Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters

The Metaphorical Meaning of “Head” in Paul’s Letters: Part One

In Colossians 1:18, Paul writes:

[Christ] is the head (kephalē) of the church body of which he is the beginning (archē) the firstborn of the dead, so that he himself may be first in everything.

Paul’s main point in the passage where this verse comes from (Col 1:15-18) is to show that Jesus is the creator, source, origin and beginning of everything in the universe.  This includes Jesus being the source and beginning of the Church. Paul used the word kephalē (head) in this context – the context of source and origin.[1]

In English the word “head” has many meanings.  One metaphorical meaning of head is “leader” or “chief person”.  In English the “head” of an organisation is the leader, the top person.  In Koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament, the word kephalē (head) also has metaphorical meanings; however “leader” or “chief person” is usually not one of them.

When Koine Greek stopped being used (around 300AD), the meanings of kephalē in Koine became little known, and so many Christians have wrongly assumed that the Greek word kephalē, in the New Testament, could mean “leader” or “chief person” as it does in Byzantine and Modern Greek.[2] [Note the screen shot near the bottom of this page.]

One compelling piece of evidence that kephalē does not usually mean “leader” in Koine Greek is that the LSJ, one of the most exhaustive lexicons of Ancient Greek, does not include any definition of kephalē that approximates “leader” or “authority”.  [The entire LSJ entry on kephalē  is here.]

Another bit of compelling evidence is found in the Septuagint, the circa 2BC translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek.  When the Hebrew word for “head” (rosh) meant a literal head, the translators translated rosh into kephalē.  However in Hebrew, like in English, “head” can also mean a leader or ruler.  In the instances where rosh meant a leader, in most cases, the translators did not use the word kephalē in their translation, instead they typically used the Greek word archōn (which does mean ruler or leader.)  It seems that most of the translators of the Septuagint knew that kephalē does not usually mean leader, ruler or authority.[3]  (I say “most translators” because not all of the translators of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Koine Greek were equal to the task.  More on this here.)

Leadership or Loving Care?

Paul is the only Bible writer to say that the kephalē (head) of the woman is the man.  He says this twice: once in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and once in Ephesians 5:23.

1 Corinthians 11:3 is not about the marriage relationship.  Most English translations use the word “man” and “woman”, rather than “husband” and “wife”, to reflect this understanding.[4]  Nor is 1 Corinthians 11:3 about some sort of chain of command.[5]  The use of kephalē in this verse clearly has the meaning of “source”, a fact which several early church writers attest to.[6]  [More about 1 Corinthians 11:3 here.]

This leaves one verse. Ephesians 5:23 is about marriage. It amazes me that the Church has developed a strong and pervasive doctrine of “male headship” based on this one Bible verse.  (Note that nowhere in Scripture does it teach that the man is the “head” of the house.[7])

In Ephesians 5:23a Paul writes:

For the husband is the head (kephalē) of the wife as Christ is the head (kephalē) of the church, his body . . .

In the passage where this verse occurs (Eph 5:21-33), Jesus Christ’s lordship and authority is not mentioned, nor is there a mention of any sort of “husbandly authority”.  Paul does not tell the husbands to be leaders, or to be in authority, rather, Paul urges husbands to sacrificially love and care for their wives. Love and care, and even nurture, is the context of Ephesians 5:25-33, not leadership.  Husbands are to love and care for their wives as Jesus loves and cares for the church.  It seems that just as Christ is the sustainer and source (kephalē) of nurture for the church, the husband is to be the sustainer and source (kephalē) of nurture for his wife. [My article on Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33 here.]

Authority or Association?

The concept of kephalē carries the connotations of kinship, association and connection.  A head is nothing without a body, and vice versa.  Moreover, the head and body have an affinity and are part of the same unit. (Cf Colossians 2:19.)  By way of illustration, Suzanne McCarthy points out that we can say that man is the master of a dog, but we cannot say that man is the head of a dog.  Man is not of the same genus or species as dogs.  To say that man is the head of a dog is just plain wrong, because man and dogs are different.  Husband and wife, however, are not only of the same species but they are essentially equal.  This affinity and equality means that the husband can be the kephalē of the wife in the Greek metaphorical sense of the wordThis sense of the word would have been understood by Paul’s Greco-Roman audience in Corinth and Ephesus.

Many Greek philosophers and writers, such as Plutarch, taught that husbands are the leaders and rulers of their wives.  In contrast, no Bible author, including Paul, has asserted that the husband is to be the leader, ruler, or authority of the wife.[8]  Rather than using any of the many Greek words which mean ruler, leader or authority[9], Paul used the word kephalē to highlight the connectedness of husband and wife.[10]  Paul wanted husbands to be connected and allied with their wives.  Likewise, Paul instructed  the wives to be cooperative, supportive and loyal – that is, submissive – to their own husbands.[11]  Paul wrote that husbands and wives should be joined, united, one flesh.  Unity, affinity, fidelity and equality are the ideals in Christian marriage.  These qualities were absent in many marriages in Greco-Roman society, so Paul found it necessary to write about the godly ideals of marriage in his letters.

Supremacy or Source?

Many Christians argue that men (and husbands) have primacy or supremacy over women because the first man was the kephalē, the source or beginning, of the first woman.[12]  However it is important to remember that the first man was entirely passive when the first woman was made. In fact, the first man was in a deep sleep and probably had no inkling that God was removing a part out of him and forming the first woman from it.

We give Jesus the honour and the praise for being the creator, sustainer and source of the universe.  Man, however, cannot take any credit for the creation of the woman.  The first woman, as well as the first man was created and made by God, through Jesus.  Moreover, both man and woman were made in God’s image and both were made to rule over God’s creation.

The Genesis 2 record does not reveal any hint of male privilege, primacy or authority by virtue of man being created first (despite what some Complementarians assert to the contrary.)  Nevertheless, the man was created first and this fact needed to be explained to newly-converted Gentile Christians, many of whom may have held to pagan myths about the creation of various men and women and gods.  A faulty doctrine of the origins of mankind has the potential to  lead to other faulty beliefs, practices and behaviours.[13]  [My article on The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order here.]

Patriarchy or Mutuality?

Many Christians erroneously believe that the word kephalē conveys the meaning of authority, and they interpret Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 to mean that husbands have authority over their wives.  Some elaborate on their interpretation and understanding of kephalē even further and claim that husbands and fathers are the spiritual authorities in the home, and that wives and mothers do not have spiritual authority of their own.  Paul never hints at such a doctrine.  The only time the word for authority (exousia) is used in the New Testament in the context of marriage is in 1 Corinthians 7:4 where it says, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” In the following verse Paul adds, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time . . .”  (I take this verse to mean that the wife and the husband cannot have sex with whoever they want as their spouse has the exclusive right – exousia – of a sexual relationship with his or her own spouse.)

