Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is a difficult passage of Scripture to understand. Bible scholars who hold to varied ideologies about the status of women in marriage and in the church all agree that Paul’s meaning here is difficult to determine with a degree of certainty. It is unclear what Paul is referring to in some verses. And in other verses, Paul seems to contradict what he has previously written.

N.T. Wright (in the video at the bottom of this article) makes several statements about this passage which he prefaces with the word “perhaps.” Similarly, I make my offering to the discussion of what 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 might mean with an overarching “perhaps.”

I suggest a key to understanding 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is to recognise its chiastic structure.[1] Paul begins chapter 11 by making several statements about men and women, and about the state of their head and hair while praying and prophesying. These statements may represent what some Corinthian Christians believed to be true.

Paul makes these statements up until the central point of the chiasm in verse 10.[2] Then, after a “nevertheless” or “except that” at the beginning of verse 11,[3] Paul reiterates what he has said, or quoted, but with more correct statements about men and women, and their head or hair.

Update: I now believe the two halves of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 address two different social contexts: 1. the reputations of Christians in broader Roman Corinth (vs. 2–10), and 2. relationships within the Christian community (vs. 11–16). See my more recent articles here.

It is important to note that Paul is not speaking specially about marriage in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. Most English translations of this passage use the words “man/ men” and “woman/ women,” and not “husband/s” and “wife/ wives,” to reflect this understanding.[4] Rather than marriage, Paul is speaking about the appropriate appearance of heads and hair of both men and women who were praying and prophesying in worship meetings. The context is ministry.

The Chiasm

The following is 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 arranged to show the chiastic structure of this passage.

A. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you (1 Cor. 11:2). Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. [More about “head” in verse 3 here.]

B. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head [Christ]. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head [her husband, father, or men in the church] — it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:4–7). [More on verse 7 here.]

C. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man (cf. Gen. 21-22); neither was man created for woman, but woman for man (1 Cor. 11:8–9). [More on verse 9 here.]

X. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority upon her own head, because of the angels (1 Cor. 11:10).

C2. 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 (cf. Gen. 4:1 NIV). But everything comes from God (1 Cor. 11:11–12).

B2. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him; but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering (1 Cor. 11:13–15).

A2. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no such custom—nor do the churches of God (1 Cor. 11:16).

Authority or Origins in 1 Corinthians 11?

What does “head” mean?

In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul states that the man is the “head” (kephalē) of the woman. Many Christians have assumed the word kephalē means “a person in authority over others,” but kephalē was rarely used with this meaning in Classical and Koinē Greek.[5] LSJ, one of the most exhaustive lexicons of Ancient Greek, including New Testament Greek, does not include any definition of kephalē that approximates leader, ruler, or authority.[6]

Several New Testament scholars argue that kephalē has the sense of origin (beginning, firstness, or source) in 1 Corinthians 11:3.[7] For example, in chapter seven of his book One in Christ, Philip Payne discusses at length the meaning of kephalē.[8] Payne quotes from Cyril of Alexandria, from Theodore of Mopsuestia, and from Chrysostom; he also mentions Saint Basil, Eusebius, and Ambrosiaster. All these early church theologians believed that origin or beginning, and not authority, is the sense in 1 Corinthians 11:3. [I go into this ancient evidence in more detail here.]

I believe kephalē is used with the senses of origin and firstness in 1 Corinthians 11:3. And so this verse might be paraphrased and expanded as, “But I want you to realize that the origin of every man is Christ, and the origin of [the first] woman is [the first] man, and the origin of the Messiah is God [or the triune Godhead].” That is, woman and man in this verse refer to Eve and Adam.

According to Genesis 2, the man (Adam) was first and the source of the first woman (Eve). However, Paul’s emphasis is on the common origin of men and women and the mutuality this implies, especially for us who are “in the Lord.” Accordingly, in the second part of the chiasm Paul writes, “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man (cf. Gen 2:22–23), so also the man has his birth through the woman (cf. Gen. 4:1 NIV); and all things originate from God” (1 Cor. 11:11–12, italics added). Man being first has no special social or spiritual significance within the body of Christ, as God is our ultimate source.

Paul was not writing about male authority in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. In his letters, Paul never uses any of the many commonly used Greek words for leadership in general references to men in the church or husbands. He never tells husbands to lead or have authority over their wives (Eph. 5:25ff; Col. 3:19). Nevertheless, Paul wanted men and women to uphold some gender distinctions involving traditional hairstyles (or the covering of the head by women) when they were gathered for worship. 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is about respectable appearances and behaviour during Christian worship where women, as well as men, prayed and prophesied aloud. This passage is not about any kind of male leadership or so-called “headship.”

When we understand that “head” (kephalē) means origin and firstness, Paul’s overall teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 becomes easier to understand. (I’ve written about this here.) However, it is less clear what Paul means with his comments about hairstyles and covering the head.

Headcoverings or Hairstyles in 1 Corinthians 11?

Respectable Appearance in Roman Corinth

For centuries, most churches have used 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 10 to teach that women needed to cover their heads in church meetings. Yet very few churches have acknowledged that 1 Corinthians 11:5 indicates that women prayed and prophesied aloud in church meetings. (Christians can be very selective about what portions of scripture they want to heed and what parts they want to ignore.)

In most churches, women have been forbidden from praying or prophesying in meetings but still have had to cover their heads!

Despite the common assumption that Paul was instructing women to cover their heads, there is no clear indication Paul is speaking about head coverings such as veils or hats, etc, in the Greek of this passage. Paul does, however, speak about hair as a covering in 1 Cor. 11:15. Some modern scholars, such as Jerome Murphy O’Connor, believe Paul was speaking about hairstyles, and that he wanted the Corinthians to have hairstyles that were socially acceptable according to the culture of Corinth of that time.

There are some indications within First Corinthians that the Christians in Corinth thought the kingdom age had fully arrived and that gender distinctions, including sex and procreation, were no longer important. But Paul wanted the Corinthians to preserve some gender distinctions. He did not want the men to have long hair or braids, which some effeminate men were wearing at the time, and he did not want the women to look like men with short hair.

