Most complementarians and egalitarians claim to have a complete understanding of what “husband headship” means, but I am going to tell you the truth. None of us can be absolutely sure what “head” (kephalé) means in Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 because the consistent meaning of the word is obscure among ancient texts. When we read the Bible through the lenses of the English language, it is easy to assume that “head” means “chief,” “leader,” or “authority over” because this is the way we often use the word. But quite honestly, any language that is not ancient Greek is not only useless in this conversation; it is also a dangerous way to interpret the Word of God.
When I was writing my master’s thesis I had hoped to discover ample evidence that the word “head” means “source,” as in the head/source of a river. This is the way most egalitarians interpret the word. The logic is this: the Apostle Paul is suggesting that man (Adam) is the source of woman (Eve) because Eve was taken out of Adam’s side. This is not bad logic and actually makes a lot of biblical sense, but again, the consistent meaning of the word “kephale” is obscure among ancient texts. In order for scholars to interpret words in the Bible, they search through hundreds and hundreds of texts that were written around the same time the Bible was written.
__________________________ (Below is from my master’s thesis found HERE.)
Leading complementarian, Wayne Grudem has made it his mission to prove the Greek term, “Kephale” is not understood as “source” or “origin;” but rather, a reflection of a “leader” or one who has “authority over.” Grudem has written an extensive article in which he claims to have studied 2,336 examples where the term “Kephale” is found in Greek literature.
Although Grudem’s title suggests he is going to do a non-biased word study to see if “Kephale” can signify “authority over” or “source,” it does not take long for the reader to discover that he has a personal agenda. The piece should be titled in such a way that clarifies Grudem’s real intentions, which is to defend his belief that “Kephale” was commonly used to denote “authority over,” rather than “source” or “origin,” in the Greco-Roman era.
Actually, the main objective of his article is to display 49 examples of “Kephale” meaning “leadership” and only two, very questionable examples of the term signifying “source,” which he discovered during his “scholarly research” of ancient Greek literature.
Scholar, Richard Cervin directly refutes Grudem’s article by stating that his 49 examples are invalid. Cervin agrees with Grudem’s method in analyzing Greek literature from the Classical, Hellenistic, and Greco-Roman eras, in hopes of finding a common thread of term usage. However, Cervin highly questions Grudem’s research. Grudem claims that his authorship studies ranged from Homer (8th c B.C.) to Libanius (4th c. C.E.) and that he found about 2,000 instances from the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG).
The authors who were checked and the instances which were claimed to be located can be found on pages 66-67 of Grudem’s article. From the beginning, Cervin finds inaccuracy in Grudem’s claims;
…he [Grudem] claims “that all extant writings of an author were searched and every instance to Kephale was examined and tabulated with the exception of fragmentary texts and a few other minor works that were unavailable to me” (p.65, emphasis mine). I myself have access to the TLG here at the University of Illinois and I have checked several of the authors in Grudem’s list as to the frequencies. I have found some rather different figures for the same authors in Grudem’s list: Grudem claims that Kephale occurs 114 times in Herodotus — I found 121 occurrences; Grudem found 56 in Aristophanes — I found 59; Grudem found 97 in Plato — I found 90; Grudem found 1 in Theocritus — I found 15. The discrepancy may be due to our using different “editions” of the TLG database; but his assertion that he has checked every instance may be overstated.
Cervin gives Grudem’s research another blow when he points out that Grudem admittedly used translations to aid his word study (p. 65). Cervin finds this method ludicrous and reminds Grudem and all biblical scholars that it is crucial to work with original texts when conducting a word study of Greek, or any foreign language for that matter. Cervin agrees with Grudem when he states that certain studies (mainly the Mickelsens and some New Testament commentators) are wrong in saying that the term “kephale” was commonly used to mean “source,” but does not follow Grudem when he states that the term was commonly used as “authority” either.
Grudem claims to have found 49 instances of “kephale” meaning “authority over” out of 2,336 examples in ancient Greek literature. This would give Grudem a whopping 2.1% of “commonality” to lean on. In case the sarcasm was overlooked, the very low percent of 2.1 hardly allows Grudem to state that it was common for ancient Greek authors to use “kephale” to mean “leadership.” While many Christian feminists are wrong in stating that the ancient Greek word for “head” often meant “source,” there are relevant documents which Grudem may have been too quick to dismiss. When reading Grudem’s article, he makes it clear that he believes there is no evidence for “kephale” translating to “source.” He states,
Authors who propose the sense “source” are proposing a new meaning, one previously unrecognized by New Testament Lexicons. That does not make the meaning “source” impossible, but it does mean we have the right to demand some convincing citations from ancient Greek literature that the editors of these lexicon have overlooked or misunderstood.
Cervin not only meets Grudem’s demand by providing instances in Greek literature where “head” could have very well meant “source;” he also finds that all 49 examples in which Grudem claims as valid evidence for “head” representing “authority over,” are either invalid or highly questionable. Cervin does not claim to be an egalitarian, and does not confirm that the term “kephale” was commonly used to represent “source;” he does however, find that it is a much more likely translation than “authority over.”
Cervin defends those who have contended that “Kephale” means “source” in Herodotus 4:91, against Grudem’s accusations that they have not carefully studied the text. Cervin also notes that Grudem himself must not have been careful enough either, being that he too misunderstood the text in Herodotus. Cervin provides a thorough explanation of Herodotus 4:89-91, within the correct context; this is precisely what Grudem failed to do.
Richard Cervin does not claim to be a complementarian or an egalitarian, but he obviously finds bad research problematic. By the time Cervin is done with Grudem’s research, he found that all 2,336 examples Grudem provided for “kephale” meaning “authority over” were either invalid or highly questionable. Cervin concludes that there is not a vast amount of evidence that “kephale” means “source” either, but the chances of the word meaning “source” are certainly better than that of “authority over.”
This research takes both complementarians and egalitarians back to the drawing board. The truth of the matter is that unless archaeologist discover more ancient Greek texts, we will not find the answer we are looking for by doing more word studies of “kephale.” So let us look to Jesus for the answer, as all His words and actions are divine and lead to life and undoubtedly fulfilling marriages.
If husbands are called to be like Jesus by laying down their lives as Ephesians five suggests, then it is time for them to lay down their so called “authority” to empower their bride. If a husband is called to lead in anything, it would be in the first to lead in love. Since Christ-centered love is wrapped in self-sacrifice, it would be a husband’s responsibility to not only love his wife as Christ loved the church, but to submit to her as well. Since Jesus’ commands all his followers to “love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34)” surely wives are called to love and submit to their husbands equally. This leads us back to mutual love and submission between husbands and wives – what egalitarians, Christian feminists, and mutualists have been teaching all along.
Complementarian doctrine on “husband headship” and “male headship” is the very opposite of Christlike love and self-sacrifice. Sure, they teach self-sacrifice in theory, but when it comes down to it, actions speak louder than words. A husband (or a male pastor/male elder) even suggesting that he owns the final say and allowing no women at “the decision making tables” is self-centered – a way hoarding power and dominance. Jesus warns us,
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. -Matthew 16:25
The “kephale” of the home (or the male leaders in the Church) should be the first to say, “You first dear; what do you want to do? What do you think about this decision? I will die to what I want for what you want.” In turn, a wife (or the female leaders of the Church) who truly loves and respects her husband (or male brothers in Christ) will respond by saying, “You first dear, what do you want to do? What do you think about this decision? I will die to what I want for what you want.” This is true Christ-like love. This is what the Apostle Paul was urging Christian couples to do because this is the way of the Cross and represents a resurrected marriage and a functional church.
There is but one leader in the Christian Home and Church and His name is Jesus Christ. We do not need a human leader to operate. Instead, we need men and women who are willing to die to their human selfishness, function as an equal team, mutually love and submit to one another, seek the direction of the Holy Spirit, and then follow the lead of whoever seems to have the best “God idea” in each specific moment.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” -Mark 9:35
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