What about the word Kephale ("head") in the New Testament?

We Need To Revisit The Tradition That “Head” Means “Authority Over”

by Laurie Fasullo


The purpose of this paper is to show that neither Paul nor his first century readers would have understood the Greek word for “head,” kephale, to have the meaning given it by many church leaders, e.g., “authority” or “ruler.” I intend to show why that it is certain, and for sure highly improbable, for Paul to have used this word with the traditional notion of “authority over.”


There are two reasons for this paper. The first is that we are to be diligent so that we won’t be ashamed, handling God’s Word accurately (2 Timothy 2:15). The second reason is to show that there can be another valid and more likely meaning for this word other than the one read into it in the past.


Concerning the first reason, if our goal is to glorify God, no matter what, we will not be afraid to discuss different views to see what He is communicating to us. We have all too often seen people (or even ourselves) mishandle the Bible to make a point rather than to find the point the Word is making. We should all strive to be careful to learn what is being taught. It’s easy to read our preconceived ideas into a passage. Because this is a view which is different from the traditional view which most people are accustomed to hearing, I would encourage each reader to have the same teachableness that they would hope to see in someone when they are sharing something which is nontraditional to that person.  It can be as heartbreaking, as it was for Luther and the early martyrs, to try to reason from God ‘s Word to share a truth which won’t be heard because it doesn’t fit with what is already traditionally believed. Most of us have experienced this at sometime or another in sharing what we have learned about these things with someone who seems more intent on keeping his original position than on hearing what the Bible actually says about the subject. So please evaluate the following material with this in mind.


The second part of the reason is linked to the first part. In the traditional view, I have consistently seen the English (and Hebrew) meanings of the word “head” brought into passages which were written in Greek. This can cause a wrong emphasis, if not a wrong meaning, to be taken from passages containing this word. The danger of this is that the right emphasis can be missed altogether. Because I believe this is widely practiced in the case of this word (often having far-reaching effects) I feel the need to present another viewpoint. It is vital to understand how this word was used, and what it meant in the first century.


I will give reasons why I do not think Paul meant for the word kephale to convey the meaning “authority.”


I. It does not seem to be a normal meaning of the word in his day:


A. as shown by the definitions we find of this word during that time,

B. as shown by the Septuagint,

C. as shown by the other words Paul used to convey the concept of “authority,”

D. due to a different understanding of the function of the head/brain than we have, and Paul‘s other references regarding them.


II. The contexts of the Bible passages using this word sometimes show a different meaning, and all allow for an alternative rendering.


I. A. In showing that “authority” or “superior rank” was not a normal meaning of the Greek word kephale in Paul’s day, I will rely on the work of others more knowledgeable in this area than I. To begin with I have not found any lexicon which gives that meaning (unless they use the very passages we are trying to understand with the meaning of “authority” already read into them). The following are excellent sources listed by Berkley and Alvera MIickelsen which show no such meaning for the readers of Paul’s day:


The most complete Greek-English lexicon (covering Homeric, classical and koine Greek) in current existence is a two-volume work of more than 2,000 pages compiled by .Liddell, Scott, Jones and McKenzie, published first in 1843. It is based on examination of thousands of Greek writings from the period of Homer (about 1000 B.C.) to about A.D. 600 -- a period of nearly 1600 years, including the Septuagint and New Testament times. This lexicon lists, with examples, the common meanings of kephale. The list includes more than 25 possible figurative meanings in addition to the literal meaning of physical head of man or beast. The list does not include “authority,” “superior rank,” “leader,” “director,” or anything similar as a meaning. There is an older Greek-Latin thesaurus published in 1851, but written primarily in the sixteenth century. It also gives no meanings such as “authority” or “supreme over.” Apparently, ordinary readers of Greek literature during New Testament times would not think of “final authority,” “superior rank” or “director” as common meanings for the word translated “head.”

The entry looks somewhat like this in the 1940 edition of Liddell, Scott, Jones and McKenzie lexicon:

I. a. Physical head of man or beast. Frequently used with preposition such as “down over the head,” or “above the head” or “from head to foot” or “head foremost” or “thrust headlong.” [In our day we would say “head first.”]

b. As the noblest part, periphrasis for the whole person.

c. Life, as in “staking their heads on...”

d.. In imprecation, as in “on my head be it!” [Or Paul’s response in Acts 18:6 to the Jews who opposed him in Macedonia, “Your blood be upon your own heads!”]

II. Of things, extremity.

a. In botany, head of garlic, tubers.

b. In anatomy, base of heart, but also apex; of muscles, origin.

c. Generally, top, brim of vessel; coping of a wall; capital of a column.

d. In plural, source, origin of a river, but singular, mouth; generally, source, origin, starting point.

e. Extremity of a plot of land.

III. A bust of Homer.

IV. Wig, head-dress.

V. Metaphorical

a. Piece de resistance [i.e. main dish of a meal]

b. Crown, completion, consummation.

c. Sum, total.

d. Hand of men; right hand of phalanx

e. Astronomy, Aries [as the gable of the world]

The lexicon gives references to Greek literature for each of these meanings. The lexicographers (with various editions spanning more than 100 years, from 1836 to 1940) apparently found no examples in their study of Greek literature where kephale could have the meaning “one having authority,” “supreme over” or anything similar. (Where other recognized meanings are possible, one cannot assume that the word kephale means chief, authority or superior rank.)  These scholars living in 1800s and early 1900s surely could not be accused of being blinded by the “feminist movement,” and thus ignoring references in Greek that supported kephale as meaning “authority.” [1]


 What follows is more research concerning the usual meanings for the Greek word kephale:


Including its 1968 supplement, the Liddell and Scott lexicon lists forty-eight separate English equivalents of figurative meanings of kephale. None of them implies leader, authority, first or supreme.  To confirm that “authority” was not in the usual connotative range of kephale, I consulted three prominent specialists in ancient Greek literature. They all agreed that the idea of “authority” was not a recognized meaning of kephale in Greek.

