She Shall Be Called Woman
Part Three Sesson Two
Exploring the Greek word, kephalē translated “head.”
In Part 3 of these sessions we are studying the main verses in Paul’s writing that have been used to limit women. These lessons are not easy, and you'll have to read and think about what has been taught in order to really make it your own
In order to better understand what Paul was teaching, we will also be doing word study on several words in these passages where the translation has had negative effects, not only on women, but on the church and men as well. There is no need to dwell on who’s to blame for these errors. We just need to search out the truth. Let’s start with the word “head” where a misunderstanding of the Greek has supported a doctrine of male authority – headship.
In this session we will explore:
1. The meaning of the Greek word “kephalē” translated “head”
2. What Paul was teaching in 1 Cor 11:3 “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.”
3. What Paul was teaching in Ephesians 5:23 “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…”
When we read the word “head” most of us think of our physical head. This is by far the most common use of the word in the New Testament. In English, the word “head” can also mean someone who has authority like a leader, boss or chief. However, this last definition is not true in Greek.
The word translated as “head” is “kephalē” in Greek. If we are to understand what Paul was teaching, it is important to know what this word meant to Paul and those to whom he was writing.
Paul was writing to converted gentiles, former pagans who were native Greek speakers. For them, the common meanings for “kephale” were the physical head, or when used figuratively; originator, competitor, source of life or simply source. If they wanted to say someone was the boss they usually used the Greek word archon meaning leader, ruler or commander. “Head” can mean source in English, like source of a river, but it is not the common meaning as it is in Greek.
Traditionally, the biblical role for men in church, society and home is based on verses that contain the word “head” defined as authority or leader. The husband is said to be the head of the family meaning he’s the “boss.” He has authority over his family. Using this definition, 1 Corinthians 11:3 :“The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God,” and Ephesians 5:23, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body,” have been used to support a patriarchal chain-of-command structure in the home and the church. Even in society as a whole, men were supposed to be “in charge.”
The idea of a divine chain-of-command that is to be duplicated on earth is said to be supported by 1 Cor 11:3 “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God,” But there is no ranking in the Godhead- no divine chain-of command! God the Father isn’t the boss of Christ or Holy Spirit they are co-equal and co-eternal—they are GOD—the Trinity. Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, is the Word made flesh. He was fully God and fully man and was equal with God. He chose to take on the limitations of mankind during his time on earth. Phil. 2:5-11. However, this was for a limited time and purpose and not an eternal position.
Translate the passage using “source” for “head” and Paul’s meaning is easier to understand. It reads: “The source of every man is Christ, and the source of the woman is the man, and the source of Christ is God.”
[In these next paragraphs I have added clarifications in parenthesis]
“The source of every man is (the eternally existent) Christ. . .” From eternity, Christ has always been Christ. We also know Him as the Word.
“. . . .and the source of the woman is the man, . . .” woman was taken from the side of Adam,
“. . . and the source of Christ (Messiah) is God.” (the totality [all] of the triune God.) God - the Trinity is the SOURCE of Christ.” Jesus, the Christ (Anointed One), the God-Man, is the Human Being (Son) sent forth out of God to accomplish our covenant redemption. Again, there is no hierarchy in the Godhead. By using the order, Christ-man-God, Paul was careful to not indicate a chain-of-command which would have been God-Christ-man. Notice also that Christ as the source of man, man as the source of woman, and God as the source of Christ is chronological (time) order. Clearly, Paul did not mean a chain-of-command authority structure!
However, the most compelling argument by far is that scripture simply does not support the “authority over” interpretation of “head.” John 1:3 clearly states that Christ is the source of all life? “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Throughout the New Testament kephale has the meaning “source” or “physical head,” not “authority over” or “leader.”
Remember, Paul was writing to former pagans. He carefully chose kephalē to challenge two pagan beliefs. One, that men and women came from two different sources with the source of men being superior to that of women, and second, to refute (prove false) the Gnostic belief that Adam was brought to life by Eve.
Take a deep breath, read the last few paragraphs again and think about them.
1 Corinthians 11: 8, 9, 11 & 12 reinforce the use of “source” as the intended meaning of kephalē, and show the interdependence of men and women. They read:
8. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. (Woman was taken from the side of man
9. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. . . (Woman was created to be his counterpart – his completer. See Part 1 Session 2)
11. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. (Men and women need each other. They are interdependent upon each other.)
The other scripture where “head” is taught as meaning authority over is Ephesians 5:23, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body..”
