Male Headship: heading in the wrong direction

The sermon topic was marriage, with the text being Ephesians 5:21-33. The sermon notes inserted in the bulletin showed where the sermon was headed and I toyed with the idea of suggesting we leave before the sermon started. I’m glad we stayed.

It’s not that the sermon correctly presented the passage. The exegesis started off on the wrong foot and never adjusted for the fundamental error. The reason I’m glad I stayed is it gave me a full view of the danger of starting off with a wrong understanding and how everything after that gets further and further from God’s truth.

The problem began with a fundamental misreading of one of the opening verses:

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. (Ephesians 5:23.)

Without any explanation the pastor said that “head” means “leader,” an assertion he expected the congregation to assume was correct. As he went on it became clear that this false assumption about the meaning of the word “head” was heading us all in the wrong direction.

A Metaphorical Head

In English the word “head” can symbolize leadership, of course, as in “Head of the committee.” It can also refer to intelligence, as in “She has a good head on her shoulders.” Another way to use it is in the sense of origin, as in “Headwaters of a river.” Most people know that in order to determine whether “head” is used literally for the body part atop your shoulders or in one of its many figurative ways the reader must look at the context in which the word is used.

In the New Testament Greek of Ephesians 5 the word translated “head” is kephalé. Whether ancient Greek speakers would have used kephalé as a metaphor for thought, origin or leader – or some other figure of speech entirely – depends on ancient Greeks, not on how we use the word “head” in modern English.

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

The concept of kephalē carries the connotations of kinship, association, and connection. A head is nothing without a body, and vice versa. Moreover, the head and body have an affinity and are part of the same unit. (The Metaphorical Meanings of “Head” in Paul’s Letters: Part One.)

Every language has its own metaphors and idioms, and it turns out “leader” is not a correct reading of the word kephalē in Ephesians 5. To see the word “leader” whenever reading the word “head” in an English language New Testament – as the preacher did in the sermon I heard – is not just a misunderstanding. It is a rewriting of the sacred text of Scripture.

Keep in mind too that a correct understanding of “head” in Ephesians 5 isn’t a matter of two people reading the Bible’s words and having a different take on how they apply to people. This is about knowing what the Bible’s words are in the first place. Failing to understand those words leads to failing to understand God’s word itself.

If one wrongly reads “head” as “leader,” the rest of the passage is then misread as a leader-follower set of instructions. If one instead correctly reads “head” as pertaining to being joined inseparably with the body, the passage has a completely different meaning.

So what is the meaning of Ephesians 5 if “head” means joined together? It is about the wife and husband being joined inseparably, just as Jesus is joined to the church, and just as a head is to the body. The understanding is supported by the fact that the church truly is the body of Christ.

Paul the Radical Preacher

In a radical departure from the Greco-Roman culture of the time Paul told husbands to love their wives because they are joined inseparably one with the other, just as Christ is joined inseparably with and loves the church.

This concept of men and women being inseparably joined in marriage goes back to the time of Creation:

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24.)

Paul used this concept from the roots of Jewish faith, thought and culture to tell the Ephesians that their way of doing things – the predominantly Greek and Roman cultural understanding of husbands being masters who ruled their wives as chattel – was wrong. Husbands were not to rule over their wives as Greek culture and Roman law said they should.

Paul’s instructions instead told them their ideas of marriage were completely wrong. Husbands were to look on their wives the way they looked on themselves, as inseparable parts of themselves, and they were to love and care for their wives the way they love and care for themselves. This radical notion is not only traceable to Genesis but also to the relationship Jesus has with his people under the New Covenant, as Paul made explicit in this same passage:

After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church … . (Ephesians 5:29.)

If you read “head” as “leader” in verse 23, then verse 29 seems oddly out of context except perhaps as leaders are responsible for feeding and caring for subordinates. But there would be no need to mention being joined together (and no need to mention love, for that matter) in the earlier verses; leaders have been responsible for subordinates long before Christianity came along.

But since “head” means joined together inseparably, the verse fits the context quite well. Husbands were told not to look on their wives as chattel, but as persons to love. Husbands are joined to wives just as Jesus and the church are joined, and since Jesus loves his church then husbands are to love their wives. It was completely radical to people in a place like ancient Ephesus, and continues to sound radical in some modern cultures and subcultures as well.