Some suggest that Paul did not want women to appear as though they were sexually promiscuous, with flowing unbound hair like the maenads. Maenads worshipped Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, in frenzied displays. In New Testament times, a woman with either short hair or long unbound hair was making a provocative statement, and Paul did not want the Corinthians to unnecessarily behave in culturally inappropriate ways.

Numerous examples of surviving Greek and Roman artwork (mosaics, frescoes, reliefs, statues, coins) show that reputable women wore their hair tied up in braids and bands, and that their heads were often uncovered. And Roman women were not usually veiled in domestic settings. (The setting of house-church meetings is arguably a domestic setting.)

Furthermore, only respectable Roman matrons were permitted to wear a palla, a length of fabric that could be pulled up over the head when venturing out of doors. Female prostitutes, slaves, and freedwomen, on the other hand, were prohibited by law from wearing the palla. If Paul is asking these lower-class women to wear veils—even though the Greek text never mentions veils—he may have been saying this to minimise distinctions of class among the women. Though it is hard to see how female slaves, for example, could be asked to be veiled, since this was illegal. Furthermore, poorer women may not have been able to afford veils. Clothing was expensive in the ancient world. [More on head coverings in Corinth here and here.]

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11:15 that a woman’s hair is her covering and her glory. A woman might be the glory of man (11:7), but, when we understand 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 more accurately we see that she also has her own glory, she has her own covering, and she has her own authority over her own head.[9] Furthermore, it’s important to acknowledge that Christian women, just like their brothers, also have the image and glory of God (Gen 1:27; 2 Cor 3:18; etc). [I’ve written more about image and glory in 1 Corinthians 11 here.]


The second half of the chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 contains some wonderful statements about the mutuality of men and women in Christ, but it seems that too many Christians focus on the first half and minimise the second. These Christians maintain that men are the leaders and authorities of women simply because Adam, the first human in Eden, is male.[10] Paul, however, highlights that God is the source of both men and women. He also points out that every other man (other than the first man) came from a woman. Mutuality, and not authority, is one of Paul’s main points in this passage.

Paul’s point about hair and heads is less clear. Moreover, the convoluted statements about the hair and heads of men and women in worship have little bearing on our society where hairstyles and headwear do not signify a person’s morality or class. Hats are optional in most situations in western society and so should be optional in church meetings. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t wear clothes or behave in ways that are seen as improper by broader society. The way we appear and behave in church communities should not be giving the church a bad name to those outside the church. This is the central point, the crux, of the chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. [I write about this central point here.]

Finally, we shouldn’t ignore that this passage mentions women praying and prophesying in church meetings. Praying is speaking to God, and prophesying is speaking for God. By mentioning these two ministries, Paul may have been summing up the range of vocal ministries that took place in first-century worship services.

Paul considered the ministry of prophesying as important and influential and he lists prophesying and prophets before teaching and teachers in Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:28–30 and Ephesians 4:11. Paul did not have a problem with godly women who prayed and prophesied in a respectable manner. He wanted a distinction in the appearance of men and women, but he did not indicate a distinction in ministry roles or functions.

It is tragic that Paul’s intent in 1 Corinthians 11:2ff has been misunderstood and that this passage has been used to veil women and subordinate them to men. It is unjust that the church has concentrated on the first half of the chiasm and passed over and ignored Paul’s teaching on mutuality in the second half.


[1] A Chiasm is a literary device used in many passages of Scripture. In a chiastic structure, sentences, or even large passages, are arranged to form an X-shaped pattern. (A chi, which is part of the word chiasm, is the Greek letter that looks like an X.) The thoughts are stated sequentially in one direction until a main point or climax is reached, then the thoughts are repeated in reverse order. In a chiasm, the main point is at the centre of a passage. In 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, verse 10 is the climax, crux, of the chiasm. This verse is baffling and has led to much conjecture. (See footnote 2 and the postscript.)
1 Corinthians chapters 11–14 are themselves arranged as a chiasm with the “love” passage as the climax.
A. Order in Worship: Prophets and their hair/head (11:2-16) and the Lord’s Supper (11:17–34)
B. Spiritual Gifts and the Nature of the Body (12:1–30)
X. The Hymn to Love (12:31–14:1)
B1. Spiritual Gifts and the Building up of the Body (14:1–25)
A1. Order in Worship: Prophets and Speakers in Tongues (14:26–40)

[2] As the central point, Paul’s real concern was that women exercise control of their head or hairstyles because of the messengers (aggeloi).  Perhaps the scenario is that messengers (such as household slaves) were spying on church meetings and reporting back to their masters what happened at these meetings. It would have been important to Paul that the messengers were bringing back a good report and not describing shameful scenes (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22–25). Chloe’s people reported to Paul what they had observed in Corinthian meetings (1 Cor. 1:11).
The Greek word aggelous (accusative plural of aggelos) used in 1 Corinthians 11:10 can mean messengers or angels Usually, the context shows which is the correct meaning; however, the meaning here is not clear. Interestingly, the spies in James 2:25 are called aggelous.

[3] According to BDAG, the Greek word plēn is an adverb used as a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence or clause. It is used to mark something that is contrastingly added for consideration. It can be adversative, or it can be used when breaking off a discussion and emphasising what is important. Furthermore, it can be used when breaking off and passing to a new subject. 1 Corinthians 11:11 is listed in this last category. Plēn can be translated as: only, nevertheless, but, in any case, on the other hand, except that, what then will come of it, etc.
Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 826. [Known as BDAG for short.]

[4] The Greek word anēr means “man” or “husband.” Context determines whether it should be translated as “man” or “husband.” Similarly, gunē means “woman” or “wife” depending on the context. Most English Bible translations use the words “man” and “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11 because this passage is not about marriage. The ESV and NRSV are two exceptions and use the words “husband” and “wife” in 1 Corinthians 11:3b. The ESV uses the word “wife” instead of “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11:5–6 also. (The ESV uses the word “wife” six times in all in verses 3–13.)