1 Corinthians 7:4-5 shows that, rather than the husband being the authority or decision maker, Paul expected husbands and wives to make decisions by mutual consent.  The notion that the husband is to be the arbiter and make the final decision, or have the final say on a matter, is contrived and simply has no biblical basis.

I have never understood why Complementarians believe that in marriage, when there are only two people – husband and wife – there needs to be a leader. Larger organizations need leaders to function effectively, but a couple – where the husband and wife are truly equal – does not need one person to always be the leader and the other person to always be the follower.  Moreover, it seems ineffective (and unnecessary) to burden the husband/father with the primary responsibility of family life when he has a capable wife with whom he can jointly share the responsibility.


“Headship” is a term that does not appear in the Bible, yet the understanding of “male headship” (i.e. male authority) has been part of the Church’s dogma for centuries.  This is because many have interpreted Scripture while being influenced by the prevailing patriarchal culture.  God has tolerated patriarchy in the past, and he continues to tolerate it, but true equality and mutuality are the biblical ideals that Kingdom people should be aiming for.  “Male headship” and male primacy does not reflect the gospel message of freedom and equality for all people.

Instead of teaching the concept of “male headship”, as many have understood it, Paul and other New Testament authors sowed the seed ideas for a casteless Christianity where all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic status, are considered as equal, and no person, simply on the basis of race, gender or wealth, is either privileged or discriminated against (Gal 3:28).  Tragically, the Church has been blinkered by the culture of patriarchy and male privilege, and have been appalling slow to realise the gospel ideal of true equality.  It is time for the Church to take off their blinkers and take another look at what Jesus, Paul and others taught about men and women and marriage in the New Testament.


[1] Other verses which show that Jesus is the beginning, origin, source and instigator of creation:

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1:3).
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him (John 1:10).
In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:2).

[2] Our knowledge of Hellenistic Greek, which includes Koine Greek, has improved dramatically with the discovery of large numbers of ancient papyri in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  (And more continue to be discovered.) These papyri have helped us to better understand the meanings and uses of many ancient Greek words, including the word kephalē.

[3] Though rosh is used 155 times as “chief” of a tribe or class in the Hebrew Old Testament, whenever this usage is translated in the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek is archōn or archēgos (ruler) rather than kephalē (with only four exceptions).  Since the LXX translators have typically translated rosh as “chief, ruler” with a word other than kephalē, and secular Greek usage lacks this meaning, it is likely that Paul’s use of kephalē carries another meaning than “chief, ruler.” (Ralph F. Wilson) Andrew Perriman identifies 11 cases in the Septuagint where rosh, at first glance, may appear to mean leader or ruler, and is translated into kephalē.   Michael Kruse summarises Perriman’s findings here and here.

[4] The Greek word anēr means “man” or “husband”.  Context determines whether anēr should be translated as “man” or “husband”.  Most English Bible translations – the ESV being a notable exception – use the word “man” in 1 Corinthians 11 because this passage is not speaking about marriage, but about appropriate behaviour in worship, which includes observing gender distinctions.  Most English translations use the word “husband” in Ephesians 5:22ff because Paul is clearly speaking about marriage here.

[5] 1 Corinthians 11:3 says:

But I want you to realize that the head [i.e. source] of every man is Christ, and the head [source] of the woman is man, and the head [source] of Christ [or Jesus’ Messiah-ship] is God [or the triune Godhead].   

1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is a tricky passage to interpret.  Both Complementarian and Egalitarian theologians agree that Paul’s intent here is difficult, if not impossible, to determine with any degree of certainty.  The real issue that Paul is addressing here, however, is propriety in worship, and not the husband and wife relationship.

While we don’t know exactly what Paul was referring to in this passage, we do know some things about the Corinthian Christians.  We know that the Corinthians were unruly in their worship services and that they were behaving in a way that could bring disrepute to Christianity.  We also know that the Corinthians had an over-realised view of eschatology.  It seems that they believed that the Kingdom age had fully arrived and that gender distinctions were no longer important.  It appears that they likened themselves to the (genderless) angels.  Moreover, it is very likely that the newly-converted Corinthian Christians may have had a view of the origin of mankind that was tainted with Greek mythology.  In view of their particular problems, Paul instructed the Corinthian believers to behave in ways that were culturally appropriate. And he explained to them the true origin of humanity.  Kephalē is used in 1 Corinthians 11:3 in the context of source or origin.

The word “authority” (exousia) is mentioned only once in this passage; in verse 10 where the meaning is that a woman should have her own authority upon her own head.  Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 11:11 Paul highlights the mutuality, interdependence and association of Christian men and women, “. . . in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.”   Source and origin, as well as respectable behaviour, rather than authority, are the issues in this passage.

[6] Several prominent early church theologians, including Athansius and Cyril of Alexandria attest to “source” as  Paul’s main meaning of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

Athanasius (296-373) Bishop of Alexandria, stated in De Synodis Anathema:

“For the head, which is the source, of all things is the Son, but God is the head, which is the source, of Christ.”

Cyril (376-444) Archbishop of Alexandria, in De Recta Fide ad Pulcheriam et Eudociam wrote:

“Therefore of our race he [Adam] 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.”

Even Hierarchical Complementarian, Wayne Grudem – who states that kephalē implies authority – concedes that:

“There are some texts which indicate that the physical head was thought of as the source of energy and life for the body, and therefore the possibility exists that the word kephale might have come to be used as a metaphor for ‘source’ or ‘source of life’. . .”

(Grudem, Wayne, “ The meaning of Kephalē (Head): A Response to Recent Studies” in Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Woman hood: A Response to Biblical Feminism, Wheaton, Il: Crossways, 1994, p467.)

[7] In reality, even Complementarian men (who believe that God has ordained them to be the leaders of their homes and wives) rarely lead or run their house and family; they leave much of the running of the household to their wives. (See 1 Tim 5:14 where, in the Greek, Paul actually uses the word oikodespotein in reference to wives. Oikodespotein literally means “to be the master of the house”.  The KJV translates this verse literally.)

[8] In Genesis 3:16 it says that one of the consequences of sin was that the husband would rule the wife, but this is far for God’s ideal.  In Esther 1:20-22 (esp. v22) the Persian king Xerxes decreed that husbands should rule their wives. Christians, however, should not take their cues for living from the curses and consequences of the Fall or from decrees of pagan kings.

