In a 1989 issue of Trinity Journal, Richard S. Cervin published a critique(1) of my 1985 article, “Does Kephale (‘Head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples.”(2)
My primary purpose in this appendix is to respond to Cervin’s critique, but I shall also interact with a number of other studies of kephale that have been published since my 1985 work (especially those of Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, Philip Payne, Gilbert Bilezikian, and Catherine Kroeger).
This discussion is of considerable interest today because of its relevance to women’s and men’s roles in marriage. What does the New Testament mean when it says that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church?” (Ephesians 5:23), or that the “head of every man is Christ” and “the head of a woman is her husband” (1Corinthians 11:3)?
Christians throughout history usually have understood the word head in these verses to mean “authority over,” but many authors have denied that in the last few years, claiming instead that head in these contexts means “source” or “origin,” so that Christ is the source of every man, Christ is the source of the church, and—referring to Adam and Eve—the man is the source of the woman. Support for this view was claimed from some occurrences of the Greek word kephale, “head,” outside the New Testament, where it was said to take the meaning “source.”
Furthermore, some argued that the sense “authority over” was uncommon or unknown in Greek and would have been unintelligible to Paul’s readers. (Dr. Cervin’s recent article also denied the meaning “authority over” in these texts, but he proposed not “source” but “preeminence” as an alternative meaning.)
I. Brief Summary of My 1985 Article
My original article attempted to respond to these claims by making the following points:
1.The evidence to support the claim that kephale¯ can mean “source” is surprisingly weak, and, in fact, unpersuasive.
a. All the articles and commentaries depend on only two examples of kephale in ancient literature: Herodotus 4.91 and Orphic Fragments 21a, both of which come from more than four hundred years before the time of the New Testament, and both of which fail to be convincing examples:
Herodotus 4.91 simply shows that kephale can refer to the “end points” of a river—in this case, the sources of a river, but elsewhere, the mouth of a river—and since “end point” is a commonly recognized and well-attested sense of kephale, we do not have convincing evidence that “source” is the required sense here. The other text, Orphic Fragments 21a, calls Zeus the “head” of all things but in a context where it is impossible to tell whether it means “first one, beginning” (an acknowledged meaning for kephale) or “source” (a meaning not otherwise attested)
b. A new search of 2,336 examples of kephale from a wide range of ancient Greek literature produced no convincing examples where kephale meant “source.”
2. The evidence to support the claim that kephale can mean “authority over” is substantial.
a. All the major lexicons that specialize in the New Testament period give this meaning, whereas none give the meaning “source.”
b. The omission of the meaning “authority over” from the Liddell-Scott Lexicon is an oversight that should be corrected (but it should be noted that that lexicon does not specialize in the New Testament period)
c. The search of 2,336 examples turned up forty-nine texts where kephale¯ had the meaning “person of superior authority or rank, or ‘ruler,’ ‘ruling part’”; therefore, this was an acceptable and understandable sense for kephale¯ at the time of the New Testament.
d. The meaning “authority over” best suits many New Testament contexts.
II. Response to Richard Cervin
At the outset it should be said that, even if I were to agree with all of Dr. Cervin’s article (which is certainly not the case, as will be seen below), the outcome would be to finish this discussion much nearer to the position I first advocated than to the one I opposed. Specifically, Cervin concludes the following:
a. The meaning “source” is not “common” (as most egalitarians assert today). Rather, Cervin concludes that it is “quite rare” (p. 112), and he comes up with only one certain example where he thinks kephale¯ clearly means “source” (Herodotus 4.91, a fifth-century b.c. text on the sources of a river, which was analyzed extensively in my earlier article).
b. Cervin says that head does not mean either “authority” or “source” in Paul’s epistles, but rather means “preeminent.” Cervin writes:
What then does Paul mean by his use of head in his letters? He does not mean “authority over,” as the traditionalists assert, nor does he mean “source” as the egalitarians assert. I think he is merely employing a head-body metaphor, and that his point is preeminence. (p. 112)
Cervin goes on to explain how this would apply to the passages on husband and wife in the New Testament:
How can the husband be preeminent over his wife? In the context ofthe male-dominant culture of which Paul was a part, such a usage would not be inappropriate. (p. 112)
So it seems to me that even if all of Cervin’s criticisms of my article were valid, his article would still have to be seen as a rejection of the egalitarian claim that kephale means “source” in the New Testament, and an affirmation of an understanding of the New Testament teaching on male headship that is congenial with (though not identical to) the one that I previously argued for. If his final explanation of the meaning “preeminent” with reference to “the male-dominant culture of which Paul was a part”(3 )were correct, his article would have to be seen as a modification of my position, not a rejection of it.