[5] The translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek Septuagint also shows that kephalē did not usually mean leader. When the Hebrew word for “head” (rosh) meant a literal head in the Old Testament, the translators 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 almost all cases, the translators did not use the word kephalē in their translation, instead, they used the Greek word archōn, which does mean ruler or leader.

[6] H.G. Liddel and R. Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 945.

[7] I discuss the work of other scholars here. Even hierarchical complementarian Wayne Grudem, while maintaining that kephalē implies authority, concedes that,

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’ …
Wayne Grudem, “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.

[8] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman: One in Christ, An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 131–137.

[9] The word “authority” (exousia) is mentioned only once in this passage, in 1 Corinthians 11:10, where the meaning is that a woman should have her own authority, power, or freedom (exousia) upon her own head. The usage of the word indicates that a person can have and exercise exousia (authority, power, freedom) in an active sense. The word is not typically used in the sense of a person or people being under or being affected by someone else’s exousia, a passive sense. See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 519. (More about the word exousia and its meaning and usage in 1 Corinthians here.)
Also, there is no word for “sign” or “symbol” in the Greek of verse 10. Unfortunately, these words have been added in some English translations by those who think exousia is a metonym, thus altering the meaning of the verse. (More on the metonym idea, which I can’t find real evidence for, here.)

[10] In the Hebrew text of Genesis 2, the first human in Eden, Adam, is not referred to as a male human (ish) until after a part, or side, of him was taken out from his body and became an integral part in making the woman, Eve. (I have more on this concept here.)

A note on “no such (or, no other) custom” in 1 Corinthians 11:16

It’s important to note that the correct translation of the Greek phrase toiautēn synētheian ouk is “no such custom”: “If anyone wants to argue about this, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16).

By incorrectly translating toiautēn as “other,” the CSB, NET, NIV, NLT and some other English translations adversely affect the interpretation of the entire passage. The ESV, NASB 2021, NRSV, KJV and some other translations render toiautēn correctly as “such” in 1 Corinthians 11:16. You can see how the Greek word is translated in other NT verses here.

I’m not sure what Paul is referring to in verse 16. Perhaps he is saying that the churches have no such custom of men and women having gender-confusing hairstyles. He wanted the Corinthian women who are praying and prophesying to have long hair (1 Cor. 11:15).

A note on dia in 1 Corinthians 11

I find the use of the Greek word dia interesting in 1 Corinthians 11:9 when compared with its use in 1 Corinthians 11:12. Dia is a preposition and its meaning depends on whether the case of the noun it refers to (or modifies) is in the accusative or genitive case. Dia followed by a noun in the accusative case, as in verse 9, can mean “because of,” “on account of,” “for the sake of,” etc. Only rarely does it mean “through” or “by.” When dia is followed by a noun in the genitive case, as in verse 12 (and 10b), however, it frequently means “through” or “by”.
It sounds to me that Paul is using similar language to carefully craft his response to the view in 1 Corinthians 11:9 with his more correct view in 1 Corinthians 11:11–12. Paul’s use of the preposition ek (“from”) is also interesting. Here is a very literal, albeit awkward, translation of verses 8-12 showing the use of dia and ek:

11:8 Man is not from (ek) woman, but woman from (ek) man;

11:9 for also man was not made for the sake of (dia with accusative) the woman, but woman for the sake of (dia with acc.) the man

11:10 because (dia with acc.) of this, the woman has authority/ power/ freedom (exousia) on her [own] head because (dia with acc.) of the angels

11:11 except that (plēn), in the Lord, neither is a woman apart/ independent from the man, nor is a man apart/independent from a woman.

11:12 For just as the woman is from (ek) the man, thus also the man is through (dia with genitive) the woman; but everything is from (ek) God.

A Note on Kata kephalēs

In 1 Corinthians 11:4, Pauls says literally, “Every man praying or prophesying having ‘down of/from his head’ (kata kephalēs) disgraces his head.” The exact same phrase, kata kephalēs, occurs in Esther 6:12 in the Septuagint for Haman after he is humiliated. This phrase is a translation of a Hebrew phrase which also occurs in 2 Samuel 15:30 (twice) and in Jeremiah 14:4. The Hebrew phrase is usually understood to mean that the head is covered, and the context of all three verses—Est. 6:12, 2 Sam. 15:39, Jer. 14:4—is grief and shame.

However, different Greek words from those in Esther 6:12 are used in 2 Samuel 15:30 (τὴν κεφαλὴν ἐπικεκαλυμμένος and ἐπεκάλυψεν ἀνὴρ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ) and Jeremiah 14:4 (ἐπεκάλυψαν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτῶν). These different words more clearly mean “to cover (epikalyptein) the head”

Philip Payne states that kata kephalēs in Esther 6:12 suggests Haman was grieving “with his Persian-styled hair hanging down and untied.” And he believes longish hair hanging down is the meaning in 1 Corinthians 11:4. Payne, The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood (Zondervan: 2023), 77 fn. 28. However, Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint, Karen Jobe’s translation in NETS, and The Lexham English Septuagint each say that Haman’s head was covered: “his head covered.”

The Greek-Engish lexicon LSJ has “down over the head” as the meaning of kata kephalēs in its entry on kata, here, and kephalē, here. LSJ cite only Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as texts where this phrase has this meaning. However, Homer’s works were written in “Homeric Greek” hundreds of years before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in Koine Greek. Homer’s use of the phrase may not help us to understand Paul’s use.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor and Philip Payne, among others, believe hairstyles for men and women, and not head-coverings, is what Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. I’m inclined to agree with them.

I have a blog post on akatakalyptos and katakalyptō which occur in 1 Corinthians 11 here: “Uncover-Cover” Words in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.

