Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Bust of a Roman woman circa 140 AD
Many statues, frescoes, mosaics, coins, etc, show ancient Roman women with uncovered heads.

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1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is one of the more difficult passages of the Bible to interpret. The Greek word kephalē, which literally means “head”, is one factor that contributes to making this passage difficult to understand.

In English, the word “head” has many meanings apart from its literal sense. One metaphorical meaning of head is “leader.” In English, the “head” of a social, political or military organisation is the leader, the top person, the chief, the one in authority. In first-century Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, the Greek word kephalē (“head”) also had metaphorical meanings. Many Christians have assumed that kephalē means “the person in authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3.[1] However, “leader” or “person in authority” was not a usual meaning of the word in ancient Greek either before or during the first century. In this article, I provide four pieces of evidence that support this claim.

1. When the Hebrew word for “head” meant “leader” in the Hebrew Bible, it was usually not translated with the Greek word for “head” in the Septuagint.

That kephalē did not ordinarily mean “leader” is demonstrated when we compare the Hebrew word for “head” in the Hebrew Bible with the Greek word for “head” in the Septuagint. (The Septuagint, or LXX, is the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament.)

When the Hebrew word for “head” (rosh) meant a literal head, the translators invariably translated rosh into kephalē. However, in Hebrew, as in English, “head” can also mean a “leader” or “ruler”. In the instances where rosh meant a “leader”, in the majority of cases, the translators did not use the word kephalē in their translation. Instead, they typically used the Greek word archōn, which does mean “leader” or “ruler”.

Gordon D. Fee has observed that out of 180 instances where rosh has the sense of “leader” in the Hebrew Bible, only five are translated as kephalē (if we don’t count seven head-tail metaphors).[2] It seems that most of the translators of the Septuagint knew that kephalē does not usually mean “leader”, “ruler”, or “one in authority”.

Interestingly, the Hebrew word rosh can also mean “origin” or “beginning”. Kenneth Bailey writes,

The Jewish new year is celebrated as Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year”. The first day of the year is not “in authority over” the rest of the year. Rather the year “flows from” that first day. In the Old Testament “The fear of the Lord is the head [rosh] of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). English translations usually read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[3]

I suggest that the Greek word kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 has a similar meaning of “origin” or “beginning”, or as some say, “source”. Implicit with most metaphorical uses of kephalē, there is also a sense of prominence or preeminence.

2. Lexicons of secular ancient Greek do not give “leader” as a definition of kephalē.

Another piece of evidence that shows kephalē did not usually mean “leader” in ancient Greek is that LSJ, the most exhaustive lexicon of ancient Greek, does not include any definition of kephalē that approximates “leader” or “authority”.[4] Furthermore, Richard Cervin notes that lexicons of the works of individual ancient Greek authors—pagan authors such as Xenophon, Herodotus, Plato, Thucydides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus and others—do not include any definitions for kephalē that approximate “leader”.[5] (I’ve checked some of these lexicons, and others, for myself.)

Heinrich Schlier, in his entry on kephalē in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, notes, “In secular Greek usage, kephalē is not employed for the head of a society.”[6] Al Wolters, who identifies as a complementarian, states that kephalē with a meaning of “leader” is “virtually unattested in pagan Greek literature until about the fourth century AD.”[7] And, “As far as pagan Greek literature is concerned, LSJ (1996) is entirely justified in omitting the meaning ‘chief’ or ‘leader’ from its entry on kephalē.”[8]

Wolters believes, however, that the word is used by Jewish and Christian writers, including Paul, to mean “leader”. In the Septuagint, as already noted, there are five instances where kephalē means “leader”, but careless translating from Hebrew to Greek may account for these. In his paper “Head as Metaphor”, Wolters provides two instances in Philo where he says kephalē means “leader” and two more in Josephus. I am not convinced by these examples, however. I discuss them in footnote [9]. Perhaps the first somewhat clear example where kephalē might mean “leader” is in the Christian writing the Shepherd of Hermas (Similitude 7.2). (The date of the Shepherd is uncertain, but many scholars suggest a date of around 140 AD, approximately 90 years after First Corinthians was written.)

While the lexicons mentioned above do not contain a definition of “leader” for kephalē, this is not the case for some New Testament lexicons. Most older lexicons of New Testament Greek have a definition that means something like “leader” or “chief person”. Thayer’s lexicon, for example, gives the definitions: “Metaphorically, anything supreme, chief, prominent; of persons, master, lord …” Strong gives “ruler” and “lord” as possible meanings. Other New Testament lexicons have similar definitions.[10]

It seems many Christians have simply presumed that “head” means “a person in authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as well as in other verses such as Ephesians 5:23. Richard Cervin suggests three reasons for this discrepancy between lexicons of New Testament Greek and other ancient Greek lexicons.

I offer several possible reasons, not the least of which is tradition and a male-dominant world-view. . . . Another reason stems from Latin … In the West, Latin has always been more popular than Greek, and until last century, Latin was the lingua franca of the scholarly world. Now the Latin word for ‘head’, caput, does have the metaphorical meaning of ‘leader’ … Thus, for English-speaking theologians at least Hebrew, English and Latin all share ‘leader’ as a common metaphor for head, a metaphor which is nonetheless alien to Ancient Greek. [Cervin’s use of italics.][11]

Though most New Testament lexicons give a definition of “leader” for kephalē, it is important to note that only God (1 Cor. 11:3), Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15-16; 5:23; Col. 1:18-19; 2:9-10; 2:18-19), men/ husbands (1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:23) are referred to with the word, and only by Paul. If Paul did use kephalē with the meaning of leader or chief, why does he not use the word elsewhere in his letters for people in leadership? There are numerous leaders, with various spheres of authority and influence, referred to in the New Testament—religious, military, government, community, and household leaders—but they are never called “heads.”

3. Several early church fathers did not interpret “head” as meaning “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

Several Greek-speaking early church fathers took kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as meaning “origin” or “beginning” (or “source”), even though some were writing at a time when kephalē occasionally could mean “leader” or “a person in authority”. Furthermore, these church fathers believed that men had a greater level of authority than women and that men were superior to women, yet they did not use 1 Corinthians 11:3 to support this belief.

In de Synodis (a letter denouncing Arianism), Athanasius (296-373), Bishop of Alexandria, quoted in full the First Creed of Sirmium. The Creed includes this line:

For the Son is the Head, namely the beginning of all: and God is the Head, namely the beginning of Christ  …

John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was adamant that “head” does not mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He believed that if we take “head” with the sense of governing, the passage won’t make sense and it will lead to false ideas about Jesus Christ, which is his primary concern. (See Homily 26 on First Corinthians)[12]

Cyril (376-444), Archbishop of Alexandria, explains in Oratio Altera: Ad religiosissimas reginas de recta fides that kephalē (“head”) means archē (“beginning” or “point of origin”) in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

Therefore of our race he [Adam] became first “head” (kephalē), which is archē, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as “head” (kephalē), which is archē, of those who through Him have been formed anew unto Him unto immor­tality through sanctification in the Spirit. Therefore he himself our archē, which is “head” (kephalē), has appeared as a human being. Yet he, though God by nature, has himself a generating “head,” the heavenly Father, and he himself, though God according to his nature, yet being the Word, was begotten of him. Because “head” (kephalē) means archē, he establishes the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the “head” (kephalē) of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore as God according to his nature, the one Christ and Son and Lord has as his “head” (kephalē) the heavenly Fa­ther, having himself become our “head” (kephalē) because he is of the same stock according to the flesh.
(See Patrologia Graeca 76,1336-1420, 1341 E.)

Theodore (c. 350–428), Bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia, interpreted “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as the person from whom another took their existence (i.e. “source”).

This he wishes to say: that on the one hand we move forward from Christ to God, out of whom he is, but on the other hand from man to Christ: for we are out of him according to the second form of existence. . . . For on the one hand, being subject to suffering, we consider Adam to be “head” (kephalē), from whom we have taken existence. But on the other hand, not being subject to suffering, we consider Christ to be “head” (kephalē), from whom we have an unsuffering existence. Similarly, he says, also from woman to man, since she has taken existence from him.
Wayne Grudem’s translation in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 168. From the Greek text in Karl Staab, ed. Pauluskommentare aus der Griechischen Kirche (Münster: Aschendorff, 1933), 187.

These church fathers, and others, were concerned that if kephalē was understood as meaning “ruler” or “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 it would lead to a distorted Christology. Instead, they understood kephalē as meaning “beginning” or of “being first”.

4. Secular Greek authors did not use kephalē when writing about the relationship between men and women.

Greco-Roman society was patriarchal and many works survive where Greek authors wrote about the rule of men and of husbands. But no author other than Paul (and the Christian authors following him) used the word “head” when writing about the relationship of a husband with his wife, or when writing about men and women more generally. Outside of Christian literature, “kephalē is never used in ancient Greek in a male-female context.”[13]

Plutarch, a prolific author and native Greek speaker, wrote a letter in around 100 AD to a bride and groom where he gives marriage advice.[14] Throughout his letter, Plutarch uses various Greek words to describe the husband’s leadership. He writes, for example, that the husband is the one who displays “leadership” (hēgemoneia) and “decision-making” (proairesis) in the home (lesson 11). And, the husband is “to rule” (kratien and archein) his wife (lesson 33). Plutarch counsels that the husband’s leadership should be done sympathetically and affectionately, and should promote the wife’s “enjoyment and kindness”, but the husband must be the ruler, the one in charge.

When writing about men and women, Paul never uses any of the words Plutarch (or other Greek writers) used. Moreover, neither Paul nor any other New Testament author, ever use any of the many Greek words that commonly meant “leader” when writing about husbands. No New Testament author tells husbands they are the leaders or authorities of their wives.

Kephalē can mean “point of origin”.

