Friday, November 18, 2005

the meaning of "Head" in the Epistles

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Gloria Steinem




I have decied to spend the next few blog times with a running campaign to make the arguments of the egalitarian movmeent more visable to the public. The Egalitarians are the altnertaive to the male bashing femanztis that right wing "complametnarians" like to imagine lurk in all Unitied Methodist Chruches. The Egalitarian Christain alliance is a wonder group of really intelligent and totally dedicated Chrsitian women. They deserve much more support from us, their Christian brothers. Now what kicked off my anger on this one is a freind of mine heard Focuss on the Family give a totally one sided attack agisnt the gender awre translation fo the NIV, and upon writting to them, was told that Dobson is not interested in givnig both sides.(Dr. James Dobson of christian Child rearing fame, Dare To Discipline). So Dobson is not into being fair, ok fine. I will present the egalitarian side here for the next few times.

I being with "Head" or Kephale (Greek) because another freind also found an article in which all the work of the egal movment in undersanding this word was dismissing with no good reason being given. So I will show you why when Paul says "man is the head of woman" he is not saying "man is the boss of woman."



IV. "Headship" in NT.

(grounds for Female Submission?).




1 Corinthians 11:3

(3)But I want you to understand that Christ F112* is the head R418 of every man, and the R419 man is the head of a woman, and God is the head R420 of Christ. F112

Ephesians 5:

(23) For the R320 husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head R321 of the church, He Himself being R322 the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

*numbers for quick look up in Strong's Concordence.





No HeadshipDoctrine

Those who take preconceived notions to scripture for quick confirmation, via proof testing, often set out to validate something called "the doctrine of Headship. That is merely turning a word into a concept. There is no "doctrine of Headship" mentioned in the Bible. The term "head" is used of the husband in connection to the wife only the two passages sited above. To turn that into a ship is to come to it with the preconceived notion that there is a fully developed doctrine to be explicated. There is no such doctrine. There is no ship in the "head" menionted above. It is used only in these two verses and it is never developed into an office but is merely a description of a relationship which Paul resorted to twice.

The nature of that relationship, husband and wife, is never fully developed in the New Testament, but it is clear that Paul is speaking from within his own cultural context. To apply this to all times and all places would be like asking 'where is the verse banning women astronauts?' In Paul's day there was only one kind of marriage anyone knew about in all the Greaco/Roman world: Patriarchal. What choice did Paul have but to write about marriage from inside the assumption of a patriarchal society? Surely this would color the assumptions that he made, and would limit his exposition of the marital relationship to an understanding framed by that culture.

Yet bring our own assumptions to the text. We see the word "head" and think, "my boss is called the 'head' of the company, so 'head' must mean 'boss.' Some may try to soften this blow by calling it Leadership, but a rose by any other name....The point is, we assume that the author of these epistles, and the Greek speaking audience to whom he wrote, would understand the term in the way that we use it in common English jargon. Such is not the case.

Head in Greek: kefalh and it's rendering in lexicons

The English pronunciation is written as Kephale (kef-a-lay). The Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon (abridged).Oxford: Oxford at Clearendon Press, 1983.


The head, lat. caput, from head to foot, formost (1) The head, as the nobelist part, the whole person, just as Latin caput is used; especially in salutation.(3) the life, as we use head, "on my head be it." II. head or upper part of anything, coping of a wall, in pl head or source of a river.III. metaphor., point sum or conclusion.



We do not see among these renderings the idea of boss, leader or commander. Liddell and Scott is a better source to use than Bauer or Strongs or most New Testament lexicons because it is a dictionary of classical Greek and has no theological ax to grind.

The translators of the Septuagent, the Greek Old Testament did not understand Kephale to mean "boss," "leader" "ruler," Or "commander." When they had the opportunity to tanslate the Hebrew Rosh (head) and it did bear these tersm, they did not use Kephale. In thier groundbreaking article "The Head of the Epsitles," Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen point this out:


However, another commonly used lexicon is the koine Greek lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich (usually called Bauer's). It does list "superior rank" as a possible meaning for kephale. It lists five passages in the New Testament where the compiler thinks kephale has this meaning. As support for this meaning New Testament times, the lexicon lists two passages from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, where kephale implies leadership or authority. Those who support Bauer's view that kephale meant superior rank" point to these passages in the Greek translation the Old Testament as evidence that this meaning of kephale is familiar to Greek-speaking people in New Testament times.However, the facts do not support that argument.


Contrary to Bauer's use of the term, Hebrew translators of the intertestamental period, chose not Kephale as the rendering of the Hebrew Rosh (which does carry implications of command) but they uusally chose archon or some other word.

Turn to the Mickelsen's again:


About 180 times in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word ro'sh (head) is used with the idea of chief, leader, superior rank (similar to the way English- speaking people use "head"). However those who translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek (between 250 and 150 B.C.) rarely used kephale (head) when the Hebrew word for head carried this idea of leader, chief, or authority. They usually used the Greek word archon, meaning leader, ruler, or commander. They also used other words.

