Monthly Archives: August 2012

Does ‘Head’ Mean Authority?


At the end of my last post I mentioned the debate about the meaning of kephale, or head, in the New Testament.  Since then I’ve realized how vast the resources are the subject, so this post will be a sprinkling of my thoughts on the subject, and links to more resources.

But first, I want to clarify the some things about this blog and myself:

~ The purpose of this blog is to explore, study, and discuss the Bible.  It is not to TEACH.  I do not claim to be a teacher. I do not have all of this figured out.  I am a student of the Bible, and the subject of gender roles interests me greatly.

~ Complementarianism is a fairly new teaching.  Prior to complementarianism, the Christian church taught that women were inferior and responsible for sin entering the world.  Society was heavily influenced by the church.  Therefore, society in general had a prejudice against women which was endorsed by the church(although prejudice against women came from other religions and secular ideas as well, not only from the Christian church).  This prejudice was challenged during the civil rights movement, and along came the idea for “roles” in the church and marriage relationships, which is a politically correct way to say the same thing people believed all along; women are inferior to men and must be under their authority.  Complementarianism is not “counter-cultural”.  The ideas taught in the complementarian model line up with what cultures believed all through the ages, until the past fifty years(these ideas have changed in the western world, but there are some modern cultures that are not egalitarian).  Again, I am not attempting to teach the previous statements; they are simply true, and with a bit of research anyone can find these things out.

~ This blog is not about being rebellious or divisive; it is about discovering the truth about gender and the Bible.  Shouldn’t we be certain that what we are taught is true, that it represents what the Bible says accurately?

Now onto the meaning of kephale.  Wayne Grudem claims his research proves the meaning of the word kephale/head in the New Testament is definitively authority/leader.  This view appears to be accepted without question by complementarians.  However, here is an article that shows how Grudem’s research is wanting.  Out of 2,336 instances of the word kephale in Greek literature, Grudem found 49 that mean authority.   That’s  only a 2.1% occurrence, which hardly proves that authority, as Grudem says, “is a ‘common and readily understood’ meaning of the word.”(1) The article by Richard S. Cervin goes on to explain why Grudem’s research is incomplete, and explains other possible meanings of kephale in Greek literature.  In my opinion, it is misleading to say that head always means leader in light of such scanty evidence.

There is no doubt, Christ is the kephale of the Church; the cornerstone.  The Church came out of Christ.  Christ brings unity to the Church as the head.  Christ’s headship of the church is characterised in Ephesians as building, nourishing, and unifying.  It is a metaphor for the unity of the marriage relationship, and in no way includes leadership or authority of husbands over wives.  When the NT talks about Christ being the head of the church and husbands being heads of their wives, it is referring to unity, not hierarchy.  Jocelyn Andersen asks in her book(2), “Can any man aside from Christ claim initiation or active participation in any act of headship?  The kephale of the women is the man. This is a simple act of existence.  This is simply information about the sequence of events which led to the wounding of the first human male’s body in order to form the human female.  The fact that the man is the head of the woman has nothing to do with hierarchy and everything to do with prepositional sequence of creation, and that is not something that can be ‘play-acted’ out…no human…can claim ‘headship’.  The fact that a man is called ‘the head’ of woman in no way confers a position of ‘headship’ upon men.  That position is reserved for Christ alone.”(author’s emphasis)

A husband does not have authority over his wife, or decision-making power(1 Corinthians 7:4-5).  “Every Christian has only one Lord and that is Jesus Christ, our Head, from whom the whole body originates and is fitly joined together and nourished.” ~ Jocelyn Andersen

No adult human being has the right, let alone “divine” right to be “lord” over, or make decisions for, any other adult human being…

~”Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” Matthew 23:10

~”You shall worship the Lord God, and him only you shall you serve.” Luke 4:8

~”For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5

~”We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

1.  Richard S. Cervin, ‘Does kephale(“head”) Mean “Source” or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature?’:  A Rebuttal, CBE International

2.  Jocelyn Andersen, Woman this is War! 2010  ~ Although the title of this book comes off as divisive, Andersen is simply quoting complementarian leader, John MacArthur, who states in his teaching, “The Fulfilled Family”, the following…”Gentlemen, don’t even think about marriage until you have mastered the art of warfare.”  (bold mine)  The Bible never teaches that men and women are in a battle with each other in life or in marriage.


