Friday, June 09, 2006

The Meaning of "Authority" in 1 Tim 2:12

Ligon Duncan's post has generated quite a few comments. I want to highlight just one of them. Regarding 1 Timothy 2:12, Peter Kirk wrote: "The problem here is that in 1 Timothy 2:12 the Greek word αὐθεντεῖν is not correctly translated 'exercise authority'. Its exact meaning is debatable, but it clearly seems to imply some kind of usurpation of proper authority, and perhaps a domineering attitude which is not at all Christian."

One of the problems in the blogosphere is that comments can be made like this (without argumentation or links to argumentation) and people can assume that this is based on solid scholarship, when in fact it isn't. The best scholarly work on this shows it to be false.

To summarize the evidence, let me quote from Andreas Kostenberger's article, The Crux of the Matter: Paul’s Pastoral Pronouncements Regarding Women’s Roles in 1 Timothy 2:9–15 (published in Faith & Mission 14 [1997]: 24–48.)

(Note that in the following I have trasliterated the Greek words and highlighted in bold the important conclusions. Follow the link above to get fuller argumentation and documentation.)

We may briefly survey jointly the issue of the meaning of the word authenteo and the sentence structure of 1 Tim 2:12. Here it has been the contention of egalitarians that the word [authenteo] may have a negative connotation, such as “domineer,” so that Paul merely forbids the inappropriate exercise of authority by women rather than their exercise of authority altogether. Apart from the fact that this already flies in the face of mere logic—why would Paul only forbid women to exercise authority inappropriately, especially since it is clear from the text that it was men in particular who were responsible for heretical teaching?—this can also not be sustained from the meaning of the word itself in the light of the sentence structure of 1 Tim 2:12.

Scott Baldwin, in a recent comprehensive study of the term authenteo, leaves no stone unturned in examining all the available instances of this term in ancient literature. [Note from JT: Baldwin's comprehensive list can be read here.] In short, he concludes that there is not a single unambiguous reference where the word means “domineer.” Demonstrating that a negative connotation of the word has frequently been postulated owing to the fallacy of linking the meaning of the noun authentes with the verb authenteo, the author does prove that authentein does not ordinarily have a negative meaning.

Nevertheless, it can, of course, not be excluded that the term could conceivably be supplied with a negative connotation in a given context, so that Baldwin’s study, while doubtless supplying a solid foundation for the plausible meaning of authenteo in the present passage, falls short of absolute proof. Moreover, while Baldwin surveys a total of eighty-two instances of authenteo in ancient Greek literature, only two (!) date prior to the writing of First Timothy, a sample size so small as to preclude any certainty regarding the meaning of the word at the time the epistle was

For this reason it appeared necessary to look for additional, alternative strategies at arriving at a definitive conclusion regarding the meaning of the word authenteo in 1 Tim 2:12. Sophisticated computer searches of large amounts of ancient Greek literature yielded, strikingly, a fixed pattern in the Greek language, according to which the two elements of a “neither/nor” construction (two verbs connected with ou de) share the same force with one another, be it positive or negative. This finding renders a translation of authenteo with “to teach in a domineering way” or the like impossible and in violation of the rules of Greek grammar. Rather, it suggests that the phrase be understood in terms of the exercise of any kind of authority, not just an inappropriate one.