An examination of other Greek lexicons further supports the Mickelsen’s thesis. None of the following lexicons lists any examples related to “leader” or “authority”: Moulton and Milligan, Friedrich Preisigke, Pierre Chantraine, and E. A. Sophocles gives only one such example from A.D. 952. S.C. Woodhouse lists twenty Greek equivalents for “chief” (p. 129) and twenty-six Greek equivalents for “authority” (p. 54), but kephale is not listed as an equivalent for either of these or for “leader.” [2]


One can certainly find an abundance of sources that impute the meaning of “authority over” to the Greek word kephale. However, it would appear that they do this in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. All the sources I could find used the passages containing the word kephale with their own definition of “authority” assumed and thus read into it to prove their definition.  Some even went against the meaning of the word in context to give it the definition they desired. The following is an example:


The most common lexicon used by pastors and teachers of the Bible in our day is the koine Greek lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich, commonly known as Bauer’s. This lexicon is less than half the size of Liddell, Scott, Jones and McKenzie. The following is a basic condensation of the entry for kephale in Bauer:


[kephale, es, he,] (Homer,+ inscriptions, papyri, Septuagint, Enoch, Epistle of Aristotle, Philo, Josephus)

1 . lit.- a. actually of the head of man or beast [followed by thirty-six lines of entry giving examples of this obvious meaning, ranging from the New Testament to Aesop’s fables]….h. metaph... Christ the [kephale] of the [church] thought of as a [soma (“body”)] Col. 1:18;cf. Col. 2:19.

2. fig- a. In the case of living beings, to denote superior rank. (cf. Artem. 4:24. p.218 where [kephale] is the symbol of the father; Judg 11:11; 2 [Sam] 22:44) head (Zosimus of Ashkelon[500 A.D.] hails Demosth. as his master: [“0h, divine head”] [Biogr. p. 297]; of the husband in relation to his wife I Cor 11:3b; Eph 5:23a. Of Christ in relation to the church Eph 4:15; 5:23b. But Christ is he head not only of the church but of the universe as a whole, [“head over all things”] Eph 1:22, and of every cosmic power... the head of all might and power or all rule & authority]. Col. 2:10. The divine influence on the world results in the series (for the growing distance from God with corresponding results);...God the [kephale] of Christ, Christ the [kephale] of the man, the man the [kephale] of the woman, I Cor 11:3c,a,b.

B. of things the uppermost part, extremity, end, point... [kephale gonias] the cornerstone (forming the farthest extension... of the corner, though Joachim Jeremias... thinks of it as the keystone or capstone above the door;... Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17,...Ac 4:11; I Pt 2:7 B[arnahas] 6:4 (all [quoting] Psalm 118:22 [LXX Ps 117:22]).” [3]


The following are some criticisms of Bauer’s definition:


Under section two, where Bauer gives “superior rank” as a meaning for kephale, he cites only two references from secular Greek. One comes from Zosimus and is dated A.D. 500 -- at least 400 years after the New Testament was written. (Our question is not what kephale meant in A.D. 500 but rather what Paul meant when he used kephale when writing his letters to the churches in the first century.) Bauer’s only other reference to secular Greek to support the meaning of “superior rank” is to Artemidorus in the second century, where kephale is used as a symbol of the father. What Artemidorus said (Lib K, Capt 2, Para 6,) was “He [the father] was the cause (aitos) of the life and of the light for the dreamer [the son] just as the head (kephale) is the cause of the life and the light of all the body.” He also said: “the head is to be likened to parents because the head is the cause [source] of life.” Bauer’s reference may be an example of a lexicographer reading his own cultural understanding (i.e., fathers have “superior rank”) into the text.”[4]


Phillip Payne rightly comments:


The Mickelsen’s criticism of Bauer’s treatment of kephale is well founded. The inappropriateness of citing the Zosimus statement as an example of kephale denoting “superior rank” is not due only to its late date. It is virtually certain that this passage does not imply a position of authority over anyone. Stanford classicist Mark Edwards stated that ho theia kephale in the Zosirnus document is a salutation implying dignity, not authority. Presumably the Demosthenes referred to is the great Athenian orator (384-22 B.C.), who could not have had a position of authority over Zosimus since Demosthenes had died over 800 years earlier. [5]


The appendix has a list of other lexicons and dictionaries who assume the meaning of “authority over.”. They all, however, use the passages which contain this word with this meaning already assumed to prove this meaning of the word. We will refer to them in Part 2 where we deal with the actual passages and look at the contexts where the word occurs.


B. Many of these sources used Old Testament passages from the Septuagint to support their definition. Let’s examine the evidence from the Septuagint. The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Old Testament done before Christ’s time. For many people who spoke mainly or only Greek, it was the only Old Testament scriptures they knew. Although the passages containing “head” from the Septuagint are used to prove that kephale meant “authority” in the traditional sense, the opposite is actually true. Let’s look at how kephale is translated in the Septuagint.


From this we see that when rosh (the Hebrew word for “head”) referred to a literal head it was almost always directly translated kephale. However, when rosh had the meaning “ruler, commander, leader or chief” the word kephale is rarely used and so appears to be avoided. If it were a normal meaning, why would it not have been directly translated as it was for literal head? Of the 180 times that rosh was used in this sense, only 10 times it was translated with the Greek word for “head,” kephale. Of these, 6 have variant readings (4 in a single manuscript), 4 others involve head-tail metaphors (where the word could not be avoided). That leaves 8 of the 180 times where kephale was used with an unusual Greek meaning. Let’s look at them individually:


Jeremiah 31:7-- Since Israel did not rule or have authority over the nations, this probably refers to her exalted position in God’s eyes.


Judges 11:11 -- The Hebrew text follows rosh with another word qatzyn, meaning chief or ruler. The Greek text followed suit and used hegeomai or archegos, meaning leader. This would have made it clear to Greek readers the meaning of the passage even with a normal Greek usage of “top” or “crown” for kephale.


Psalm 18:43, Isa.7:8-9 (3 times), Lam.1:5, 2 Sam.22:44 (which is the same as Ps.18:43).  All of these passages could be read with the meaning of “top” or “crown” and the meaning of the passage would not be lost.


So we can see that “when the Old Testament meaning of rosh was ‘leader’ the Septuagint translators realized quite clearly that this would not be conveyed by kephale, so they resorted to some other translation in 171 cases out of 180. This occurred in spite of the strong tendency in the Septuagint for ‘Greek words to extend to their range of meaning in an un-Greek way after the Hebrew word which they render.’  Thus we have strong evidence of the high degree to which ‘head’ meaning ‘leader’ was recognized by these translators to be foreign to Greek.”[6]


At this point I will mention that there is list in the Appendix of works that critique Wayne Grudem’s work dealing with kephale.. He has been associated with proving that kephale carried the meaning of “authority over.” This critique is here to deal with his assertions, but also to show that it is easy to ignore facts to make our point. As I have read on this subject, and women’s roles in general, I will freely admit seeing this done on different sides of the issue. I don’t claim to be free from preconceived ideas and perceptions myself. That is why I write this and invite scrutiny of what I propose. If I’m shown to be in error, I want to change what I think. Let us all dialogue to find truth that we may please our Lord.


C. Let’s look at how Paul communicated elsewhere and see if he would have used kephale to express the idea of “authority.”


