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The Metaphorical Meanings of “Head” in Paul’s Letters: Part One


In Colossians 1:18, Paul writes:

[The Son] is the head (kephalē) of the church body of which he is the beginning (archē), the firstborn of the dead, so that he himself may be first in everything.

Paul’s main point in the passage where this verse comes from (Col. 1:15–18) is to show that Jesus is the creator, origin, and beginning of everything in the universe. This includes Jesus being the “author” of the Church. Paul used the word kephalē (head) in this context—the context of origin and beginning or, as some say, “source.”[1]

In English, the word “head” has many meanings. One metaphorical meaning of head is “a person in authority over others.” In English, the “head” of an organisation is the leader, the top person and the one with the most authority. In Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word kephalē (“head”) also has metaphorical meanings; however “a person in authority over others” is not usually one of them. Nevertheless, many Christians have assumed that the Greek word kephalē refers to authority in the New Testament.[2] [Note the screenshot near the bottom of this page.]

One compelling piece of evidence that kephalē did not usually refer to authority in first-century Koine Greek (or in Greek of previous centuries), is that LSJ’s lexicon, one of the most exhaustive lexicons of Ancient Greek, does not include any definition of kephalē that approximates “leader” or “person in authority.” [The entire LSJ entry on kephalē is here.]

Another bit of compelling evidence is found in the Septuagint, the circa second–first century BC translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek. When the Hebrew word for “head” (rosh) meant a literal head, the translators invariably translated rosh into kephalē. However in Hebrew, like in English, “head” can also mean a leader or ruler. In the instances where rosh meant a leader, in most cases, the translators did not use the word kephalē in their translation; instead, they typically used the Greek word archōn, which does mean ruler or leader. It seems that most of the translators of the Septuagint knew that kephalē does not usually mean leader, ruler, or person in authority.[3]

Unfortunately, many Christians have simply presumed that “head” refers to authority in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and in Ephesians 5:23, and many churches continue to teach this interpretation.

[Note that I wrote this article in 2011. I’ve learned a lot since and there’s more information in my newer articles on kephalē.]

Leadership or Loving Care in Marriage?

Paul is the only Bible writer to say that the kephalē (“head”) of woman is man. He says this twice: once in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and once in Ephesians 5:23.

1 Corinthians 11:3 is not about the marriage relationship. It is about the appearances of men and women who pray and prophecy in Corinthian assemblies. Accordingly, most English translations use the word “man” and “woman,” rather than “husband” and “wife,” in this verse.[4] Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not give some sort of sequential chain of command.[5] The use of kephalē in this verse has a sense of “firstness” or “origin,” a fact that several early church writers attest to.[6] [More about 1 Corinthians 11:3 here.]

This leaves one verse. Ephesians 5:23 is about marriage. It amazes me that the church has developed a strong and pervasive doctrine of “male headship” primarily based on this Bible verse. (Note that nowhere in scripture does it teach that the man is the “head” of the house or family.)[7]

In Ephesians 5:23a Paul tells wives:

For the husband is the kephalē of the wife as Christ is the kephalē of the church, his body …

When addressing husbands, Paul does not tell them to lead their wives or to be in authority. Rather, Paul urges husbands to sacrificially love and care for their wives. He uses the word “love” six times when addressing husbands. Love and care, and even nurture, is the context of Ephesians 5:25–33, not leadership. Husbands are to love and care for their wives as Jesus loves and cares for the church. I explain this further in my article, Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22–33 here.

Authority or Association in Ephesians 5?

Kephalē is part of a head-body metaphor in Ephesians 5:22–24 and carries connotations of kinship, association, and connection. Note Paul’s use of the head-body metaphor in the previous chapter: Ephesians 4:15–16. The head and body have an affinity and are part of the same unit, even though the head is more prominent (cf. Col. 2:19). Nevertheless, a head is nothing without a body, and vice versa.

Many Greek philosophers and writers, such as Plutarch, taught that husbands are the leaders and rulers of their wives. In contrast, no Bible author, including Paul, tells husbands to be the leader, ruler, or authority of their wives.[8] Rather than using any of the many Greek words which mean ruler, leader or authority, Paul used the word kephalē with “body” to highlight the connectedness of husband and wife.[9]

Paul wanted husbands to be connected and allied with their wives, and he instructed wives to be cooperative, supportive, and loyal (i.e. submissive) to their own husbands.[10] He wrote that husbands and wives should be joined, united, one flesh. Unity, affinity, fidelity, and equality are the ideals in Christian marriage. These qualities were absent in many marriages in Greco-Roman society, so Paul found it necessary to write about the godly ideals of marriage in his letters.

Supremacy or Source in 1 Corinthians 11?

Many Christians argue that men (and husbands) have authority or supremacy over women (and wives) because the first man was the kephalē, the source, point of origin, or starting point of the woman in Eden. There is honour in being first (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3); however, it is important to remember that Adam was entirely passive when Eve was made. He was in a deep sleep and probably had no inkling that God was removing a part from him and forming the first woman from it.

We give honour to Jesus for being the creator and sustainer of the universe. Man, however, cannot take any credit or claim extra privileges for the creation of the woman or for being first. The first woman, as well as the first man, was created and made by God, through Jesus. God is our ultimate source (1 Cor. 11:12). Moreover, both man and woman were made in God’s image and both were made to rule over God’s creation.

The Genesis 2 record does not reveal any hint of male privilege or authority by virtue of man being created first, despite what some assert to the contrary. Nevertheless, according to Genesis 2, Adam was created first, before Eve. Perhaps this fact needed to be explained to newly converted Gentile Christians, many of whom may have held to pagan myths about the creation of various men and women and gods. A faulty doctrine of the origins of mankind has the potential to lead to other faulty beliefs, practices and behaviours.[11]

However, I think Paul used the idea of “firstness” to address a problem in the Corinthian Church that was being noticed by outsiders and was spoiling the reputations of the Christians in Corinth, of Jesus, and ultimately of God. Paul carefully addresses this issue, which involved the appearance of men and women who were praying and prophesying with their hair in socially inappropriate styles. In this context, he used the word “head” which, as well as referring to “origins” or “firstness” in 1 Corinthians 11:3, also had an implicit sense of “honour” or “higher status.” Nevertheless, Paul goes on to discount the significance of “firstness” in the second half of the passage for those within the church where mutuality should be the prevailing social dynamic (1 Cor. 11:11–12). (I explain this problem affecting reputations and honour in Corinth, here.)

Patriarchy or Mutuality in Marriage?

Many Christians erroneously believe that the word kephalē conveys the meaning of authority, and they interpret Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 to mean that husbands have authority over their wives. Some elaborate on their interpretation and understanding of kephalē even further and claim that husbands and fathers are mandated to be the spiritual authorities in the home. Paul does not teach such a doctrine.

The only time the word for authority (exousia) is used in the New Testament in the context of marriage is in 1 Corinthians 7:4. This verse shows that, rather than the husband being the authority or decision-maker, Paul expected husbands and wives to make decisions by mutual consent. (More on 1 Cor. 7:4 here.) The notion that the husband is to be the arbiter, and has the final say on a matter, is contrived and simply has no biblical basis.

Furthermore, the idea that the husband, but not the wife, has final-decision-making power is dangerous in abusive relationships and not needed in healthy ones.

I do not understand why some Christians believe that in marriage, where there are only two people, husband and wife, there needs to be a leader. Larger organisations need leaders to function effectively, but a couple—where the husband and wife are equally capable—does not need one person to always be the leader and the other person to always be the follower. Moreover, it seems ineffective and unnecessary to burden the husband with the primary responsibilities of family life when he has a capable wife with whom he can jointly share leadership and responsibilities.


“Headship” is a term that does not appear in the Bible, yet “male headship” or male authority has been part of the church’s dogma for centuries. This is because many have interpreted scripture while being influenced by the prevailing patriarchal culture. God has tolerated patriarchy in the past, and he continues to tolerate it, but true equality and mutuality are the biblical ideals that Kingdom people should be aiming for and aspiring to. “Male headship” and male primacy do not reflect the gospel message of freedom and equality for all people.

Instead of teaching the concept of “male headship,” as many have understood it, Paul and other New Testament authors sowed the seed ideas for a casteless Christianity where all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status, are considered as equal; and no person, simply on the basis of ethnicity, gender or wealth, is either privileged or discriminated against (Gal. 3:28). Tragically, the church has been blinkered by the culture of patriarchy and male privilege, and have been appallingly slow to realise the gospel ideal of true equality. It is time for the church to take off its blinkers and take another look at what Jesus, Paul, and others taught about men and women and marriage in the New Testament.

Kephalē and "Male Headship" in Paul's Letters


[1] Other verses that show that Jesus is the beginning, origin, and instigator of creation include John 1:3, 10 and Hebrews 1:2.

[2] Our knowledge of Hellenistic Greek, which includes Koine Greek, has greatly improved with the discovery of large numbers of ancient papyri in the late 1800s and early-mid 1900s. (And more continue to be discovered and studied.) These papyri have helped us to better understand the meanings and uses of many ancient Greek words, including the word kephalē.

[3] Though rosh (“head”) is used 180 times as meaning a “chief” of a tribe or class in the Hebrew Old Testament, whenever this usage is translated in the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek word is archōn or archēgos (“ruler”) and not kephalē, with eight exceptions. Since the LXX translators have typically translated rosh, when it means as “chief” or “ruler”, with a word other than kephalē, and secular Greek usage lacked this meaning of “chief,” it is likely that Paul’s use of kephalē carries a meaning other than “chief” or “ruler.” Andrew Perriman identifies eleven cases in the Septuagint where rosh, at first glance, may appear to mean “ruler” and is translated into kephalē. Michael Kruse summarises Perriman’s findings here and here.

Gordon D. Fee writes,

Indeed the metaphorical meaning of kephalē (“head”) to mean “chief” or “person of the highest rank” is rare in Greek literature—so much so that even though the Hebrew word rosh often carried this sense, the Greek translators of the LXX, who ordinarily use kephalē to translated rosh, almost never did so when ”ruler” was intended … Paul’s understanding of the metaphor, therefore, and almost certainly the one the Corinthians would have grasped, is “head” as “source,” especially “source of life.
Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 1987), 502–503.

[4] The Greek word anēr means “man” or “husband”. Context determines whether anēr should be translated as “man” or “husband”. Most English Bible translations (the ESV being a notable exception) use the word “man” in 1 Corinthians 11 because this passage is not speaking about marriage, but about appropriate behaviour in worship. Most English translations use the word “husband” in Ephesians 5:22ff because Paul is speaking about marriage here.

[5] 1 Corinthians 11:3 means,

But I want you to realize that the head [i.e. point of origin] of every man is Christ, and the head [point of origin] of the woman is man, and the head [point of origin] of Christ [or Jesus’ Messiah-ship] is God [or the triune Godhead].

Kenneth Bailey comments on 11:3 and writes,

“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.
Bailey, Through Mediterranean Eyes, 302.

[6] Several prominent early church theologians attest to “beginning/ origin/ source” as Paul’s main meaning of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

In his letter De Synodis, Athanasius (296–373), bishop of Alexandria, quoted from the First Creed of Sirmium which states,

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

John Chrysostom (c. 349–407) was adamant that “head” doesn’t mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He said 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. Chrysostom’s Homily 26 on First Corinthians needs to be read carefully as he uses an imaginary opponent in his arguments who says kephalē does mean “one in authority.” In this excerpt,  Chrysostom highlights the concepts of unity and being first that are part of the “head” metaphor.

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 honourable. (Italics added)

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

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

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

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

Wayne Grudem, who argues that kephalē implies or means authority, concedes,

There are some texts which indicate that the physical head was thought of as the source of energy and life for the body, and therefore the possibility exists that the word kephale might have come to be used as a metaphor for ‘source’ or ‘source of life’ …
“The meaning of Kephalē (Head): A Response to Recent Studies” in Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Biblical Feminism (Wheaton, Il: Crossways, 1994) 467.

[7] In reality, many complementarian men (who believe that God has ordained them to be the leaders of their wives and homes) do not lead or run their house and family life; they leave much of the running of the household and family to their wives. (See 1 Tim. 5:14 where, in the Greek, Paul uses the word oikodespotein in reference to young Christian wives in Ephesus. The etymology of oikodespotein gives the meaning “to be the master of the house”, but its actual usage in contemporary Greek literature has the sense “to manage the household”. The KJV translates this verse too literally. (More on 1 Timothy 5:14, and similar verses in Titus 2:3–4, here.)

[8] The verb for “rule” is used twice in the Bible in reference to husbands as rulers. In Genesis 3:16 it says that one of the consequences of sin was that the husband would rule the wife, but this is far from God’s ideal. In Esther 1:20–22 (esp. v22) the Persian king Xerxes decreed that husbands should rule their households. Christians, however, should not take their cues for living from the curses and consequences of the Fall or from the decrees of pagan kings.

[9] Paul also used the word kephalē (head) to show that the church, the body, was closely allied and had an affinity with Jesus Christ, the head.  [More on this in my next article which is about the Hellenistic, or proto-Gnostic, concept of kephalē in Paul’s letters here.]

[10] Paul wanted all Christians, including husbands and wives, to be mutually submissive to each other (cf. Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV). Mutual submission is what Paul was aiming for in his teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5, but he conveyed his meaning in ways that men and women at that time could relate to. First-century wives were used to being told to be submissive in stronger language than the apostles use, so Paul (and Peter) wrote plainly about this. Paul (and Peter) use different words when asking for submission from husbands. [My article on Submission in Marriage here.]

