Friday, May 02, 2008

The LCMS report on authentein

I have been asked to comment on the concluding sentence of the LCMS Authentein report, Adopted April 16, 2005,
    In the Commission’s view the English Standard Version accurately translates 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

This document reviews studies of authentein by Wilshire, Knight, Baldwin, Kostenberger and Wolters. However, my response is that the evidence quoted in the studies reviewed does not support the above conclusion, but demonstrates that the meaning of authentein is more likely "dominate," as Jerome translated it in the Vulgate.

In fact, of 82 examples of authentein in the Baldwin report, only one precedes the epistle to Timothy. (The next occurrence is one century after the epistle, and refers to astronomy.)
    BGU 1208 (first century B.C.): "I had my way with him [authenteō ] and he agreed to provide Calatytis the boatman with the full payment within the hour."
This citation is listed in the original study by Baldwin under the meaning of "to compel, to influence someone." and Grudem agrees with the translation "compel." (Ev. Fem & Biblical Truth. page 677 - 680.) According to Grudem other translators suggest "prevail" and mention that this is a hostile relationship involving insolence.

However, on his blog, Biblical Foundations, in this post, 1 Timothy 2:12—Once More, 06-16-06, Kostenberger writes,
    the likelihood was suggested that “exercise authority” (Grk. authentein) carries a neutral or positive connotation, but owing to the scarcity of the term in ancient literature (the only NT occurrence is 1 Tim. 2:12; found only twice preceding the NT in extrabiblical literature) no firm conclusions could be reached on the basis of lexical study alone.
The two pieces of evidence which Kostenberger cites are,
    41These two references are: Philodemus (1st cent. BCE): “Ought we not to consider that men who incur the enmity of those in authority (συν αυθεντουσιν) are villains, and hated by both gods and men”;

    and BGU 1208 (27 BCE): “I exercised authority (Καμου αυθεντηκοτος) over him, and he consented to provide for Calatytis the Boatman on terms of full fare, within the hour.” For full Greek texts and translations, see Baldwin, “Appendix 2” in Women in the Church, 275–76. (in the PDF page 13)
Note first that the citation from Philodemus does not exist. This fragment is made available here, and clearly it is not possible to tell whether the verb authentein was ever in the fragment, nor how to translate it. Kostenberger has associated the words συν αυθεντουσιν at random with the English phrase "of those in authority" although there is no warrant for this. This evidence should be set aside.

For Kostenberger, the second piece of evidence, BGU 1208, has the phrase "exercise authority." This is a strange thing to say if you are an average citizen without any official capacity, but you made sure that someone else did something within an hour. The letter that this line is taken from is one of a collection of family letters with no reference to official capacity. It would be best to understand that authentein means simply "made him" or "compelled him" as even Grudem admits in Ev. Feminism and Biblical Truth.

So, in sum, the one piece of evidence is rather negative, and not, as Kostenberger says, "neutral or positive." However, Kostenberger does admit that, "no firm conclusions could be reached on the basis of lexical study alone." I conclude that Kostengerger's research does not offer sufficient basis for agreeing that authentein could mean "to exercise authority over" in a neutral or positive sense.

Another important study quoted by the LCMS study is that of Al Wolters. However, his study covered the cognates of authentein and only referred summarily to authentein. Because of the vagueness of Wolters' conclusions in that study I emailed him and received this response,
    I've puzzled long and hard over authentew in BGU 1208 and in the Philodemus fragment. Although most of the lexicographical authorities seem to give it the meaning "have authority over" in those contexts, I don't think anyone can really be sure. Most people ... are too sure about their conclusions in this regard. I do think it's quite well established that authentes and its cognates often have to do with mastery and authority.
These are the very tentative conclusions that Wolters makes. However, these studies by Kostenberger and Wolters are the very studies which the LCMS report uses to come to its conclusion.

One study which was not considered by the LCMS report was "Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15" (Ch 12) by Linda L. Belleville in Discovering Biblical Equality, 2004, ed. Pierce and Groothuis.

