Grudem's response to Cervin's claim that "kephale" does not mean "authority over"
C. The Claim that Kephale Does Not Mean "Authority Over"
After analyzing the forty-nine texts that I had categorized with the meaning "Person of superior authority
or rank, or 'ruler,' 'ruling part'" (pp. 51-58), Cervin summarized his conclusions as follows:
Of Grudem's 49 examples, the 12 of the New Testament are illegitimate as evidence on
the grounds that one cannot logically assume what one intends to prove. This leaves 37 examples, only four
of which are clear and unambiguous examples of kephale meaning "leader" (examples 8, 10, 14, 30).
Eleven examples are dubious, questionable or ambiguous (4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 23, 26, 36, 37); twelve
examples are false (1, 3, 9, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 28, 29); seven other examples are illegitimate
(24, 25, 27, 31, 32, 33, 34); two examples do not exist (2 and 16); and one example (35) cannot be decided.
Of the four clear examples, three are from the LXX and one is from the Shepherd of Hermas, and it is very
likely that all four of these are imported, not native, metaphors. (p. 111)
In what follows I shall look again at the texts involved and ask whether Cervin's evaluation of these
texts is convincing.
1. Twelve New Testament Examples That Cervin Considers Illegitimate
First, he says that the twelve New Testament examples "are illegitimate as evidence on the grounds
that one cannot logically assume what one intends to prove" (p. 111). But as I argued above, Cervin commits
a major linguistic error when he fails to examine these uses in context, for they are the examples closest
in use of language to the texts in question. To argue for the meaning "authority over" from the context
of these texts (as I did in my previous article, on pp. 56-58) is not to "assume" what one intends to prove,
but it is to argue for it by giving reasons and evidence. In the course of the discussion
between Cervin and me, one wonders if the person who has "assumed what he intends to prove" might not rather
be the one who dismissed twelve New Testament examples without examining them at all, rather than the one
who examined each of them in context and gave reasons why the meaning "authority over" seemed appropriate.
Without repeating the earlier arguments from my first article, I will simply list those twelve examples
here with their original enumeration. (Some of these texts are discussed later in this article, in response
to the suggestions by other scholars that the meaning "source" might be appropriate in some cases.)
(38-42) 1 Corinthians 11:3: "But I want you to understand that the head of every
man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man
who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies
with her head unveiled dishonors her head."
(43) Ephesians 1:22: "He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head
over all things for the church."
(44) Ephesians 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 knit together by every joint with which it is supplied,
when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love."
(45-46) Ephesians 5:22-24: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For
the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is
himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their
(47) Colossians 1:18: "He is the head of the body, the church."
(48) Colossians 2:10: "And you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head
of all rule and authority."
(49) Colossians 2:18-19: "Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and
worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not
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."
Although the sense "authority over, leader" is clear in most of these texts, it is appropriate at this
point to discuss Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 2:19. Some writers (though not Cervin, since he does not
examine New Testament verses) have said that the meaning "source" fits well in Ephesians 4:15 (since "bodily
growth" is said to come from the "head") and in Colossians 2:19 (since the body is said to be "nourished"
and "joined together" from the head, and thereby to receive growth from the head).
Certainly it is correct to note that the idea of nourishment and therefore growth coming from the head
is present in these verses. The reason for such a description is not hard to discover: it is an evident
fact of nature that we take in food through the mouth and therefore nourishment for the body comes "from"
the head. So when Paul has already called Christ the "head" of the body, which is the church, it would
be natural for him to say that we must hold fast to Him and that our nourishment and growth come from Him.
But do these verses show that kephale could mean "source"? Not exactly, because in these cases
the function of the head being the source of nourishment is simply more prominent. The metaphorical
meaning "source" has not attached to the word kephale sufficiently that this sense would be clear
from the use of the word alone apart from the presence of this larger metaphor. That is, we could not
substitute "source" in these verses and make any sense, for Colossians 2:19 would say, "Not holding fast
to the source, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together…," and Ephesians 4:15 would
speak of "the source… from whom the whole body… makes bodily growth." But these are unintelligible statements.
We need the actual meaning "head" in these verses or else the whole metaphor does not make sense. (This
is not the case in several verses where "ruler" or "authority over" will substitute well and the sentence
still make sense, as in Ephesians 1:22, "Has made him the ruler over all things for the church,"
or 1 Corinthians 11:3, "the authority over every man is Christ," or Colossians 2:10, "who is the
ruler over all rule and authority.")
The fact that at times in using a head/body metaphor the New Testament calls attention to the idea of
nourishment coming from the head to the body is clear in Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 2:19. But it is
not sufficient to show that the word kephale itself meant source. (This is similar to the vine and
branches analogy that Jesus uses in John 15:1-8: if we abide in the vine, we bring forth much fruit. But
that does not mean that the word vine means source of life.)
