Friday, July 03, 2009

Grudem, Ptolemy and kephale

This post is a review of what Grudem wrote in his Open Letter to Egalitarians. Grudem wrote,
    But we have never been able to find any text in ancient Greek literature that gives support to your interpretation. Wherever one person is said to be the "head'' of another person (or persons), the person who is called the "head'' is always the one in authority (such as the general of an army, the Roman emperor, Christ, the heads of the tribes of Israel, David as head of the nations, etc.) Specifically, we cannot find any text where person A is called the "head'' of person or persons B, and is not in a position of authority over that person or persons.
I think it is important to make it clear that of these examples, none use the word kephale to say that any person was the "head" of anything. For example, the citation about the general says that the general is like the head of the body. There is no instance in ancient Greek where the general is called the "head of the army" as we might say in English.

Two of the examples here, David, and the "heads" of tribes, are both embedded in obscure translation Greek, and in fact, one says "heads of rods" and the other says "head of gentiles/nations."

There is only one case in all of Greek literature where kephale is used to say that a person was a leader, and this is in reference to Jephthah. He was called the head of the tribe.

In another case, in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Grudem cites Philo. Here is the Greek and the English, from Fitzmeyer, page 86,
    Philo speaks of Ptolemy II Philadelphus as one who was outstanding among the Ptolemies and expresses it thus,

      genoumenos kathaper en zōō to hēgemoneuon kephalē tropon tina tōn basileōn

      being, as the head is the leading part in a living body, in some sense the head of kings [of the Ptolemaic dynasty]. (De Vita Mosis 2.5.30)

Grudem perhaps is depending on the same interpretation as Fiztmeyer. Here are my concerns with this text.

First, in Philo, we do see the head - kephale - used as the ruler of the body. The question is whether a person who is referred to as a kephale, is a ruler, or just a very prominent person.

1) Philadelphus II, is, as his name suggests, NOT the head of the Ptolemaic dynasty at all - his father was. So, Ptolemy is referred to as kephale, but he is not in authority over his father.

2) Philadelphus is being described in this passage as more illustrious than the other kings for doing a good deed, for having the Hebrew scriptures translated into Greek. There is no reference in this passage to Philadelphus being the ruler over other kings.

3) Philadelphus is not actually called "head" - this has been inserted in translation. Its a comparison or analogy. There is no phrase here which can be translated as "head of kings" or "head of the nation."

4) The Greek phrase en zōō to hēgemoneuon is extremely obscure and has been translated elsewhere as "leader of the herd." [edited] It says, "just as the head is the leading place of the living creature, so [Philadelphus] of kings."

I hope this gives you some idea of how obscure and tenuous these citations are. Although the head is considered the leader of the body in Philo, there is no expression in Greek which uses the word "head" for a person who is a leader. There is no expression "head of state" or "head of the army." It is not until a century after the NT, that there occurs only once in all of Greek literature, the expression "head of the house." This appears to be a passage written in Rome and perhaps influenced by Latin, which uses caput frequently to denote a person who is a leader.

I don't think that the examples of kephale in Greek literature support Grudem's thesis. However, that does not mean that the author of Ephesians does not see the wife as having a different status than the husband. It is quite possible he does. This is the way it was then. Does that justify it?

In my opinion, we should not seek to put the wife on a different level from the husband, any more than we should aspire to return to slave labour. Perhaps the author of Ephesians does think of a wife as entirely dependent on her husband, as someone who must fear and reverence her husband. Each generation has to work out how to translate this into a relationship that is not based on "fear."


Peter Kirk said...

I'm surprised that you say that in the Philo passage is "the Greek is too obscure to translate". It seems to me rather elementary. First, we don't have zōē "life" but zōon "living creature". I would translate "having become, just as in a living creature the governing (thing is) the head, in some way (the governing one) of the kings". So what is elided in the second part is not kephalē but to hēgemoneuon.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Serves me right for doing this in the middle of the night! But why not say that then. Why has Fistmeyer put in body?

Suzanne McCarthy said...

If you read the passage as a whole, nothing is mentioneed about Philadelphus "governing" but just about him being "ahead of the other kings in reputation." I accept that it could mean governing, as Philo uses kephale that way elsewhere, but he also uses kephale as the "model" to be emulated elsewhere.

In any case, Philadelphus is still not the authority over the other kings in his dynasty, so this doesn't quite make sense yet.

Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, the word I translated "governing" is hēgemoneuon. I accept "leading" as an alternative rendering. But I do think it means a bit more than "prominent". Surely it means doing the work of a hēgemōn, some kind of ruler. I suspect that Philo was trying to make the point that at least in animals the head controls the whole animal. But it is obscure what he means to say about Philadelphus.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I agree, except that it can also mean "to do something first."

The difficulty is that it can't say -

Philadelphus is "head of kings," as in "the authority over the other kings," because Fitzmeyer agrees that this refers to Philadelphus in relation to his own family line.

It can't mean that Philadelphus was "head of the nation" because it is not refering to him being the king of Egypt, but about him being a better king than the other kings.

Here is the passage in context,

"Some persons, thinking it a scandalous thing that these laws should only be known among one half portion of the human race, namely, among the barbarians, and that the Greek nation should be wholly and entirely ignorant of them, turned their attention to their translation. (28) And since this undertaking was an important one, tending to the general advantage, not only of private persons, but also of rulers, of whom the number was not great, it was entrusted to kings and to the most illustrious of all kings. (29) Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus, was the third in succession after Alexander, the monarch who subdued Egypt; and he was, in all virtues which can be displayed in government, the most excellent sovereign, not only of all those of his time, but of all that ever lived; so that even now, after the lapse of so many generations, his fame is still celebrated, as having left many instances and monuments of his magnanimity in the cities and districts of his kingdom, so that even now it is come to be a sort of proverbial expression to call excessive magnificence, and zeal, for honour and splendour in preparation, Philadelphian, from his name; (30) and, in a word, the whole family of the Ptolemies was exceedingly eminent and conspicuous above all other royal families, and among the Ptolemies, Philadelphus was the most illustrious; for all the rest put together scarcely did as many glorious and praiseworthy actions as this one king did by himself, being, as it were, the leader of the herd, and in a manner the head of all the kings." Philo. Moses II

Suzanne McCarthy said...

This is what Grudem says about Cervin,

Cervin does not think that head means ruler here because Philo says that Philadelphos is the head of kings, not in the sense of ruling them, but as the preeminent king among the rest. Philadelphos is the top of the kings just as the head is the top of an animal's body. .

I recognize that the word hegemon is ruler, but you can't say that Ptolemy is ruler of his own family line.

So, in some sense, this cannot be a definitive example of where person A is head of person B, and person A has authority over person B.

But I see where Grudem thinks this might be an example of that, except for the context.

Toppo said...


what do you make of all the other citations Dr Grudem offers?

What are your alternatives in terms of the Biblical passages? Do you support 'source'?