kephale – The Source of All Life is Lost in Translation

Following on in my series about Women in God’s Household we come to the hotly debated topic of the meaning of the word head in Paul’s letters.

The New Testament community was unique to both the Hebraic and Roman cultures in which it was birthed. The early 1st century Church taught and practised gender equality across the board which set the Church apart from the cultures in which it witnessed to.

This concept of gender equality bought the Church back in line with the original plan for a husband and wife found in the first chapters of Genesis.

However, after the death of the Apostles, much of what was gained was lost as the age-old curse of men ruling over women was reinstated in the Church.

Sadly today it’s the world that’s witnessing gender equality back at the Church. We are now behind in promoting equal rights regardless of gender.


  • What does Paul really mean when he writes that a husband is head over his wife?

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 11:3


So many believe and teach in the Church today that the man is the spiritual head/ruler/boss of a woman. However, I totally disagree with that teaching as I believe it’s a false scriptural interpretation that goes against the grain of the New Covenant and is, in fact, part of the Genesis curse. That interpretation has encouraged legalism, inequality, injustice, and an opportunity for husbands to abuse wives.

I can’t stress this enough, but you need to see how the Greco Roman culture and the early church used the word head metaphorically to help us understand what Paul was implying when he wrote to the Corinthians.


  • How would his original audience have understood what the word head meant in their culture?

In that Greco Roman culture, Plato and Aristotle, among others, had taught that sperm was the source of life and was formed in the brain.

The Pythagoreans in particular considered the head to be the source of human generation. They refrained from eating any part of an animal or fish head lest the creature be a reincarnated ancestor and the head the very organ from which they themselves had derived. [1]


The head was also believed to be the seat of the soul and the source from which all other parts of the body grew from.

From the head is the source of life, because the head is the place of perception and the starting point of the nerves. ~ Aretaeus,  one of the most celebrated of the ancient Greek physicians. [2]


kephale – The Source of All Life is Lost in Translation


Dr Gordon Fee described kephalē as being a metaphor …

Indeed the metaphorical meaning of kephalē (“head”) to mean “chief” or “person of the highest rank” is rare in Greek literature—so much so that even though the Hebrew word rosh often carried this sense, the Greek translators of the LXX, who ordinarily use kephalē to translated rosh, almost never did so when ”ruler” was intended . . . . Paul’s understanding of the metaphor, therefore, and almost certainly the one the Corinthians would have grasped, is “head” as “source,” especially “source of life.  [3]


That understanding of head being a source can be seen surprisingly in some of the writings of the early church too.

In the head are the eyes both of the body, and of the soul. . . .All the senses have thence their origin and source. Thence are sent forth the organs of speech, the power of seeing and of smelling, and all touch. For thence is derived the root of the nerves and bones. ~ John Chrysostom 349-407 AD, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:5, 513.


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…. ~ Cyril of Alexandria speaking about Adam.


Thus we say that the kephale of every man is Christ, because he was excellently made through him. And the kephale of woman is man, because she was taken from his flesh. Likewise, the kephale of Christ is God, because he is from him according to nature….It would therefore seem best to translate 1 Corinthians 11:3 as “I want you to understand that Christ is the source of man’s being; the man is the source of woman’s being; and God is the source of Christ’s being” ~ Cyril of Alexandria 376 – 444AD – Hard Sayings of the Bible, Kaiser/Davids/Bruce/Brauch, IVP:1996


Christ is the “Head … from Whom … the Body Grows”

Rather than head meaning authority/boss/ruler, Paul is using the word head in the text to mean source/beginning /origin. After all, the loss of the head destroys life.

I think that this verse from Colossians demonstrates that perfectly …

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. ~ Colossians 1:18


The Head Produces Growth

Frequently, we assume that the Bible uses “head” to imply “boss” or “chief,” and so we miss the assurance of this passage. Here the focus is on the function of the head in producing growth. Every part of the body is connected to the head, and, if the connecting nerve is severed, even a perfectly healthy member will wither. But every part is also interconnected to every other part, and each has a different function that causes it to depend on every other member. [4]


This view would also fit in with Ephesians 4 as Jesus causes the body to grow and build itself up as He nourishes everyone through His love. Therefore, the function of the head is to produce growth and every part of the body is connected to the head.

but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. ~ Ephesians 4: 15-16


So what Paul was really saying was that the husband was the source and provider of the wife’s family identity. Through his nurturing, his wife would become the woman God always wanted her to be. Just like Christ is the head, the source of the Church. He’s the provider of our identities as children of God. The one who gives us tender care and nourishment to enable us to grow into newness of life.

  • Can you see the difference between Paul’s words with the harsh authoritarian Pharisaical view of Churchianity?


  • But if you’re still convinced that the husband is ‘head over the wife’ in an authoritarian way, then you have a contradiction on your hands – how are you going to deal with 1 Corinthians 7: 4?


The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. ~ 1 Corinthians 7: 4




You can read the rest of my essays on this topic here: Yahweh’s Training Zone



[1] God didn’t order wives to obey their husbands in the bible


[3] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 1987), 502-503.

[4]Toward an Understanding of Ancient Conceptions of “Head”

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