In only 17 places (out of 180) did they use kephale, although that would have been the simplest way to translate it. Five of those 17 have variant readings, and another 4 involve a head-tail metaphor , that would make no sense without the use of head in contrast to tail.

That leaves only 8 instances (out of 180 times) when the Septuagint translators clearly chose to use kephale for ro’sh when it had a "superior rank” meaning. Most are in relatively obscure places.Since kephale is so rarely used when ro’sh carried the idea of authority, most of the Greek translators apparently realized that kephale did not carry the same “leader” or “superior rank” meaning for “head” as did the Hebrew word ro’sh.


That's only about 8% or less that kephale is used of Rosh.


Paul's other uses of kefalh

Basically the Egalitarian argument understands Kephale to mean "source" or "origin." This is basically the case but it is more complex than that.It means source, streagth, life, source of life, the most prominent thing, the first thing grasped.

The meaning of Kephale is too often short handed in discussions on this topic. It is so convient to give a one word description such as "source" or "origin." Then as an illustration it is easy to compare to English usage, such as 'the head of a river.' This meaning becomes rubber-stamped and before long people are using the wrong prhase. This short-hand gets egalitarians in trouble, as it furnishes amunition since there is no Lexical authority which clearly renders the word "source of origin," in the singular, with no other meanings. The problem is there is ambiguity, a wide range of meanings, and it is too simplistic and wrong to just say "source." In fact the meaning of source applies to the plural, and is baiscally confied to talking about the head of a river. We have the same meaning for head in English as well.

The chapion of the complamentarian hierarchalists Grudem quotes a letter from the editor of Liddell and Scott saying that Kephale only means "head" (as in head of the river) in the plural form. But that's because the editor was not asked to give an exposition on the theology of St. Paul. He was asked about the use of the phrase "head of the river" in determinig the meaning of kepahle. The meaning is more complex than just reducting to "source." Nevertheless, as we see clearly from the defiton abvove even Lidell and Scott give source of life orlife as one of the meanings.

We can see this from the use of New Testament Lexicons as well: Greek lexicon based on Thayer's and Smith's Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. These files are public domain (crosswalk online dictionary).




the head, both of men and often of animals. Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment. metaph. anything supreme, chief, prominent of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife of Christ: the Lord of the husband and of the Church of things: the corner stone


In this defition we see used all the hieararchical terms for husband comparing him to king and lord, leader and boss. But the problem using a biblical lexicon is really like circular reasoning, because they base the meanings upon what they see in the verses. That means they aren't using the control of secular literature for the meaning, but reading in their own theological undersanding. That's why Lidell and Scott is always better. Even here, however, we see other meanings such as cornerstone, and life where captial punishment is invovled.

Hierarchical meanings reflected in New Testament Lexicons are derived from interpretration of the New Testament passages themselves. It is easy, therfore, for a Lexicogrpher to read his favorite doctrine into the word.Comparing Paul's other uses of the term we find equally that they need not be rendered with these hierarchcial meanings, but reflect issues dealing with source, source of life, life itself and so on.

A Challenge for Proponents of Female Subordination To Prove Their Case from The Bible.

By Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian
Professor Emeritus
Wheaton College


The New Testament defines the headship ministry of Christ to the church as a servant relation designed to provide the church with life and growth. This headship is never presented as an authority or lordship position.

Eph. 1:22-23. Christ is supremely and universally sovereign, but as head for the church, it is not said that he rules over it. Instead, he provides his body with the fullness of him who fills all in all. He causes the church to grow and flourish.
Eph. 4:15-16. Christ as head provides the body with oneness, cohesion and growth. This is a servant-provider role, not one of rulership.

Eph. 5:23. Christ is head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. His headship to the church is defined as saviorhood which is biblically defined as a servant, self-sacrificing function, not a lordship role.

Col. 1:18. Christ is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead. As its head, Christ is the source of the church’s life.

Col. 2:19. Christ is the head from whom the whole body grows because it is nourished by him. He is servant-provider of life and growth to the church.Obviously, Christ is Lord of all and therefore Lord of the church. But never does the New Testament define Christ’s relation to the church as its head in terms of lordship, authority or rulership. As head to the church, Christ is always the servant who gives the church all she needs to become his radiant Bride. So is the husband to his wife (Eph. 5:25-30), within a relationship of mutual submission (v. 21).

The word “head” used figuratively in the English language refers to boss, person in authority, leader. It never has that meaning in New Testament Greek. There are hundreds of references in the New Testament to religious, governmental, civic, familial and military authority figures. Not one of them is ever designated as “head.”Even Christ, as “head” of all rule and authority, remains their original giver of life and fullness (Col. 2:10; 1:16).

Similarly, Christ was never called “head” of the church until after his crucifixion, the supreme expression of his servant ministry as the giver of new life.Whenever Christ is described as “head” to the church, his ministry is that of servant-provider. Similarly, as head to his wife, a husband is a servant-provider of life, of fullness and growth, not one who exercises authority over her.