The Greek word for “head” rarely, if ever, meant “leader” or a “person in authority” in works originally written in Greek before or during the first century AD, and Paul wrote First Corinthians in Greek. “Head” with a meaning of “point of origin” or “beginning” was uncommon in ancient Greek, but it was less rare than the meaning of “leader”. There are a few reasonably clear examples where kephalē means “origin” or “beginning” in surviving texts that date before or around the time First Corinthians was written: Herodotus Histories 4.91.2, the Orphic Fragment 21A, and The Apocalypse of Moses (Life of Adam and Eve) 19.3 (cf. Testament of Reuben 2.2).

Furthermore, if we take head to mean “authority”, then the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is not quite right: surely, Christ is the authority and the leader of every woman as well as of every man. There is absolutely nothing to suggest elsewhere in Paul’s letters, or elsewhere in the New Testament for that matter, that women are somehow distanced, even slightly, from the authority and lordship of Jesus Christ.[15]

Covering and Protection or Origin?

1 Corinthians 11:3 has been used to support an idea called “covering”, which is that women need the covering or protection of a man’s (spiritual) authority. However, the biblical text does not support the idea that women need the covering or spiritual protection of men. Even in the Old Testament, God bypassed husbands and fathers and spoke to women directly, or he sent an angel to speak to women. In the New Covenant, however, every redeemed man and woman has access to God, through Jesus, facilitated by the Holy Spirit. God did not, and does not, single out men as his authorised spokesmen (prophets) or as protectors. God also used, and uses, women as prophets and protectors.

So how are we to understand 1 Corinthians 11:3? Kenneth Bailey interprets it like this:

“The origin of every man is Christ” (i.e. Christ is the agent of God in creation. In 1 Corinthians 8.6 Paul affirms that Jesus Christ is the one “through whom are all things.”)
“The origin of woman is man” (i.e. Genesis 2:21-23). Woman [ishah] is “taken out of man [ish].”
“The origin of Christ is God” (i.e., the Christ is “the Messiah” and the origin of the Messiah is God). In the language of later centuries, “The Son proceeds from the Father.” Christ comes from God. . . . [16]

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 there are several allusions to the Genesis 2 creation account and to the origin of man and woman (1 Cor. 11: 8-9, 11-12). So it is plausible that 1 Corinthians 11:3 also alludes to creation and origins. As well as origins, there is an implied sense of preeminence in kephalē which fits with Paul’s concern for reputations in this passage. (See here.)

1 Corinthians 11:3 is a difficult verse to interpret, and it occurs at the beginning of a difficult passage. One thing is vital, however; we must read on to find Paul’s intent for those who are “in the Lord”. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 reveals Paul’s desire for mutuality and interdependence between men and women, not a hierarchy of authority. Also, we mustn’t let the complexities of this passage overshadow the simple fact that both men and women prayed and prophesied aloud in church meetings.[17]

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[1] In summary, Wayne Grudem (who published papers on this topic in 1986, 1990 and 2001) and Joseph Fitzmyer (1989, 1993) have investigated the word kephalē and conclude it can mean “leader” or “ruler”. Fitzmyer concludes kephalē can also mean “source”. Al Wolters (2011), who identifies as a complementarian states that kephalē never means “leader” in pagan texts, but it does mean “leader” in some Christian and Jewish texts. Richard Cervin (1989), Andrew Perriman (1994), and Judith Gundry-Volf (1997) each argue credibly that kephalē can have a sense of preeminence or prominence. Alan Johnson summarises these, and other papers investigating the meaning of kephalē, in “A Meta-Study of the Debate over the Meaning of “Head” (Kephalē) in Paul’s Writings”, Priscilla Papers 20.4 (Autumn 2006):21-29 (pdf here)

[2] Fee writes that 12 of the 180 occurrences of ro’sh are translated as kephalē in the LXX, but some of these include head-tail contrasts where the word kephalē is needed to keep the metaphor. So, according to Fee, there are only 5 instances (not counting the head-tail metaphors) where kephalē means leader: Judges 11:11; 2 Samuel 22:44 (2 Kingd. 22:44 LXX); Psalm 18:43 (Psalm 17:44 LXX); Isaiah 7:8; Lamentations 1:4 (Lam. 1:5 LXX). Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 503 fn44.
Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen count 8 instances. As well as the occurrences Fee lists, the Mickelsens include Jeremiah 31:1 (Jer. 38:7 LXX), and they note that kephalē occurs three times in Isaiah 7:8-9, bumping the overall number up from 5 to 8. Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, “What does Kephalē mean in the New Testament?” in Women, Authority and the Bible, Alvera Mickelsen (ed) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986) 97-110, 103.
Philip Payne mostly agrees with Fee and the Mickelsens. However, Payne worked from a Greek text of the LXX that uses the word kephalē four times and not three times in Isaiah 7:8-9, and he dismisses two of the four occurrences as being capital cities and not leaders. That is, he counts kephalē as meaning “leader” twice in Isaiah 7:8-9. Payne also writes that “the reference to Israel as ‘head among the nations’ in Jeremiah 31:7 probably refers to her exalted position in God’s sight, for she did not have leadership or rule over other nations.” So, Payne’s number is 6. Philip B. Payne, “Response,” Women, Authority and the Bible, Alvera Mickelsen (ed) (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 118-132, 122; and, Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 119 fn10.
The textual variants in the LXX which affect these numbers are discussed by Cervin, Payne and others.

[3] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 302.

[4] LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) The LSJ entry for kephalē can be viewed here.

[5] Richard Cervin, “Does kephalē (‘head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature: A Rebuttal”, Trinity Journal 10 (Spring, 1989), 85-112, 86-87. (pdf here)

[6] H. Schlier, “κεφαλή …”, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittle (ed.) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:673-681.

[7] Al Wolters, “Head as Metaphor”, Koers 76.1 (2011) 137-153, 142. (This paper is available here.)
Stephen Bedale agrees up to a point:

In normal Greek usage, classical or contemporary, kephalē does not signify “head” in the sense of ruler, or chieftain, of a community. If kephalē has this sense in the writings of St. Paul (it certainly has it nowhere else in the New Testament) we suppose it to have been acquired as the result of LXX use of the word translated rosh. Bedale, “The Meaning of κεφαλή in the Pauline Epistles”, Journal of Theological Studies (October 1954): 211-215, 211. (pdf here)

However, I doubt that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would have used kephalē in a way that was unfamiliar to the non-Jewish members of his audience, including the Gentiles in the church at Corinth.

[8] Ibid, 143.

[9] Wolters writes,

[Philo, who] “calls the mind ‘the kephalē and ruling part of sense-perception’ (De vita Mosis 2.82), designates Ptolemy Philadelphos as the ‘kephalē, in a way, of the (Ptolemaic) kings’ (De vita Mosis 2.30), and speaks of the virtuous man or nation as the ‘kephalē of the human race’ (De praemiis et poenis 125). Since this usage has no parallel in earlier Greek literature, it is reasonable to assume that it represents a semantic loan like the one we noticed in the Septuagint, especially since Philo was intimately acquainted with the Septuagint.”
Wolters, “Head as Metaphor”, 145.

Yonge translates kephalē as “principle thing” in his translation of De Vita Mosis 2:82:But since the mind is the ‘principal thing’ in us, having an authority over the external senses . . .” (Online at Early Christian Writings) According to Philo, it is the mind that is the ruling part, not the kephalē.

In De Vita Mosis 2:30, Philo writes,

… the whole family of the Ptolemies was exceedingly eminent and conspicuous above all other royal families, and among the Ptolemies, Philadelphus was the most illustrious; for all the rest put together scarcely did as many glorious and praiseworthy actions as this one king did by himself, being, as it were, the leader of the herd, and in a manner the head (kephalē) of all the kings. (Online at Early Christian Writings)

Ptolemy Philadelphus was not the ruler or authority over all the other kings, many of whom were yet to be born. Rather, he was, according to Philo, the most illustrious. Cervin states that Philo is using kephalē here as “a metaphor of preeminence.” Cervin, “Does kephalē (‘head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over'”, 85-112.

Regarding the examples from Josephus, both in the Wars of the Jews, Wolters writes,

In the first example [Josephus] compares the sovereignty of the capital Jerusalem over Judea to that of the head over the body (3.3.5 §54), and in the second example he designates Jerusalem directly as the “kephalē of the entire nation” (4.4.3 §261). Wolters, “Head as Metaphor”, 145.

No one denies Jerusalem was a capital city (“capital” is derived from the Latin word for “head”), but these examples do not show that kephalē means “leader”. More precisely, these examples from Josephus do not show that kephalē means the chief person or leader of a society.

[10] Newer lexicons, such as BDAG, Pershbacher’s, and Mounce’s are more nuanced and do not give a straightforward meaning such as “ruler”,  “master,” or “lord” for kephalē.  (See Mounce’s entry for kephalē here.) BrillDAG gives “leader” as a possible meaning for kephalē but specifies that this meaning occurs in the Vetus Testamentum (the Septuagint) and it cites 2 Samuel 22:44.
BDAG gives “to denote superior rank” as a meaning. A sense in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is that God has a higher status of honour than Christ, who has a higher status of honour than all men, who (in first-century Greco-roman society) had a higher status of honour than their wives and daughters. (I write about this here.)

To support their definition of “to denote superior rank”, BDAG give three secular examples, including one from the second century AD and one from 500 AD (which is long after 1 Corinthians was written.) It also gives two examples from the Septuagint (Judg. 11:11; 2 Kingd. 22:44).
BDAG: Walter Bauer, “κεφαλή”, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, by Walter Bauer, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 542.
There are issues with the examples given in this entry. Quoting the second-century Artemidorus reference cited in BDAG, the Mickelsens show that superior rank is not the primary sense being conveyed.

“He (the father) was the cause (aitos) of the life and of the light for the dreamer (the son) just as the head (kephalē) is the cause of life and light of all the body.” He also said, “the head is to be likened to parents because the head is the cause [source] of life.”
Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, “What does Kephalē mean?”, 110.

