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Who is the head, Mary Kassian?

Mary Kassian posted a blog post on the 1st of August 2012 entitled Sex in the Shadowlands that includes the diagram above. This diagram sends a faulty message. (Image used with permission.)

I agree with Mary Kassian that the word “head” (kephalē) is used in the context of unity and oneness in the New Testament; however, Mary and her diagram take the concept of “head” and unity further than Scripture does.

The diagram shows that the Lord God (presumably the Triune God) is the head of the incarnate Jesus Christ; that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church; and that a husband is the head of his wife. In the New Testament, God, Jesus Christ, and husbands/ men are indeed called “heads”.

However, the diagram also indicates that church elders and, as an aside on the far left, fathers are “heads.” There is no biblical basis for calling church elders or fathers “heads” with a sense of the word found in ancient Greek literature including the Greek New Testament.

The word “head” (kephalē) used in the Greek NT is not well understood, so it’s unwise for us to use the word in ways that have no biblical basis.

One common misunderstanding is that the Greek word kephalē (“head”) means “a person in authority in authority over others.”[2] Rather than “authority,” kephalē is used in verses such as Ephesians 5:23 as part of a head-body metaphor symbolising unity. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, it probably means “point of origin” or has the sense of “firstness.”[3] In other NT verses, kephalē is used with the metaphorical sense of “fullness.” I provide an overview of verses where “head” is used in the context of relationships here.

Here is a comment I left on Mary Kassian’s blog about the diagram. (It was never approved and comments are now closed.)

. . . on the left hand side it says, “Head (Father) of the house.” There is no Scripture that says the father is the head of the house.  None.

Ephesians 5:23 does say that husband is the head of the wife. But it doesn’t say that the husband is the head of the household; it doesn’t even say that the husband, or father, is the head of the family. The head-body metaphor is one of unity—a profound, intimate unity that uniquely applies to husbands and wives, and not to fathers and households, etc.

We need to be careful that we don’t let an English understanding of “head” confuse what is being said in the Greek. I have yet to see “head” (kephalē) mean “leader” or “ruler” in texts originally written in Classical or Koine Greek before Paul’s time.[4]

Also, the New Testament does not say that elders are the “head” (kephalē) of the church community. Jesus Christ is the head of his Church. There is a unique and profound unity between Christ and his Church. [More about leadership in the community of God’s people here.]

We need to keep to the scriptures when we use the word “head” metaphorically as there is a danger that we will lose the impact of the head–body metaphor if we start applying it in non–biblical ways to fathers, elders, or households, etc.

My internet friend Retha also wrote an important blog post in response to Mary Kassian’s rather alarming article Sex in the Shadowlands.


[1] Ephesians 5:21-33 is about sacrificial love and mutual submission, and not about leadership. There are many words for leaders and leadership in the Greek language. These words are never used for husbands in the Greek NT. [More about Ephesians 5:22-33 here and here.]

[2] While I have yet to come across kephalē used with the meaning of “leader” or “authority” in original, untranslated Ancient Greek literature, that is not to say it never occurs. Its meaning of “leader”, however, must be considered rare and atypical.

[3] Origins is one of the contexts of 1 Corinthians 11:2ff (cf. 1 Cor. 11:12). Paul wanted the Christians in Corinth to know that men and women are mutually interdependent on each other and ultimately share the same source — God himself (1 Cor. 11:12). [More about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.]

[4] I have written about non-biblical first-century Greek texts, especially texts written by Jewish authors such as Philo, that use the word kephalē as a metaphor in human relationships here.

Image used with permission.

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Explore more

An Overview of Paul’s Use of Kephalē (“Head”)
Kephalē and Male Headship  in Paul’s Letters
All my articles on “head” (kephalē) are here.
(1) Respect and Submission in 1 Peter 3:1-6
(2) Respect and Submission in 1 Peter 3:7-8
A Suitable Helper

5 thoughts on “Who is the “head”?

  1. Ignoring the theological faults in Kassian’s article, am I the only one who finds the graphic disgusting? I’m not immature about sexual topics, but how could anyone think that showing a visual of “Lord God” having sex with Jesus is a good idea? For someone who teaches modesty and complains of the way our culture treats sex, Kassian kind of puts it out there. Did no one who was close to her have the guts to say, “Maybe you’ve taken this analogy too far, you should reconsider your graphic?” Or are they so steeped in complementarian theology that they just accept articles like these with no questions? If I had to guess, I would guess that Kassian closed the comments because there was somewhat of a backlash with the theology and graphic in the article. I honestly hope and prayed that not a lot of non-christians see her diagram, it makes Christians seem pretty foolish.

  2. I don’t think that Mary was saying that God has sex with Jesus, or that elders have sex with members of the church community for that matter!

    I strongly doubt Paul had sex in mind when he used the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23. Unity in marriage doesn’t come about just by sex.

  3. I appreciate people like you standing up for the truth even when it is “controversial”.

  4. Thanks Cheryl. I think Mary is the one making controversial statements, statements that fall down when looked at logically and tested with Scripture. 😉

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