Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Authentein": A Word Study

If you’ve been to the blog, you’ll notice that I’ve spent quite a lot of time studying what the text of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is all about. I’ve found my own creative ways of approaching the text that will help the everyday man (instead of the Greek scholar) understand what the passage teaches. But I haven’t gone into a word study of the passage yet; and, although it would be somewhat comforting not to approach this study, it has to be done because as you know, A LOT hinges on this word…

In “Discovering Biblical Equality,” Linda Belleville, in her chapter titled “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” does a marvelous job of researching this ancient Greek word. She gives a list of translations of the word, starting from the 2nd century AD, and then discusses its use in the Apocryphal literature:

“Its [authentein] cognates are found merely twice elsewhere in the Greek Bible. In the Wisdom of Solomon 12:6 it is the noun ‘authentes’ (murderer) used with reference to indigenous peoples’ practice of child sacrifice:

‘Those [The Canaanites] who lived long ago in your holy land, you hated for their detestable practices, their works of sorcery and unholy rites…these parents WHO MURDER [authentas] helpless lives.’ (NRSV)

In 3 Maccabees 2:28-29 it is the noun ‘authentia’ (“original,” “authentic”). The author recounts the hostile measures taken by the Ptolemies against Alexandrian Jews toward the end of the third century B.C., including the need to register according to their original status as Egyptian slaves and to be branded with the ivy-leaf symbol in honor of the deity Dionysus[:]

‘All Jews [in Alexandria] shall be subjected to a registration [laographon] involving poll tax and to the status of slaves…those who are registered are to be branded on their bodies by fire with the ivy-leaf symbol of Dionysus and to register [katachorisai] in accordance with their [Egyptian] ORIGIN [authentian] of record [prosynestalmenen]’” (quoted by Linda Belleville, page 211).

We see from Linda Belleville’s work that two of the earliest uses for the Greek word “authentein” were “to murder” and “origin” or “to be the origin.” These references in the Apocrypha come from the first century BC, about two-hundred years before Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy.

Belleville, however, opts for a different meaning of the word:

“Ancient Greek grammarians and lexicographers suggest that the meaning ‘to dominate, hold sway’ finds its origin in first-century popular (‘vulgar’ versus literary) usage. That is why second-century lexicographer Moeris states that the Attic ‘autodikein,’ ‘to have independent jurisdiction, self-determination,’ is to be preferred to the Hellenistic (or Koine) ‘authentes’. MODERN LEXICOGRAPHERS AGREE. Those who have studied Hellenistic letters argue that ‘authenteo’ ORIGINATED IN THE POPULAR GREEK VOCABULARY AS A SYNONYM FOR ‘to dominate someone’ (‘kratein tinos’)” (216).

Here’s my question: why choose the popular language over the literary? It seems that “to dominate” and “to be the origin” are the two choices we have for deciding what this word means; however, why settle for “to dominate”? What makes it a better choice of selection than “to be the origin”?
“Authenteo” may very well have appeared in popular literature, but it doesn’t appear out of nowhere—it has ancestral words that relate to it. So “authenteo” very well may mean to control or dominate someone, but it stems from “authentes,” a word that has been around longer than “authenteo.”

Think about it like this: if a person holds sway over someone, or influences them, doesn’t that mean the person is “in charge?” And doesn’t this have something to do with the ancestral word “authentes”? This is what Belleville writes regarding the ancestral word:

“In the first and second centuries B.C. historians used it of THOSE WHO MASTERMINDED AND CARRIED OUT such exploits as the massacre of the Thracians at Maronea and the robbing of the second shrine at Delphi” (213).

If an “authentes” became someone who “masterminded” a plot, then he or she would be IN CHARGE of the conspiracy. Let’s look back one more time at the Apocryphal book of Wisdom of Solomon (chapter 12, verse 6):

“Those [the Canaanites] who lived long ago in your holy land…these parents who murder (authentas) helpless lives” (quoted by Belleville on page 211).

Notice that the writer of the Apocryphal work labels the children as “helpless,” which indicates to the reader that the parents “dominated” their children and “controlled” them—but they did so in the act of murder. So even in using “authentes” and tolerating its earlier references to murder, there is a connection between the earlier usage of the word and the modern translation (meaning to dominate).

Those who are “in charge” today are called “the authorities.” But, while carrying that name, we look to them as being the “origin,” or the beginning of persons to look to when something goes wrong in our society. They are always the first people we seek out when we’re having trouble with a classmate (teacher or principal), or someone is trying to hurt us (police, security guards) or when we’re struggling spiritually (Pastor, Deacon, Elder, etc.). And, yes, they do have control over us and sway us—we listen to their advice, we do what they ask, and, we’re even forced to do some things against our will at times (like let the police search our homes or apartments, or our cars, etc.; or be suspended from school by the principal when we misbehave).

In my next post, I intend to show the reader the etymology (word history) of “authentein,” with the word stemming from “authentes.” The connection between these two words is long-lasting and the evidence will surprise you.

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