‘Head’ does not mean ‘leader’ in 1 Cor 11.3

Bust of a Roman woman circa 140 AD. Most statues, frescoes, mosaics, coins, etc, show
ancient Roman women with uncovered heads.

The debate about the meaning of ‘head’ and ‘headship’ (even though the latter does not occur in the NT) continues to rumble on. The main reason for this for English speakers is that the term is deeply and widely connected with notions of authority, control and leadership—just think ‘headteacher’ or ‘headmaster’ and other compounds, and you can see how natural this is for us. To imagine that ‘head’ in other cultures and languages does not have the same connotation requires a disciplined leap of the imagination, and this is not easy for the casual reader of the NT.

I recently came across a really helpful and clear argument that ‘head’ in 1 Cor 11.3 (used only here and in Eph 5.23 of relationships between men and women) does not have the metaphorical meaning of ‘leader’ or ‘authority over’, written by Marg Mowczko, a theologian and writer from New South Wales, Australia. I think it is a really good example of clear, detailed and persuasive analysis, and I reproduce it here with permission.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is one of the most difficult passages of the Bible to interpret. The Greek word kephale, which literally means “head”, is one factor which contributes to making this passage difficult to understand.

In English, the word “head” has many meanings apart from its literal sense. One metaphorical meaning of head is “leader.” In English, the “head” of a social, political or military organisation is the leader, the top person, the chief, the one in authority. In first-century Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, the Greek word kephale (“head”) also had metaphorical meanings.

Many Christians have assumed that kephale means “the one in authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3.[1] However, “leader” or “authority” was not a usual meaning of the word in ancient Greek either before or during the first century. In this article I provide four pieces of evidence that support this claim.

1. When The Hebrew Word For “Head” Meant “Leader” In The Hebrew Bible, It Was Usually Not Translated With The Greek Word For “Head” In The Septuagint.

That kephale did not ordinarily mean “leader” is demonstrated when we compare the Hebrew word for “head” in the Hebrew Bible with the Greek word for “head” in the Septuagint. (The Septuagint is the 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 kephale. However, in Hebrew, as in English, “head” can also mean a “leader” or “ruler”. In the instances where rosh meant a “leader”, in the majority of cases, the translators did not use the word kephale in their translation. Instead, they typically used the Greek word archon, which does mean “leader” or “ruler”.

Out of 180 instances where rosh has the sense of “leader” in the Hebrew Bible, only 8 were translated as kephale. It seems that most of the translators of the Septuagint knew that kephale does not usually mean “leader”, “ruler”, or “one in authority”. (I say “most translators” because not all those involved with translating from Hebrew into Greek were equal to the task. More on this here.)

Interestingly, the Hebrew word rosh can also mean “origin” or “beginning”. Kenneth Bailey writes:

The Jewish new year is celebrated as Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year”. The first day of the year is not “in authority over” the rest of the year. Rather the year “flows from” that first day. In the Old Testament “The fear of the Lord is the head [rosh] of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). English translations usually read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[2]

I suggest that the Greek word kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3 has a similar meaning of “origin” or “beginning”, or, as some say, “source”.

2. Lexicons Of Secular Ancient Greek Do Not Give “Leader” As A Definition Of Kephale.

Another piece of evidence that shows kephale did not usually mean “leader” in ancient Greek is that LSJ, the most exhaustive lexicon of ancient Greek, does not include any definition of kephale that approximates “leader” or “authority”.[3] Furthermore, Richard Cervin notes that lexicons of the works of individual ancient Greek authors—pagan authors such as Xenophon, Herodotus, Plato, Thucydides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus and others—do not include any definitions for kephale that approximate “leader”.[4]

Heinrich Schlier, in his entry on kephale in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, notes, “In secular Greek usage, kephale is not employed for the head of a society.”[5] Al Wolters, who identifies as a complementarian, states that kephale with a meaning of “leader” is “virtually unattested in pagan Greek literature until about the fourth century AD.”[6] And, “As far as pagan Greek literature is concerned, LSJ (1996) is entirely justified in omitting the meaning “chief” or “leader” from its entry on kephale.”[7]

Wolters believes, however, that the word is used by Jewish and Christian writers, including Paul, to mean “leader”. In the Septuagint, as already noted, there are eight instances where kephale means “leader”, but careless translating from Hebrew to Greek may account for these. Wolters provides two instances where he says kephale means “leader” in Philo, and two in Josephus.[8] I am not convinced by these examples, however. The first reasonably clear example where kephale means “leader” is in the Christian writing, the Shepherd of Hermas (Similitude 7.2). (The date of the Shepherd is uncertain, but many scholars suggest a date of around 140 AD, approximately 90 years after First Corinthians was written.)

While the lexicons mentioned above do not contain a definition of “leader” for kephale, this is not the case for New Testament lexicons. Every lexicon of New Testament Greek, that I’ve looked at, has a definition that means something like “leader”.

BDAG, for example, gives “to denote superior rank” as a meaning. To support this definition it gives two secular examples, one from the second century AD and one from 500 AD (which is long after 1 Corinthians was written.) It also gives two examples from the Septuagint (Judg. 11:11; 2 Kingd. 22:44).[9] Thayer’s lexicon gives the definitions: “Metaphorically, anything supreme, chief, prominent; of persons, master, lord . . .” Strong gives “ruler” and “lord” as possible meanings. Other New Testament lexicons have similar definitions.

Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians have simply presumed that “head” means “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as well as in other verses such as Ephesians 5:23. Richard Cervin suggests three reasons for this discrepancy between lexicons of New Testament Greek and other lexicons:

I offer several possible reasons, not the least of which is tradition and a male-dominant world-view. . . . Another reason stems from Latin. . . . In the West, Latin has always been more popular than Greek, and until last century, Latin was the lingua franca of the scholarly world. Now the Latin word for ‘head’, caput, does have the metaphorical meaning of ‘leader’ . . . Thus, for English-speaking theologians at least Hebrew, English and Latin all share ‘leader’ as a common metaphor for head, a metaphor which is nonetheless alien to Ancient Greek. [Cervin’s use of italics.][10]

Though New Testament lexicons give a definition of “leader” for kephale, it is important to note that only God (1 Cor. 11:3), Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15-16; 5:23; Col. 1:18-19; 2:9-10; 2:18-19), men (1 Cor. 11:3), and husbands (Eph. 5:23) are referred to with the word, and only by Paul.

Gilbert Bilezikian notes:

There are scores of references in the documents of the New Testament to leaders from all walks of life: religious leaders, community leaders, military leaders, governmental leaders, patriarchal leaders and church leaders. Never is anyone of them designated as head. A profusion of other titles is used, but head is conspicuously absent from the list. The obvious explanation for this singularity is that head did not mean “leader” in the language of the New Testament.[11]

3. Several Early Church Fathers Did Not Interpret “Head” As Meaning “Leader” In 1 Corinthians 11:3.

Several early church fathers taught that the meaning of kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3 means “origin” or “beginning” (or “source”). Some of these church fathers were writing at a time when kephale occasionally could mean “leader” or “a person in authority”. These church fathers also believed that men had a greater level of authority than women, yet they did not use 1 Corinthians 11:3 to support this belief.