Complamentarians often argue that each of these examples may show some faint trace of the idea of "source," but they also imply an obvious authority as well. that is clearly true. What seems significant, however, is that these are basically the only metaphorical uses of head by Paul. He never uses it of authority figures in government, or municipalities, or slave owners,employers or the like. Moreover, the never uses it apart from the aspect of source of life either!It may be tempting to assign an authority aspect based upon our cultural bias that the head is the center of the brain, the seat of the intellect. This would not have occurred to the Greeks, however, as they knew little of accruate physiology. To the Greeks the chest was the seat of the intellect, the head was the source of life, because if cut off, the body dies. This fact of the Greek outlook is documented by several scholars:Stephen Bedale, "The Meaning of Kephale in the Pauline Epistles," Journal of Theological Studies, 5 (1954):212; Ridderbos, Paul: an Outline, p. 380 and note 64; see also Fred D. Layman "Man and Sin in the Perspective of Biblical Theology," The Asbury Seminarian, 30 (1975):39-41 and bibliography there.

The point is that of course there is an authority aspect in Paul's metaphorical use of kephale, he's talking about either Christ's relationship to the chruch, or the universe! There has to be a sense of authority in any relationship involving Christ! But all metaphors and anlogies have their limits!. There must be a point at which the authority aspect breaks down when one is only comparing some other kind of relationship to that of Christ/Church/universe. Should this authority aspect be carried over to the husband/wife relationship? Why should it? This is critical given the view point already expouded in the frist three pages, since there is n gronds for female submission outside of these questioned verses! Many Biblical scholars have echoed the view that the authority aspect cannot be extended from Christ/Chruch to husband/wife:

Wesley Center Online:

Wesley Center for Applied Theology 2002
MALE HEADSHIP IN PAUL'S THOUGHT by Fred D. Layman


There is no question but that the relationship between Christ and the church involves lordship and submission in the New Testament. But the question still remains: is that the thrust Paul intended here in his use of the idea of headship? I think not. The fact is that Christ's headship and Christ's lordship are two different, though related, ideas for Paul. Paul's metaphorical use of the word kephale corresponds to a like use of the word rosh in the Old Testament, both meaning the "beginning," "source," or "ground" of something.38 In Colossians 1:15-20, for instance, Christ was the beginning of the natural creation (v. 16), which has its origin and ground in Him and achieves its final destiny in relation to Him (v. 17). He has a relationship of priority and sustainer to the creation (v. 18). He was also the beginning of the church and was the first-born of the new order. He is thus pre-eminent in the original creation and in the new creation (v. 18). The new creation has its origin and ground in Him (v.18). He has this role as a divine being (v. 19, cf. 2:9). God intends to reconcile all things in Him (v. 20) Because He is the source and ground of all creation, He is also the source of all rule and authority (2:10). Ephesians contains a comparable set of ideas. Ephesians 1:21f. parallels Colossians 1:18-20 in its emphasis on Christ's headship in the new creation, a headship that extends to all things and is above all rule, authority, power, and dominion. Ephesians 4:15f. and Colossians 2:19 emphasize the unity which exists between Christ and the church. He is the origin and ground of the church and directs its growth to Himself. The church is edified through His gifts and He is its eschatological orientation (Eph. 4:11-16). None of this can be attained however apart from faith; for this reason the relation of the body to the head is always that of obedient submission. All of this is said without any identification of Christ's headship and His lordship. The two ideas are drawn together in the Ephesians passage where the Lord Jesus Christ (vs.2f.,15,17; cf. Col.2:10) is exalted above all rule, authority, power, and dominion (v. 21), but they are not the same. Christ's headship speaks of Him as the beginning, origin, and ground of all being. His lordship speaks of His governing rule in the creation. Thus His lordship in the creation is the result of His headship, but the two ideas are not synonymous. When we look again at the Ephesians 5:21-33 passage, it becomes obvious that Paul did not incorporate all that belongs to Christ's headship when he paralleled it with the husband's headship. He did not affirm that "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church" (v. 32) and leave it open-ended for his readers to fill in the specifics. Given the proclivity for fallen man to put himself in the place of God, Paul was very aware as he wrote of how his motif could be misused for sinful purposes. He was very careful therefore to circumscribe and limit his meaning.


Layman footnotes the following sources:

38Bedale, "The Meaning of Kephale" pp. 298f., n. 41; Heinrich Schlier, "Kephale, " in Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964-), 3:679-81; Scroggs, Paul and the Eschatological Woman, pp. 298f., n. 41; Ridderbos, Paul an Outline, pp. 381f.

2 comments:

Septuagent said...

"Septuagent" is me - the world famous blogger. The Greek translation of the OT made allegedly by 70 or 70+ scholars is, in all my reference books, the Septuagint. Am I right, or am I right ? I am most impressed by your profile - I can't understand most of it. Where did I go wrong ?

J.L. Hinman said...

i don't understand what you are saying about the LXX. and what impresses you about my profile if you don't understand it?