Who is the head, Mary Kassian?

Mary Kassian posted a blog on the 1st of August (2012) entitled Sex in the Shadowlands that includes the diagram above. This diagram sends a faulty message. (Image used with permission.)  

I agree with Mary Kassian that the word “head” (kephalē) is used in the context of unity and oneness in the New Testament; however Mary and her diagram take the concept of “head” and unity further than Scripture does.

The diagram shows that the Lord God (presumably the Triune God) is the head of the incarnate Jesus Christ; that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church; and that a husband is the head of his wife. In the New Testament, God, Jesus Christ, and husbands/men are indeed called “heads”.

However the diagram also indicates that church elders and, as an aside on the far left, fathers are “heads”. There is no biblical basis for calling church elders or fathers “heads” in a New Testament Greek sense of the word.

The word “head” (kephalē) used in the Greek NT is not well understood, so I think it is unwise for us to use the word in ways that have no biblical basis.

One common misunderstanding is that the Greek word kephalē (“head”) means “authority”.[2] Rather than “authority”, kephalē is used as part of a head–body metaphor symbolising unity in verses such as Ephesians 5:23. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, however, it probably means “source” or “origin”.[3] In other NT verses kephalē is used with the metaphorical sense of “fullness“.

Here is a comment I left on Mary Kassian’s blog about the diagram. (It never got approved and comments are now closed.)

. . . on the left hand side it says, “Head (Father) of the house”. There is no Scripture which says that the father is the head of the house.  None.

Ephesians 5:23 does say that husband is the head of the wife. But it doesn’t say that the husband is the head of the household; it doesn’t even say that the husband, or father, is the head of the family. The head–body metaphor is one of unity, as has been pointed out—a profound, intimate unity that uniquely applies to husbands and wives, and not to fathers and households, etc.

I think we need to be careful that we don’t let an English understanding of “head” confuse what is being said in the Greek.  (I have yet to see kephalē–head mean “leader” or “ruler” in original, untranslated Classical or Koine Greek.)[2]

Also, the New Testament does not say that elders are the kephalē–head of the church community. Jesus Christ is the head of his Church. There is a unique and profound unity between Christ and his Church. [More about leadership in the community of God’s people here.]

I really think we need to keep to Scriptures when we use the word “head” metaphorically as there is a danger that we will lose the impact of the head–body metaphor if we start applying it in non–biblical ways to fathers, elders, or households, etc.

My internet friend Retha also wrote an important  blog post in response to Mary Kassian’s rather alarming article Sex in the Shadowlands.


Endnotes

[1] Ephesians 5:21-33 is about sacrificial love and mutual submission, and not about leadership. There are many words for leaders and leadership in the Greek language. These words are never used for husbands in the Greek NT. [More about Ephesians 5:22-33 here and here.]

[2] While I have yet to come across kephalē used with the meaning of “leader” or “authority” in original, untranslated Ancient Greek literature, that is not to say it never occurs. Its meaning of “leader”, however, must be considered as rare and atypical.

[3] Source, or origin, is one of the main contexts of 1 Corinthians 11:2ff (cf. 1 Cor. 11:12). Paul wanted the Christians in Corinth to know that men and women are mutually interdependent on each other and ultimately share the same source — God himself (1 Cor. 11:12). [More about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.]


Related Articles

Kephalē and Male Headship  in Paul’s Letters
Kephalē and Proto-Gnosticism in Paul’s Letters
LSJ Definitions of Kephalē
Leon Morris on “Head” (Kephalē) in the New Testament
(1) Respect and Submission in 1 Peter 3:1-6
(2) Respect and Submission in 1 Peter 3:7-8
A Suitable Helper
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16