However, my response to Dr. Cervin must go deeper than that, because I do not think that he has (1) used proper methodology, (2) correctly evaluated the evidence, (3) represented my own article with complete fairness, or (4) come to correct conclusions.
A. The Rejection of Data Closest to the New Testament Writings
1. Rejection of New Testament Examples
One of the most surprising aspects of Dr. Cervin’s article is that he dismisses all the New Testament examples of kephale without examining one of them. Yet he concludes his article by telling us what Paul did and did not mean by kephale (p. 112).
With regard to the 12 New Testament passages in which I claimed that the context indicated that the meaning “authority over” was appropriate for kephale, Cervin says,
First of all, 12 of these passages (nos. 38-49) are from the NT, and are therefore illegitimate as evidence, since they are disputed texts.In citing these NT passages, Grudem commits the logical fallacy of assuming what he sets out to prove. The whole purpose of Grudem’s study is to determine whether or not kephale¯ can denote “authority over” or “leader” in Paul’s epistles. He cannot therefore cite Paul as supporting evidence. (p. 94)
But Cervin here fails to distinguish “assuming what one sets out to prove” from arguing for a meaning from context, which is what I did in my article in each case (pp.56-58).4 If Cervin disagrees with my arguments from the context of these New Testament examples, then it would be appropriate to give reasons why he disagrees. But it is hardly legitimate linguistic analysis to dismiss them out of hand.
This is especially significant when we realize that a number of the New Testament examples of head have nothing to do with husband-wife relationships in marriage but speak of Christ’s universal rule. For example, “he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Here head is clearly a metaphor, and it occurs in a context dealing with Christ’s authority “over all things” and the fact that God the Father “has put all things under his feet.” It is hard to avoid the sense of “authority over” or “ruler” in this case, since the fact of Christ’s universal authority is so clearly mentioned in the very sentence in which the word occurs.(5)
Similarly, Colossians 2:10 says that Christ is “the head of all rule and authority”—clearly implying that Christ is the greater leader or authority over all other authorities in the universe.
Moreover, in a context in which Paul says that “the church is subject to Christ,” he says that “Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23-24). Once again the idea of Christ’s authority over the church seems so relevant to Paul’s statements in the immediate context that it is surprising that Cervin thinks such texts can be dismissed without any discussion at all.
Other New Testament texts could be mentioned, but at least it should be clear that it is highly unusual to conclude an article with a statement about what Paul could have meant by the word kephale¯ when one has not examined Paul’s own uses of kephale¯ at any point in the article. I do not recall ever before reading an article that concluded with a pronouncement about what a certain author meant by the use of a word but did not examine any of the uses of the word by that author himself. Would Cervin do this for Plato or Aristotle? If the meaning of a certain term as used by Aristotle was “under dispute” because some author had recently challenged the traditional understanding of Aristotle’s use of that word, I imagine Dr. Cervin would use the following procedure:
1.He would first look carefully at the uses of that term in Aristotle and try to decide from the context what meaning the word had in each case.
2.Next he would look at the uses of that word in literature closest to Aristotle in time (what linguists call “synchronic analysis” of a term).
3.Then he would look at uses further away in time, subject matter, and culture—writers who shared less of a common linguistic stock with Aristotle because of the possible changes in language over time. (“Diachronic analysis” refers to such tracing of the different uses of a word over time.)
Such a procedure would be characteristic of sound linguistic analysis. But this is just the opposite of what Cervin does, for he dismisses the New Testament texts without examining even one verse. Then by other means he dismisses examples from other literature closest to the New Testament.
2. Rejection of Septuagint Examples
The Septuagint (LXX) was the everyday Bible used most commonly by the NewTestament authors and by Greek-speaking Christians throughout the New Testament world. Yet Cervin dismisses the value of its evidence because it is a translation: “As a translation, the LXX is valuable as a secondary source, not as a primary one” (pp. 95-96).(6)At the end of the article he says,
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. . . . Does kephale¯ denote “authority over” or “leader”? No. The only clear and unambiguous examples of such a meaning stem from the Septuagint and The Shepherd of Hermas, and the metaphor may well have been influenced from Hebrew in the Septuagint. The metaphor “leader” for head is alien to the Greek language until the Byzantine or Medieval period. (pp. 111-112)
But if the Septuagint was indeed the Bible used by the New Testament authors and Christians throughout the New Testament world (as it was), then the fact that it was a translation made two centuries earlier does not mean that its examples of the use of kephale¯ are irrelevant as evidence. To dismiss these as irrelevant would be similar to someone trying to find out what American evangelical Christians in 1990 meant by the use of a word and then saying that the use of that word in the NASB or NIV Bibles could not count as evidence because those Bibles were “translations” and therefore may not reflect native English uses of the word.
