1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is one of the more difficult passages of the Bible to interpret. Paul’s use of 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. 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). 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,” “beginning,” or “first.” 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.”
I suggest that the Greek word kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 has similar meanings of “origin,” “beginning,” or “first,” 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.” Furthermore, Richard Cervin notes that lexicons of the works of individual ancient Greek authors—secular authors such as Xenophon, Herodotus, Plato, Thucydides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus and others—do not include any definitions for kephalē that approximate “leader.” (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.” 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.” 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.”
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.” Perhaps careless translating from Hebrew to Greek may account for these. In his paper “Head as Metaphor,” Wolters provides three 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. Many older dictionaries and 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’s Concordance gives “ruler” and “lord” as possible meanings.
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 lexicons of other (non-biblical) ancient Greek texts.
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.]
Though several older 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), and 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, mentioned 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 early church fathers, but not all, took kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as meaning “origin,” “beginning,” or “source,” even though some were writing at a time when kephalē might occasionally 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 a document denouncing Arianism, Athanasius (296 – 373), Bishop of Alexandria, quoted in full the First Creed of Sirmium. The Creed includes this line in paragraph 26: “For the Son is the head, namely the beginning of all: and God is the head, namely the beginning of Christ …” (de Synodis 27.26).
The church historian Socrates Scholasticus (c. 380 – c. 450) wrote about the creeds published in Sirmium. After quoting the line above, Scholasticus makes the comment, “Thus do we devoutly trace up all things by the Son to one source of all things who is without beginning. 1 Corinthians 11:3. (Ecclesiastical History of Scholasticus 2.30).
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.)
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” (kephalē), 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.)
Ambrosiaster wrote a commentary on Paul’s letters in Latin, not Greek, sometime between 366 and 384. He believed Paul’s three uses of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 had different meanings or varying expressions. Nevertheless, he understood “head” as signifying origin.
God is the head of Christ because he begat him; Christ is the head of the man because he created him, and the man is the head of the woman because she was taken from his side. Thus one expression [“head”] has different meanings, according to the difference of person and substantive relationship. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles. CSEL 81.120-121 (English on p.104 here.)
Similarly, 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.
Several church fathers 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 “being first.” Accordingly, the second phrase in 1 Corinthians 11:3 can be understood as, “the starting point (‘head’) of Eve (‘the woman’) is Adam (‘the man’).”
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.”
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. 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. And neither Paul nor any other New Testament author, ever use any of the many Greek words that commonly meant “leader” when writing about husbands. Furthermore, 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 not common in ancient Greek, but it was less rare than the meaning of “leader.” There are a few reasonably clear examples where kephalē has the sense of “point of origin” or “beginning” in surviving texts that date before or around the time First Corinthians was written: Herodotus’s Histories 4.91.2 (more “head” of river examples in a footnote here), the Orphic Fragment 21A (168), Philo’s Preliminary Studies 61, The Apocalypse of Moses (Life of Adam and Eve) 19.3, and The Testament of Reuben 2.2. Three of these texts are by Jewish authors writing in Greek. However, only one of them, Philo’s, refers to a person as being a “beginning,” a progenitor. (I quote several texts where Philos uses “head” as a metaphor here.)
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.
1 Corinthians 11:3 has been used by some 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 we see that 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.
Origins and Firstness
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. . . . 
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, and to being first. “Head” can have the sense of “first” in English too (e.g., “the head of the line”). Firstness, in turn, can convey the senses of “prominence” or “preeminence.” These senses fit with Paul’s concern for reputations, or doxa, in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. The issue was honour tied to firstness, not authority: the three heads (the Messiah, man, God) have a higher level of honour, than the people they are heads of (all men, woman, the Messiah). (I discuss this here.)
Because many people with a higher status or a higher level of honour than others are often leaders or people in authority, it’s easy to think of “head” as meaning “a person in authority over others.” However, while “head” can refer to a person in authority over others, I do not believe it means a person in authority. As Cynthia Westfall has put it, “… ‘head’ may refer to a leader or an ancestor, but in most cases it collocates with figures of authority yet is not equivalent of “authority.”
I think David de Silva has hit the nail on the head with his observation of Paul’s use 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.”
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 the whole passage 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 it reveals that both men and women prayed and prophesied aloud in church meetings and Paul did not silence them (1 Cor. 11:5).
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 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.” However, Fitzmyer also shows that kephalē can mean “preeminence” and “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)
 Fee writes that 12 of the 180 occurrences of rosh 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.
 Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 302.
 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.