Athanasius (296-373), Bishop of Alexandria, stated in “Anathema 26” of De Synodis:

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), Archbishop of Constantinople, was adamant that “head” does not mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He says 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. (Homily 26 on First Corinthians)[12]

Cyril (376-444), Archbishop of Alexandria, in De Recta Fide ad Pulcheriam et Eudociam wrote:

Therefore of our race he [Adam] became first head, which is source, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as head, which is source, of those who through Him have been formed anew unto Him unto immor­tality through sanctification in the Spirit. Therefore he himself our source, which is head, 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 means source, he establishes the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the head 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 the heavenly Fa­ther, having himself become our head because he is of the same stock according to the flesh.
(See Patrologia Graeca 76, pp.1336-1420.)

These three men, and others, were concerned that if kephale was understood as meaning “ruler” or “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 it would lead to a distorted christology. Instead, they understood kephale as meaning “beginning” or “source”.

4. Secular Greek Authors Did Not Use Kephale When Writing About The Relationship Between Men And Women.

Greco-Roman society was patriarchal and many works survive where Greek authors wrote about the rule of men and of husbands. But no author other than Paul, and Christian authors following him, used the word “head” when writing about the relationship of a husband with his wife, or when writing about men and women more generally. Outside of Christian literature, “kephale is never used in ancient Greek in a male-female context.”[13]

Plutarch, a prolific author and native Greek speaker, wrote a letter in around 100 AD to a bride and groom where he gives marriage advice.[14] Throughout his letter, Plutarch uses various Greek words to describe the husband’s leadership. He writes, for example, that the husband is the one who displays the “leadership” (hegemoneia) and “decision-making” (proairesis) in the home (lesson 11). And, the husband is “to rule” (kratien and archein) his wife (lesson 33). Plutarch counsels that the husband’s leadership should be done sympathetically and affectionately, and should promote the wife’s “enjoyment and kindness”, but the husband must be the ruler, the one in charge.

Paul, on the other hand, never uses any of the words Plutarch or other Greek writers used when he writes about men and women. In fact, Paul, and every other New Testament author, never uses any of the many Greek words that commonly meant “leader” when writing about husbands.

Kephale Can Mean “Point Of Origin”

The Greek word for “head” rarely, if ever, meant “leader” or “an authority” in works originally written in Greek before or during the first century AD. And Paul definitely wrote First Corinthians in Greek. “Head” with a meaning of “point of origin” or “beginning” (or “source”) was not common in ancient Greek, but it was less rare than the meaning of “leader”. There are three reasonably clear examples where kephale means “origin” or “beginning” in surviving texts which date before First Corinthians was written: Herodotus 4.91.2, the Orphic Fragment 21A, and the Testament of Reuben 2.2.

Furthermore, if we take head to mean “authority”, then something or someone is missing from the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:3. The statement is incomplete. It’s not quite right.[14] Surely, Christ is the authority and the leader of every woman as well as of every man. There is absolutely nothing to suggest elsewhere in Paul’s letters, or anywhere else in the New Testament for that matter, that women are somehow distanced, even slightly, from the authority and lordship of Jesus Christ.

Covering And Protection Or Origin?

1 Corinthians 11:3 has been used to support an idea called “covering”, which is that women need the covering or protection of a man’s (spiritual) authority. Again, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible to support the idea that women need the covering or protection of men. Even in the Old Testament, God bypassed husbands and fathers and spoke to women directly, or he sent an angel to speak to women. In the New Covenant, however, every redeemed man and woman has access to God, through Jesus, facilitated by the Holy Spirit. God did not, and does not, single out men as his authorised spokesmen (prophets) or as protectors. God used, and uses, women as prophets and protectors.

So how are we to understand 1 Corinthians 11:3? Kenneth Bailey interprets it like this:

“The origin of every man is Christ” (i.e. Christ is the agent of God in creation. In 1 Corinthians 8.6 Paul affirms that Jesus Christ is the one “through whom are all things.”)
“The origin of woman is man” (i.e. , Genesis 2:21-23). Woman [ishah] is “taken out of man [ish].”
“The origin of Christ is God” (i.e., the Christ is “the Messiah” and the origin of the Messiah is God). In the language of later centuries, “The Son proceeds from the Father.” Christ comes from God. . . . [15]

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 there are several allusions to the Genesis 2 creation account and to the origin of man and woman (1 Cor. 11: 8-9, 11-12). So it plausible that 1 Corinthians 11:3 also alludes to creation and origins.

1 Corinthians 11:3 is a difficult verse to interpret, and it occurs at the beginning of a difficult passage. One thing is vital, however, we must read on to find Paul’s intent for those who are “in the Lord”; 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 reveals Paul’s desire for mutuality and interdependence between men and women, not hierarchy. Also, we mustn’t let the complexities of this passage overshadow the simple fact that both men and women prayed and prophesied aloud in church meetings.[16]


[1] Wayne Grudem (who published papers on this topic in 1986, 1990 and 2001) and Joseph Fitzmyer (1989, 1993) have investigated the word kephale and conclude it can mean “leader” or “ruler”. Fitzmyer concludes kephale can also mean “source”. Al Wolters (2011), who identifies as a complementarian states that kephale never means “leader” in pagan texts, but it does mean “leader” in some Christian and Jewish texts. Richard Cervin (1989), Andrew Perriman (1994), and Judith Gundry-Volf (1997) each argue credibly that kephale can have a sense of preeminence or prominence. I acknowledge that the word carries the sense of prominence to some extent; however, I am not convinced “prominence” is its primary meaning in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Alan Johnson summarises these, and other papers investigating the meaning of kephale, in “A Meta-Study of the Debate over the Meaning of “Head” (Kephale) in Paul’s Writings”, Priscilla Papers (Source)

[2] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 302.

[3] LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) The LSJ entry for kephale can be viewed here.

[4] Richard Cervin, “Does kephale (‘head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature: A Rebuttal”, Trinity Journal 10 (Spring, 1989), 85-112. (pdf here)

[5] H. Schlier, “kephale . . .”, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittle (ed.) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:673-681.

[6] Al Wolters, “Head as Metaphor”, Koers 76.1 (2011) 137-153, 142. (This paper is available here.)

[7] Ibid, 143.