[11] There were many myths circulating in the Greco-Roman world about the creation of particular men and women, and the creation of men and women in general. Hesiod’s Theogony, a well-known ancient Greek work, states that the origin of woman was independent of man. Unlike the Genesis accounts, this account denied that men and women were compatible and equal. An unrelated Greek myth was that the goddess Athena was miraculously “born”, or generated, as a fully formed adult woman from the head (kephalē) of Zeus. This myth, and a few others like it, show that the Greeks saw the head (kephalē) as being some sort of a source of life.

Instead of a variety of pagan myths about different ways that different men were created or generated, the truth is that the source of every man, whether Jew, Roman or Greek, is Jesus Christ. And instead of a variety of pagan myths about the different ways that different women were created or generated, the source of the [first] woman was man (1 Cor. 11:3). Nevertheless, Paul goes on to say, “For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:12). God is our ultimate source whether we are male or female.

© 18th of September, 2011, Margaret Mowczko

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Further Reading

Andrew Perriman, “The Head of the Woman, ΚΕΦΑΛΗ in 1 Cor. 11:3,” Journal of Theological Studies, NS, 45.2 (October 1994): 602–622. (PDF here).

Alan F. Johnson, “A Meta-Study of the Debate over the Meaning of “Head” (Kephalē) in Paul’s Writings.” Priscilla Papers 20.6 (Autumn 2006): 21–29. (Web page or PDF here)

Manfred T. Brauch, “The Meaning of Head in the Pauline Epistles” in Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 133–146. (Google Books)

Richard Cervin, “Does kephalē (‘head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature: A Rebuttal,” Trinity Journal 10 (Spring 1989): 85–112. (PDF here)

Al Wolters, “Head as Metaphor,” Koers 76.1 (2011): 137–153. (PDF here)

Below is a screenshot of a paragraph from Richard Cervin’s article where he states that lexicons for individual Greek authors (pre-classical, classical, and Hellenist authors) do not give “leader” as a meaning for kephalē. Note the last sentence in this paragraph where Richard quotes Dhimitrakou who states that “leader” as a meaning of kephalē is medieval. That is, kephalē did not mean “leader” in New Testament times, but it did in medieval times. Richard then goes on in his article to explain the reasons why most New Testament lexicons do have “leader” as a possible meaning.

Kephalē and "Male Headship" in Paul's Letters

Explore more

An Overview of Paul’s Use of Kephalē (“Head”)
Kephalē (“Head”) as Metaphor in First-Century Texts
Four reasons “head” does not mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3
All my articles on kephalē (“head”) are here.
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.
All my articles on Ephesians 5:22–33 are here.
(1) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1–6
(2) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7–8
(1) A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
(2) A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22–33
Ephesians 5:22–33, in a Nutshell
“Head” and “Headship” in Genesis 1–3

140 thoughts on “Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters

  1. Excellent article!

  2. Marg, as usual, your article is so good. I love all the supporting documentation, especially linking the entire LSJ entry on kephale! You are the bomb. 🙂

  3. 😀 I think the LSJ listing is telling. It’s a bit confusing to wade through (even for Greek readers) but one thing is clear: There are no definitions like ruler, leader, authority, etc.

  4. Marg, God bless you! Those Athanasius and Cyril comments in your endnotes are what I want for my JOY/ JUIG correspondence!

    Why would I use modern sources that could be feminist re-interpretations for saying head is source.

  5. Yes, Good point. One can hardly accuse Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria of being feminists or revisionists.

  6. If you submit to someone what does that mean? If God tells me to submit to an authority figure, does that not automatically put them in the “leadership” position? If wives are to submit…which they are told to do more than once… then obviously the person to whom they are told to submit …their husbands…would automatically be the leader! And right before Paul states that man is “head” he tells wives to submit and then he repeats it! and says submit “in everything”…this seems painfully obvious that if one is submitting then the other is leading regardless of the meaning of the word “head”…
    I did enjoy reading this and thank you for the greek translations it is an interesting study.

  7. Hi Elise,

    In Ephesians 5:21 it says that we should submit to one another. Who is the authority figure here? Mutual submission is a biblical ideal.

    Submission is not always to an authority figure. The Bible never states that the husband is the leader, ruler or authority of the wife, unless you count Genesis 3:16 where it says that one of the consequences of sin was that the husband would rule the wife, and Esther 1:20-22 where the Persian king Xerxes decrees that husbands should rule their wives. I personally, do not think that we should not take their cues for living from the curses and consequences of the Fall or from decrees of pagan kings. [I’ve taken these thoughts from a footnote above.]

    I believe that Paul and Peter did want husbands to be submissive (i.e. considerate, loyal and supportive) to their wives; they just said it using different words that would be easier for Christian men in 1st century Greco-Roman culture to tolerate and understand. Giving yourself up for your wife sounds like a radical form of submission (Eph 5:25).

    You’ve inspired me to post this article: Who is the Head?

    More about mutual submission among believers here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/mutual-submission/

    And here’s an article about Paul’s use of the expression “in everything”: https://margmowczko.com/wives-submit-in-everything-eph-5/

  8. Excellent article as usual, Marg.

    IMO it is also useful to note that in the range of meanings of kephale, there is also first, beginning and pre-eminent, as in out there in front. The head is the first place one looks to see a person. Thus, sometimes the head stands in for the whole body, representing the whole body. This relates to the facts that husbands were to protect their wives, stand in front of them at times, be the first one to communicate for the both of them in danger, etc. The connotations of the use of kephale in metaphor can be quite intricate.

    Interestingly, Christianity has not thought much of the implications or connotations of the use of ‘body’. The facts that both ‘head of’ and ‘body of’ are used in Ephesians 5 to reflect the type of connectivity in marriage is lost on most Christians.

  9. I’ve been looking at Philo, Josephus, and the Apostolic Fathers, and they rarely use the word kephale in any metaphorical sense. Preeminence/prominence seems to be a nuance or meaning in some instances. But they typically don’t use kephale with the meaning of a person in authority, apart from one occurrence in The Shepherd of Hermas (2nd century AD) where it seems to mean a person in charge of his household. I’m looking again in case I missed something, which is possible. Eric is helping me.

    I think most western Christians understand that husbands and wives, men and women, can be allied in a close, genuine partnership, but this was not the understanding in Greco-Roman society. So the head and body metaphor, that would have been revolutionary to Paul’s original audience, is passed over too quickly and misunderstood by us.

  10. I found this article while researching this topic:


    Are you familiar with this article? (I’m not sure if it’s the same one you mention in footnote 6.) I already see some parts of that I can’t agree with (especially when he says that his survey is -probably- sufficient to demonstrate his point; how could he just dismiss the possibility that the other 9,664 examples show him to be wrong or could influence his understandings of the 2,336 examples he looked at?!), but I simply don’t have the background in Greek to critique, understand, or keep my attention span on many of the points he brings up. What do you have to say about some of the arguments Grudem brings up?

  11. What Grudem AT MOST shows is that in some cases kephale is associated with leadership. At this point he thinks he is done and rests his case, but it is FAR from demonstrated that this is the case in the disputed passages. Just because head/kephale MIGHT in some cases imply leadership when used as a metaphor does not mean that it always implies leadership when used as a metaphor, the immediate context determines which among the possible choices is what is intended. Since Grudem wears blue glasses, he thinks it is obvious which is intended, but if you explore just a little bit, you can see that it is not so obvious at all.

    Richard Cervin wrote some articles on kephale from an egal perspective, they are very useful in showing the different options and also how Grudem distorted some of his data. You can find them on the web or at CBE.

  12. Hi Sarah, I have read this paper previously. I think Grudem’s data and his interpretation of the data is misleading.

    I’m too busy and too tired at the moment to make an intelligent comment. I’ll look at this again after work tomorrow (hopefully.)

    Richard Cervin’s paper is here.

    On a slightly different subject: There is a NT professor who is currently critiquing Grudem’s Systematic Theology, one chapter per week. He has some good things to say: http://kenschenck.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Wayne%20Grudem

  13. Came over here from Alan Knox’s blog. I appreciate this information. It was certainly God’s perfect timing to lead me here tonight. Gender issues/equality has been a constant theme the past 3 weeks around here! Still not sure exactly what God is trying to reveal to my heart about it 🙂 but this is a great start/lesson. Thank you!

  14. Hi Randi, I’m glad this article has been useful to you. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

  15. Please can you tell me where I can get a copy of the books or articles referred to in foot note 6 and do you have a full reference for the quotes, I.e. page numbers, chapter etc. it seems to me the two quotes are very strong evidence in support of ‘source’ being a possible meaning for Kephale. Thanks. David

  16. Hi David, The easiest thing would probably be to get a hold of Philip Payne’s book Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Zondervan, 2009).

    On pages 113-139, (chapter 7) he discusses, at length, the meaning of kephalē and its meaning as “source”. As well as quoting from Cyril of Alexandria (p.131), Payne quotes from Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians (p.131) and Chrysostom’s 26th Homily on 1 Corinthians (p131-3). [Chrysostom argues that people who believe that kephalē means authority or superiority in 1 Cor. 11:3 are heretics.] Payne also mentions Saint Basil, Athanasius, Eusebius and Ambrosiaster, all who believed that source, and not authority, is the meaning in 1 Cor. 11:3 (p.137).

    Here is quotation from Photius (C9th AD), taken from Payne’s book, which sums up the works of earlier Greek fathers,

    “For Christ is the head [kephalē] of us who believe . . . being made by him . . . But the head [kephalē] of Christ is the Father as procreator [gennetēs] and progenitor [proboleus] and of like substance with him. And the head [kephalē] of the woman is the man because he is her procreator [gennetēs] and progenitor [proboleus] and of like substance with her.”

    Philip Payne’s website is at pbpayne.com

    I can’t provide page numbers and publishers at the moment. I think I may search for these when this semester is over. If you want to look at the primary sources, you would need to go to an excellent library or buy the books yourself. Most have been translated into English. I could not find any of the primary sources cited online except for an English translation of Chrysostom’s Homilies. Here is a link to his 26th Homily on 1 Corinthians.

    See also: https://margmowczko.com/head-kephale-does-not-mean-leader-1-corinthians-11_3/

  17. I was wondering where I could buy Richard Cervin’s paper (provided it’s in the price range of a college student’s budget, haha)? And is his work generally comprehendable to someone who can’t read in Greek? I have a feeling one of my friends is going to bring up Grudem’s article, so I want to be prepared.

  18. There is a fee copy of one of Cervin’s papers on the CBE site. However, the better paper is not free, but is available for a small charge on the same site. It should be within a student budget. It is very good because a) it was the last of his papers so addresses all arguments up to that date and b) it comes with a preface where he sets out the history of the argument to that date, including Grudem’s argument, his rebuttal and Grudem’s reply. From memory the free paper is called a rebuttal and the other one is called a rejoinder. Both papers can be easily understood by non Greek speakers.

  19. Here is the link to Richard Cervin’s free article from CBE’s website.

    I’ve added the link and a screenshot from this article in my article above.

  20. Great article! Another note about Paul’s use of kephale is that it does have a “double meaning”. So he may very well have been addressing the authoritative aspect of the husbands of that culture and be simply turning it on it’s head (literal use, to be turned upside down, no pun intended). That would be very Paul like to do so.

    I came across this quote from a preacher whose insight I usually find very solid.
    “Your sister is probably looking for a protective spiritual authority to provide a secure upbringing for her children. Not getting it from the Lord through her husband and the eldership of her church, she looks elsewhere.”

    Has the complementary teaching actually crossed a new line, determining that a “protective spiritual authority” from the Lord for a wife, can only be gained through a husband? I suppose it would make logical sense to put the husband in the place of Christ if you were to use the same interpretive tools for the end of Eph 5:23 (“as which he is the Savior”) that have been used for the beginning of the verse.

    Hopefully this part of the church will wake up soon to discover they are a new creation through Christ and that they are no longer in bondage to sin. They can with all righteousness let go of Gen 3:16 rather than continue to live it out.

  21. Hi Connie,

    I’ve heard some say that Paul may have been referring to a husbandly authority and that Paul explains how this authority should be used in Christian marriage effectively “turning it on its head”. My problem with this explanation is that I simply cannot find an instance of kephalē where it means “authority” in original, untranslated Classical or Koine Greek before or during the first century AD. (This still surprises me as I continue to keep my eyes open.)

    I do use a similar argument, however, in explaining Paul’s use of kephalē in a Gnostic sense. In a couple of verses in Colossians and in Ephesians Paul uses Gnostic terms to show that Jesus is above the aeons of Gnosticism.

    A main point in Ephesians 5:22-33 is about Jesus as saviour and purifier of the Church. I think we need to always remember this main point when trying to interpret that passage. The secondary point is unity between husband and wife. I believe kephalē is used here as part of a metaphor for unity.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:3, the meaning of kephalē is almost definitely source or origin.

    I don’t hear more respectable complementarian ministers teach that husbands are some sort of covering for their wives. The concept of “covering” doesn’t have any biblical basis whatsoever. Every individual Christian has direct access to God’s throne and has the Holy Spirit living inside them. We shouldn’t rely on others for our spiritual well-being, or for our spiritual “protection”, whatever that means.