Moreover, even in these contexts the nuance of leader or authority is never absent, for the person
called head (here, Christ) is always the person in leadership over the others in view. In addition, we
must recognize the close parallels in content and circumstances of writing in Ephesians and Colossians
and realize that five of Paul's seven metaphorical uses of kephale in Ephesians and Colossians have
clear connotations of authority or ruler (Ephesians 1:22; 5:22-24 (twice); Colossians 1:18; 2:10, all cited
above), and that these are in contexts quite near to Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 2:19. When all of these
considerations are combined, it seems very unlikely that these two references to Christ as head of the
body would carry no connotations of authority or rulership over that body. In fact, it is probable that
Christ's rule over the church is the primary reason why the head metaphor is applied to His relationship
to the church at all, and this other connotation (that the head is the place from which food comes to
nourish the body) was brought in by Paul as a secondary idea to it.
What shall we conclude about these examples? In the absence of specific objections from Cervin showing
why the meaning authority over is inappropriate, it seems fair at this point in our discussion still to
accept these as legitimate examples where such a sense is at least appropriate-and in several cases it
seems to be required.
2. Four Examples That Cervin Considers Clear and Unambiguous
Cervin says there are four examples which are clear and unambiguous examples of kephale meaning
'leader' (p. 111). These are the following examples:
(8) 2 Kings (2 Samuel) 22:44: David says to God, You shall keep me as the head of the
Gentiles: a people which I knew not served me.
(10) Psalm 18:43: David says to God, You will make me head of the Gentiles: a people
whom I knew not served me.
(14) Isaiah 7:9: The head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
(30) Hermas Similitudes 7.3: The man is told that his family cannot be punished in
any other way than if you, the head of the house, be afflicted.
But if Cervin admits these four examples to be clear and unambiguous on p. 111, how can he conclude
the following: Does kephale denote 'authority over' or 'leader'? No (p. 112). This is an unusual
kind of reasoning-to say that there are four clear and unambiguous examples of kephale meaning
'leader' (p. 111), and then to say that kephale does not denote authority over or leader at this
period in the history of the Greek language (p. 112).
If we look for the basis on which Cervin has rejected the validity of the four clear and unambiguous
examples, the only explanation given is his statement that it is very likely that all four of these are
imported, not native, metaphors (p. 111). He also says that in these cases the metaphor may very well have
been influenced from Hebrew in the Septuagint (p. 112).
But here he has shifted the focus of the investigation and the criteria for evaluating examples without
notifying the reader. Whereas the article as a whole purports to be an investigation of whether kephale
could mean authority over in the New Testament, here he has shifted to asking whether the metaphor is a
native one in Greek or has been imported into Greek under the influence of other languages. That is an
interesting question, but it is linguistically an inappropriate criterion to use for determining the meanings
of New Testament words. In fact, New Testament Greek is strongly influenced by the language of the Septuagint,
and the Septuagint is certainly influenced to some degree by the Hebrew Old Testament. Moreover, the Greek
language as a whole at the time of the New Testament had many words that had been influenced by other
languages at that time (especially Latin), but words that were nonetheless ordinary, understandable Greek
words in the vocabulary of everyday speakers. Cervin seems to be assuming that words can have no legitimate
meanings that have come by the influence of other languages-certainly a false linguistic principle.
The question should rather be, Was this an understandable meaning to ordinary readers at the time of
the New Testament? The clear New Testament examples cited above (which Cervin fails to examine) and the
fact that these four other examples are from the literature closest to the New Testament in time and subject
matter (see above) both give strong evidence that this was an understandable meaning for first-century
readers. Cervin's introduction of the question of whether this is an imported metaphor (influenced by
another language) or whether it is native (dating from the early history of the language) simply muddies
the water here and skews his final conclusion (16).
There is one further puzzling factor in Cervin's summary of his survey of instances of kephale.
Though in the summary he only mentions four clear and unambiguous examples of kephale meaning
leader, this total does not include the examples from the article by Joseph Fitzmyer that Cervin discussed
on pages 108-111. In that discussion Cervin admitted the meaning leader in some other contexts.
(1) In Jeremiah 31:7 (LXX 38:7) we read, Rejoice and shout over the head of the nations.
Cervin says about this statement, Fitzmyer says that the 'notion of supremacy or authority is surely present'
in this passage (p. 508). I do not necessarily disagree (p. 108).
(2) Fitzmyer also gives an example from Josephus, Jewish War, 4.261, where Jerusalem is
referred to as the front and head of the whole nation. Cervin says, The notion of 'leader' may be admitted
here (p. 111).
These citations apparently lead Cervin to admit that Paul could have used the word head in the sense
of leader or authority, for Cervin says,
Fitzmyer argues that, from his examples (and those of Grudem), a Hellenistic Jewish
writer such as Paul of Tarsus could well have intended that kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3 be understood
as 'head' in the sense of authority or supremacy over someone else (p. 510). This may be so (p. 111-112).
But this statement seems to contradict directly his statement two paragraphs later where he says,
Does kephale denote authority over or leader ? No…. The metaphor leader or head
is alien to the Greek language until the Byzantine or medieval period. (p. 112)
Moreover, Cervin goes on to say, What then does Paul mean by his use of head in his letters? He does
not mean 'authority over,' as the traditionalists assert (p. 112).
