At the moment I’m reading through a short book called The Bible and Women’s Ministry: An Australian Dialogue published by Acorn Press back in 1990. The eight “chapters”[1] of the book are written by eight different men, all prominent, scholarly ministers and educators in the Anglican Church of Australia. (Not one woman contributed to this book which is on a topic that clearly affects women deeply.)

In the first chapter, Peter Jensen (retired Anglican archbishop of Sydney who was principal of Moore Theological College when he wrote his chapter) explains how we should use scripture in the debate about women in ministry. I won’t comment on Jensen’s chapter except to say that he spends a bit of time critiquing John Stott’s hermeneutic and view on women in ministry. Contrary to Jensen, I agree with what John Stott says here (quoted by Jensen on pages 7-8):

If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which he does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which he does), the Church must recognize God’s gifts and calling, must make appropriate spheres of service available to women, and should ‘ordain’ (that is commission and authorize) them to exercise their God-given ministry, at best in team situations. Our Christian doctrines of Creation and Redemption tell us that God wants his gifted people to be fulfilled, not frustrated, and his church to be enriched by their service.
J.R.W Stott, Issues facing Christianity Today (Basingstoke: Marshalls, 1984), 254.

The chapter that has really got my attention so far is Leon Morris’s entitled “Leadership and Authority.” (Leon Morris was principal of Ridley Theological College, Melbourne, from 1964 until his retirement in 1976,[2] and was an esteemed New Testament scholar who has written many commentaries on New Testament books, etc. He passed away in 2006.)

In his chapter, Morris writes about the usage of “head” in the Hebrew Bible, in Greek writings, and in the New Testament. In particular, he comments on Paul’s use of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:23, and Colossians. Morris wrote this chapter in answer to the presumption that “head” (Greek: kephalē) in the New Testament has the metaphorical meaning of “leader” or “person in authority.” This faulty assumption is being perpetuated by people such as Wayne Grudem. Leon Morris criticizes Grudem’s 1985 article on kephalē.[3]

Here is the opening paragraph of Morris’s chapter:

We are perhaps too well aware of the fact that we think with our brains. To us it is accordingly the most natural thing in the world to understand “head” in terms of direction and sovereignty. In the physical body it is the head that makes the decisions and gives the commands and when we use “head” metaphorically we quite naturally think of sovereignty. Our problem when we approach the New Testament is that the function of the central nervous system was not known to the ancients; they were unaware of the fact that we think with our brains. For them, thought was not located in the head but in the body, in the diaphragm or the heart. It is also the case that the New Testament writers never explain what they mean by “head” nor do they discuss the relationship between head and body. We must accordingly examine the relevant passages with some care. We must be on our guard against thinking that Paul, for example, means by “head” what we would mean if we used the term, or that he sees the relationship between head and body the same way as we do. He may, he may not. It is not easy to see what the head-body relationship would mean to someone who held that we think with the diaphragm, not the brain. We must think hard about what the ancients had in mind when they spoke about head and body. (p. 23)

It is important that we heed Morris’s caution and take care not to make hasty assumptions about the metaphorical meaning of “head” if we want to faithfully interpret Paul’s meaning and intent. (See further remarks in the postscript below and in the comments section.)

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month.
Become a Patron!


[1] The book is divided into four parts, each part containing two chapters (or essays.) The second chapter in each part is a response to the first chapter of each part.

[2] “The Ridley staff and college were openly in favour of women lecturing, preaching, being ordained and when possible being appointed to incumbencies.” (Source)

[3] Morris agrees with Gordon D. Fee’s criticism of Grudem’s article. Morris quotes Fee as saying: “Grudem’s article is quite misleading both in its presentation and conclusion.” (p. 26)  Grudem’s article is in Appendix 1 of George W. Knight III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women: New Testament Teaching (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985). A more recent article by Wayne Grudem on the same subject, which also draws criticism, is available online here.

Postscript: August 15, 2017

Since posting this article, I’ve come across passages in Plato and Philo where they state that the head (not the brain) guides or controls the body because of the head’s ability for sense perception (eyesight, hearing). However, a fifth-century BCE work entitled, The Sacred Disease, a work attributed to the famous Greek physician Hippocrates (circa 460-370 BCE), there seems to be some understanding of the brain’s function.

Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant, in some cases using custom as a test, in others perceiving them from their utility. It is the same thing which makes us mad or delirious, inspires us with dread or fear, whether by night or by day, brings sleeplessness, inopportune mistakes, aimless anxieties, absent-mindedness, and acts that are contrary to habit. These things that we suffer all come from the brain, when it is not healthy, but becomes abnormally hot, cold, moist, or dry, or suffers any other unnatural affection to which it was not accustomed. Madness comes from its moistness.
“The Sacred Disease”, in Hippocrates, Vol. 2, trans. W. H. S. Jones, Loeb Classical Library (London: 1923), 175.

Philip Payne observes,

Modern science regards the brain as the control center of the body and so reinforces the metaphorical use of head for leader, but this was not the consensus of ancient Greek thought. Although some medical writers [e.g., Hippocrates] argued that the brain is the seat of cognition, Plato “moved the command centre to the heart (Timaeus 70a ff.), followed by Aristotle and Diocles (3) of Carystus. The debate continued until Galen reasserted the very early primacy of the liver in the 2nd cent. AD”
Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 122-123, quoting J.T. Vallance, “Anatomy and Physiology” in Oxford Classical Dictionary (rev. 3rd ed.; 2003), 82-85, 83.

See the discussion below, in the comments section, on what is not a clear cut topic.

Related Articles

4 facts that show kephalē does not mean leader in 1 Corinthians 11:3
(1) Kephalē and Male Headship in Paul’s Letters
(2) Kephalē and Proto-Gnosticism in Paul’s Letters
LSJ Definitions of Kephalē 
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Who is the Head?
Mutual Submission in Clement’s First Letter