    I agree that we should be living as New Creation people! 🙂

  22. I might observe here that as thoroughly as this study has been done, one weakness that is apparent has to do with the handling of the initial verse cited Colossians 1:18. In view of two phrases, one must allow that AT LEAST “κεφαλὴ” (kephale; head) means both source AND authority. Those phrases are: αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων (autos estin pro panton; He is before all; v.17) and ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων (hina genetai en pasin autos proteuon in order that in all things He might become preeminent; v.18).

  23. Hi Prescott, Thanks for your comment.

    There are plenty of sentences in the NT with two phrases which say almost the same thing. Sometimes when I’m translating into English, I find it difficult to find two different words in English because the main words in the two Greek phrases are basically saying the same thing, reinforcing each other, with only a subtle, and sometimes indiscernible, difference between them.

    Kephalē and archē can be practically synonymous when used with the meaning of “origin” and “beginning”. I believe the context of Colossians 1:18, and the preceding verses, is of beginning, origin and source. But there is more to it than that. The choice of words here may be intentionally ambiguous, or broad – combining the concepts of unity and supremacy with origin and beginning.

    I’m still keeping a lookout for an instance where kephalē clearly means “authority” in original, untranslated Classical and Koine Greek. I have yet to find an example, with possibly one exception in the Shepherd of Hermas which may be a translation or a borrowed idiom.

    I think the way I have handled Colossians 1:18 is fine.

  24. Marg-

    I want to say a hearty thank you to you for your excellent exegetical study of the topic. I am currently working on a short book encouraging women to pursue ministry providing them some biblical defenses to speak to complementarians. I would like to cite you in footnotes to give credit where it is due. Do you have a primary source translation for the Cyril quote in your afternote?
    Again, great study, well defended.

  25. Hi Phil,

    I just want to acknowledge that I’ve read your comment. I hope to visit my university’s library next week. Then, hopefully, I can give you a source to cite.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about your book.

    And thanks for the encouraging compliments. 🙂

  26. http://christianthinktank.com/not2obey.html is a great study on obey and kephale on Christian ThinkTank.

  27. I’m sorry but I’m afraid you’re wrong. The context of Eph 5 clearly defines the man as the authoritative head who gives of himself to save (sozo [preserve or keep from harm]) his wife. Otherwise paul would not call on the woman to submit to (place herself under, “hupotasso”) her husband. Understanding Kephale as “source” does not free us of the idea of male authority. We’d have to distort a lot more greek to get there.

    This isn’t an issue of men are better & women are worse. These are the roles that God has prescribed so that a Christian marriage can be an accurate & glorifying picture of his relationship to his church.

  28. Hi Daniel. Are you married? How often do you have to save or preserve your wife from harm? I don’t think my husband has ever saved me from harm, and yet I am safe and well. And I sincerely give God the glory for that.

    Also, if you strictly apply “saviour” to husbands, does that mean that wives do not have a responsibility for the safety of their husbands? I know of several Bible women whose quick thinking and brave actions saved their husbands from imminent death: Zipporah (Exo. 4:24-26), Michal (1 Sam. 19:11-17), and Abigail (1 Sam. 25:1ff), etc.

    Ephesians 5:21 is the verse where hupotassō appears (the theme continues in verse 22 without the word hupotassō being reiterated in the oldest Greek manuscripts. See endnote 5.) Who is under who in this verse 21? While the etymology of hupo-tassō is “order under”, i.e. “subordinate”, the word is used in a variety of ways in Koine literature and can mean cooperate, be loyal and be an ally.

    I think it is unwise to apply the strict military usage of hupotassō to marriage. A marriage of two equals simply does not need one person to always be the leader or saviour and the other person to always be the follower or rescuee. Moreover, the first woman was designed to be a rescuer. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/a-suitable-helper/

    The picture of marriage that is given in Ephesians is of sacrificial love and unity. I don’t see any indication of authority in this passage. I have written more about Ephesians 5:22-33 here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/pauls-main-point-in-eph-5_22-33/

    I believe that kephalē refers to origin in 1 Cor. 11:3. In Ephesians 5:23 I believe that kephalē is used as part of a head-body metaphor denoting unity.

    I have yet to find a clear example of kephalē meaning authority or leader in Classical or Koine Greek written (not translated) before or during the first century AD. If you find one, let me know.

  29. Hi. Doesn’t the bible say a wife must submit to her husband in everything? Where does that leave room for the husband to submit? Doesn’t that at least imply that the if someone needs to submit its the wife? By the way, I do not disagree with an egalitarian marriage. I just don’t see how a wife who always must submit could be submitted to. Also, in the verses using the same greek word for us to the government, us to God, and so forth it seems to establish that the one being submitted to has more authority than the one submitting. I would love help in understanding this issue.

  30. Consider it this way, Ashley. First everyone submits to everyone, verse 21. Everyone must consider others needs better than themselves, make room for each other, etc. in the manner of Phil. 2:1-4. Then that concept (including all of 5:1-21) is carried forward to include our behavior in marriage. The wife also to her husband. Every word has a range of meanings. Upotassomenoi is no different. It does not mean obey, which is hupakouo (sp). Rather it means yields to, submits, cooperates, attaches and similar. So, yes in everything the wife is to yield to, attach herself to and cooperate with her husband. First everyone to each other in the fear of the Lord. Then that includes wives to husbands. We do not get to be one way toward our brothers and sisters in Christ and then drop it when we enter into marriage.

    1. Hi TL, we seem to have responded to Ashley at roughly the same time; I didn’t see your comment until after I posted mine. Your comment is well said! 🙂

  31. Hi Ashley,

    “Submit” (hupotassō) has a range of meanings and applications. Even Wayne Grudem, a staunch complementarian, states that “the exact form submission takes, the way it works out in practice, will vary greatly as it applies to soldiers, to children, to servants, to the church, and to wives.” (Emphasis added.) (My only problem with Grudem’s statement is that children are never told to submit in the Bible, they are told to obey parents. Conversely, wives are never told to obey their husbands in the Bible in its original languages.)

    Submission in a healthy marriage doesn’t mean that the husband always gets his way, especially as the instruction to him is that he give himself for his wife and cherish her. While this instruction for sacrificial love is given to the husband, this doesn’t mean that a wife doesn’t need to cherish her husband give herself for her husband (cf. Eph. 5:1-2). Similarly, just because the instruction to submit is given clearly to wives, this doesn’t mean that husbands don’t need to submit to their wives (cf. Eph. 5:21). Furthermore, I think Peter does tell Christian husbands to submit to their wives. More on this here.

    Wayne Grudem, and other complementarians, believe that hupotassō “always indicates one-directional submission to an authority”. This is simply not true. Mutual submission among all believers is mentioned in Ephesians 5:21. It is also mentioned in post-apostolic writings such as 1 Clement 2:1, 37:5-38:1 (which I write about here), Ignatius’s letter to the Magnesians 13:2, and Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians 10:2. The church leaders who wrote these letters believed that mutual submission among believers (which is very different to one-directional submission) was essential for unity and harmony in the church. These same bishops also taught about submission to those in authority. (This shows that “submission” can mean different things in different circumstances.) My article about mutual submission in early Christian texts is here.

    So how does mutual submission work in real life? Submission means deferring to the other person, preferring the other person, honouring and respecting the other person, and being humble and loyal (Phil. 2:3-4). In marriage, submission affects every area of life (“in everything”) and our spouse should receive a greater degree of loyalty and preference than all others. In a marriage of equals, all issues and problems should be worked out together. I do not believe that husbands are, necessarily, to be the authorities of their wives, unless that is what the husband and wife have mutually decided upon.

    You mentioned the government: Our submission to the government is not without limits. There are enough examples of civil disobedience in the Bible by godly people to illustrate that submission to governments has limits (e.g., Exod. 1:17).

    (A government that is acting democratically is a government by the people, for the people, and should be deferring to the wishes and needs of the people. The Bible, however, knows of no such government.)

    The Bible also shows us that submitting to legitimate religious authority even has limits (e.g., Acts 4:19). The submission of wives to their own husbands also has limits. Abigail clearly went against her husband’s wishes, and she is commended for it.

    We are to use discernment and wisdom when implementing any biblical directive, and we are to always act with loving kindness, this is true also of the instructions for submission.

    I hope this helps. If you’re interested, I have other articles about submission in marriage here. And here’s an article about Paul’s use of the phrase “in everything.”

  32. Hi Ashley, I got your message. Everything seems to be ok, technically. Perhaps the page hadn’t fully loaded when you were trying to leave another comment.

  33. Thank you. Seems to be my computer. I wrote this a few days ago. I know you have posted a new article since then.

    Thanks for getting back to me so fast. I’ve been thinking about what you both said. Grudem seems to believe that while the form may defer depending on who you’re submitting to the meaning of the word doesn’t. The way I subordinate myself to my husband will look different than to the government but it’s still subordination. The meaning doesn’t change. Looking at the other places that the greek word is used the military meaning of the word seems to fit better than the non-military.

    Also, Grudem points out that the greek word for “one to another” can also mean “some to others.” In other words, Ephesians doesn’t say everyone to submit to everyone else but believers to elders, the student to the teacher, wives to husbands. Is there any other greek word were 95% of the time if means one thing but in this one of two places it carries a different meaning? Grudem seems to hold that “submit” means the same in every place it’s used. That makes more sense to me.

    I’ve read your article on 1Peter and that seemed weak. Simply because in Ephesians you look to the preceding verse because “wives to your husbands” is missing the verb. I heard someone call it a elliptical verb in the Greek. Is that right? You would definitely know more about that than I. But there is a verb in Peter, dwell or live. Is it really the same situation then? Is there any other examples of this situation? Though the word “likewise” does seem to link the thoughts somewhat.

    I’ve actually read most if not all your articles on gender equality. My dirty house can confirm this. 🙂 I agree completely on your position on women in ministry and the body. I too believe there is no scriptural reason to prevent a woman from using the gifts God has given her wherever He may call her to minister. However, the position on women in marriage doesn’t seem to me to be as strong.

    I hope I have not offended you. That is certainly not my intention. I apologize if I seem to be “beating a dead horse.” And I don’t want to be seen as argumentative. I’m just really interested in this topic. My husband would say fixated. I can be a bit of a pit bull sometimes. 🙂 Again, thank you both for your replies.

  34. Hi Ashley, I take your comments as being sincere, so don’t worry about offending.

    In regards to 1 Peter, “living together” is a participle, not a verb. Typically, sentences need a verb, either stated or implied. So the main verb in the 1 Peter and the Ephesians passages are stated earlier. In the Ephesians 5 passage, the main verb is in verse 18, but the participle of hupotasso carries over from verse 21 to 22. In 1 Peter it is the “likewise” that is important to my point. “Likewise” is “customarily used to introduce the second and third entities in a series.” Massey (1989:61)

    Also, I have no problem with wives submitting to their husbands. I submit to mine. So I never argue that wives should not be submissive to their husbands. All I argue is that the idea of the husband being the authority of the wife has negligible scriptural support.

    I cannot see any evidence that Ephesian 5:21 might mean one-directional submit to elders, etc. I believe that the submission in 5:21 is reciprocal. In fact allēlois is called a reciprocal pronoun.

    OK, gotta go, I’m off to Sydney today. I’m very happy to keep discussing this.

  35. Hi. I wanted to get your opinion on something. I’ve read that “source” is also a rare usage of the word Kephale. That when liddell and Scott site “source” it’s talking about when kephale is used in the plural not the singular. But it is used in Ephesians in the singular.

    Also that a more normal usage would be the most noblest part of something, chief part or point, or sum of the whole. Could Paul be saying that because the husband is the “most noble part of the family” and because the husband as head represents to the world the family as a whole the wife must submit to him in all things. That the husband is in fact the “face” of the family? The point on which the whole family hinges or depends? Just wondering what your thoughts are on such opinions. Thank you.

  36. Ashley, hope you don’t mind if I comment on your statement.

    In the era that the epistle was written men were regarded as not only the “face” of the family that would speak for the family to the outside world, but would also keep the family from the outside world. There was a separateness of superior and inferior in their thinking. Paul was seeking to change that view. One way was in telling the wife to view the husband as her ‘head’ metaphorically, and also in telling the husband to view his wife as his ‘body’ metaphorically.

    Regarding ‘submit in all things’, it is my opinion that Paul is using the word hupotassomenoi in the manner of submitting and staying attached (part of the range of meanings for this word). This fits with the ‘head of’ and ‘body of’ metaphors. Life is destroyed when either the head or the body separates themselves from one another. So telling the wife to look at their relationship of coming into unity, living as one, (vs. 5:31) then the admonition to submit in everything or stay attached in everything makes sense.

    The point of kephale meaning ‘source’ as one of the range of meanings, is not all that rare. Somewhere around that time there was a bust of Zeus as a water fountain with water coming out of his head. Thus, his head is where the source of life was coming. In the same way, it was believed that in the head of the male is where sperm were stored, which contained all that was necessary to produce life when deposited in the womb of a wife. There are quite a few other examples that off the top of my head :^) I can’t think of right now.

    As well, we use it today when we speak of “head” of a river, meaning the point of origination (source) of the river.

  37. Thank you, TL, for your insights. Very interesting.

  38. Hi Ashley,

    The first example the LSJ gives of head meaning source is one in Herodotus Histories (Book 4, chapter 91). This example does happen to be plural because it is talking about headwaters (plural).

    I’ve come across other examples of head meaning source that are not plural.

    Did you see my latest article about kephale? (Look at my extra comment below the article too.)