It is hard to understand how this analysis can be internally consistent. On the one hand Cervin admits
that it may be so that Paul used the word kephale in the sense of authority or supremacy over
someone else (p. 112), and he cites several instances of literature close to Paul in which he admits the
meaning leader or authority over. On the other hand he says that kephale does not take this meaning
until the Byzantine period. Then he asserts (without examining any text in Paul) that Paul does not mean
authority over when he uses the word kephale. Such an argument gives at least the appearance of
internal contradiction-and perhaps the reality.
3. Eleven Examples That Cervin Considers Dubious, Questionable, or Ambiguous
In this category Cervin puts eleven examples that he thinks are unpersuasive because of various factors
that make them dubious, questionable, or ambiguous (p. 111). Here he lists the following passages:
(17) (4) Judges 10:18; (5) Judges 11:8; (6) Judges 11:9;
(7) Judges 11:11; (11) Isaiah 7:8a; (12) Isaiah 7:8b; (13) Isaiah 7:9a; (23) Plutarch 2.1.3; (26)
Plutarch 4.3; (36) Libanius, Oration 20.3.15; (37) Greek Anthology 8.19.
Several of these examples Cervin dismisses because of the existence of a variant reading in the text.
These are the following:
(4) Judges 10:18 (Alexandrinus): And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one
another 'Who is the man that will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the
inhabitants of Gilead.'
(5) Judges 11:8 (Alexandrinus): And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, 'That is
why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and be our head over
all the inhabitants of Gilead.'
(6) Judges 11:9 (Alexandrinus): Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, 'If you bring
me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.'
(12) Isaiah 7:8b (Sinaiticus omits): The head of Damascus is Rezin [Rezin is the king
who rules over Damascus].
Now the question is, Are these examples valid evidence for the use of kephale to mean leader?
Cervin calls the examples dubious, due to the presence of the variant readings (p. 96). In response, the
following points may be noted:
1. These are not obscure variants, but three are from Alexandrinus, one of the three
greatest ancient manuscripts of the Septuagint, and one is omitted only in Sinaiticus among the major
2. The existence of a variant reading does make an example less weighty as evidence,
but does not make the example entirely dubious as Cervin would have us believe, for the lexicons are full
of examples of citations from texts where variant readings are found. The existence of these examples still
indicates that some people in the ancient world (those who wrote and used these texts of the Septuagint,
for example) thought that kephale was a good word to mean leader metaphorically-and it was to show
this fact that I cited these texts.
3. If we were to rule out all texts with variant readings in discussions of the meaning
of kephale then we would have to exclude from discussion Orphic Fragments 21a ( Zeus the head …),
a text that those who claim the meaning source for kephale cite with great frequency
4. A better linguistic procedure than dismissing texts with variants (as Cervin would
have us do) would simply be to do what I did in my original article: quote these texts as evidence and
note the existence of a variant reading in each text. This would show what needs to be shown-that the
examples are not as strong as if there were no variant, but that they are still valid examples and appropriate
to use as additional evidence that some people in the ancient world thought that kephale could be
used metaphorically to mean leader or authority (19).
Next in this category of dubious, questionable, or ambiguous readings Cervin puts the following two
(11) Isaiah 7:8a: For the head of Syria is Damascus.
(13) Isaiah 7:9a: And the head of Ephraim is Samaria.
Cervin rejects these examples because they refer to capital cities, not to people (p. 97). This fact
is certainly true, as I pointed out in my original article (p. 55). And because of that, we must recognize
that these examples are not exactly parallel to the case where a person is called kephale in the
sense of leader or ruler. Nonetheless, the idea of authority or rule is still prominent in such a reference
to capital cities. Moreover, the connection between this head metaphor used of capital cities and its use
to refer to persons is made quite explicit in a more full quotation of the context:
For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin… And the head of
Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. (Isaiah 7:8-9)
In both cases the mention of a capital city is followed by the mention of the king who rules in that
city, thus making the connection between the head city and the head of the government twice in two succeeding
sentences. Far from being dubious, these examples seem to be very strong and carry an unquestionable nuance
of authority connected with the word kephale.
Moreover, it is hard to understand what principle Cervin used to reject these examples where kephale
refers to a capital city and not to a person, but then to accept the meaning source for kephale
in Herodotus 4.91 (pp. 89-90). In that quotation kephalai refers to the sources of a river, items
that are entirely non-personal and have no connection to any context where the metaphor is applied to a
person as a source as well. If Cervin is to accept this Herodotus quotation (which he in fact claims as
his single certain example of the meaning source [p. 112]), then consistent methodology would seem to
require him to accept much more readily the examples from Isaiah 7:8-9 that speak of capital cities as
heads in close proximity to the mention of the reigning kings in those cities as heads.
The next text Cervin rejects in this category is:
(7) Judges 11:11: So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and all the people made
him head and leader over them.
