Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kephale in the literature

    In these texts the word kephalē is applied to many people in authority, but to none without governing authority:

    • the king of Egypt is called "head" of the nation
    • the general of an army is called the "head" of the army
    • the Roman emperor is called the "head" of the people
    • the god Zeus is called the "head" of all things
    • David as king of Israel is called the "head" of the people
    • the leaders of the tribes of Israel are called "heads" of the tribes
This is the evidence of some complementarians. Would it surprise you to know that not even once is kephalē used in connection to any of the authority relationships which we believe God has ordained in the Hebrew scriptures?

Not once is the word kephalē used in the Septuagint or in ancient Greek literature preceding the Bible in the following expressions,
  • head of the nation
  • head of the people
  • head of the tribe
  • head of the family
  • head of the army
Instead, we find that the king of Egypt is head of the kings in his own family line, those who precede and follow him. Zeus is the beginning of all things, David is called the head of the Gentiles, the leaders of the tribes are called "heads" of staffs, and the kephalē is a raiding party in Job 1:17.

The citations which verify this claim are found here. While the term "head" is used in the occasional metaphor and is applied to Jephthah when he is named a commander, it is not used in the way that is suggested by the quotes provided to prove that it means an "authority."

It would be more appropriate in literature making claims for the meaning of "authority," to either provide complete citations as evidence, or withdraw some of the claims .

How about the meaning "source" then? This comes from the lexicon entries indicating that kephalē was sometimes used as a synonym for arché, meaning "beginning," "origin" or "source." Other meanings for kephalé were "noblest" and "the upper part."

I will leave any further explanation of what "head of" means in the Bible to the theologians. However, I merely ask that you be open to being aware that the evidence for "authority" is considerably weaker than what is currently being claimed.

It would be useful when considering the basis for gender relations to remember that the word "help" boēthos, which woman is surely named, was used for God in the Septuagint and for Christ in Clement.


Anonymous said...

Your essay is clear and thoughtful. However, the real question is, what is the significance of kephale, as used in 1 Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:23 in the real and practical applications to the marriage relationship? If it has none, we may as well cut these verses out of our Bibles. So, what is your application of these passages?

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hello Ed,

I believe that the two passages use kephale in different ways. There was no expression in Greek "head of ____" as there is in English.

In 1 Cor. 11:3, it relates specifically to gender.

This is a passage from Cyril of Alexandria, (died AD 444), De Recte Fide ad Pulch. 2.3, 268.

Therefore of our race he become first head κεφαλη, which is the αρχη, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as κεφαλη, which is αρχη, of those who through him have been formed anew unto him unto immortality through sanctification in the spirit. Therefore he himself our αρχη, which is head, has appeared as a human being: indeed, he, being by nature God, has a κεφαλη, the Father in heaven. For, being by nature God the Word, he has been begotten from Him. Because κεφαλη means αρχη, He established the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the κεφαλη of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore one Christ and Son and Lord, the one having as κεφαλη the Father in heaven, being God by nature, became for us a “head” accordingly because of his kinship according to the flesh.

So, the question is whether αρχη is to be understood as having its very common and primary meaning of "beginning" or "origin" or "source" or whether, on the other hand, it can possibly be construed as "authority." I have never heard Adam described as our "authority."

A close reading of this passage reveals that Christ, who was always our ruler, only became our κεφαλη when he took on kinship with us according to the flesh. As a human, Christ is of the same flesh as man. Compare with 1 Cor. 15. This is a cosmic discussion. The head is of the same kind as the body.

Concerning Eph. 5, I am a myself a single mother, not by choice, and am increasingly aware that mothers are the primary providers in about half of families. I read the scripture from this perspective, as Lydia, or Chloe.

I believe that a woman should respect her husband and be grateful to God if she has a husband to provide for her.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Suzanne, for your response.

I do wish to probe a little further, however, as an honest inquirer and not as an antagonist.

First, if I am understanding Cyril of Alexandria correctly, he says that Christ is the head of all those who have been "formed anew unto Him"-- whether male or female. But the 1 Cor. 11:3 passage specifically refers to Christ being the head of every male. When Christ took on kinship to us as our "kephale" it was a kinship to both male and female. So, if the man is the head of the woman, in what sense did the male take on kinship to the female that is analagous to the kinship of Christ and the man?

Furthermore, the comparison to 1 Cor. 15:21 is not valid because in this passage it is by "anthropos", not by "aner", which brought death into the world.

Secondly, I am not sure what you mean exactly by the word "respect" for one's husband, since we should respect everyone-- their feelings, desires, dignity, and so on. Should the wife's respect for her husband go beyond this?

I am definitely in agreement with those of an egalitarian view that "kephale" does not mean "despotes". But neither does it always mean "arche". As you know very well, words have a range of meanings, and must be interpreted by their context or several contexts by the same author.

I appreciate your comments as I will be speaking to the ladies of our church tomorrow on this subject, and I wish to present a Biblically accurate perspective.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I'll comment on the specifics later, but I wrote a quick post to clarify some of my concerns.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Suzanne.

