Exploring the Greek Word Kephale Translated “Head”

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When we read the word “head” most of us think of our physical head. This is by far the most common use of the word in the New Testament. In English, the word “head” can also mean someone who has authority like a leader, boss or chief. However, this last definition is not true in Greek.

The word translated as “head” is “kephalē” in Greek. If we are to understand what Paul was teaching, it is important to know what this word meant to Paul and to the converted gentiles, former pagans to whom he was writing.  These people were native Greek speakers. For them, the common meanings for “kephale” were the physical head, or when used figuratively;  originator, competitor, source of life or simply source.[1] If they wanted to say someone was the boss they usually used the Greek word archon meaning leader, ruler or commander.[2] “Head” can mean source in English, like source of a river, but it is not the common meaning as it is in Greek.

Traditionally, the biblical role for men in church, society and home is based on verses that contain the word “head” defined as authority or leader. The husband is said to be the head, meaning he’s the “boss.”  Using this definition, 1 Corinthians 11:3:“The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God,” and Ephesians 5:23, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body,” have been used to support a patriarchal chain-of-command structure in the home and the church. Even in society as a whole, men were supposed to be “in charge.”

The idea of a divine chain-of-command that is to be duplicated on earth is said to be supported by 1 Cor 11:3 (“The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God”). But there is no ranking in the Godhead–no divine chain-of command! God the Father isn’t the boss of Christ or Holy Spirit.  They are co-equal and co-eternal—they are GOD—the Trinity. Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, is the Word made flesh. He chose to take on the limitations of mankind during his time on earth. Phil. 2:5-11.[3] However, this was for a limited time and purpose and not an eternal position.

Translate the passage using “source” for “head” and Paul’s meaning is easier to understand. It reads: “The source of every man is Christ, and the source of the woman is the man, and the source of Christ is God.”

[In these next paragraphs I have added clarifications in parenthesis]

“The source of every man is (the eternally existent) Christ. . .” From eternity, Christ has always been Christ. We also know Him as the Word.

“. . . .and the source of the woman is the man, . . .” woman was taken from the side of Adam,

“. . . and the source of Christ (Messiah) is God.” (the totality [all] of the triune God.) God – the Trinity is the SOURCE of Christ.” Jesus, the Christ (Anointed One),[4] the God-Man, is the Human Being (Son) sent forth out of God to accomplish our covenant redemption.

Again, there is no hierarchy in the Godhead. By using the order, Christ-man-God, Paul was careful to not indicate a chain-of-command which would have been God-Christ-man. Notice also that Christ as the source of man, man as the source of woman, and God as the source of Christ is chronological (time) order.  In other words, man was first, woman second and Jesus Christ the Messiah third in order of their appearance on earth.  God formed man, then woman and finally sent the Son, Jesus Christ.  Clearly, Paul did not mean a chain-of-command authority structure!

However, the most compelling argument by far is that scripture simply does not support the “authority over” interpretation of “head.” John 1:3 clearly states that Christ is the source of all life? “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Throughout the New Testament kephale has the meaning “source” or “physical head,” not “authority over” or “leader.”

Remember, Paul was writing to former pagans. He carefully chose kephalē to challenge two pagan beliefs. One, that men and women came from two different sources with the source of men being superior to that of women, and second, to refute (prove false) the Gnostic belief that Adam was brought to life by Eve. which is discussed in our article on 1 Timothy 2.

1 Corinthians 11: 8, 9, 11 & 12 reinforce the use of “source” as the intended meaning of kephalē, and show the interdependence of men and women. They read:

8. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. (Woman was taken from the side of man)
9. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. . . (Woman was created to be his counterpart – his completer)[5]  11.Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.  12. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. (Men and women need each other. They are interdependent upon each other.)

To get a real grasp of what Paul is saying you need to go back to Genesis 1 and 2 which lay out God’s original plan.  For a quick refresher read Challenging Tradition in Genesis 1 and 2.

Another scripture where “head” is taught as meaning authority over is Ephesians 5:23, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body.”  Let’s take a deep breath and digest this much and leave that one for the next artcle.

Footnotes

[1] Berkeley and Alvera Mikelsen, “The Head of the Epistles”  God’s Word to Women Website.  The Mickelsen article gives every figurative scripture using “kephale”.  I highly recommend that you read it.  www.godswordtowomen.org/head.htm

[2] Unfortunately, the reference works commonly used by those of us who are not Greek scholars hold the traditional view and define “kephalē” as superior rank or final authority when it is not used of a person’s physical head.  These include Strong’s Concordance, Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words and Bauer’s Lexicon.  We will find tradition taking precedence over scholarship to be a common problem throughout our studies of the Epistles.   There are other excellent sources that disagree with their findings including, Liddel, Scott, Jones, and McKenzie (A Greek-English Lexicon, ninth edition, Clarendon Press, 1940.  Another outstanding place to find Greek word meanings is the Septuagint which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The Septuagint was the version of scripture used by Jesus, the apostles and Paul.  The translators of the Septuagint generally chose the Greek word archon when the meaning was authority over.

[3] Philippians 2: 5-11 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
[4] Christ means Anointed One.  It was also used for Messiah.

[5] When we see the translation of the Hebrew ezer kenegdo as help meet of helper suitable applied to the creation of the woman, it is easy to form an idea that she is one who assists from a subservient position. However ezer means to surround with protection and aid.  Every other use of ezer in scripture refers to either God or military allies.  Kenegdo modifies ezer to mean neither superior nor inferior but one of equal status—a perfect counterpart.

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  2 comments for “Exploring the Greek Word Kephale Translated “Head”

  1. Shelly Colwell
    October 4, 2017 at 1:25 am

    Thank you for writing this!!! Truth sets free!!!

    Like

  2. Vicki L Childers
    July 16, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    I believe that the body of Christ would see more answers to prayers if they would quit accepting tradition and religion and would quit forcing women to be second class citizens.

    Like

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