The Zosimus reference, apart from its very late date of around 500, may be a greeting that denotes dignity rather than superiority. And a third reference, Pseudo Aristotle’s De Mundo 6.4, does not even contain the word kephalē. See Payne, “Response”, 120.

[11] Cervin, “Does kephalē (‘head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’”, 85-112, 87.

[12] Chrysostom’s homily needs to be read carefully as he uses an imaginary opponent in his arguments who says that kephalē does mean “one in authority”. His Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians 11:3 is difficult to understand. Here’s an excerpt where I’ve highlighted the ideas of unity and beginning. Note that Chrysostom connects “beginning” with honour.

For the head is of like passions with the body and liable to the same things. What then ought we to let go, and what to accept? We should let go these particulars which I have [previously] mentioned, but accept the notion of a perfect union, and the first principle; and not even these ideas absolutely, but here also we must form a notion, as we may by ourselves, of that which is too high for us and suitable to the Godhead: for both the union is surer and the beginning more honorable. (Italics added)

[13] Johnson, “A Meta-Study”, quoting from G. Bilezikian’s 1986 paper “A Critical Examination of Wayne Grudem’s Treatment of Kephalē in Ancient Greek Texts”, presented for a plenary session of the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, (Oct. 20, 1986).

[14] Plutarch’s letter, known in Latin as Coniugalia Praecepta, can be read here.

[15] No current interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 makes perfect sense of every sentence within this passage. This is the case whether kephalē is interpreted as “leader” or “origin”, or if it is interpreted as “prominent”. Craig Blomberg, David Garland, Judith Gundry Volf, Alan Johnson, Craig Keener, I. Howard Marshall, Andrew Perriman, Anthony Thiselton, and others, suggest kephalē can have the sense of “prominent”, “preeminent”, “honoured”, etc. These senses fit with the themes of reputations (or glory) and shame in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and Paul’s concern about messengers. (See here.)

[16] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 302. Craig Keener offers this same interpretation as one possibility in Paul, Women and Wives (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992, 2009), 33-34.

[17] The phrase “prays or prophesies” in 1 Corinthians 11:4 and 5 may be a succinct way of referring to all vocal ministry: prayer is vocal ministry to God, and prophecy is vocal ministry from, or on behalf of, God.

Postscript 1

Craig S. Keener writes that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is not about the subordination of women.

… we should note that nothing in this passage suggests wives’ subordination. The only indicator that could be taken to mean that is the statement that man is woman’s “head,” but “head” in those days was capable of a variety of meanings, and nothing in the text indicates it means subordination. As many scholars have been pointing out in the past few years, if we want this passage to teach subordination, we have to read subordination into the passage.
Keener, Paul, Women & Wives (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992, 2009), 47. (His use of italics.)

Postscript 2

I like David A. deSilva’s observation of the meaning of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3:
“However, one chooses to translate kephalē (“head”) here, the firstness indicated by the term is difficult to avoid.”
deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 231.

Postscript 3: July 31 2021

Tertullian understood “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 to be about authorship which has some similarity with the concept of point of origin or beginning. Commenting on the phrase “The head of every man is Christ,” he wrote, “What is Christ, if he is not the author of man?” Tertullian then links authorship to authority: “The head he has here put for authority; now authority will accrue to none else than the author.” Tertullian,  Against Marcion 5.8.
Tertullian was writing in Latin, and in Latin, unlike ancient Greek, “head” (caput) did have a meaning of authority. Nevertheless, Tertullian sees the primary sense of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as “author” with a secondary or derived sense of “authority.” (He doesn’t extend his author-authority argument here to the head of woman or to the head of Christ phrases in 1 Corinthians 11:3.)

Related Articles

1 Corinthians 11:2-16, in a Nutshell
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
All articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.
Women’s Hair in Corinth and in Sydney
“Head” and “Headship” in Genesis 1-3
Plutarch and Paul on Husbands and Wives
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women

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45 thoughts on “4 reasons “head” does not mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3

  1. Another reason is that if one ASSUMES kephale means leader, then the order of the statements is wrong to show a proper hierarchy flowing from top to bottom. Paul certainly knew how to do this if that is what he had wanted to show.

    1. Yes, man and woman are in the middle of the three phrases of 1 Corinthians 11:3. The three phrases are not given in a linear order of some kind of top-down or bottom-up hierarchy.

      1. Hi Marg,
        How are you , so what is your view on Ephesians 1:21-23 the word head metaphor . Thanks

        1. Hi James, I continue to think about what kephalē means in Paul’s letters and my understanding is developing as I keep reading Greek, especially texts written by first-century Jewish authors. Allow me to respond to your comment in some detail. And allow me to include some basic information. Please don’t think I am insulting your intelligence; I’m thinking aloud.

          Paul uses the Greek word kephalē (“head”) in various ways in his letters, sometimes literally and sometimes in metaphors. The metaphors can differ but there is one constant nuance of kephalē in them, a nuance or sense of prominence and preeminence. This nuance of kephalē is also found in Philo’s and Josephus’s use of the word. (Philo, Josephus, and Paul were all Jewish authors writing in Koine Greek in the first century CE.)

          Here are the verses in Paul’s letters where kephalē is used metaphorically.

          ~ In 1 Corinthians 11:3, kephalē has the sense of “point of origin” or “first-ness.” In this article I’ve shown that several Greek-speaking early church fathers took “origin/source” as the meaning in this verse. Here’s another, Theodore of Mopsuesta.

          “This he wishes to say: that on the one hand we move forward from Christ to God, out of whom he is, but on the other hand from man to Christ: for we are out of him according to the second form of existence…. For on the one hand, being subject to suffering, we consider Adam to be head, from whom we have taken existence. But on the other hand, not being subject to suffering, we consider Christ to be head (kephalē), from whom we have an unsuffering existence. Similarly, he says, also from woman to man, since she has taken existence from him.”
          Wayne Grudem’s translation in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002) 168. From the Greek text in Karl Staab, ed. Pauluskommentare aus der griechischen Kirche (Munster: Aschendorff, 1933), 187.

          ~ In Colossians 1:18 there is a similar sense of being first and the idea of preeminence is clearly stated.

          “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head (kephalē) of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have preeminence.”

          ~ In Ephesians 5:22-33, kephalē is part of a head-body metaphor expressing unity. The metaphor refers to the close bond between husband and wife, and between Christ and the Church. (It does not refer to man and the household or family.) Note that the husband is never told to lead or have authority in Ephesians 5. Rather, Paul uses the word “love” six times when addressing husbands (Eph. 5:25-33). Nevertheless, in the first century, husbands did have more preeminence than wives.

          ~ There is a beautiful use of the head-body metaphor earlier in Ephesians too, in Ephesians 4:13-15. Again, it signifies unity but further shows that we are to become like the head.

          “God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ…. let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part” (Eph. 4:13b, 15-16 CEB).

          ~ Kephalē also occurs in Colossians 2:9-10.

          “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness (or made complete). He is the head of every power and authority.”
          Because Jesus is the fullness of deity he is preeminent over all other powers and authorities.

          ~ In Ephesians 1:19-23 kephalē is used twice, first in a head-feet metaphor which is not unlike the head-tail metaphor used in the Hebrew Bible. Head and feet are the highest and lowest extremities of the body and illustrate the two extreme positions, with Jesus in the highest position as head, and authorities, including enemy powers, in the lowest position, under his feet. (Feet = lowly, humble position. Head = prominent, preeminent position.) This high position, as well as the authority that comes with it (expressed with various words other than kephalē), is for the sake of the church which is his body.

          Kephalē is used a second time in a head-body metaphor signifying unity, with the head being the more prominent or preeminent member. The head-body metaphor has a further sense of fullness in this passage (Eph. 1:23).


          The head is the most visible and most prominent part of the body. And so, even though the metaphors are slightly different in these verses (with the senses of unity, fullness, being first) pre-eminence or a higher status of honour is a nuance in each of these verses. This higher status of honour (or repute) is an important element if we are to understand Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. (I’ve written about this here.)

          Kephalē has a sense of prominence and is sometimes used in passages that are talking about authority, such as Ephesians 1:19-23 where there are lots of words that clearly tell us that Jesus is the ultimate authority. Kephalē, however, does not mean “authority” or “leader.” By way of example, the words “first” or “top” do not mean “leader,” but they can be used in a passage about a person who is a leader.

          Ephesians 1:19-23 is definitely a passage to keep in mind when discussing what Paul meant when he used the word kephalē in his letters. Yet my understanding remains that the word kephalē, in and of itself, does not mean a leader or a person in authority. As Cynthia Westfall has stated, kephalē “is not a stock metaphor for authority in Greek.”

      2. Hi Marg

        Just checking if you ever came across Peter Glare’s supplement to LSJ entry on ‘kephale’. He is the editor of LSJ in Oxford? Please have a look at it since it has seriously questioned some of the meanings under ‘kephale’. He is the most preeminent Greek lexicographer in the world. Also, please have a look at Grudem’s 2002 article “ in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood” Appendix 4. I would be interested to know your response to both of these since you rely greatly on LSJ for most of your arguments in favour of your exegetical view. Thanks

        1. Vijai, I have looked at the LSJ Supplement previously, and had another look just now.

          Glare has made several useful corrections but I can’t see that any of them are pertinent to Paul’s use of kephalē in Ephesians 5 or 1 Corinthians 11, etc. He adds another reference to IIb (Extremity in Anatomy), namely “of muscles, origin.” This may have some relevance to Paul’s use of head-body imagery, but it’s a long shot and I think it’s irrelevant. And he makes no mention of “leader” or a “person in “authority.”

          What can you see that’s relevant?

          I’ve also read Glare’s letter to Grudem. Most of his comments in the letter are fair. However, preeminence, and certainly prominence, does seem to be a sense of kephalē in some of the works I’ve read (e.g., Philo, On Rewards and Punishment, sections 14 and 20).