“The apostle Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew (he grew up in the Greek-speaking city of Tarsus); indeed, Greek was his native language. He knew both Hebrew and Greek, but he wrote his epistles to Greek-speaking churches in areas where most of the converts (including Jews of the dispersion) knew only Greek. A man of his superb intellectual ability and intense passion to spread the gospel would likely use Greek words with Greek meanings that his readers clearly understood.”(7)  In Romans 13:12 he used exousia (”authority”) and in Romans 13:3 he used archon (”leader”). When Paul does use exousia (“authority”) in a husband-wife context, it is definitely in a mutual sense (1 Cor. 7:4). “If Paul does use kephale with the meaning ‘leader,’ he is the only New Testament writer to do so, even though most of the New Testament writers use more Hebraic Greek than he does. For example, “head of the house” is a very common expression throughout the Gospels, but kephale is never used to convey this meaning.”[8] (See Matthew 10:25; 13:52; 24:43; Luke 12:39; 13:25; 14:21. The Greek word oikodespotes is used. This word comes from two words meaning “master” and “house.”).  In addition, the term for the “head of the synagogue” (which was the leading office) did not employ kephale, but was called the archisynagogus. [9]


D. Let’s look further at what Paul and his readers would have understood about the head so that we won’t also read our understanding into their understanding. This will have an effect on how the word could be used metaphorically. “The ancient Greek world through the time of Paul commonly believed that the heart, not the head, was the center of emotions and spirit, the ‘central governing place of the body.’ Aristotle held that the heart was not only the seat of control but also the seat of intelligence. Classicist Michael Wigodsky of Stanford is probably correct that many, even the doctors with the most advanced anatomical understanding of the brain, did not really believe that the brain exerted more control over the body than the heart. Such a notion seemed to contradict the nearly universal belief that, since the life is in the blood, the heart must be the center of life. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the idea of authority was not normally associated with the word for ‘head’ in Greek thought.”[l0]  Although this information may be debatable, we do know that know that neither Paul nor his readers would have known what we know about how the brain controls the body. Regardless of their knowledge, or lack thereof, Paul “seems to associate intelligence and control of the body with the heart in such expressions as ‘their foolish heart was darkened’ (Rom. 1:21), ‘the law written in their hearts’(Rom. 2:15), ‘it is with your heart you believe’(Rom 10:9-10), ‘no heart has conceived God’s plans’(1 Cor. 2:9), ‘he who has decided in his own heart’(1 Cor 7:37), and ‘may the eyes of your heart be enlightened to know’ (Eph 1:18). Nowhere does he associate the mind with the head.”[11] (This last reference is in the immediate context of one of the passages where kephale is used [Eph. 1:18-23] which we will look at in section II.)  Gordon Clark’s work on head knowledge/heart knowledge will also bear witness to this.


Let me restate why I believe we can come to these passages without assuming “authority” is a normal meaning of the Greek word kephale for Paul and his readers. It does not seem to be a normal usage for Paul given: 1 ) his choice of other words for authority,  2) his expression of control of the body by the heart verses the brain or head (and his lack of association of the mind with the head), and 3) the context of the passages where kephale is used --  which we’ll look at next. It does not seem to be a normal meaning his readers would have understood given: 1) the avoidance of the word with this meaning in the Septuagint, and 2) the Greek meanings of this word in dictionaries and lexicons. The only reasons I would believe it could be a possible definition are: 1) Grudem’s study and 2) the definitions in some dictionaries and lexicons. Neither of these carry much weight, in light of the other factors, because they come with the meaning of “authority” read into the word to prove it’s meaning.  And I will apply Grudem’s own judgment to his study. He said (concerning one of the criticisms of his study), “the major point of his article...is disproved by his use of improper methodology and several inconsistencies in his argument, and it is contradicted by an abundance of evidence. It must therefore be rejected.”[12]  (See the Appendix for a critique of Grudem’s study). As we go through the passages it will be evident that the writers of the dictionaries and lexicons with a meaning of “authority” for kephale had to give the meaning to the word in order to find this meaning (e.g., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).


II. So now let’s go to the second part and look at the actual passages containing kephale and see what Paul was saying to his readers.  I did Part I first so that we could try to come without the English (or even Hebrew) meaning of “authority” for head or rosh read into the Greek word for head, kephale. If we can come to these passages with the Greek meanings of the word, we can let the context determine the meaning Paul and his readers were most likely to have understood. If in reading the Scripture, we find Paul is giving the word a new meaning (or flavor), such as “authority,” that is fine. But let us look at the passages to determine this instead of us assuming what the passage means today by inserting something into it. Let the context speak.

We’ll first look at 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. This is probably the most commonly cited passage (next to Ephesians 5) to show that kephale means “authority.” Yet given the full context of the passage and comparisons of verses in chapter 15, I see it to be not only an improbable meaning, but maybe even an implausible meaning in this passage. To get the full context of this passage we need to go back further. As Walter Liefield points out, “Paul has just urged limitation of one’s freedom in order not to hinder others from accepting the gospel (chapters 8-10). He is apparently modifying the principle of liberty in Galatians in certain respects: (1) In Galatians he affirmed freedom regarding table fellowship, but in 1 Corinthians he restricts certain associations and foods. Even what is ‘permissible’ may not he ‘beneficial’ (10:23-30). (2) Although in Galatians he insisted on his status as an apostle and on his freedom from the law, in I Corinthians he is willing to ‘become as a Jew’ and as ‘under the law’ to ‘win some’ (9:22). (3) He taught in Galatians that there is ‘neither male nor female, but in 1 Corinthians he introduces certain limitations on women. We may reasonably ask whether this last modification also involves avoiding something that might obstruct the gospel. There are two reasons to suppose this: (1) Immediately before the passage under consideration Paul reaffirms that what he does is for the glory of God and for the good of others (10:31-11:1). (2) 11:2-16 is connected with the preceding discussion and theme by the Greek conjunction de, which is seldom used to introduce a totally new topic.”[13]


As we get into the passage, we see several concepts repeated throughout it: 1. the word head appears nine times -- some referring to a physical head and some in another sense; 2. the idea of a covered or uncovered head appears seven times; 3. the words shame, shameful, glory, dishonor and becoming appear eight times; 4. the idea of source or origination appears nine times.