In fact, quite the opposite is the case. Though the Septuagint is not perfect as a translation, it was certainly adequate to be used throughout the Greek-speaking world for several hundred years. To some extent it reflected the use of Greek common at the time it was translated, and to some extent (as all widely accepted Bible translations do) it influenced the language of the people who used it.
Because of both of these facts, the usage of a word in the Septuagint is extremely important for determining the meaning of a word in the New Testament. The standard Greek lexicon for the New Testament and other early Christian literature (by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker) quotes the Septuagint more frequently than any other corpus of literature outside the New Testament for that very reason. In fact, in his “Introduction” to this lexicon Walter Bauer says, “As for the influence of the LXX, every page of this lexicon shows that it outweighs all other influences on our literature.”(7)
Sound linguistic analysis would recognize this and would pay closest attention to the literature most closely related to the corpus of literature in question. But Cervin fails to admit such evidence as relevant, and this must be counted as a major methodological flaw in his argument.
3. Rejection of the Apostolic Fathers
The other corpus of literature most closely related to the New Testament is commonly referred to as “the Apostolic Fathers” (the name originally was intended to signify authors who knew the apostles personally). These writings are also extremely valuable for understanding New Testament usage, because the proximity in time, culture, and subject matter means that these writers shared a linguistic stock that was almost exactly the same as that of the New Testament writers.
Yet again with regard to a citation from the Shepherd of Hermas (Similitudes 7:3, where a husband is referred to as “the head of your household”), Cervin admits that the sense “leader” attaches to the word head, but he rejects this as valid evidence for the use of a word in the New Testament because he says that the author was unknown:
“We do not know who wrote the Shepherd. . . . If the author were a foreigner, it is entirely possible that this metaphor could have been calqued from his own native language. If this were the case, then this would be another example of an imported, not a native metaphor” (p. 105).
But this is hardly a sufficient basis on which to reject the evidence of this quotation.The Shepherd of Hermas was so widely known in the early Christian world that for at least two centuries many thought that it should be included as part of the New Testament canon (in 325 Eusebius still classified it among the “disputed books”; see Eusebius,Ecclesiastical History 3.3.6).
4. Rejection of Examples from Plutarch
Plutarch (ca. 50-ca. 120 a.d.) was a secular Greek historian and philosopher. Because he lived so close to the time of the New Testament, his writings are another useful source for understanding the meanings of Greek words around the time of the New Testament.
But Cervin rejects three examples of kephale¯ meaning “authority over” in Plutarch because he says they may have been a translation from Latin.
Regarding two examples in Plutarch, Cicero 14.4, where head is used as a metaphor for the Roman emperor, Cervin admits that they refer to a “leader,” but objects that the examples are illegitimate primarily because(8)
“Cataline was speaking in Latin, not Greek .. . 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).
Then regarding Plutarch, Galba, 4.3, he says,
“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 in response we must remember that Plutarch wrote not in Latin but in Greek, and that Plutarch certainly thought himself to be writing Greek that was understandable to his readers. Whether or not the text was based on some Latin source material does not provide legitimate grounds for rejecting these examples.
5. Rejection of Patristic Evidence
Cervin then rejects any instances of head meaning “authority” from the period immediately after that of the Apostolic Fathers, the period of the Patristic writings. He admits that in Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon there are many citations referring to Christ as the “head of the church,” and a few citations where kephale¯ refers to “religious superiors or bishops” (p. 107).
These references would seem to be strong evidence that kephale¯ could mean “authority over” or “leader.” But Cervin dismisses these examples with the following sentence:
“It appears that the use of head in Patristic Greek is a technical term referring primarily to Christ, and occasionally to members of the ecclesiastical order” (p. 107).
But what kind of linguistic analysis is Cervin doing here? If the examples of kephale¯ meaning “authority over” are few, he calls them “rare.” If the examples are many (as in the Patristic literature), he says it is a “technical term.” One wonders what kind of evidence would satisfy him so that kephale¯ does mean “authority over”? He concludes, “Grudem’s citation of Lampe is misleading” (p. 107), but by what kind of logic do examples that support a case become “misleading”? It is not clear to me how he can reason that instances of kephale¯ where it refers to Christ or to church officers in authority over the church do not show that kephale¯ can mean “leader” or “authority over.”
6. Rejection of New Testament Lexicons
In addition to dismissing without examination, or explaining away, the instances of kephale¯ meaning “authority over” from the New Testament, the Septuagint, the Apostolic Fathers, Plutarch, and the Patristic writers, Cervin also dismisses evidence from all the lexicons that specialize in the New Testament period and impugns the competence of their authors.He asks,
If “leader” is a common understanding of kephale¯, as Grudem claims, then why is it apparently never so listed in any Greek lexicon outside the purview of the NT? I offer several possible reasons, not the least of which is tradition and a male-dominant world view.
As Cervin continues his explanation, he for some reason repeatedly refers to those who write lexicons specializing in the New Testament period as “theologians”:
The expertise of theologians9 is the NT, not Classical, or even Hellenistic Greek, per se. While it may be true that some theologians have had a grounding in Classical Greek (especially those of the 19th century), they spend their time pondering the NT, not Plato, Herodotus, or Plutarch. . . . Another reason stems from Latin. . . . The Latin word for “head,” caput, does have the metaphorical meaning of “leader.” . . . Thus, for English speaking theologians, at least, English, Hebrew, and Latin all share “leader” as a common metaphor for head. Thus, the forces of tradition, a male-dominant culture, the identical metaphor in three languages, and a less-than-familiar understanding of the Greek language as a whole, could, in my mind, very easily lead theologians to assume that the metaphor of “leader” for head must be appropriate for Greek as well. (p. 87)
The result of this analysis is that Cervin rejects the judgment of the editors of those lexicons that specialize in the very period of the Greek language for which his article intends to give us a meaning for kephale¯. But several objections must be raised against Cervin’s evaluation of the value of these lexicons:
(a) The assertion that the authors of New Testament lexicons do not read “Plato, Herodotus, or Plutarch” simply indicates a lack of familiarity with the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker lexicon, whose pages are peppered with thousands of references to extra-Biblical authors, frequently including Plato, Herodotus, and Plutarch, as well as many, many others.
The primary author of this lexicon, Professor Walter Bauer of Göttingen University, worked for more than thirty years at this task (see BAGD, pp. vvi), during which time he “undertook a systematic search in Greek literature” for “parallels to the language of the New Testament” (ibid.). Moises Silva says,
Bauer was fully sensitive to the need not to isolate the New Testament language from the contemporary speech and thus his work abounds with thousands of invaluable references to secular literature where parallel constructions occur—these references alone make Bauer’s Lexicon a veritable treasure.(10)
While Cervin cites with approval many specialized lexicons for authors such as Xenophon, Plato, Sophocles, etc. (pp. 86-87), he makes the serious mistake of rejecting the value of Bauer’s lexicon. By contrast, Moises Silva says of Bauer’s lexicon,
“It may be stated categorically that this is the best specialized dictionary available for any ancient literature.”(11)
(b) One may wonder if Cervin would follow a similar procedure when attempting to determine the meaning of a Greek word in some other specialized corpus of literature.
Would he reject the use of a specialized lexicon for Aristotle, for example, when attempting to determine the meaning of a word in Aristotle, simply because the authors of the lexicon spent more of their time looking at Aristotle’s words? And would he call the authors of an Aristotle lexicon “philosophers” (rather than “linguists”) because the subject matter about which Aristotle wrote was philosophy? Similarly, would he insist on calling the linguists who wrote a specialty lexicon for Herodotus “historians” (rather than “linguists”) because Herodotus wrote about history? The editors of New Testament Greek lexicons (such as BAGD) should not be dismissed so easily.
(c) It is not immediately apparent why “tradition and a male-dominant world view” would have any effect on a scholar trying to determine what the New Testament means when it says that God made Christ “the head over all things for the church” (Ephesians 1:22), or says that Christ is the “head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:10). Rather than a male-dominant worldview, the only thing required for someone to see “authority over” in these passages would be an ability to recognize that the first-century authors had a “Christ-dominant” worldview and expressed that in their writings.