    Here is a link to a good, readable paper by Alan Johnson that surveys that academic papers scholars have written about kephale.

    I really like the paper. It’s wise and reasonable. It has good conclusions and applications. I agree with Johnson that Paul probably used “head” as a living metaphor in a variety of ways. I agree that instances in Ancient Greek where “head” means source are rare. I also maintain that instances where “head” means leader/authority in original, untranslated Greek are rarer still. I do like how Johnson suggests that Paul wrote with male honour in mind. I think this is an important consideration. Paul, and Peter, are careful to use language that would not be an affront to the Greco-Roman men when telling them to be deferential, caring and loyal to their wives. Willingly laying down one’s life for another is the ultimate act of submission (Eph. 5:25).

    I hope this helps.

  39. I read this today and want to share it here:
    “How is headship exercised? Husbands exercise it, we infer from Ephesians 5:22-33, as they love their wives as Christ loved and gave himself up for the church. On no less than four occasions in that passage husbands are instructed to love (agapan) their wives. From a husband’s side it is a headship of agape modeled on the caring, sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus for his people (cf 1 Pet. 3:7). Men are not once directed to express headship in any other way, neither by decision-making nor leadership and least of all by any kind of oppression.”
    – Paul Barnett “Women in the Church with Special Reference to 1 Timothy 2” in The Bible and Women’s Ministry: An Australian Dialogue, Alan Nichols (Ed.) (Canberra: Acorn Press, 1990)

    I don’t agree with everything that Dr Paul Barnett says in his chapter “Women in the Church …” But I certainly agree with this paragraph.
    [Info about Dr Paul Barnett here.]

    And I like this quotation from C.K. Barrett.
    “Paul does not say that the man is the lord (kyrios) of the women; he says that he the origin of her being.” C.K. Barrett. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (A & C Black, London, 1968), 248-249.
    [Info about C.K. Barrett here.]

  40. I have been doing some reading. I can’t seem to find anything written during the life of Paul that supports kephale as source. Before or after but not during. I’m no sure if I have just overlooked them or not. It seems most sources quoted are a hundred to several hundred years after Ephesians was written. Have I over looked them?

  41. I read a chapter written by Howard Marshall where he states that kephale meaning source is not persuasive. He suggest that the meanings of “prominent, outstanding and determinative” and thus possessing “preeminence” or “ground of being” are well founded. That because the husband is the wife’s provider and she depends on him for everything submission is appropriate. He seems to believe that the “attempts to weaken the sense of head to mean nothing more than source” are on the same level as showing it means authority over. Basically he says that Paul was changing harsh patriarchy into love patriarchy while planting the seeds for us to eventually be able to move on to an egalitarian marriage. I find it interesting that he doesn’t think source is a probable meaning for kephale.

  42. “Source” as a meaning of kephalē is rare but here are a few instances I’ve found in works contemporary with, or just a little later than, Paul.

    “For it is plain that the kephalē [i.e. the source] and object of every reasoning must be the aforesaid mind; for the sake of which, long digressions and sentences are in the habit of being used by men who write histories.” Philo, Posterity 53.

    Galen, who is a little later than Paul, uses the word kephalē for the source of a river in On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato I have more examples of this kind of use in a footnote here: https://margmowczko.com/head-and-headship-in-genesis-1-3/

    The Apocalypse of Moses 19.3 says that lust is the kephalē [i.e. source] of every sin. This work is roughly contemporary with the NT but was probably written in a Semitic language before being translated into Greek.

    The Testament of Reuben 2:1-2, early 2nd century, speaks about the seven heads as sources of rebellion.

    More importantly though, I believe the context of 1 Cor. 11:3 is about origins and firstness. This is how Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and several other early church theologians understood this passage and how they understood the word kephalē in verse 3. Philip Payne has listed these other theologians in his respective book, “Man and Woman, One in Christ”. And I mention them here.

    I have no argument with Howard Marshall. Preeminence is a nuance kephalē if not the primary meaning of a given text. (Our actual head is the most prominent part of our body.) I do not think that preeminence/ prominence is the primary meaning of kephalē in Ephesians 5:21-33. Nevertheless, I do believe Paul (in Ephesians 5) and Peter (in 1 Peter 3:7) present their message to husbands in terms of male honour to make it more appealing, so perhaps preeminence is a meaning in Ephesians 5:23.

  43. Awesome. Thank you.

  44. Also,

    Eph. 4:15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

    We see that Christ is the supplier for the Body. If the Body stays attached to the Head, then everything needed for Growth is supplied. That is Christ being the source of life and growth.

  45. Just remembering and making sure that every one in this conversation understands the out of the 25,000 times that Kephalē is used it never means anything other than Head and not source or beginning, but Head

  46. Bruce, kephalē does mean “head” in Greek. No one disputes this. But “head” is understood in different ways, it can be used both literally and metaphorically. You surely don’t mean to say that a man is a literal head of a woman . . . women do not have a man on top of their necks.

    The word kephalē (“head”) is used metaphorically, not literally, in Ephesians 3:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3. The key to understanding these two verses is whether the metaphorical meaning of kephalē might be “chief person” or something else. The Greek word kephalē, however, rarely means “chief person”, whereas the English word “head” can metaphorically mean “chief person”. We need to look to the Greek, not the English, for answers on this.

    The New Testament contains the word kephalē approximately 70 times. And in 1 Corinthians 11:3 the meaning of “head” does seem to be “origin”. That is how Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria and other Early Church Fathers understood this verse. One of the themes of the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is “origin”. (See especially 1 Cor. 11:11-12).

  47. Marg, thanks for the reply to Bruce although I’m not sure he’s interested in taking part in a sensible discussion. Please could you let me have the citations for Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria re their discussions of 1 Corinthians 11:3. Given Athanasius’ position on the Trinity and his rejection of the eternal subordination of Christ, it makes sense that he would understand 1 Corinthians 11:3 as talking of origin, but I want to read what he says myself just to make sure. Kind regards. David.

  48. Hi David,

    Take a look in the first column on page 377 here. Catherine Kroeger gives some sources here where kephalē is used in arguments against the eternal subordination of the second person of the Trinity. These sources include the texts from Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria that I quote in endnote 6.

    Hope this helps.

  49. Marg – I too have been getting blown away as I study Matthew this year!!! Jesus truly turned everything upside down and made it clear: humility, considering others above us – is the hallmark of His followers!!!

  50. Randi, It is remarkable how clear Jesus’ teaching is on humility and equality, but most of us still don’t “get it” or we fail to put it into practice. Despite frequent failures, I’m am still trying to live according to the New Creation and kingdom principles that Jesus taught and demonstrated.

  51. I have been studying the Bible for quite some time now and I can make no sense out of complementarianism.

    For example, most complementarians state that husbands have authority over wives (male headship) and while wives are supposed to submit, their submission is voluntary and can’t be forced by the husband.

    Well,if submission is voluntary, how can headship be authority, since authority is defined as the right to enforce obedience. And if submission is not voluntary and can be enforced by the husband, what is the appropriate penalty upon the wife if she does not submit? Wouldn’t this justify a man punishing his wife like a child? What is the point of authority that can not be enforced?

    This makes me think that kepale means source and submission (hupotasso) probably means “support of” in the context of presenting yourself to your husband, in everything (meaning take part in all family issues/decision making), helping him (as his HelpMeet) and counseling him and supporting him as an equal. We are subject to him as a HelpMeet and equal, responsible for taking part in decision making, unlike the patriarchy of the time, where women were subject to their husbands as slaves and property and were required to be obedient to their husbands commands.

    This seems consistent with the relationship originally present in the Garden of Eden.

    1. I’ve noticed several inconsistencies with complementarian ideology and practice.

      There’s a book that’s about to be released that critiques Dr John Dickson’s views expressed in his book “Hearing her Voice”, and one of the major contributors is a woman, Claire Smith. How can a woman who believes that woman cannot teach men write chapters in a book that will be read by men – a book that discusses scripture and doctrine? (More on this kind of inconsistency here.)

      I was thinking the other day that the idea of voluntary submission from wives does not correspond with the idea that husbands are the authorities of their wives.

      1. I concur with everything you have said. In some churches, a woman can’t sing a solo but she could sing a duet with a man. The duet does not change the fact that she is still singing.

        I think complementarians are saying that a woman can teach a man, as long as the message is that a woman can’t teach a man.


        It’s reminds of the books written by Debi Pearl. She makes a career telling other women they can’t have careers.

        I really with I could find an egalitarian church to attend. All the churches in my area are comp.

        1. About a year ago or so, staunch complementarian Russel Moore reprimanded complementarian couples for having egalitarian marriages. He recognised that many complementarian couples were saying that the husband is the authority of the wife but acting as though the husband and wife were equal partners. At least he acknowledged the inconsistency.

          He went on to say that complementarians should change back and call their ideology patriarchalism, so that people wouldn’t get soft on male authority.

          I’m so glad I go to an egalitarian church and have a truly egalitarian marriage.

  52. I find this write up very interesting and deeply researched. As deeply researched as it is though, I also find it to be subtly, yet dangerously very misleading. In my opinion, it strongly promotes feminism and rationalism rather than the scripture on which it is supposedly based.
    A man is not superior to a woman and God has clearly created the two genders for specific, yet complimentary purposes rather than rivalry. One is not complete without the other yet one has been made a leader over the other. In my understanding, all the verses used in this write up point to one thing in the bible; just as Christ is the head of the Church, yet he submitted himself to death for the sake of the church, so has God given man leadership yet requiring man to be humble and loving in that leadership role. God requires man to be sacrificial, protective and responsible for the upkeep and wellbeing of his wife (and children).
    You said the first woman was created to rescue, what was she created to rescue? Well, again this is not biblical. The first woman was created as a companion, a mate a help meet. Someone who is not inferior nor a rival, rather someone who has complimentary set of skills to make up for what is lacking. Someone to complete a team.
    I would remind us again of what happened in the garden of Eden. When God came to visit after Adam had eaten the fruit given to him by Eve (a rescuer?), both of them hid. Called then called “Adam, where art thou?” God did not say “Adam and Eve, where art thou” An all knowing God that He is, He knew what happened already yet when He came, He directed all His questioning at Adam ONLY, why? Simply because Adam was the leader and he had failed in the capacity of the leader, yet God help him (the leader) responsible for that failure despite the fact that Eve (his subordinate) gave him the forbidden fruit to eat.
    Lastly, as there cannot be two captains in charge of a ship at the same time, the same way there cannot be two equal leaders in a marriage at the same time. Marriage is a beautiful institution but the presence of two equal leaders in many marriages today has been responsible for the rampant divorce and separation breaking up homes in the world as well as in the church. I think Christians should let the spirit of God lead them to say the truth to the church and the world to reverse this trend by every spirit led means rather than pushing for more rivalries and power tussle at the home front. I think so long as young men and women continue to read articles like this, we would be seeing more men losing their sense of responsibility and women losing their sense of subordination, we would be seeing more breaking homes.
    I reiterate again, as ordained by God, man is not superior to woman, in fact a man is not complete without a woman, yet a man has been made a leader over a woman and when we question or query or imply that this is not so, we query the wisdom of God the creator.

    1. Hi Ola,

      Here are a few responses to your comment:

      ~ I often hear people say that man is not complete without a woman and vice versa, but I’m not sure that the Bible teaches this. It does not say that God created the women to make the man complete. There are several single people in the Bible who lived productive lives and were valuable in fulfilling God’s mission. Paul thought being single was good. Yet it is not good for anyone to be alone. We all need to belong to a community, but we do not all need to be married.

      ~ I can find no verse that states that men only, and not women are to God required to be sacrificially protective and responsible for the well being of their spouse and children. We are all called to selflessly care and protect everyone, especially our own families. Just because Paul singles out men in Ephesians chapter 5 does not mean that women do not need to love and cherish their own husbands as their own bodies (Eph. 5:1-2). It seems that the husbands in Paul’s letter needed to be taught this. Many wives were already used to being selfless in marriage.

      ~ The Hebrew word ezer (and the Greek word boethos) means a rescuing and strong support. It is usually used of God and his rescuing help and strong support. So the concept that God created the first woman to rescue the man is entirely scriptural. You can easily compare how ezer and boethos are used in the Bible. All the Bible verses that contain the word ezer are here. All the Bible verses that contain the word boethos are here.

      ~ The Bible does not say what the women was to rescue the man from. But God did say, just before he made her, that it was not good for the first human to be alone. So perhaps she was to rescue him from loneliness.

      ~ I have written about God calling the man here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/questions-about-adams-role-in-genesis-2-and-3/

      ~ Nothing in Genesis 1 or 2, or the beginning of Genesis 3, states or implies that the first human was a leader of anything other than the animals. Genesis 1 also states that both men and women were leaders or rules of the animals.

      ~ I do not see in the Bible that God created any human being to rule over another capable human being. This unfortunate dynamic came after the fall.

      ~ A ship needs a captain, as does any organisation of more than few people. (More about the flawed ship captain analogy here.) A marriage is only made of two people. If both people are intelligent and capable and moral, and are being led by the Spirit, it simply doesn’t make sense that one person is always the leader and the other person is always the follower. But most importantly the Bible just does not say that the husband is the leader of the wife (using any of the many, usual Greek words for leader, ruler, governor, master, etc.)

      In my marriage and in my friendships there is no leader. And my marriage has lasted for 30 years and, I can thankfully say, it’s great. As are my friendships. I think my friends would be concerned if I said I want to always be the leader and you be my followers.

