Monday, June 14, 2010

Not a slam dunk

There has been a discussion on Cheryl's blog, where a commenter is very sure that kephale, meaning "head," as in the object on top of your neck, is a slam dunk for "authority". He perhaps thinks this because he has read this entry.

the head, both of men and often of animals. Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment.
metaph. anything supreme, chief, prominent
of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife
of Christ: the Lord of the husband and of the Church
of things: the corner stone"

However, if you were to look in a dictionary of classical Greek, i.e. English-Greek dictionary: a vocabulary of the Attic language by S. C. Woodhouse, you would not see either kephale or authenteo, as equivalents for the English word "authority."

One may argue that this is because Hellenistic Greek was just that different. In fact, the main difference in the lexicons is that one dictionary is theologically motivated and the other is not. Lexicons of classical Greek routinely include meanings from Hellenistic Greek.

Kephale was not a Greek term for "master" or "lord" occuring in any context other than interpretations of verses in the New Testament itself. There is no outside confirmation of this use, except that the word kephale was used for Jephthah. This is an unusual use of the word in the Septuagint, and is rarely discussed. I would be interested in discussing why, of all leaders in the Greek Old Testament, only Jephthah was called kephale.

This is an interesting topic for discussion - but not a slam dunk. Someone needs to mention to me one other person besides Jephthah, outside of the New Testament (but preceding or at the same time as the NT) who was ever called the kephale of a person or group that he or she was in authority over.


Donald Johnson said...

JPS Jdg 11:9 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead: 'If ye bring me back home to fight with the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, I will be your head.'
Jdg 11:10 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah: 'The LORD shall be witness between us; surely according to thy word so will we do.'
Jdg 11:11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.

The words translated as head is rosh, which is used for the prominent day of the year, etc. So I think it means the most prominent person in the group, as he was the son of a prostitute, this claim would mean something to him, as well as being their leader.

Kristen said...

In light of "kephale" also meaning the soldier who went first into battle, and that this passage is specifically referencing Jephthah as involved in battle, the word "kephale" in the Septuagint might have something to do with the fact that the translators were thinking of him as "the one who goes first into battle."

Mark said...


I assume this post is about me. However, i'm a little disappointed.

IF i am reading you correct, you are saying to ignore or Koine Greek focused lexicons because they are theologically based and therefore biased.

Then you say we should stick with the clasical lexicon (i assume you mean Lidell) because it must be less biased.
Is this really what you are saying?

Let's reverse this, and say that Lidell is just not correct because it's coverage period is so broad. In fact, what would be more accurate, a lexicon that focuses on the period in question or a lexicon that covers a 1500year period.

I'm rather astonished at this post. I respect you as a scholar, but this sort of proof argument lacks any real evidence to persuade people.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for stopping by.

Liddell Scott and Woodhouse do not mention "authority" as a meaning of kephale. We agree on that.

However, the TDNT does mention "master/lord." But kephale only has this meaning in the verses which we are enquiring about. Doesn't it seem odd to you that there are no other examples in all of Greek literature, in 1500 years, that the word kephale means "authority over" (except Jephthah.) Actually there is nowhere that the word kephale is translated as "master/lord." The master is not the kephale of his slave. I am suprised at this entry in the TDNT. Is kephale really equivalent to kurios and despotes?

How did the meaning of authority come to be assumed for kephale? In fact, other lexicons of the Greek language do not support this meaning.

We are trying to look for evidence outside of the NT to find out what the word means in the NT. At least, I assume that is why one would use a lexicon.

Kephale certainly seems to be associated with prominence. However, it is clear that men had a position in society that was above the status of women. There is no disagreement with that.

The question is whether God has designated the husband to be the authority over the wife, and whether God has endowed men with commensurate superior qualities suitable for this task.

Mark said...

I can't follow your argument Sue. Are you trying to tell me that outside the New Testament, kephale is never used to refer to one person in authority over another?

By the end of your comment, it seems like you changed this. You affirmed that men were prominent (and i assume you mean in authority) but the assert that this was not God given. So are you then confirming that prominance is a better translation, yet that it is not God given.

Basically i'm confused- you say kephale is never used as authority, but then confirm that the man had authority but that it is only cultural. To me, to say that it never connotes authority would mean that in Eph 5, or 1 Cor 11 authority or prominance is not the meaning.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

There is a case where a person was considered prominent, more famous, better known than his father. He was not in authority over his father. I am claiming that prominence is a different meaning than authority.

Yes, men are more prominent historically than women. This is a fact. I do not believe that this in any way means that God gives men authority over women.

Mark said...

What is that case, and why are you basing your whole theology on that one instance of the greek wrod.

Can you confirm whether you did actually mean that outside the NT, kephale is never used to mean that one person is in authority over another.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

There are only two examples. The first is in the LXX and it refers to Jephthah. It is a translation of the Hebrew. The second is in the Shepherd of Hermas, and this was written in Rome, simultaneously written in Latin, and is second century AD.

So these are the only two examples among all of Greek literature. It is a frail foundation.

In Hebrew and in Latin, the word for "head" did refer to a leader, but there is no other example of this in the Greek language apart from the two I have referred to.

Donald Johnson said...

It is not even clear to me that kephale with Jephthah means leader, he IS a leader, but the kephale can refer to something else about him and I think it does.

Anonymous said...

Kristen commented "In light of "kephale" also meaning the soldier who went first into battle". Could you tell me where this definition comes from. I read it in John Temple Bristow's book, but cannot find a reference for it. It makes sense in Ephesians 5:23, but I'm looking for the original source. Thanks.