(d) The fact that head can mean “leader” in English, Hebrew, and Latin should not influence a competent team of editors to see that meaning in Greek unless the context required it in various places. The argument must simply be decided on the basis of the actual Greek texts in which such a meaning is claimed to be found—but Cervin does not provide us with any such analysis for the important New Testament texts.
7. Acceptance of Specialized Lexicons Distant from the New Testament Period
It is surprising that Cervin gives extensive weight to lexicons specializing in authors far distant from the New Testament period. Thus, he gives a long list of lexicons that he examined and in which he did not find the meaning “authority over, leader” for kephale¯.
What he does not tell the reader, and what certainly would not be evident to the nontechnically trained reader of Trinity Journal who sees this long list of titles of Greek lexicons (many with Latin titles), is the dates of the authors for whom these specialty lexicons give definitions. But the authors covered by the lexicons (with dates) are as follows (following the order in Cervin’s list, pp. 86-87):
Xenophon 4th century b.c.
Plato 5th/4th century b.c.
Thucydides 5th century b.c.
Sophocles 5th century b.c.
Aeschylus 5th century b.c.
Theocritus 3rd century b.c.
Homer 8th century b.c.
Herodotus 5th century b.c.
Polybius 2nd century b.c.
Plotinus 3rd century a.d.
Diodorus Siculus 1st century b.c.
What is proved by such a survey? The impression given the reader is that Cervin has found new evidence, but he has not. Rather, he has only shown my earlier study to be affirmed by these additional lexicons. I searched several of those authors exhaustively for the term kephale¯ in my earlier study, and (with the exception of one citation in Herodotus and one in Plato), I did not find the meaning “authority over” in any of those authors either. But most of them (with the exception of Polybius and Diodorus Siculus) are quite distant from the time of the New Testament—far more distant than the instances in the New Testament, the Septuagint, and the Apostolic Fathers, which Cervin dismisses.
But a further question arises. Why is a lexicon on Plato or Thucydides given more credence than a specialty lexicon in the New Testament period?
In his selection of evidence from lexicons, as well as in his admission of examples of kephale¯ as relevant evidence, Cervin places evidence that is most distant chronologically on a much higher level than evidence that is chronologically nearest to the writings of Paul. He thus fails to carry out the careful synchronic analysis necessary to good lexical research.
8. Conclusion: A Flawed Methodology Producing an Erroneous Conclusion
What is the outcome of this procedure? Cervin by one means or another places all the examples where kephale means “authority over” in special categories: the New Testament texts are “under dispute.” The Septuagint is a “translation.” Shepherd of Hermas may have been written by a “foreigner.” The Patristic writings use kephale as a “technical term.” The citations from Plutarch “may have been influenced by Latin.” And the New Testament lexicons were influenced by “tradition and a male-dominant world view” as well as “a less-than-familiar understanding of the Greek language as a whole.”
Thus, by eliminating all the examples where kephale means “authority over” in the New Testament period, Cervin is enabled to conclude that kephale did not mean “authority over” “until the Byzantine or Medieval period” (p. 112).
Yet we must keep in mind that he can do this only by the incorrect linguistic method of deciding that all the relevant texts from the second century b.c. to several centuries after the New Testament do not count as evidence. It seems fair to conclude that Cervin’s article is fundamentally flawed at the outset in its methodology, a methodology that wrongly excludes the most relevant data for this investigation and thereby leads him to an erroneous conclusion. On this basis alone, we must reject Cervin’s claim that kephale did not mean “authority over” at the time of the New Testament. We can now examine Cervin’s analysis of specific texts in more detail.
B. The Claim that Kephale May Mean “Source” in Some Texts
1. Herodotus 4.91.
Cervin does not claim that the meaning “source” is common for kephale, but he thinks that it occurs at least once where it clearly takes that sense:
Can kephale denote “source”? The answer is yes, in Herodotus 4.91; perhaps, in the Orphic Fragment and elsewhere (in Artemidorus Daldianus, T. Reuben [no. 17], and in Philo [nos. 21-22]). Is the meaning “source” common? Hardly! It is quite rare. (p.112)
But are Cervin’s arguments convincing concerning the one clear example of the meaning “source,” which he finds in Herodotus 4.91? Cervin says that
“Grudem . . . has failed to comprehend Herodotus” (p. 89), and then he goes on to quote the Herodotus passage at length, showing that “in context, it is clear that Herodotus is discussing the ‘source’ (pe¯gai) of the Tearus River. . . . The context of this passage should make it abundantly clear that Herodotus is using kephalai as a synonym of pe¯gai, referring to the source of the Tearus” (p. 90).
