The following commentary was written by Catherine Clark Kroeger from the book “Women, Authority, and the Bible” by Alvera Mickelsen, editor. I think Kroeger’s section on “authentein” (coming from the Greek verb, “authenteo”) is a wonderful one, and I wanted you, my readers, to get to read this. Pass it on to all you know and continue to read it over and over again.
“The Meaning of ‘Authenteo’”
If the religious environment surrounding 1 Timothy 2 is important, so is the language. ‘Authenteo,’ translated ‘to usurp authority’ in the King James Version, is a Greek verb so rare that it appears nowhere else in the entire New Testament. The concept of ruling or exercising authority over another occurs frequently in the New Testament, but always with other words. The French etymologist Pierre Chantraine suggested that ‘authentes,’ the noun from which the verb ‘authenteo’ is derived, had essentially the significance of the person beginning or being responsible (aitios) for an action, situation, or state. From this stemmed two other basic meanings, namely, to be in charge or rule over something and to be ultimately responsible for a terrible crime, usually murder. In this way, Chantraine resolved an etymological problem that had perplexed scholars since late antiquity. How could the same word denote both murderer and ruler? In the earliest usages, the concept of murder was almost always involved. The concept of ruling came later. For the verb ‘authenteo,’ there is only one attested use in the sense of ‘to murder.’
Let us turn to the value that Chantraine held to be most basic, that of originating something or being held responsible for it. By the New Testament era, ‘authentes’ was already being used to denote an originator or instigator (Josephus Wars 1.582; Polybius 12.14.3; 22.14.2; Diodorus of Sicily 16.61. Psichari, “Effendi,” p. 426). The related adjective, ‘authentikos,’ like the English ‘authentic,’ implies something original or genuine. In the sense ‘to begin something, to take the initiative, or to be primarily responsible for it,’ the verb ‘authenteo’ is even used by the early church fathers for the creative activities of God (Eusebius “de ecclesiastica theologia” 3.5; J.P. Migne, “Patrologia Graeca” (Paris, 1857-66), 24:1013A; Dihle, “Authentes,” pp. 82 n.2, 83 n.1.). John Chrysostom (late fourth century) discusses the replacement of Judas in the book of Acts and writes, “Protos tou pragmatos authentei” (“He was primarily responsible for the matter”). In a discussion of lapsed brethren, Athanasius (mid-fourth century) suggests leniency for those who defected under compulsion but had not themselves instigated (authenteo) the problem: “Tois de me authentousi men tes asebeias parasyreisi de di’ananken kai bian” (Athanasius “Epistle to Rufinus” (ed. Migne 26.1180C).
“Authenteo,” as well as the related “authentizo,” could also mean “to take a matter or inheritance into one’s own hands” (Berliner griechische Urkunden [Aegyptische Urkunden aus den koniglichen Museen zu Berlin), vol. 1 (1895), no. 103.3, 8 (p. 122).It was equated with “autodikein” (“to have one’s own law courts or to take the law into one’s own hands”) (Thomas Magister (ed. Ritschl) 18.8; Moeris (ed. Piers), p. 58). For example, a bishop was asked to take a difficult marital situation in hand, and the pope to take a matter under his jurisdiction (Berliner griechische Urkunden 103; Basil “Epistle” 69.4.389A). In the sixth century, Lydus used the verb in the sense of taking the initiative, in a manner that combined the concepts both of starting something and of having the authority to do so (Johannes Laurentius Lydus, “de Magistratibus populi Romani,” ed. R. Wuensch (Leipzig; Teubner, 1903), 3:131.
In the late Renaissance, an era when scholars studied classical texts more thoroughly than is customary today and had materials to which we no longer have access, another definition was cited by lexiocographers: praebo me auctorem (“to declare oneself the author or source of anything”). “Authenteo,” when used with the genitive, as it is in 1 Timothy 2:12, could imply not only to claim sovereignty but also to claim authorship. “To represent onself as the author, originator, or source of something” was given in various older dictionaries that I have been able to consult, such as the widely used work of Cornelis Schrevel and the still-fundamental “Thesaurus Linguae Graecae” by Stephanus (Stephanus, “Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, ed. Dindorf (Paris: Didot, 1831-1865). The earliest of these entries date back to the Renaissance, the latest to the last century. This value disappeared from classical dictionaries about the time when the translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 was being challenged by feminists.
The differentiation between being an originator and professing to be one is a valid point. In several texts, the meaning is strengthened by the sense of asserting oneself to be the author or source of something. For instance, Saint Basil was in anguish because the rumor had gone out that he had anathematized his old friend Dianius. Where was he supposed to have proclaimed the anathema? he asked. In whose presence? Was he merely following someone else’s lead, or did he himself instigate the outrage or even profess himself (authenton) to be its author (katarchon kai authenton tou tolmetos)?(Basil “Epistle” 51.1) “Authenton” is the climax of this carefully constructed progression. It moves from a passive role to an active one and then to claiming responsibility for that role of instigator. Constantine’s Edict speaks of God who proclaims himself to be the author of judgment (“tes de kriseos authentei ho hypsistos theos”) (Eusebius “Vita Constantini” 2.48). Leo wrote to Pulcheria of Eutychus, the self-avowed author (authentountos) of the dissension in the church at Constantinople (Leo the Great “Epistle” 30.1).
Thus there is support for “authenteo” as meaning “to proclaim oneself the author or originator of something.” If we apply this meaning of “authenteo” to 1 Timothy 2:12, we would have “I do not allow a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator or source of man.” This then might be a prohibition against a woman teaching a mythology similar to that of the Gnostics in which Eve predated Adam and was his creator. Certain Gnostic myths also included the notion that Adam, who had been deluded, was liberated by the Gnosis of his more enlightened spouse. (Catherine Clark Kroeger, "The Meaning of 'Authenteo'", from "Women, Authority & The Bible" by Alvera Mickelsen, ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp. 229-232).
This concludes the article. If you have any question or comments regarding Kroeger’s article, please reply under the “comments” section of this post. I look forward to reading an interesting discussion!