Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative

Print Article

Which definition of Kephale is correct?

Examining the Controversy of Women and Head Coverings: Part 1

Previous: Grudem's response to Cervin's claim that "kephale" does not mean "authority over"

< BACK / 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

A Series on Examining the Controversy
of Women and Head Coverings

Grudem's response to Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen

Other scholars have argued that "kephalē" should be translated as "source" not as "authority over."

III. Response to Other Recent Studies

1. (1986) Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, "What Does Kephale Mean in the New Testament?" (33)

In their 1979 and 1981 articles in Christianity Today, Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen exerted wide influence in the evangelical world by arguing that head in the New Testament often meant source but never authority over. I responded to those articles in my earlier study (34). But in this 1986 article they give further development of what I will call the Septuagint argument, an argument only briefly used in 1981.

a. "The Septuagint Argument": This is an argument that is also used by Philip Payne (35) (Article 3 above) and by Gordon Fee in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (36) (Article 7 above). It may be summarized this way:

The Septuagint translators used kephale to translate the Hebrew word ro'sh (head) in a sense of leader or ruler in only eight out of the 180 cases (37) in which Hebrew ro'sh means leader or authority over. In all the other cases they used other words, most commonly archon, ruler (109 times). Therefore, since the Septuagint translators had about 180 opportunities to use kephale meaning leader, and they only did so eight times, it shows that the translators desired to avoid kephale in the sense of authority or leader over.

The Mickelsens, Philip Payne, and Gordon Fee all see this as a significant point. The Mickelsens say it shows that the Septuagint translators recognized that kephale did not carry the Hebrew meaning of leader, authority or superior rank (38). Payne says, When the Old Testament meaning of ro'sh was 'leader,' the Septuagint translators realized quite clearly that this would not be conveyed by kephale, so they resorted to some other translation in 171 cases out of 180 (39). Fee says that the Septuagint translators almost never used kephale to translate Hebrew ro'sh when 'ruler' was intended, thus indicating that this metaphorical sense is an exceptional usage and not part of the ordinary range of meanings for the Greek word 40. Several points of response may be made to this argument:

(1) That the Septuagint translators used another word much more commonly to translate ro'sh when it meant leader is not so significant when we realize that archon was the common word that literally meant leader, whereas kephale only meant leader in a metaphorical sense. It is true that the Septuagint translators preferred archon to mean authority, as I noted in my earlier article (p. 47, n. 17). But I have never claimed, neither has anyone else claimed, that kephale was the most common word for ruler. In fact, the most common word for ruler, the one that literally meant ruler, was archon. It is not at all surprising that in contexts where the Hebrew word for head meant ruler, it was frequently translated by archon. All I have claimed is that kephale could also mean ruler or authority in a metaphorical sense of head. It is not the most common, but it is a clearly recognizable and clearly understood word in that sense. The fact that a word that literally meant ruler, authority (archon) should be used much more often than a word that metaphorically meant ruler, authority (kephale) should not be surprising-it is only surprising that people have made an argument of it at all.

(2) The Mickelsens and the others who have used this Septuagint argument fail to note that these eight examples are many compared to the Septuagintal examples of kephale used to mean source, of which there are zero. No one who has made this Septuagint argument has mentioned this fact. To use an athletic analogy, if the score at the end of a baseball game is eight to zero, one begins to wonder why anyone would declare the team with zero to be the winner because the team with eight did not score very many runs. Yet that is what the Mickelsens (and Payne, pp. 121-124, and Fee, pp. 502-503) conclude with respect to kephale meaning authority over -they just say that the eight examples meaning authority over are very few, and fail to tell their readers that their preferred meaning ( source ) has zero occurrences in the Septuagint.

(3) Those who make this argument also fail to mention that in Genesis 2:10, when the Hebrew term ro'sh means source or beginning (of rivers), the Septuagint translators used another term, arche, source, beginning, not kephale, head (41).

(4) When those who make this argument from the Septuagint give the number of occurrences of kephale meaning authority or leader in the LXX as eight, they give a misleadingly low number. The Mickelsens and Payne arrive at their low numbers by dismissing five texts (42) where there is a textual variant (apparently Judges 10:18; 11:8, 9; 1 Kings [LXX 3 Kings] 8:1, and one of the instances in Isaiah 7:8) (43). Yet these variant readings are in Codex Alexandrinus, one of the three great ancient manuscripts of the Septuagint (44).

Moreover, there seems to be an inconsistency on the part of these authors when they dismiss these variant readings but fail to mention that the single text they most strongly appeal to for kephale as source (Orphic Fragments 21a, Zeus the kephale…) also has kephale only as a variant reading, with arche in other manuscripts. In short, there is no good reason not to count these additional five examples of kephale meaning authority as well. This gives a total of thirteen in the LXX.

