DOES “HEAD” MEAN “S0URCE"?
By Wayne Grudem
Some evangelical feminists claim that the Greek word kephalé
(“head”) often meant “source" but did not mean “authority”
Paul Writes in Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church,” and in 1 Corinthians 31 1:3 he writes, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.“ What does the word “head” mean in these verses?
According to many egalitarians, the word translated “head” (Greek kephale) in Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not mean “person in authority over” but has some other meaning, especially the meaning “source.” Thus, the husband is the source of the wife (an allusion to the creation of Eve from Adam’s side in Genesis 2), as Christ is the source of the church.1 This is based on the egalitarian claim that the word kephale seldom meant “authority over” in ancient Greek and often meant “source” (with no necessary sense of authority).
It is important to realize the decisive significance of these verses, and particularly of Ephesians 5:23, for the current controversy about male-female roles in marriage. If “head” means “person in authority over,” then there is a unique authority that belongs to the husband in marriage, and it is parallel to Christ’s authority over the church. If this is the true meaning of “head” in these verses, then the egalitarian view of marriage is wrong. But if “head” means “source” here, then two Scripture texts significant to complementarians have been shown to have no impact on the controversy.
What is the actual evidence? ls there evidence that kephale frequently meant “source” in the ancient world, or that it ever meant “source”? Is “authority over” an unproven meaning?
ln fact, kephale is found in over fifty contexts where it refers to people who have authority over others of whom they are the “head.”‘ But it never once takes a meaning “source without authority,“ as egalitarians would like to make it mean.
Here are several examples where kephale is used to say that one person is the “head” of another, and the person who is called head is the one in authority:
1. David as King of Israel is called the “head” or the people he conquered (2 Sam. [LXX 2 Kings] 22:44): “you kept me as the bead of the nations; people whom I had not known served me”; similarly, Psalm 18 (LXX 17):43
2. The leaders of the tribes of Israel are called “heads” of the tribes (1 Kings [LXX 3 Kings] 8:1, Alexandrinus text): “Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes” (similar statements in the second century A.D. Greek translation of Aquila, Deut. 5:23; 29:9 [English verse 10]; 1 Kings [LXX 3 Kings] 8:1)
3. Jephthah becomes the “head” of the people of Gilead (Judg. 11:11, “the people made him head and leader over them”; also stated in 10=18;11:8,9)
4. Pekah the son of Remaliah is the head of Samaria (Isa. 7:9, “the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah”)
5. The father is the head of the family (Hermas, Similitudes 7.3; the man is called “the head of the house”)
6. The husband is the “head” of the wife (Eph. 5:23, “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church”)
7. Christ is the “head” of the church (Col. 1:18, “he is the head of the body, the church”; also in Eph. 5:23)
8. Christ is the “head” of all things (Eph. 1:22, “he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church”)
9. God the Father is the “head” of Christ (I Cor. 11:3, “the head of Christ is God”)
In related statements using not metaphors but closely related similes, (1) the general of an army is said to he “like the head” in Plutarch, Pelopidas 2.1.3: In an army, “the light-armed troops are like the hands, the cavalry like the feet, the line of men-at-arms itself like chest and breastplate, and the general is like the head.” Similarly, (2) the Roman Emperor is called the “head” of the people in Plutarch, Galba 4.3: “Vindix . . . Wrote to Galba inviting him to assume the imperial power, and thus to serve What was a vigorous body in need of a head” (compare a related statement in Plutarch, Cicero 14.4). And (3) the King of Egypt is called “head” of the nation in Philo, Moses 2.30: “As the head is the ruling place in the living body, so Ptolemy became among kings.”
Then there are the additional (somewhat later) citations from Chrysostom (c. A.D. 344/354—407) quoted in my 2001 article,“ where (l) 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 of these cases, Chrysostom 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.”
In addition, there are several statements from various authors indicating a common understanding that the physical head functioned as the “ruling” part of the body: (1) Plato says that the head “reigns over all the parts within us” (Timaeus 44D). (2) Philo says, “the head is the ruling place in the living body” (Moses 2:30); “the mind is head and ruler of the sense-faculty in us” (Moses 2.82); “head we interpret allegorically to mean the ruling part of the soul” (On Dreams 2.207); and “Nature conferred the sovereignty of the body on the head” (The Special Laws I84). (3) Plutarch says, “We affectionately call a person ‘soul’ or ‘head’ from his ruling parts” (Table Talk 7.7 [692.e.l]).
Moreover, the meaning “source” makes no sense in key passages like Ephesians 5:23, “the husband is the head of the wife.” I am not the source of my wife in any meaningful sense of the word “source.” And so it is with all husbands and wives. lt is just not true to say, “the husband is the source of the wife as Christ is the source of the church.” It makes the verse into nonsense.
To my knowledge, no one has yet produced one text in ancient Creek literature where a person is called the kephale of another person or group and that person is not the one in authority over that other person or group. Nearly two decades after the publication of my 1985 study, the alleged meaning “source Without authority” has still not been supported with any citation of any text in ancient Greek literature. Over fifty examples of /kephale" meaning “ruler, authority over” have been found, but no examples of the meaning of “source Without authority.” Finally, while all the recognized lexicons for ancient Greek, or their editors, now give kephalé the meaning “person in authority over” or something similar, none give the meaning “source” when the Word is applied to persons. Nor do any of these lexicons or any other ancient citations support other meanings claimed by egalitarians, such as the meaning “one who does not take advantage of his body” or “preeminent one.”
Once again the question is, where is the evidence? Where is even one example of a statement that takes the form “person A is the head of person B, ” in which person A is not in a position of authority over person B? Not one example has ever been produced by egalitarians. But if all the lexicons and all the citations of this kind of expression contradict the egalitarian position, why do egalitarian writers go on affirming it as if it were proven fact?
Here again we must ask, what is the result of this egalitarian interpretation? It changes the meaning of Ephesians 5:23:
Previous meaning: For the husband is the head of (= leader, authority over) the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
New meaning: For the husband is the head (= source, care-giver) of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.
Once again, if we substitute a different meaning for a verse, and if the new meaning is wrong, we have taken away the Word of God from his people in that verse. Should we do this when the evidence for the change has never been produced, and the evidence against it is so strong?
To nullify a key verse of Scripture by substituting a wrong meaning in this way is another way of removing the Bible, bit by bit, from God’s people. It is thus another step on the path to liberalism.
- Evangelical Feminism: A new path to liberalism? – Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), pp. 193-198
[One must remember the golden rule of biblical interpretation:
When the plain sense of the Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.]