Weird word right? It’s Greek, in fact, it is the Koine Greek of the New Testament.
This one little strange word causes some serious disagreements about Biblical husband/wife relationships.
Kephale is used in the New Testament when referring to God and the Church and husbands and wives. You might be asking yourself, “So what? What’s that got to do with me?” Well, I’m glad you asked. 🙂 This word actually has great importance to you. How you translate kephale can greatly impact how you view God’s relationship with the Church and marriage roles as designed by God. So let’s do a warp speed review of kephale and the Bible!
What are some of the different interpretation regarding kephale?
Since 1954 when Stephan Bedale’s 1954 article, ‘The Meaning of Kephale in the Pauline Epistles,’ varying opinions have been held on what exactly the word means in certain passages, for example in 1 Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:23. Some believe ‘head’ means ‘authority over’ or ‘rule,’ while others maintain that it regularly has the sense of ‘source’ in the New Testament.
Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (All We’re Meant to Be) say, “Kephale is used almost synonymously with arche, ‘beginning,’ somewhat similar to our use of ‘the headwaters of a river’ or ‘fountain head.’ “Thus, when Ephesians 5:23 says “Christ is the head of the church, his body,” it means that He is the church’s “lifegiver.” And when Colossians 2:10 calls Christ “the head of all rule and authority,” Scanzoni and Hardesty say, ‘“Head’ here obviously means ‘source.’ “Similarly, “Christ’s headship over the church refers to his being the source of its life.”
Richard and Joyce Boldrey (Chauvinist or Feminist? Paul’s View of Women) also support this interpretation by saying of 1 Corinthians 11, “When Paul spoke of woman’s head being the man, he was emphasizing man’s temporal priority and woman’s derivation from him.”
These authors represent what is called the Evangelical feminism/egalitarian perspective. So what evidence do they have to support this meaning of kephale? Firstly, they cite no legitimate evidence from ancient Greek literature or English-Greek lexicons. It not listed as a meaning for kephale in the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek by W. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker or in any of the older New Testament lexicons. The only lexicon it was listed as a possible sub-meaning was in the Liddell-Scott lexicon for classical Greek, not the Koine Greek of the New Testament. In that lexicon, it was listed as: In plural, source of a river, Herodotus 4.91 (but singular, mouth; generally, source, origin.) Interestingly enough, the editor later said, after seeing Wayne Grudem’s research, “The supposed sense ‘source’ of course does not exist and it was at least unwise of Liddell and Scott to mention the word.” So Evanglical Feminists have to misconstrue the text and search out weak sources to support their view.
On the other end of the argument, Wayne Grudem, in his 1985 article (Does Kephale (Head) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples) examined 2,336 instances of the use of the word from the eighth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. In 2,004 of those instances, kephale refers to the physical head in contrast to the rest of the body. Of the different occurrences, 49 examples hold the meaning of “head” in the sense of a “ruler” or “one having authority over” someone else: 12 in the New Testament, 13 in the Septuagint, 5 from other Greek Old Testament translations, 2 from Herodotus, 1 from Plato, 1 from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, 7 from Plutarch, 5 from Philo, 1 from the Apostolic Fathers, 1 from the Greek Anthology, and 1 from Libanius. None of these instances use “source” as its meaning. The sources used by Grudem are recognized throughout the Academic realm as solid sources.
So what does all this research have to do with Scripture?
Let’s take a look at the passages that are disputed the most with kephale. These are the main passages dealing with Christ:
Ephesians 1:22: “He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all
things for the church.” Here God the Father made Christ the authority over all things for the
sake of and the benefit of the church.”
Ephesians 4:15: “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied,
when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”
Colossians 1:18: “He is the head of the body, the church.” Here Paul, in emphasizing the
great superiority of Christ, reminds his readers that Christ is the exalted authority over the
Colossians 2:10: “And you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all
rule and authority.” Here Paul emphasizes that Christ is the authority over not only the
church, but over all rulers and authorities, over all powers in the universe.