[9] In I Believe in Male Headship, Gilbert Bilezikian writes:

“There are scores of references in the documents of the New Testament to leaders from all walks of life: religious leaders, community leaders, military leaders, governmental leaders, patriarchal leaders and church leaders. Never is anyone of them designated as head. A profusion of other titles is used, but head is conspicuously absent from the list. The obvious explanation for this singularity is that head did not mean “leader” in the language of the New Testament.”

[10] Paul also used the word kephalē (head) to show that the church, the body, was closely allied and had an affinity with Jesus Christ, the head.  [More on this in my next article which is about the Gnostic concept of kephalē in Paul’s letters here.]

[11] I believe that Paul wanted all Christians, including husbands and wives, to be mutually submissive to each other (cf Eph 5:21).  And I believe that mutual submission is what Paul was aiming for in his teaching on marriage, but he did this in ways that men and women at that time could relate to.  Women were used to be told to be submissive, so Paul (and Peter) write plainly about this.  Paul (and Peter) use different words when asking for submission from husbands.  [My article on Submission in Marriage here.]

[12] Some argue that the man, or husband, may have more prominence than the woman because the source or beginning of something usually comes first and this position often has more prominence than other positions.  However, it is difficult to see how “prominence” fits with Christian ideals of humility, self-sacrifice, service, and the “first will be last” concept.

[13] There were many myths circulating in the Greco-Roman world about the creation of particular men and women, and the creation of men and women in general.  One heretical view, which was popular among the pagan population, was that the origin of women was independent of man.  This view had implications for the independence and non-mutuality of men and women.  A very different Greek myth was that the goddess Athena was miraculously “born”, or generated, as a fully formed adult woman from the head (kephalē) of Zeus. This myth, and a few others like it, show that the Greeks saw the head (kephalē) as being some sort of a source of life. A Gnostic myth, that seems to have been causing problems in the Ephesian church, was that Eve was created first and that Adam was the once deceived. [My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context here.]

Instead of a variety of pagan myths about different ways that different men were created or generated, Paul writes that the source of every man is Jesus Christ.  And instead of a variety of pagan myths about the different ways that different women were created or generated, Paul points out that the source of the [first] woman was man (1 Cor 11:3).   The implication of this is that all men and subsequent women have a profoundly close kinship.

© 18th of September, 2011, Margaret Mowczko

Further Reading:

“A Meta-Study of the Debate over the Meaning of “Head” (Kephalē) in Paul’s Writings” by Alan F. Johnson here.

“Headship (kephalē) and Submission (hupotassomai) in Ephesians 5:21-33″ by Ralph F. Wilson here.

“The Meaning of Head in the Pauline Epistles” in Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible by Manfred T. Brauch here.

“Does kephalē (“head”) Mean “Source” or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature: A Rebuttal” by Richard S. Cervin here.

Below is a screen shot of a paragraph from Richard Cervin’s article where he states that lexicons for individual Greek authors (pre-classical, classical, and Hellenist authors) do not give “leader” as a meaning for kephalē. Note the last sentence in this paragraph where Richard quotes Dhimitrakou who states that “leader” as a meaning of kephalē is medieval.  That is, kephalē did not mean “leader” in New Testament times, but it did in medieval times.  Richard then goes on in his article to explain the reasons why most New Testament lexicons do have “leader” as a possible meaning.

Kephale_Richard Cervin paper

Related Articles

Kephalē and “Proto-Gnosticism” in Paul’s Letters
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Who is the head?
LSJ Definitions for Kephalē
(1) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1-6
(2) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?
Leading Together in the Home
(1) A Suitable Helper
(2) A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33

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Posted September 18th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

111 comments on “Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters

  1. Connie says:

    Great article! Another note about Paul’s use of kephale is that it does have a “double meaning”. So he may very well have been addressing the authoritative aspect of the husbands of that culture and be simply turning it on it’s head (literal use, to be turned upside down, no pun intended). That would be very Paul like to do so.

    I came across this quote from a preacher whose insight I usually find very solid.
    “Your sister is probably looking for a protective spiritual authority to provide a secure upbringing for her children. Not getting it from the Lord through her husband and the eldership of her church, she looks elsewhere.”

    Has the complementary teaching actually crossed a new line, determining that a “protective spiritual authority” from the Lord for a wife, can only be gained through a husband? I suppose it would make logical sense to put the husband in the place of Christ if you were to use the same interpretive tools for the end of Eph 5:23 (“as which he is the Savior”) that have been used for the beginning of the verse.

    Hopefully this part of the church will wake up soon to discover they are a new creation through Christ and that they are no longer in bondage to sin. They can with all righteousness let go of Gen 3:16 rather than continue to live it out.

  2. Marg says:

    Hi Connie,

    I’ve heard some say that Paul may have been referring to a husbandly authority, and that he explains how this authority should be used in Christian marriage – “turning it on its head”. My problem with that explanation is that I simply cannot find one instance of kephalē where it means “authority” in original, untranslated Classical or Koine Greek. (Which still surprises me as I continue to keep my eyes open.)
    I do use a similar argument, however, in explaining Paul’s use of kephalē in a Gnostic sense. In a couple of verses in Colossians and in Ephesians Paul uses Gnostic terms to show that Jesus is above the aeons of Gnosticism.

    The main point of Ephesians 5:22-33 is about Jesus as Saviour and purifier of the Church. I think we need to always remember this main point when trying to interpret that passage. The secondary point is unity between husband and wife. I believe kephalē is used here as part of a metaphor for unity.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:3, I think the meaning of kephalē is almost definitely source or origin.

    I don’t hear the more respectable Complementarian ministers teach that husbands are some sort of covering for their wives. The concept of “covering” doesn’t have any biblical basis whatsoever. Every individual Christian has direct access to God’s throne and has the Holy Spirit living inside them. We shouldn’t rely on others for our spiritual well-being, or for our spiritual “protection” (whatever that means.)

    I agree that we should be living as New Creation people! :)

  3. Prescott Jay Erwin says:

    I might observe here that as thoroughly as this study has been done, one weakness that is apparent has to do with the handling of the initial verse cited Colossians 1:18. In view of two phrases, one must allow that AT LEAST “κεφαλὴ” (kephale; head) means both source AND authority. Those phrases are: αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων (autos estin pro panton; He is before all; v.17) and ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων (hina genetai en pasin autos proteuon in order that in all things He might become preeminent; v.18).

  4. Marg says:

    Hi Prescott, Thanks for your comment.

    There are plenty of sentences in the NT with two phrases which say almost the same thing. Sometimes when I’m translating into English, I find it difficult to find two different words in English because the main words in the two Greek phrases are basically saying the same thing, reinforcing each other, with only a subtle, and sometimes indiscernible, difference between them.