In this study Belleville provides the information which I used to find the original publication of the Philodemus fragment and establish that it is not readily translatable. She examines the translation of authentein through the centuries and concludes that Jerome's choice of wording seems most appropriate. The Vulgate translates 1 Tim. 2:12,
Belleville concludes her lexical review of authentein with these words,
    So there is no first century warrant for translating authentein as "to exercise authority" and for understanding Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 to be speaking of the carrying out of one's official duties. Rather the sense is the Koine "to dominate, to get one's way." The NIV's "to have authority over" therefore must be understood in the sense of holding sway or mastery over another. This is supported by the grammar of the verse. If Paul had a routine exercise of authority in view, he would have put it first, followed by authentein as a specific example. Given this word order, authentein as a specific example. Given this word order, authentein meaning "to dominate"or "gain the upper hand of" provides the best fit in the context. Discovering Biblical Equality, page 216-217
I assume that the reason this study was not quoted by the
LCMS report on authentein is that it was published too recently to have come to the attention of the authors.

It appears from a careful review of all the evidence that there was no connection between the word authentein and the holding of church office or exercising leadership functions. Therefore, this verse should not be quoted, as it often is, to keep women from leadership roles, or to place women under the authority of their husbands.

When assessing a matter of accuracy in Biblical studies it is important to review at least a sample of the evidence independently in order to determine its reliability. Do not depend on the conclusions alone. I feel that pastors should keep up with the best of current scholarship on gender issues, and I would highly recommend Discovering Biblical Equality by Pierce and Groothuis.

I appreciate that many people bring a hermeneutic to the scriptures which accords equal function to women. However, others do not. We are in the best position to serve the church well if we start off with an accurate assessment of the evidence. There is no sense in which this review of authentein is intended to go against the rest of scripture. It is clear that Paul welcomed "leading women" into the early church, and so should we.
    And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. Acts 17:4 ESV


John Hobbins said...

Thanks, Suzanne,

for an impeccably written post.

You neglect, however, to note that the report you cite is meant to buttress the gains made in the LCMS with respect to allowing women a greater leadership role. In the LCMS, as Wikipedia puts it, "Women received the right to suffrage within Missouri Synod congregations in 1969, and it was affirmed at the Synod's 2004 convention that women may also "serve in humanly established offices" as long as those offices do not include any of the "distinctive functions of the pastoral office." Thus in many congregations of the LCMS, women now serve as congregation president or chairperson, readers, ushers, etc."

The dissenting report, on the other hand, wants to return to the status quo ante.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am quite ignorant of the politics of the LCMS. I do not know how to access documents which demonstrate the connection between this report and the actions of the LCMS. I am just trying to establish some facts as a groundwork to further conversation.

I see the evidence that you quote but I have no way of understanding the connection between the two. Naturally I appreciate the emancipation of women within the LCMS, but I would also like to see an accurate translation for authentein established.

I wrote this post because I had the impression that you referred me to the report because you had accepted its conclusions as a vocabulary study.

I also do not know what the dissenting report uses as justification.

Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for this. But your link concerning the Philodemus fragment is broken.

Jane said...

Thanks so much for this - very thorough and erudite. I just wish I had time to translate you into French. However if you ever find yourself coming through Geneva you have a standing invitation to speak to our group.
MAybe one day it will work out!

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have a serious interest in visiting Geneva in the future. I would most certainly contact you.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I speak French, well but not perfectly. I lived in St. Legier above Vevey for a year. My grandfather was from the Jura, so I have a deep connection with the area.

Kevin A. Sam said...

An interesting post Suzanne. The LCMS,as far as I know, does not ordain women. I don't see them moving into that direction in the near future. But it is good to know that women at least are taking a larger role in the LCMS.

I think some LCMS scholars also had a hand in the translation of the ESV.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I have not the foggiest idea who the LCMS are and what their stand on women is. If they don't ordain women because of this report it is too bad. Actually it is all so sad. Just because of one silly word that nobody knows the meaning of. How many people have quoted this verse? I feel oppressed by such nonsense.

Kevin A. Sam said...

This bit here describes the stand of the LCMS on ordination of women. I wouldn't say that it was because of this report. It has been their view since the beginning.