It would seem, then, that these words/concepts would be an integral part of the message of this passage. Since this passage is used quite often to show the authority of the man (husband?) over the woman (wife?) because of the word head used in verse 3, it is interesting to note that, unless one comes to this passage with this meaning of the word read into it, the idea of authority is only mentioned once and refers to the woman’s authority on her own head. Verse 10 says, “Because of this the woman ought to have authority on her head because of the angels.” ‘A sign (or symbol) ‘ is often inserted in translations before the word ‘authority’ without justification. This would give the word for ‘authority’ a passive sense for the woman. “In 1907 W.M. Ramsey called this passive sense ‘a preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the New Testament, where (as they seem to think) Greek words may mean anything that commentators choose.’” [14] Paul uses the same word for ‘authority’ (in the active sense) that he uses a few chapters earlier (chapter 9) in referring to his own rights, or authority, in his ordering of his life as an apostle. So not only does this verse not support that the word kephale in referring to the man means the ‘authority’ of the woman, but instead would be a support for the woman’s right to function as a female priest.


Before we go further into the passage to see what the context may tell us about the meaning of kephale in verse 3, let’s look at what we may need to rule out based on another passage. I have yet to find any among those that contend that the word kephale has the meaning “authority,” who reconcile this with 1 Corinthians 15:28. Verses 20-28 tell of the risen Christ. We read of His being the first-fruit, of everything being put under His rule and of how He will turn all things over to God, the Father. Although the incarnate Christ made it clear that He was doing what His Father wanted Him to do, the aspects of being a first-fruit and ruling over all are recurring when the risen, exalted Christ is spoken of. Verse 23 says, “And when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be made subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” This is in the future tense, and refers to that last day when we are raised, clothed with immortality and death is no more (1 Corinthians 15:51-55; Revelation 20:12-15; 21:1-4).  1 Corinthians 11:3c is in the present tense: God is (estin) the head of Christ. If God is the ‘authority’ of Christ in this time of His glory and reign, then Christ would have be subject to Him. Why will He be made subject in the future, when He turns everything over, if He already is subject now in the present?  I believe this question should he addressed before we can even consider reading the meaning of ‘authority’ into kephale in chapter 11, much less using it as proof of this meaning.


As we get into this controversial passage, I will freely admit that I don’t have all the answers. But I will ask questions regarding a traditional view of it, and will present another possible interpretation (and invite questions regarding my view). Although few people who read this passage with a traditional interpretation require head coverings for women in this culture, in this day, most would still maintain that the abiding principle of this passage is male headship (i.e. male’s authority over women and a woman’s display of submission to that authority). Although they will allow for a different display of that submission, they will say that Paul’s call is for a culturally effective display based on headship (using their definition of authority) and on the order of creation. Aside from the questions I already have regarding their definition of headship and their use of this to insert the words “a symbol” to change the reading (and meaning) of verse 10, I have other questions regarding this interpretation.


1. If Paul’s point for all time is this abiding principle of a women’s display of submission to a man’s authority, why does he then in 1 Cor.11:11 use the word plen and give what seems to be contradictory statements and tell the Corinthians to judge for themselves? Liefeld comments: “The introductory word, ‘nevertheless’ (plen), is a strong adversative. It can also have the sense of “only,”“but,”“however.” In our text, it appears without any accompanying word of further modification, which makes it stronger than a mere limitation or exception. It could range from a complete reversal of the previous argument to simply indicating that the freedom of the woman expressed in verse 10 does not mean complete independence from her husband.” [15]  Then Paul goes on to make points different from the points made in the first section. In the first part the point is made that the source of the woman is the man (and that the source of the man is not woman) and woman was made for the man. In the second section Paul stresses that neither sex is independent of the other, and each has the other as a source. The first part says that if a woman is uncovered, she should be shaved. Paul then says that her hair is her covering in the second section.


2. If this submission of women to men being displayed is Paul’s point, does this mean that all women are to display submission to all men? Are all women under the authority of all men because Eve came from Adam and was made for him, or is that an application to be made to husbands and wives only?


3. If Paul is agreeing with the first part, instead of questioning it, then I would like to know how does nature teach that long hair is a disgrace for men. If it is a naturally understood disgrace, then how is this disgrace reconciled with men such as Absolom, and Samson and other Nazarites (who had long hair because of God’s instruction and/or to show their commitment to God)?


4. A crucial question could he asked concerning the phrase “in the Lord” in verse 11. Isn’t this how we are to view ourselves --  “in the Lord”? The emphasis in this section seems to be one of mutuality and discernment of what is becoming, rather than of a hierarchy and a fixed display of it (as is the case in the first section).

This leads me to offer another reading and emphasis of this passage than the traditional one. I would agree that we are not bound by a cultural practice stated here, but should look for the abiding principle. I would disagree with the traditional view of what the abiding principle is. I would say that given the context of this passage (as laid out earlier in chapters 8-10 and continuing in the following chapters) Paul is continuing the theme of calling the Corinthians to be aware of what they do always remembering their liberty in their faith in Christ, yet never forgetting the effect their actions have on others and the glory of God. In the immediately preceding verses he states, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may he saved. Be followers of me, just as I also am of Christ.” This along with his statement of mutuality, and yet his admonition to judge the properness of coverings (or the lack thereof) would fit well with an admonition to consider their actions knowing not only the truth (“everything is permissible” -- but not everything is beneficial, 10:23), but also how others will perceive things (nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others [10:24]).  The first section, then, could have been a quote or belief of  “Jews . . .or Greeks.. .or (some in) the church of God.” So although Paul is not agreeing with it, he does not dismiss it because what the Corinthians do will have an effect on others and their perception of the Gospel. He tells them to judge themselves whether it is becoming of a woman to pray uncovered. The abiding principle for us is the same and is covered in the previous verses, “Do all for God’s glory.. .give no offense.. .not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”


In evaluating the meaning of the word kephale, these things need to be considered:


1) “Authority” does not seem to be a well known metaphorical meaning for this Greek word in this day.


2) The meaning “authority” would be hard to reconcile with 1 Corinthians 15:28 and would raise questions about whether this is to be applied to men-women or husbands-wives.


3) Another metaphorical meaning of the word seems to be “source” (see quote by Artemidorus on page --- of this article, Ephesians 4:15-16, Colossians 1:18). We know that Christ said He “came” from the Father (John 7:29; John 8). We know that every man comes from God. This would help the connection between verse 3 and verses 8-9. I would say, then, that there would be more weight for the word kephale, when used metaphorically in this passage, to have the connotation of “source” than of “authority.” But regardless of the meaning of the word in verse 3, it seems the abiding principle is not a fixed particular, but an emphasis on what we do to further the gospel being aware of our liberty which can be given up if needed.