To Lead or To Love?


The complementarian position consistently teaches that men are the leaders of their wives and households.  I’ve already established here that wives are actually the “heads” of the household.  I’d like to look at what the Bible says husbands are supposed to do in marriage.  (Emphasis is mine in all scripture references.)

~  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.”  ~Ephesians 5:25-28

~  “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”  ~Colossians 3:19

~  “Husbands, in the same way [be considerate as you](1) live with your wives, and treat them with respect(2) as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” ~1 Peter 3:7 (For more about this verse and a husband’s submission, see Margaret Mowczki’s blog, newlife.)

In a guest post on her blog, Rachel Held Evans’ husband Dan talks about leadership and “roles” in marriage:

He says of he and Rachel’s relationship ~  “Our life decisions are made in tandem.  We’re the ones leading our lives.  We aren’t battling over who’s leading who.”


~”Too many of us have succumbed to the idea that “leaders” are a specific type of people or that “leadership” is a character quality to be obtained like political capital – the more the better.  But I view leadership differently.  Leadership isn’t a goal.  Leadership is a role that comes and goes.  Wisdom and strength are what we should pursue.  Not leadership…In the context of roles, wisdom is discerning when to lead, and strength comes from consistently practicing wisdom.  Leadership is a role that changes hands depending on context.  In that light, it’s important to learn how to lead, not because you want to be “a leader”, but because when wisdom and strength have placed you in a position of leadership, you don’t want to screw it up.”(author’s emphasis)

Dan has a good hold on how leadership works in a marriage.  There are situations in marriage where one person takes the lead because they are better equipped to do so.  I myself have taken the lead in teaching our children about the Bible, simply because I’m the one in our marriage who enjoys spending her spare time studying the Bible.  This isn’t to say my husband doesn’t read the Bible, or that he never teaches the kids Biblical truths; he does these things on a regular basis.  But I’m the one in the marriage who has more time, more interest, and more gifting in this area, so I take the lead and the greater responsibility.

The Bible never commands men to pursue “leadership” as a role or character quality.  Yet complementarians continue to insist that men are the leaders of their wives.(3)

The Bible verses above make it clear that husbands are supposed to love their wives, care for them, and treat them with respect.  There is nothing about the husband being the leader or head of the household.  In a marriage, where there are only two people, there doesn’t need to be a leader, but there must be love.  The kind of love that has the power to put the other person before yourself.  The only way we can do this is through Jesus’ saving grace, by asking the Holy Spirit to change us and teach us, granting us wisdom and strength.


1.  The words, “be considerate as you” do not appear in the original Greek, which indicates that the “same way” husbands are to live with their wives is an extension of wives’ submission spoken in the previous verses.

2.  It is believed that men desire to be respected and women desire to be loved, but here we see Biblical evidence that husbands are to respect their wives.  All human beings want to be treated with respect, not just men.

3*.  In Ephesians 5:23, “head” is often interpreted as meaning “authority”, which would mean that husbands are the “authority” or “leaders” of their wives.  However, to be consistent with that interpretation, we must interpret 1 Corinthians 11:3 the same way.

1 Corinthians 11:3 says, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

If “head” means authority, then the verse could read like this: “Now I want you to realize that the authority of every man is Christ, and the authority of the woman is man, and the authority of Christ is God.”

So not only is the husband the “authority” of his wife(as in Ephesians 5:23), but this interpretation means that EVERY man is the authority of EVERY woman, because this passage of scripture isn’t talking about marriage; it’s talking about men and women in relation to head coverings during church meetings.  Yet some complementarians teach that women do not have to submit to the leadership/authority of anyone but their husbands.  But, in order to be consistent, complementarians should be teaching that ALL women should be subject to ALL men’s authority.  If “head” is translated as “authority” in Ephesians 5:23, then it should be translated as “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:3.  However, translating “head” as “source” rather than “authority” is more consistent with the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:3, because “the Bible never states that all women are to be under the authority of all men or should submit to all men.” ~ Man and Woman, One in Christ, Philip B. Payne,  2009.

*I will be exploring this idea further in my next post.