The Greek word translated “husband” is anēr which is usually translated “man.” The Greek word translated “wife” is guna which is also the word for any woman, not just the wife. Remember, kephalē (head) does not “mean authority” over so let’s translate the passage using “source.” If we say “the man (husband) is the source of the woman (wife) as Christ is the source of the church,” is very similar to what Paul has said in 1 Corinthians 11:3 ("But I want you to know that the source of every man is Christ, the source of woman is man, and the source of Christ is God.") However, husband and wife is also a correct translation.
If we leave the translation as “the husband is the source of the wife as Christ is the source of the church, and He is the Savior of the body..” we note that “Christ is the source of the church” but Christ is even more “. . . He is the Savior of the body.” Paul is saying that Christ is even more than a source or originator, he is the Savior of the church, His body.
Savior is soter in Greek and can also be translated protector or deliverer. We know a Christian husband can not be the spiritual savior to his wife, but he can protect or deliver her from physical, and to some degree, emotional harm. The remainder of the chapter will continue to explain to both husband and wife the ideas begun in these verses.
The rest of the directions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:23-31 will be covered in the next lesson where we will examine what Paul means by submission.
Head is found again in 1 Corinthians 11 which is a very difficult passage. There are a great many opinions on what Paul means in the verses that talk about covering the head. Only one is really important to our study--1 Cor 11:10 “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” Obviously this is talking about her physical head.
Note that the word “symbol” is in italics. That means "symbol" is not there in the Greek. The Greek word epi translated as “on” can also be translated “over.” When this is done the passage reads, "For this reason the woman ought to have authority over her head because of the angels." This is the opposite of what tradition teaches. The truth is, Paul says that women have the authority to decide whether to wear something on their own heads because of the angels (messengers).
We have read many explanations about these angels, but the one that comes closest to giving that “amen” down inside from the Holy Spirit says that Paul is referring back to what he said in 1 Cor. 6:2-3, "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” I believe Paul is saying that women should be able to decide whether or not to cover their heads. It’s a trivial thing compared with what God has planned for His saints both men and women.
In Christ there is no male or female—we are one in Him. The plan for relationship is given in Genesis 1& 2 and repeated in Eph 5:21 supporting one another … God does not change His mind. It is the only way that either will be truly happy. Tradition has asked the man to rule alone and to be responsible for his family even to the place of being their access to God. What God planned is shared dominion, a supportive partnership, that benefits men as well as women.
1. Berkeley and Alvera Mikelsen, “The Head of the Epistles” God’s Word to Women Website. The Mickelsen article gives every figurative scripture using “kephale”. While this goes beyond our area of study, I highly recommend that you read it. www.godswordtowomen.org/head.htm
2. Unfortunately, the reference works commonly used by those of us who are not Greek scholars hold the traditional view and define “kephalē” as superior rank or final authority when it is not used of a person’s physical head. These include Strong’s Concordance, Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words and Bauer’s Lexicon. We will find tradition taking precedence over scholarship to be a common problem throughout our studies of the Epistles. There are other excellent sources that disagree with their findings including, Liddel, Scott, Jones, and McKenzie (A Greek-English Lexicon, ninth edition, Clarendon Press, 1940. Another outstanding place to find Greek word meanings is the Septuagint, which, as we have mentioned before, is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Septuagint was the version of scripture used by Jesus, the apostles and Paul. The translators of the Septuagint generally chose the Greek word archon when the meaning was authority over.
3. Philippians 2: 5-11 "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
4. Dr. Kluane Spake, “The Meaning of Head” This is an excellent article that can be found on her website but you may have to copy and paste the address. We can’t get it to work as a link.
5. Christ means Anointed One. It was also used for Messiah.
6. Chronological order is time order --man was first, woman second and Jesus Christ the Messiah third in order of their appearance on earth. God formed man, then woman and finally sent the Son, Jesus Christ.
7. Johnson, Leslie & Gary, Does God Really Prefer Men (Kearney, NE, Morris Publishing) 2005, p. 76.
8. We’ll study this Gnostic belief in 1 Tim. 2:12-14.
9. Your translation might have another word for “symbol” like “sign” or “token” but none of these words are there in the Greek.
QUESTIONS AND DISCUSSION POINTS
1. What are the two main meanings of the Greek word “kephalē” translated “head”?
2. What is your understanding of the phrase “chain-of-command” and the word “hierarchy”?
3. Have you been affected by the traditional teaching of male “headship” or men/husbands being in authority? If so how.
4. Did you learn anything from this session that you did not know? If so, what?
5. Assuming you have learned something, will what you’ve learned make a difference in your life? If so how?