The next passage we will deal with is Ephesians 5:22-33. Ephesians 5:23 is also frequently used to show that the word kephale has the meaning “authority.” Because this passage is so clear in what it is says to husbands and wives, it is not only surprising but also disheartening to see that what is written there is often de-emphasized (if not ignored) in order to stress a concept which may not even be inherent in the text. This happens when people use this text to show what a husband’s role is using kephale -- meaning “authority” -- instead of using what God directly spells out for the husband. This passage gives instructions to husbands and wives in how they are to act toward one another based on the example of Christ and the church. Although some on opposite ends of the spectrum of ideas may try to deny one or the other, most would have to agree that wives are to submit to and respect their husbands, and husbands are to love and lay down their lives for their wives (this is partially repeated in the twin passage in Colossians 3:18-19). Even though God apparently found this to be enough instruction for husbands and wives in order to live lives glorifying to Him, I have heard and read very few representing the traditional view who not only go further, but will even make their point (of male headship [authority]) the central theme around which they relate all other aspects of the passage. “The wife’s submission is based on his authority; he is to exercise his authority through love and self-sacrifice.” I would not dispute the fact that in many husband-wife relationships the husband is in a position of authority over the wife, and was probably the case in marriages of Paul’s day. But is it an inherent part of marriage and the duty required of the husband in this passage? I would submit that it is not; but rather it is the mutual submission expressed in these ways (wives submitting and respecting, and husbands loving and sacrificing) which are required and will promote and show unity and love. This is the picture of the relationship between Christ and His church which a marriage is to he. I would submit that that this word (kephale) is used to show the unity of Christ and His church because of the sacrifice He made for her, and the unity of the husband and wife (like the unity of a head and a body). That unity will be shown and maintained as the wife submits and respects (like the church) and as the husband loves and sacrifices (like Christ).


We will first look at the passage to see if the emphasis on unity or hierarchy is most fitting; then we will look at other passages using this word to see if the context of those passages shed more light on how Paul would use this word (especially in relation to Christ and His body).


As we look at Ephesians 5, one thing that stands out are the parallels between Christ/husband as head and the church/wife as the body. Since the husband is to mirror Christ as head, let’s see what the passage says that Christ does, or is, as head. Starting in verse 23 we see that when Paul comments on Christ as head of the church, his parallel is (using the same grammatical construction) that He is the Savior of the body. If we don’t come reading the Hebrew or English meaning of the word ‘head’ into the Greek word, but let the text speak, we can see that not only is this metaphor clearly stated, but is carried throughout the passage when dealing with the husband’s role. Verse 25 tells the husband to love his wife the way Christ loved the church -- He gave himself up for her. Verses 28-30 tell the husband to love his wife as he loves and takes care of his own body, just as Christ loves and takes care of the church -- his body. If these verses were not enough to show the relationship of unity and the role of self-sacrifice the husband is to follow in emulating Christ, verses 31-33 emphasize the example of unity that is to he followed in marriage (“be united,” “the two will become one flesh,” and “love his wife as he loves himself”). It is interesting to note that some versions read in verse 30, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” This is the same thing Adam said about Eve, and is now said about Christ and the church; and the same pronouncement of unity is made about both: For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is the conclusion God draws from this head-body relationship. Any mention of ‘authority’ is absent. It is not only puzzling, then, but disturbing to see that most people holding the traditional view feel the need to use this passage to give the husband a duty which God is not giving to him as He tells him his duties. Other arguments for requiring husbands to have authority which are mentioned in relation to this passage are covered in the Notes for this passage in the Appendix.


Now that we have looked through this passage and have found that it neither gives this Greek word, kephale, a new meaning for that day, a meaning of “authority,” nor have we found this passage giving the husband a duty or role of taking authority; we are now ready to look at other Scriptures written by Paul using this same language (head-body metaphor) to help us understand what concept he was expressing. Since “authority” was not a usual meaning for kephale in Paul’s day, we will look for the answer to two questions as we look at the other occurrences of kephale in reference to Christ. They are:


1. Does the word kephale have the meaning of “authority” in this passage? (Related to this are: Is it a necessary meaning? Is it even a possible meaning?) and


2. Is this head-body metaphor used to show the authority aspect of the relationship? If the answers are “yes, then there is more justification for making that an inherent part of the relationship between a husband and a wife. If the answers are “no,” then those who would make it a duty for husbands to have authority over their wives will need to either rethink their position or find some other basis for it. Other than the verses we have already looked at in I Corinthians 11, the only times kephale is used metaphorically (rather than literally—-a physical head of a body) are in Ephesians and Colossians. [Note: when ‘head’ is used to refer to “head of the house” a different Greek word is always used, oikodespotes (from “a house” and “master”). Kephale is never used. (see Mt 10:25, Mt 13:52, Mt 24:43, Lk 12:39, Lk 13:25, Lk 14:21). We’ll first look at the other verses in Ephesians since they are the closest to this passage.


The verses in Ephesians using head (kephale) in reference to Christ and body (soma) in reference to the church are:


Chapter 1:22-23 -- and he put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all, and


Chapter 4:15-16 -- but speaking the truth in love we are to grow in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.


As we look more closely at these passages we will be looking for Paul’s use of the word ‘head’ to see if that would show that he and his reader’s would have understood it according to the traditional interpretation.

In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul is encouraging the saints by speaking of the blessings of redemption. In verses 18-23, he is focusing on our hope, riches, and His power toward us; along with Christ’s position. His position in relationship to the Father is that He is at His right hand. His position in relationship to all powers is that, as He is in the heavenly places, He is far above. Also everything is under His feet and He is head over all. His position in relationship to the church is that she is His body. This passage clearly speaks of Christ’s unsurpassed power and authority. And what a comfort it is to us who believe that He is. The same principalities (arche) and authorities (exousia) that we are told we struggle against in chapter 6 of this book, we are told in Chapter 1 are far below Him! His power toward us is measured by the power God used to raise Christ from the dead and make Him “head over all things to the church.”


But enough of this encouragement, we are here to answer questions about the meaning of the word ‘head’ in this passage. Does the word kephale have the meaning “authority” in this passage? It is definitely a possible meaning given the context. If all things are in subjection under His feet and He has been given head over all things, then the word head could mean “authority” and the passage could be understood correctly. But is it a necessary meaning of the word? Could the passage be understood correctly with a more usual Greek meaning of the word such as “top” or “crown” (or “source”, see definitions in Appendix and pages --- and --- of this article)? We see that “authority” is not a necessary meaning of the word since the context tells us that he is in authority because all these things are under Him and are in subjection to Him. If we say that someone is the head of his swimming class we are not saying that he is the authority of the class. We are saying he is the best swimmer. Now the word head is not given a new meaning of “best swimmer.” It still means “top,” but the context shows us what he is the top of -- the swimmers. Similarly, if Christ is the “top” of all authorities and all things are in subjection to Him, then we can fully understand this passage using this meaning. So “authority” is not a necessary meaning.