      Finally, I can not find a single verse in the Bible where God says that man ruling the woman is his idea or his ideal. Apart from the Genesis 3:16 and Esther 1:20-22 (esp. vs 22) there is no verse in the Bible that states that a man or husband is to be the leader or ruler of his wife.

      God created the woman to be the man’s companion, not his subordinate follower. https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/kenegdo-meet-subordinate-suitable-or-similar/

      I see nothing at all dangerous about a loving couple mutually submitting to each other, where neither one is the leader because their true leader is God. It’s worked for many Christian marriages.

  53. Ola, I’m sure you’ve listened most intently to your leaders and teachers and I commend you for getting their teachings so exact. I would be interested in what Scriptures you are using to support your theories.

    Where does it say males are not superior to females, that man is not complete without a woman, or that a man has been made a leader over a woman. Please quote the words that show these things.

  54. Thanks Marg for such excellent teaching. I’ve had a particular interest in discovering the true teaching of the Bible about women in ministry etc., for some time now and I find your articles to be very informative. It’s great to learn more about the Greek (of which I’m a novice). It’s such a shame that English translations have done so much to misrepresent Paul and his teaching on women. I hope this will be addressed soon with a translation that does women justice. Again, thank you so much for your scholarship and remarkable humility and patience in answering questions. I’ll be reading regularly from now on. I also share your posts on facebook. Bless you!

    1. I’ve just read the International Standard Version on 1 Timothy 2.12 and it’s very interesting. The Voice is very good here too.

      1. Hi Geoff, Thanks for your kind words and for pointing out these two paraphrases. I just went to Bible Gateway and had a look at them. The ISV is certainly interesting but too contrived for my liking. The VOICE’s interpretation seems entirely credible.

        And thanks for sharing my posts on facebook. 🙂

        1. Yes, I agree about the ISV. It also use Israli rather than Israel which I think strange – but that’s another issue!

  55. I don’t necessarily understand how you do not comprehend the previous points, but that is just how it goes I guess. Maybe my English is not that great, lol.

    The Old Testament in Greek (LXX) uses the word ‘κεφαλὴ’ to describe leadership/ authority/ ruler. Psalm 18:43 “ῥύσῃ με ἐξ ἀντιλογιῶν λαοῦ καταστήσεις με εἰς κεφαλὴν ἐθνῶν λαός ὃν οὐκ ἔγνων ἐδούλευσέν μοι- You rescue me from a hostile army; you make me a leader of nations; people over whom I had no authority are now my subjects (NET).” This verse alone, shows that the biblical use of the word in the NT allows for the idea of ‘authority,’ rather than ‘source.’ Now we must look into the context of the New Testament to see if the writers use this word to convey the idea of ‘authority.’ It seems as if we do find it. 1 Corinthians 11:3 is referring to the deity of Jesus. The chief priests and elders asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things (Matthew 21:23)?” In my opinion, since the impersonal noun for ‘Christ’ is alluding to the deity of Jesus, 1 Corinthians 11:3 seems to be alluding to ideas of hierarchy, as Ciampa and Rosner state below:

    “Both of the previous views have received serious criticism, and there has been a recent tendency to reject both “source” and “authority over” as possible meanings for the word or the best meaning here. Those rejecting those two possibilities have tended to a more nuanced understanding of “head” as meaning “prominent,” “preeminent,” or “foremost.” Even if by “head” Paul means “more prominent/preeminent partner” or (less likely) “one through whom the other exists,” his language and the flow of the argument seem to reflect an assumed hierarchy through which glory and shame flow upward from those with lower status to those above them. In this context the word almost certainly refers to one with authority over the other.” Ciampa, R. E., & Rosner, B. S. (2010). The First Letter to the Corinthians (pp. 508–509). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

    You have yet to answer how, theologically, God is the origin of the Messiah. How can that work?

    Thiselton points out that it is difficult to understand Paul’s precise meaning in the word ‘κεφαλὴ.’ While I do believe that this passage is likely referring to authority, I won’t hold onto it if my view is wrong. As I mentioned elsewhere, I am not as much disappointed with our disagreement on male and female roles, as I am with twisting Scripture to support agendas. The argument that ‘κεφαλὴ’ should be viewed as ‘source’ is lacking, and cannot be adequately supported. I realize that the argument that ‘κεφαλὴ’ must refer to authority in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3 is not foolproof either, but it is better than the ‘source’ view. To twist the meaning of the word ‘κεφαλὴ’ to support egalitarianism, harms others because it is incorrect and not true. It also distorts Christology. That is a main issue. If God is the source of the Messiah, what does that mean? How can that idea fit within the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3? It doesn’t seem possible.

    I think that biblical male authority and female submission, as you seem to take them negatively, is not how Scripture views male and female roles, or even the roles within the trinity. You seem to take submission in a negative sense, whereas Jesus was happy to submit to His Father’s will. Jesus was not “subordinate” in the negative sense that you seem to use the word. He simply was obedient, even though He was fully God and fully equal. The fact that God, in His eternal glory and infinite power, would become obedient to the will of the Father, even to the point of death (Philippians 2:6-11), should inform us that the biblical view of submission is different than the worldly definition. Equal, yet different roles.

    P.S.- these roles are more ethical and spiritual than physical. Nowhere in Scripture are women supposed to be the ones washing dishes. ….Also, please address why and how God is the source of the Messiah, in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3

    1. I do not take submission in a negative sense. Submission is one feature of healthy, Spirit-led, relationships in the church and in marriage (Eph. 5:21ff).

      I believe in submission. (More on this here.) It is male-only authority I do not believe in. The New Testament does not teach this.

  56. The order of the 3 pairs given in 1 Cor 11:3 is not in the order of a hierarchy, either going up or going down. Paul knew how to specify a hierarchy and the inspired text does not specify such without rearranging it. The question then becomes what is the organizing order used in the text by Paul?

    I think it is chronology, as follows: In the Creation stories, the pre-incarnate Christ (called the Word by John) was there and the source of everything created, including people (see John 1). Again, in the second Creation story, the man was the source of the woman. And the source of the incarnate Messiah (while on earth) was the Godhead.

    1. There I don’t understand how, in any sense, that the Godhead (which is not an accurate translation and has no real reference to the trinity, although the trinity is obviously taught in other texts) is the ‘source’ of the Incarnate-God, or even the Incarnate-Messiah. The impersonal noun for “messiah” (having no personal name, i.e.-Jesus) is likely highlighting his deity, not his messiah-ship (see Conzellman 1 Corinthians). Other texts that highlight the deity of Christ (like John 1:1, Colossians 2:9, Philippians 2:6, Ephesians 1:23) are doing so to emphasize His worthiness of worship as the Almighty Lord, not His ability to create. The point of such texts is not that He is the source and creator of all things, although that is true, but that since he is the Creator God, He is Almighty and worthy of worship since he is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lord. In other words, He is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. That is the point of such texts. So not only does the idea that God is the source of Christ not fit the context, but does not make any sense to me. Can you please explain how God is the source of “Christ-God (rather than Christ-Messiah)?”

      1. I am not following your reasoning Matt. From what you say in this response, one would think that Paul is trying to tell women to worship their husbands. You are not seeing the intersecting point that joins all three comparisons. It is not worship.

      2. A little confusion fix might help here. Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, the anointed One. Also, Jesus the Messiah/Christ, is fully God while also being fully human. This is the miracle that God did by putting holy seed into the womb of a virgin young woman. Thus, this also explains how Jesus, the God/Human, was brought into being by God. In this way God/Eloheim is the “source” of the Messiah.

      3. When the text just says God, it does not necessarily mean God the Father, it can mean the Godhead, the personal manifestations of God which are distinct yet are a single God.

        Christ or Messiah is a title, it means anointed one, examples of such are found throughout Scripture, for example kings and priests were anointed and even Cyrus the pagan king was called such, altho some translations may not show this. However, because of verses in the Prophets, there was and is a special Messiah or 2 special Messiahs. One messiah is a suffering servant and the other messiah is a conquering king, and it was not clear to 1st century Jews if they were the same person or different people as the prophecies said that the suffering servant messiah would die, while the conquering king messiah would reign forever.

        In any case, when the word Christ or Messiah is found in the NT it is to this type of figure. Now it turns out that Messiah is God, but the first thing is that Jesus is a Jewish man and Messiah.

      4. It is illogical to say that “Godhead” is an inaccurate translation of “deity” or “divinity” (cf Acts 17:29 KJV; Col 2:9 KJV), but in the same sentence you use and defend the word “Trinity” which does not even occur in the Bible.

        1. Dear Marg, thank you for your scholarly sharing of the Bible. However, I have question for you. Do you think the people in the first century in the societal context of Greco-Roman society would speak of “mutual” submission?
          A Catholic Priest

          1. Hello Bala,

            Greco-Roman society was highly stratified and hierarchical, so I doubt that most people outside of the Christian community would have an understanding or experience of mutual submission.

            The influence of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of the Jesus and the apostles (e.g. 2 Cor 5:16-17; Gal 3:28) brought radically new ways of relating among God’s people. This included mutual submission (or, mutual deference).

  57. A lot of ideas. But no addressing the biblical passages. His ideas are unconvincing. It is like when people argue against Calvinism because of the ethical or moral implications that they deem to be (from a philosophical standpoint) contrary to the nature of God. In the video below, John Piper discusses how a philosophy professor is willing to reject the biblical evidence in favor of moral, ethical, and philosophical implications. This article does the same thing. It tries to build a system of thought off of selected passages, and twist ones that need to be further addressed, to affirm what he deems as more moral and ethical than the biblical writers themselves.

    1. Which biblical passages are being addressed in this video? It’s just someone’s personal story.

      You criticize someone and then do the very thing you are blaming him for! Moreover, the video is completely off-topic. (I have removed the link as it is irrelevant to this topic.)

      I will be removing any further comments, Matt, unless they are helpful and directly related to the topic. You really need to work on your comprehension skills.

  58. Here is a great article why egalitarianism demeans Jesus Christ.

    [Link deleted]

    1. I disagree. It’s not a great article. No egalitarian I know denies or minimises the Sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ.

      There are plenty of New Testament verses that unequivocally state Jesus is Lord. There are also some verses that speak about the unity and bond between Jesus and his church.

      Jesus is the whole reason we have equality! We are a new creation, living with new kingdom principles, because of him.

      It’s ignorant and judgemental to suggest that egalitarians demean Jesus Christ.

    2. It is worse than sad that so many think all of life revolves around rule and authority. I am ever so thankful that Jesus, the Son of God, the Word of God who is very God, is the One who is both, head/source of our new life in Christ as well as the head/leader of our new lives in Him. as well as deliverer, healer, truth giver, the sender of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Christ lifts us out of our meager life to walk with Him and talk with Him and do great things IN Him. Christ is the ONLY mediator between us and God. We need no other. Humans, both male and female, are not up to the task. We must rely on God. And it is notable that Christ calls us friend and no longer slave. The Lord leads us as a good shepherd of our frail human souls.

      Those who view life as all about authority, who has it and who doesn’t, are to be pitied for the quality of spiritual life that they are missing in Jesus. So, there is no need to be upset with those who live such a shallow life. That is the path they have chosen to believe. It is sad. I know it is difficult to help them see otherwise. So, I pray that God will bless them as much as is possible with such a world view.

      I praise God every day for the freedom I have IN Jesus, the deep Love I share with the Lord and am always thankful for the many blessings He sends my way. His mercy endures forever.

      1. It is also noteworthy that in almost every letter, Paul refers to himself a slave of Jesus Christ. He also says that Christians are slaves of righteousness in Romans 6. I thank God that it is only in slavery to His will that I find true freedom.

        1. Amen to that statement. Well said.

        2. Matt, I think you’ve touched the heart of the matter. Your words sound like those of a slave who wants other men to share his slavery, and for women to experience a worse kind.

          Perhaps consider what it is to be a friend and child of God and help others discover the same.

          There’s nothing more I can say to you.

    3. I find MacArthur to not be a trustworthy interpreter of Scripture in many ways.

      The main one in the “head/kephale” discussion is that he teleports the 21st century metaphor of head as leader into a 1st century text. It is a type of magic trick and sadly, it works too often.

      What one needs to do is study in Scripture what Paul means by Jesus as “head of the church”. When one does that one can see that the functions Jesus does as “head of the church” are all serving functions and there are not leading functions involved. I challenge Matt to do this study for himself just to see how far off MacArthur is and how he has conned people.

  59. I wanted to interject. I ask to please read the totality of what I say.

    I guess you would call me a complementarian. I am not sure that I hold all their beliefs but I do believe that Christ is the ruler, leader, and head (modern usage) of the church and the husband is the leader or head (modern usage) of the marital relationship/family. God provided man with a helpmeet that would rescue him from loneliness as he was not able to find a companion among the animals God created for him. I believe that leader role is shown in the fall as God gave man the rules who then passed them on to the woman. He was chastised for listening to her.

    With that being said I personally believe the Ephesians passage for husbands is key. The requirement for us to love our wives as Christ loved the church sets the tone for how the relationship works. What follows next is a post I wrote about it.

    The command for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church is something that I struggled with comprehending. That is until this morning. I think that I was finally in the right place to understand it as it became clear to me. As I post my understanding it is important to know that we husbands cannot accomplish this without assistance and dependence on God. It is simply not in our nature.

