How Not to Argue: Pretend the Opposition Doesn't Exist

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Biblical Studies Bulletin is a good resource for recent developments in biblical studies, mostly from a moderately conservative outlook. I was surprised to see the following comment in the June issue, which was just posted online, from a short section on problematic translations:

One reading that really baffles me (and is particularly important in the Church of England at the moment) is the translation of 1 Tim 2.12. The key word 'authenthein' is a hapax, that is, it occurs only here in the New Testament. The more usual word for 'exercise authority' is 'exousiazein' and the commentators agree that 'authenthein' has the sense of 'misusing authority' or 'usurping authority.' So why is it that modern translations, almost without exception, translate this simply as 'have authority'? The AV correctly used the phrase 'usurping authority' and the only modern translation I could find on BibleGateway.com that continues this is something called the '21st Century King James.' I had never heard of this before, but here it is more faithful to its predecessor than the New King James.

Here is the response I sent them:

I'm writing to correct an error stated in Ian Paul's section on translation errors in the June 2005 Biblical Studies Bulletin. He states:


the commentators agree that 'authenthein' has the sense of 'misusing authority' or 'usurping authority.' So why is it that modern translations, almost without exception, translate this simply as 'have authority'?


The reason the translations are unwilling to translate that word in such a controversial manner is that the commentators don't in fact agree on this. I'm not sure how someone familiar with the commentaries could miss this. It's true that a number of commentators have taken that view, but George W. Knight's NIGTC and William Mounce's WBC, two extremely important commentaries on the Greek text, do not agree with such a translation. The authors in Women In The Church: An Analysis Of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, ed. Andreas Koestenberger and Thomas Schreiner, also disagree, with one whole chapter just on this word and another one arguing that the sentence structure requires taking this word positively and not negatively. I believe Luke Timothy Johnson's I Timothy commentary in the Anchor Bible series also takes the word not to be a negative usurpation of power but simple exercise of authority. Claiming that the commentators agree on this is simply irresponsible and shows either an attempt to rule some commentators out of contention because of their views or a real unfamiliarity with the literature on this issue. This is a genuine debate, and the fact that all the commentators on one side of the debate agree does not minimize those who just as strongly think a different view is correct.


Jeremy Pierce

I'll refrain from psychoanalyzing the author of the piece, but it really amazes me to find a statement in a publication by biblical scholars that so flatly contradicts the facts about where the scholarship is on this issue, something anyone at all familiar with the debate will recognize. It's as if you can win the argument simply by pretending the people who disagree with you don't exist or aren't real scholars.

3 Comments

Jeremy, have you read the paper by Franklin Pyles, An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15?

After wading through a number of papers on the subject, I find his arguments cogent and consistent. They also seem to fit, at least for me, the smooth weave test in that they fit smoothing into the fabric of Scripture without breaking the pattern of the overall weave.

I'm not going to get into the issues he brings up beyond what I mentioned in this post, mostly because I'd have to get out all my books and the subject and have no time to do that sort of thing right now. I did just look over the stuff on 'authentein', and he seems to be wrong. The chapter on that word in the book I mentioned shows that the word didn't simply have the violent connotation in the biblical period. It had about five meanings in that period, some negative and some positive. You need to look at context to see what it means. The next chapter looks at the structure of the sentence and shows that the two verbs must be parallel given the sentence structure. That means they must both be negative or both be positive, and the 'didaskein' is never negative anywhere else. That gives at least a very strong presumption of 'authentein' being used positively in this verse. The paper you linked to doesn't even deal with this argument, as far as I could tell.

The other issues are important, and the book I mentioned does deal with them, as do a number of commentators. The main issue is whether these historical reconstructions are overly speculative and without much evidence, and I have to say that I think they are. We don't know enough information to support any of them. The fact that every egalitarian has a different one that doesn't agree with those of others doesn't help. There is some good evidence against some of them anyway. I don't know the details with this one, but I'm very hesitant to accept some proposed cultural background to something that makes it say what it appears not to say unless I have very strong background to explain why it must say what it appears not to say and not say what it appears to say.

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