To help us understand how Paul uses this word, kephale, we are looking to see if the context shows us that he uses it to express a relationship of authority between the head and the body. Although this is a part of our relationship to Christ, we do not see Paul using the head-body image in this passage to express that aspect of the relationship. It is for us that all things are in subjection to Him, but this passage is not speaking of our subjection to Him. In fact, if we wanted to carry the metaphor through consistently, it says all things are in subjection “under his feet.” If we are His body, then everything would be in subjection to us too, since the feet are at the bottom of the body. I wouldn’t say that this is the intent of the passage, but we can see that our subjection to Christ is not the topic in view.


We will now move to Ephesians 4:11-16. The answer to the first question about the meaning of the word head being “authority” in this passage is “no,” even to most who hold the traditional view. Aside from the obvious references to the physical body (head, joints, growth), this passage shows the head as causing the growth of the body dependent on the union they share. This is paralleled in Colossians 2:19 which says, “and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” We see that not only is it not necessary, but would not be beneficial to give this word the meaning of “authority” in these passages. Even commentators holding a traditional view tend to speak of Christ as our “source” of life and growth in these verses. The analogy here of head-body is not being use to show a hierarchal relationship, although it exists between Christ and the church.


The next set verses are Colossians 1:16-18.  “For by Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He himself might come to have first place in everything.”


This, too, has a lot of parallels to the verses in Ephesians. We see again His surpassing supremeness in all things. He is before all things and He is the beginning. “The word is arche, ‘the origin, the beginning,’ this in relation to the Church. The word arche here involves priority in time our Lord was the first-fruits from among the dead; and originating power He was also the source of life.” [16]  To give the meaning of “authority” to the word ‘head’ here is not necessary and would not go with the flow of the passage as much as “source” would. There is nothing in the context to show that Paul was using the head-body metaphor to show the hierarchal relationship between Christ and the church.


The last passage containing the word kephale in reference to Christ is Colossians 2:9-10: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over

all rule and authority.”


This use of kephale is much like the verses in the first chapter of Ephesians. The necessity of understanding the meaning of the word to be “authority” is not warranted due to the context. Since the church is not referred to as the body in this passage, we would have to say that Paul is not here using the head-body metaphor to show a relationship of authority between Christ and the church.


In summary, we were not able to come up with definite affirmative answers to these two questions for any of the passages where Paul uses kephale in reference to Christ in Ephesians and Colossians. We cannot, then, use these as support for applying this meaning to this word and/or metaphor used in Ephesians 5.


In conclusion of section II, when looking at all the passages containing the word kephale in a metaphorical sense, none of the contexts necessitated giving the word a meaning of “authority.” Some, in fact, would be better understood with a different meaning. And all allowed for a more usual Greek meaning than the one traditionally read into it.


Further, in this paper I have shown why I don’t believe Paul or his readers would have understood the Greek word for ‘head’ (kephale) to have the meaning “authority” because:


1) it does not seem to be a usual meaning for that word for that day, and


2) the context of the passages containing kephale do not necessitate this meaning (in fact, some would be better read with a different meaning). Unanswered questions linger when this word is interpreted in these passages in the traditional way. Maybe others can give me answers for these questions and raise questions concerning my view which I haven’t thought of. I welcome input from anyone who is willing to dialogue on this issue. I am not interested in dogma from anyone who is not interested in an exchange of information and thoughts. I am interested in true dialogue toward truth.


Lauren Fasullo

Baton Rouge, LA



Other than inserting our assumed meaning for the word ‘head’ into this passage, the common arguments I have heard for this duty for the husband are:


1) This is the way it should be because God set up this authority structure in the beginning, and so in a Christian marriage we should practice what God has ordained,


2) Because the wife is told to submit to the husband, it shows that he is to have authority over her (and to support this are the statements that the husband is never told to submit to his wife and the wife is never told to take authority over her husband), and


3) Since Christ is the head of the church and is in authority over her, then this same aspect carries over into the husband-wife relationship since he is her ‘head.’


There may be other arguments I haven’t heard, but these are the ones I have consistently heard from many sources. We will deal with each argument to see if it is valid enough to ascribe something to this passage which isn’t clearly given.


I see the first argument to be similar to building on a foundation made of sand. If we look back to the beginning, we find the case of people so often saying something is there, that we assume that it is. Let’s look back to see if an authority relationship is established, or if once again it is a relationship of unity (not necessarily including, or excluding, an authority structure). What we find in creation is that God made all the animals, and then made man in his image.


Some pertinent facts relating to this discussion are:


—The order of creation (man and then woman) is not enough to suggest, much less deduce, that since the man was made first he is placed in authority over the woman. We cannot assume this since it is not stated. In fact, if we want to read something into the passage which God didn’t make plain, there would be more weight for the opposite conclusion (that the woman is to have authority over the man) using traditional reasoning. The clear pattern in the creation of living things thus far has been an ascending, not descending, order. First plants are made, then animals, then humans. Since we don’t have any stated change of direction it would seem logical to see the upward progression continue. See article on I Tim. 2 in the Appendix for discussion on how this passage relates to this argument.


—The fact that Eve was created as Adam’s helpmeet (suitable helper) also does not warrant establishing an “inequality” of the sexes since God fails to do so. If one were intent on inserting a hierarchy into the picture, once again, the facts would not show a traditional one. The Scriptures do not show the creation of a being (the man) followed by the creation of another being (the woman) who was made in order to follow him and help him whenever he told her to. Rather we see, in the creation of man, a being standing in need. God says, for the first time during creation, that something is not good. The Hebrew word used for helper in this passage [ezer] is  used most often in to describe the helping activity of God. God is above those He helps, as a parent is over the child he or she helps. So if an inequality is assumed in this relationship based on this word, it would be more likely (although less traditional) to put the woman above the man.


—We also are not told of a leading role for the man being established by God at creation. If we wanted to force a leading-following from the passage, the only movement we see ordained is that the man is to leave his home and cleave to his wife. If it were stated the other way (that the woman was to leave her parents and cleave to her husband) it would have been used as a proof text by traditionalists that the man is to lead and the woman is to follow. However, since the Word makes no mention of inequality or leadership, I think it best to stay with what it does say.


—The need the man had was for a companion, not a servant, aide or follower. God provided such a perfect companion that they could be like one. The relationship established was one of unity, with no mention of hierarchy or inequality. This is not to say that there were no differences. A male and a female are like a nut and a bolt, each different, but not one above the other. In fact, this unity can only be achieved because of the differences between the two. This is also why any divergence from the marriage that God ordained will be a perversion.


