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 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.]
Though several 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).
 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