I believe in male headship.

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. (Ephesians 5:23)

But 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. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Kephale

The Greek word kephale is pivotal to understanding gender roles in Scripture. It is simply translated into English as head. Yet, it can refer to two things:

  • Literal, physical head, or a
  • Metaphorical symbol.

The meaning of the metaphorical symbol is what has caused the controversy. There are huge volumes of explanations on kephale meanings, and much debate. I can only re-write what I’ve read in my own words, in my own way. Its a humble attempt, I realize. 🙂

Intimate Sharing

I believe head (kephale) in the relevant gender passages means source. If something is a source, it fills what comes after it with its own essence. The source of a river is the same as the river, it just comes before and is the vehicle by which the river is.

In this manner, God is the head/source of Christ (Jesus).  We know the Word (pre-incarnate Jesus) was with God from the beginning in perfect union, but when the Word became flesh as Christ, He emptied His divinity to take on human form. Yet, even in His humanity, He was God. Why? Because He took the same essence as His source… God. God is the head of Christ.

In the same way, Christ is the source of spiritual man. We are filled with His Essence, His Spirit, and become children of God. What Christ is, He shares with us. And of course, Christ is the source of spiritual women too! Men do not save women. Jesus does. Men do not provide women spiritual life, Jesus does. Christ is the head of men and women.

But…

Women have two heads, two sources. Eve was pulled from Adam. She was Adam’s flesh and bone. He was her source. They were of the same stuff. Because of this shared essence, man is not superior. He is the same as her. Head and body, one.

We [modern English speakers] use the term [head] often for a person in authority (cf. ‘Heads of State’), but this usage was unknown in antiquity (except for a few passages in LXX). LSJ note usages of kephale for the whole person, for life, extremity, top (of wall or column), source, etc., but never for the leader of a group. S. Bedale reminds us that the functions of the central nervous system were not known to the ancients, who held that we think with the midriff, the phren. The head was thus not the controlling factor; we must seek its significance elsewhere.  ‘Head’ was used of the ‘source’ (as ‘head’ of a river)… Paul is saying that the woman derives her being from man, as man does from Christ and Christ from God. (Morris, Leon. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1 Corinthians. Inter-Varsity Press, England. p.149)

Not leader, Head.

The husband is the head of the wife. Its a fact. It is not something the husband becomes. It is not something the husband can NOT be. He is her head, regardless of action. No where does Paul instruct the husband to learn to be a better head. Paul instructs the husband on loving his wife, and states he is her head.

Beware the teaching that takes one interpretation of head and builds a vast structure of tradition on a debated meaning. Nowhere does Paul say the husband is the leader of the wife. He is her head.

Search for yourself how you will interpret kephale.

More reading:

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23 thoughts on “I believe in male headship.

  1. You say you believe in headship, then you don’t say what you think headship means except to say “It’s metaphorical” or it means nothing — or nothing that we can pin down or concretely understand. So you’re saying “I believe in metaphors.” It’s weird backwards-language. It’s very political. (In a bad way.)

    Be more Ron Paul about it, dangit.

    (This coming from a friend who read this post. I didn’t see this on my own.)

    He went on to say that we can see Headship as evidenced between the Father and Son. The Father is the Head of the Son. And we see the Son submits to the Father. Therefore, Headship is something that you submit to.

    I pointed out that this was a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc. Then he said he wasn’t drawing that point (necessarily), he was just expressing that Headship probably means something concrete.

    Which I can kinda see.

    Or maybe we’ve just been trained to need to get a practical “this is how you should behave now” lesson out of passages that are purely descriptive. Pastors needing lessons for every Sunday morning and such. Needing that salary.

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  2. “You say you believe in headship, then you don’t say what you think headship means except to say “It’s metaphorical” or it means nothing.”

    I didn’t? “I believe head (kephale) in the relevant gender passages means source.” The whole section of Intimate Sharing explains how I understand Head/Source.

    I wonder if its normal now to equate headship with leadership/authority? And that is confusing my post for your friend? I don’t believe in male authority, but I do believe in male headship, and I explain that as source or the beginning of the same essence.

    Maybe I don’t understand your complaint?

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  3. I can’t really answer this because I’m not him. Arguing for someone else was an interesting idea, but really kind of lame in reality. Oh well.

