Please Don’t Bomb on How You Read Articles – Wilshire on Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12

A few weeks ago I wrote a response to an article on the Junia Project’s website called, “Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb”.  After looking at the comment section below the article I realized that I probably should have included a longer discussion of the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein).  At the time I thought that this would have detracted from the main point I was trying to make so I added a quick footnote to give a little bit more information.  For a while I’ve been toying with writing a separate entry on the issue but, because there wasn’t a lot of discussion in the article about it (again, the discussion was in the comment section below) and because I’m super busy, I decided not to write it.  As it turns out, the author just recently posted some of the comments from the comment section in a new entry and added some comments of her own – so I decided that maybe I should write a separate post after all. (P.S. Don’t be offended by the title – I had to get the word “bomb” in there somewhere!)

There is basically one point I want to make in this entry: If you’re going to cite a scholarly article, make sure that you actually understand what the article is saying.  My concern here isn’t whether you’re complementarian or egalitarian (you can be an egalitarian and still agree with what I’m saying): my main concern is that people have the right information and that they know how to use it properly.  And, I have to say, the information in this new post is a little bit misleading.  I’m not saying that it’s misleading on purpose – but the result is the same.

The article that I believe has been misinterpreted and misapplied is Leland Wilshire’s article, “The TLG Computer and Further Reference to ΑΥΘΕΝΤΕΩ in 1 Timothy 2:12” (NTS 34, 120-134).  Based on Wilshire’s article, one commenter wrote the following:

“Meanings for authentein in the TLG between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. (a 400 year span with the New Testament period at its center) include the following:

– “doer of a massacre”
– “author of crimes”
– “perpetrators of sacrilege”
– “supporter of violent actions”
– “murderer of oneself”
– “sole power”
– “perpetrator of slaughter”
– “murderer”
– “slayer”
– “slayer of oneself”
– “authority”
– “perpetrator of evil”
– “one who murders by his own hand”

(Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, psuedo-Clement, Appian of Alexander, Irenaeus, Harpocration, Phrynicus, as cited in Wilshire, 2010).”

That sounds pretty bad!  The use of the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) in 1 Timothy 2:12 has to be coloured by these meanings!  But there’s a problem – when you read Wilshire’s article carefully (the article is reprinted in the book cited by the commenter) , all of these meanings are actually for the noun αὐθέντης (authentes), not for the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein).  Part of the problem is that Wilshire doesn’t make that point as clear as he should have in the article and you might only notice it if you read Greek.  He refers again and again to αὐθεντέω (the verb) and its cognates but when you actually look at the examples he cites they are virtually all from the cognates, especially αὐθέντης (authentes).  After rereading his article tonight I could only find one example (p. 128) where the verb has anything to do with murder (I’m willing to be corrected if anyone can find more).  That’s what we call an anomaly – because every other example of the verb simply refers to having authority.

So the real question that needs to be answered is this: does the meaning of αὐθέντης (authentes) have any bearing on how αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) should be understood in 1 Timothy 2:12?  Wilshire simply assumes that it is relevant but doesn’t provide any arguments.  However, when you look at the evidence that Wilshire himself has accumulated the answer is clear – it is completely irrelevant.

There are two reasons.  First, for some reason or other αὐθέντης (authentes) seems to have developed a different semantic range from the verb αὐθεντεῖv (authentein).  αὐθέντης (authentes) may have been used to mean “murderer” but αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) (with one exception) was never used to mean “to murder” (it’s the exception that needs to be explained).   Second, even if it could mean “to murder” in some contexts, it definitely does not mean “to murder” in 1 Timothy 2:12.  No one would actually argue that.  What they do argue is that because αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) can mean “to murder” in some contexts that this colours the meaning that the word has in all contexts, including 1 Timothy 2:12.  That’s a classic example of illegitimate totality transfer – importing all of the meanings that a word can have into one particular instance.  The reality is that the issue of whether or not αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) can be used to mean “to murder” in some contexts is irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is what connotations αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) has by itself when used in contexts similar to 1 Timothy 2:12.  Based on the evidence in Wilshire’s article, αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) doesn’t typically have those kinds of “negative” connotations – it simply means to have authority over someone else.

There is much more I could say based on some of the other things that were said in the post but I think this is enough for now.  Again, this issue has nothing to do with whether you’re egalitarian or a complementarian – that’s not the point.  The point is that we need to make sure that we understand what we’re reading properly and that we use that information responsibly.  That’s the only way that the conversation can really move forward.


4 thoughts on “Please Don’t Bomb on How You Read Articles – Wilshire on Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12

  1. […] So the real question, then, is whether or not there is anything in the context of 1 Timothy 2:12 that would indicate that Paul is speaking about exercising authority in a domineering way.  The answer is that there is nothing in the immediate context that would indicate that this is the case.  In this context the verb simply means “to have authority over someone else”.  [For a discussion of Wilshire's article on αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) see my entry here]. […]

  2. I totally agree, and see my comment on your previous post on the probable two etymologies of αὐθέντης. A good place to start, as I mentioned there, is Albert Wolters ‘Semantic Study of Αὐθέντης and its derivatives’.


  3. I am not a scholar, and do not know any greek, but I have taken an interest in this word «authentein». I see you are saying that the verb and the corresponding noun has split part. I cannot help thinking that based on the languages I do know, this is something very rare. It seems to me to be the overwhelmingly most common thing that corresponding verbs and nouns, and adjectives as well, are closely related in meaning. It may vary a little exactly what their relationship is, but they seldom stray very far from each other. Doesn’t that make it natural to look at corresponding nouns and adjectives when studying a verb? Isn’t it a really strange thing when there is not such a similarity in meaning?

    Also, I get the impression that if one looks only at occurrences of the verb, then there are actually very few examples to build on. I do not, for the most part, have access to scholarly articles either, so I would like to ask: How many occurrences are there?

    I see that in a comment on your «Rearming» post you quote this example: «I exercised authority (αὐθεντηκοτος) over him, and he consented to provide for Calatytis the Boatman on terms of the full fare, within the hour.» To my intuition, that is a somewhat strange sentence. If exercising authority has to do with giving commands, then one doesn’t consent to a command, one obeys it. If one consents, then that sounds more as if one has been persuaded. Isn’t this a little dubious? Or is there something I don’t understand here? (English is not my primary language, either.) And how convincing are other examples?

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