Αυθεντης And Its Cognates In Biblical Greek -- By: Al Wolters

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 52:4 (Dec 2009)
Article: Αυθεντης And Its Cognates In Biblical Greek
Author: Al Wolters


Αυθεντης And Its Cognates In Biblical Greek

Al Wolters*

* Al Wolters is emeritus professor at Redeemer University College, 777 Garner Road East, Ancaster, ON L9K 1J4.

In an earlier essay entitled “A Semantic Study of αὐθέντης and Its Derivatives,” I surveyed the semantic history of this word family in ancient Greek from its earliest attestation in the fifth century BC until the fourth century AD.1 The conclusions of that study can be summarized in four broad propositions: (1) A crucial semantic distinction must be made between αὐθέντης in the meaning “kin-murderer,” which is well attested in the classical Greek literature of the fifth century BC, and αὐθέντης in the meaning “master” or “doer,” which is only sporadically attested in earlier Greek literature, but which becomes the dominant sense after the turn of the era. The two senses may go back to separate etymological roots. (2) This basic semantic divide corresponds, since at least the turn of the era, with a distinction in linguistic register, the archaic meaning “kin-murderer” being reserved for elevated prose seeking to emulate Attic literary models, and the meaning “master” or “doer” occurring in works reflecting more closely the living vernacular of Hellenistic speech. (3) All derivatives of αὐθέντης (beginning with αὐθεντικός in the second century BC), are semantically indebted to the second basic meaning, especially “master,” yielding such senses as “authoritative” for the derived adjective, and “predominate” for the derived verb. (4) The handful of exceptions to this overall pattern can all be explained as the result of the failure of later writers, especially the so-called Atticists, to understand the proper classical meaning of the word.

In the nature of the case, my earlier study, covering as it does the semantics of this word family over a period of eight centuries, and involving some 167 places where it is attested over that time period, could not deal in detail with all these individual passages. In the present paper, taking advantage of the general semantic picture which emerged from that earlier investigation, I will focus my attention on the three places where members of the αὐθέντης family occur in biblical Greek, supplemented by one additional passage in early Christian literature outside of the New Testament.

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