[8] Wolters writes that Philo, who ‘calls the mind “the kephale and ruling part of sense-perception” (De vita Mosis 2.82), designates Ptolemy Philadelphos as the “kephale, in a way, of the (Ptolemaic) kings” (De vita Mosis 2.30), and speaks of the virtuous man or nation as the “kephale of the human race” (De praemiis et poenis 125). Since this usage has no parallel in earlier Greek literature, it is reasonable to assume that it represents a semantic loan like the one we noticed in the Septuagint, especially since Philo was intimately acquainted with the Septuagint.” Wolters, “Head as Metaphor”, 145.
Regarding the Josephus’ examples, both in the Wars of the Jews, Wolters writes, “In the first example he compares the sovereignty of the capital Jerusalem over Judea to that of the head over the body (3.3.5 §54), and in the second example he designates Jerusalem directly as the “kephale of the entire nation” (4.4.3 §261).” Wolters, “Head as Metaphor”, 145.
No one denies Jerusalem was the capital city (capital is derived from the Latin word for “head”), but these examples do not clearly show that kephale means “leader”.

[9] BDAG: Walter Bauer, “kephale”, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, by Walter Bauer, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 542.

[10] Gilbert Bilezikian, I Believe in Male Headship (Source)

[11] Chrysostom’s homily needs to be read carefully as he uses an imaginary opponent in his arguments who says that kephale does mean “one in authority”.

[12] Johnson, “A Meta-Study”, quoting from Bilezikian’s 1986 paper “A Critical Examination of Wayne Grudem’s Treatment of Kephale in Ancient Greek Texts”, presented for a plenary session of the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, (Oct. 20, 1986).

[13] Plutarch’s letter, known in Latin as Coniugalia Praecepta, can be read here.

[14] No current interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 makes perfect sense of every sentence within this passage. This is the case whether kephale is interpreted as “leader” or “origin”, or if it is interpreted as “prominent”, another contender for the meaning of kephale (previously mentioned in endnote 1.)
Craig Blomberg, David Garland, Judith Gundry Volf, Alan Johnson, Craig Keener, I. Howard Marshall, Andrew Perriman, A.C. Thiselton, and others, suggest kephale can have the sense of “prominent”, “preeminent”, “honoured”, etc. This sense may fit with the themes of glory and shame in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. However, the idea of showing honour to people already honoured seems to go against Paul’s instructions in the next chapter (1 Cor. 12:22-25).

[15] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 302. Gilbert Bilezikian interprets this passage similarly in I Believe in Male Headship. Craig Keener offers this interpretation as one possibility in Paul, Women and Wives (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992, 2009), 33-34.

[16] Prayer and prophecy may be succinct ways of describing vocal ministry to God (prayer) and vocal ministry from, or on behalf of, God (prophecy).

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56 thoughts on “‘Head’ does not mean ‘leader’ in 1 Cor 11.3”

  1. I agree Ian, this is a clear well argued piece. All I would add to strengthen the argument is that Paul, along with other OT thinkers, appears to locate thought and decision making in the heart not the head. The idea conflating head and leadership derives in part from our understanding that the head (brain) is the command centre of the body. Paul does not seem to share this view, without it the argument in this article becomes even stronger.

    • Thanks Paula; I would agree. When speaking on this, I often appeal to common-sense metaphor by asking: what happens when you cut someone’s head off? If they then ran around like a headless chicken (!) then one might naturally conclude that the head controlled the body. But in actual fact the body then slumps down lifeless. It might seem like a gruesome illustration—but it is one that those in the Roman Empire would be familiar with.

      The natural inference from this (in physiological and so metaphorical terms) is that the head is not the place of control, but the source of life-giving energy for the body. It is not easy to realise how counter-intuitive actual physiology is, which explains why it took us so long to work it out.

    • This is what I was thinking.

      I do still wonder what the lesson Paul is trying to teach with the metaphor in 1 Corinthians 11:3. I kid of hope this can be explored more as the blog was slightly more etymological than exegetical.

      If origin=kephale was he challenging some potential heresy or over dominant view about women being ‘the source of all men’ and thus were superior? I think I’ve read that argument somewhere, but seems odd that this would a threat in such a patriarchal world.

      If that’s the case, he’s trying to bring a more balanced view to genders by giving a chicken-and-egg logic in referenced in verses 11 and 12, much like Ian has noted at the end of the blog

  2. Thank you Marg and Ian for a robust and scholarly contribution. I need to add this topic to one of my mini studies to work out the implications of this correction!

  3. At times the church in the west pays a high price for not fully understanding the context and language of the first century, especially Jewish thought as opposed to Greek. Thanks Ian and Marg for a good summary, at present I am reading through Paul through Mediterranean eyes, it;s well worth the effort.

  4. This is interesting, Ian, but I’m not entirely sure what light this throws. As the author herself acknowledges (footnote 1) “I acknowledge that the word carries the sense of prominence to some extent”. But then doesn’t really give a reason for why she believes that this is not the case in 1 Cor 11.

    All this seems to be like quibbling over the meaning of words when what is more important and determinative of the meaning is the context – canonically – and the flow of Paul’s argument. I wonder whether Paul chose kephale because he was coining something new – not a leader or a ruler or a source but something different. This wouldn’t be the first time, after all, that a secular word was appropriated by the NT for a Christian meaning!

    Paul goes on to say in v7 “woman is the glory of man”, and then in v10 “woman ought to have authority over her own head”, which I think are both rather harder to interpret from an egalitarian perspective.

    I think it’s also harder to see kephale as ‘source’ in Ephesians 5, where Paul seems to use it as the grounding for the submission of the wife to the husband.

    Word studies can be useful but as a complementarian I’m not sure this really changes things for me, or even touches on the root issues.

    • I sort of agree.

      As someone who has shifted position from Complimentarian to Egalitarian, I don’t think this would have been sufficient to persuade me by itself. It just confirms what most theologians already know: that any argument about leadership made exclusively on the basis of the word ‘Kephale’, is weak, as both interpretations have a precedent. This passage in Ephesians, despite the prominence it gets, should be neither the capstone, nor the foundation of the case for/against.

      The difficulties I struggled with most were the extra problems an ‘authority’ meaning/reading creates in the wider context of Paul’s though; particularly in relation to trinitarian theology. I was never able to square the two, and despite Grudem’s best efforts I always felt his systematic theology wanted to have it both ways.

      While ‘source/origin’ readings create problems of their own, they seem, on purely pragmatic grounds, to be simpler.


      • Hi Mat,

        Interesting – I shifted from an egalitarian to a complementarian position. (What helped to convince me the first time round was Ian Paul’s Grove booklet on this.) What helped convince me of a complementarian position was actually more to do with same-sex marriage – as I began to study the difference between the sexes, and in particular Genesis 1-2, I found it more and more difficult to sustain an egalitarian understanding of ministry.

        I think a lot of people misunderstand the Trinitarian issues on this – if you haven’t read it, try Mike Ovey’s Latimer booklet ‘Your will be done’. He was the one who taught me the Doctrine of God and this is his defence of his position given the recent debates.