Cynthia Westfall on “Because of the Angels”

I provide an explanation of the messengers or angels in a footnote above. Cynthia Long Westfall has a different idea. In regards to the cryptic reference to the angels, she ties 1 Corinthians 11:10 to 1 Corinthians 6:2–3 which reads,

“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters?” (NRSV, italics added)

With this in mind, Dr Westfall writes, “Women and men were supposed to be learning to exercise good judgement in ordinary matters in preparation for future responsibilities.” According to this explanation, discerning the correct handling of the “head-covering” situation was good practice for judging the angels.
See Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 35.

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The following video shows N.T. Wright speaking about men and women and the new creation. He also speaks about 1 Corinthians 11:2ff. Some of his views about head coverings are different from mine. For this reason, and others, my explanation of this difficult passage is prefaced with a “perhaps.”

Explore more

An Overview of Paul’s Use of Kephalē (“Head”)
Kephalē (“head”) as Metaphor in First-Century Texts
4 reasons “head” does not mean “leader” in 1 Cor. 11:3
“Uncover-Cover” Words in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
1 Corinthians 11:2–16, in a Nutshell
1 Corinthians 11:9, in a Nutshell
Women’s Authority or Subordination in 1 Corinthians 11:10?
Kephale and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters
LSJ Definitions of Kephalē
The Significance of the Created Order in a Nutshell
Women’s Hair in Corinth and in Sydney
All articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.

More articles about Bible passages with chiasms

Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22–33
The Creed of Philippians 2:6–11

Further Reading

What is the meaning of “head”? By Ian Paul here.
Here are a couple of links to Philip Payne’s website. This article is about hairstyles. This article is about whether 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 refers to church meetings.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

38 thoughts on “The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16

  1. I love your posts! Glad to know you Margaret.

  2. Thanks Susan. 🙂

    1. Hi Marg!

      Great article. I was wondering if you’d clarify one thing for me that is still a bit unclear. In verse 10 it says that “because of this, a woman should have authority over her own head”. What does “because of this” mean? Because of what? Why does her coming from man and not vice versa mean that she has the freedom to prophesy and decide what to do with her own head? Shouldn’t our identity in Christ and us all being in the image of God be the reason for this freedom, and not the order of creation (even if this order is not related to authority and hierarchy).


      1. Hi Leandra,

        The reason a woman should have the right or freedom over her own head is because of the aggeloi (“messengers, angels”), not because the first woman came from man. Paul didn’t think that woman coming from man had significance for those who are “in the Lord” since we all have our source in God (1 Cor. 11:11-12).

        There are several proposed interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:10 that attempt to explain who the aggeloi are and why a woman who is prophesying should have exousia (the authority, right or license) over her own head because of them. I discuss this briefly in the article and in footnote 14 above.

        My preferred interpretation is this:
        “It could be that the enigmatic verse, 1 Corinthians 11:10, which includes the phrase ‘because of the angels,’ is Paul wanting the women to exercise good judgement and have respectable hairstyles so that messengers (aggeloi) won’t spread damaging reports about the conduct of women in the church. [Note that there is no word for “head-covering/veil” or “symbol” in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 11:10, and that aggeloi is used for ‘spies’ in James 2:25.]” From here, where I explain this more.

        Also, while Paul was a champion of freedom in Christ, he also understood that there would be frictional losses between the ideal and the allowances that had to be made for the prevailing culture of the Greco-Roman world. The backdrop and the underlying issue in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is the honour-shame culture of Roman Corinth. I’ve written about this here.

  3. I understand things somewhat differently, altho still in an egal way.

    I do see the chiasm of chiasms that you point out and that Bailey gets slightly wrong I think.

    1 Cor 11:10 is the center and the most important verse to get correct, this is the one that is often mangled by masculinists as they misunderstand the argument and so add words to the text to make it word the way they think it must mean, according to their blue lenses. And you get this correct.

    The challenge in this verses is not that some specific thing might fit them in terms of head something (something “down from the head”), it is that multiple things might fit this concept and it is not clear to us today exactly which one or ones Paul might mean, that is, it is anything but clear to us on this aspect. We can be confident that the church at Corinth would know what Paul meant, but since we are not them, we are simply left in a state of partial ignorance, altho we can surmise that it was cultural, not creational.

    The other thing is that per Acts 21, Paul is a Torah-observant Jew, this has implications as I see it. A Jewish Nazirite took a vow not to cut their hair for a certain length of time, but if it was for a significant length of time, their hair would get long, this would be true for a man or a woman, either could take such a vow. So Paul simply could NOT be saying that long hair on a (Jewish) man was a bad thing. Also, the natural state of hair (hair in nature) is to keep growing until it falls out, again, this would tend to give long hair to either gender, so Paul cannot be saying that long hair on a (gentile) man was a bad thing either. For example, some Greek philosophers were known to grow their hair long as one indication of what they did and no one looked down on them for this. So I see that any translation that says long hair on any man (Jew or gentile) being a bad thing is simply wrong from the get go; it simply needs to be translated in some other way.

    But even given all the above, there is still a puzzle, as a man is not supposed to do the (cultural) head thing, while a woman has freedom to choose whether to do it or not. For a masculinist, I think this is not able to be solved, as the man is restricted while the woman is not. But it also poses a puzzle for the egalitarian like me.

    And I think the solution is that for a man, the head thing has only one meaning and it is one that opposes something in the faith; while for a woman the head thing has 2 possible meanings and they oppose each other. It can mean the same thing as it does for a man, but it can also mean something else that reflects on her husband in a negative way if she does NOT do the head thing, so she is put in a bind as to what to do. This is why she gets to decide which is the best way to go. And in this way Paul is still an egalitarian.

  4. Long hair on a Jewish man may not have been an issue in Israel. This highlights that Paul’s headwear/ hairstyles instructions to the Christians in Corinth, a Roman colony, were specifically cultural and are not directly applicable in our society.

    There are some puzzling things in this passage.

  5. Thank you for this wonderful posting and discussion!

  6. Thanks Kathryn. 🙂

  7. This has been the bane of women active participation in some Mainline churches across the globe. I am continuing with my dissertation on the exegesis of the Pauline women silence in the churches and its sitz en leben. Is this statement not the crux of women active service both to humanity and to God their creator?
    Thank you Marg, my thesis in favour of women full service is on going and I will like to follow up additional comments on 11:2-16 and 14:33-36.