 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)
 H. Schlier, “κεφαλή …”, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittle (ed.) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:673-681.
 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 to translate 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 Gentiles in the church at Corinth.
 Ibid, 143.
 Wolters and Fitzmyer on kephalē in Philo and Josephus
[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.
Do these examples support Wolter’s premise kephalē has the sense of ruler? C.D. Yonge, a classicist who translated Philo’s works in the 1850s, translated 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 and that has authority, 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.
De Vita Mosis (On the Life of Moses) 2:30 (Online at Early Christian Writings)
Ptolemy Philadelphus was not the ruler or in authority over “all the 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.
This metaphor of preeminence also fits the sense of kephalē in De praemiis et poenis 125. It is ludicrous to argue that a good man, or good group of people, has authority over the whole human race. However, a virtuous person can be, in a sense, superior, or have a higher level of honour than other people. Furthermore, Philo also claims that such virtuous people, as “heads” and as other superior parts of the body, enliven the rest of humanity, “the body.” Authority is not mentioned here.
For as in an animal the head is the first and best part, and the tail the last and worst part, or rather no part at all, inasmuch as it does not complete the number of the limbs, being only a broom to sweep away what flies against it; so in the same manner what is said here is that the virtuous man shall be the head of the human race whether he be a single man or a whole people. And that all others, being as it were parts of the body, are only vivified by the powers existing in the head and superior portions of the body.
De praemiis et poenis (On Rewards and Punishments) 125. (Online at Early Christian Writings)
Joseph Fitzmyer quotes these three passages from Philo in his paper, “Another Look at Kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11.3,” New Testament Studies 35 (1989): 503-511, 509. (pdf here) Fitzmyer also includes Special Laws 3.33. In this passage, Philo speaks about the literal head in the first clause and then metaphorically where he explains that he is using “head” with the sense of preeminence.
Because, as nature has assigned the chief position in the body to the head, having bestowed upon it a situation the most suitable to that pre-eminence, as it might give a citadel to a king (for having sent it forth to govern the body it has established it on a height, putting the whole composition of the body from the neck to the feet under it, as a pedestal might be placed under a statue), so also it has given the preeminence among the organs of the external senses to the eyes. At all events, it has assigned them a position above all the others, as if they were the chiefs, wishing to honour them not only by other things, but also by this most evident and conspicuous of all signs.
De Specialibus Legibus (On Special Laws) 3.33 §184 (Online at Early Christian Writings)
When commenting on the four examples from Philo, Fitzmyer unhelpfully conflates the concept of preeminence with leadership: “But [Philo] does use kephalē on several occasions in the sense of ‘leader’ or ‘ruler’, i.e., in the metaphorical sense of preeminence or authority.” Fitzmyer, “Another Look,” 509. (I maintain that Paul was writing about levels of honour or preeminence tied to “firstness,” not authority, in 1 Corinthians 11:3.)
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.
I’ve written more about these passages in Philo and Josephus here: Kephalē (“head”) as Metaphor in First-Century Texts.
 Cervin suggests that the few instances in the Septuagint and the one instance in the Shepherd of Hermas where “head” appears to mean “leader” are “imported, not native metaphors.” Cervin, “Does kephalē (‘head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over,'” 111. That is, they have been influenced by the Hebraic metaphor.
 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.
 Cervin, “Does kephalē (‘head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over,’” 87.
 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)
 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 (October 20, 1986).
 Plutarch’s letter, known in Latin as Coniugalia Praecepta, can be read here.
 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.
 In English we sometimes use “head” as metaphor of “firstness.” A person can be at the head of the line, first in line, and yet not have authority over others in the line.
 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.)
 Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), fn 112, page 39.
 David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 231.
ANLEX combines the senses of firstness and status in its entry on kephalē and cites 1 Cor. 11:3: “of persons, designating first or superior rank, head (1C 11.3),” Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (ANLEX), (Baker: 2000), 229.
 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.
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: 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.)
1 Corinthians 11:2-16, in a Nutshell
Kephalē (“head”) as Metaphor in First-Century Texts.
An Overview of Paul’s Use of Kephalē (“Head”)
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are here.
Women’s Hair in Corinth and in Sydney
“Head” and “Headship” in Genesis 1-3
I have still more articles on kephalē for my Patreon sponsors.
48 thoughts on “4 reasons “head” does not mean “leader” in 1 Cor. 11:3”
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.
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.
How are you , so what is your view on Ephesians 1:21-23 the word head metaphor . Thanks
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.”
Hi Marg, what is the source of the Westfall quote “kephalē “is not a stock metaphor for authority in Greek.”? I wanted to reference it. Thanks!
