In 1 Timothy 2:12, is authenteō used in a negative sense?

The Claim

It is sometimes claimed that the Greek word authenteō in 1 Timothy 2:12 is used in a negative sense. Egalitarian scholar Bruce Winter, in ‘Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities’ (2003), says ‘Given the antithetical comments that preceded (2:11) and followed (2:12b) and without at this stage foreclosing on the nature of the way in which authority was being exercised, it seems that here the term carries not only the connotation of authority but also an inappropriate misuse of it’ (page 119).

The Facts

English Bible translations over the years have been generally in agreement when rendering the word authenteō in 1 Timothy 2:12:

  • CEV: ‘tell men what to do
  • GNB: ‘have authority over men’
  • KV: ‘usurp authority over the man’
  • NASB: ‘exercise authority over a man’
  • NET: ‘exercise authority over a man’
  • NIV: ‘have authority over a man’
  • NLT: ‘have authority over them’
  • RSV: ‘have authority over men’

The meaning of the word was not seriously disputed until 1979, when Catherine Kroeger (then a university classics student), asserted the meaning ‘to engage in fertility practices’.   Although the claim was rejected by the scholarly consensus, debate over the meaning of the word had been opened, and Christians affirming an egalitarian view of the role of women in the church continued to contest the meaning of the word authenteō.

Lexicon Entries

Within the lexical community there is no controversy over the lexical range of this word, and none of the standard lexicons have accepted the novel definitions suggested by egalitarians such as Catherine Kroeger, though the well recognized sense ‘domineer’ has been proposed as appropriate to 1 Timothy 2:12.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Papyri

Two early papyri using the word authenteō, Papyrus BGU 1208 (c.27 BC), and Papyrus Tebtunis 15 (c.100AD), are significant because the former contains the closest use of the verb authenteō to the time of Paul and the latter uses the noun authentēs, one of the cognates of authenteō, and a word which has also been included in a number of lexical studies seeking to establish the meaning of authenteō itself. Both are supportive evidence for the recent studies by Baldwin [9] and Wolters. [10]

Contextual Syntax Study

The lexical data was later supplemented by a large scale contextual syntax study of the passage by Andreas Köstenberger in 1995,[11] who argued that the neither/nor construction used in ouk didaskein oude authentein (‘neither teach nor have/exercise authority’), requires that both didaskein and authentein have a positive or negative sense.

Köstenberger concluded that like the verbs in Luke 12:24 (‘neither sow nor harvest’), and Acts 4:18 (‘neither speak nor teach’), teaching has a positive meaning in such passages as 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2, and 2 Timothy 2:2.[12]  This would therefore mean that authenteo has a positive meaning in 1 Timothy 2:12, and does not refer to domineering but the positive exercise of authority.

The majority of both complementarian and egalitarian scholars agreed with Köstenberger’s study. Many consider that the contextual meaning of authenteō in 1 Timothy 2:12 has been decided conclusively by Köstenberger.  Among the egalitarians supporting Köstenberger’s study are Kevin Giles,[13] Craig Blomberg,[14] Esther Ng,[15] Craig Keener,[16] and Judith Hartenstein.[17]

It has been suggested that the Greek verb didaskō (‘teach’), can have a negative connotation, citing Titus 1:11, 1 Timothy 1:7; 6:34 as evidence. However, didaskō, is not even used in two of these three passages. Furthermore, the only time when it is used there are words used in contexts which qualify the meaning of the word, proving it is not didaskō itself which has a negative meaning. In none of these verses is the Greek verb for ‘teach’ (didaskō), used in a negative sense.


[1]  ‘αὐθεντέω strictly, of one who acts on his own authority; hence have control over, domineer, lord it over (1T 2.12)., Friberg, Friberg, & Miller ‘Analytical lexicon of the Greek New Testament’, volume 4, p. 81 (2000).