Cervin says that the presence of the phrase as a leader or as a ruler in the Septuagint following the
word head is sufficient to clarify the metaphor (p. 96). I certainly agree that this statement does clarify
the metaphor and show that the person designated head in this text was clearly the leader or ruler over
the people. But then in the very next sentence Cervin simply asserts, This example is also of questionable
value (p. 96). He gives no evidence or reason to support this statement, so there is really nothing to
respond to except to say that this is a clear and unambiguous use of kephale in the sense of leader
or authority over, and the mere assertion by Cervin that the example is of questionable value with no
supporting argument to that effect does not make it of questionable value.
The next example Cervin rejects as ambiguous is:
(23) Plutarch, Pelopidas 2.1.3: In an army, The light-armed troops are like the
hands, the cavalry like the feet, the line of men-at-arms itself like chest and breastplate, and the general
is like the head.
Here Cervin says, Plutarch is using the human body as a simile for the army. This is obvious in context,
which Grudem again fails to provide (20)…. Plutarch
does not call the general the 'head of the army'; he is merely employing a simile. This example is ambiguous
at best, and may thus be dispensed with (p. 101).
In response, Cervin is correct to point out that this is not a metaphorical use of head in which the
general is called the head of the army but is indeed a simile in which Plutarch says, The general is like
the head. It is indeed a helpful distinction to point out these similes and put them in a separate category,
for, while they may be helpful in clarifying the use of a related metaphor, they are not precisely parallel.
But I would not agree that the example therefore may be dispensed with, as Cervin says, for it is of some
value in understanding the metaphor, but precision of analysis would be better served by putting it in a
distinct category. I appreciate Mr. Cervin's suggestion at this point.
In the next quotation from Plutarch Cervin has a double criticism:
(26) Plutarch, Galba 4.3: Vindex… wrote to Galba inviting him to assume the
imperial power, and thus to serve what was a vigorous body in need of a head.
First Cervin says that Plutarch is using the body as a simile. He is not calling Galba 'the head' (p.
102). Yet the usage is a metaphor, not a simile, despite Cervin's assertion. (A simile explicitly compares
things essentially unlike each other by using comparative words like like and as. A metaphor implicitly
compares things essentially unlike each other without using comparative words.) Vindex does not say that
Galba should act like a head to something that acts like a body, but should become head to a body that is
seeking one. It is an extended metaphor, but it is nonetheless a metaphor in which the leader of a government
is called the head of a body.
Cervin's other criticism is that Galba was a Roman, not a Greek, and that this passage, like the preceding,
may have been influenced by Latin. Ziegler provides no known source material for this passage in Plutarch.
This example is therefore dubious (p. 103).
But this objection is simply dismissing the example on the basis of speculation without supporting
evidence. To say that a passage may have been influenced by Latin even though no one has found any Latin
source material for it hardly constitutes a persuasive objection to its use and certainly does not provide
adequate grounds for classifying it as dubious.
Moreover, Plutarch is writing not in Latin but in Greek, and indeed in Greek that secular Greek-speaking
people would find understandable. The example remains valid.
The last two examples Cervin puts in this category are the following:
(36) Libanius, Oration 20.3.15 (fourth century A.D.): People who derided government
authorities are said to have heaped on their own heads insults.
(37) Greek Anthology 8.19 (Epigram of Gregory of Nazianzus, fourth century A.D.):
Gregory is called the head of a wife and three children.
Cervin points out that both of these quotations are quite late, being written about 300 years after
Paul (p. 106). I agree with Cervin on this point and think that it is best not to use these late quotations
as evidence for the New Testament meaning of kephale. I included them in my original survey for the
sake of completeness because these authors were part of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae project's Basic Text
Package, Tape A, which I obtained for the original search. But it would have been better to exclude them
from my examination, since they are so late.
In conclusion to this section, of the eleven examples Cervin says are dubious, questionable, or ambiguous,
eight remain legitimate examples of kephale meaning authority over or leader, one is a simile (the
general of an army is like the head of a body) and gives supportive but not direct evidence, and two are
too late to be used as valid evidence and must be rejected.
4. Twelve Examples That Cervin Considers False
Cervin considers twelve of my citations false examples of the use of kephale to mean authority
over or ruler. In my original article these were examples 1, 3, 9, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 28, and 29.
I will examine these in order in the following discussion.
(1) Herodotus 7.148: In a statement warning the Argives to protect those with full
citizenship from attack and thus the remainder of the population will be protected: the Delphic Oracle
says, guarding your head from the blow; and the head shall shelter the body.
Cervin says, Head here is literal-as long as one's head is safe, i.e., as long as one's brains are not
splattered on the ground, one will continue to live. In hand-to-hand combat, each soldier protects himself,
not his commanding officer! (p. 95). Cervin therefore says this is a false example of kephale meaning
However, Cervin's explanation is doubtful, for the Delphic Oracle is not speaking in the plural (guarding
your heads from blows) to all the individual soldiers in the Argive army, but is speaking to the tribe of
the Argives as a whole, telling them to guard their head from the blow. Nor is Cervin correct in saying
that protecting one's head prevents death, for in combat a spear thrust through the body will also be fatal.
So Cervin's explanation is not persuasive. Much more likely is the explanation given by the editor in a
footnote to the Loeb Classical Library edition of Herodotus: head means those with full citizenship, the
nucleus of the population; so ma being the remainder (p. 456, note 2).
The statement of the Delphic Oracle is of course couched in metaphor, but the metaphor seems clear enough
to count this as a legitimate example. Nonetheless, since the idea of rule or authority is not explicitly
there in the context (though full citizens do have governing authority), it would seem better to classify
this as a possible example of kephale meaning authority over or leader rather than a certain one.
Yet we can hardly count it a false example.
The next example is from Plato, Timaeus 44D. Here I will quote in full the original statement
used in my first article:
(3) Although Plato does not use the word kephale explicitly to refer to a human
ruler or leader, he does say (in the text quoted earlier), that the head… is the most divine part and the
one that reigns over all the parts within us (Timaeus 44D). This sentence does speak of the head
as the ruling part of the body and therefore indicates that a metaphor that spoke of the leader or ruler
of a group of people as its head would not have been unintelligible to Plato or his hearers.
Cervin says, There is no political, social, or military metaphor here; rather, Plato views the head
as the preeminent part of the human body, 'the most divine part,' which controls the body's movements.
Understanding this metaphor of Plato's will be significant for several examples to come (p. 95).
It is hard to see why Cervin has called this a false example. Since it is explicitly a statement about
the head as the ruling part of the body (the Greek text says that it rules, despoteo , over all the parts
within us), I classified it together in the general category, person of superior authority or rank, or
'ruler,' 'ruling part' (see category description on my p. 51). Several of my examples fit this last part
of my original category, ruling part. But I now realize that it would have been more precise to separate
these examples into a distinct category in which the ruling part of the human body is both specifically
said to rule the body and also called the head, as in this example from Plato. (I specified this in my
description of Plato's statement but did not count it in a separate category in my enumeration.)
Nonetheless, the example should not simply be dismissed as false, for it does show clearly that a
metaphor that spoke of a leader or ruler as a head would very likely have been understandable to native
Greek speakers from a time several centuries before the Apostle Paul wrote.
Four other examples from my original survey should also be included here because they show that the
Jewish writer Philo and the Roman historian Plutarch also recognized that the head was the ruling or governing
center in the human body. These are as follows:
(18) Philo, On Dreams 2.207: 'Head' we interpret allegorically to mean the ruling
(hegemona) part of the soul.
(20) Philo, Moses 2.82: The mind is head and ruler (hegemonikon) of the sense
- faculty in us.
(28-29) Plutarch, Table Talk 6.7 (692.E.1): We affectionately call a person 'soul' or
'head' from his ruling parts. Here the metaphor of the head ruling the body is clear, as is the fact that the
head controls the body in Table Talk 3.1 (647.C): For pure wine, when it attacks the head and severs
the body from the control of the mind, distresses a man.
My only objection to Cervin's comments on these passages (in addition to his general categorization
of them as false examples) is at example 28, where Plutarch says, We affectionately call a person 'soul'
or 'head' from his ruling parts (Greek ton kuriotaton). Cervin translates this, From his principal
parts, but surely the word kuriotaton (a superlative form of the adjective kurios) is much
more likely to take the sense having power or authority over (Liddell-Scott, p. 1013) here than the sense
important, principal (ibid.), since Plutarch speaks elsewhere of a head in a ruling function (see
my examples 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29). Moreover, the translation principal parts does not fit the context
as well because Plutarch also gives this as an explanation why people would call an individual soul (Greek
psyche) as well as head, and, though both soul and head could be thought to rule or govern the
other parts of the body, the soul would not be thought of us as the most prominent or principal part of
a human being. Finally, the immediate context shows that Plutarch is making a comparison with the part
of the wine that gives its power: he explains that when the lees are filtered out of wine, some substance
that constitutes the edge and power (Greek kratos, 'strength') of the wine is removed and lost in
the process of filtering…. The ancients even went so far as to call wine 'lees,' just as we affectionately
call a person 'soul' or 'head' from his ruling parts. In each case, the metaphor is drawn not from the
principal part of the thing named as much as from the dominating or strongest part of the thing named.
(9) 3 Kings (1 Kings) 8:1 (Alexandrinus): Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel
and all the heads of the tribes (21).
Cervin says that this statement does not even have anything to do with 'leaders.' The word 'heads' is
used of the tops of rods or staffs! This example must be rejected also (p. 97)
But Cervin's interpretation is hardly persuasive. It would make the sentence say, Then King Solomon
assembled all the elders of Israel with all the tops that had been raised up of the staffs of the fathers
of the children of Israel. Did the Septuagint translators really think that Solomon had called together
all the elders and all the tops of their staffs? Cervin fails to understand that staff here in the Septuagint
(rhabdos) is being used in the sense of staff of office (see Psalm 44 :7; 109 :2; Liddell-Scott,
p. 1562), and represents the tribes of Israel, similar to the way the Hebrew word here (matteh,
staff ) can mean tribe (so Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English
Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1907) 1978], p. 641). The LXX here simply means
that Moses assembled the elders with the heads that had been raised up of the tribes of the fathers of
the children of Israel. The heads of these tribes are of course the leaders of the tribes.
This text, therefore, is a legitimate one, and the heads of the tribes refers to the rulers or leaders
of those tribes of Israel.
(15) Isaiah 9:13 (14): And the Lord took away from Israel head and tail, great and
small in one day, the elder and those who marvel at the people.
Cervin says, Isaiah is using a 'head-tail' metaphor (hence the translation of kephale), not an
authority metaphor (p. 98).
But Cervin here introduces a false dichotomy. We do not need to choose between a head-tail metaphor
and an authority metaphor, because a head-tail metaphor simply functions as a more full metaphor for
leader-follower. The head is a metaphor for the one who leads or rules, and the tail is a metaphor for
the one who follows or obeys. In this text the leaders and rulers of the people are referred to as the
head, and the example is legitimate.
(17) Testament of Reuben 2:2: The seven spirits of deceit are the 'heads' or 'leaders'
of the works of innovation (or 'rebellion').
Cervin says, There is nothing in this text which is remotely political, social, or military, and so
the translation of 'leader' which Grudem advocates is not justified. In fact, the notion 'source' is much
more appropriate to the context, the seven spirits being the 'source' of rebellion. This example must be
rejected (p. 99).
However, Cervin fails to recognize that demonic spirits can certainly be thought of as leaders or rulers
over works of rebellion (or innovation, Greek neoterismos). The context is one of spiritual rulership
or authority. This makes the translation leader (which I initially quoted from the translation of R. H.
Charles (23)) a very good possibility. However, I
agree that other senses such as beginning or even source would also fit in this context, and the context is
not decisive enough to tell one way or another. Therefore this example should be reclassified as one in
which the meaning authority over is possible but not required.
(19) Philo, Moses 2.30: As the head is the ruling place in the living body, so Ptolemy
[Ptolemy Philadelphos] became among kings.
Cervin does not think that head means ruler here because Philo says that Philadelphos is the head of
kings, not in the sense of ruling them, but as the preeminent king among the rest. Philadelphos is the
top of the kings just as the head is the top of an animal's body…. This example is therefore to be rejected
While Cervin's explanation at first seems plausible, it does not do justice to the actual words Philo
uses. In fact Philo calls the head to hegemoneuon.. tropon, the ruling place in the body-a phrase
that Cervin simply skips over and fails to translate in his own rendering of the passage (p. 100). But
the adjectival participle hegemoneuon here certainly has the sense of leading or ruling, since the
verb hegemoneuo means lead the way, rule, command (Liddell-Scott, p. 762).
On the other hand, Cervin says that his suggestion that head here is used as a metaphor of preeminence
is fully in keeping with the use of kephale as defined in [Liddell-Scott] (p. 99). However, one
searches in vain for such a definition in Liddell-Scott-it simply is not there (see the summary of meanings
given in Liddell-Scott on p. 000 above). It would seem a better lexical procedure to stick with previously
recognized and well-attested senses for kephale if that is possible in the context in which we find
the word than to postulate new meanings that might seem to be possible in a few instances but have not
proved themselves convincing to any lexicographers in the hundreds of years in which the Greek language
has been studied. Moreover, it seems that it would have been more appropriate for Cervin to notify readers
that he was proposing a new meaning previously unrecognized in the lexicons than to say that this meaning
is fully in keeping with the use of kephale as defined in [Liddell-Scott] (p. 99) when it is simply
(21-22) Philo, On Rewards and Punishments 125: The virtuous one, whether single
man or people, will be the head of the human race and all the others will be like the parts of the body
which are animated by the powers in and above the head.
Cervin says, It is fairly clear that 'head' here is the source of life…. Whether or not 'head' is taken
to mean 'source' in this passage, Philo's simile of the animal and his statement that the head is 'the first
and best part' makes it clear that 'preeminence' is Philo's point, not 'authority.' The 'virtuous one' will
be preeminent among the human race. These examples must be rejected (p. 101).
Here Cervin proposes two definitions: source and preeminence, and it is not clear which one he is advocating.
If it is preeminence, then again it must be said that this meaning might possibly be an overlapping nuance
that accompanies the head metaphor in this context, but it is probably not a necessary sense (it is not
previously attested in any Greek lexicon), and it certainly is not the only nuance suggested in the metaphor
In fact, the context suggests much more than fame or preeminence-the rest of the human race is dependent
in some way on this virtuous person or people. More explicit understanding of the meaning of head here
is found when we recognize the larger context of Philo's discussion. The entire treatise On Rewards
and Punishments is a discussion of the rewards God promised the people of Israel for obedience and
the punishments He promised for disobedience. This particular section begins with an allusion to the fact
that the mind of wisdom was not dragged down tailwards but lifted up to the head (124), an allusion to
the promise in Deuteronomy 28:13 that if the people of Israel would be faithful to God, the Lord your God
will make you the head and not the tail (compare Deuteronomy 28:44)
(24). Then Philo says that these last words contain
an allegory and are figuratively expressed (125). He then goes on to explain the allegory in the quotation that
For our purposes it is significant that this passage in Deuteronomy 28 contains much about the people
of Israel ruling over the nations and having the nations serve them if God exalts them to be the head and
not the tail (see Deuteronomy 28:7, 10; and contrast with verses 43-44). There certainly is an idea of
preeminence in this context, but it is preeminence that includes leadership and rule over the nations,
and Cervin wrongly attempts to force a distinction between preeminence and leadership in this context.