Furthermore, the Mickelsens dismiss three texts where God tells the people He will make them the head and not the tail with respect to the other nations, or, in punishment, will make other nations the head and them the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13, 44; Isaiah 9:14) (45). They say that head here is just used to complete the metaphor: it would not make sense without the use of head in contrast to tail (46). But Payne seems right to admit these three examples, (47) since they just extend the metaphor to include tail as follower, one ruled over as well as using head to mean leader, ruler (especially in the context of nations who rule other nations) (48). Allowing for a correction on one of the Septuagint instances I earlier counted, I have now adjusted my own count of instances in the Septuagint to sixteen instead of the earlier thirteen (49).

Those sixteen instances of kephale meaning authority over in the Septuagint are the following:

1. Deuteronomy 28:13: [in relationship to other nations] And the Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; and you shall tend upward only, and not downward; if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day. (Compare with the following passage, where rule and authority are in view.)

2. Deuteronomy 28:44: [If you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God…, verse 15] The sojourner who is among you shall mount above you higher and higher; and you shall come down lower and lower. e 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….

3. Judges 10:18 (A): 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.'

4. Judges 11:8 (A): 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.'

5. Judges 11:9 (A): 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.'

6. Judges 11:11: So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and all the people made him head and leader over them.

7. 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.

8. 3 Kings (1 Kings) 8:1 (A): Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel with all the heads of the tribes (50).

9. Psalm 17(18):43: David says to God, You will make me head of the Gentiles: a people whom I knew not served me.

10. Lamentations 1:5: [of Jerusalem] Her foes have become the head, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

11 -12. Isaiah 7:8: For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin (in both cases head means ruler here: Damascus is the city that rules over Syria, and Rezin is the king who rules over Damascus).

13 -14. Isaiah 7:9: And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.

15. Isaiah 9:14-16: (In the context of judgment) So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail... the elder and honored man is the head, (51) and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail; for those who lead this people lead them astray. Here the leaders of the people are called head.

16. Jeremiah 31:7 (LXX 38:7): Rejoice and exult over the head of the nations (52).

(5) We should also note in this regard what it actually means to have sixteen (or even eight) instances of a term used in a certain sense in the Septuagint. It is really a rich abundance of examples. Many times in New Testament exegesis, if a scholar can find two or three clear parallel uses in the Septuagint, he or she is very satisfied. That means we can assume that first-century Jews could read and understand the particular term in that sense. Let me give a contemporary example. Imagine that I turn to a concordance of the RSV and see that there is only one occurrence of a certain English word, such as aunt (53). Do I conclude, That means that twentieth-century readers don't know what aunt means, and we can be especially certain of this since aunt occurs only in an obscure portion of Scripture (Leviticus 18:14), a passage that people today seldom read? Should I conclude that people speaking English today do not know the meaning of aunt?

Certainly this would not be legitimate. Rather, I would conclude that the translators of the RSV assumed that aunt was a good, understandable English word-so commonly understood that even a single use of it in the whole Bible would be understood without its having to appear time after time in various contexts comparison of which would make its sense clear. They put it in expecting readers to understand it. The fact that they used it meant that they thought it was a commonly understood term.

The same principle is true with the Septuagint. If I find even two or three clear instances of a word used in a certain sense, I can rightly conclude that readers in the first century A.D. could have understood the word in that sense. The translators wrote expecting that the readers would understand. But in the case of kephale meaning authority over, ruler, we have not two or three examples, but sixteen (or at least eight, even by the minimal count of the Mickelsens, or nine, according to Payne). That is really an abundance of evidence for kephale meaning leader or authority over.

In conclusion, to those who say, Only eight examples in the Septuagint, I think it fair to respond, A very significant eight examples, and more accurately sixteen, and compared to zero examples for 'source,' they look very convincing.

b. Other Meanings for kephale Claimed by the Mickelsens: After rejecting the meaning authority over, leader for kephale, primarily on the basis of its Septuagint usage and the absence of this meaning from Liddell-Scott, (54) the Mickelsens provide other meanings for the term kephale.

In 1 Corinthians 11:3, they say kephale means source, base or derivation (55). Now I recognize that one lexicon gives the meaning source for kephale (56). But when the Mickelsens affirm that base and derivation are possible translations of kephale they are claiming senses that no lexicon has ever proposed, and they are doing it with no examples of kephale meaning these things in any other literature either. Where do they get these meanings?

In Ephesians 5:23, where it says that the husband is the head of the wife, they say that head means one who brings to completion (p. 108). They explain, the husband is to give himself up to enable (bring to completion) all that his wife is meant to be (p. 110).