        • Ah, well, yes.

          I don’t usually label myself as an “egalitarian”, for the broad reasons you allude to; the loss of male-female distinctiveness, but this shouldn’t, indeed needn’t, be the case. I reject that lazy generalisation sometimes banded about in this debate (here caricatured) that egalitarians basically reject any difference between the sexes and want us all effectively ‘asexuals’, and complimentarians want the differences so wide as to make us different species.

          I firmly believe that men and women are created both similar AND dissimilar from each other and that the Genesis narrative is clear: the role they were created for is shared. Jointly. Fully. Equally. The only line(s) that shouldn’t be crossed, (i.e where the distinction between men and women is explicitly ‘exclusive’) is that of biological difference.

          Thus I don’t agree with you about Genesis one, in fact I have found precisely the opposite! It was the creation narratives, perhaps more than any other, that convinced me I had been mistaken in overplaying the differences between men and women.

          I will indeed look for your recommendation, it is very welcome.

    • Phill, I am not sure why Eph 5.23 is more difficult, since the submission (and note, not the obedience) of wives to husbands is one specific example of the submission of all believers to each other—so it had no dependence on any idea of ‘authority over’.

      I am also unclear as to why ‘a woman ought to have authority over her own head’ is a problem for this reading—quite the contrary. As you cite it, it suggests a sense of autonomy, not submission to authority, and this is shown by earlier translations. Translators who assumed the ‘authority’ metaphorical mean of head actually had to change this verse into ‘have a *sign* of authority over her head’ as this was the only way to make sense of the verse.

      • Ian, three replies! – I’ll reply in one post to save flitting around.

        The point in Eph 5 is that husbands are not commanded to submit to their wives. Paul commands submission in a general sense and then gives some specific instructions as to how exactly that works out. It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to submit to everyone else in the same way, or that the husband-wife relationship should be entirely symmetrical.

        “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

        Whatever ‘head’ means in this context, it is the basis for the church submitting to Christ and the wife submitting to the husband. I agree that submission isn’t obedience, but I don’t think that changes the point. I also agree that this is not a hierarchical relationship (over / under) – but that one party has, lets call it, authority, but uses that authority to love and build up the other; and the response is loving submission.

        I think this is also what’s going on in 1 Cor 11. It’s not hierarchy, not as the world knows it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry any form of submission.

        I’d say that 1 Cor 11:3 is not *the* foundational text for complementarianism – for me, at least, I’d say the foundational text was Genesis 1-2. And please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying I agree with Wayne Grudem etc. on everything – I think that headship language can often be overstated unhelpfully. What I meant was that a word study can get you so far but I think this doesn’t take into account the wider context.

        So, I think Marg’s four reasons are good ones, but ultimately – as she herself admits – the word itself *can* carry a sense of prominence. However she doesn’t really delve into why it isn’t the case here. In other words, she argues against ‘authority’ in the secular sense of the word, but doesn’t really examine other alternatives apart from ‘source’. Personally I struggle to see how translating head as ‘source’ in this verse makes sense in the flow of Paul’s argument, if he intends no kind of ‘authoritarian’ connotations in any way. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

        Anyway, hope this explains some of my previous comment, I’m sorry if I was a bit ambiguous.

    • I think I would also want to ask, given that ‘complementarians’ repeatedly come back to this text as *the* exegetical and theological foundation for their position—what do you think *is* there root issue?

    • Phill, I keep being puzzled by your comment. Marg has here offered four reasonably substantial contextual reasons why we wouldn’t expect kephale to be a metaphor for ‘authority’ over. Knowing how a word is used in its cultural and historical context is the only way we know what a word means.

      I am also puzzled by your comment about understanding Paul’s argument and trajectory. This is shown by the conclusion he comes to: that a woman has long hair, that has been given to her *in place of* (anti) a covering, so that women can pray and prophesy in the assembly and no-one should hinder her. Hence the universal application to the distribution of spiritual gifts in the next chapter. Do you see a different conclusion reached here?

    • Hi Phill. Out of interest, what does your wife think on this, and how do you find it works out in practice? If you don’t mind sharing personal experiences online that is! Also, did you change your view after or before you got married, and did it have any impact on your relationship/search for a wife?

      • Hi Will

        Good question! Before we got married we had marriage preparation with someone who told us the husband was called to be the spiritual head of the family. So we went into marriage with that perspective. Although at the time I believed that ministry was equally open to men and women, I still believed there was a distinction in marriage. So I think not much has changed!

        In terms of how it works out, whenever I read Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Eph 5 I am struck by how mutual it is: husbands are to use their leadership in a way which blesses, honours and does what is good for their wives. Wives are to love and respect their husbands and joyfully submit to his leadership. I can’t say we’ve always hit that ideal, or even that we do very often, but I do find that my own spiritual care for my wife has been important to her. Whether I like it or not I think I do exercise spiritual leadership, the only question is whether I am willing to accept that responsibility (something I am gradually learning).

        It’s not the case that i think husbands are leaders in the secular sense of the word, but rather to exercise a spiritual leadership and have a spiritual authority as the Lord desires. I’m sorry if this is a bit vague! I do feel that a lot of men both in the church and in society at the moment want to resist stepping up to the mark and taking responsibility, e.g. young men who want the benefits of a girlfriend but don’t want the responsibility of being a father and bringing up children.

        Anyway just a few thoughts, hope this is helpful.


        • Thanks, Phill. That’s really interesting, and no not vague at all. It’s good that you both see things the same way. I once heard a sermon about how the husband’s leadership is a gift for the family which benefits the whole family if both husband and wife and willing to accept it. I think past abuses (real and perceived) have made many women unhappy with the idea of (asymmetric) submission to their husbands, and who knows if they would be happier if they did accept it. I think men would often feel happier if their wives let them lead, and that, combined with men stepping up, may assist in improving men’s mental health. I don’t know if it would help women feel happier, and don’t know of any research which rigorously examines the question. In couples which don’t accept asymmetric submission (which I think is the norm these days even among evangelicals) I have often noticed a de facto leadership of the husband in a number of ways, suggesting there may be something innate about how it feels. But there’s no denying this is a controversial area and these are controversial texts.

