What Did Paul Mean by “Man is the Head of Woman?” (Part 1)
Much of the current debate over whether women should be subordinate to men in marriage and in the church centers around Paul’s use of the word head (kephale) in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Ephesians 5:21-24. In both of these passages, Paul says that “man is the head of the woman.” Specifically, the debate revolves around what Paul meant by the phrase “man is the head of woman?” Did Paul mean head in the sense of “authoritative head,” “leader,” or “boss?” Did he mean “source” as in the source or head of a river? Or, did he have in mind another meaning like “prominent” as in the top or head of a mountain, which is the most prominent part? Consider Paul’s use of “head” (kephale) in the following passages:
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head [kephale] of every man, and the man is the head [kephale] of a woman, and God is the head [kephale] of Christ” (1Co 11:3 NASB).
“…and be subject [hupotasso] to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head [kephale] of the wife, as Christ also is the head [kephale] of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:21-25 NASB).
The Use of Metaphors
In these two passages Paul is using the word head (kephale) in a metaphorical sense. A metaphor is a figure of speech that creates a mental picture by comparing objects and ideas.
The phrase, “John is a worm,” is a metaphor that compares a person with a worm. Culture and context are important in determining the appropriate meaning. If the phrase is used in the context of a person reading in a library, it might mean that John reads a lot of books. Used in the context of a dating relationship, it might mean that John is a lowly creature about to be stepped on. The same phrase might also convey different meanings to different cultures. A person from a culture in which books are not common would have a difficult time grasping the meaning of the phrase used in the context of the library. The lack of a cultural concept of a library might lead to an interpretation not intended by the original author.
Similarly, Paul’s metaphorical usage of the word head (kephale) is important to examine. We must ask what Paul meant by the metaphor, “man is the head of a woman.”
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.”
This is an excerpt from chapter eight of the book UNSilenced. Now on Amazon.com
© 2016 Alan Garrett, alsgarrett.net