    Kephalē and archē can be practically synonymous when used with the meaning of “origin” and “beginning”. I believe the context of Colossians 1:18, and the preceding verses, is of beginning, origin and source. But there is more to it than that. The choice of words here may be intentionally ambiguous, or broad – combining the concepts of unity and supremacy with origin and beginning.

    I’m still keeping a lookout for an instance where kephalē clearly means “authority” in original, untranslated Classical and Koine Greek. I have yet to find an example, with possibly one exception in the Shepherd of Hermas which may be a translation or a borrowed idiom.

    I think the way I have handled Colossians 1:18 is fine.

  5. Phill Olson says:


    I want to say a hearty thank you to you for your excellent exegetical study of the topic. I am currently working on a short book encouraging women to pursue ministry providing them some biblical defenses to speak to complementarians. I would like to cite you in footnotes to give credit where it is due. Do you have a primary source translation for the Cyril quote in your afternote?
    Again, great study, well defended.

  6. Marg says:

    Hi Phil,

    I just want to acknowledge that I’ve read your comment. I hope to visit my university’s library next week. Then, hopefully, I can give you a source to cite.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about your book.

    And thanks for the encouraging compliments. :)

  7. Don Johnson says: is a great study on obey and kephale on Christian ThinkTank.

  8. […] Patriarchy, or male “headship”, even when the man is benevolent, is a social system where the man is more and the woman is less. […]

  9. […] The idea that the man is the leader or authority in marriage is based on a faulty and biased interpretation of Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3. […]

  10. Daniel McClellan says:

    I’m sorry but I’m afraid you’re wrong. The context of Eph 5 clearly defines the man as the authoritative head who gives of himself to save (sozo[preserve or keep from harm]) his wife. Otherwise paul would not call on the woman to submit to (place herself under, “hupotasso”) her husband. Understanding Kaphale as “source” does not free us of the idea of male authority. We’d have to distort a lot more greek to get there.

    This isn’t an issue of men are better & women are worse. These are the roles that God has prescribed so that a Christian marriage can be an accurate & glorifying picture of his relationship to his church.

  11. Marg says:

    Hi Daniel. Are you married? How often do you have to save or preserve your wife from harm? I don’t think my husband has ever saved me from harm, and yet I am safe and well. And I sincerely give God the glory for that.

    Also, if you strictly apply “saviour” to husbands, does that mean that wives do not have a responsibility for the safety of their husbands? I know of at least three Bible women whose quick thinking and brave actions saved their husbands from imminent death: Zipporah (Exo. 4:24-26), Michal (1 Sam. 19:11-17), and Abigail (1 Sam. 25:1ff).

    Ephesians 5:21 is the verse where hupotassō appears (the theme continues in verse 22 without the word hupotassō being reiterated in the oldest Greek manuscripts. See endnote 5.) Who is under who in this verse 21? While the etymology of hupo-tassō is “order under”, i.e. “subordinate”, the word is used in a variety of ways in Koine literature and can mean cooperate, be loyal and be an ally.

    I think it is unwise to apply the strict military usage of hupotassō to marriage. A marriage of two equals simply does not need one person to always be the leader or saviour and the other person to always be the follower or rescuee. Moreover, the first woman was designed to be a rescuer. More on this here:

    The picture of marriage that is given in Ephesians is of sacrificial love and unity. I don’t see any indication of authority in this passage. Christ’s lordship and authority is not mentioned here. I have written more about Ephesians 5:22-33 here:

    I believe that kephalē clearly refers to origin in 1 Cor. 11:3. In Ephesians 5:23 I believe that kephalē is used as part of a head-body metaphor denoting unity.

    I have yet to find a clear example of kephalē meaning authority or leader in Classical or Koine Greek. If you find one, let me know.

  12. […] Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters […]

  13. […] (1) Kephalē and Male Headship in Paul’s Letters (2) Kephalē and Proto-Gnosticism in Paul’s Letters […]

  14. Ashley says:

    Hi. Doesn’t the bible say a wife must submit to her husband in everything? Where does that leave room for the husband to submit? Doesn’t that at least imply that the if someone needs to submit its the wife? By the way, I do not disagree with an egalitarian marriage. I just don’t see how a wife who always must submit could be submitted to. Also, in the verses using the same greek word for us to the government, us to God, and so forth it seems to establish that the one being submitted to has more authority than the one submitting. I would love help in understanding this issue.

  15. TL says:

    Consider it this way, Ashley. First everyone submits to everyone, verse 21. Everyone must consider others needs better than themselves, make room for each other, etc. in the manner of Phil. 2:1-4. Then that concept (including all of 5:1-21) is carried forward to include our behavior in marriage. The wife also to her husband. Every word has a range of meanings. Upotassomenoi is no different. It does not mean obey, which is hupakouo (sp). Rather it means yields to, submits, cooperates, attaches and similar. So, yes in everything the wife is to yield to, attach herself to and cooperate with her husband. First everyone to each other in the fear of the Lord. Then that includes wives to husbands. We do not get to be one way toward our brothers and sisters in Christ and then drop it when we enter into marriage.

    • Marg says:

      Hi TL, we seem to have responded to Ashley at roughly the same time; I didn’t see your comment until after I posted mine. Your comment is well said! :)

  16. Marg says:

    Hi Ashley,

    “Submit” (hupotassō) has a range of meaning and applications. Even Wayne Grudem, a staunch Complementarian, states that “the exact form submission takes, the way it works out in practice, will vary greatly as it applies to soldiers, to children, to servants, to the church, and to wives.” (Emphasis added.) (My only problem with Grudem’s statement is that children are never told to submit in the Bible, they are told to obey parents. Conversely, wives are never told to obey their husbands in the Bible in its original languages.)

    Submission in a healthy marriage doesn’t mean that the husband always gets his way, especially as the instruction to him is that he lay down his life for his wife and cherish her. While this instruction for sacrificial love is given to the husband, this doesn’t mean that a wife doesn’t need to cherish her husband, and if the need arises, lay down her life for her husband. Similarly, just because the instruction to submit is given clearly to wives, this doesn’t mean that husband’s don’t need to submit to their wives. Furthermore, I think Peter does tell Christian husbands to submit to their wives. More on this here.