    • Hi Phill,
      a little late to the conversation I thought I’d comment as you made mention of the woman’s glory and her having authority over her own head.
      Some have suggested Paul was writing to correct things that were wrong within the Church at Corinth at that time and that he could have directly quoted the incorrect practice within his letter in address to them. (Details may have come from Chloe’s household, 1 Cor 1:11)
      It is interesting that he explains very carefully (lest there be any misunderstanding for the recipient) who the ‘head’ is – of man, of woman and of Messiah thus setting the parameter of meaning, in verse 3.
      Verses 4-6 is the traditional practice of Jewish men praying/prophesying (at that time) without a covering while woman could only pray/prophesy with head covered (the Kippah worn today only arrived on the scene in the 2nd century CE well after Paul’s communication to Corinthian believers.) Head covering for women was fully mandated in the Jewish Oral law (-not given in the bible) and continues today within certain religious sects of Judaism.
      In verses 4-6 ‘head’ is understood literally – as their physical head as they were seeking to control the outward appearance and behaviour of the Corinthian believers.
      Verse 7 Paul initially agrees (in that) a man should not cover his ‘head’, since he is the image and glory of God. It is this reason that tells us he is either lying or he is actually referring figuratively to covering his ‘head’ – as Messiah alone is the ‘exact image and glory of God’. No where does the bible describe the man as the ‘glory of God’, or being ‘the image of God’ in isolation of the woman. Paul finishes this verse by focusing on the woman – ‘but the woman is the glory of man’. The initial ‘but’ he goes on to explain (as to why he disagrees to covering women’s heads).
      Verse 8 reminds us who came first, and for who’s sake the woman was created which directly refers to Gen 2:18 (referred to there as an ezer-kenegdo) as being God’s remedy for the first thing that was not-good in His creation – that of Adam’s being ‘alone’ (-it’s root: meaning -‘to go alone, act independently’…remember only God and Adam were in relationship at the time).
      Verse 10, because she as an ‘ezer-kenegdo’ (ezer=’help to rescue/protect’ and kenegdo= ‘in front of’ from its root emphasizing direct spoken communication to the recipient faced) was created ‘for the man’s sake’ Paul therefore argues that she therefore functions as one of the angels (-those sent with a message). Because of her God designed function, the woman therefore should have authority on her figurative ‘head’ – the man. (Please note: this is the only place where ‘authority’ and ‘head’ are read in context together –rather ironic really.) Lest however this become an all-out power struggle of the sexes, Paul quickly removes all human hierarchy from the picture in verses 11-12 stating neither as being independent of each other and both originating from God. Hair is really not the issue in 1 Cor 11, as her ‘being the man’s glory’ is likened elsewhere to a crown – designed to be worn on the head for everyone to see. It is the same as with God’s glory (Messiah) and also of her own glory -her hair being designed to be seen – not covered, and in-so-doing glorifying God Himself who fills all in all. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul reminds them “and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
      I hope this has been helpful. God bless.

  5. So there are 8 times in the LXX where KEPHALE means something like “leader”: “Out of 180 instances where rosh has the sense of “leader” in the Hebrew Bible, only 8 were translated as kephale.”

    What are these references?

    • I’ve just had a quick look. There are 373 occurrences of kephale in the LXX that I have on Accordance, so it would take a little while to work through.

      Three of these eight might be Judges 11.8, 9 and 11.

      There are 560 occurrences of rosh, which supports this assertion, in that there are many occurrences of rosh which are not translated by kephale. Some clear examples can immediately be found in Joshua 14.1, 15.8, 19.51, 21.1 and so on,

      Interestingly, the NIV follows the Hebrew in talking about ‘heads of tribes’ or ‘heads of families’ where LXX does *not* use kephale but instead uses archon, ‘ruler’. This supports the contention that we are misled in reading 1 Cor 11 through the English used of head as metaphor where it is not so present in Greek.

  6. Thanks for looking Ian. I suppose it is unfortunately typical of these sorts of discussions on the internet that the most relevant information is not provided. According to the author there are eight passages in the LXX where KEPHALE does mean (something like) “leader”. So this already disproves the overall contention (that Paul couldn’t use KEPHALE to mean “leader” because this meaning was not available to him).

    • Num 1:2.20; Deut 28:13.44; Isa 9:14; 19:15; Ps 17:44 (= 2 Kgd 22: 44); 117:22; Isa 7:8; Jer 38:7. (Takamitsu Muraoka, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Louvain: Peeters, 2009) 396)

      • Hi Peter, I should have included some information about the eight occurrences.

        It looks like we’ve come up with different lists. Here’s the info I have at hand.

        Fee writes that out of the 180 instances where ro’sh means leader in the Hebrew Bible, 12 are translated as kephal?. But some of these include head-tail contrasts where the word kephal? is needed to keep the metaphor. So, according to Fee, there are only 5 instances (not counting the head-tail metaphors) where kephale means leader: Judges 11:11; 2 Samuel 22:44 (2 Kgdms 22:44 LXX); Psalm 18:43 (Psalm 17:44 LXX); Isaiah 7:8; Lamentations 1:4 (Lam. 1:5 LXX). Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 503 fn44.

        The Mickelsen’s count 8 instances. (It is this source and Richard Cervin, who seems to agree with the Mickelsen’s on this point, that I got my figure from.) As well as the occurrences that Fee lists, the Mickelsens include Jeremiah 31:1 (Jer. 38:7 LXX), and they note that kephale occurs three times in Isaiah 7:8-9, bumping the overall number up from 5 to 8. Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, “What does Kephale mean in the New Testament?” in Women, Authority and the Bible, Alvera Mickelsen (ed) (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986) 97-110, 103.

        Payne mostly agrees with Fee and the Mickelsens. However, working from a text that uses the word kephale four times, and not three times, in Isaiah 7:8-9, he dismisses two of the four occurrences as being capital cities and not leaders (i.e. he counts kephale twice here). Payne also writes that “the reference to Israel as ‘head among the nations’ in Jeremiah 31:7 probably refers to her exalted position in God’s sight, for she did not have leadership or rule over other nations.” So, Payne’s number is 6. “Response” Women, Authority and the Bible, Alvera Mickelsen (ed) (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 118-132, 122; and Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 119 fn10.

  7. I am unconvinced that the use of LSJ for NT texts is more informative than the standard NT lexica; the claim that LSJ is ‘the most exhaustive lexicon of ancient Greek’ needs qualifying. To quote John Lee (a specialist in Greek lexicography): ‘it is basically a lexicon of Classical Greek and does not pretend to cover the post-Classical material in a thorough way’ (‘The Present State of Lexicography of Ancient Greek’ in Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker; Eerdmans, 2004, p68). He also outlines a range of other weaknesses in LSJ, which taken together mean it cannot be taken as the last word on the subject.

    I am not sure it is quite fair to suggest that the editors of the NT lexicons might have made their decisions because of ‘tradition and a male-dominant world-view’. The article itself acknowledges the existence of at least some instances where kephale is connected with leadership / authority, and it was therefore surely justifiable for these editors to acknowledge these uses. If some of these instances did indeed arise from ‘wrong’ translations of the Hebrew by LXX translators, that seems to me to be beside the point. These ‘mistakes’ (if that is what they were) established a precedent (albeit on a limited scale) for the use of kephale in relation to authority in a context that is surely more relevant to the NT than usage in Xenophon, Thucydides etc. Incidentally, Montanari’s Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (published 2015) unlike LSJ, does offer ‘leader’ as a meaning of kephale.

