What Did Paul Mean by “Man is the Head of Woman?” (Part 2)
There are three main ways of interpreting Paul’s metaphorical use of the word head (kephalē) in these two passages:
1. Head as “authority over” or “leader.”
2. Head as “source.”
3. Head as “prominent” or “preeminent.”
Head (kephalē) as Authority Over or Leader
Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and others believe that the word head (kephalē) should be understood as meaning “authority over” or “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Ephesians 5:21-24.1 They argue that their interpretation is the traditional view and cite support from New Testament Greek dictionaries and word studies they have done.2 People who hold this view call themselves complementarians. They believe that men and women were created to have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, and church leadership. They see men and women as having equal value, but differing roles in marriage and church leadership.
A growing number of scholars have called this view into question for the following reasons:
1. The Greek word kephalē rarely equates with “authority over” or “leader” when used metaphorically in ancient Greek literature.3 Examples can be found in Greek literature where it means “source,” “prominent,” or “preeminent.”4
2. The Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament that Paul used was called the Septuagint (LXX). The translators of the Septuagint chose to use kephalē for the Hebrew word rosh “head” roughly ninetyfive percent of the time.5 But, when the word rosh referred to “leader” or “ruler,” they chose another word besides kephalē as a translation the majority of the time.6 The translators would have only done that if they believed “leader” or “ruler” was a poor translation of the Greek word head (kephalē).
3. Dr. Richard Cervin has a Ph.D. in Linguistics and is well read in ancient Greek literature. He argues that kephalē is not used as a metaphor for “authority over” in ancient Greek literature. Dr. Cervin points out that “authority” as a meaning for kephalē is not found in any specialized dictionaries of classical authors and that the definition of kephalē as “authority” is only found in New Testament dictionaries. If “authority” were a common meaning of kephalē, it should also be found as a meaning in classical dictionaries.7
4. An interpretation of kephalē as “authority” or “leader over” can have doctrinal implications that are heretical when applied to the Trinity (specifically concerning God the Father and Jesus). Consider the following passage:
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head [kephalē] of every man, and the man is the head [kephalē] of a woman, and God is the head [kephalē] of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3).
If God is the “authority” or “leader” over Christ in any permanent hierarchical sense, then a doctrinal problem called Subordinationism is created. Subordinationism was first taught by Arius. His teachings were ruled heretical by the first Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and again by the First Council of Constantinople (AD 381). Subordinationism teaches that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father in nature and being.8
The Bible does teach that Jesus voluntarily submitted himself to the Father (Phil. 2:5-8; John 14:10). But, that submission must be seen as voluntary and temporary. One cannot use this passage to call for the permanent submission of women to men claiming that the nature of woman is different from the nature of man. If this is done, then one must also say that Christ is permanently submitted to the Father and created fundamentally different in being and nature from the Father. Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity is undermined.
In his book The Trinity and Subordinationism, Kevin Giles states:
What seems to have happened is that contemporary conservative evangelicals who are opposed to women’s liberation in the church and in the home have read back into the Trinity their understanding of the subordination of woman: God the Father has become the eternal “head” of Christ, and the differences among the divine persons have been redefined in terms of differing roles or functions. Rather than working as one, the divine persons have been set in opposition with the Father commanding and the Son obeying.9
Any submission by Christ to the Father must be seen as voluntary and temporary. In the same way, any submission a woman grants to a man should be on a voluntary and temporary basis.
Paul Calls for Mutual Submission
Furthermore, we must take into consideration that in Ephesians 5:21-25, Paul calls for mutual submission between the man and the woman. In 5:21 he says, “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” The Greek word for “be subject to” is hupotasso. An alternative translation is “be subordinate to.” So, even though Paul is asking wives to submit to their husbands, that submission needs to be taken in context. Paul is calling for a mutual submission or subordination where the husband and the wife submit to each other.
From chapter 8 of the book UNSilenced. Now on Amazon.com
© 2016 Alan Garrett, alsgarrett.net
1. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. (Carol Stream, IL: Crossway, 2006).
2. Wayne Grudem, The Meaning of Kephalē ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Carol Stream, IL: Crossway, 2006), 425-468.
3. Richard S. Cervin, “Does Kephalē Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority over’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” http://theriveroflife.com/ wp-content/plugins/Cervin-kephale-1989-pp-1-10.pdf (accessed March 15, 2016).
4. Hawthorne, Martin, and Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 375-377. See Also: Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Toward an Understanding of Ancient Conceptions of “Head”,” Priscilla Papers 20, 3 (Summer 2006). And: BibleStudyTools, “Kephalē,” 102.BibleStudyTools. http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/ kjv/kephale.html (accessed March 16, 2016).
5. Cunningham and Hamilton, Why Not Women?
6. Cervin, “Does Kephalē Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority over’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal.” See also: Alvera Mickelsen, Women, Authority & the Bible. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 102.
7. Alan Garrett, Summary/Review of Two Word Studies About Kephalē. (October 2013). An interview with Dr. Richard Cervin in Sacramento, CA. 103.
8. Kevin Giles, The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God & the Contemporary Gender Debate. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 13. 104.
9. Ibid., 16.