These passages all reveal Christ’s headship over the church. Christ rules over the church, and His authority, direction and guidance are the reasons the whole Church body even works properly, continues in spiritual growth and sharpens each other with love. We need Christ’s authority over us for us to function in His will and to be obedient. If Christ was just the ‘source’ of the Church, there would be no submission to Him because we would have no one to answer to, only someone we derived from. There has to be a sense of organization and hierarchy within relationships. If there are not different role distinctions, functions get confusing.
Imagine a grandmother and a granddaughter together. If that granddaughter didn’t know who was to lead her, then she might lead the grandmother maybe even act disrespectfully to her because she would not have any honor for the role her grandmother plays. She would not submit to her grandmother’s authoritative role.
On the other hand, the grandmother’s role over the granddaughter is to lead her, guide her, love and care for her. The grandmother sacrifices herself for her granddaughter to make her life better. She is in authority over the grandchild but in no way superior to her. They just have different roles.
Here are the main passages dealing with kephale and marriage roles/relationships:
1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Ephesians 5:22–24: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.”
In 1 Cor. 11:3, the point of this passage and of kephale is to show that man is a leader and guide for his wife. Paul is showing the creation order and how that correlates to our relationships and behavior today. Women are to honor Christ and their husbands through submissive attitudes and behavior. Man answers to his authority, Christ, and woman willingly submits to man and Christ as those in authority over her.
But couldn’t this kephale mean ‘source’ though? James Hurley (Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective) argues that the sense of “source” is impossible in 1 Cor.11:3:
“However we try to construct the parallels in the sense of ‘source’ there is an impossible result: Eve was physically taken out of Adam but we cannot say that every man was physically taken out of Christ. But if we say that God the Father was the creator of the human nature of Christ, then must we say that Adam was the creator of the human nature of Eve? Or if we say that God the Father gives the economic distinction of sonship to the Son, then must we say that Adam gives a distinct personality to Eve, or a man to a woman generally?”
This applies to the Ephesians passage, as well. If kephale meant ‘source’ here, that would mean that women derive their life from men. Wives do not exist because of their husbands. Just because men are the head of women does not mean that we are subordinate to them. Christ is not subordinate to God but He does voluntarily subject Himself to God. As Christ has a different function within the Trinity but is still equal with God, men and women are equal in essence but perform different functions. Role differences do not imply inequality and inferiority, just as Christ’s willful obedience to the Father’s headship does not imply His inferiority.
Paul is indicating in this passage (Eph. 1:22; 5:23-24), through the use of “head,” that the husband is the head of his wife and Christ is the head and authority of the Church. These two concepts given in the same chapter explain one another: wives submit to their husband’s authority, just as the Church submits to Christ’s authority because Christ is in authority over them. God designed wives to follow their husband’s loving leadership and husbands are to genuinely love their wives, care for them, and give themselves up for them, as Christ did for the Church (Eph. 5:25). This is what God intended for a true partnership in marriage. This is His perfect design with man as the authority of woman and Christ as the authority of man and the Church.
God did not do this to the Church and women to demean them, this was and is for their best. God takes care of us and that’s why He put man as the head of us, so we will be led and cared for by godly men as we help and willingly submit to them. God’s designs are always perfect and His will is perfect. It does not always make sense to human intelligence but, God’s thoughts are so much higher than the earthly thoughts of humans. That’s why He’s God and we’re human. Let us obey our perfect and gracious Savior and His plans set out for us in Scripture.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” ~Romans 11:33-34
—–If you would like to read more in-depth information on this topic, I suggest the following articles that can be found online:
Wayne Grudem– “Does (“Head”) Mean “Source” Or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature?”
——-“The Meaning Source “Does Not Exist”: Liddell-Scott Editor Rejects Egalitarian Interpretation of “Head” (Kephale)”
——- “The Meaning of Kephale (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies