Biblical Headship

by Alison Rowan


We in the civilised World and modern church, associate the metaphorical use of the word ‘head’ with a position of authority above others working with that person and that they carry the ultimate responsibility. It occurs in ecclesiastical circles with the sovereign of Great Britain being the ‘head’ of the Church of  England or in secular spheres such as the headteacher, usually shortened to simply ‘the head’ (‘the principal’ in other countries).

However, its use in the ancient Biblical languages has a much broader range, beyond the obvious physical appendage attached to a neck! Looking at the Hebrew word for head, rosh, it is seen to often mean simply ‘the top’ of various things, such as a ladder, a mountain, a tree, a sceptre, a mast, a column (capital - note the connection to the feminine Latin word for head, capita), an ear of grain and such like.  It is used for capstone in Zech 4:7 and I will make reference to this later.

Its derivatives have other non-hierarchical meanings as:

First in a series

First chronologically

Source of a river (one reference only in Gen 2:10)

Choice, best

An army division

Sum of numbers or thoughts (I will refer to this later)

Beginning (of months)

Some derivatives of rosh also have hierarchical meanings

Rulers of people (eight references)

Head of family

Chief city, nation and position (a few references each)

Chief/High priest

Figurative uses

In Isaiah 9:14-15 head is describing one who is influential and dignified as opposed to the tail being one who is despised:

“So the LORD cuts off head and tail from Israel, Both palm branch and bulrush in a single day.

The head is the elder and honorable man: And the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail.”

The other place where this figurative differential is made is in the blessings and curses of the Law, which established God’s Covenant to Abraham to bless him and make him a blessing to all peoples on Earth. Deut 28:11-13, states that keeping the covenant they will “abound in prosperity in the offspring of your body and ... of your beast and in the produce of your ground … The LORD will open for you His good storehouse … to bless all the work of your hand;  you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you will be above only, and you will not be underneath.” Conversely in a section about reduction of prosperity in verses 38-44, as the result of disobedience, those who were once despised, “the foreigner in your midst will rise above you higher and higher, but you will go down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, but you will not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you will be the tail.” (Deut 28:44)

The curse of being under another’s authority is in a completely different section, verses 47-8, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God … therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you …  and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.” If hierarchy were the actual meaning, then this surely would have been the perfect place to say that these enemies would be the head and the Israelites would be the tail? Instead, there is no connection with servitude or mastery or any such hierarchy in its figurative use. So this confirms that being the head or tail is a matter of being a prosperous and dignified source of abundance and influence: the giver, not the beggar.

This is hardly surprising since in the Jewish understanding, every part of significance in a man is not associated with the head, but with his internal organs. David encourages his soul, nephesh and ‘all that is within me’, qereb, to bless the Lord (Ps 103:1) Again, in Ps 26:9, ‘with my soul’, nephesh, and ‘with my spirit’, ruach, in my inward parts, qereb. These ‘inward parts’ are:

leb = The heart, which can be glad, or meditate, or trust or greatly rejoice

kilyah = The kidneys, often mind or seat of attitudes and motives, and tested by God

me-eh = The bowels, from which come deep yearnings, emotion and cries of anguish

ka-bod = The liver, the weightiest organ, translated as glory, weighty, poetic of the seat of honour in the inner man, the noblest part of man. It is also the word used for the glory of the Lord.

The brain in the head, just does not figure anywhere in the Jewish understanding of man, neither would the literal ‘head’ be associated directly with having authority since they do not give it any association with mind, will, emotions, attitudes, motives or connection to God. This Jewish mindset e.g. Prov 23:7, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he”, continued into Jesus’s time, since He said “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). However, the figurative use in the OT of rosh = head, denotes one in a position of honour and so blessed with abundance that they can give generously.

How is ‘Head’ Understood in the New Testament?

Moving on to the New Testament, it is vitally important to remember that Paul was a Jew, with the mindset and cultural understanding of a first century Jew, not a 21st century gentile Christian. His choice of words will undoubtedly reflect this. Nowadays, most commentators assume kephale refers to a position of superior authority, yet there are three perfectly descriptive words that allude to hierarchy or having authority: kurios = lord, master: archon = ruler: protos = first, preeminent, chief. None of these does Paul ever use in regard to relations between husband and wife or leaders and believers other than the secular application of master to slave. This is contrary to the Complementarian’s insistence that the Gen 3:16 endorsement of Patriarchy is still in force since it was supposedly established before the Fall, was unchanged by Calvary and is meant to continue … until when?

Indeed, God granted Adam permission to rule his wife after the Fall, but I have found no evidence by exegesis of the pre-fall texts to support the notion that God originally created Eve as Adam’s subordinate. I have investigated the pre-fall texts for disparity of authority, the pronouncements that God made in Eden, and Eve’s relationship as ezer kenedgo elsewhere. Since Christ’s suffering fully paid the penalty for all of the effects of the Fall and provided redemption, God’s permission for Adam’s rule must be rescinded, but when is it to take effect?  It may be asked if a Christian woman’s freedom from man’s rule is actually now in effect, since she still suffers pain in childbirth. But an understanding of the tripartite nature of God, man, the temptation, the Fall, redemption and its application over time will make it clear that it is now. (I have also made observations on the phrase ‘she should have authority on her head’ in a review of a bible study on 1 Cor 11:2-16.)

That is why, I believe that Paul should not be expected to use archon, kurios or protos or their connected verbs when speaking of relationships in the church or of husbands and wives. Indeed,  he does not: instead he chooses to use non-hierarchical verbs and nouns for leaders (see this study on Hierarchy) and to use head, ‘kephale’.

So, how was the Greek word for head understood at the time Paul was writing and chose to use it? Was Paul seeking to continue the Jewish notion of dignity, prosperity and generosity into his writings to the Churches, seeing he used none of the expected words to intentionally convey a sense of authority? Can kephale be used as a justifiable substitute for these authority words or does it have a different figurative meaning? Why do we still associate it with authority?

Has there been a diachronic change to the meaning?

Another question needs to be raised as to whether our understanding of the figurative meaning of kephale has changed since the time Paul wrote his letters.Through the succeeding centuries of the institutionalised church during the Patristic Era, writers such as Augustine AD 354-430 and John Chrysostom AD 347-407 unmistakably identified head meaning ‘authority over’. It is very interesting to note that the first writer to whom is attributed the origins of the patristic era was Ignatius, AD 38-107, third ‘bishop’ of Antioch in the second century after the Martyrdom of Peter who had had Apostolic oversight of the city previously to him. He is known for a dispute where he was wanting to become the monarchial bishop, ie to assume authority over all the house- churches of the city and region which up until then had enjoyed autonomy as a confederation together, each with its own elders/overseers(bishops) who pastored the church. (See Acts 20:17, 28) They met both in their own ‘households of faith’ and corporately in large public meeting places (Acts 20:20 and 19:9 in the School of Tyrannus, Acts 2:44 in the Temple).

Originally, the Apostles and their bands of delegates circulated among the churches, helping establish sound doctrine, approved and ordained the men and women that the Holy Spirit, the existing leaders and the congregation (Acts 6:3 and 15:22) recognised as new elders and deacons according to the prescribed criteria. Theirs was a fatherly nurturing designed to bring the churches to maturity and eventual independence, as true fathers should. They were also on hand to help sort out disputes and matters of discipline of persistent sin that were not being handled and dealt with by the eldership within the individual or confederation of house-churches in that city. However, in all of this Paul made it very clear that they were there as assistants to the individual churches, not as overlords:

“But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth; not because we exercise dominion over your faith: but we are helpers of your joy: for in your own faith you stand.” (2 Cor 1:23-4)

This was the pattern first established by the apostles according to Jesus’ direction that there should be none ‘exercising authority over’ others in the Church. Yet Ignatius set about coercing conformity and submission to monarchial bishops with all the classic twisting of scripture employed by spiritual abusers. These all have fallen for and re-enact the Devil’s third temptation of Jesus to have the power and dominion of their own kingdom, just as he had done before his own fall, after seeking to exalt his own throne. Perhaps to consolidate his predecessor, Peter’s influence for himself, his letters to other regions show his ambitions for control over the whole church, through the establishment of monarchial bishops answerable to apostles, eventually to form the hierarchical pyramid of the institutionalised church and immense power for one man. This is a gentile model of authority, forbidden by Jesus, yet espoused by the traditional church,  most modern denominations and individual megachurches, too. This model forces the vast majority of the church members to remain as passive, dependent babies and never allows them the fulfilment of developing into their own calling and being fruitful there.

These excerpts show Ignatius’s abusive tactics employed to enforce conformity to his plan:

"Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 6:1

"your godly bishop" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 2:1.

"the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 6:1.

"Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 7:1.

"Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 13:2.

"In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallesians 3:1.

"follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God's commandment" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnans 8:1.

"He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnans 9:1.

With such a spiritually abusive attitude of manipulation and control, it should be asked why, he was honoured as one of the first five Apostolic Fathers of the church? Which church, though, the one that Paul, John and Peter had laboured amongst, establishing a non-hierarchical co-operative … or the beginnings of the oppressive institution that denied the priesthood of all believers and reinstituted the clergy/laity divide? This was the ‘traditional’ church whose fathers were all influenced by and promoted the Patristic movement. This is the one whose ‘traditions’ remain unquestioned by many to this day, assuming them to be authentically how the true church was intended to be.

Is this the error of the Nicolaitans, that Jesus hated? The meaning of the Greek is taken from nikao, to conquer, prevail against, overcome or vanquish and laos, the people. This meaning may imply that this was an attempt to divide and make an unnatural distinction between the people, creating a division in which the clergy exercised rulership over the laity. Certainly, elders have the biblical authority to guide the people by example and determine the policy of the local church. But the authority described here probably went much further, not only possibly intruding into members’ personal lives, but also restricting who had the right to participate in various functions in the church. If this is the Nicolaitan error, then one only need look at the top-heavy ecclesiastical structures which characterise much of Christendom throughout history to see the sour fruit of such teaching. This is one of many reasons why the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer (2 Cor 3:6; 2 Cor 6:4; 1 Pet 2:5, 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6+; Rev. 5:10+; Rev 20:6+) is so important for the saints of every age. We worship as the Body of Christ which is the new Temple made without hands and without any dividing walls (Eph 2:14): between God and His people: priests and laity: men and women: Jew and Gentile.

Was Patriarchy meant to continue in the New Testament Church?

Without doubt through Moses, God had set up a patriarchal priesthood for the ceremonial law pertaining to the Tabernacle, then the Temple. But that Covenant has been superceded by a better one now that the new birth has made all members of Christ’s Body, not only ‘sons’ of God, but also priests unto Him in the Temple made without hands. So, not only did Ignatius initiate the formation of a forbidden pyramidal hierarchy to lord it over the church, but he also started the traditional church on the road to exclusivity of male leadership, thus overturning the ordination of women as apostles (Junia) and overseers(bishops)/leaders of house-churches. This was already established with clear examples such as Chloe in 1 Cor 1:11 and the two elect ladies of whom John writes in his second letter. This is particularly tragic, since it is believed that John was Ignatius’s mentor and that after his death, Ignatius began the move that demonstrated that the cultural  hard-heartedness against women had not gone from men. Thus was perpetuated the serpent’s enmity towards the daughters of Eve through the domination of men.

Another of the Church Fathers whose writings displayed this same hard heartedness was Augustine, who had particularly looked to the writings of Plato to teach him to understand the Bible. This should have been immediately questionable since in the fourth century BC, Plato knew nothing of the emancipation of women through the Redeemer fully paying Eve’s penalty, thus rescinding the permission for Patriarchy granted after the Fall. He was also writing of a gentile, secular society that needed strict hierarchical control, as opposed to Jesus’ teaching on the servanthood of leaders in the church. Some excerpts from “The Republic” show that this philosopher displayed a shockingly patristic attitude:

         “Let me further note that the manifold and complex pleasures and desires and pains are generally found in children and women and servants….  Whereas the simple and moderate desires which follow reason, and are under the guidance of the mind and true opinion, are to be found only in a few, and those the best born and best educated.” …..   “Very true.  These two, as you may perceive, have a place in our State; and the meaner desires of the [many] are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few.”  …..   “Seeing then, I said, that there are three distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing?  This then is injustice.”  …..   “You are quite right, he replied, in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex….”

        The worldview that is preferred by Plato is that a just state is made up of a hierarchy of classes and that the highest class is made up of the best born and best educated, exclusively made up of men, and that the particular needs and desires of the many (women and servants) need to be held down and kept in check.  Your blood (ethnicity, family line, race), your gender, and your education contribute to this sense of intellectual and moral superiority.  Women were considered inferior and so needed to be ruled over.  Any mixing of these classes was considered by Plato to be an injustice.  So when St. Augustine read the Bible through this lens, this is what he saw.

St. Augustine in Questions on the Heptatuech, Book 1, Section 153:

        “It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater…. This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.”

        So we see the same concept here in the work of St. Augustine, in 4th century A.D. and he is seeing through the lens of a philosopher of ancient Greece, 4th century B.C.  Justice is a class-based society, men are in the superior class and must rule, and women are in the inferior class and must be ruled over and serve. How can he advocate “the lesser serves the greater” in direct contradiction of Jesus himself in Luke 22:26-27 ?

       “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

        Also Matt 20:28 and John 13:12-17 all affirm that the kingdom of God does not function as the Gentile hierarchies.

The other alarming error that Plato endorsed was that everyone is classified according to the natural attributes with which they were born and/or raised. To agree with this pagan assessment of humanity is to disagree with God’s Word in 2 Cor 5:16-17 that unmistakably speaks of the new birth giving all an equal part in the kingdom of God, since no-one is to be regarded any longer according to the flesh. This is defined and strongly decried in Phil 3:3-7 in exactly the terms that Plato espouses!

Calvin was also an avid admirer of Augustine and displayed the same patristic attitude. His influence still runs strongly with many in the modern church. So, is it any wonder that the idea of man’s ‘authority over’ woman should have been adopted by the ‘traditional’ church and upheld by conservatives to this day in their understanding of kephale and church government structures? But this may well not have been how Paul understood ‘head’ or what he meant by it.

Does Head mean source?

Many Egalitarians claim it means source and quote a piece by Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, who wrote of Adam:

“Therefore of our race he became first head, which is source, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as head, which is source, of those who through him have been formed anew unto him unto immortality through sanctification in the spirit. Therefore he himself our source, which is head, has appeared as a human being. Yet he, though God by nature, has himself a generating head, the heavenly Father, and he himself, though God according to his nature, yet being the Word, was begotten of Him. Because head means source, He establishes the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the head of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore as God according to His nature, the one Christ and Son and Lord has as his head the heavenly Father, having himself become our head because he is of the same stock according to the flesh.”

He defines kephale, “head” as "source” (arche = beginning) no less than four times in this single paragraph. In his application of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Cyril bases his argument upon this definition. Christ was begotten of the Father, who is His source, woman was drawn from man, who is her source.

Was source a common meaning of kephale? Henry Petrina's Lexicon Dictionarium Graecolatinum of 1577 lists the following meanings: caput, vertex, summa pars, apex cerni, exorium, origo (source or origin), statura corporis. However, it is neither exclusive, nor commonplace, neither does it seem to be borne out by the uses of ‘rosh’ in the Old Testament apart from the solitary reference to the four heads of the river in Eden. So, does an unbiased exegesis and examination of other scriptures for the use of ‘kephale’ also denote ‘source’? The preposition ‘ek’ is symbolised by an arrow emanating out from the centre of a circle and can denote source of origin. There is indeed a connection between these two ideas, when looking for other scriptures to support 1 Cor 11:3,

“the head of man is Christ, the head of the woman is man, the head of Christ is God.”

If the second phrase is considered in the light of verse 8, “for woman is of (ek = out of) man”, we can agree that there is a connection between head and source here. But looking at the first phrase, we are all “born again … through (dia) the Word of God” (Christ). (1 Pet 1:23), yet “ born… of (ek) God.” (Jn 1:13)  so the idea that source is the meaning of “the head of man is Christ” does not necessarily follow by strict exegesis. However a more allegorical similitude can be made when comparing the formation of Eve from the side of the sleeping First Adam and the formation of the Church from the side of the last Adam‘s wounded side, as he slept in death. His side is still open in His resurrected form (John 20:27) since his ‘Eve’ is still being formed and when complete will be presented to him one day. He is indeed her (His Bride’s and our) source.

Again a strict exegesis, of John 1:14,  Christ‘s glory is described as that of “an only begotten son with (para) the Father “ and he existed “with (para) God in the beginning” (John 1:1 and 2), so again God is accurately not the source of origin (Head) of Christ. However, speaking of his incarnation, Jesus said in Jn 16:28, “I came out from (ek) the Father and entered the world”. This refers, not to his origin of existence, but more concerns his relocation in a new form. But can we justify it being read as “the head (source) of Christ is God”, from this or from all the other figurative occurrences of kephale? Although there is a tenuous connection, exegetically between source and head, I feel it is not conclusively watertight. When it is applied to the “husband is head of his wife” (Eph 5:23) it does not readily follow with source as the only meaning other than the now questionable hierarchical application. Since there already exists a Greek word for source, arche, why is it not used, just as the authority words, kurios, archon and protos either? So is there still another exegetically and symbolically sound alternative that fits all figurative references to ‘head’?

How did the First Century Greeks understand kephale?

The honest answer is that no-one now really knows, but it is possible to see indicators in the text, context, culture and history that may help towards an ‘educated guess’ on it. The noun, simply refers to head being ‘the top’ of an object, very similar to the Hebrew’s understanding of the equivalent word, rosh. Again, like rosh, it is not used to denote a superior position of hierarchy, since archon, kurios and protos serve that purpose. For instance, the ‘top stone’ of Zech 4:7 is also ‘the head stone of the corner that the builders rejected” in Ps 118:22. This is figurative of Christ who is also (lit. Gr.) “the head of the corner’ in 1 Pet 2:7. Being ‘head’ does have a different figurative meaning as well, and that is best understood by examining the associated verbs and how they are used in scripture:

Kephalaioo =  to sum up, to bring under heads , to summarise (not found in scripture, but in Thucydides, Aristotle and others).

Anakephalaioó = to sum up, gather up, also to summarize, recapitulate, gather up in one (Strongs) from aná, "up," intensifying kephalaióō, "bring to a head, recapitulate" – properly, head-up, summing up all the parts as a comprehensive (organised) whole” (Helps Word Studies)

anakephalaíomai ("recapitulate") shows the head as the "organising center," causing all the parts to work together in harmony (Helps Word studies)

Interestingly, there are some uses of rosh that also mean ‘the sum’ of numbers of people (several occurrences in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) or thoughts (in Ps 119:160 and 139:17) or payment in full (in Num 5:7).

Anakephalaioo is found in Rom 13:9

“The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not covet," and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbour as yourself."

For the purposes of our study its only other use is more significantly in Eph 1:10:

“to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (ESV)

“to head up all things in Christ… “ (NET)

gather into one all things in Christ” (KJV)

!n Eph 1:10,  God is said ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τά πάντα ἐντῷ Χριστῷ, to bring together again for himself (note the middle) all things and beings (hitherto disunited by sin) into one combined state of fellowship in Christ, the universal bond (cf. Meyer or Ellicott on Ephesians, the passage cited); (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)

These two uses of the verb, anakephalaioo should surely make better sense of understanding the use of the noun.  Where is the sense of archon = ruler, kurios = lord, protos = first/chief or arche = source/origin in the meaning of anakephalaioo? If its root is kephale, then that must mean ‘uniter’ or ‘gatherer’ or perhaps ‘unifier’ could be a better reading? When substituting that meaning into verses that use kephale figuratively, does it give a compatible and consistent rendering?

Since the ‘head stone’ or capstone of Zech 4:7 refers to that single slightly tapered circular stone that sits into the top of a dome (or the wedge shaped central stone of an arch), its meaning as the ‘head’ that unifies all the other stones beneath it, is evident. It also supplies strength and stability to the whole structure: its absence, would cause all to fall. Likewise, being the ‘head of the corner’, Christ is that stone and we are living stones joined together by virtue of being in Him, as stated in 1 Pet 2:4-7

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (head of the corner).”

Again the unifying purpose of the ‘head’ stone is reiterated in Eph 2:20-22. The Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (‘head of the corner’). In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Following on from Eph 1:10, we find Head, a few verses later in 1:22:

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,” (NIV)

“God has put everything under the Messiah's feet and has made him the head of everything for the good of the church” (ISV)

Bearing in mind, the reason in verse 10 for ‘gathering all things’ (anakephalaioo) was for uniting them into one whole, being ‘head over all things’ is not necessarily an expression of hierarchy, but could be seen more as being compatible with this sense of uniting into an organised whole. I suggest this despite the preceding verses, 20-21 speaking of Christ being “seated in the heavenly realms far above all” other authorities, since these ‘authorities’ are still only some of the ‘all things’ which he has now united in himself (headed up) for the benefit of the church, “which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way.” (1:23) Having united everything, he is now able to generously redistribute everything to benefit the church including the supreme authority invested in His Name. That unity and supply (giving allusion to the figurative meaning of rosh), I feel, could be more the reason behind the meaning of Head and why Paul used it.

This idea of the Head being the organising centre as both uniter and distributor of good things is repeated in Eph 4:15-16:

“we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

It is repeated in the parallel passages in Colossians:

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning (arche) and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy (proteuo from protos). For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:17-20)

It should also be noted that Paul makes a distinction between arche = beginning (also source or origin) in verse 18 and Christ being “before, pro all things” in verse 17. Both of these are again distinct from being the head.  For many Egalitarians that have held dear the interpretation of ‘head’ as source or origin, these verses throw it open to question. I would propose that the idea of ‘source of supply’ is valid when considering the figurative uses of kephale and rosh, but am now hesitant to attribute source as in ‘origin’ to be the figurative meaning.

I find it interesting that the conjunction, kai begins verse 18 as if the thought of him being the head is being tied to the preceding phrase perhaps in this manner, “all things hold together AND He is the (unifier as) head of the body…”

Bearing in mind the reason for Christ’s supremacy (position of highest authority) is that he is the firstborn in Col 1:18, “he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”, it provides the context for Him also being:

“The Head (unifier and redistributor) of all rule and authority” in Col 2:10, (ESV).

The prepositon huper, over is absent in the Greek and the ESV is correct to translate it this way. This again lends weight to the idea that ‘authority over’ is not the intended meaning of kephale here, as well.

Please note that in 1:18, Christ having the supremacy over all things is by virtue of him being the firstborn. “All things (including every power and authority) holding together” in v17 is because he is the Head. This is confirmed in Col 2:19, where we again see Christ the Head who holds the body together, is also the distributor out of his fullness of that which causes the body to grow.

“Holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Col 2:19)

There may be an allusion to the idea of God being the Head of Christ, being the Head of the Church with the sense of possessing abundance, in comparing the following verses

“The head of every man is Christ ….. and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor 11:3)

“All things are yours, whether … the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:21-3)

The same criteria in this verse are repeated in some other well-loved verses which themselves also allude to this meaning of head, since they describe God’s over abundant supply through his generosity to us in Christ--being the source of supply--and also our unity with him, to never be separated from the Saviour’s love who gave himself for us:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? …. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,k neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (since he has united us with himself and each other). (Rom 8:32-9)

The same idea of unifier and supplier comes again in Eph 5:23-30:

“Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour, (n.b. not ruling authority, here)….Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

Gill’s exposition of entire Bible 1 Cor 11:3 eloquently expands this idea of care:

“Yea, he is a natural head, or is that to his church, as an human head is to an human body: he is a true and proper head, is of the same nature with his body, is in union to it, communicates life to it, is superior to it, and more excellent than it. He is a perfect head, nothing is wanting in him; he knows all his people, and is sensible of their wants, and does supply them; his eye of love is always on them; his ears are open to their cries; he has a tongue to speak to them, and for them, which he uses; and he smells a sweet savour in them, in their graces and garments, though they are all his own, and perfumed by himself: there are no vicious humours in this head, flowing from thence to the body to its detriment, as from Adam to his posterity, whose head he was; but in Christ is no sin, nothing but grace, righteousness, and holiness, spring from him. There's no deformity nor deficiency in him; all fullness of grace dwells in him to supply the members of his body; he is an one, and only head, and an ever living and everlasting one.”

It is also through the head that food and oxygen enter and therefore are supplied to the rest of the body. The Head is therefore the source of supply of nourishment, strength and vitality to His body, as well as the uniting and organising centre. This, I suggest is the thrust of Eph 5:23, not hierarchy. So with that understanding of Head, is it not therefore beneficial for the church to not resist his loving instruction, but yield in order to receive submissively from him?

Applying this meaning of head to 1 Cor 11:3:

“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is (the) Christ, head of a wife is the husband, and the head of Christ is (the) God.”

I have tried to accurately translate where there is and is not the definite article in the Greek, which to my mind makes the reading of aner as husband and gynaike as wife more appropriate than man and woman, but of course others will disagree.

First I will look at God being the head of Christ, with the sense of unifier. Christ has two perfectly complete natures as ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’, yet in God, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). The Godhead is the Father, the Son of God/Son of Man and the Spirit, all united as one.

Christ being the Saviour of all mankind, and their one mediator, His efficacious blood takes away the sin of the whole world. Through the cross Christ reconciled both Jew and Gentile to himself (Eph 2:16) God made peace through the blood of the cross that he might reconcile/unite all to himself (Col 1:20). Concurrent with the sense of uniting us to God, is also the truth that Christ is the source and originator of another race, the ‘sons of God,’ through the new birth. “He is the beginning/source (arche), the firstborn from the dead.” (Col 1:18)

How is the husband ‘head’ of his wife ?

To begin with, there are absolutely no words in any of the instructions for the husband’s part toward his wife, to rule her or be the leader, rather it is to put himself beneath and serve her.. So if he is not the ruler, does this proposition follow through, that he as the husband and ‘head’ of the wife, is the one who unites and supplies blessing? To answer this it is helpful to see from where the disunity and the cursing came. When did they cease to be one flesh? When was their relationship of perfect mutuality and equal authority marred? When could Eve no longer be the perfect ‘ezer kenedgo’, actively intervening on Adam’s behalf, supplying what he lacked? When did she become his subordinate assistant? When did she become the recipient of the actions of a curse? It was at the introduction of Patriarchy after the Fall. This is also the only means by which ‘the woman’ alone, as opposed to all mankind, could be singled out to receive the enmity of the serpent until Eve’s penalty was paid at the Cross. Womankind have suffered under the Serpent’s curse through the hands of men owning them as servants for their own needs and pleasures for millennia; but permission is now rescinded in the resurrected Christ.

How then does it behove the husband to be the unifier and blesser? Surely is it not to acknowledge that he no longer has the right to rule his wife, and in relinquishing it, the operation of Satan’s curse of enmity against her is curtailed? Is he not to obey Jesus’s stricture against any of his people to ‘exercise authority over’ another saint, to honour her as a co-heir of the grace of life, as an equal partaker of the divine nature, to submit one to another in the fear of God? Is it not to “be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit: rather, in humility to value his wife above himself, not looking to his own interests but to the interests of his wife? In his relationship with her, is he not  to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant”? (Phil 2:2-7)

By this action, did Christ not relinquish his right as the Potter to exercise authority over the clay? (Rom 9:21) Did he not instead humble himself to serve and to glorify our earthen vessels by filling them with Himself (2 Cor 4:7) and uniting us with Himself (1 Cor 6:17)? Is this not the very point that Paul was making and that Christ exemplified that none should exercise authority over another? Is this not the epitome of Love? As the husband loves his wife in this way, is he not elevating her to stand side by side so that they may be reunited as one flesh, both on equal footing, co-operating with each other’s strengths? Neither to exalt themselves, she to submit to him in everything and he to her. Is this not how they are to be the image of God and the picture of Christ and His Church? Is this not the meaning of 1 Cor 11:3 and Eph 5:21-33?

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 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. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

The passage is concluded in v33 with

“However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, ‘in order that’ (literal from the Greek, ina) the wife respect her husband.”

In the literal translation of the Greek there is not the sense that is found in the English translations that she must respect her husband regardless of how he treats her, but it seems that he has to earn that respect because of the way he loves her. This is good news for women caught in an abusive Christian marriage that are told by patristic theology that she must always obey him, meekly receive every unloving word or action he sends her way and never leave him.

I have also looked more fully at all the Greek words used to describe the part a husband plays towards his wife, and the absence of patriarchy is blatant.

Why the singling out of the wives to submit to husbands, while submitting one to another?

Since there is meant to be no hierarchy in the Body of Christ, all being on equal standing under his Lordship, (Matt 23:8-11) and all are meant to submit one to another (Eph 5:21 and 1 Pet 5:5), why did both Paul and Peter feel it necessary to emphasise that the wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord, especially since Peter was writing to Jewish wives who were raised that way? Why is it not stated in all the epistles, but only mentioned in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians and Peter’s to the Jews dispersed throughout Asia and beyond? May I offer an explanation?

Ephesus and Colossae were 50 miles apart on the main trade route to the Euphrates valley and consequently shared a common culture … that of the worship of Artemis or Cybele as she was known by her worshippers in antiquity before the Greeks renamed her. She was revered as the great mother goddess from whom all life came, including the men. They considered women were good, whereas men were evil and were consequently viewed and treated as inferior to women. Ancient historians describe some of Cybele’s ardent followers as the Amazon warrior women whose leader “relegated to men the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude. She would maim the arms and legs of male children, making them useless for service in war.” (Diodorus Siculus)

Also “they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life…. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus.” (Pompeius Trogus)

In Ephesus they built the “temple of the great goddess Artemis … who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world.” (Acts 19:27) and the ‘whole city was in uproar’ when Demetrius incited them against the Way. Without doubt, the strong Matriarchal influence of the cult from which the Christian women were converts, needed countermanding!  This may well explain the additional instruction for the wives to submit to and to respect husbands of both the Greek and the Jewish wives, in order to refrain them from emulating those of their Gentile neighbours who showed DISrespect for their husbands.

It was unnecessary to put these instructions in letters to churches elsewhere that were not heavily influenced by the worship of Artemis. (Although, Paul wrote to the Asian region of Galatia addressing the churches in Derbe, Iconium and Lystra where the Jewish mob stoned him, the problem here was not of Artemis worship, but of the hardened resistance to the gospel by the Jews and an attempted reintroduction of their customs.)


I am proposing that the hierarchical association with kephale was applied retrospectively to Paul’s and Peter’s original writing in the New Testament and to the equivalent figurative use of rosh in the Old. My investigation by exegesis, suggests that kephale held the meaning of uniter or organiser of many parts into a unified whole, with a secondary purpose of being a source of supply to that which has been united by the head, as rosh -- the one who is dignified and blessed with such abundance that he is able to give generously? I do not think that this connection would have escaped the notice of Paul, the Jew who knew the blessing of Abraham (which includes being the rosh) now belonged to all in Christ. Perhaps there was this sense of blessing and enrichment to the church in a unity of non-hierarchical relationships intended in the dual meaning of both rosh and kephale in his mind when he penned these words to the Galatians:

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:26-9)