    Christ set aside all of His glory, His desire, and His position to come to earth and take on a fleshly human body. As a husband we should set aside our desires, plans, and wants/needs to help fulfill those of our wives. Christ’s love for His body was a self-sacrificing love in which the sole motivation was the benefit in all things of the one loved. We also see that Christ’s love was about being a servant to the one loved. One just needs to read the account of Christ washing the feet of His disciples. This is where we husbands must rely on God as it goes against our nature.

    Christ gave up everything for us husbands as an example. As such we should give up everything for our wives, even our interests. This is in direct opposition to the philosophy of the world which says we need to prioritize our needs. Where would we be if Christ prioritized His desires like the world. Would we have redemption available to us? Most likely not.

    Christ also forgave unconditionally and without being asked. On the cross He said “Father forgive them they know not what they do.” Likewise we are to forgive our wives whether or not they ask it. We should not keep account of the wrongs done to us and to use them later on to justify whatever we want. We need to let go of them and we need to avoid absolutes like you always or you never as they say to her that things can never change.

    We as husbands should never be harsh with them and we should treat them with respect unless we want our prayers to be blocked. We don’t scream I love you but convey it with a tender kiss. We look at them in the eyes when we talk with them. We reflect back what they say so that we are sure we understand them. We respect her feelings, hopes, and wishes. We are to take care of her like we do our own body. When we are hungry we eat, when cold we seek out warmth, when tired we sleep. Just as we fulfill our needs naturally we need to learn to understand and fulfill their needs.

    My understanding is still a work in progress but I want to challenge you to identify something a single task that you can do for you wife each and everyday. It could be anything but commit to do it everyday. As you see her happiness grow and thrive you find a joy in doing it.

    1. Hi Barry,

      We are in complete agreement that Jesus is the Lord and the Leader of the church. He is also the “Head” of his church, his “body”.

      I also agree with many of your other statements. Though, perhaps this one could have been worded better: “Christ gave up everything for us husbands as an example.”

      Surely Christ’s sacrifice is an example for all his followers, whether male or female, whether married or single. All of us are called to love sacrificially as Christ loved, and all of us are to be mutually submissive to one another (Eph 5:1-2, 21).

      Perhaps Christian wives are singled out in verse 22, etc, because they believed their new found freedom did away with submission to their (unsaved?) husbands. And perhaps Christian husbands are singled out in verse 23, etc, because they needed extra encouragement to truly love their wives as themselves, let alone as Christ loves.

      I appreciate your thoughts. (I hope Martin replies to your other comment about divorce.)

  60. I’m curious how you understand the use of the word head in Ephesians 1:22-23. What does it mean that Christ was given “as head over all things to the church, his body”? Obviously the head-body metaphor is there, but the phrase “head over all things” seems to indicate that Paul is using the word head to include the sense of “authority over.” I have no knowledge of ancient Greek though so, as I said, I’m curious what you think about that. Although I’m now noticing that he uses the word “feet” in verse 22 as well, is this also an extension of the body metaphor? I’m looking at the ESV.

    1. Hi AG,

      The word kephalē, in and of itself, was not a typical metaphor for a person in authority in first-century Greek, especially in untranslated original Greek, as is Paul’s letters. But kephalē can be used in the context of a person in authority, as is the case in Ephesians 1:22.

      There are a few things happening in Ephesians 1:22-23. The church is referred to as the “body” which is the fullness of Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus is not explicitly referred to as the “head” of the church in these verses, even if an implication is there.

      Unlike Ephesians 5:23ff, “head” and “body” are not associated (or compared or contrasted) in these 1:22-23. Instead, “head” and “feet” are the two elements contrasted. Furthermore, these elements are discussed using the words “over” (huper) and “under” (hupo). These prepositions are key. These prepositions are clearly denoting different ranks.

      Rather than a “head-body” unity and interdependence (as in Ephesians 5), there is a hierarchy of “over” and “under,” of “head” (the highest part of the body) and “feet” (the lowest part of the body). “Feet” and “footstools” are commonly used in idioms about those who lack authority, power and status. Jesus, however, is “far above all rule and authority . . .” (Eph. 1:21).

      Importantly, the church is not the “feet,” and Paul does not describe us as under Jesus Christ. Rather, we are the body, the fullness of Jesus Christ! No wonder Paul uses superlatives in Ephesians 1 to describe our hope and inheritance. It is truly astounding. (More on this here.)

      Paul uses “head” in a variety of ways in his letters. And the “head-feet” metaphor is very different from the “head-body” metaphor used elsewhere in Paul’s letters.

      I hope this helps.

      1. Thanks! I think that makes sense, and it also gives more power to Eph. 6 when Paul tells us to stand firm against the rulers and authorities of spiritual darkness. We are the fullness of Christ, and his power which is far above all rule and authority lives in us.

        1. Nice! 🙂

  61. […] A more disturbing statement made at the conference was that “male headship” is a gift to protect women from abuse. I do not believe that Paul’s use of the word “head” in Ephesians 5:21-33 means that a husband has more authority than his wife. Furthermore, the faulty idea that men have an authority which women lack contributes to the abuse of women. […]

  62. Hi Marg,
    Thanks for this post and for your website.
    Just a couple of notes on your Athanasius quote. It’s not Athanasius speaking there but he’s quoting the first Creed of Sirmium. This doesn’t contradict your argument because the usage is what counts, but Athanasius also quotes the creed of Antioch (The Macrostitch) which *does* seem to associate “head” with authority:

    “Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being Head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be”

    Looks to me like both meanings are supported.

    1. Thanks Andrew. I appreciate this. I’ll take another look.

  63. I’ve come across the claim that 1 Timothy 3:4 supports male headship because it says the man is to lead or manage his house. Doesn’t that imply that husbands are the leaders in the home? I don’t agree with that statement but am not sure how to answer such a claim. Thoughts?

    1. Yes, I’ve come across that claim too. Except that the qualification about leading/caring for one’s household does not make it clear, in the Greek, that it’s referring only to men.

      The pertinent phrase in 1 Timothy 3:4 is tou idiou oikou (“[of] own household”) kalōs (“well”) proistamenon (“leading/caring/providing”) = “leading/caring for one’s own household”.

      Admittedly “of own household” is grammatically masculine, as is the participle for “leading/caring/providing” but there’s nothing in the phrase that indicates it refers to men only. (The masculine gender is the default gender for men and for groups that include women as well.) The New Testament shows that a few women were the householder of their own home: Mary of Jerusalem, Lydia, Chloe, Nympha, the Chosen Lady, and probably Martha and Phoebe. And some of these women could have been the episkopos of the church that met in their homes.

      Episkopos later meant a senior church leader, a “bishop”, but in the mid-first century, it probably referred to the host and leader of a congregation that met in that person’s (or couple’s) house.

      1 Timothy 3:1-7 assumes the episkopoi (supervisors) in Ephesus are (or will be) male, faithfully married (once), have children, and have their own household. But nothing in the passage positively rules out the possibility that episkopoi might not be male or married or have children or have their own households. All the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are essentially moral qualifications and are to do with social respectability. Paul wanted the house church leaders to have orderly and honourable households. (More on the qualifications here.)

      It could be that at the time of writing (late first century), that the Ephesian culture would have frowned on a female episkopos, but I’m pretty sure Priscilla and Aquila functioned as episkopoi earlier. (More on this here.) As I said, 1 Timothy 3:2-7 is about social respectability and not about gender as such.

      1. I think it is one of the strongest arguments for men being the leader of the home I have come across. What do you think is meant by household? Would it include the spouse? I think of where women are told to rule the house but that would not include the spouse, right? Does the same qualification of managing the house for deacons apply to both male and female deacons?

        By the way, I love your blog and your willingness to answer my questions. Thank you so much.

        1. Hi Ashley,

          Oikodespotein, which occurs in 1 Timothy 5:14, really just means “to manage the house”, that is, manage the day to day running of the household and domestic industries, even though the etymology of the word suggests “to rule the house”. (Etymology does not necessarily tell us how a word is actually used.)

          1 Timothy 3:4 means that episkopoi must govern and provide for their homes well. (The emphasis is one “well”.)

          I can’t see how this verse, which doesn’t mention men and is specifically about episkopoi, not men in general, means that all men are the leaders in their homes. Furthermore, there could be several men in one household. Two husbands live in my home. In ancient times this was common. (Neither husband is the leader in our home. There is no leader. We all work things out together.)

          Many households in the Greco-Roman world included extended family and slaves. Plus there were often clients attached to the household through the all-important social dynamic of patronage.

          The participle for “lead/care/provide” in 1 Timothy 3:4 and 12 is from the verb proistēmi, a word which occurs eight times in the New Testament. Sometimes the sense of “lead” is secondary to the sense of “care”. See each occurrence here, especially the occurrences in Titus 3.

          Proistēmi in the New Testament “seems to have the sense a. ‘to lead’ but the context shows in each case that one must also take into account sense b. ‘to take care of’. This is explained by the fact that caring was an obligation of leading members of the infant Church.”
          Bo Reike, “Proistēmi ”, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol. 6, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, transl. and ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 701-703, 701.

          This sense of caring is lost when people become obsessed with leadership authority.

          Phoebe of Cenchrea is referred to with the cognate noun of proistēmi in Romans 16:2: she was a patron and protector of many in the church, including Paul. She led, cared and provided for the church at Cenchrea.

          Scholars are divided if 1 Timothy 3:12 refers to both male and female deacons. Chrysostom, however, stated that the one-woman-man qualification in verse 12 applies to both male and female deacons. He didn’t comment on the “managing/caring for one’s own home well”.

          And, you’re welcome. 🙂

          1. Thank you. That is very helpful.

          2. Hi Ashley, before you go . . .
            I was thinking last night about our conversation and I realised I had not clarified an important point.

            The expectation in the ancient world, and more recently, was that the senior male (or occasionally senior female) would lead the household, or rule it. This is a given in 1 Timothy 3. Someone, usually a man, was to be in charge: in charge of finances, of home-based industry, and the behaviour of other adults, including the behaviour of other adult men and women.

            Also, the participle from proistemi used in 1 Timothy 3 has a broader sense than just “lead/rule”, as I’ve already pointed out. There are plenty of other Greek words that mean “lead/rule” so it is interesting that Paul uses the word he does. (More on this word and the role of episkopoi, overseers, here.)

            1 Timothy 3 is NOT saying that those who are the senior person in their households and want to be, or already are, episkopoi or deacons, must lead/rule their homes. They are already doing that according to the customs of the day. Rather, Paul wants them to lead/care/provide for their own households well. And he wants them to lead/care/provide for the Christians who meet in their homes too, that is the church. (Some episkopoi may have already been overseeing the network of house churches of a city, rather than just being a house church leader, at that time in the development of the church.)

            I appreciate this conversation, as I’ve also seen this argument that 1 Tim 3 shows that men must be the leaders of their homes. It is a faulty argument and I appreciate the opportunity to think about it more, discuss it with you, and I may write a blog post on it.

          3. I would definitely be interested in reading that blog post if you do decide to write it. I have not found a lot of articles that deal with this specific use of that verse and I am beginning to come across more people who use it as an example of husbands being told to lead their wives.

  64. Marg, please forgive me if I repeat a point already covered in the numerous comments, all of which I’ve not read. I was referred to your post from a recent post on TLHV. I agree with many of your points. But not all.

    My question: The NT clearly continues what was stated in the Beginning about Adam-Eve becoming “one flesh.” That is, in marriage the man and woman become a single anatomical body, the man being the head, the wife being the body. Does not this clear illustration and reality demonstrate male leadership in marriage, since we can all deduce what functions the physical heads on our physical bodies perform?

    1. Hi Doug,

      We may immediately associate the word “head” (particularly the brain) with the governance of a body, but this doesn’t mean Paul and other ancients made this association. I do believe, however, there is a nuance of prominence in the idea of “head”. Several scholars write about this, including Andrew Perriman and Judith Gundry Volf.

      Ancient writers invariably believed that the husband was superior and the leader of his wife (unless the wife came from a family of higher rank) but these writers used other words to describe this. No ancient author, other than Paul, uses the word “head” for relationships between men and women. It was not a usual thing to say. Paul was saying something different to authors such as Plutarch, for example.

      I believe unity is the primary meaning of the head-body metaphor in Ephesians 5:22-33, and origin is the primary meaning of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. But a nuance of prominence is likely in both passages.

      A senior man (and not younger husbands, or husbands who were slaves) was usually the leader of a household (paterfamilias) in the Greco-Roman world, but Paul is not addressing this household dynamic. He is addressing, in Ephesians 5:22-33, the personal relationship between potentially every Christian husband and wife.

      All women and children (both adult and young, male and female) and slaves (both male and female) had to comply with the wishes of the senior male. Wives of younger husbands or slave husbands had to obey the paterfamilias, just like the other people in the household; their husbands were not their final authority. (Marriages between slaves were de facto and not recognised by Roman law.)

      In some cases, a woman, usually a widow or divorcee was the leader of the household (materfamilias), and she was the one who was heeded. But all children, including adult and married children, were expected to obey their parents, mother and father. This obedience to parents was expected among the Jews, Christians and most pagans (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20; Deut. 5:16; etc). Furthermore, a woman who was married sine manu was under the legal authority of her own parents rather than the legal authority of the paterfamilias of her new family.

      Paul does not challenge the authority of leaders of household, or parents, or Christian slave owners(!) but gives instructions about the one-body relationship of marriage in Ephesians 5. And his instructions to Christian husbands are truly astonishing. They are not about husbands having authority, but the opposite. The instructions are about husbands yielding to wives and sacrificially loving their wives as their own bodies.