But it is unclear from this how Cervin has said anything different from what I said in my first article when I said that “someone speaking of the ‘heads’ of a river is speaking of the many ‘ends’ of a river where tributaries begin to flow toward the main stream” (p.44), and when I cited the Liddell-Scott reference to kephale¯ as “the source of a river,” but pointed out that they only said that it had that meaning “in the plural.”
I agree completely that kephalai (plural) in this statement by Herodotus does refer to the sources of the Tearus River. But Cervin has said nothing in answer to my analysis of this statement, where I suggest that the quotation uses “head” in a commonly accepted sense, namely, “beginning point, furthest extremity, end point,” and that the quotation does not show that kephale could mean “source” in any general sense.
In fact, the only “sources” that are called by the term kephale are those that are also at the geographical or physical “end point” of something. This explains why the “mouth” of a river (the other end point) can equally well be called the head (kephale) of a river.
This fact would not make sense at all if kephale meant “source” generally, but it does make sense if kephale means “end point” generally. Cervin has failed to address this understanding of kephale¯ as an alternative explanation to the general sense “source.”
Moreover, it should be noted that Liddell-Scott itself agrees with my analysis of the Herodotus quotation. The overall structure of the kephale article in Liddell-Scott is as follows (I have reproduced the outline structure exactly as it is in Liddell-Scott-Jones):
- Head of Man or Beast
- Down over the head
- On the head
- From head to foot
- Head foremost
- As the noblest part, periphrastically for the whole person
- In imprecations, on my head be it!
- Of things, extremity
- In Botany
- In Anatomy
- Generally, top, brim of a vessel . . . coping of a wall . . . capital of a column
- In plural, source of a river, Herodotus 4.91 (but singular, mouth;generally, source, origin, Orphic Fragments 21a; starting point [examples: the head of time; the head of a month])
- Extremity of a plot of land
III. Bust of Homer
- Wig, head dress
- The pièce de résistance
- Crown, completion
- Sum, total
- Band of men
- Astronomy, “head of the world”
This outline indicates that the definition “source” (II.d.) was never intended by Liddell-Scott to be taken as a general definition applied to all sorts of “sources,” but they were simply indicating that the general category “Of things, extremity” was illustrated by the fact that both the beginning point and end point (the source and the mouth) of a river could be referred to with the term kephale.(12)
Neither Cervin nor Liddell-Scott give any citations where kephale is applied to a person and clearly means “source.”
2. Orphic Fragments 21a.
This text by an unknown author from the fifth century b.c. or earlier was analyzed at some length in my earlier article (see pp. 45-46). The text reads,
“Zeus the head, Zeus the middle, Zeus from whom all things are perfected.”
Cervin concludes that several different meanings are possible here and no clear decision can be made:
Grudem’s understanding of “beginning” for this fragment is quite valid. However, the understanding of “source” is also quite valid. . . . Zeus as the “head/beginning/source/ origin/ cause” are all plausible readings. This fragment contains a series of epithets of Zeus. Otherwise, there is really no context which can be appealed to in order to settle which meaning(s) were intended by the author. (p. 91)
At this point I concur with Cervin’s analysis and simply note that the ambiguity of the text makes it illegitimate to use it as a clear example of kephale meaning “source.
3. Other Possible Examples of the Meaning “Source”
Cervin briefly analyzes a few other texts that have been cited by Philip Payne13 as examples of the meaning “source.” These texts are Philo, Preliminary Studies 61; Philo, On Rewards and Punishments, 125; and six instances in Artemidorus Daldianus, Onirocriticon (Cervin, pp. 92-94). But Cervin does not see any of these as certain examples of the meaning “source,” for he simply concludes that kephale “perhaps” has this sense in some of those passages (he is doubtful about a number of the passages Payne cites).(14) I will discuss these passages more fully below in the section on Philip Payne’s article.(15)
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)
“He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church.”(44)
“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)
“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 husbands.”(47)
“He is the head of the body, the church.”(48)
“And you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”(49)
“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 thatJesus 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.
1. Richard S. Cervin, “Does Kephale¯ Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” Trinity Journal 10 NS (1989), 85-112.
2. Trinity Journal 6 NS (1985), 38-59; reprinted from the appendix of George W. Knight III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women, rev. ed., (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 49-80.