So far, I have no argument with your examples of men who abuse women. This is both reprehesible and inhumane, and nothing in Scripture-- by anyone's interpretation-- justifies this.

However, "authority" does not necessarily mean oppression or abuse. Christ Himself exercises authority; and this is the example which husbands are to imitate. Yes?

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I do not see where the scriptures say that men are to have authority over women. Submission can be within a context of mutuality. Look at my other posts on submission in egalitarian resources on the sidebar.
I believe that putting women "under authority" deprives them of full adulthood, and makes them vulnerable to abuse, and ill equipped to lead the single parent family, which many have to do through no fault of there own.

Christ is Lord, however, I do not believe that there is ever any use of kephale meaning lord in Greek. Therefore, one must not lose sight of what the scriptures teaches -

man - woman
head - body
Christ - church
sacrifice - submit
love - respect

This is what the scriptures teach.
I am not aware of any verse which puts which says that any Christian has authority over any other Christian. What would a person quote to porve that? I don't know.

I do not accept that it is good enough to say that being under authority is not necessarily abuse. That cannot possibly the teaching of an ideal relationship, that it is not "necessarily" abuse.

Women are adults and to have them deprived of the ability to be the true parent of their children, to make decision on par with the father and husband, distorts the relationship seriously and makes it no longer reflect the mutuality which is taught in so many scriptures. It contravenes the law of Christ, to treat others as you would be treated.

I am surprised to see certain verses taken so seriously although mistakenly, and others disregarded. Does not 1 Tim. 5 teach that the woman is the "head of the house." She is the oikodespotes, the mistress of the house. The scriptures are clear on this and yet I have never heard a sermon preached on woman, the "head of the house." I believe the first responsibility of the pastor is to ensure that members are not abused. That means that women must be strengthened to make decisions as adults, and not put themselves under authority. They must use all their critical faculties to keep themselves from living under abuse. Sadly, men too are abused. However, I never heard a man that wanted his abusive wife to submit or be obedient, but rather wondered why she lacked in love and respect, which a man can truly want, and suffers for lack of.

Any man who asks submission of his wife is on the road to abuse. Abuse should be prevented and not remediated.

I hope you realize that I write out of sincerity and not out of rebellion. I am, as I said, outside of marriage. I hope that single women can be respected to as the heads of their families.

It is just for these many misunderstandings that I believe that the leadership in a church must be of male and female both.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I will get back to the passages later tonight. But my point is that with so much suffering in the world today, why add to it?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, Suzanne.

I believe I can understand your pain, or at least that you have pain.

But I also believe that if the father of your children were to follow Christ's example of loving and giving up himself entirely so that you could be cherished and glorified; and if you were willing to submit to his Christ-honoring leadership in the home, you would be a very happy woman. If either your part or his part were missing, you would both be miserable.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I will overlook your personal comment and continue.

A woman has no control over whether her husband loves or abuses her. Sadly, this cannot be controlled by the woman, so it cannot have useful role in teaching women. The wife can only set up boundaries to protect herself, but must believe in her own ability and right to protect the integrity of her health and safely and that of the children. She must be in a position to prevent the abuse, and not only to react to it after the fact. That is the way of suffering for all and most of all the children. I have heard the stories of many people.

No one looking on from the outside will ever know what is happening in the home. If a pastor cannot say something that is safe for everyone who is listening, then he or she is better off saying nothing. I am certain that you are concerned about the safety of those under your teaching. Maybe you could invest in several books on spousal abuse, and the books of Cloud and Townsend who teach boundary setting from a complementarian perspective. Only after carefully considering this issue would it be appropriate to address women on the broader topic of submission, which I believe the scriptures teach as a mutual obligation.

To proceed with the discussion -

I am still not aware of where the scriptures tell the husband to have a leadership role. I have never seen this cited. We know that "head" cannot mean "head of the house" since the Greek word "head of the house" is used for the woman in 1 Tim. 5.

Eph. 5 clearly says that Christ is the head of the church and gives himself for it. It does not say that Christ is the head of the church and tells it what to do.

There is no scriptural base for the leadership of the husband. So we must seek another meaning for "head." I have shown you what the scriptures do say.

Regarding 1 Cor. 11. the entire argument of Cyril hangs on Adam being the pivot. Adam is both aner and anthropos, so the metaphor cannot be understood unless one puts the name Adam in instead of aner. (Adam can be both aner and anthropos in Greek.) Then it becomes clear that Christ, who is ruler, only becomes head when he takes on the form of a human, and becomes the second Adam, who is a male. As man is to the human Christ, akin in nature, so is woman to man, akin in nature.

This seems to me to be what Cyril is saying and I believe that it needs to be seriously considered. I would warmly welcome your further thoughts on what you think Cyril meant. I am still in the process of exploring what these verses and terms do mean.

I do know of a case where kephale means arche, but I know of no case where kephale means exousia. What are your thoughts on these words?