  8. Hi Osbert, I wish you well in your dissertation. I’m always happy to learn more, so feel free to post follow up comments.

    You may be interested in my article on 1 Cor 14:34-35 here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

  9. I agree with Kristen but view 1 Corinthians 11:4-10 as a quote from a faction while 11-16 is a rebuttal to an exaggeration. Plus verse 14/15 should be translated as statements rather the questions. While verse 16 makes this issue of hair and head-coverings adiaphoristic(spelling?).

  10. R.J. The passage certainly makes more sense if the first half is a quote and the second half is Paul’s response. (I start work in 10 minutes, so just leaving a short reply for now.)

  11. Hi Marg,

    I’ve been reading a lot of your posts in the last couple days as I try to grapple with biblical concepts of man/womanhood. I have however been deeply troubled by some of your conclusions and how hastily you arrive at them.

    In this post you very quickly arrive at the conclusion that kephale means “source”. I find this to be both a confusing interpretation of it’s usage in this passage and also not supported by it’s usage elsewhere.

    My first issue is that now the verse reads that God is the source of Christ. As we already understand Jesus submits to God’s will and rightfully obeys his headship I think we are twisting the passage considerably to make it say something different (the Trinity is the source of Christ? God the Father created Christ? Jesus is made from the Trinity?).As we already know that Christ submits to God’s authority does it not make complete sense to read the passage as God is the head of Christ, rather than source? I really do not think you can use this in the very same sentence as claiming that Eve was made from Adam. Also, from Grudem’s work and multiple Greek lexicons kephale is consistently defined as “head”. Even the LSJ only mentions “source” in two instances, one being the source of a river (aka, the top of the river, or head). Your hard work is spoiled by these hasty conclusions that the interpretation of passages is hinged upon.

    As you then say “When we understand that “head” (kephalē) means source, Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 becomes easier to understand” – I simply don’t believe that kephale does mean source, and I think you’re pleading with a minimal evidence (citing only other egal sources) that is largely unsupported by other usages of kephale. You provide no examples of kephale meaning “source” elsewhere in the Bible which I assume means there are none (otherwise they’d be demonstrated). Having read Grudem’s work also, it seems you sparingly use his quote to support your point of view whereas Grudem seems only to be making the minor consolation that kephale (while meaning head) can have some metaphorical notions of source. This is not saying kephale means “source”, but that kephale means “head” which includes at least some metaphorical notions of source.

    I think I would need much more evidence in favour of interpreting kephale as “source” rather than “head” before I read this passage in an egalitarian manner – I don’t think you’ve successfully argued this case here, and the conclusions you’ve arrived at betray a bias in interpretation of the available evidence…

    1. In further reading of Chrysostom too, it seems nowhere does he endorse a reading of kephale as “source”. It seems Payne has been selective in his choice of what to anaylse in supporting his case…

    2. Hi Bryn,

      Kephalē does indeed mean “head” in every instance where it occurs in Greek literature. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. However, the range of metaphorical meanings of “head” in modern English is different to the range of metaphorical meanings of “head” in Ancient Greek.

      I continue to suggest that the context of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, including verse 3, is source and origin. And I do recognise that Grudem’s conclusions are different to mine.

      A while ago I spent some time scouring literature originally written in Classical and Koine Greek and I have found only one possible case where kephalē may mean leader: the second century AD Shepherd of Hermas. (There was nothing “hasty” about this search, or in what I write about kephale.) If you can show me other instances where kephalē unambiguously means leader (in untranslated Greek), I’d appreciate it.

      I agree that I have not successfully argued a case for the meaning of kephalē in this article about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. This is because I wrote about it more comprehensively in a previous article here where I provide several reasons for understanding that kephalē does not mean leader or authority.

      Here is just one reason: No king, governor, Roman centurion, Jewish leader, church leader, patriarch, parent, or any kind of worldy or religious authority figure, is ever called a kephalē in the New Testament. This is because the word kephalē does not usually mean leader or authority; there are plenty of other Greek words which have that function.

      Kephalē is used exclusively for Jesus, and twice for men, in the Pauline letters. We need to find out why Paul used this word in the various passages. And we need to think in Greek, not in English, to find the answer.

      In regards to your comment about the Trinity: I absolutely believe that the Triune God was the “source” or “originator” of the Messiah.

      The angel answered and said to [Mary], “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35 cf Matthew 1:18, 20, 23).

      1. Thanks for your quick and detailed response!

        After reading some of Grudem’s analysis of Chrysostom he writes, regarding Chyrostom’s usage of kephale

        “Conclusion on Chrysostom’s use of kephale Chrysostom uses kephale to say that
        one person is the “head” of another in at least six different relationships:
        (1) God is the “head” of Christ;
        (2) Christ is the “head” of the church;
        (3) the husband is the “head” of the wife;
        (4) Christ is the “head” of all things;
        (5) church leaders are the “head” of the church; and
        (6) a woman is the “head” of her maidservant. In all six cases, he uses language of rulership and authority to explain the role of the “head,” and uses language of submission and obedience to describe the role of the “body.””

        This quote features in Grudem’s response to Catherine Kroeger who claimed that Chrysostom and other influential early church members (basically all the ones that you mention Payne discussed) believed that kephale meant “source” not “head”. If you haven’t read it already I recommend checking it. I haven’t read it all myself but am currently working my way through it and would be interested on your thoughts on it, as it seems to be directly challenging one of the biggest supporting claims for our interpretation of kephale. I found a pdf of it here: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/kephale.pdf

        As to why Paul uses kephale exclusively for Jesus and men, I would say my simple reading of it is that it’s a basic illustration (I think we can see Paul likes his body part illustrations!). As the only comparison of kephale regarding the relationship of men and women is the usage of kephale regarding the relationship between Jesus and God the Father. As we know from Matthew 26, John 6, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 2 etc Jesus submits to God’s authority even though the two are equal in deity. As this passage confirms the relationship/roles of God the Father and Jesus that we already understand and applies it to the relationship/roles of men and women I find it hard to interpret a key word in a way that then makes it read differently to what we already partially know. I guess I might be applying a bit of Occam’s Razor to this passage however…

        A few general questions I’ve been thinking about as I read your articles and would like to ask:

        1. Do you believe God the Father has authority of Jesus? Do you believe Jesus submits to God’s authority?

        2. Do you believe authority to indicate increased value/importance/superiority? Basically, is authority bad?

        3. Do you think it’s possible for men and women to be equal (in importance, value and likeness of God) but have different roles in ministry?