3. Italics mine.
4. In this article I am citing the page references from my earlier Trinity Journal article rather than from the article as it appeared as an appendix to George Knight’s book (see note 2).
5. Later in this article I discuss the claim of some recent interpreters that kephale¯ does not mean “authority over” in this and other passages dealing with Christ’s rule. To my knowledge, no commentary and no lexicon in the history of the church has denied the meaning “ruler” or “authority over” in this passage until 1981, when Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen suggested the meaning “top or crown” in their article, “The ‘Head’ of the Epistles” (Christianity Today, February 20, 1981, p. 22). But they give no argument for this interpretation except to assert it. And they admit that the context is discussing “Christ’s authority over everything in creation” (ibid.).
6. Cervin also briefly mentions the argument that kephale¯ in the LXX only seldom translates Hebrew ro’sh when referring to leaders. Because this argument is developed more fully by the Mickelsens, I treat it below (pp. 450-453).
7. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed., trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979; henceforth referred to as BAGD), p. xxi. Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood
8. See below, p. 444, for more detailed discussion of Cervin’s objection to this passage in Plutarch.
9. In this quotation, the emphasis on the word theologians is mine. Cervin seems determined to show that those who specialize in the interpretation of the New Testament do not have competence in understanding the meanings of terms. But why should the fact that one specializes in the study of New Testament literature automatically mean that one is incompetent in lexicography or linguistics or classical Greek? Especially in the case of Bauer’s Lexicon this is certainly a false assumption. To continue to call such scholars “theologians” when their specialty is lexicography is both inaccurate and misleading to readers.
10. Moises Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), p. 172.
11. Silva, Biblical Words, p. 171.
12. Peter Cotterell and Max Turner, Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), comment on Herodotus 4.91: However, the singular word is also used of the mouth of the river . . . and the easiest explanation of both of these usages of kephale¯ is that they derive from the lexeme’s established sense of “extreme end.” . . . we do not need to posit that they represent new senses, “source” and “mouth” respectively, for which we have no corroborating evidence. . . . (p. 142)
13. Philip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), pp. 118-136.
14. He says that one example is not a metaphor at all but a simile and “has nothing to do with ‘source’ or ‘authority.’” Regarding a number of other passages in Artemidorus he says, “Several of the passages cited by Payne do not warrant the interpretation of ‘source,’ however” (p. 92).
15. Some (though not Cervin) have also suggested (in personal correspondence to me, without attribution) that an example of kephale¯ meaning “source” may be found in The Life of Adam and Eve 19.3, which calls sinful desire (Greek epithumia) “the head of every sin.” But once again this text is ambiguous: “Head” here could well mean just “beginning” or “starting point, first in a series.” Moreover, the example is hardly reliable for NT evidence, since it is only found in two 13th a.d. century Italian manuscripts, designated A and B by R. H. Charles (The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament [2 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913] 1:146; compare discussion of manuscripts on 124-125). Charles himself does not think the reading kephale¯ to be correct here and follows manuscript C in its reading rhiza kai arche¯, therefore translating this different phrase “root and beginning” (p. 146). James H. Charlesworth (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [2 vols; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983-85] 2:279) translates “origin,”but notes that kephale¯ here corresponds to Hebrew ro’sh, maning “head” or “first” (279, note e). (The Greek text is found in C. von Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocryphae [Leipzig, 1866] 11).
16. We may of course ask the additional question, even if the metaphor of kephale¯ in the sense of “leader” was not a native Greek metaphor, would non-Jewish Greek speakers have understood it nonetheless? It seems quite likely that they would have understood it, because (1) the quotation from Plato, Timaeus 44d, noted below (example 3), shows that the idea of the head ruling over the body was commonly understood in Greek culture long before the time of the New Testament; (2) the quotations from Plutarch (my examples 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, noted below) are strong evidence of the use of kephale¯ meaning “leader” in a writer not influenced by the Hebrew Old Testament or the Septuagint; (3) the use of the adjective kephalaios, “head-like,” in the phrase ho kephalaios, “the head-like one,” to mean “leader” or “authority over” shows that a closely-related adjectival form of this word was used with that meaning in non-Biblical Greek (see Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, rev. Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie, supp. ed. E. A. Barber, et al. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968; henceforth referred to as LSJ or Liddell-Scott], pp. 944-945: “metaphorically, of persons, the head or chief”). Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.437-447