      I have more on the Greek word “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 here.

      What’s TLHV?

      1. Thanks Marg! You’ve given me much to ponder. TLHV is Sheila Gregoire’s website To Love Honor and Vacuum. She quoted you at length in a recent blog post.

  65. Oh how feminists and progressive “christians” love to cherry pick until they careful craft a seemingly solid argument — here’s just one example. The author claims that John Chrysostom doesn’t believe in headship or authority in male and female relations. I now quote from the exact link and page she referenced:

    “1 Corinthians 11:7
    For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God.

    This is again another cause. Not only, so he speaks, because he has Christ to be His Head ought he not to cover the head, but because also he rules over the woman. For the ruler when he comes before the king ought to have the symbol of his rule. As therefore no ruler without military girdle and cloak, would venture to appear before him that has the diadem: so neither do thou without the symbols of your rule, (one of which is the not being covered,) pray before God, lest you insult both yourself and Him that has honored you.

    And the same thing likewise one may say regarding the woman. For to her also is it a reproach, the not having the symbols of her subjection. But the woman is the glory of the man. Therefore the rule of the man is natural.

    5. Then, having affirmed his point, he states again other reasons and causes also, leading you to the first creation, and saying thus:

    1 Corinthians 11:8
    For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.

    But if to be of any one, is a glory to him of whom one is, much more the being an image of him.

    1 Corinthians 11:9
    For neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.

    This is again a second superiority, nay, rather also a third, and a fourth, the first being, that Christ is the head of us, and we of the woman; a second, that we are the glory of God, but the woman of us; a third, that we are not of the woman, but she of us; a fourth, that we are not for her, but she for us.

    1 Corinthians 11:10
    For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head.

    For this cause: what cause, tell me? For all these which have been mentioned, says he; or rather not for these only, but also because of the angels. For although thou despise your husband, says he, yet reverence the angels.

    It follows that being covered is a mark of subjection and authority. For it induces her to look down and be ashamed and preserve entire her proper virtue. For the virtue and honor of the governed is to abide in his obedience.

    Again: the man is not compelled to do this; for he is the image of his Lord: but the woman is; and that reasonably. Consider then the excess of the transgression when being honored with so high a prerogative, you put yourself to shame, seizing the woman’s dress. And you do the same as if having received a diadem, you should cast the diadem from your head, and instead of it take a slave’s garment.

    1 Corinthians 11:11
    Nevertheless, neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord.

    Thus, because he had given great superiority to the man, having said that the woman is of him and for him and under him; that he might neither lift up the men more than was due nor depress the women, see how he brings in the correction, saying, Howbeit neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord.”

    1. Hi Farid,

      I never stated that John Chrysostom doesn’t believe in male authority in the relationship between husband and wife. He does. You’ve misrepresented what I said. I stand by my actual statement, “Chrysostom is adamant that ‘head’ doesn’t mean ‘leader’ in 1 Corinthians 11:3.” I’ve made the parameters of my statement clear and precise.

      Chrysostom was writing at a time when kephalē could occasionally refer to a person in a position of authority, but he rejects this meaning in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Verse 3 is the verse that actually contains the word kephalē, not the other verses that you’ve given.

      The point of my statement is how Chrysostom understood the word kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3. My point isn’t what he thought about authority in marriage. You have misconstrued my point. And Chrysostom has misconstrued Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. And it’s Paul’s words about men and women that matter on this subject.

      “Nevertheless [or, except that], in the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.

      For those of us who are “in the Lord” there is mutual interdependence. Who was originally created first, or who was originally created for whom, doesn’t matter, because all of us, ultimately, have our source in God. Mutuality and equality are what Paul wanted for us who are “in the Lord”.

      Importantly, women, as well as men, are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28) and women, as well as men, can have the glory of God, or of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). Chrysostom was wrong: neither sex is superior, men and women are equal.

      I have more about 1 Corinthians 11:9 here. I have more about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here. I have more about the meaning of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 here. And I have more about women as helpers here.

  66. Hi,

    I do have one question though, how does this verse of scripture fit in all of these

    21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5.

    It talks about the woman being subject to her husband in all things and him being the head. I tried to find references to archōn you mentioned and they all seem to mean a physical head. Am I missing the gist?

    1. Hi FL,

      I’m not following your question about archōn.

      Archōn is a Greek word that means “ruler/leader.” This word is used (as well as a closely related word) in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word rosh when rosh means “ruler/leader” in the Hebrew Bible.

      Archōn most definitely does not mean “head” in the Greek sense of the word. Kephalē is the Greek word that means “head”.

      Ephesians 5:21-24 is about submission. (I think “subject” is a poor translation. How can we be subject to one another?) The themes in the passage about marriage are love, yielding (submission), and unity, not leadership.

      Perhaps this short article will help: https://margmowczko.com/ephesians-522-33-in-a-nutshell/

      1. Hi Marg,

        Thanks so much for taking out time to respond to my comment. I have been going over everything I have been taught about Christianity in a bid to be sure it lines up exactly with what the bible and I have found a lot of universally accepted Christian doctrines falling short. I had now focused my attention on the husband being the head to be sure I fully understand what is being said.

        I have seen many husbands use this scripture to justify maltreating and abusing their wives. I have also heard critics of the bible cite this as reason why the bible cannot be trusted. We condemn slavery today but this so-called submission still remains a sticky spot and my quest to understand this better led me to your blog.

        I have also read your post on Ephesians 5 and to me it still doesn’t fully answer this submission thing. And using the illustration of Christ and the church doesn’t even make it any better as I don’t think Christ submits Himself to church (maybe am wrong).

        I checked the Greek word ‘hypotassō’ that has been translated to ‘submit’ and the meanings I got were:

        1. to arrange under, to subordinate
        2. to subject, put in subjection
        3. to subject one’s self, obey
        4. to submit to one’s control
        5. to yield to one’s admonition or advice
        6. to obey, be subject

        I also compared different versions particularly of Ephesians 5: 24 and here is what some of them say

        • But, just as the church is subject to the Messiah, in the same way women should be subject in everything to their husbands. (NTE)
        • As the church yields to Christ, so you wives should yield to your husbands in everything. (NCV)
        • But as the church submits to Christ, so also let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (MEV)
        • Wives should always put their husbands first, as the church puts Christ first. (CEV)

        If it is unity that is being taught here, why then has the aspect of wives being subject or submitting to their husbands been stressed? What am I missing?

        1. Hi FL,

          Paul doesn’t say much about the three groups of people with less power, the wives, the (grown) children, and the male and female slaves in Ephesians 5-6. But he does reframe the usual social obligations of the time in terms of Christian faith.

          Most of Paul’s focus is on the three groups of people with power, the husbands, parents, and male and female slave masters. His aim is to temper their power and prevent abuse and harshness.

          Paul does not seek in Ephesians 5-6 to overturn the social conventions of the day. To try and implement a social revolution could have ruined the fledgling Christian movement. (In another letter, however, Paul seeks to have Onesimus freed from slavery.)

          I believe the so-called household codes are a concession to the Greco-Roman culture. For example, being a slave is not an ideal situation, but Paul doesn’t mention that being a slave is less-than-ideal in the codes. He deals with the situation of the time and tries to improve it.

          The Greek verb for submission (hypotassō) can have a range of nuances. At one end, it can mean “to be subordinate.” But at the other end, it can have the senses of being loyal, allied, cooperative, deferential, humble, etc. For example, I believe hypotassō has the sense of humble cooperation in 1 Corinthians 16:15-16 NIV. I discuss this verse here.

          Paul did not regard wives as subordinate (cf. Gal 3:28), so “subordinate” cannot be the meaning of hypotassō in Paul’s household codes. “Be subject” can sound harsh, but this was the usual lot for many wives in the first century. However, as I said, Paul wanted to improve the situation for wives. He wanted wives to have loving, self-sacrificing, nurturing husbands. This was most certainly not the case in many marriages in the first century.

          Furthermore, I have no doubt that if Paul was writing to a modern society today, he would not be asking slaves to obey their masters or wives to be subordinate or subject (in a strong sense) to their husbands. I imagine, however, that he would continue to teach on submission, yielding and unity, but use more modern language that is readily understood by a modern audience.

          I absolutely believe that unity is a main theme in Ephesians 5:21-33, and that this is achieved through submission from wives and yielding (which is almost the same as submission) from husbands.

          I hope this helps.

  67. Now I understand what you are saying. The context of his write up here was not to draw attention as it were to something that was already being done but to improve a less than ideal situation.

    But since this context is lost on many, it is going to be quite the uphill struggle to get this across as I know people who just would not entertain a different view and use this scripture to lord over their wives.

    1. It is totally an uphill struggle as it’s going against hundreds of years of the way “male headship” has been understood, taught and demonstrated in domestic and church life, as well as in broader society.

      1. Am tempted to share this with you. Quite a long read and a bit difficult to understand but what do you think?


  68. Hi, thank you for sharing this post. I am curious if you could respond to the exhaustive study done by Wayne Grudem On the word kephale? He makes a compelling argument that Kephalē is never meant to be translated as source, specifically in regards your erroneous usage here of the Liddell-Scott lexicon.

    I am not convinced of either side to the argument yet, so curious if you could try to make a counter argument to his points.

    The study can be found here: https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/tj/kephale_grudem.pdf

    1. Hi Jason

      I’ve tweaked my statement to make it more precise.

      “One compelling piece of evidence that kephalē did not usually mean ‘leader’ in first-century Koine Greek (or in Greek of previous centuries), is that LSJ’s lexicon, one of the most exhaustive lexicons of Ancient Greek, does not include any definition of kephalē that approximates ‘leader’ or ‘authority.'”

      I have countered a few of Wayne Grudem’s other ideas in a few of my articles, here, but I see no need to counter his articles on kephalē as others have done an admirable job of it. (Richard Cervin’s paper is especially thorough.) There’s no need for me to replicate their work. I refer to some of these works here:

      1. After reading everything I could find with an open mind(Grudem, Fee, Kroeger, Cervin, Perriman), I have to say that Grudem by far makes the most compelling argument for the metaphorical meaning of Kephale. His 2001 paper was especially convincing, and I was alarmed that Peter Glare himself (the editor of the then current LSJ supplement and a world-renown Greek lexicographer) admitted that the LSJ entry on kephale was unsatisfactory and that the sense of source does not exist unless meaning either extremity of a linear object such as a river.

        I’m not trying to sound like Grudem’s fanboy here. Honestly I began this journey hoping he was wrong, and very much wanting to believe the egalitarianism argument for this word. By the evidence is crystal clear, and I have to go with that. Until I see credible evidence that proves Kephale metaphorically carries the meaning of “source” and not “authority”, and that this was commonly understood in the NT era….I have to agree with grudem. So far, the likes of Fee, Kroeger, Cervin, etc do not seem to have acceptably refuted Grudem’s claims at all, and he in turn has proved their arguments full of gaping holes, some of which were frankly astonishing (Kroeger’s particularly).

        Always open to new things to read! I just want to follow the evidence, not wanting to dogmatically stick to one side of the argument.

        1. Hi Jason,

          I agree that the entry in LSJ is inadequate. I read Peter Glare’s letter a while ago, and he mostly referred to the Hebrew word rosh typically being translated into Greek as kephalē, something I acknowledge in my articles and something that could have been acknowledged in LSJ.

          However, I personally found Glare’s letter unhelpful in regards to kephalē in the New Testament. This is because Paul’s letters were not translated from Hebrew into Greek. (This is an obvious point but one that needs to be highlighted in regards to what Glare actually said in his letter.)

          Furthermore, Paul used the word kephalē in his letters to Christians in the Roman colony of Corinth and to churches in Asia Minor, so to use kephalē in some kind of way that was idiomatic to Jewish people would have been counterproductive for the apostle to the Gentiles, presuming he wanted to be understood clearly.

          And the fact remains that in the majority of cases where rosh means a “leader” in the Hebrew Bible, the LXX translators did not use the word kephalē in their translation. Instead, they typically used the Greek word archōn (or a similar word) that does mean “leader” or “ruler”.

          My preferred meaning of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is “point of origin” or “beginning,” rather than “source.” However, it is not necessarily the word itself that gives this meaning. It is the context also. Context is always key. And I don’t believe kephalē has the sense of “source” in other NT verses either.

          So for now, I’m sticking with this understanding of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “For the Son is the Head, namely the beginning of all: and God is the Head, namely the beginning of Christ . . .” The First Creed of Sirmium 26 from Athanasius’ letter De Synodis 27 (NPNF2 vol. 4, p. 464-5)

          More on kephalē in 1 Corinthains 11:3 here.

          I don’t know of any credible scholar who would say that the meaning of kephalē is crystal clear except in the cases where it does, in fact, refer to an actual head (a part of the body) of an animal or person. Kephalē is used in a variety of ways in Koine Greek with various meanings and nuances.

          1. Thanks for responding, I’ll take some time and investigate further into what you’ve said here. 🙂

        2. Jason Dietmeyer,

          Have you read Colossians 1:18? It is the first time Christ is ever called the head of the church in the NT.
          BAG says that Col 1:18 explains itself via emphatic apposition.

          “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning,” The head is defined as the beginning of the body.
          Here is what it looks like in emphatic apposition

          He is the head – who is the beginning
          of the body – the church

          The head of the body is sandwiched between 4 fundamental things in Col 1:17-18.
          1. Existing in time before all things 2. All things cohere and line of after him 3. Being the beginning 4. Firstborn out from the dead.