Hi Liz, The statement is used in a discussion on Ephesians 5:22-33 (not 1 Corinthians 11:3). The full sentence is, “The meaning of ‘head’ as the source of life is consistent with the culture’s understanding of husband as the wife’s patron, but it is not a stock metaphor for authority in Greek.”
Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), page 165.
I quote this sentence here: https://margmowczko.com/beautiful-picture-male-headship-female-submission/
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
You’re very welcome. 🙂
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
I’m going to kephale over to Twitter to post a link to this artivle, Marg. Nicely done.
I think you’re using the noun kephale as a “live” metaphor, and stretching it beyond its limits, Tim. 😉
Well researched and presented. Thank you.
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.
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!
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.
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
Is there any way your article can be rendered printer friendly. Would love to print this out and save it. 🙂
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.
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…
I’m not a fan of the ESV.
Here are some reasons why: https://margmowczko.com/tag/esv/
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!
I so appreciate your prayers, Stephanie. 🙂
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?
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/
“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.
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.
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.
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.
~ 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.
As C.K. Barret stated, “Paul does not say that the man is the lord (kyrios) of the women; he says that he the origin of her being.”
Barrett A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (A & C Black, London, 1968), 248-249.
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/
If it is “God alone who makes one obey,” why are you bothering to demand of Marg that she “repent”? Only God can “make” her do so. 😉
We also use the word “head” as source or origin in the English language when we refer to the origin or source of a river as the “headwaters.”
Yes, I cite Herodutus’s Histories 4:91.2 in the article which is about the source of a river. In another article I cite this reference and three more where kephalē is used in the context of headwaters:
Here’s part of a footnote.
Writing in the fifth century BC, Herodotus stated, “From the ‘headwaters’ (plural of kephalē) of the river Tearus flows the best and finest water of all …” (Histories 4:91.2).
In the third century BC, Callimachus wrote, “I know of the city lying at the kephalē (‘source, head’) of the river Gelas …” (Aetia 2.43.46).
In the second century AD, Galen wrote, “No river that comes from a single spring is smaller at its kephalē (‘source, head’) than it is thereafter” (On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato 18.104.22.168).
And speaking of how whirlpools are formed in a river, Galen said, “[whirlpools] arise when they are warmed by the sun or its kephalē (‘source, head’) is heated up in some way” (De locus affectis 3.12).
I have very much been enjoying your articles. Something I have been looking at lately is the word “kephale” and how it was used in the New Testament. I find it very interesting that you mention the Septuagint predominately uses it to describe a physical head/top of a physical body/object/place. I have found that this is the same with the NT. Paul is the only one to use kephale in a metaphorical way and like you mentioned he doesn’t use it for anything other than God, Christ, husband and man and although he certainly references leaders and masters he never uses kephale to describe them…. I believe from looking at his consistent use of Kephale in his other letters that Paul means kephale in cor 11v3 as the “head” as in the physical “top of a body”. Christ is referred to on many occasions as the head of the church, not as the authoritative leader but because the church IS HIS BODY and one with him! We see this in Eph, Col, 1 Cor and elsewhere. Likewise a husband is consistently described as the head of his wife because they are ONE BODY/ one flesh together as Eph 5 states. (Which is a beautiful echo of the relationship between Christ and his church bride). Likewise Christ says “I and the father are one” and various other statements indicating their unity. So I believe Paul is using “head” in 1 cor to describe 3 metaphorical unions of head and body: Christ and his church (which includes man), A husband and his wife and Christ & God. Each are a relationship of oneness and therefore the metaphor of a head and body apply. I hope this is making sense. I think of it like this: Where there is a “head”; there must be a body. Especially as Paul is at pains in the rest of 1 Cor and his other letters to show that the whole church is the unified body of Christ, with him as the head and that there is only One body and no division. It does not make any sense for Paul then to make a clear division in 1 Cor 11 by stating that brothers in Christ and sisters in Christ are a separate body from Christ with brothers as the head. Neither could it make sense for all the brothers to be the heads of all sisters in Christ, when Paul so clearly stated elsewhere that CHRIST is the head of both sisters and brothers! A body cannot have “2 heads” just as a woman cannot have men and Christ as her physical head of her body nor should Christ be her head indirectly through the males! A woman is not “one” with any man other than her husband (him being the head and she being the body) and Christ (Christ being the head and the males/females of any race or societal status being the body: “All one in Christ Jesus” Gal 3).