          I’ve read most of Grudem’s papers and articles. Do you mean chapter 5 in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood? If so, yes, I’ve read it. (I can’t find an Appendix 4 in the pdf.) Much of chapter 5 is a response to Kroeger’s article on “Head” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.

          Overall, I have a low opinion of Grudem’s handling of Greek (and handling of some biblical texts). I’ve seen him make odd comments and simple mistakes about Greek. And he has openly admitted that he didn’t know adelphoi, a common word in the NT, could refer to siblings, brothers and sisters. He made this admission after years of arguing about kephalē and after being involved in Bible translation work!

          You are mistaken that I “rely greatly” on LSJ for “most” of my arguments. This is incorrect. There are only two sentences in the body of this article where I mention this lexicon. I think the BrillDAG entry on kephalē is rather telling, and my observations line up somewhat with this statement from Al Wolters: “As far as pagan Greek literature is concerned, LSJ (1996) is entirely justified in omitting the meaning ‘chief’ or ‘leader’ from its entry on kephalē.”

          Even though I cite the work of others, ultimately I am relying on my own reading of Greek texts, especially those written by Jewish authors writing in Greek around the time of Paul. Without ignoring pagan literature, Philo, Josephus, and the LXX are important resources in understanding Paul’s use.

    2. Marg,
      I would like more discussion on this passage. Perhaps Donald, or others, have info to add, too. Where I came from, as a Mennonite, my life was heavily influenced by this passage. I began wearing a veiling, or covering (that some teasers in junior high referred to as a “sand-sifter”) from young up. My first covering had “strings,” and I chewed on the ends of those narrow white ribbons. My parents had come from the Amish, and the strings had been used to tie the covering under the chin to keep it from flying off. I guess it seemed too bare to leave them off when they weren’t tied, so groups voted to require females to have strings on their coverings. Later they decided strings were not necessary.

      This passage was taught (and still is in those groups) as females being required to cover their heads to symbolize that they were subject to males, and the males did not cover their heads to symbolize that they were subject to Christ, directly.

      I had previously read about Paul’s habit of putting things in sequential order, as Don mentions. Also, that they actually ARE in order. The man Adam came first, and his head, beginning/source was Christ (the Creator), the woman came next, and her head/source was the man (Adam). Christ came next, as a baby, and His head/source was God. That part I understand.

      Having come from a community where females are veiled, the covering part is hard for me to understand. Recently, another angle, the fact that Jewish men cover their heads when they pray or prophesy, makes this even more difficult to make sense of. We were taught that if a woman did not cover her head, she was dishonoring her head–her husband, and if a man covered his head in church, or left his hat/cap on when praying elsewhere, that he was dishonoring his Head–Christ.

      More recently, someone has suggested that a woman not being covered dishonors one’s OWN head. That somehow a woman covering her head equals power on her head that has some influence with the angels. (I was taught before that a woman wearing a veiling brings her extra protection by the angels, because they can see she is a Christian, and that she is obedient to God and the order God has set in place).

      When I stopped wearing a veiling in my mid 20s, I believed God was telling me to stop. I concluded from v 16 that in Paul’s day the churches had this custom, and Paul was explaining why they should maintain the custom. I was moving into a church that did not have that custom, so it was out of place.

      Now I wonder: what was Jewish custom for males at the time? Today they cover up for synagogue. Does this describe Greek custom? Some of my family make a big deal about woman’s long hair being her glory, so they put it in a bun and put a veiling on top, to hide it from others so it is there for her husband’s eyes alone. Why the confusion as to whether a woman’s hair is the covering, or if she must add something over her hair to be properly covered?

      Verses 3 to 16 have traditionally been used to teach male authority/domination, by assuming that head means authority. Yet, the order itself says it is NOT talking of authority, but that it is talking of source instead. Why is that important? What am I missing? Is this referring to Eph. 2: 19-22, talking of a building fitly framed together growing unto an holy temple in the Lord. and Eph 4:14-16 about growing up into Him. Col 2:19 which speaks of the Head (Christ), “from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” KJV I think there is also another place that talks of Christ being our source of growth. Is it telling us to follow Paul, like he follows Christ, and then pointing out the source of our being and growth?

      Is that section a quote from a different, ie pagan group? Note that v 3 begins with “But.” Is I Cor 11:16 saying that the custom of men NOT being covered is a custom none of the churches has? Are the customs outlined in verses 4-15 those of idol worship in temples?

      Strongs Concordance #435 says “man” in “if any man seem to be contentious” in I Cor 11:16 means male. It does NOT mean “if anyone seem to be contentious.” This would suggest that the previous statements about a male not being covered is NOT a custom the churches have. Indeed, we know the Jews do not practice that custom today. Is Paul actually refuting someone’s teaching about being covered and not covered, honor and dishonor?

      The reason for these questions began in me when I read all the authority things that Karol wrote. Especially the attitude.

      1. Hi Waneta,

        I can’t answer most of your questions for the simple reason that we don’t know many of the details of the customs of the ancient world. However we do know that Roman, and possibly Jewish men, covered their heads when they prayed, as did most male and female pagan priests. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, Jewish people did not leave artefacts (mosaics, ceramics, frescoes, statues, etc) which depict people and the clothes they wore.

        It is important to keep in mind that, even though Corinth is situated in Greece, it was a Roman colony in the first century. The city was completely rebuilt from scratch by Julius Caesar, after being desolate for 100 years, and it was governed by Roman law. I have more about first century customs and laws about headcoverings here: https://margmowczko.com/womens-hair-in-corinth-and-in-sydney/

        The word in 1 Corinthians 11:16 is tis which can be translated as “anyone”, and, depending on context can refer to a man or a woman. Strong’s number for tis is 5100. I checked a few Greek texts, they all have tis in verse 16 and not anēr (Strong’s #435). So someone has given you wrong information about this.

        1 Corinthians 11:2-16, is a notoriously difficult passage to interpret, but I have a go here:
        Perhaps this article may answer some of your questions.

  2. What a service you have performed for me!!! This is so well written, documented, and concise. Thanks for providing all the links this is so valuable.

    1. You’re very welcome. 🙂

  3. Interesting. As I have been reading 1 Cor 12 and Paul’s discussion about the body and spiritual gifts, I see the same idea you’re proposing within the Church body itself: Which body part is MORE important, i.e. which PERSON is more important? While organizationally we have Pastors/Teachers, evangelists, deacons, and elders, these do NOT administer the body’s function, i.e. dole out what is needed. But each body part acts accordingly WHEN each knows its rightful place and responsibilities toward the rest of the body AND to unbelievers. See the Greek word “equip” in Eph 4:11-13 and it’s root word. Powerful message in there.

    1. Hi Kevin,

      I LOVE 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and often return to it.

      Christians have various views of the functions of pastor-teachers, evangelists, deacons and elders, etc. But I would say they are functioning as part of the body, especially if they are fulfilling their ministry in accord with the New Covenant ethos of mutuality.

  4. I’ve heard in response to this is that to say God is the source of Christ is wrong theology. That it goes against how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always existed together. What would be your response to this? Also, why would Paul only say the Father is the source and not include the Holy Spirit?

    1. Hi Ashley,

      I can’t answer your first question. Trinitarian theology is not my speciality. Athanasius was a specialist, though; and he mentions, or records, that kephale doesn’t mean authority in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

      I can give an answer to your second question: Paul doesn’t use the word “Father,” he uses the word “God” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. All members of the triune Godhead were involved in Christ’s incarnation: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:22).

      1. Marg,
        Your reply to the 2nd question also answers the first. Although Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed together, God was the source of Christ coming to earth as a baby.

  5. I’m going to kephale over to Twitter to post a link to this artivle, Marg. Nicely done.

    1. I think you’re using the noun kephale as a “live” metaphor, and stretching it beyond its limits, Tim. 😉

  6. I don’t have time to examine the other two Patristic sources listed, but Chrysostom’s position, at least, is slightly misrepresented by Marg. She says that Chrysostom rejects that “head” means “leader”. For proof she links to Homily 26 on First Corinthians. However, if you read the whole thing you will see that while Chrysostom condemns any view that relegates women to a lesser status than men in substance or honor (he seems to be no fan of ESS), and he repudiates men who are harsh and unloving, he absolutely affirms male headship in the sense of leadership. This is pretty much identical with the modern Complimentarian interpretation.

    Here he says that women should follow/obey, not as a slave, but as a being equal and free:

    “But do you understand the term head differently in the case of the man and the woman, from what thou dost in the case of Christ? Therefore in the case of the Father and the Son, must we understand it differently also. How understand it differently? says the objector. According to the occasion. For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master. For what if the wife be under subjection to us? It is as a wife, as free, as equal in honor. And the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God, it was as God. For as the obedience of the Son to the Father is greater than we find in men towards the authors of their being, so also His liberty is greater. Since it will not of course be said that the circumstances of the Son’s relation to the Father are greater and more intimate than among men, and of the Father’s to the Son, less. For if we admire the Son that He was obedient so as to come even unto death, and the death of the cross, and reckon this the great wonder concerning Him; we ought to admire the Father also, that He begot such a son, not as a slave under command, but as free, yielding obedience and giving counsel. For the counselor is no slave.”

    Here he seems to believe that the hierarchical structure did not exist pre-fall, but is instituted by God afterward:

    “For with us indeed the woman is reasonably subjected to the man: since equality of honor causes contention. And not for this cause only, but by reason also of the deceit 1 Timothy 2:14 which happened in the beginning. Wherefore you see, she was not subjected as soon as she was made; nor, when He brought her to the man, did either she hear any such thing from God, nor did the man say any such word to her: he said indeed that she was bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh: Genesis 2:23 but of rule or subjection he no where made mention unto her. But when she made an ill use of her privilege and she who had been made a helper was found to be an ensnarer and ruined all, then she is justly told for the future, your turning shall be to your husband. Genesis 3:16”

    Here he says plainly that wives should not hesitate to obey their husbands, yet husbands should not be domineering even when there is a lack of obedience from the wife:

    “Let not then the wife tarry for the virtue of the husband and then show her own, for this is nothing great; nor, on the other hand, the husband, for the obedience of the wife and then exercise self-command; for neither would this any more be his own well-doing; but let each, as I said, furnish his own share first. For if to the Gentiles smiting us on the right, we must turn the other cheek; much more ought one to bear with harsh behavior in a husband.”