          Christ holds the preeminence in all things on account of this.

          Even when the human body is born, the head is born first and the body follows afterward. The head is the beginning and origin of the body, the rest of the body forms out of the head in the womb, the Romans understood this in their medical literature. The head is first in time and the rest of the body coheres, lines up with, and is held together by the head as it forms and afterward. The descriptions used in Col 1:17-18 relies on the Roman understanding of human autonomy and how the body forms.

          1 Cor 11:3 and Col 1:8 have beginning and origin as the meaning for “head.” There is a preeminence given as a value to head in both texts. In 1 Cor 11:3-9 the woman is being asked to honor her metaphorical head for being her beginning, her point of origin. This is in contrast to bringing shame to her metaphorical head. The man is her beginning so he holds a preeminence to the woman, so what she does with her own head either brings shame or honor to him as she is his glory and reflects on him. This is not about authority and submission but about honor and shame in a kinship society. Paul is careful to mention the value of man also coming from woman ever since in 1 Cor 11:11-12.

          The other two NT passages in Col 2:19 and Eph 4:15-17 is about the head supplying the body with growth/nourishment, love, and holding it together in unity. The husband is pointed back to these two passages in Eph 5:29.

          Col 2:10 The church is complete in Christ because He is the head/ beginning and origin of all rule and authority. No one can be the highest power out there other than the beginning and origin of them all. Preeminence is again implied and authority is a by-product of it. If Christ was not the beginning and origin of all other powers, could He claim preeminence over them?

          Eph 1:20-23 is about Christ being in the highest heavenly realms. A place far above the other realms of powers and authorities. This is why the head is contrasted with feet, a contrast between the highest and the lowest parts. All things are under his feet and He is given head *on behalf of all things to the church, His body, etc. The Greek hides something here that is not apparent in English.

          We read “head over” and we assume authority, but the word over- hyper has this as its definition:

          5228 hypér (a preposition) – properly, beyond (above); (figuratively) to extend benefit (help) that reaches beyond the present situation.

          5228 /hypér (“beyond”) is usually best translated “for the betterment (advantage) of,” i.e. focusing on benefit.

          “All things are under His feet and Him gave head “for the betterment (advantage) of” all things to the church, His body…all in all filling”
          This is a form of defense that comes from Christ’s position of exaltation in the heavenly realm. Head being the highest and under one’s feet the lowest.

          The marriage passage in Eph gives no instructions whatsoever for husbands to lead or rule over their wives. Not even benevolently. They are instructed to mimic Christ in love, sacrifice, and provision for his wife just like a man would for his own body. It never says husbands lead your wife as Christ does the church or husbands make all the decisions for them with their best interest in mind as Christ does the church. The love of the husband is never described as leadership or authority. The proper Roman way for a wife to respond if her husband provided for her was for her to yield to her husband’s wishes. To give him the priority of choice as a show of honor and gratitude for what he provides for her. This is called a patron-client relationship in the Greco-Roman world.

          We should have common sense that all things have a limit. You can make a wife mentally ill and destroy her if you make all the decisions for her. Personal dignity is tied to personal power, it is shameful to be ruled over by another adult. Men might like it as it boosts their ego, but it is demeaning to women. There is humility and then there is humiliation.

          John MacAruther is on video saying that his wife has to ask him for permission ever for what restaurant she eats at or if she can leave the house in the day time to take the kids to the park. Now how is this servant leadership? Why would God desire this type of humiliation and infantizing of an adult woman? Why would MacAurther’ss judgment be above his wife’s capacity to think for herself just because he is a man? Is any of this really about “male leadership” or is this one big mock fest and humiliation of womankind?

  69. Cervin’s paper was mostly very well done, and I will check out your responses as well. I appreciate you taking the time to respond!

    1. No worries.

  70. Thank you! After recently hearing yet another message on the husband being the leader and authority over a wife, this has refreshed me! I posted about it, but I’d love to direct people to your blog. Thank you for your intelligent approach to the truth of these long-misrepresented passages of Scripture!

    1. You’re very welcome, Sarah. I’m glad you’re helping to get the message out too.

  71. Marg,
    I’m reading Cervin’s paper from the link you gave in one of your comments. He has brought up the reference from The Shepherd of Hermas. I’m questioning why we assume “head of the household” means authority given the context? The context does not have any reference to Hermas leading or ruling over his household. What it actually says is that because he is the head of the household, if he suffers under compulsion, then they will also suffer. That there is no other way to punish the others unless Hermas himself, the head of the household is suffering in order for them to feel it. The opposite of this is prosperity and how if Hermas prospers, then the rest prosper. When Hermas is suffering, afflicted, or sick, the rest are being punished, but if Hermas is prospering, has wealth, is doing well, then the rest prosper and don’t suffer.

    If Hermas prospers, then the rest prosper. This is nothing to do with leading or ruling over his household. All the angel had to do if he wanted the rest to straighten up, was to tell Hermas to lead better, that if you lead and rule well, then the others will follow, but that is not what was said.

    Is it possible that “head of the household” represents some type of patron? As in the head of the household is the representative of the family members to the outside world, it is the head that speaks on behalf of the others in a kinship society. The head of the household is the one that provides for them and when he prospers they prosper?

    Ephesians 5:25-33 in its directives to husbands is about the husband giving nourishment to the wife as he would to his own physical body. To cherish means to warm and keep comfortable and it is also in view of being the same type a man would give his own body. The text says as Christ, who we know is head of the church, does for His own body. So the head gives a type of provision to the rest of the body.
    The Shephard of Hermas seems to imply something similar when it is sandwiched between the wellbeing of the household being dependent on either the suffering or prosperity of its head.

    1. I agree that “head of the household” in the Shepherd may mean something quite different to what it means today, but it is too hard to argue this. There’s not enough context in the passage to argue conclusively that it doesn’t refer to a “person in authority.”

  72. I’m late to this post, but I’m studying Ephesians 1 and hope you can help me out. Ephesians 1:20-23 talks about God giving Jesus authority over everything. It goes on and on about how God has put Jesus in authority. And in that context, we have verse 22, which says, “he subjected everything under his feet and appointed him as head over everything for the church.”

    The word for “head” there is kephale. And the context very much makes it seem like what’s meant by “head” is authority. Especially since Jesus is “appointed” as head over everything. Would a source be appointed?

    So, I understand what you’re saying in your post, and I’ve read about how the ancient “kephale” was not used to mean authority. And yet, this passage perplexes me. How do you interpret the usage of “kephale” in Ephesians 1:22? What could it possibly mean?

    Thanks for your help! Your work is such a valuable resource to me!

    1. And now I see that you already answered this question for AG. I still don’t completely understand it. I think what I’m getting stuck on is, I still don’t understand what it means that Jesus is head over everything for the church (though I did notice that’s “all things for the church” and not just “over the church”).

      Putting everything under Jesus’ feet makes sense, because that’s commonly used to show power throughout the Bible. But what does it mean that he’s the head?

      1. It is tricky. Perhaps I can explain it this way: the words “top” or “first” don’t mean a person in authority, but they can be used to mean a person in authority depending on the words around them. Likewise, the word “head” in Greek, in and of itself, does not mean a person in authority.

        In Ephesians 1, Jesus is definitely being presented as the person with supreme authority. And in this passage, a head-feet metaphor, the highest and lowest extremities of the body, is used to illustrate the two extreme positions with Jesus in the highest position. This high position and the authority that comes with it (explained with other words) is for the sake of the church which is his body. The head-body metaphor signifies unity, but with the head being the more prominent or preeminent member. How Jesus being head of all things benefits the church is not explained.

        Feet = lowly, humble position. Head = prominent, preeminent position.

  73. Thank you for posting this. One of the reasons I have remained single is due to the poor, poor teaching on male headship. It’s never made sense to me and seemed more like idolatry. The husband becomes a God substitute. I never wanted a God substitute. I have also seen men treat women horribly in marriage. The misinterpreting of the Bible is horrible. Thank you! Now if we could only get this into every church!! The book Why Not Women helped me greatly.

    1. Hi Emma,

      That is an excellent book.

      The male-headship dogma is so sad and misguided because Paul never tells husbands to lead or to have authority over their wives, not once, never. Still, this idea of male authority has been amplified and focussed on, and it’s been supported by a complex web of inferences derived from Bible verses (in Genesis and in Paul’s letters) which never actually say, “the husband is the boss.”

      Rather, Genesis, before the fall, tells about the mutuality, compatibility and equality of men and women, and Paul tells husbands to love their wives.

  74. I feel like nailing this article to the door of the church Luther style! Revolutionary. Literally have only ever heard the traditional misinterpretation of Ephesians 5:23 and seen it lived out in ways that rob the church, women, men and society at large of the wisdom and all the gifts and strength of women.

  75. I just love everything about this article it’s really written well. Thanks for posting

    1. Thanks, Diana.

  76. […] to say that “head” has the metaphorical meaning of “leader,” as it does in English, is simplistic and inaccurate.
    Furthermore, the idea that the husband is the final arbiter in difficult decisions has no biblical basis whatsoever. The only biblical precedent I can find for decision-making in marriage is in 1 Corinthians 7:5 where it speaks about husbands and wives making a mutual decision. […]

  77. Christ is the head of the chruch, & men the heads of their wives. This compares Christ and the chruch, which are not equal in authority, to husbands and wives. Does it follow that husbands and wives, like Christ and the church, are not equal, therefore necessitating hierarchical submission?

    I understand Paul is using some sort of unity metaphor, yet im not able to quite unravel this comparison between Christ and husbands. Is he just saying something along the lines of “just like Christ and the church are unified, so too are husbands and wives?

    1. Hi Jason, Christ and the Church are not equal in status. And first-century husbands and wives were not equal in status. But we mustn’t stop reading at verse 24. It’s what Paul says to husbands in Ephesians 5:25 that knocks the idea of hierarchy on its head. (Pun intended.)

      Paul’s theology of Christ as the head and saviour of the body is astounding, and it is all about unity and connectedness. It’s also about minimising differences in status. I’ve written about this in a two-part article.

      The first part looks at the range of meanings the Greek “submit” verb can have.
      The second part looks at Christ’s example as the head and saviour of the body.

      1. if i understand correctly, husbands are no longer the heads of their wives today. but if kephale is not really about authority, are we sure Paul is implying an existing hierarchy in this passage with husband’s headship & its comparison to Christ’s hierarchical headship? In 1 cor 11 it seems he’s confident man is the head of woman, though he balances it. kephale for marriage is unity, yet Jesus & the church are unified & unequal. does it minimize difference in status between Christ and the church?

        im not seeing how Ephesians 5:25 knocks hierarchy since it’s used a lot to show a husband’s leadership & sacrifice (e.g the belief men must stay on while women & children escape, because they’re the leaders who protect)

        is he just saying they’re the heads *then*, a cultural truth, & using the objective truth of Christ’s leadership as an example to husbands? if its purely cultural could women ever be considered the heads in a matriarchy? and if submission in eph 5 isn’t about authority for husbands, in what way is the church submitting to Christ?

        1. Hi Jason, there are many parts of the world where husbands have a higher status than their wives. These men can help their wives by treating them with the same love, care, and respect as they show their own bodies (Eph. 5:28-29), thus elevating the women.

          Paul say nothing whatsoever to husbands in Ephesians 5:25ff about leading their wives or having authority over them. And Paul says nothing whatsoever about husbands “staying on” while women and children escape danger. Paul says nothing about protecting wives from danger in Ephesians 5 or in any other passage.

          Let’s stay with the examples and illustrations Paul actually provides, rather than making up scenarios. We need to stick with his words and try to understand what he was saying, rather than import our own ideas into the text.

          Paul was not speaking about the rare occasion where a man might have to protect his wife and children from a mortal threat. He was speaking about the day-in, day-out, relationship of husbands and wives. Marital unity was Paul’s aim, not masculine heroism.

          Also, Paul’s key point, the crux of the passage in Eph. 5:22-33, is that Christ will present the church to himself in all her glory and splendour. Understanding this key point is crucial to understanding Paul’s aim.

          I Corinthians 11:2-16 is a whole other ball game. Kephalē (“head”) is not used in a head-body metaphor in 1 Corinthians as it is in Ephesians. I’ve written about kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and I quote from several church fathers, here:

          I wrote this article that we’re commenting in 2011, more than a decade ago. I have kept learning more about the Greek word kephalē over the years, and I recommend my newer articles, such as this one which is an overview of Paul’s use of kephalē:

          All my articles on kephalē are here:

          1. Thanks Marg, it’s a little hard to understand but I’m slowly getting there. Last question: how does God’s use of patriarchal marital imagery to describe his relationship with Israel in the OT influence our understanding of the relation between Christ & husbands, & the mystery in ephesians 5:23. patriarchalists tend to believe it’s not cultural but an affirmation of patriarchy from God

          2. Hi Jason, I can appreciate that what I’m saying may be difficult to grasp, especially if you’ve heard or learnt other ideas that have influence your reading of Paul’s words.

            I can’t see that God’s relationship with Israel has anything to do with the imagery Paul uses in Ephesians 5:22-33. The word “God” doesn’t occur at all in Ephesians 5:21-33, so I have no idea how anyone can make an argument that his passage affirms the patriarchy (“father rule”) of God.

  78. […] Marg Mowczko, “Kephale and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters.” […]

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