Authentein, from the Greek verb authenteō, is a word found only once in the New Testament. It occurs in 1 Timothy 2:12 where it is translated in the King James Bible as “to usurp authority.” I’ve previously written a long and somewhat technical article on authentein. But in this short post, I present information that is easier to follow.
This information comprises three definitions copied from respected lexicons of Ancient Greek and a few quotations from respected New Testament scholars who have a thorough knowledge of Greek. The order of the definitions and quotations follows a progression of thought, the aim of which is to show that “to have/exercise/usurp authority” is an inadequate translation of authentein. (Note the word “full” in the first two definitions.)
Liddell and Scott’s An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon
αὐθεντ-έω “to have full power”, τινός, New Testament (online source: Perseus).
Chartraine’s Dictionnaire Etymologique de la Langue Grecque
“In the overwhelming majority of [instances of authenteō], the authority that is assumed is an authority that has not been properly granted, so it usually carries a negative connotation.”
Philip Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 391.
“In fact, to introduce the idea of ‘authority’ into the definition at all may be misleading if it is taken to mean a derived or ordained authority: it is ‘authorship’, not ‘authority’, that is at the heart of the meaning of authenteō. This distinction is crucial. The idea of authority comes into play only when the object of the verb is not an action or state of affairs but a person: one cannot ‘author’ a person, but one can exercise an ad hoc authority over a person in such a way that he or she becomes instrumental in bringing about an action or state of affairs.”
Andrew C. Perriman, “What Eve Did, What Women Shouldn’t Do: The Meaning of Aὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12,” Tyndale Bulletin 44.1 (1993): 129-142, 37.
(A copy of this paper can be downloaded here: TynBull_1993_44_1_08_Perriman_EveITim2.)
“. . . the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.”
Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 292.
Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains
αὐθεντέω “control” (online source here).
If Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy 2:12 was simply about exercising, usurping, or even misusing authority, why didn’t he use a more common word that means authority? Why did he use a relatively rare word? Linda Belleville answers these questions: “The obvious reason is that authentein carried a nuance (other than ‘rule’ or ‘have authority’) that was particularly suited to the Ephesian situation.”
Linda L. Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds) (Leicester: InterVarsity, 2005), 211.
Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 may well give the meaning that Paul is not allowing a woman to control, or to bully, or to domineer a man, possibly her husband. He is not addressing the exercise of a healthy kind of authority but is addressing the exercise of an overbearing and controlling use of power. I briefly discuss what this control may have involved here.
The meaning of authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12, with a brief history of authent– words
6 Reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
1 Timothy 2:13: Another reason 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
Chastity, Salvation and 1 Timothy 2:15
An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11-15
Freebies for Students of New Testament Greek
A review of Cynthia Westfall’s ‘Paul and Gender’