Then with respect to Colossians 1:18, where it says that Christ is the head of the body, the church, the Mickelsens say that head means exalted originator and completer (p. 108). We should note that the Mickelsens call these ordinary Greek meanings (p. 105) for kephale, and tell us that these are Greek meanings that would have been familiar to the first readers (p. 110). But a number of these ordinary and familiar Greek meanings have never been seen in any lexicon or claimed in any writing on the meaning of kephale before the Mickelsens' work in 1986. The meaning exalted originator and completer is in no lexicon. The meaning one who brings to completion is in no lexicon. The meaning base, derivation is in no lexicon.

But if this is so, then what convincing examples from Greek literature do the Mickelsens give to show these to be familiar and ordinary meanings? They give none. Then what authorities do they quote to support these new meanings? They give none. In short, they have given no evidence to support their assertions that these are ordinary meanings. It would not seem wise to accept these meanings as legitimate senses for kephale.

In fact, this attempt to give some alternate sense to kephale in New Testament contexts where the meaning authority over seems so clearly evident from the contexts is one more example of a disturbing tendency among evangelical feminist scholars today, a tendency to search for any meaning but authority for the word kephale in the New Testament. Even in Colossians 2:10 (where Christ is called the head of all rule and authority) and Ephesians 1:20-24 (where God has exalted Christ far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church), the Mickelsens still are unable to admit the meaning authority over, but say that head here means rather top or crown (extremity) (p. 106). When this can happen even in texts where authority is so clearly specified in context, one wonders if it is a prior doctrinal conviction rather than sound linguistic analysis that has led to their conclusions in these texts.

c. The Argument from Liddell-Scott: Although all the lexicons that specialize in the New Testament period list ruler, leader, or authority over as a meaning for kephale at the time of the New Testament (57), the Mickelsens and others have strongly emphasized that Liddell-Scott does not include this meaning. What is the significance of this? First, our earlier survey showed that the meaning authority over was not very common-indeed, is hardly found at all-before the Septuagint, about the second century B.C. Nonetheless, the evidence we have cited above showing around forty examples of this meaning indicates that the omission from Liddell-Scott must have been an oversight that we hope will be corrected in a subsequent edition. In fact, Joseph Fitzmyer recently wrote, The next edition of the Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell-Scott-Jones will have to provide a sub-category within the metaphorical uses of kephale in the sense of 'leader, ruler.' (58)

Second, Liddell-Scott does list under the adjective kephalaios (head like) the following meanings: metaphorical, of persons, the head or chief (pp. 944-945). Liddell-Scott then lists eight examples of this sense. Similarly, for kephalourgos (literally, head of work), it lists the meaning foreman of works (p. 945). Therefore, the meaning authority over for kephale itself would probably have been understandable even if not commonly used in earlier periods well before the time of the New Testament.

This suggests a possible reason why the noun kephale itself was not found in the earlier history of the language with the meaning authority, ruler. Perhaps because the adjective kephalaios or this adjective used as a substantive could function with the meaning chief, ruler in an earlier period, there may have been no need for the noun kephale to take a similar meaning. Yet later in the development of the language the noun kephale also came to take this sense.

Grudem's response to Ruth A. Tucker

Other scholars have concluded that "kephalē" should be translated as "authority over."

III. Response to Other Recent Studies

2. (1986) Ruth A. Tucker, Response

In this article Ruth Tucker finds examples of kephale meaning authority over in Clement of Alexandria (ca. 155-220 A.D.), Tertullian (ca. 169-215 A.D.), Cyprian (ca. 200-55 A.D.), and other early writers. Tucker says:

In conclusion, it is my impression that whatever the word kephale meant to the apostle Paul as he wrote 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, it was generally interpreted by the church fathers and by Calvin to mean authority, superior rank, or preeminence. These findings bring into question some of the Mickelsens' assumptions-particularly that the superior rank meaning of kephale is not one of the ordinary Greek meanings but rather a meaning associated with the English word head. More research needs to be done in this area, but it seems clear that the fathers used this so-called English meaning long before they could have in any way been influenced by the English language. (p. 117)

We can only note here that Tucker's survey of writings that followed the New Testament period gives some support to the idea that the meaning authority over was a recognized meaning at the time of the New Testament as well.

Continued: Grudem's response to Philip B. Payne

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / NEXT >

Series: Examining the Controversy of Women and Head Coverings
Part 2: What is Headship?

Series: Examining the Controversy of Women and Head Coverings
Part 2: What is Headship?

Related subject:

Topical Index: The Church>New Testament>Organization and Officiers of the Church>Role of Women

Related verses:

Scripture Index: Epistles of Paul>1 Corinthians

By author:

Author Index: Grudem, W.

Copyright © 2005 All rights to this material are reserved. We encourage you to print the material for personal and non-profit use or link to this site. If you find this article to be a blessing, please share the link so that it may rise in search engine rankings.