  8. I point out once more that the meaning of ‘kephale’ used by Paul with reference to the husband-wife relationship in Ephesians 5 and with reference to the man-woman relationship in 1 Corinthians 11 is determined by the context of its use in Ephesians 5:23-24:
    ‘But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything’. Ephesians 5:21 cannot possibly be understood in this context to mean mutual husband-wife subjection because in this context that would imply mutual Christ-church subjection. Attempts by Ian (on ‘old’ Fulcrum) and especially by Alan Padgett (‘As Christ submits to the Church’) to show that in some sense Christ does submit to the Church don’t work.

    See post Phil Almond August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #at:


    Phil Almond

    • I agree Phil – “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything’. Ephesians 5:21 cannot possibly be understood in this context to mean mutual husband-wife subjection because in this context that would imply mutual Christ-church subjection.”

      The context here and how Paul employs the word must take precedence over etymological/LXX use and kephale must be interpreted according to the rather clear indicative and imperative.

      Pushing this a little – do you think this is ontological or functional? A male-female or husband-wife thing? Do you think a woman can be subject to her husband in all things and also lead a church in which her husband is a member? What happens if the woman is a minister, or even a Bishop, whose husband is not a Christian? How would you see this playing out there?

      • Simon
        Thanks for your post. Perhaps dodging your question I reply that I think the Bible rules out the ordination of women – speaking in the Anglican context – as I try to say in the (rather long) article in Fulcrum I pointed to in one of my posts. Same argument would apply to non-Anglican set-ups. But the Bible does emphatically support the ministry of women and I understand how the unbiblical subjection of women by men, even by Christian men, has inflamed this whole disagreement. But – the abuse does not (should not) abolish the use.
        Phil Almond

        • Thanks Phil – will find n peruse the article

          I do believe in husband’s headship in marriage because I believe Eph5 is unequivocal on this – but what does that actually mean in practise? In my house it means I get to carve the sunday roast 😉

          My dear dad is a strict believer in headship – but he admits the only time he put his foot down and made a decision against my mum’s desire, he was wrong, it led to disaster and he shoulda listened.

          One irony I observed from my upbringing and grandparents being Exclusive Brethren is I saw
          exclusive male leadership in the Church (men and women even sat separate) but oh, the wives were unchallenged rulers in the house 🙂

      • “What happens if the woman is a minister, or even a Bishop, whose husband is not a Christian?”

        Or even an Archbishop – as is the case of the forthcoming Archbishop of Perth, whose husband is an atheist.

        WWPS? – What would Paul (of Tarsus, not Nottingham) say?

  9. R B Onians, The Origins of European Thought is a fascinating book about ancient anthropology. In many cases the organs were thought to perform functions quite different from what we know them to perform today. Mediaeval thought on this (the humours, fourfold personality types) is of course different again.

    This is a good analysis, & since Grudem has written at such length on this it would also be a good exercise to address his strongest arguments in turn.

    • Indeed, and it is worth noting that our modern understandings of physiology are quite counter-intuitive. The ancients might have been ignorant (in a technical sense) but they weren’t stupid, and they often inferred things which make logical sense—even though they are wrong.

  10. I have probably made this point before, but ‘complementary’ just implies equal and different and mutually beneficial (dovetailing). It is not controversial that men and women are complementary in certain very central ways. Biology. Romance (the chaser and the chased, the lord and the lady): without complementarity romance is dead, and that is a large backward step. I know it traditionally implies ‘male headship’ in this context, but does it intrinsically imply that? And in the chivalry tradition, the romance context, something resembling male headship is seen to be a good thing.

    Otherwise how do we define the male-female difference over and above the most basic level, namely biology? Biology will in any case have a knock-on effect and interconnections with all the other dimensions. If we have no clear definition of the male-female difference, there will be a danger of robbing young couples of the grand historic and cultural narrative(s) that is/are their heritage and right.

    Women do not respect a man who shuns authority but one who takes authority, while also clothed in humility and being under authority.

    The Ahab-Jezebel pattern is wrong for a reason. Not just scripturally but in real life. (I am sure this point will not be denied.)

    When we say a couple looks good together, is it not almost always the case that they do not at all look the same as one another, but they are 2 equally lovely but quite different parts, with different experiences and different attributes, and the whole is greater than the sum of the 2?

  11. Eph 1.22 is conspicuously absent from the references cited. Since Paul is certainly not saying that God put all things under Jesus’ feet and so made him the “source over all things” in the church.

  12. There is a particular need for care in this debate over and above the normal care that will ordinarily be applied, because our culture badly wants one particular answer – and wanting it neither makes it right nor makes it wrong. The first century is 100% independent of our culture, which does not prevent the two ever agreeing.

    Compare the debate about anti-Semitism in the NT.

    • Care does need to be taken in this debate – especially as men are predisposed by the curse of Genesis chapter 3 to want to rule over women! Therefore careful scholarship exemplified in the article Ian has posted is most welcome.

      • That’s a one-sided way of looking it….

        Yes, the curse of Genesis 3 predisposes men to ‘rule over’ women, but the same curses predisposes woman to desire, or covet, the position of the man. Isn’t the point precisely that the Fall, and not the created purpose, that brings this dynamic of hierarchy into the male-female relationship?

        • Mat, you are right. The point is that modern western culture is weighted in one direction, and a desire not to be in the minority does no-one any credit. *Sometimes* the majority will have evidence on their side.

        • If rosh, arche, sometimes kephale do not precisely map onto either English ‘beginning’ or English ‘chief’ but merge the two, then we have to determine meaning from context.

        • Mat, it depends how you translate Genesis 3:16 – I’m sure you are aware of the controversy with the ESV in this regard. It is however, undeniable that patriarchy has dominated world cultures until recently when western culture (influenced by Christianity) changed this pattern.

          • Of course.

            My contention is simply that, despite some debate around the precise meaning of said phrase, the consensus of most modern translations is reasonably clear: that the desire to exert control over other humans is an inherant trait of post-fall humanity, and, critically for this discussion, one that crosses the gender divide.

            I am not arguing that this affects men and women equally often, or in the same way, but influence them it does.

          • Matt, you may have missed Ian Paul’s contribution to the ESV debate but it is here: https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/can-we-fix-bible-translation/

            It is interesting that the translation changed in the ESV (also the NLT and NET but not the NIV) to give the sense that the woman desires to control her husband rather than simply desires her husband (the Good News adds its own interpretation saying that in spite of the pain of child birth, the woman will still desire her husband). The change in the ESV is a recent innovation that I suspect reflects a reaction to the shape of western culture – especially as the text is otherwise ambiguous. In the age of patriarchy the King James Version didn’t see the need to put such a spin on things. My point is that the complementarian position is shaped by an adversarial posture towards feminism. I used to think the complementarian position (which is a very recent movement in the evangelical world) was meant to be some sort of redemption of patriarchy – maintaining the hierarchy but introducing a more caring attitude to women – but, if that were ever the case, it doesn’t seem too apparent now. In contrast, anything I read of the egalitarian case always speaks of mutuality.