[2] ‘…to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to w. gen. of pers. (Ptolem., Apotel. 3, 14, 10 Boll-B.; Cat. Cod. Astr. VIII/1 p. 177, 7; B-D-F §177) ἀνδρός, w. διδάσκειν, 1 Ti 2:12 (practically = ‘tell a man what to do’ [Jerusalem Bible].’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer, A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature’, p. 150 (3rd ed., 2000).

[3] ‘αὐθεντέω   authenteō   rule (vb.)*  1 Tim 2:12: women should not rule over men (gen.).’`, Balz & Schneider, ‘Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Translation of: Exegetisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testamen’, volume 1, p. 178 (1990-c1993).

[4] ‘37.21 αὐθεντέω: to control in a domineering manner—‘to control, to domineer.’ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω … αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός ‘I do not allow women … to dominate men’ 1 Tm 2.12.’, Louw & Nida, ‘Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains’, volume 1, p. 473 (2nd ed. 1989).

[5] ‘authent-eô , A. to have full power or authority over, tinos I Ep.Ti.2.12…’, Liddell, Scott, & Jones, ‘A Greek-English Lexicon’, p.275 (rev. and augm. throughout, electronic ed., 9th ed. with supplement, 1996); note reference to the meaning ‘murder’, which was obsolete by the 1st century AD.

[6] ‘αὐθεντέω domineer, have authority over.’, Newman, ‘Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament’, p. 28 (1993).

[7] ‘883 αὐθεντέω (authenteō): vb.; ≡ Str 831—LN 37.21 control, have authority over (1Ti 2:12+).’, Swanson, ‘Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament)’, DBLG 883 (2nd ed. 2001).

[8] ‘… one acting by his own authority or power. Governing a gen., to use or exercise authority or power over as an autocrat, to domineer (1 Tim. 2:12).’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’, G831 (electronic ed., 2000).

[9] Köstenberger, Schreiner, and Baldwin, eds., ‘Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15’, (1995).

[10] Wolters, ‘A Semantic Study of αὐθέντης and its Derivatives’, Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (11.1.54), 2006; originally published in Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism (1.145-175), 2000.

[11] Köstenberger, Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15’, (1995).

[12] Ibid., p. 315.

[13] ‘finds himself in essential agreement with the present syntactical analysis of 1 Tim 2:12’, ibid., pp. 48-49; Giles suggests however that Paul may have broken this grammatical rule in 1 Timothy 2:12.

[14]Decisively supporting the more positive sense of assuming appropriate authority is Andreas Köstenberger’s study’, ibid., p. 49.

[15] ‘However, since a negative connotation of didaskein is unlikely in this verse (see below), the neutral meaning for authentein (to have authority over) seems to fit the oude construction better’, ibid., p. 49; Ng has critiqued both egalitarian and complementarian commentaries, and does not appear to be firmly established on either side, but inclines towards egalitarianism.

[16] ‘Another egalitarian, Craig Keener, in a review that appeared in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, says that while (in his view) the principle is not clear in all instances cited in the present study, “the pattern seems to hold in general, and this is what matters most.” Keener concurs that the contention of the present essay is “probably correct that ‘have authority’ should be read as coordinate with ‘teach’ rather than as subordinate (‘teach in a domineering way’).”’, ibid., p. 47.

[17] ‘Köstenberger shows through a syntactical study that 1 Tim 2:12 forbids women to teach and to have authority over men, not only to abuse authority’, ibid., p. 49.

  1. Rachel
    April 19, 2011 at 11:13 am

    It’s interesting there was no contestation of this verse until 1979. Over 400 years of KJV and not one quibble? The implications of this verse are incredibly widereaching – and relevant. However, how far should this be taken? Does this mean women should not act independently in charge of any area of church life?

  2. Fortigurn
    April 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Good questions Rachel. The interpretive considerations for the application of this passage are a topic for another post. The Wikipedia article on this passage may be of use.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Timothy_2:12

  3. Justin Taylor
    February 10, 2012 at 5:13 am

    FYI: Bruce Winter is a complementarian.

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