        Thanks very much 😀

        1. If one is going to study Grudem on the complementarian position on kephale, then one also should study at least Cervin on the egalitarian position. A Berean really needs to study both sides in their own words.

          If you do that, you can see that Grudem is much too triumphalistic in his pronouncements and mostly sees what he wants to see.

          Here is a recent meta-study of the kephale debate, the Bibliography gives pointers to all the relevant papers.

          On your questions, I will respond for myself.

          1) While on earth, Jesus obeyed the Father. Apart from that, I see 2 ways the relations in the Godhead are expressed, (1) as God’s will (if there is only one will, it is not a question of obeying an authority over one) and as mutual love and submission to one another.

          2) Authority is not bad in and of itself. It is bad when it is seen as existing where it does not exist according to Scripture. Parents have authority over their kids in order to do good for them, this is because kids grow in competence.

          3) Equal in being but not equal in function is a concept that does not make sense when analyzed. It especially does not make sense in a Hebrew mindset where one sees what one is by what one does.

        2. Hi Bryn,

          I’ll have a go at answering your questions.

          (1) I believe that Jesus submitted to both God the Father and to the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1) while he was on earth and was “made a little lower than the angels.” However, I believe that the members of the Trinity (with Jesus being ascended) have the exact same will – there are not three competing wills – and so there is no need for one member to submit to the will of another member. (I’ve written about this here and here.)

          (2a) If authority is only offered to, or only possible for, a certain sector of society then, indeed, that sector of society has more importance and a degree of superiority. We see this dynamic in many societies where caste systems, apartheid, or gender discrimination means that people of certain castes, races, and/or women are completely excluded from higher and more privileged positions and roles in society.

          (2b) Authority can be good or bad, and everything in between. I believe that, in the church, the Holy Spirit equips and authorises people to function in certain ministries, but he does not give one person authority over other capable adults. I really think we need to get rid of the word “over” when speaking about a healthy authority. There is no word for “over” in the Greek in verses about ministry and church leadership. (I’ve written more about authority in the church here.)

          Authority is bad and unhealthy when immature, selfish or incapable people are given authority to do something they are unfit for. Authority is good and healthy when a capable and wise person is authorised to function in a certain and limited capacity.

          (3) I think we all have different roles in life and in ministry, and that these roles change. My own experience, and my observation of others, are that our roles change regularly as we go through different seasons, acquire new abilities, and as we mature and (hopefully) grow in wisdom. Apart from the role of male and female in procreation, I do not know of any roles that are exclusively male or exclusively female. The Bible has numerous examples of godly men and women who were involved in all kinds of activities and ministries and situations, at all levels of society. Typically, some of these roles are considered as being more important and more valuable than others.

          I know that some Hierarchical Complementarians regard submission as a role. I regard submission, humility, and deference as virtues for all Christians (e.g. Eph. 5:21; Phil. 2:3ff).

          P.S. I did not find Grudem’s article on Chrysostom’s use of kephalē especially pertinent. I want to know how 1st century people used kephalē, not someone writing in the late 4th century unless they’re directly commenting on 1 Cor. 11:3. When Chrysostom does comment on 1 Cor. 11:3 he does not speak about authority but about sameness of substance. Also, I do not quote Kroeger in my articles about the possible meanings of kephalē. However, I have used her information, selectively, for a couple of other topics.

          1. If you want answers to your questions, you can find answers in the general egalitarian books, such as Discovering Biblical Equality or Payne’s Man and Woman: One in Christ.

            It is much easier to ask a question than to answer it and when someone asks a barrage of questions without giving their own answers, I wonder what their goal is.

            Here are some ways to try to wear the egal “hat” and see if it might fit.

            1) When God is indicated in Scripture, this does not necessarily mean the Father, it can also mean the Godhead.

            2) As I mentioned before, I see Scripture discussing the relations in the Godhead in 2 ways, one of God’s will which is singular so there is no hierarchy even possible and the other is via mutual love and submission.

            I think the idea of servant leaders as commonly taught gets some things wrong. All believers are to serve. All humans are sinners and therefore obedience to any human is never absolute, a believer is to obey God rather than a human if the two are in conflict. In the Kingdom, leaders lead mainly by example and by having greater wisdom which is then sought out; it is not top down dominance deciding for another. This is especially true for Jesus, he let people make their own decisions and reap the consequences, good or bad.

            Natural gifts and spiritual gifts are both from God.

            On Payne and really anyone else, I find there are some things that are great explanations and other things that are not convincing for me at least. Which is why I try to read widely from both sides in their own words in the gender debate.

          2. Sorry for not replying for ages Donald – bit preoccupied over Summer then I just forgot about it till now.

            Thanks for your recommendations of some books – I will hopefully get onto reading them eventually!

            As for some of your thoughts – what about the passages I posted where it seems to clearly outline some form of functional hierarchy between God the Father and Jesus, such as John 5:22 and Philippians 2? What do you make of these?

          3. LEB Joh 5:22 For the Father does not judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son,
            Joh 5:23 in order that all people will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

            How do I understand this? By the intended objective, so that both Father and Son are honored. Also, if the Father does God’s will in judging and the Son does God’s will in judging, how could they be different?

            On Phil 2, Jesus humbled himself to become human, while human he was an example for us and obeyed the Father.