    In short Chrysostom’s position could be summed up as: head = leader, but leader =/= slave master.

    1. Thanks Sizer, though I don’t see that I’ve misrepresented any information. Misrepresenting sources gets us nowhere.

      I acknowledge in the article that the early church fathers I mention thought that women had a lesser authority than men. And I acknowledge that all church fathers (that I’ve read) believed that women were subjected to their husbands. However, I still can’t see that Chrysostom uses the word kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3 to support this belief.

      My topic in this article isn’t about whether women are subjected to their husbands, but what kephale means in this particular verse in 1 Corinthians. But I will reread his homily again.

    2. Thank you for bringing a point of view of “equal/subjection” that I had not thought about. Jesus was coequal with God the Father, but yet subjected Himself to the Father’s will. Thank you.

      1. Kevin,
        I hope these comments add to the discussion. I don’t mean them as a rabbit trail…
        Your comment reminds me of the belief of folks who claim that Jesus is eternally submissive to the Father. I think people who believe in the Eternal Son Submission viewpoint forget that Jesus was a man when he was submitting to “the Father’s will.” I gather that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did not and do not have a hierarchy, but that they agree together. For example in Genesis “Let us make man in our image.” Therefore, when Jesus as a man submitted to God, He was submitting to His own will, since He had previously agreed with the Father and the Holy Spirit that He would come to earth as a baby and that He would die and rise again to redeem humans. This is not the same type of subjection that CBMW inflicts on wives.

        To make submission in marriage similar to the submission of Jesus to God, one has to first have something the husband and wife freely agreed upon without pressure from either side. For example, if husband and wife decide to have a baby, and when wife has severe “morning sickness” in the 2nd-3rd month, one of them considers whether abortion would be the wisest choice, (it is very difficult to be the helpless onlooker while someone you love is sick, so it could be the husband, too. I know, bad analogy, since no one on this site would consider abortion) but decides to submit to the other and continue with the pregnancy. The person who submits, is also submitting to himself or herself, because of the previous agreement. The submission is not due to hierarchy. Yet, when Jesus was a man (and also God) to us His submission looks like the servant submitting to the One in authority over him.

        Just like one of the partners could have called for aborting the decision, the same is true for Jesus as a man/God. After all, we are told (I forget book and verse) that Jesus could have called legions of angels instead of going through with death on the cross. In the final decision, Jesus was still submitting to Himself-as-God and motivated by His love for us. So, yes, Jesus is and was coequal with God the Father, but yet subjected Himself as a man to the Father’s, the Holy Spirit’s, and to Himself-as-God’s will.

        Now that Jesus is not a man, He is God, & the incarnation work is finished, the trinity all “submit” to one another without any being the leader or more important/dominant than the others. Our God is One, not three. It is more like one individual having “3 hats” or jobs. I, for example, am a mother, a business woman, and a homemaker. Those 3 aspects of me make decisions together, and none is boss of the others. When I am working my business, I am also submitting to my homemaking and mother sides. Yet my business side is coequal to my other sides. At various times one of my other sides is the focal point that submits to the 2 remaining sides.

        This is totally different from the type of submission/domination the CBMW is pushing onto marriages. While they claim the partners are equal, they clearly are not treated as equals. Instead, the females are treated as inferior. Eph 5:28 husbands are commanded to love their wives as their own bodies. In other words, when a wife feels pain or distress, the husband hurts, too, and makes efforts to stop the source of pain and bring healing. When she feels joy, he feels joy, too. When the husband feels pain, the wife hurts, too. Etc. They are one unit, similar to how God is One unit. They are equal. Neither is the leader. Both love, nurture, and yield to the other.

        Marg, I thank you for this post. It, along with a number of your posts has been balm to my soul. I feel like a dry, parched land being refreshed by the rain. Again, thank-you!

  7. Well researched and presented. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Allen.

  8. Marg you did say that ” kephale can mean ” Point of Origin” and I believe Grudem did point that out as well. But that the overwhelming use of the word kephale was usually used as ” authority over”.
    Secondly, kephale can also mean ” source or Point of Origin” as well as ‘ authority over’ then the context in which the word is used determines the meaning.
    I believe the context in 1 Corinthians 11:3 follows the idea of obeying “ordinances ” and not dishonoring head.
    We do obey and honor ” authority”. If we substitute Source as a meaning, then do we Obey ” source”? or authority?
    quote,“Again, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible to support the idea that women need the covering or protection of men.” But when Jesus was on the cross, he said to John, “behold your mother, mother behold your son” then John took her to his own house. Is this not an example of a man protecting, covering, and providing for a woman?
    Paul admonishes men to take care of the widows and orphans and that a man who does not provide for his family has denied the faith.
    James said, Pure religion is to take care of the widows. How can you say with such certainty that there is ” absolutely nothing in the bible that speaks of men to provide, protect and cover a woman?
    Thirdly, if kephale can mean ” point of origin” why do you reject that it can also mean ‘ authority over’ since there is no absolutes in the meaning of the word– it does have a dual meaning.

    1. Hi Karol,

      The word “obey” is entirely absent from this passage. What ordinance is expressed in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that needs to be obeyed? Is “I want you to understand . . .” a command? Whether a command or not, we are wise if we heed Paul’s words here; it is important that we understand what he is saying in verse 3.

      I have read three papers by Grudem on kephalē, plus other items on his website, etc. I have also read the work of Richard Cervin, Philip Payne, Gordon D. Fee, Leon Morris and others who discredit Grudem’s work. Unlike Grudem, most scholars agree that kephalē did not mean a “leader” or “authority” in secular Greek literature. And many scholars, past and present, do not believe it means “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

      In regards to “ordinances”, Paul begins the passage, in verse 2, by referring to traditions, traditions being thoughts and practices he has previously taught and passed on to the Christians in Corinth. Then he says, “But I want you to know . . .” or “Now, I want you to know . . .” This indicates that what follows is not part of the traditions, or ordinances, that Paul has previously taught; he is saying something new. Furthermore, at the very end of the passage, in verse 16, he says, “We have no such custom.” That Paul uses the word “custom” indicates he has been addressing a custom (or customs) unique to the Corinthian church. Is it justified to use the word “ordinances” for corrective teaching of local customs?

      There is no passage in the New Testament that conveys the principle that protecting women is a man’s role. Do you think it is also a man’s role to protect men? Why single out and mention women?

      In 1 Timothy 5:4 it says, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight.” There is no gender specified for those who should look after their mother or grandmother who is widowed. So I don’t know why you say “Paul admonishes men”. Which verse are you referring to?

      Paul doesn’t mention taking care of orphans, James does, but he does not mention men either: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

      Instead of a verse which indicates that men (plural) have a particular responsibility to protect women (plural), there are numerous “one another” verses in the New Testament. Loving and caring for one another is something we all have a responsibility to do, according to circumstances and capacity. It is not tied to gender. No doubt Jesus passed on the care of his mother Mary to John because John was the person best placed to do so. But in other scriptures, it is women who do the caring and the protecting. Again, loving, caring and protecting is not a gender role.

      All of us, both men and women, are to take care of widows, orphans, and any man, woman, or child who needs our help and/or protection.

      Kephalē has only one literal meaning, but it has many metaphorical meanings. I believe the metaphorical meaning in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is “point of origin.” In some other texts it has other meanings, but “leader” is not a meaning in 1 Corinthians 11:3. “Point of origin” fits the context of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, with its allusions to Genesis 2, very well.

      Since you believe that kephalē can mean “authority over” (not sure why you include the word “over”), how can it be explained that no secular Greek writer before and during Paul’s time understood it this way?

      1. Hi Marg, thanks for your response and for allowing me the opportunity to post on your blog; seeing that you are the HEAD, of this Blog with the Authority to do as you please.
        “The word “obey” is entirely absent from this passage”. “I did say the “ idea of obedience” …we are called to keep, uphold and to obey traditions of the Apostles to do them. I am not saying the “ word “ obey is in the passage. But the idea is.

        “What ordinance is expressed in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that needs to be obeyed?”” This is a good question, but since the premise is wrong, the question is also wrong. However, we are to keep traditions where “ authority of men” is one of them given by the apostle. Here Paul is affirming that tradition. Do we Obey “ source” as a literal meaning? NO, because ” Source” in its literal sense cannot issue command, instructions or give directions to obey, keep, uphold , but one in authority (as you are) can and does.
        Paul is in a Position of Headship and has the authority to lay a foundation of doctrine for the Churches.

        I agree with Grudem and Strong #2776 affirms his findings to mean authority over. And, as a Literal head with authority to give life. Hence context is important to a proper meaning of words in the text.

        “. .” This indicates that what follows is not part of the traditions, or ordinances, that Paul has previously taught; he is saying something new. “” Logically, it seems that he has introduced something new…. However, that New concept is consistent with a Patriarchal framework from creation. A point that Paul used in formulating his doctrine and since it is introduced, it is now a part of the Apostles Doctrines, one NOT yet Closed but is being written as a Foundation of doctrine being Laid for us to follow even today.
        I think Corinthians is Paul’s first letter to the Churches; the Foundation of Doctrine, with Jesus being the Chief corner Stone which IS being Laid. Now that the Canon is closed, Male Headship with authority over is part of the doctrine and traditions that Paul teaches.
        Secondly, it being new does not mean it was NOT understood prior to ch11. by Paul and the other Apostles. But now it was necessary to minister correction to false doctrine that Corinth was known for.

