being that negative.

I tend to think of it as equivalent of dominari in the Vulgate, and mashal in the Hebrew, and therefore equivalent to the negative way in which man rules woman in Gen. 3:16.

So, my sense is that man rules woman as a consequence of sin, and this is wrong, but it is also wrong for a woman to rule man.

More later.

tom said...

Just a (not so incidental) 'by the way': do you work with the link between Gen 3:16 and Gen. 4:7: 'desire for...rule over' in both cases. I think it was Susan Foh who first introduced me to the parallel...and its (potential) significance. That is, it is not just (some might say, not primarily) the 'ruling' of man (over woman) that is the result of the curse, but the woman's desire to 'master' the man as the context within which and because of which the 'ruling' (of the man) presents itself as conflictual, oppositional and/or objectionable to the woman. That is, "desire for" in 3:16 has the sense of "desire for" in 4:7, i.e. to control, subdue, conquer.

And also, to follow up: do you find

1. Wolters' linguistic / philological methodology acceptable? (semantics, mostly)

2. Do you think he adequately prevents the 'murderer' acceptation from 'infecting' the word-family approach? (through more careful, rigorous & fair philological study)

3. How might one/you prevent his conclusion that 'master / mastery / authority' in a non-pergorative sense is inherent in and to the entire authent- family?

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Foh is off topic for this thread but email me - its in the profile - and I will link to or comment on that.

tom said...

I don't quite follow you; I'm not sure why you see this as 'off topic for this thread'. I'm puzzled, but will drop it here...though let me first express my puzzlement: Did you not bring up the significance of the meaning of "dominari in the Vulgate, and mashal in the Hebrew," with regard to authentein in the Greek...and you alerted us to Gen. 3:16. Foh simply helps us see links to the meaning of those same words ("dominari in the Vulgate, and mashal in the Hebrew; and "desire" [teshuqah]), as used in a nearby passage...all suggesting if not offering a fuller understanding of those words and the issue at hand. (Leave Foh per se out of it; but the links are still there, and serve the fuller purpose of the thread.) Is that not all about what 'authentein' might mean in the redemptive context of male / female in 1 Tim, in light of the 'fall' of Genesis as the background? It sure puts a different spin on who's seeking to control/dominate/rule whom, and what the redemptive directives are meant to 'undo'.

Regardless, Genesis is referred to (both creation and fall) in the 1 Tim. context, so is no doubt at the heart of interpreting that passage...including authentein.

Like I say, I'm not sure why you see this as 'not the same thread'. But I guess you are the one to control your own blog.

Still eager to hear you out on whatever you find appropriate here.


Suzanne McCarthy said...


There is clearly a lot of material on the word autentein. You have asked a lot of questions about it. To jump now to teshuqah, which is even more difficult to interpret, before finishing with autentein, would be pretty tough.

If you think that Gen. 3:16 illuminates the meaning of authentein? Perhaps you could restate this or clarify. That would help.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Your questions are excellent. I'll do what I can and I look forward to your further notions on how gen. 3:16, 4:7 etc. contribute. I really haven't considered that one way or another.

Don said...

My take is that there is a deliberate similarity of wording in Gen 3:16 and Gen 4:7. However, the woman does not map to sin, so what are we to make of the similar but not a perfect match mapping?

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I would like Tom to restate his point because I may have missed it. I think that authentein maps to mashal. That seems fairly clear.

But is the man supposed to mashal his wife in Gen. 3:16? Chrysostom clearly says that a husband is never to authenteo his wife. It is forbidden.

John Radcliffe said...


I was most surprised to read the following from someone you quoted above (my bold):

"The upshot, then, is the following: if didaskein ("to teach") has a positive connotation and oude ("or") always links verbs of like connotation, it logically (and syntactically) follows that authentein must have a positive connotation as well …"

That's a big IF! Of course the problem for people who make such generalised, broad-bush statements is that they are hard to prove, but potentially easy to disprove: you only have to find one instance where the "rule" doesn't apply.

You've already falsified the first part (about didaskein), but the second intrigued me because it's not a suggestion I've ever met before. I didn't have to look very far before finding Matt 7:18: "It is not possible for a good tree to produce bad fruit, nor a bad tree to produce good fruit". Here we have two instances of the same verb linked by oude, but I find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that one has a positive connotation and the other a negative one. So I'd consider the possibility of differing connotations even more likely with different verbs.

Of course I realise that what I've said probably neither helps nor hinders your case (the same "connotation" idea at work in English!), but it does seem to demonstrate once again that someone is unlikely to reach a valid conclusion starting from an invalid assumption.

tom said...

Can we be experimental here, i.e. try out possibilities with a ‘scholarly openness’, take risks, be wrong? This has been such a hurtful topic to so many and such ‘pc-thinking’ is being imposed in so many places, that it is almost impossible to get folk together from whatever points of view who are not ‘pushing a point’. We all do have ‘points we push’ (=spins), true. But some do want to find more truth and light and hope and peace…and are even willing to sacrifice one’s own “position” to do so, but need good reasons, fair and honest and rigorous scholarship, etc. It has seemed to me that Wolters exemplifies that in many ways. (Do you know his article about the [feminine] gender of the Holy Spirit? …or his careful work re “Junia”?) He may be wrong on some points, but at least he sure seems to me to be trying to be fair to the evidence.

Jay and Milka said...

Suzanne, I have recently found your blog and have enjoyed it immensely. I work in Thailand. Perhaps it is more difficult to understand the negative use of the word teach in English. It is interesting that the most common way to translate διδάσκ- to Thai is สั่งสอน (sangson) Like διδάσκ-, sangson, usually has a positive meaning, but it can also carry a very negative meaning that would translate back to english as to chasten or to punish.

Anonymous said...

Re: Matt. 7:18: It would seem that the verb 'produce' is the same (positive) in both statements. The distinction is made in the objects: bad fruit or good fruit.