But is the meaning source a better translation of kephale in this context? Certainly the text
does say that the rest of the human race will be like the limbs of a body that are animated by the powers
in and above the head. But the verb that I here translate animated (Greek psychoo) can simply mean
give understanding or wisdom in Philo (see, for example, On the Creation 9; On the Virtues
14; Who Is the Heir, 185). This makes sense in the context: the virtuous man or people will be exalted
by God to be the head and will thus be a leader who gives direction and wisdom to the rest of the human
race-they will be quickened and directed by the powers and wisdom in this man or nation.
The idea of source does not fit the context nearly as well, both because no one would think that the
head of an animal was the source of the entire animal, and because no one would think that a virtuous man
exalted to leadership in the human race was the source of the human race! In both cases it is the leadership
function that is in view when God makes one the head and not the tail.
Given this larger context, it still seems most appropriate to conclude that Philo here uses the expression
head of the human race to mean leader of the human race, certainly not source of the human race (which
would hardly make sense), and very likely not preeminent one (at least not preeminent one without leadership
or authority in the human race). Cervin is incorrect to reject this example as false.
What are we to conclude concerning the twelve examples Cervin classified as false ? Five should be put
in a separate category of examples where a person's head is said to rule over his or her body (examples 3,
18, 20, 28, 29). Two should be classified as possible but not clear or certain examples of kephale
meaning leader or authority over (examples 1, 17). The remaining five (9, 15, 19, 21, 22) remain legitimate
examples of the meaning leader.
5. Seven Examples That Cervin Considers Illegitimate
The first three examples are from Plutarch:
(24-25) Plutarch, Cicero 14.4: Catiline says to Cicero, criticizing the Senate
as weak and the people as strong, There are two bodies, one lean and wasted, but with a head, and the other
headless but strong and large. What am I doing wrong if I myself become a head for this? In saying this,
Catiline was threatening to become the head of the people and thus to lead the people in revolt against
Cicero. Therefore, Cicero was all the more alarmed.
(27) Plutarch, Agis 2.5: A ruler who follows popular opinions is compared to a
serpent whose tail rebelled against the head and insisted on leading the body in place of the head. The
serpent consequently harmed itself. The implication is that a ruler should be like the head of a serpent
and thereby lead the people.
Regarding the first two instances, Cervin admits that kephale is used by Cataline for a leader
(himself) (p. 101), but he then goes on to object that these two examples are illegitimate, first of all,
because Cataline's answer was in the form of a 'riddle,' as Plutarch points out (p. 102). Then Cervin adds,
Secondly, and more importantly, Cataline was speaking in Latin, not Greek, and Cervin then provides a parallel
passage from Cicero, concerning which he concludes, It is entirely possible that Plutarch used this passage
as source material for his Life of Cicero, and it is equally possible that Plutarch translated the
Latin rather literally for the sake of the 'riddle.' If this were so, then this use of head for 'leader'
is really a Latin metaphor, and not a Greek one…. These examples are therefore illegitimate (p. 102).
First, whether the answer was a riddle or not, it is evident that Cicero understood it because he was
immediately alarmed. We may assume that Plutarch also expected his readers to understand it.
The objection that this may have been translated from Latin does not make the example an illegitimate
one for Greek. Cervin's objection here is similar to his objection to the use of Septuagint examples because
the Septuagint was a translation from Hebrew. In both cases the translators were writing to be understood
by those into whose language they were making the translation. Certainly it is true here that Plutarch's
extensive historical writings are in Greek that would be understandable to Plutarch's readers, and whether
or not the text was based on some Latin source material is not nearly as relevant as Cervin would have us
think. These remain valid examples of kephale meaning ruler, authority over -in this case referring
to authority over the Roman Empire itself.
The third example, regarding the serpent whose tail led the head is certainly not a direct metaphor in
which kephale means leader. It is closer to a simile in which Plutarch explains that a leader who
is also a follower is like a serpent that follows its tail rather than its head. The example is of some
importance to us because the leader is compared to the head of a serpent, but it is better classified as
a simile (similar to example 23 [Plutarch, Pelopidas 2. 1. 3], above).
The remaining four examples that Cervin classifies as illegitimate are from Aquila's Greek translation
of the Old Testament. Cervin objects that these are illegitimate for the simple reason that Aquila's Greek
translation of the OT was so slavishly literal that it was incomprehensible to native Greeks! These examples
from Aquila must therefore be rejected (p. 105).
Although Cervin is right to caution us about the use of Aquila, he has greatly overstated the case.
Though Aquila's translation was quite woodenly literal so that his grammatical constructions were at times
foreign to Greek, his translation is not entirely without linguistic value for us. We must remember that
the Jews, however, held this translation in the highest esteem
(25). Moreover, Aquila himself was a Gentile who was
a native Greek speaker long before he learned Hebrew (26).