        “….We have no such custom.” That Paul uses the word “custom” indicates he has been addressing a custom (or customs) unique to the Corinthian church.” “ Not really; for he did say “ If any man” [not if any at Corinth] and,” Churches of God” [ He did NOT say the Church at Corinth.]
        . V16 said,” But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”” It seems to me that Paul is speaking of “ contention as a custom” of which there is NO such custom in the Churches of God because God isn’t the author of confusion. If you construe this to mean the custom of male headship and covering then Paul is contradicting himself for he did say in v3: “ I want you to know…” He is giving doctrine that you are to know and is using Heavenly imagery and the Godhead to support his doctrine as something you are to know and adhere to. Is Paul preaching Contentious doctrine to be a custom?

        “Is it justified to use the word “ordinances” for corrective teaching of local customs?” Another excellent question, YES it is justified, to use godly commands and ordinances to correct local man-made customs that was skewed towards the flesh, abuse and a distortion of the divine. It is very much justified to do so and for us to follow to tear down the tradition of men and use the Apostles teachings. It is what separates the Christian from the Kosmos and it’s culture.

        “So I don’t know why you say “Paul admonishes men”. Which verse are you referring to? “ I am referring v8” But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Please note “ his own” and “ his household” and “he has denied” the faith. Here he moved from the general “ if anyone” to a specific gender “ HE”…so Paul is speaking to men.
        V7” summarises what a widow should be doing as noteworthy and well and above reproach so that men are now compelled to sacrifice for such a woman. This is consistent which Jesus act on the cross for John to take care of His mother.

        “there are numerous “one another” verses in the New Testament. “ Yes, but “these “one another verses” do not mean male headship isn’t a doctrine and a tradition of the Apostles. It does not mean that women are NOT to do anything such as caring for others or protecting or providing or anything that is noteworthy. No! it does not mean she sits and waits for instruction.
        I recall Mary telling Jesus to do something about wine and Mary telling the servants, whatever He says to do, you must do. Mary’s initiative saved the wedding. Yet Jesus did what was traditional of having a man to protect and take care of a woman- His mother.
        The proverbs 31 woman also took care of… and protected her OWN house hold yet she did so under a Patriarchal framework where her husband was known in the gates. One another does not mean there is NO headship authority, for, yet in Ephesian v22 the Wife is singled out to be submissive to her own husband, even though v21 said “ one another”.

        “Loving and caring for one another is something we all have a responsibility to do,… It is not tied to gender. “ Yes you are right, and I agree with you here, but the issue is Headship of men. You and others are implying that they can be NO Male headship if women are also to care for, protect and provide. The Apostles doctrine instructs under a Patriarchal system, that women then and now are to do these things. She is to be a “ good keeper at home”, like the Proverbs 31 woman she ministers to the poor, in her community yet she functions under male headship. How wrong can that be?

        “No doubt Jesus passed on the care of his mother Mary to John because John was the person best placed to do so. “ Well, this is speculation. It could have been another man, but the fact is, it was a male. And even though I will agree that women also do care, protect and provide as well, they did so under Male Headship. By that act, Jesus affirmed male headship, by placing His mother into the care of a man.
        It would have been a break from tradition if Jesus did place his mother in the care of another woman. And since Paul is Inspired by the Holy Spirit, v3 is very much a tradition set forth as a patriarchal doctrine that Jesus adhered to. Paul is affirming it and is NOT necessarily a new doctrine, but one inspired by the Holy Spirit.

        “Since you believe that kephalē can mean “authority over”… no other during Paul’s time understood it this way?” I am not the only one who believes that kephale “can be the authority over”, strong lexicon understood it to mean ruler and authority over as well. I am saying, context determines its meaning.
        In Deut.28:13 “ head “ is used, but contrary to popular belief, it is NOT speaking of Headship position as a Pastor, President, or head of a department; But Source. Head in this context means source, having in abundance to bless others.
        In Colossians 1:15 -20 “ head “ is used, but in this context, Head is source, “as in Him ALL things existed and have their being.” This is source.
        In Ephesians 5 Head is used as Authority over, for the Wife is to submit to authority as onto the Lord. Submission and authority are related principles.
        Context is very important, and with an open mind, we can get the truth of what the Spirit was and is saying to the Churches everywhere for ALL times.’

        Thanks for conversing. Blesisngs!

        1. Hi Karol,

          Paul never calls himself a “head”. It would be better if you kept to the language that is used in the scriptures as much as possible. I see no evidence that Paul passes on a tradition of male authority. If 1 Corinthians 11:3 is affirming any tradition, why does he begin verse 3 with “But (de) I want you to understand . . .”?

          There is no patriarchy in the creation accounts until Genesis 3:16. According to Genesis 1:26-28, men and women have the exact same status, the exact same authority, and the exact same purpose, and nothing in Genesis 2 contradicts this. Paul accordingly sees no patriarchy in the creation accounts; rather, he sees interdependence and mutuality between the sexes, especially for those of us who are in the Lord: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Do you think these statements should be heeded (or “obeyed”)?

          It’s a little odd to say that Strong affirms Grudem’s findings. Though I do take your meaning, James Strong lived in the 19th century. He has no idea of Grudem’s findings, and if he lived today, with the resources available today (e.g., Greek databases, rediscovered papyri to examine) he may have come to a completely different conclusion than Grudem, as many other scholars have done. Do you know why Strong gives the definitions for kephalē that he does? Also, I acknowledge that NT lexicons, including Strong’s, give definitions of “ruler” and/or “leader” for kephalē. I do not dispute that NT lexicons give “leader” for a definition, but I disagree with this definition.

          This point of yours is not substantiated: “By that act, Jesus affirmed male headship, by placing His mother into the care of a man.”
          If Jesus did choose John because of some kind of “male-headship” tradition, how does that tradition from 2000 years ago (before the institution of the church) apply to my community where there is no tradition of a man taking a woman (who is not his wife) into his home to care and provide for her. And, as I noted, Paul and James did not single out the male sex to care for widows and orphans as you claimed in your previous comment. Since no NT author says that men have the responsibility to care for women, as a general principle, I wonder why you persist with this idea. What are you basing it on? And what’s the point of this idea. Surely we are all to take care of one another as we are able.

          John taking Mary into his home is one incident. In the New Testament we see other examples where women provided finances for, and gave hospitality to, Jesus and Paul, as well as to other men and women as the need arose. And Jesus and Paul accepted this support of women. Where is “male-headship” in these stories.

          “Head” means neither “leader” or “source” in Deuteronomy 28:13. The head-tail metaphor in the verse is clearly about two extreme positions. I doubt this could have been made clearer: “The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom . . .” And God is clear that he will be the source of blessing, prosperity, and honour for those who obey him; the people who are at the head/top are not the source. So why do you think head means source here? (I actually disagree with many of your interpretations of scriptures.)

          The Greek word kephalē has many metaphorical meanings, and Paul uses different senses in different NT verses. In Colossians 1:18, Paul seems to be employing several senses and nuances of kephalē. In this verse, kephalē is primarily part of a head-body metaphor with strong nuances of beginning, prominence, and probably connectedness which is a sense implicit in the head-body metaphor (cf. Col. 1:17). A head-body metaphor is also employed in Ephesians 5:23. But Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 5:23 are not discussed in this article. As the title clearly indicates, this article is about 1 Corinthians 11:3. That’s not to say that I have not considered how Paul uses kephalē in other NT passages. I have considered them carefully and written about them elsewhere on this website.

          I provided the text of 1 Timothy 5:4 (I clearly gave the text reference) where there is no gender distinction given for those who should look after widows. In 1 Timothy 5:8 there are zero masculine personal pronouns in the Greek; there is no “he”. These verses apply to men and to women.

          I see no evidence for a meaning other than “point of origin” in 1 Corinthians 11:3, considering the context of the passage 11:2-16, and 1 Corinthians 11:3 is the focus of this article.

  9. Well, looks like “EQUALITY” is only PART of the elements in the church and marriage, and your assertion now is LESS THAN I first thought, especially concerning in the context of a marriage. Please don’t misunderstand, I use the illustration of our body parts to show ALL of us who are created by God are essential for His plan to be fulfilled. I cite this source why I consider your premise LESS THAN in the context of marriage:


    However, in Proverbs 31 you find a wife/mother/business woman that FULLY recognizes not only her capabilities, but puts them ALL to good use as God has designed her to be, yet not diminished one bit. In her marriage, she recognizes her husband LOVES her, yet she RESPECTS her husband (present, subjunctive Eph 5:33). In a marriage, yes, the husband is the head, in the marketplace, go for it, ladies, be who God designed you to be and be the best!! But unequally yoked also applies toward the husband’s and wife’s strengths and weaknesses, BOTH are to work together in the common cause of marriage and family.

    “A certain wise woman said to her daughters before marriage; ‘My child, stand before thy husband and minister to him. If thou wilt act as his maiden he will be thy slave, and honor thee as his mistress; but if thou exalt thyself against him, he will be thy master, and thou shalt become vile in his eyes, like one of the maidservants.'” from “Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Time of Christ,” chapter 9.

    1. Hi Kevin,

      Yes, in this article, I only discuss the meaning of kephalē as it occurs in 1 Corinthians 11:3; and this verse and surrounding passage is not primarily about marriage but about the appearance of hair, or heads, of men and women who are praying and prophesying in church meetings. I discuss Ephesians 5:23 elsewhere on this website.

      I didn’t find the commentary on Study Light especially helpful. It makes several assumptions (e.g., about veiling) that I don’t necessarily agree with.

      And I didn’t find the quotation helpful. In fact, I found it a little distasteful. No sensible Christian woman wants her husband to be her slave and she the mistress (i.e. female master). And no sensible woman wants to place herself above her husband. Neither of these sentiments are in line with the values of the New Testament.

      If we can be authentically kind, considerate, humble, deferential, respectful and loyal in our marriages, it’s hard to go wrong. The following advice applies in marriage as well as in our other relationships.