    Wayne Grudem, and other complementarians, believe that hupotassō “always indicates one-directional submission to an authority”. This is simply not true. Mutual submission among all believers is mentioned in Ephesians 5:21. It is also mentioned in post-apostolic writings such as 1 Clement 2:1, 37:5-38:1 (which I write about here), Ignatius’s letter to the Magnesians 13:2, and Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians 10:2. The bishops who wrote these letters believed that mutual submission among believers (which is very different to one-directional submission) was essential for unity and harmony in the church. These same bishops also taught about submission to those in authority (showing that submission can mean different things in different circumstances.)

    So how does mutual submission work in real life? I think submission means deferring to the other person, and preferring the other person; honouring and respecting the other person, and being humble and loyal (Phil. 2:3-4). In marriage, submission affects every area of life (“in everything”) and our spouse should receive a greater degree of loyalty and preference than all others. In a marriage of equals, all problems should be worked out together. I do not believe that husbands are, necessarily, to be the authorities of their wives, unless that is what the husband and wife have mutually decided upon.

    You mentioned the government: Our submission to the government is not without limits. There are enough examples of civil disobedience in the Bible, by godly people, to illustrate that submission to the government has limits (e.g. Exo. 1:17). A government that is acting democratically is a government by the people, for the people, and should be deferring to the wishes and needs of the people. The Bible shows us that submitting to legitimate religious authority even has limits (e.g. Acts 4:19). The submission of wives to their own husbands also has limits. Abigail clearly went against her husband’s wishes, and she is commended for it.

    We are to use discernment and wisdom when implementing any biblical directive, this is true also of the instructions for submission.

    I hope this helps. If you’re interested, I have other articles about submission in marriage here.

  17. TL says:

    LOL thanks Marg. And here I thought I was “johnny on the spot”. Thank you for taking so much time and effort to respond to people’s questions and concerns. Such devotion is much needed in the Body of Christ.

    hugs in the Lord, sister in Christ. :)

  18. Marg says:

    Hi Ashley, I got your message. Everything seems to be ok, technically. Perhaps the page hadn’t fully loaded when you were trying to leave another comment.

  19. […] 3:7-8 Mutual Submission in First Clement  The Priority of Wifely Submission vs Mutual Submission Kephalē  and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letter  (Other articles on kephalē here.) Double Standards in the Promotion & Practise of […]

  20. Ashley says:

    Thank you. Seems to be my computer. I wrote this a few days ago. I know you have posted a new article since then.

    Thanks for getting back to me so fast. I’ve been thinking about what you both said. Grudem seems to believe that while the form may defer depending on who you’re submitting to the meaning of the word doesn’t. The way I subordinate myself to my husband will look different than to the government but it’s still subordination. The meaning doesn’t change. Looking at the other places that the greek word is used the military meaning of the word seems to fit better than the non-military.

    Also, Grudem points out that the greek word for “one to another” can also mean “some to others.” In other words, Ephesians doesn’t say everyone to submit to everyone else but believers to elders, the student to the teacher, wives to husbands. Is there any other greek word were 95% of the time if means one thing but in this one of two places it carries a different meaning? Grudem seems to hold that “submit” means the same in every place it’s used. That makes more sense to me.

    I’ve read your article on 1Peter and that seemed weak. Simply because in Ephesians you look to the preceding verse because “wives to your husbands” is missing the verb. I heard someone call it a elliptical verb in the Greek. Is that right? You would definitely know more about that than I. But there is a verb in Peter, dwell or live. Is it really the same situation then? Is there any other examples of this situation? Though the word “likewise” does seem to link the thoughts somewhat.

    I’ve actually read most if not all your articles on gender equality. My dirty house can confirm this. :) I agree completely on your position on women in ministry and the body. I too believe there is no scriptural reason to prevent a woman from using the gifts God has given her wherever He may call her to minister. However, the position on women in marriage doesn’t seem to me to be as strong.

    I hope I have not offended you. That is certainly not my intention. I apologize if I seem to be “beating a dead horse.” And I don’t want to be seen as argumentative. I’m just really interested in this topic. My husband would say fixated. I can be a bit of a pit bull sometimes. :) Again, thank you both for your replies.

  21. Marg says:

    Hi Ashley, I take your comments as being sincere, so don’t worry about offending.

    In regards to 1 Peter, “living together” is a participle, not a verb. Typically, sentences need a verb, either stated or implied. So the main verb in the 1 Peter and the Ephesians passages are stated earlier. In the Ephesians 5 passage, the main verb is in verse 18, but the participle of hupotasso carries over from verse 21 to 22. In 1 Peter it is the “likewise” that is important to my point. “Likewise” is “customarily used to introduce the second and third entities in a series.” Massey (1989:61)

    Also, I have no problem with wives submitting to their husbands. I submit to mine. So I never argue that wives should not be submissive to their husbands. All I argue is that the idea of the husband being the authority of the wife has negligible scriptural support.

    I cannot see any evidence that Ephesian 5:21 might mean one-directional submit to elders, etc. I believe that the submission in 5:21 is reciprocal. In fact allēlois is called a reciprocal pronoun.

    OK, gotta go, I’m off to Sydney today. I’m very happy to keep discussing this.

  22. […] Kephalē and Male Headship in Paul’s Letters […]

  23. Susann Krizo says:

    Excellent article! What most theologians ignore is that we get the idea that “kephale” refers to authority from the Latin word “caput,” which has the meaning “literal head” and “a leader.” Since the Latin Bible was THE Bible for over a thousand years, we shouldn’t surprised that theologians used the latter meaning rather then the former.

  24. Marg says:

    Such a good point, Susanna.

    By the way your book/s came today. I hope to begin rereading it tomorrow afternoon.

  25. Ashley says:

    Hi. I wanted to get your opinion on something. I’ve read that “source” is also a rare usage of the word Kephale. That when liddell and Scott site “source” it’s talking about when kephale is used in the plural not the singular. But it is used in Ephesians in the singular.

    Also that a more normal usage would be the most noblest part of something, chief part or point, or sum of the whole. Could Paul be saying that because the husband is the “most noble part of the family” and because the husband as head represents to the world the family as a whole the wife must submit to him in all things. That the husband is in fact the “face” of the family? The point on which the whole family hinges or depends? Just wondering what your thoughts are on such opinions. Thank you.

  26. TL says:

    Ashley, hope you don’t mind if I comment on your statement.

    In the era that the epistle was written men were regarded as not only the “face” of the family that would speak for the family to the outside world, but would also keep the family from the outside world. There was a separateness of superior and inferior in their thinking. Paul was seeking to change that view. One way was in telling the wife to view the husband as her ‘head’ metaphorically, and also in telling the husband to view his wife as his ‘body’ metaphorically.