  12. I’m posting this quote here because there is some resonance with Adichie’s words with an authentic understanding of the chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-11. The first part of the chiasm is an incomplete and limited picture of gender. The second part of the chiasm is a more complete and accurate picture. Moreover, too many Christian have just one story or one idea about so-called gender roles, whereas the Bible shows us that many women were involved in all kinds of activities and ministries.

    Words of wisdom from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

    In her excellent TED talk, “The danger of a single story,” Adichie discusses how “Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories… and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” To watch her talk, visit http://bit.ly/U5t0Hy

    1. Thanks for the response Marg – sorry I took so long to reply.

      I think this is getting to the heart of the issue, however from what I’ve seen it still seems very easily swayed in either direction.

      Although this is an isolated passage it doesn’t require much to read it in the contexts of Genesis 1-3 (and 5), 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 to develop a complementarian perspective. To take the general trend of male headship throughout the Bible isn’t a big stretch either, as taken from Adam to Christ, with many prophets, Kings and priests adding weight to an idea of male headship, with some rare cases of women undertaking similar roles (ie, Deborah). Your 25 examples are paramount in detailing the large variety of ways that women can serve in the church and in their lives, but I find it hard to use any of them to argue against the weight of the rest of scripture regarding male headship.

      I understand I still have much more reading to do on this issue but the image slowly being painted in my mind is a much more complementarian one than egalitarian.

      Thanks very much for your blog though – it has been extremely helpful for me in understanding this whole issue much more deeply, and while I don’t agree with all your conclusions it has definitely given me a broader understanding of the actions and roles of women throughout the Bible.

      1. I think much of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 alludes to Genesis 2, hence the context of source or origin. I don’t see much a correspondence with 1 Cor. 14:34-35 though. (Have you seen my most recent post? It’s about 1 Cor. 11:9.)

        Male “headship” is mentioned twice in the Bible. It is mentioned for the first time in 1 Cor. 11. This hardly justifies the phrase “the weight of Scripture regarding male headship”.

        If by male headship you mean patriarchy, however, then it is hardly surprising that we see that throughout history most rulers were men, rather than women. Immediately after the fall God said that woman would be ruled by man (Gen 3:16). Patriarchy was the norm in Israel as well as in most thoroughly pagan nations. There is nothing intrinsically godly about patriarchy.

        As a Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:18ff), living under the New Covenant, I take my cues for living mostly from New Testament principles and precedents.

        We need to use Old Testament principles and precedents with caution. I am not an Israelite, and I am not bound by previous Covenants. I am a New Creation (2 Cor 5:16-17). Moreover, I believe that patriarchy is a consequence of sin.

  13. I apologize if someone else brought this up in the conversation string. I haven’t had time to read them all. But is it possible that Paul is prohibiting men from covering their heads? From what I understand, it was a common liturgical practice for Roman men to cover their heads when sacrificing to gods.

    Unless I am mistaken, Julius “re-founded” Corinth as a Roman colony.

    So, it the text a comment on what is appropriate for women or is it more a commentary on what is inappropriate for men?

    1. Good question. Most people zoom in on what this passage says about the women of Corinth, but they don’t pay as much attention to what it says about the men.

      I believe that Paul’s instructions in this passage are about preserving gender distinctions during worship services. At the same time, Paul also maintains that men and women have the same source – God, and this gives them an intrinsic equality. Here’s a paragraph from the article:

      “There are some indications within First Corinthians that the Christians in Corinth thought that the Kingdom age had fully arrived and that gender distinctions were no longer important. It appears that the Corinthian Christians likened themselves to the genderless angels. But Paul wanted the Corinthians to preserve some gender distinctions. He did not want the men to have long hair or braids, which some effeminate men were wearing at the time; and he did not want the women to look like men with short hair. Or it could be that Paul did not want women to appear as though they were sexually promiscuous, with flowing unbound hair like the maenads in the worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. In New Testament times, a woman with either short hair or long unbound hair was making a provocative statement, and Paul did not want the Corinthians to unnecessarily behave in culturally inappropriate ways.”

      1. Perhaps, but I’m not convinced it is so much an emphasis upon gender but upon accommodation to idol worship in Corinth and the way in which the Roman’s engaged in idol worship.

        Is the issue gender roles or “quit emulating the practices of idol worship–it causes weaker brothers and sisters to stumble.” I think there is precedence for this in the text (1 Corinthians 8:7-11).

        1. Hi Darryl,

          You may well be correct. It is a point to keep in mind in trying to interpret this difficult passage. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  14. Have you read Alan Padgett’s book ‘As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission’? There’s an awesome chapter in there that makes the argument that Paul is in fact arguing *against* head coverings. I’m convinced that he’s onto something here, especially that some of this difficult passage are quotations of the Corinthians argument *for* head coverings.

    Thanks for all of your hard work!

    1. Hi Ben,

      I have Alan’s book, but it’s been a while since I read it. You’ve piqued my interest, so I will take another look at it.

  15. I need to read through the rest of these comments, but I just wanted to share one thing about my own head covering while being egalitarian. Because it says to cover when praying and prophesying, I regard my head cover as a symbol of my authority as a woman to prophecy. Many men would deny women this authority, but Paul gave us a visible statement of it.

    1. Hi Mackenzie, Many women also deny the authority gifted women have to prophesy and pray aloud in church too.

      When you say “head covering” do you mean your hair?

  16. Thank you for sharing these insights. Very helpful. Perhaps I missed it but I was hoping you would address verse 16 in your commentary on this passage as well. I find it even more puzzling than the previous verses. Is it possible that after going into so much detail regarding this issue of head coverings that Paul is declaring that neither he nor the “churches of God” require them? He states in verse 15 that a woman’s hair is given as her covering.

    1. Hi Catherine,

      I think Paul is saying head coverings aren’t necessary, “that there is no such custom”, but I haven’t emphasised that point in this particular article. I probably should have made this point clearer.