          • I am aware of said post, and I share Ian’s doubts about the ESV’s choices. I too think that reading is mistaken.

            On your first point then I am very skeptical about the interpretation of ‘desire’ as ‘sexual desire’ in this context and therefore find the Good News alternative to be anachronistic. Are we really saying that prior to the fall, woman would have lost all sexual desire for their husband post-childbirth (this is the implication), but post-fall, they are ‘cursed’ to desire their husbands? I don’t see how that reading can be squared with it being a curse? Physical union and intimacy is very much a blessing, part of what it means to be human.

            I’m not fully convinced by Powell’s alternative either, that the desire is “longing for that which was lost in Eden”, though I think that better than some. I am content to disagree with you though, as to re-hash this would be simply repeating what was covered at length elsewhere.

            On your latter point, about Complimentarianism being, in part, a reaction to feminism I share some agreement, though i think we need to be careful about use of the word ‘recent’. It is not as if the ideas that underpin modern Complimentarian theology were invented by Grudem or John Piper…

            The driving force behind that theology, as I encountered it and was taught it, was the preservation of male-female distinctiveness in the face of a society that sought to break down those distinctions. It had already lost much to the progressive state, such as family, parenthood and employment, at least since the 60’s, but saw a final bastion in the form of church leadership and planted it’s banner therein.


      • It is very fashionable to say that men need to take more care than women; that the biblical demand on men is greater than that on women; there will be times when that is also true, just as there will be times when the reverse is true. What it is not is a necessary truth.

        Never to allow the seesaw to be weighted in the other direction is in no way egalitarian. (Adverts will allow women to sigh ‘Men!’ but never men to sigh ‘women!’.) Of course, there will be times when that simjply reflects the evidence. But when the reverse is never said (for example, that a woman – like a man – may simply be being immature; or that there is no reason why men should necessarily be weaker in more areas than women are – though of course they may be) then either cultural conformity, ideology, or both is probably afoot.

  13. In Ephesians 5:22-24 Paul exhorts wives to be subject (clearly implied) to their own husbands as to the Lord because a man is kephale of the woman as also Christ is kephale of the church, himself Saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything.
    My case depends on:
    The subjection of the church to Christ is because Christ is kephale of the church.
    The subjection of wives to their husbands is because a man is kephale of the woman.
    In other words there is a ‘because of’ link between ‘kephale’ and subjection in each case.
    Does anyone disagree with this?

    Phil Almond

    • Hang on—in this section what is the major issue that Paul is needing to address? Let’s see; he addresses 40 words to the women…and 116 to the men. So who is it who doesn’t understand what it means for men to be kephale to their wives, the women or the men? And what is the content of the dominant message? To love in the life-giving and self-emptying manner of Jesus.

      So by your logic, the sacrificial love of Christ for the church is because Christ is the kephale of the church, and similarly the sacrificial love of men for their wives is because of men are the kephale of their wives. In other words, there is a ‘because of’ link between kephale and sacrificial love in each case.

        • Wives are enjoined to submit to their husbands as one aspect of all believers submitting to each other. I am sure you are aware that the verb does not come in v 22, which is a subclause of v 21. So kephale cannot be the *reason* for the submission in any way that suggests that kephale implies asymmetric authority, else Paul could not write the sentence like that.

          It is clear from the section that kephale implies things for both parties; is there a reason why you focus on the lesser rather than the greater?

          • Ian
            Because the analogy Christ-church/husband-wife is tightly coupled and because the Christ-church relationship is asymmetric in terms of authority and subjection. And because I am arguing the case that the Bible rules out the ordination of women though it emphatically asserts the ministry of women. Also if, as seems reasonable, Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9 is one connected line of thought, the verse 21 argument fails anyway because the parent-child and master-slave relationships are obviously not mutual subjection relationships. Also, Colossians 3:18-19, ‘The wives, be ye subject to your husbands, as is befitting in the Lord. The husbands, love ye your wives and be not bitter toward them’, Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:5-6 support the understanding of Ephesians 5 I have given.

            Phil Almond

  14. To put it another way:
    Ephesians 5:21-33 is a double exhortation: to husbands to model their relationship with their wives on Christ’s relationship with the church; to wives to model their relationship with their husbands on the church’s relationship with Christ. Both exhortations are equally demanding, calling upon both husbands and wives to act contrary to fallen human nature. Christ is both ‘kephale’ of the church and the self-giving loving Saviour who gave himself for the church; the husbands are exhorted to imitate him; the church is under the authority of Christ and commanded to subject itself to his commands and leadership; the wives are exhorted to imitate the church. The asymmetry of both relationships cannot be avoided.
    Phil Almond

  15. Ephesians 5 does not simply say that wives should submit to their husbands. It says they should do it “as unto the Lord”, which means reverently, as verses 21 and 33 both indicate. Wives are to revere their husbands. That suggests some form of asymmetry in the manner of submission, and in fact verse 21 never actually says that all believers submit to one another in exactly the same manner.

    But regarding the passage actually addressed in the article (1 Corinthians 11), Paul’s concern seems to be that the glory of humanity is veiled in the act of worship. That which proceeds from something is its own peculiar glory, hence why hair is a woman’s glory (v15), since it grows out of her head. Likewise, the first woman proceeded from (was created from) the first man, thus woman is the special glory of man. As the glory of humanity, a woman ought to cover her head in worship.

    In the act of veiling humanity’s glory, God’s glory is to shine forth. As the first human to proceed from God (in creation), man uniquely represents the glory of God. He is to leave his head uncovered, that God’s glory is on display in the act of worship. Thus God’s glory is exalted and man’s glory is diminished.

    Several people have made suggestions about verse 10. Personally, I think something like “a woman ought to exercise self-control over her head” makes the best sense in the context. The part of the statement regarding the angels could then relate to Paul’s eschatological teaching in 6:3 that the saints will judge the angels. In other words, they ought to exercise sound judgement and self-control amongst themselves if they are to be judges of others, including the angels.

  16. Hi Paul
    Just a thought as I ponder brain structure and Prayer – (wrt Silence if you’re interested 🙂 )

    I only note that head as leader is to see two things in separation – objects if you like. This way of seeing things, associated with a technological outlook is rooted in the Left Hemisphere of the Brain, which doesn’t See the Whole, but rather bits and pieces which it tries to fit together – rather like a lot of biblical exegesis 🙂

    Head as source though suggests a flow of life and continuity. This suggestion is more Right Hemispheric, which Sees things as interwoven, as in Relation – one might say, in Love. I say ‘One might say’ for the Right hemisphere which Sees things in relatedness also has trouble with putting things into words – it is the organ of Knowing rather than Describing . . . Just a thought 🙂

    (there’s also something here about the filioque clause but I can’t quite put it into words . . . 🙂 )



  17. Ian,
    Although I liked many aspects of this article, I wonder how reliable a guide Septuagint usage of Greek is to New Testament meaning. After all when Jesus came things changed.