      ~ In humility consider other better than yourselves. Each should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3b-4
      ~ Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
      ~ Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:24
      ~ Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
      ~ As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

  10. Hi Marg, Thanks again for your response.
    “Paul never calls himself a “head”, Marg I never said he did. I did say quote,” Paul is in a “Position” of Headship and has the authority to lay a foundation of doctrine for the Churches” This is true. Paul became an Apostle by the command of God and Jesus Christ His savior. It is from them Paul was given the authority to Lay a foundation of doctrine for ALL Saints Everywhere to follow. Do you not agree that Paul was given the authority to lay a foundation of doctrine for us?
    Jesus never called himself “head “ either, yet ALL Power was given to Him. Was He not the Head of..?
    “I see no evidence that Paul passes on a tradition of male authority” Well that does not mean it isn’t there. Maybe you are a bit blinded by an ideology that obscures your vision to see what is there. But Male Headship is a standard theme in the Bible starting from Creation when Adam exercised Authority or Dominion over Eve and the Animals by naming.
    “If 1 Corinthians 11:3 is affirming any tradition, why does he begin verse 3 with “But (de) I want you to understand . . .”?” >>< Simple, because he wants you to know … then He proceeds to outline what he wants you to know. That The Head of Christ is God….are you suggesting that; that isn’t something for you and the Saints at Corinth to know? Well, Paul felt differently. Obviously, the Saints at Corinth needed to be told that the Head of the woman is the man. Paul continued those same teachings in his other letters, as well as Peter. They both spoke the same thing, coming from the same Spirit.
    “There is no patriarchy in the creation accounts until Genesis 3:16” Well I beg to differ, for God the Father( pater) was in the beginning. It wasn’t God the Mother. That would be heresy. But it was the Father exercising authority to initiate and create. And He made Male Man First and gave to Him the Authority to exercise Dominion over all of the creation including Eve. This is the genesis of Patriarchy. And God saw that Adam did Rule well and whatever Adam chose to call the Female God brought to Adam, so it was. Praise God Adam was NOT abusive and Eve was NOT mad or felt it unfair or not equal that she was not allowed to give a name to the animals and the Adam.
    “According to Genesis 1:26-28, men and women have the exact same status, the exact same authority”>< Marg, when God spoke, it was prophetic. NO ONE was present in the Physical Realm at that time.The " them" only existed in the spiritual. But as a result of this verse, ALL people were created in the Spiritual realm. ALL of Mankind who was born is being born and who will be born was already created and existing in the Spiritual Realm as a result of this Verse ( 26-28).
    In Galatians 4:4 we get a perfect understanding of this prophetic in Genesis c1:26-28. Quote” v4:” for when the fullness of time was come , God send forth His Son, born of a Woman born under the Law” Marg, Jesus existed in the Spiritual realm in the beginning, but when the time for Him to be born of the virgin Mary, God send Him forth from the Spiritual realm to the physical realm. When Adam’s time was full, God sends Him forth, made from the dust of the ground and breathe life into. When the time was full for you and I, God sends us forth, born of our mothers born under Grace.,
    ” …same purpose, and “nothing in Genesis 2 contradicts this.” But with different function, That Purpose is to Glorify God and to have dominion over the earth, but each was given different roles while having the same purpose of Glorifying God. Praise God a man can’t get Pregnant.
    Do you think these statements should be heeded (or “obeyed”)?” This is a statement of fact, not an instruction to carry out. But I want you to know that the Head of the woman is the man…then as head Paul is saying he is to cover and protect her because of the Angels that are assigned to us can only function when we are in alignment; the woman submitting to the coverage of a man ( a wife to her husband). This is something for you and I to do and obey. This is one reason Paul wants you to know (v3) so you can comply. But this is an issue of Function, The man needs the woman to be/ do what he is assigned to do effectively and she needs him to do and be what she is assigned to do, (ie) to Help the man rule well.
    “This point of yours is not substantiated: “By that act, Jesus affirmed male headship, by placing His mother into the care of a man.” But he did and that’s a fact. And given that it was traditional, I think it is Logically sound to conclude that it was an affirmation of Male Headship. If Jesus did the opposite by putting His mother in the care of the Sisters, You and others will be touting this act as an affirmation to your claim of Matriarchy and equality.
    “If Jesus did choose John because of some kind of “male-headship” tradition, how does that tradition … apply to my community where there is no tradition of a man taking a woman (who is not his wife) into his home to care and provide for her.” I don’t believe John was married at the Time and Mary was a widow at the time. But In my community, close relatives do live with man and wife, especially if it is a woman with nowhere to go. ( at least for a while) That was done to our aunt, grandmother, and mother in law.
    There are a plethora of experiences, but yet God’s words transcend our experiences, culture, and intellect. That’s why we are called to obey, be transformed by the Word and NOT to conform to the Kosmos/ culture. The idea may not work exactly as John and Jesus but the idea of a male man taking care of a woman is what Jesus affirmed IMO. That was a tradition.
    “So why do you think head means source here?” Simple, because God is the one who will Bless you in abundance so that you are the Source to others who will borrow from you. The context isn’t related to authority, but abundant Blessings in material things/source.
    “(I actually disagree with many of your interpretations of scriptures.)” I also disagree with yours, yet you have allowed me to post on your site. This is commendable.
    Thanks for Conversing in a civil manner, and have a Blessed day.

    1. Hi Karol,

      There is so, so much I completely disagree with in your comments. Though on this we have some agreement: I agree with your mention of “a man and wife”. Both men and women are to take of other men, women and children, especially those in our own families. Taking care of widows and orphans, and anyone who needs it, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with “male headship”. My home is full of family, and it is a joy. And even though there are two husbands in our household, “male headship” with the sense of “male authority” plays no part in our relationships.

      God is not the one called “head” in Deuteronomy 28:13; the Israelites are called the head, the top. Your interpretation of this verse, and your understanding of the word “head” here, is incorrect even though the verse couldn’t be clearer. Also, God does not tell the Israelites they will be a source of blessing. If anything, they will cause fear (Deut. 28:10).

      You wrote, “Paul is in a position of headship.” Paul never uses that kind of language for himself. I think we need to keep with the language of the scriptures when discussing the language of the scriptures.

      Paul did have an authority to minister. If kephalē was an ordinary word for “authority” why does he never use it for himself or for any other authorised minister? My disagreement with you isn’t over whether Paul had authority, it is about how you keep using the word “head”.

      You seem to be applying the English word “head” to all kinds of things (even me) even though the Bible doesn’t use the word kephalē for any of these things. Your understanding of “head” is much, much broader than how “head” is used in ancient Greek texts. And just repeating the English word “head”, in various contexts, is unhelpful.

      Let me be clear: nowhere do state that I disagree with the statement “the kephalē of woman is the man”. You have not understood the article, or my comments, if you think I disagree with 1 Corinthians 11:3 or that I am dismissing it in some way. So saying this: “are you suggesting that; that isn’t something for you and the Saints at Corinth to know?” is misguided and kind of dumb. Of course we are to understand this. My article is dedicated to understanding this verse!

      Your understanding of Genesis 1:26-28 is dubious, to say the least. If these verses are only about a spiritual realm, and we are not to understand that the author is describing a reality as he saw it, then who is God speaking to in Genesis 1:29-30? And what about the bit at the end of verse 30, “And it was so.” Are you saying it really wasn’t so? I reject your assertion that there was “no one present in the physical realm at that time” and that God spoke to spiritual beings. Are we meant to understand that the animals were all part of a spiritual realm too? I strongly disagree that this is the meaning the author meant to convey. The fact that the very next verse says, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (past tense) indicates a physical world with physical animals and physical people. And these people had the exact same status, authority and purpose (Gen 1:27-28).

      I agree that “Father” is one biblical metaphor for God, especially the first person of the Trinity, but the attribute of “Father” is not mentioned in the creation narrative. Most Christians believe each member of the Trinity was involved in the creation of the world, and not just the Father. Importantly, apart from Jesus Christ who became a male human, God is not male. God has tolerated patriarchy, but it is not his ideal. Patriarchy is not his invention. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that he created humans equal.

      Galatians 4:4 tells us something about Jesus, but it tells us nothing about Adam. Do you see Jesus and Adam as being similar creatures? I don’t.

      And as for 1 Timothy 5: I was speaking about 1 Timothy 5:4 in my previous comment. (I clearly provided the text reference in my comment.) In 1 Timothy 5:4 there is no indication that caring for widows is a man’s job. In 1 Timothy 5:8, the verse you provide, there is also no indication that taking care of widows is a man’s job. There is no masculine personal pronoun in the Greek of verse 8, that is, there is no “he”. But even if there were, grammatical masculine language is used throughout the New Testament in verses that apply to men and to women. Even though there are no masculine personal pronouns in 1 Timothy 5:8 there are masculine participles. These verses also contain masculine participles and other masculine language: Matt. 10:22b; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:21, 47; Rom. 5:9, 10; 10:13; 1 Cor. 1:18 . . . the list goes on.

      We can have nothing more to say to each other. The way you interpret scripture is flawed and some of your ideas are very strange. I was hopeful about this conversation, but it really has been a waste of our time. I won’t be approving anymore of your comments.

      Finally, there should be no patriarchy for those of us who are in the Lord: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Amen.

  11. Is there any way your article can be rendered printer friendly. Would love to print this out and save it. 🙂

    1. Hi Teri,

      There is a print button among the grey share buttons, but it prints out way too much unwanted stuff as well. Perhaps you can copy and paste the article in sections on a word document and then print it out.

      Another option is opening the article in “reader view” (if available) and then clicking on “print”. (Look for three dots in the top right corner.) That’s what I would do.

      I’m reluctant to offer a printable pdf available as it is not usual for me to tweak articles and add or delete information as my knowledge grows.