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  4. I dislike the term “headship” because turning “the state of being a head” into a noun in this way results in an English word that has the actual meaning “state of being in authority over,” which has no corresponding word in the koine Greek. There is no Greek word for “the state of being a head.” Being a “head” is not the same as having “headship.” So I will have to say that I do not believe in “headship,” as a concept found in the Bible at all. I believe that certain beings are described as being “head” of other beings, but that is as far as I will go.

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    1. As usual, good point Kristen. And that helps clarify the confusion Jaimie’s friend had. I used it in the title to get attention, but I guess since the English definition is set, it doesn’t work to re-define it.

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  5. Hi, i’m Jaimie’s friend. I didn’t want to be the random stranger coming into your blog and turning over chairs, so i just discussed it with her for a bit, and she posted her comment.

    I guess my question then is, what does being the “source” look like, practically? Are you simply acknowledging that Eve physically came from Adam, and that’s it? Being a “source” is a singular event, in that case.

    If being the “source” is something else, what does that mean? How would I as a husband be “source” to my wife? I guess that’s my question. You’re very clear on how that shouldn’t be enacted (incarnated) in a marriage, but less clear on how it should. You talk about the source filling what comes after with its essence. How does that work in marriage? Isn’t that *more* controlling than complementarianism, not less? Because the husband as source “fills out” the essence of his wife.

    OR, as you said that both are equal because both have Christ as source, does that mean the man’s position as head is done, because Christ is the true and better source for the woman? If that’s the case, what’s the point in bringing up headship in Ephesians 5?

    As I told Jaimie, I am having trouble understanding what exactly you’re getting at here. I guess I was looking for something a little more concrete.

    Trying to understand your perspective. I come from a different position on this issue, but I’m trying to listen better to others’ ideas.

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    1. Welcome friend Dave. 🙂 I like answering questions, but only if you like answering them too? I’ll ask one of you at the end.
      Since we are looking at a definition of a word that Paul uses elsewhere, it may help to look at those places.

      • Eph 1:22-23: Christ is appointed as head for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Christ is not head over the church, but for the church. Or on behalf of. His heaship is to fill the church with Himself, His Spirit.
      • Eph 4:15-16: Christ is the head from whom the whole body grows and builds itself up. Again, the head (Christ) grows the body. It strengths it. Its purpose is for the body.
      • Eph 5:23: Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is Savior. Notice Paul doesn’t say “of which He is LORD.” Which would be logical if head means authority. Christ as savior is a servant sacrifice for the church. Without a savior, there is no body, because he is the body’s source. The following passage commanding the husband to love and serve his wife backs this up.
      • Col 1:18-19: Christ is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead. In a passage that deals with the supremacy of Christ, His headship is linked with being the source of life for the church.
      • Col 2:19: They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Growth comes through the head. The head is the source of the growth.
      • 1 Cor 11:3: But 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. There are so many ways to interpret this order that I think are acceptable. But, we must beware changing Paul’s order. He starts with man on purpose and works around to God. It isn’t a direct chain of command order or he would have started either with the top (God) or the bottom (woman). One way to interpret it with source is: Paul starts at creation and works foward through time. Christ gave Adam life, Adam gave Eve life, God gave Christ resurrected life.

      This survey indicates that kephale is rooted in a different idea than authority. It means source or provider of life, the servant giver. Practically, what does that look like? Go back to Eph 5. Paul only tells the husband to do one thing (vs 25). Love. Paul gives only one reason (vs 31). Unity.

      I assume because you say you have a different opinion, you think head means authority. Where else does the New Testament use kephale to indicate leadership?

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      1. Thanks for responding! I will respond to your question as soon as I can–but I recently moved, and all my books are still boxed. So I just wanted to check in and say thanks, and I’ll be back to pick up this discussion sometime in the near future. Have a great day!

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  6. I think “head” is used slightly differently between 1 Cor 11 and Eph. 5. 1 Cor 11 has the man as the source-origin of the woman, for woman was taken out of man at the Creation. But, Paul points out, after the first man and woman, every man after that has been taken out of woman. Paul’s equalizing language is often ignored here. But the context makes it clear that he is indeed talking about sources/origins in 1 Cor. 11.

    Ephesians 5 relates back to Ephesians 4, in which Christ as head is the source of life and nourishment for the body. Paul is not here talking about origins, but about relationships. The husband is to relate to the wife as the source of life and nourishment.