    Regarding ‘submit in all things’, it is my opinion that Paul is using the word hupotassomenoi in the manner of submitting and staying attached (part of the range of meanings for this word). This fits with the ‘head of’ and ‘body of’ metaphors. Life is destroyed when either the head or the body separates themselves from one another. So telling the wife to look at their relationship of coming into unity, living as one, (vs. 5:31) then the admonition to submit in everything or stay attached in everything makes sense.

    The point of kephale meaning ‘source’ as one of the range of meanings, is not all that rare. Somewhere around that time there was a bust of Zeus as a water fountain with water coming out of his head. Thus, his head is where the source of life was coming. In the same way, it was believed that in the head of the male is where sperm were stored, which contained all that was necessary to produce life when deposited in the womb of a wife. There are quite a few other examples that off the top of my head :^) I can’t think of right now.

    As well, we use it today when we speak of “head” of a river, meaning the point of origination (source) of the river.

  27. Ashley says:

    Thank you, TL, for your insights. Very interesting.

  28. Marg says:

    Hi Ashley,

    The first example the LSJ gives of head meaning source is one in Herodotus Histories (Book 4, chapter 91). This example does happen to be plural because it is talking about headwaters (plural).

    I’ve come across other examples of head meaning source that are not plural.

    Did you see my latest article about kephale? (Look at my extra comment below the article too.)

    Here is a link to a good, readable paper by Alan Johnson that surveys that academic papers scholars have written about kephale.

    I really like the paper. It’s wise and reasonable. It has good conclusions and applications. I agree with Johnson that Paul probably used “head” as a living metaphor in a variety of ways. I agree that instances in Ancient Greek where “head” means source are rare. I also maintain that instances where “head” means leader/authority in original, untranslated Greek are rarer still. I do like how Johnson suggests that Paul wrote with male honour in mind. I think this is an important consideration. Paul, and Peter, are careful to use language that would not be an affront to the Greco-Roman men when telling them to be deferential, caring and loyal to their wives. Willingly laying down one’s life for another is the ultimate act of submission (Eph. 5:25).

    I hope this helps.

  29. Marg says:

    One thing that personally saddens me is that I am sure that Paul chose to use the word kephale to emphasize the mutuality and compatibility of husbands and wives (Eph. 5), and of men and women in general (1 Cor. 11), but people have misinterpreted and misapplied the word to mean male authority.

  30. Marg says:

    I read this today and want to share it here:

    “How is headship exercised? Husbands exercise it, we infer from Ephesians 5:22-33, as they love their wives as Christ loved and gave himself up for the church. On no less than four occasions in that passage husbands are instructed to love (agapan) their wives. From a husband’s side it is a headship of agape modeled on the caring, sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus for his people (cf 1 Pet. 3:7). Men are not once directed to express headship in any other way, neither by decision-making nor leadership and least of all by any kind of oppression.”
    – Paul Barnett “Women in the Church with Special Reference to 1 Timothy 2″ in The Bible and Women’s Ministry: An Australian Dialogue, Alan Nichols (Ed.) (Canberra: Acorn Press, 1990)

    I don’t agree with everything that Dr Paul Barnett says in his chapter “Women in the Church . . .” But I certainly agree with this paragraph.
    [Info about Dr Paul Barnett here.]

  31. Ashley says:

    I have been doing some reading. I can’t seem to find anything written during the life of Paul that supports kephale as source. Before or after but not during. I’m no sure if I have just overlooked them or not. It seems most sources quoted are a hundred to several hundred years after Ephesians was written. Have I over looked them?

  32. Ashley says:

    I read a chapter written by Howard Marshall where he states that kephale meaning source is not persuasive. He suggest that the meanings of “prominent, outstanding and determinative” and thus possessing “preeminence” or “ground of being” are well founded. That because the husband is the wife’s provider and she depends on him for everything submission is appropriate. He seems to believe that the “attempts to weaken the sense of head to mean nothing more than source” are on the same level as showing it means authority over. Basically he says that Paul was changing harsh patriarchy into love patriarchy while planting the seeds for us to eventually be able to move on to an egalitarian marriage. I find it interesting that he doesn’t think source is a probable meaning for kephale.

  33. Marg says:

    “Source” as a meaning of kephalē is rare but here are a few instances I’ve found in works contemporary with, or just a little later than, Paul:

    “For it is plain that the kephalē (source) and object of every reasoning must be the aforesaid mind; for the sake of which, long digressions and sentences are in the habit of being used by men who write histories. ” Philo “Posterity” 53

    Galen, who is a little later that Paul also uses the word kephalē for the source of a river in “On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato”

    “The Apocalypse of Moses” 19.3 says that lust is the kephalē (source) of every sin. This work is roughly contemporary with the NT but was probably written in a Semitic language before being translated into Greek.

    The Testament of Reuben 2:1-2, early 2nd century, speaks about the seven heads (sources) of rebellion.

    More importantly though, I believe the context of 1 Cor.11:2-16 is about origin. That is how Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria and several other early church theologians understood this passage and how they understood the word kephalē in verse 3. Philip Payne and Susanna Krizo have listed these other theologians in their respective books, “Man and Woman, One in Christ” and “When Dogmas Die”.

    I have no argument with Howard Marshall, but I wonder how the idea of preeminence fits with the themes of Ephesians 5:21-33. Jesus Christ is not presented as preeminent here, but he is in other verses where kephalē is used. However, I do believe Paul (in Eph. 5) and Peter (in 1 Peter 3:7) present their message to husbands in terms of male honour to make it more appealing, so perhaps preeminence is Paul’s meaning in Ephesians 5:23(?)

  34. TL says:

    Also, the sense of source seems quite clear in:
    Colossians 1:18
    And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
    Colossians 2:10
    and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

  35. Ashley says:

    Awesome. Thank you.

  36. TL says:


    Eph. 4:15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

    We see that Christ is the supplier for the Body. If the Body stays attached to the Head, then everything needed for Growth is supplied. That is Christ being the source of life and growth.

  37. Bruce says:

    Just remembering and making sure that every one in this conversation understands the out of the 25,000 times that Kephalē is used it never means anything other than Head and not source or beginning, but Head

  38. Marg says:

    Bruce, can you be more specific? 25,000 times in Classical Greek, in Hellenistic Greek, in Medieval Greek or in Modern Greek? In literature, in papyri, in inscriptions? What is the source of your information?

    Kephalē does means “head” in Greek. No one disputes this. But “head” is understood in different ways, both literally and metaphorically. You surely don’t mean to say that a man is a literal head of a woman . . . women do not have a man on top of their necks.

    The word kephalē (“head”) is used metaphorically, not literally, in Ephesians 3:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3. The key to understanding these two verses is whether the metaphorical meaning of kephalē might be “chief person” or something else. The Greek word kephalē, however, rarely means “chief person”, whereas the English word “head” can metaphorically mean “chief person”. We need to look to the Greek, not the English, for answers on this.

    The New Testament contains the word kephalē approximately 70 times. And in 1 Corinthians 11:3 the meaning of “head” does seem to be “origin”. That is how Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria and other Early Church Fathers understood this verse. One of the themes of the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is “origin”. (See especially 1 Cor. 11:11-12).

  39. David says:

    Marg, thanks for the reply to Bruce although I’m not sure he’s interested in taking part in a sensible discussion. Please could you let me have the citations for Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria re their discussions of 1 Corinthians 11:3. Given Athanasius’ position on the Trinity and his rejection of the eternal subordination of Christ, it makes sense that he would understand 1 Corinthians 11:3 as talking of origin, but I want to read what he says myself just to make sure. Kind regards. David.

  40. Marg says:

    Hi David,

    Take a look in the first column on page 377 here. Catherine Kroeger gives some sources here where kephalē is used in arguments against the eternal subordination of the second person of the Trinity. These sources include the texts from Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria that I quote in endnote 6.

    I have not seen the primary sources myself, but not from lack of trying. I think I first came across the quotes in Susanna Krizo’s “When Dogmas Die”, and have since seen them in books by Phil Payne and Catherine Clark Kroeger, etc.

    Hope this helps.

  41. Randi says:

    Marg – I too have been getting blown away as I study Matthew this year!!! Jesus truly turned everything upside down and made it clear: humility, considering others above us – is the hallmark of His followers!!!

  42. Marg says:

    Randi, It is remarkable how clear Jesus’ teaching is on humility and equality, but most of us still don’t “get it” or we fail to put it into practice. Despite frequent failures, I’m am still trying to live according to the New Creation and kingdom principles that Jesus taught and demonstrated.

  43. Anna says:

    I have been studying the Bible for quite some time now and I can make no sense out of complementarianism.

    For example, most complementarians state that husbands have authority over wives (male headship) and while wives are supposed to submit, their submission is voluntary and can’t be forced by the husband.

    Well,if submission is voluntary, how can headship be authority, since authority is defined as the right to enforce obedience. And if submission is not voluntary and can be enforced by the husband, what is the appropriate penalty upon the wife if she does not submit? Wouldn’t this justify a man punishing his wife like a child? What is the point of authority that can not be enforced?

    This makes me think that kepale means source and submission (hupotasso) probably means “support of” in the context of presenting yourself to your husband, in everything (meaning take part in all family issues/decision making), helping him (as his HelpMeet) and counseling him and supporting him as an equal. We are subject to him as a HelpMeet and equal, responsible for taking part in decision making, unlike the patriarchy of the time, where women were subject to their husbands as slaves and property and were required to be obedient to their husbands commands.

    This seems consistent with the relationship originally present in the Garden of Eden.

    • Marg says:

      I’ve noticed many inconsistencies with Complementarian ideology and practice.

      There’s a book that’s about to be released that critiques Dr John Dickson’s views expressed in his book “Hearing her Voice”, and one of the major contributors is a woman, Claire Smith. How can a woman who believes that woman cannot teach men write chapters in a book that will be read by men – a book that discusses scripture and doctrine? (More on this kind of inconsistency here.)

      I was thinking the other day that the idea of voluntary submission from wives does not correspond with the idea that husbands are the authorities of their wives.

      • Anna says:

        I concur with everything you have said. In some churches, a woman can’t sing a solo but she could sing a duet with a man. The duet does not change the fact that she is still singing.

        I think complementarians are saying that a woman can teach a man, as long as the message is that a woman can’t teach a man.


        It’s reminds of the books written by Debi Pearl. She makes a career telling other women they can’t have careers.

        I really with I could find an egalitarian church to attend. All the churches in my area are comp.

        • Marg says:

          About a year ago or so, staunch complementarian Russel Moore reprimanded complementarian couples for having egalitarian marriages. He recognised that many complementarian couples were saying that the husband is the authority of the wife but acting as though the husband and wife were equal partners. At least he acknowledged the inconsistency.

          He went on to say that complementarians should change back and call their ideology patriarchalism, so that people wouldn’t get soft on male authority.

          I’m so glad I go to an egalitarian church and have a truly egalitarian marriage.

  44. […] The Bible has a little over 31,000 verses, but it isn’t until Ephesians 5:23 that the apostle Paul—for the first time in all of history—described the husband as the head (kephale) of his wife. […]

  45. Ola says:

    I find this write up very interesting and deeply researched. As deeply researched as it is though, I also find it to be subtly, yet dangerously very misleading. In my opinion, it strongly promotes feminism and rationalism rather than the scripture on which it is supposedly based.
    A man is not superior to a woman and God has clearly created the two genders for specific, yet complimentary purposes rather than rivalry. One is not complete without the other yet one has been made a leader over the other. In my understanding, all the verses used in this write up point to one thing in the bible; just as Christ is the head of the Church, yet he submitted himself to death for the sake of the church, so has God given man leadership yet requiring man to be humble and loving in that leadership role. God requires man to be sacrificial, protective and responsible for the upkeep and wellbeing of his wife (and children).
    You said the first woman was created to rescue, what was she created to rescue? Well, again this is not biblical. The first woman was created as a companion, a mate a help meet. Someone who is not inferior nor a rival, rather someone who has complimentary set of skills to make up for what is lacking. Someone to complete a team.
    I would remind us again of what happened in the garden of Eden. When God came to visit after Adam had eaten the fruit given to him by Eve (a rescuer?), both of them hid. Called then called “Adam, where art thou?” God did not say “Adam and Eve, where art thou” An all knowing God that He is, He knew what happened already yet when He came, He directed all His questioning at Adam ONLY, why? Simply because Adam was the leader and he had failed in the capacity of the leader, yet God help him (the leader) responsible for that failure despite the fact that Eve (his subordinate) gave him the forbidden fruit to eat.
    Lastly, as there cannot be two captains in charge of a ship at the same time, the same way there cannot be two equal leaders in a marriage at the same time. Marriage is a beautiful institution but the presence of two equal leaders in many marriages today has been responsible for the rampant divorce and separation breaking up homes in the world as well as in the church. I think Christians should let the spirit of God lead them to say the truth to the church and the world to reverse this trend by every spirit led means rather than pushing for more rivalries and power tussle at the home front. I think so long as young men and women continue to read articles like this, we would be seeing more men losing their sense of responsibility and women losing their sense of subordination, we would be seeing more breaking homes.
    I reiterate again, as ordained by God, man is not superior to woman, in fact a man is not complete without a woman, yet a man has been made a leader over a woman and when we question or query or imply that this is not so, we query the wisdom of God the creator.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Ola,

      Here are a few responses to your comment:

      ~ I often hear people say that man is not complete without a woman and vice versa, but I’m not sure that the Bible teaches this. It does not say that God created the women to make the man complete. There are several single people in the Bible who lived productive lives, and were valuable in fulfilling God’s mission. Paul recommends singleness. Yet it is not good for anyone to be alone. We all need to belong to a community, but we do not all need to be married.