— So where does this idea of rule come in? The two places where rule is mentioned are listed as support for the man’s authority:


1) God makes man in His image to rule over the animals and tells him to fill the earth, subdue it and rule over the living creatures (Genesis 1:26-28), and


2) God announces to Eve after the fall that her desire will be for her husband and he will rule over her (Genesis 3:16).


The problem with the first “proof” is that it is misquoted. It actually says: “Let us make man [Adam] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over (all the creatures). So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over (all the creatures).’”  The command to rule was given to “them” (plural) not “him” (singular).


The second proof raises some questions if it is to be considered as valid. Is this something God instituted in the pre-fall creation which was all declared as being good; or is this a result of the fall and so is declared as predictable in light of sin’s effects?  I think the answer is obvious to all. Some would still contend that it is still a part of God’s design that the husband should rule over his wife, that this is a good thing. Since there is no mention of a hierarchy before this, it would have to be asked of these proponents if they would also say that other parts of the curse are also good and should be maintained. Would they advocate, as some religious men in the past (and even some today) have advocated, that pain medication be withheld from women in labor? Would they forbid men to use air conditioning when they are earning money so they will be sure to sweat? Although men have ruled over women through the ages, does this fit anywhere with the New Testament teachings on the relationship between a husband and a wife? There has also been slavery through the ages and was not forbidden. Instructions were given on how to function in that position in order to glorify God and live peacefully. Does that mean we should also advocate slavery in the Western world in our day? Would this be a good way to live out the command: Love your neighbor as yourself? Beside the overall message of servanthood, the specific teachings of mutuality (1 Cor. 7) and submission and self-sacrifice (Eph. 5) between a husband and wife don’t support one person ruling over another. So we don’t find support in Genesis for the first point that the hierarchy was set up there. [Note: for objections using I Cor. 11, please see discussion above. For objections using I Tim. 2, please see Notes On I Tim.2 in the Appendix.].


We will now deal with the second argument for the necessity of giving husbands the duty of being in authority. Although it is traditionally assumed that because a wife is told to submit to her husband, therefore he is to have authority over her; a closer look at what this would also assume, shows that this is not valid. If it is insisted that because a wife is told to submit, then the husband should have authority over her; wouldn’t it also be consistent to say that because a husband is told to lay down his life for his wife, then she should demand that he do so and tell him what she needs him to do for her and he must do it? Is it necessary for a husband to have authority, for a wife to submit? What will lead to better submission -- one based on the authority of the other person, or one based on the resolve of the person doing the submitting because of Christ? Wouldn’t the latter better encourage the wife to not only do what the husband requires, but to go beyond, to seek to please him as much as she can in whatever he merely desires? In Eph.6, this is the basis for Paul’s call to slaves to he obedient to masters. This relationship would inherently involve an aspect of authority. Although many marriages of that day would also involve the husband having authority over his wife (and would also today in other cultures that are based on something other than the Bible) it does not have to be required in our marriages today in our Western culture. Paul does not require it. I’m not saying Christ doesn’t have authority over the church. He does! He has all authority. But is that the aspect of Christ that the husband is told to emulate? Even though this passage clearly shows that the self-sacrificing aspect of Christ is what the husband is to follow, some will dismiss this in favor of the authority aspect which isn’t even mentioned for the husband (see The International Critical Commentary and the Translators Handbook in the list of reference materials). Ephesians 5:15-21 tells us how to live as children of the light. Verse 21 says, “and be subject to one another in the fear of the Lord.” If we are going to assume that because the wife is told o submit to her husband that it is because he does have and/or should have authority over her, would we then also say that we have authority over each other because we are told to submit to one another? When we admonish one another, does the authority lie in us or in the Scripture we use? The word ‘submit’ (or be subject) is the same in both places. In fact, it doesn’t actually appear in verse 22, but is brought down from verse 21. So most would agree that one person submitting to another doesn’t necessitate the other person having authority over them.


The support beyond this, then, for the husband-wife hierarchy is that the husband is never told to submit to his wife and the wife is never told to take authority over her husband. (Even if these statements were accurate, would that be a basis for the husband to have an authority over a wife that a wife is forbidden to have? If so, then following the same reasoning, wives should be forbidden to lay down their lives for their husbands! Neither of these statements are valid support for several reasons. Given the concept of mutual submission in verse 21, if a husband and wife are believers, then a husband is told here to submit to his wife. Once again, the verb in verse 21 is assumed (but not actually stated), so it would be presumptuous to say it is a different kind of submission. Even so some would say that submission “is the essence of femininity.” But as we look at the whole New Testament, from the Sermon on the Mount to the epistles, we see that submission is more the essence of Christianity. Verse 22 tells a wife to submit herself to her own husband. We see the unity of the relationship being stressed and preserved again. Just as the church is not to put any other before pleasing Christ, so a wife is to submit to her husband, not to what another man may want instead. This is the way to keep unity and peace in the relationship. This fits well with other passages dealing with the head-body metaphor in relation to Christ and his church:


The church is Christ’s body and he is her head (Eph 4:l6ff.), the two cannot be severed. In this unity of head and body, Christ directs the growth of the body to himself; he is not merely the source of being of the body (1 Cor 10:16ff.) but also the consummation of its life (Eph 4:l6ff.). Hence to give allegiance to any other spiritual mediator, as was being done at Colossae, cuts the vital link between the limbs and Christ the head, who is the source of all their being (Col 2:18ff.) [see the comments from The Illustrated Bible Dictionary in the reference materials].  The alternative will bring division and strife. Verse 24 points out that this must be in everything to be complete, just as it must be to the Lord.


The last support for this hierarchy is that the wife is never told to take authority over her husband. This, too, is not valid because 1) the husband is also never told to take authority over his wife, and 2) the only place where a husband is specifically given authority over (exousia) his wife, is the same place where the wife is given authority over her husband (I Cor. 7:4)! We see once again, things which lead to a unity between two individuals: two people created for a side-by-side companionship, which has been marred by sin and the curse resulting from it.


The last argument, that because Christ has authority over the church so the husband has authority over the wife, was dealt with above. Beside the fact that we would not ascribe all aspects of Christ’s relationship to the church also to the husband in relationship to his wife (e.g. perfect love, knowledge, strength, etc.) we have seen that the parallel given relates to love and self-sacrifice without mention, much less requirement of, authority.