Nor was he ignorant of the large vocabulary available in the Greek of his time:
That the crudities of Aquila's style are not due to an insufficient vocabulary is clear
from his ready use of words belonging to the classical or the literary type when they appear to him to
correspond to the Hebrew more closely than the colloquialisms of the LXX.
One wonders if Cervin's concern to dismiss these examples from Aquila has not led to some overstatement
concerning Aquila's translation. An interesting example is seen in the comparison of two sentences. The
first comes from the essay, History of the Septuagint Text in the preface to the Rahlfs edition, pp. xxxvi:
Aquila's translation of the Bible must on occasions have proved altogether incomprehensible
Cervin has apparently read this essay (for he quotes a sentence from a location two pages earlier in
the essay), but his statement tells readers not that Aquila's translation on occasions was incomprehensible,
but that the entire translation was incomprehensible. He says,
Aquila's Greek translation of the OT was so slavishly literal that it was incomprehensible
to native Greeks! (p. 105)
Certainly this is an overstatement, since the translation was used widely for centuries by Greek-speaking
It seems best to conclude that these examples from Aquila are of some value, though their weight as
evidence is limited, both because of Aquila's translation style and because they come somewhat after the
time of the New Testament (second century A.D.). It would not be appropriate to call them illegitimate
examples, as Cervin does.
In conclusion, regarding the seven examples that Cervin calls illegitimate, one (number 27) is better
classified as a simile, and the remaining six should be seen as legitimate, though those from Aquila are
less weighty than the others.
6. Two Examples That Cervin Claims Do Not Exist
Mr. Cervin has correctly pointed out that, in my original article, I incorrectly counted two examples
where the word head was repeated in the English text but in fact the word kephale was not found a
second time in the Greek text itself. These two examples were the second instance of the word head in each
of the following quotations:
(2) Herodotus 7. 148. 17: guarding your head from the blow; and the head shall shelter
In this example the synonym kare is used instead of kephale.
(16) Isaiah 9:14-16: so the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail… the elder and honored
man is the head.
In this sentence the Greek word kephale does not appear a second time.
In writing the original article, I examined all the occurrences in the original Greek text, then listed
the English translation for each one, then made a final enumeration of the instances listed. But as I counted,
in the two texts mentioned here I had failed to note that kephale only represented one of the two
occurrences of the word head in the English text. This was simply an unintentional oversight on my part.
I am happy to correct this error in tabulation and note here that these two examples should be dropped
from my tally.
7. One Example That Cervin Says "Cannot be Decided"
Here Cervin lists the following example:
(35) Theodotion, Judges 10:18: He will be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
Cervin says of this, Citing one verse by Theodotian tells us nothing…. The crucial question is how
consistent is he in translating ro'sh into Greek…. Until more is known about Theodotion's translation(s)
of ro'sh, judgment must be suspended on this example (p. 105).
This is a puzzling statement. Cervin admits that Theodotion's translation was not as literal as Aquila's,
and we know that it was written to be understood by Greek-speaking Jews in the second century A.D.. One
wonders on what basis Cervin makes the statement, Citing one verse by Theodotion tells us nothing. Since
Theodotion, like most of the New Testament writers, was a Greek-speaking Jew, citing one verse by Theodotion
(second century A.D.) probably tells us more about word usage by the New Testament authors (first century
A.D.) than citing one passage in Herodotus (fifth century B.C.), to which Cervin gives so much weight.
It is fair to conclude that this remains a legitimate example.
Where does this leave us with regard to the forty-nine examples of kephale referred to in my
original article? At this point we have the following tally:
Legitimate examples 36
Possible examples 2
Head as a simile for leader 2
Literal head said to rule over body 5
Illegitimate examples 4 (two very late, two do not exist)
But in addition to these examples, the following should be added from the study by Joseph Fitzmyer that
Cervin discusses at the end of his article: (28)
Jeremiah 31:7 (LXX 38:7): Rejoice and shout over the head of the nations.
Deuteronomy 28:12-13: And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.
And the Lord will make you the head, and not the tail.
Deuteronomy 28:43-45: The sojourner who is among you shall mount above you higher and
higher; and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him; he
shall be the head, and you shall be the tail. All these curses shall come upon you.
Josephus, War, 4.261: Jerusalem is the head of the whole nation.
These four examples may be added to the thirty-six legitimate examples listed above, bringing that total
to forty. In addition, as I explain below, (29) the
articles by Payne and the Mickelsens have caused me to think Lamentations 1:5 should also be included here:
[of Jerusalem] Her foes have become the head, her enemies prosper. This would bring the total to forty-one.
Moreover, one passage from Philo quoted by Fitzmyer should be noted:
Philo, The Special Laws 184: Nature conferred the sovereignty of the body on the head.
This example should be added to the category literal head ruling over the body, bringing that total
to six. So the tally now should be:
Legitimate examples 41
Possible examples 2
Head as a simile for leader 2
Literal head said to rule over body 6
Illegitimate examples 4 (two very late, two do not exist)