  12. Love your posts! They are very enlightening 🙂 I loved learning about Kephale. It’s just frustrating to me because when i looked at the commentary in my ESV study bible, it said that Kephale meant leadership and such and can in no way mean origin or source. It made me wonder what else was biased in the study notes or what i should even believe…

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      I’m not a fan of the ESV.
      Here are some reasons why: https://margmowczko.com/tag/esv/

      1. Thank you, Marg! I really appreciate your blog and all your resources! It has made me realize that believing these liberating ideas about women do not run contrary to the bible and it gives me a lot of peace 🙂 I will be praying for the expansion of your ministry. God knows it’s needed!

        1. I so appreciate your prayers, Stephanie. 🙂

  13. If “head” is intended to mean source or origin, what do you make of Ephesians 5, when Paul writes a husband is the head of his wife. It seems as though he is speaking directly of husbands and wives, rather than men and women. What sense would it make for him to speak of husbands being the source of their wives? Surely, this is quite different than Paul here saying Man is the source of Woman (Adam the origin of Eve).

    Also, do you see any potential middle road, where headship refers to preeminence, without necessarily meaning authority or source, as per Garland in his commentary on 1 Corinthians?

    1. Hi Matthew,

      Yes, it’s a different scenario in Ephesians 5, namely Christian marriage. Kephalē is used as part of a head-body metaphor, which signifies unity, in this passage.

      Some maintain that there is a sense or nuance of “source” in Ephesians 5 (e.g., source of nourishment or livelihood), but I have my doubts. Rather, I believe there is a sense of preeminence in “head” in the head-body metaphor–the head is more conspicuous than the body. I also think preeminence is a sense or nuance in 1 Corinthians 11:3, but not the primary meaning.

      As you’re probably aware, Craig Blomberg, David Garland, Judith Gundry Volf, Alan Johnson, Craig Keener, I. Howard Marshall, Andrew Perriman, A.C. Thiselton, and others, suggest kephalē can have the sense of “prominent”, “preeminent”, “honoured”, etc.

      I have several articles addressing Ephesians 5:21/22-33. If you’re interested, this may be a good one for starters: https://margmowczko.com/ephesians-522-33-in-a-nutshell/

    2. Matthew,

      “If head is intended to mean source or origin, what do you make of Ephesians 5, when Paul writes a husband is the head of his wife. It seems as though he is speaking directly of husbands and wives, rather than men and women. What sense would it make for him to speak of husbands being the source of their wives? Surely, this is quite different than Paul here saying Man is the source of Woman (Adam the origin of Eve).
      Also, do you see any potential middle road, where headship refers to preeminence, without necessarily meaning authority or source, as per Garland in his commentary on 1 Corinthians?”

      I believe that any notion of “headship” in Ephesians 5 has previously been defined as benefaction in Colossians and Ephesians due to the preeminence of the Kephale for the sake of the Body, and has nothing to do with authority, in fact, jumping straight to authority misses the point entirely. I think a preeminence of social status is in view and directly tied to the phrase, “savior of the body” in Eph 5:23 without authority over the wife being present. For example, I myself can be a powerful figure with the material resources and social status to aid others without being a direct and personal authority over them. Due to my empowerment, leadership will naturally flow out of that, and others will follow me by assisting me in my requests so that I can, in turn, accomplish my mission and aid them in their needs, but this is mission-driven leadership and not personal authority over others. Also, there is a prequalification in place that made me preeminent in status to begin with that has nothing to do with gender, rather credentials. When appropriate, I too submit to others according to their gifting, hence, submit one to another out of reverence for Christ. Notice that when Christ as kephale exercise authority, it is never over His body, rather over outside powers for the sake of his body. If we were to live in the Middle East and I have a higher legal status than you in society, and you are my family member, then I would use my power to represent you in legal matters and society at large, but I do not use my power over you personally, rather in the legal system for your sake. In return, you cooperate with me in what I have need of so that we can both meet a common goal.
      Roman-Greco marriages ran off a system of patronage, and the person helped by the Patron was to give respect, honor, and a soft type of voluntary “submission” in return. Marg has brilliant articles on patronage and mutual submission where 1 Clement talks about mutual submission and how even the head submits to the feet.

      I agree with Marg and others that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 meant source or origin, but a preeminence of honor can be due to the one from whence another was taken. In view of their culture, it is more than likely saying that because you were taken from this person, you reflect uniquely on them in some way, therefore honor them by observing proper cultural protocols. In either case, it is about honor and shame, not about authority and submission. The Romans were huge on honor and shame and had a clan mentality. Women and wives were required to honor the men in their clan. Paul can make use of Genesis 1 and 2 and draw out certain principles for a new situation without it necessarily being the main focus in Genesis itself.

  14. I just came across this dictionary entry which seems very fair.

    3051 κεφαλή (kephalē), ῆς (ēs), ἡ (hē): n.fem.; ≡ DBLHebr 8031; Str 2776; TDNT 3.673—

    1. LN [Louw-Nida] 8.10 head, the body part (Mk 6:25);

    2. LN 87.51 superior, one of pre-eminent status, figurative extension of first entry (1Co 11:3; Eph 4:15);

    3. LN 7.44 κεφαλὴ γωνίας (kephalē gōnias), cornerstone, as the important stone for building a proper foundation or possibly capstone in an arch (NIV), (Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17; Ac 4:11; 1Pe 2:7+);

    4. LN 49.16 κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχω (kata kephalēs echō), have one’s head covered (1Co 11:4+);

    5. LN 23.83 τὴν κεφαλὴν κλίνω (tēn kephalēn klinō), lie down to rest (Mt 8:20; Lk 9:58; Jn 19:30+);

    6. LN 25.160 ἐπαίρω τὴν κεφαλήν (epairō tēn kephalēn), have courage (Lk 21:28+);

    7. LN 37.102 ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλήν (epi tēn kephalēn), take responsibility for (Ac 18:6+);

    8. LN 25.199 cause to be ashamed (Ro 12:20+), see also 5397

    James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (1997)


    Here’s part of the BrillDAG entry on kephalē. Note that it seems to say that “head” with the meaning of “leader” is an Old Testament usage, and it cites 2 Samuel 22:44.

    And this.
    While I disagree with David deSilva’s understanding that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about the subordination of women as “the proper ethos for Christian women” and “provides the rationale for headcoverings,” I do like his observation of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3:

    “However, one chooses to translate kephalē (“head”) here, the firstness indicated by the term is difficult to avoid.”
    David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 231. (my italics)

    David deSilva adds, however, that in light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:21ff, “husbands are to be subject to their wives as well.” Honor, Patronage, 232.

    My articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are here.

  15. This isn’t good…

    Do you not fear God Marg?

    When the Bible says leader, it means leader.

    When it says ‘kephale’, it means ‘kephale’. How could you not fear God as you twist that to somehow mean that the Bible isn’t saying what it is saying?

    Time and again Scriptures again and again has stated the role of man and the role of a woman. Man is indeed the leader of his wife, because God has ordained it to be. You can either obey God, or you can use your God-given knowledge to twist that to suit your own agenda and thus deceive yourself (and at worst, even your followers).

    I pray that you repent of this. You have all this knowledge, but all this will go down to the grave. You will face God one day, and give an account for all of this.

    You may be saved, but your rewards will not be great, for you have used what you have to continue in sin, as you twist Scriptures.

    I have been reading some of your articles, just to see how far can one go, to suit something they want Scriptures to say. I had never grown up Christian, but now that I know of the Lord’s mercy on the cross, I wanted to learn how and why people go away from what the Bible says.

    Truly sin is prevalent.

    Please repent of this, and put your faith in God. It is God alone who makes one obey.

    1. Hello Neil,

      ~ Yes, I fear God, and I’m sure most, if not all, of the Christians I cite in this article (e.g., Gordon D. Fee) fear God also. You are in error if you think that just because you interpret things differently it means I do not have the highest respect for God and his Word. And just saying “This isn’t good” doesn’t make it so.

      ~ I totally agree that kephalē means kephalē. And I agree that where the Bible says “leader” it means “leader.” But nowhere does Paul call husbands, or men, “leaders” of women. Nowhere.
      In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul is addressing the issue of the appearance of heads, or hair, of men and of women who were praying and prophesying in Corinthians assemblies. This passage is not about men and women more generally. It’s not about leadership.
      In Ephesians 5:22-33 where Paul speak to husbands, he never tells them to be leaders or to have authority. Instead, the apostle uses the word “love” 6 times when speaking to husbands in these 12 verses.

      ~ You haven’t actually responded to anything I wrote in the article, Neil. If there is an error, I will gladly correct it. Tell me, which bit, in particular, is wrong?

      ~ Thankfully, you are not the one who decides what my rewards will be. How about we leave judgment to the righteous Judge who actually knows people’s hearts and who accurately knows what is sin and what isn’t sin? (I’ve removed the judgemental comment you left on another page as it edifies and helps no one.)

      Anyway, if you can point out a particular error in this article, I will be grateful. Let’s stick with facts.

      The fact remains that kephalē rarely, if ever, meant “a person in authority” in original Greek. It could mean “first,” however, and/or could have a sense of prominence. Furthermore, kephalē was sometimes used in metaphors, such as the head-body metaphor (in Ephesians 5) signifying unity, and the head-feet metaphor (in Ephesians 1) which contrasts Jesus’ elevated position in comparison with the relatively low position of “all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked . . .” And kephalē could be used metaphorically to mean beginning, origin or source.

      You may enjoy this article that looks at metaphorical meanings, as well as the literal meaning, of the Hebrew word rosh (“head”) in Genesis 1-3 here: https://margmowczko.com/head-and-headship-in-genesis-1-3/

  16. Is it me, or do many people who talk about wives to submit in Ephesians generally ignore where Paul first says submit to one another, or claim that it does not apply to husbands and wife submission?

    1. Angela, Did you mean to imply that you are among the people who ignore Ephesians 5:21 and Paul’s instruction for submission one to another?

      The article on this page doesn’t address Ephesians 5. I have more on Ephesians 5 here: https://margmowczko.com/category/equality-and-gender-issues/ephesians-5/

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