    In Paul’s day the husband was most definitely the source of life and provision for the wife. Women had no means to provide for themselves apart from a man. A wife was dependent on her husband to feed, house and clothe her. So Paul told the husband he should do this in the same way he would feed, house and clothe his own body. And he added that the husband should “give himself” as Christ did, to raise his wife up to be glorious beside him, not under his feet (per Ephesians 1).

    Nowadays, of course, women are quite capable of supporting themselves. But Paul’s call for oneness in marital relationships remains.

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    1. It actually doesn’t. That word translated “obey” in the KJV is actually the same word “submit” used in Eph. 5:21. “Obey” is never used as a direct command to wives in the New Testament. Wives are told in 1 Peter 2 to imitate Sarah, and Sarah is spoken of as “obeying” Abraham– but if you read the passage closely, what women are actually being told to do is imitate Sarah’s faith and trust in God in light of their required subservience to their husbands, which was an assumed fact of the culture.

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  7. nice! thanks for that. I have always sincerely believed that God designed a hierarchical structure for marriage and it was only the world who sought to live outside of prescribed gender roles. So….this equality concept seems awesome, but is it really true. Why would God have used Paul and Peter to write in such an ambiguous way…? It is so easy to understand how complimentarians interpreted the way they did.

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    1. It wasn’t ambiguous at the time. Peter and Paul’s original audiences would have understood what he meant because they were coming from the same understanding, sharing the same cultural assumptions, that Peter and Paul had. It seems ambiguous to us because we were born 2000 years and half the globe away. But God intended the Scriptures to be understood as writings within history; it’s the newer teachings of fundamentalism that want to do away with the necessity of studying that aspect.

      For more of my take on this issue, see my blog post “The Bible and Plain Sense Reading”:

      http://www.krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2011/10/bible-and-plain-sense-reading.html

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      1. And sometimes the English translators (all male until recently) have been limited by their gender’s viewpoint and translated with a gender slant. Perhaps not intentionally, but it is hard for a man to see things from a woman’s viewpoint without a woman by his side to tell him…and vice versa. So not only did the male English translators have a time trying to understand the historical and cultural significance of the words, they naturally see things from our traditional heirarchial understanding. (Here’s to more women translators!)

        And go visit Kristen’s blog. She has a firm understanding of all the nuances of this topic.

        http://www.krwordgazer.blogspot.com/

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  8. Hi,

    I did read several posts on Kristin’s blog, trying to understand this issue and I sent some long comments to be posted. I questioned her conclusions and put forward another exposition/summary of the relevant texts, as I understood them, and my experience relating to this issue. But I was disappointed to find my comments haven’t been posted as yet 😦

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    1. Iseetheglory, I have approved every comment you have made on my blog. My records show that you asked a question on this post:

      http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/03/march-28-2012-prayer-walk-for-womens.html?showComment=1334739655072#c2595119459472914214

      to which I responded, indicating that I was going to dedicate a blog post to answering your question. I have done so– it actually ran to a two-part post! — the first of which is here:

      http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/04/gender-roles-and-responsibility-part-1.html

      And the second one is here:

      http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/05/gender-roles-and-responsibility-part-2.html

      If you posted comments after that, Google must have eaten them. Please let me know, and please repost them if you can.

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      1. I responded to the posts you dedicated to my questions about responsibility, twice this month. And I sent a message to you, personally. Oh well, I guess Google must have eaten them. I wish I could remember everything I wrote. They were quite long, in response to what I questioned in your explanation of responsibilities as well as what I agreed with. Thanks. I’ll have to try to recall what I said and re post, somehow…

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  9. Iseetheglory, Google is telling me that I have approved every comment you have posted on my blog. My records show that the last time you commented, you posted a question here on March 28:

    http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/03/march-28-2012-prayer-walk-for-womens.html?showComment=1334739655072#c2595119459472914214

    which I answered by promising to dedicate a post to it. I did do a post on this– actually, it ran to two posts! — which are here:

    http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/04/gender-roles-and-responsibility-part-1.html

    and here:

    http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/05/gender-roles-and-responsibility-part-2.html

    If you posted any comments after March 28, I’m afraid I never saw them, and Google must have eaten them. Honestly, I’m getting sick of Google Blogger and am wondering how hard it would be to move my whole blog to WordPress.

    If you can remember what you posted, please repost it, ok?

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  10. I responded twice earlier this month to your series about ‘responsibility’. Aw stink if Google ate them. I will have to try to remember what I said as they were quite long responses. Thanks.

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