Friday, February 22, 2008

Head of the house

I have had a question in the comments regarding another citation of kephale in Greek literature. It is found in Shepherd of Hermas, SIMILITUDE 7 as η κεφαλη του οικου - "the head of the house," referring to the father of a family.

This citation seems to demonstrate that kephale can refer to the organizational leader in an unequivocal way. However, it is worth pointing out that Grudem did not choose to make a reference to this citation when he presented his evidence that kephale meant authority.

The first reason for this that comes to my mind is that this citation is from the 2nd century AD and, therefore, might not be thought of as evidence for the meaning of kephale in the scriptures.

Another reason might be that this reference to the "head of the house" does not seem to entail authority. The character in Shepherd of Hermas who is mentioned as being the head of the house, suffers for the sins of the members of his house. And yet, there is no suggestion that he has sinned himself in allowing them to sin. This passage is not about authority but representation.

Nevertheless, this single use of "head of house" in Greek referring to a person, deserves to be mentioned. However, I remain unconvinced that in 1 Cor. 11, the phrase "man is the head of woman" refers to authority and submission.

What concerns me most in all attempts to align authority with gender is that this does not reflect the real world either now or at the time of the epistles. Now "head of the household" is a technical term for the person who contributes over half of the household income and has at least one dependent.

In our present day many women are the "head of the house" whether they want to be or not. In the Greek scriptures many women also appear to have been the "head of their house" - Lydia, Nympha, Chloe, Phoebe, the elect lady, etc.

The main difficulty for me is that most people agree that responsibility and authority should be linked. If you are responsible for your children in law, then you should have some authority over them. It is frankly impossible to deprive women of responsibility and therefore, of their authority.

In my opinion, for what it is worth, 1 Cor. 11 is saying something about gender. However, it is not, in the real world, possible to attribute responsibility and authority to men only. Many women care for their husbands and/or children. Therefore, the meaning "man is the head of woman" must have some other meaning, which can be gender-based.

I believe that this passage refers to Christ as the second Adam. God is the head of Christ (Adam), Adam is the head of Eve, and Christ (Adam) is the head of man. Or, conversely, Christ is of God, Eve is of Adam, and man is of Christ (Adam). This links us all as one in nature.

On the other hand, if we make God the ruler of Christ, and man the ruler of woman, we then deprive woman of being ruled by Christ as man is. We deprive woman of her relationship to the divine - we impair the function of woman as an individual in direct relation to God. She no longer has the same citizenship rights as man, since these depend on the fact that God has created each human as an individual in relation to him.

I claim that making man the ruler of woman, defaces our humanity, both man and woman. Man is the head of woman, mandates that man treat woman as one who is of the same genus and species as himself.

We can, after all, say that man is the ruler of dog, but we cannot, nor does the scripture allow, that man is the head of dog. Man is not of the same genus or species as dog. To say man is the head of dog, defaces man and dog. To say man is the ruler of woman defaces man and woman. Woman cannot be in the same relation to man as dog is without man losing his humanity.

That doesn't mean that I don't love my dog as many people do. My affection does not lessen the fact that I am his mistress. However, we are simply not able to extend this relationship between me and my dog to a relationship between man and woman without redefining our terms.


Unknown said...


I'm inclined to think that it would probably deface the dog more so.

In general, (and of course there are always exceptions)wolves and canines are more civilized than men.

solarblogger said...

The language of Ephesians 5 has some parallels in Romans 13. They might be read side-by-side, with possible renderings and implications of one influencing or limiting possible renderings and implications of the other.

And Matthew 28:18 must be kept in mind in any discussion of authority.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

RI see that Romans 13 does mention authority and submission. However, the passages from Clement mention submission, both in the context of authority AND in the context of mutuality or Christian brotherhood. The mention of submission for one person does not entail authority for the other.

I agree that one ought to submit to authority. However, today, mother and father are equally the authority for their children in law. The husband is not in law the authority over the wife. This is highly significant in law, in cases of illness or crime and responsibility or financial responsibility. The scriptures cannot make the man solely responsible for the finances whether we like it or not.

So, I think we have to be realistic about this and say that, either something is being said about gender and the sameness of man and woman as a species, OR that whoever is financially responsible (man or woman) deserves respect. You cannot make a male responsible because of his gender.

solarblogger said...

Okay, I see now. I hadn't read the Similitude passage. Your overall direction makes sense to me, so far as the passage goes. Especially as to what we cannot conclude from it.

My parallel with Romans was as much to see what Ephesians could say to how we read Romans as vice-versa. Some want to read Romans 13 as if there were no exceptions. There clearly must be, though. We either have to frame a strict idea of legitimate rule or just say there are exceptions. (And where will we find the description of the strict idea of legitimate rule? It seems better to me to say you have an exception when the situation cannot be read into the passage without laughing. Try reading "Hitler" in Romans 13 where it reads "authority.") Likewise with any submission in Ephesians.