      ~ I can find no verse that states that men only, and not women are to God required to be sacrificially protective and responsible for the well being of their spouse and children. We are all called to selflessly care and protect everyone, especially our own families. Just because Paul singles out men in Ephesians chapter 5 does not mean that women do not need to love and cherish their own husbands as their own bodies. It seems that the husbands in Paul’s letter needed to be taught this. Many wives were already used to being selfless in marriage.

      ~ The Hebrew word ezer (and the Greek word boethos) means a rescuing and strong support. It is usually used of God and his rescuing help and strong support. So the concept that God created the first woman to rescue the man is entirely scriptural. You can easily compare how ezer and boethos are used in the Bible. All the Bible verses that contain the word ezer are here. All the Bible verses that contain the word boethos are here.

      ~ The Bible does not say what the women was to rescue the man from. But God did say, just before he made her, that it was not good for the first human to be alone. So perhaps she was to rescue him from loneliness.

      ~ I have written about God calling the man here:

      ~ Nothing in Genesis 1 or 2, or the beginning of Genesis 3, states or implies that the first human was a leader of anything other than the animals. Genesis 1 also states that both men and women were leaders or rules of the animals.

      ~ I do not see in the Bible that God created any human being to rule over another capable human being. This unfortunate dynamic came after the fall.

      ~ A ship needs a captain, as does any organisation of more than few people. A marriage is only made of two people. If both people are intelligent and capable and moral, and are being led by the Spirit, it simply doesn’t make sense that one person is always the leader and the other person is always the follower. But most importantly the Bible just does not say that the husband is the leader of the wife (using any of the many, usual Greek words for leader, ruler, governor, master, etc.)

      In my marriage and in my friendships there is no leader. And my marriage has lasted for 30 years and, I can thankfully say, it’s great. As are my friendships. I think my friends would be disgusted if I suddenly said I want to always be the leader and you be my followers.

      Finally, I can not find a single verse in the Bible where God says that man ruling the woman is his idea or his ideal. Apart from the Genesis 3:16 and Esther 1:20-22 (esp. vs 22) there is no verse in the Bible that states that a godly man or husband is to be the leader or ruler of his wife.

      I am still reading Koine Greek and I have still not come across an instance where kephale (head) mean leader (in original, untranslated Greek, which is what this article is all about.

      God created the woman to be the man’s companion, not his subordinate follower.

      I see nothing at all dangerous about a loving couple mutually submitting to each other, where neither one is the leader because their true leader is God. It’s worked for many Christian marriages.

  46. TL says:

    Ola, I’m sure you’ve listened most intently to your leaders and teachers and I commend you for getting their teachings so exact. I would be interested in what Scriptures you are using to support your theories.

    Where does it say males are not superior to females, that man is not complete without a woman, or that a man has been made a leader over a woman. Please quote the words that show these things.

    • Alicia says:

      But we know that God is the real source of everything and if we still decide to fight source vs. Leadership in Him, failing to submit- We deny James 4:7 and have made ourselves or own ruler.

      Remember that we, as women are reminded to be like Sarah who called he husband ‘her lord’. So fighting in your own agebda. It’s hard for all of us, but I am writing this to save you trouble, not me.

      • TL says:

        I’m not sure I get your point, Alicia. Of course God is the source of all of everything including all concepts of authority and leadership. And God is much more than that as well.

        Humans on the other hand are only intended to be capable of emulating God’s holiness with much effort. It is not natural for us. Paul did not admonish husbands to emulate God’s creative authority or anything akin to it. Rather husbands are admonished to love their wives and give their lives toward the wives nourishment and life in the same way that Christ gave His life in order for us to share in His life.

        And Peter reminded wives to not fear as Sarah obeyed God, trusting in Him without fear. Wives were not admonished to call their husbands “lord”. :)

  47. […] As well as recognising that men and women are different, Egalitarians also recognise that not all men are leaders (which is what some Christians believe and teach.) Moreover we acknowledge that the New Testament does not teach that men are the priests, or the spiritual authorities, or the leaders, while women are none of these things. […]

  48. Geoff says:

    Thanks Marg for such excellent teaching. I’ve had a particular interest in discovering the true teaching of the Bible about women in ministry etc., for some time now and I find your articles to be very informative. It’s great to learn more about the Greek (of which I’m a novice). It’s such a shame that English translations have done so much to misrepresent Paul and his teaching on women. I hope this will be addressed soon with a translation that does women justice. Again, thank you so much for your scholarship and remarkable humility and patience in answering questions. I’ll be reading regularly from now on. I also share your posts on facebook. Bless you!

  49. Alicia says:

    If we argue that a source is not a spirital leader then we must also argue in so many other areas of doctrine. Prepare your arguments in that way if you are right.

    Is God the leader of Christ? He is the source.

    Is a parent the leader of a child? It is the source.

    Is a spider the leader of its eggs? It is the source.

    Is God the leader of your Bible? He is the source.

    Search your heart and serve God completely.

    • TL says:

      Do you believe in the Trinity, that God is 3 in 1. If not then you really need to read more of the Scriptures. The Athenasian Creed was written to dissuade those who thought there was an hierarchy in the Trinity and the Father was of more value, authority and power then the Son and Holy Spirit.

      Our God is One, a united and harmonious one made up of 3. God the Father, and Son and Holy Spirit all share the same authority, will, power, love and knowledge of truth. All participated in creation. Remember John 1:1-2. And so forth.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Alicia,

      Just to be clear, kephalē (head) does not mean “source” or “beginning” in Ephesians 5:23.

      Furthermore, kephalē does not mean “spiritual leader” anywhere in the New Testament as you seem to suggest. Occasionally the word is used for someone who is a spiritual leader, however it is the other words that tell us that God and Jesus are Lord (and thus leaders), not the word kephalē.

      I do not think of parents as the source of their children. Children are a gift from God. God is the source of all people, including our children. All things come from God (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).

      Your understanding of kephalē is different to mine, but that doesn’t mean that I serve God differently or less completely than you.

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