If Paul is referring to Man having Christ as his head and not to cause him dishonour and a wife having a husband as her head can cause dishonour to his reputation, it makes sense to me. Likewise in reference to woman being “the glory of man” we possibly forget that when Paul reasons in 1 cor 11 from Adam and Eve we think of Eve being created as the first woman but in actual fact she was more specifically created as the first “wife” – hence Gen 2 says “and the 2 shall be one flesh… cleave unto his wife”. Eve could have been created as Adam’s sister or any other relationship role a woman can hold (friend, colleague, niece, mother, Aunt) but she wasn’t JUST created a woman of ANY distinction she was SPECIFICALLY made as a wife. How can I, as a woman, be the glory of someone else’s husband? I can only bring honour and be a crown to my husband or I can bring shame. Proverbs talks about this idea in chapter 31 and other places. I would love to know what you think of these ideas…
Paul isn’t entirely consistent with how he uses the word kephalē in his letters. Unlike a few other passages where he uses kephalē metaphorically, Paul doesn’t use the word “body” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and he doesn’t mention unity with respect to “head” in this passage. So I don’t think “head-body unity” is the sense of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3.
Furthermore, redeemed women are just as united to Christ as men are. Gender is not a factor, it doesn’t make a difference, when it comes to being united in Christ!
I think kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is about status: the “heads” have a higher status of honour linked to “firstness.” (Paul tempers this idea further in the passage when it comes to men and women who are “in the Lord.”)
Also, in the Greco-Roman world, daughters and other females, as well as wives, could affect the reputation (“glory”) of the men in their families (cf. Sirach 42:11). And most first-century churches were like extended families.
We need to keep in mind that the whole passage is about the socially respectable, gendered appearance of men and women who were praying and prophesying. That is, Paul concern is the hairstyles (or head coverings) of the men and women who were speaking in church meetings in Corinth. He was not referring to other behaviours. I believe the context in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is ministry that doesn’t cause scandal to outsiders; the context is not marriage as such.
Most importantly, it is God who, as the ultimate “head,” is to be glorified (and not dishonoured) as he is our ultimate source. Everything flows to him and from him, and this is not mediated through men. The Greek word for “God” (theos) occurs at the very end of three sentences in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which is an emphatic position (1 Cor. 11:3, 12, 16). (The whole passage is beautifully constructed and argued.)
If you’re interested, my overall take of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is here: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-112-16-meaning/
A discussion on reputations (“glory”) in 1 Corinthians 11:7 is here: https://margmowczko.com/man-woman-image-glory-god-1-corinthians-11-7/
A discussion on the two contexts in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (reputations with outsiders and relationships with insiders) is here:
Thank you so much for this. That helps a great deal and i see what you mean. Are you able to summarise the various ways you understand that Paul (specifically) uses Kephale?
You’re welcome, Sarah.
I turned my reply to you into a blog post here: An Overview of Paul’s Use of Kephalē (‘Head’)
Importantly, in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, we need to keep reading because, while it initially sounds like Paul is condoning a hierarchy, what he says in 1 Corinthians 11:11ff and Ephesians 5:25ff undoes the idea of distinct gender-based hierarchies in Christian relationships. And we can’t forget what he says in 1 Corinthians 12!
I’ve written about Ephesians 5:22-33 and the levelling of status in Christian marriages here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-main-point-in-eph-5_22-33/
… Specifically prov 31:10-31 (an “excellent wife”) notice how her works “praise her in the GATES”v 31 and yet It is in fact her HUSBAND who is known at and sits at the gates v23… so his wife’s behaviour positively reflects on HIS reputation! This excellent wife is described in terms of precious she is to Her husband “HIS heart trusts in her… HE will have no lack… she will do HIM good…”
See prov 3:12 “an excellent wife is the crown of her husband”. Proverbs also uses “crown” interchangeably with “glory”- see proverbs 16:31, Prov 20:29, prov 17:6…
Paul is concerned about what those “at the gates” (the non-Christians in Corinth), were saying about the Christian men and women in Corinth, and more importantly, how this reflected on the Christian’s God.
Paul didn’t want the men and women who were praying and prophesying, and so were prominent in church meetings, to have socially suspect hairstyles (long hair on men, short or unbound hair on women).
Yes, I see. Especially given the context and how he references this in his other letters for reasons why people should submit to the social constructs of their time? “so the word of God is not dishonoured”
Yes, Paul frequently asks Christians to make concessions to the culture so that the fledgling Christian movement and the small churches would not suffer in their hostile environments. He often says so explicitly. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, he brings his arguments back to God.
Peter also does this in 1 Peter.