      I did write this, though:
      “Despite the common assumption that Paul was instructing women to cover their heads, there is no word for veil or hat, etc, in the Greek of this passage. Paul does, however, speak about hair as a covering. Some modern Bible scholars, such as Jerome Murphy O’Connor, believe that Paul was probably speaking about hairstyles, and that he wanted the Corinthians to have hairstyles that were socially acceptable according to the culture of Corinth of that time.”

      (See also endnote 11.)

      I have a more recent article on hair in Corinth here. But again, I mention verses 15 and 16 only in passing. For example: “Moreover, Paul states that a woman’s hair is given in place of a covering or garment; that is, a woman’s head is adequately covered by her own hair (1 Cor. 11:15).”

      Thanks for your comment. When I have time, I’ll see if I can add a sentence to the chiasm article, to make the “hair-covering” point clearer.

      1. I was reading Chrysostom’s homily on this passage, and he seemed to say the custom the churches didn’t have was to be contentious. I had always taken the custom in verse 16 to be something about hair or veils, but could it actually be about being contentious?

        1. The Greek of 1 Corinthians 11:16 can be read either way: (1) the custom was to do with hairstyles or head-covering, or (2) the custom was about not being contentious or argumentative. But I think Chrysostom is mistaken. I think the custom Paul refers to has to do with his discussion about respectable hairstyles for men and women who pray and prophesy in church gatherings.

  17. Wayne Grudem has exhaustively settled the debate over what head (κεφαλὴ) means.

    Wayne Grudem, “Does κεφαλὴ (“Head”) Mean “Source” Or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples,” Trinity Journal NS 6.1 (Spring 1985): 38-59. “The Meaning of kephalē (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies,” Trinity Journal 11NS (Spring, 1990), 3-72. “The Meaning of kephalē, (“head”): An Analysis of New Evidence, Real and Alleged,” JETS 44/1 (March, 2001), 25-65.

    Your claim that kephale rarely meant “leader” are false. And you must know that they are false.

    1. I’ve read Grudem’s work on kephalē carefully several times and am unconvinced. Several scholars who have engaged in his work, such as Leon Morris, Gordon D. Fee, and Philip Payne, among others, are also unconvinced with Grudem’s work and point to problems in his method. They make similar statements to mine.

      I’ve noticed errors in Grudem’s handling of Greek, as well as incorrect statements, in his paper on mutual submission. I discuss this here.

      Grudem’s method in his more recent paper on divorce, which I discuss here, is problematic.

      And he openly admitted to not knowing that adelphoi, a common Greek word, can mean “brothers and sisters.” He made this admission after his work on kephalē.

      The original version of the Colorado Springs Guidelines had to be amended when it was realised that adelphoi can mean “brothers and sisters” and not just “brothers.” Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress, who were signatories to the original and amended guidelines, explain:

      . . . the major Greek lexicons for over 100 years have said that adelphoi, which is the plural of the word adelphos, “brother,” sometimes means “brothers and sisters” (see BAGD, 1957 and 1979, Liddell-Scott-Jones, 1940 and even 1869). This material was new evidence to those of us who wrote the May 27 guidelines—we weren’t previously aware of this pattern of Greek usage outside the Bible. Once we saw these examples and others like them, we felt we had to make some change in the guidelines.
      Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem, The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2000), 425–426.

      Grudem’s handling of Greek does not inspire confidence.


      Unlike Wayne Grudem, a few non-egalitarian scholars acknowledge that kephalē did not mean “chief person” or “leader” in pagan Greek literature until at least the fourth century. I discuss this here. However, it is also a sense rarely, if ever, seen in ancient Jewish writings originally written in Greek.

      An interesting comparison can be made between what synagogue leaders and chief priests are called in Hebrew and in Greek.

      The Hebrew title for a leader of a synagogue is usually rosh ha’keneset and it includes the Hebrew word for “head”: rosh = “head” + ha’keneset = “the gathering.”
      The Greek title for a leader of a synagogue is archisynagogos and it does not include the Greek word for “head.” Archisynagogos is derived from archōn = “leader/ruler” + sunagōgē = “synagogue/gathering.”

      “Chief priest” is rendered a few different ways in the Hebrew Bible, but in 2 Chronicles 19:11 “chief priest” is kohen ha’rosh and this title includes the word “head”: kohen = “priest” + ha’rosh = “the head.”
      The Septuagint’s translation of “chief priest” in 2 Chronicles 19:11 is ho hiereus hēgoumenos and it does not include the Greek word for “head” but a Greek word that means “leader, governor, guide”: ho hiereus = “the priest” + hēgoumenos = “leader.”

      In the Greek New Testament, “chief priest” is typically rendered as archiereus: archōn = “leader/ruler” + hiereus = “priest.”

      Kephalē (“head”) is not used in these titles of Jewish religious leaders because kephalē does not typically mean “leader.”

      In fact, no human religious, political, or civil leader of any kind is called a kephalē in the New Testament. Even in Modern Greek kephalē is rarely used with the meaning “leader.”


      Richard Cervin (1989), Andrew Perriman (1994), Judith Gundry-Volf (1997), and others argue credibly that kephalē can have a sense of preeminence or prominence. This is without doubt a sense, or at least a nuance, in most occurrences of kephalē when not used in its literal sense.

      Also, when I am with a Greek specialist, such as lexicographers of specific ancient authors or of ancient archives, I always ask them about kephalē. They are usually surprised by the idea that kephalē might be taken to mean “leader.” It is not a sense they have come across and they usually have to look into it before they answer me. The answers so far have been that “leader” is not a recognised meaning of kephalē. And I’ve checked lexicons of several ancient authors myself, and there is no meaning that approximates “leader” under the entry kephalē.

      I’ve been reading ancient Greek, especially Hellenistic Greek, for over a decade now. I’ve read numerous texts written by pagan, Jewish, and Christian authors, and I stand by the premise that “leader” was not a typical meaning of kephalē in texts originally written in ancient Greek. Believe what you want, John, but this, and more, is what I know about kephalē at present. However, I’m always learning more.

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