    One example the word epithesis in the Septuagint it means: in 2 Chr 25:27; Ez 23:11; 2 Mc 4:41; 5:5; 14:15 setting upon, attack: and in 2 Mc 4:41; deception, corruption Ez 23:11. Also in modern Greek its meaning is aggression. While in the NT it appears 4 times with the transformed meaning “laying on of hands” in all cases.

    Admittedly this is a very small example but it does show a transformation of meaning in the NT compared to secular usage throughout the ages.

    I think that the word ‘source’ takes the edge off male-chauvinism, which is a good thing since, like aggression, it does no one any good.

    But the argument of this article, while it gives added weight to a weakening of the false confidence of male chauvinism (or feminism), it cannot fit the context of Paul’s usage satisfactorily in Ephesians 5.

  18. Hi Ian

    I will try to interact with some of your points.

    ‘ Many Christians have assumed that kephale means “the one in authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3.[1] However, “leader” or “authority” was not a usual meaning of the word in ancient Greek either before or during the first century. In this article I provide four pieces of evidence that support this claim.

    They are encouraged to understand ‘kephale’ as ‘the one in authority’ or ‘leader’ because almost all the lexicons suggest this meaning.
    The LXX has a number of texts where ‘kephale’ clearly means ‘leader’. The usual use of kephale is as a reference to a literal head but this metaphorical reading is present.
    Marg M seeks to downplay the LXX use of kephale as leader. If there are between 8-16 instances where kephale means ‘leader’ this is not statistically irrelevant. Two or three instances would not be statistically irrelevant. Many a case is based on much less that 8-16.
    I do not follow the logic which says that because one word is used frequently for ‘ruler’ that another word also used but less frequently is somehow invalidated. Language uses various words to describe the same object. In English we use ruler, leader, boss, head and other words to describe an authority figure. Because one may have the dominant use does not discredit the others. The question is not what other words are used. The question is simple: is kephale used to refer to an authority figure in the OT? It is, and in numbers going in to double figures.
    When I see the lengths that Marg M is prepared to go to gain her point – blaming translators – I find more than a little skepticism seeps in about her objectivity.

    Marg M writes,

    ‘The Jewish new year is celebrated as Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year”. The first day of the year is not “in authority over” the rest of the year. Rather the year “flows from” that first day. In the Old Testament “The fear of the Lord is the head [rosh] of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). English translations usually read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[2]

    Let me get this straight. MM is using an occasion when the Hebrew word for ‘rosh’ is translated in English as ‘beginning’ to argue that kephale may be translated ‘beginning. In Ps 111. That is appallingly weak. The LXX doesn’t translate rosh with kephale in this instance. The connection is less than tenuous. Moreover, Marg M is using arguments she has been at pains to dismiss. She has argued that kephale is rarely used for ‘leader’ and dismisses this usage on the strength of its ‘rarity’ (though it is not so rare). Now she is taking a word (Rosh) that is used its seems with equal rarity to mean ‘beginning’ and is quite happy to accept this minority meaning. More she suggests that rosh and kephale are in some sense parallel. This despite kephale is never used to mean ‘beginning’ or for that matter ‘source’. Liddell-Scott have two examples of source for things not people. Grudem took issue with these. He wrote to the editor and received the following reply: …and this does seem frequently to denote leader or chief without much reference to its original anatomical sense, and here it seems perverse to deny authority. The supposed sense ‘source’ of course does not exist and it was at least unwise of Liddell and Scott to mention the word. At the most they should have said ‘applied to the source of a river in respect of its position in its (the river’s) course’ … ‘ I hasten to add that in most cases the sense of the head as being the controlling agent is the one required and that the idea of preeminence seems to me to be quite unsuitable, and that there are still cases where κεφαλή can be understood, as in the Septuagint, in its transferred sense of head or leader.’ Peter Glare. This from the editor of only lexicon to mention source as a meaning.

    Marg M and you seem determined to refuse the 8-16 clear examples of kephale as leader in the OT while happily accepting ‘source’ on the merit of two, at best dodgy examples from outside of Scripture that refer to things not people.

    She does concede that Christian lexicons unanimously give the meaning of ‘authority over’. They have simply assumed t was authority – thus the scholarship of all is discredited in a stroke of breathtaking arrogance. This and the prejudice of a male dominated world. I wonder how the intellectual and biblical landscape of these many scholars stacks up against MMS and yours Ian. I hope the answer is obvious, i hope to the irony of an egalitarian in our egalitarian world suggesting the patriarchy of lexical scholars over the years was a blind spot due to the patriarchy of their time. (Incidentally it is misleading to speak of a make-dominated world. That wasn’t;t the case in many spheres of activity. In fact, for the vast majority of men and women it was all they could do working as a team to survive and raise a family; tell the men that were shanghaied on board ships; or worked down mines; or were in prison etc about the patriarchy ).

    Gilbert Bilezikian gives the specious argument I already discussed, Somehow the existence of other words for ‘leader’ means that kephale cannot mean leader too. This despite evidence from the OT (the usage in the NT) and some non-church sources that kephale was used to mean ‘leader’.

    Some early church leaders did not use kephale for ‘authority’ at least in some texts. Their decisions driven it seems by Christological concerns rather than lexical ones. Other Christian leaders did accept ‘authority’ in fact as the history of the church world wide shows the acceptance of male authority is virtually unanimous in mainstream church history,

    Marg M appeals to a lack of examples of kephale used for leader in C1 Greek writing. I can’t comment on that other than to cite Grudem
    ‘ Over 50 examples of kephalē meaning “ruler, authority over” have been found, but no examples of the meaning of “source without authority” or “prominent person w/o authority.’
    Grudem is writing about C1 Greek literature at this point.

    Marg M argues that three examples (of things) in Greek world where kephale is used and (may) mean origin trump 8-16 examples of (often people) in the Bible where kephale means ‘leader’. It simply doesn’t add up. The maths are wrong. In any case ay least one of the three has been discredited. In Herodotus the ‘head of the river’ may mean ‘end point’ or ‘top’ since kephale is used as head in this sense. maybe this is an example of Marg M reading modern usage back into the past like these patriarchal men she cites.

    I think Ive said enough. I really think you need to do a fresh study in these areas Ian. I think you’re behind the curve. I would have a lot more respect if Marg M and others were fighting against the world but they are not; they are echoing the world and that itself is enough to raise my suspicions.


    PS Please note I have read this article. I read it before.


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