Note: None of this lessens the wife’s submission (in fact, it only broadens it, if anything). If a husband and wife, or even just the husband, want a marriage with the husband in authority over the wife, the wife is called to submit. This is what she will be held accountable for. In a Christian marriage, the husband will be held accountable for sacrificing for and loving his wife. If his conscience is clearest by having authority over his wife in order to do this and to be one with her, then it is not explicitly forbidden here. It is a liberty issue, not a mandate and is subject to all the other qualifications a liberty is subject to: is it wise, is it expedient, will it minister/edify, is it done to serve or as an occasion for the flesh, etc.



1. Berkeley & Alvera Mickelsen, “What Does Kephale Mean in he New Testament?,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Micklesen (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), pp. 97-99.

2. Phillip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, pp. 118-119.

3. Mickelsen & Mickelsen, “What Does Kephale Mean in the New Testament?,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Micklesen, pp. 99-100.

4. Ibid., p. 100.

5. Phillip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, p. 120.

6. Ibid., p.123.

7. Mickelsen & Micicelsen, “What Does Kephale Mean in the New Testament?,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Micklesen, p. 104.

8. Phillip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, pp. 123-124.

9. Ross Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings (New York, N.Y.:Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 118.

10. Philip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. AIvera Mickeisen, pp. 119-120.

11. Ibid., p. 121.

12.. Wayne Grudem, “Appendix I: The Meaning of Kephale,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1091), p. 449.

13. Walter L. Liefeid, “Women, Submission and Ministry in I Corinthians,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, p. 136.

14. Ibid., p.145.

.15. Ibid., p.146.

16. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament Vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdnans Publishing Co, 1983), p. 185.



List of Reference Materials


Encyclopedia of the Bible, Walter Elwell (1980) Greek philosophers used the image of the body to represent

the universe. The head of this body -- called Zeus or Reason --  was considered responsible for the creation and sustenance of the remaining members (celestial beings, humans, animals, plants and inanimate objects). The universe or ”body” owed its existence to the “head.”

The apostle Paul drew from the Old Testament metaphorical understanding of the term to express the authority of God over Christ, Christ over man, and man over woman (I Cor. 11:3-16, Eph. 5:23).


The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (1962)

A characteristic biblical usage, apparently unknown to secular Greek, is that of the term “head” for the leading member of a family (Ex 6:14) or community (Deut 33:5). Consequently it can be used to mean simply “source of authority” as in depicting the superiority of man to woman in marriage (Eph 5:23).


Greek & English Lexicon Edward Robinson pp. 397-398

THE HEAD.  1. Pr. of man - as the principal part, put emphatically for the whole person Acts 18:6

Trop. of persons the head, the foremost, chief, e.g. the head of the corner the chief cornerstone, the main foundation.  2. Trop. of persons i.e. the head, the chief one to whom others are subordinate

e.g.-- a husband in relation to a wife I Cor 11:3 Eph 5:23 -- of Christ in relation to the church, which is his body 1 Cor 11:3 --  of God in relation to Christ I Cor 11:3.


An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vine

HEAD:  1. natural significance  2. figuratively — your blood be on your own heads

3. metaphorically, of the authority or direction of God in relation to Christ, of Christ in relation to believing men, of the husband in relation to his wife (I Cor 11:3)  -- of Christ in relation to the church Eph 1:22, 4:15; Col. 1:18, 2:19  -- of Christ in relation to principalities and powers Col 2:10.  As to 1 Cor 11:10, taken in connection with the context, the word “authority” probably stands, by metonymy, for a sign of authority

-- is used of Christ as foundation of the spiritual building with its cornerstone Matt 21:42.


The International Critical Commentary, Driver, Plummer and Briggs

Special injunctions to husbands and wives.  Wives to be subject to their husbands, husbands to love their wives. This relationship is illustrated by that of Christ and the Church. As Christ is the Head of the Church, which is subject to Christ, so the husband is head of the wife, who is to be subject to the husband; and Christ’s love for the Church is to be the pattern of the man’s love for his wife. The analogy, indeed, is not perfect, for Christ is not only the Head of the Church which is His body, but is also the Savior of it; but this does not affect the purpose of the comparison here.


Translator’s Handbook, Bratcher and Nida 1982

For a husband “has authority” -- Christ’s authority derives from His love for the church and his self-sacrifice in its behalf. This aspect of the relationship of the Christ to the church has no counterpart in the relationship of the husband to the wife; the analogy between the two relationships is not exact.


Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G. Kittel 1965 p. 673

A. outside the N T first, supreme or extreme “head” of a man, point, top, end or point of departure the mouth of a river also its source -- 2nd aspect prominent, outstanding or determinative head is first and chief member of body -- 3rd whole man.  “It will be see in secular usage kephale is not employed for the head of society. This is 1st found in the sphere of the Greek OT.  2. The LXX adopts the Greek use. The implied element of what is superior or determinative is expressed in the LXX along with the sense of “man” or “person.” To be sure, there is no express reference to Israel as the kephale over others….


The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 615

The head is not regarded as the seat of intellect, but as the source of life (Matt 14:8, 18; Jn 19:30) -- lift up head, grant life in the sense of success (Judges 8:28 Ps 27:6 Gen 40:13) -- to cover head -- mourn loss of life (2 Sam 13:19, La 2:10).  Figuratively, headship denotes superiority of rank and authority over another (Judges 11:11; 2 Sam 22:44) though when Christ is spoken of as head of this body the church (Eph 5:23;Col 2:19), of every man ( I Cor 11:3) of the entire universe (Eph 1:22) and of every cosmic power (Col 2:10) and when man is spoken of as the head of the woman (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23; cf Gen 2:21f) the basic meaning of head as the source of life and energy is predominate.  The church is Christ’s body and he is her head (Eph 4:15f), the two cannot be severed. In this unity of head and body, Christ the head directs the growth of the body to himself; he is not merely the source of being of the body (1 Cor 10:16f) but also the consummation of its life (Eph 4:15f). Hence to give allegiance to any other spiritual mediator, as was being done at Colossae, cuts the vital link between the limbs and Christ the head, who is the source of all their being (Col 2:18f).



The following is a list of critiques of Grudem’s article, “Does Kephale (‘Head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples” published in the Trinity Journal. 6 NS (1985): 38-59:


Gordon Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament, I Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) pp. 502-503, footnotes 42-46.


Richard S. Cervin, “Does Kephale Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” Trinity Journal 10 NS (1989), pp. 85-112.


Berkeley and Alvera Micklesen, “What Does Kephale Mean in the New Testament?” and Philip Payne, “Response,” Women, Authority and the Bible (Downer’s Grove,IL: Intervarsity Press, 1985), pp. 97-110 and pp.118-132.


Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), pp.215-252.