But it’s the way Christians are to live.

Husbands as leaders? That is less than God’s calling for marriage. Wives and husbands joined in the same love known by Jesus and the church? This is marriage that is truly biblical.


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82 Responses to Male Headship: heading in the wrong direction

  1. Sharon Gerdes says:

    Interesting post. I think that this understanding of headship works much better with those beautiful verses about Christ love for the church: the washing of her with the word, presenting her in glory, etc. With all the focus on male leadership and women submission I think we’ve lost the beauty of that picture. It’s ironic to me that this passage has been used most often to “put women in their place” even though they majority of the verses talk about the husband’s role.

    I am still trying to figure out what all I think about roles in marriage since I was raised with the understanding that men and women are equal but have different roles. I know for certain that most of the conservative church has made a huge idol of marriage and has defined how marriage can work to be a cookie-cutter for each couple. Both of these things are problematic. Especially when the church has taken the concept of headship and submission out of it’s context to each married couple and decided that all women are called to submit to all men.

    But I think I still believe there must be some kind of role difference in marriage. Otherwise wouldn’t we stop being a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church? Do you believe there is room for any kind of authority structure in marriage? I’m just curious.

    As always, I enjoy reading your blog. Great stuff.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Sharon. I’m not sure what the authority structure would be in a given marriage, but if there is one it would be up to eh individuals in that marriage to determine it. I don’t think there is a biblically mandated structure that all couples must adapt their relationship to.

  2. That’s a very interesting way of putting the kephalē that I hadn’t heard before. It makes sense.

    There is part of me that really wonders that even if it meant leader, would it still set up an authority structure like some claim? Jesus wasn’t exactly big on making authority claims and demanding obedience especially within any kind of gender role construct. It makes me think that even if “leader” was a proper translation, the application of such a passage has to look like Jesus’ own leadership. One marked by love, humility, patience, and you know the fruits of the Spirit, not one of unquestioned authority and rigid gender roles.

    • Tim says:

      “There is part of me that really wonders that even if it meant leader, would it still set up an authority structure like some claim?”

      Me too, Jeremy. I think the passage has nothing to do with leadership, as you can see, but I also think that when Christians are in leadership positions it is to look nothing like the modern versions of patriarchy taught by some churches.

      • I’m coming to a point where I’ve seen alternate options for head other than leader that I’m questioning it too. I guess I was just reflecting on my own journey in this area and realized my own marriage and views in this area would be labeled more egalitarian even though I didn’t have an alternate meaning for head here. It is very interesting (for better or worse) how two people can view the same interpretation and produce very different results.

  3. Greg Hahn says:

    As you said early on: “Most people know that in order to determine whether “head” is used literally for the body part atop your shoulders or in one of its many figurative ways the reader must look at the context in which the word is used.”

    As it happens, kephale is used again in the immediate context of 5:23. And it pretty clearly does not mean “leader” there, but something very much like what you are sayign in the post above:-

    4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head,that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim — it’s a good reminder of how important it is to get our key terms right before we base an entire sermon (and theology) on them.

    • Tim says:

      Right, Jeannie. Doctrine is supposed to be based on what is actually in the Bible. If we’re going to say the Bible says something, let’s make sure that’s really what the Bible says.

  5. Brian Nisbet says:

    This is just EXCELLENT ! I could go on but I’ll just keep absorbing this.

  6. So interesting. It’s so easy and so wrong to read our own cultural connotations into the English word translations. In Colossians 1:15-20 kephalé is translated “head” in what is possibly an early church creed or hymn. When reading these verses, I see so many words for which I want to do word studies. It’s interesting to note that while speaking of Christ’s supremacy, the emphasis is on creation, sustenance, and holding all things together. Later in Colossians, Paul writes,

    “18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (Col 2:18-19, NIV).

    Note the likely wordplay on an “unspiritual mind” and “lost connection with the head.” I wish I had more time at the moment to dive into word studies!

  7. Cheryl Carlson says:

    I like your interpretation of head meaning association/kinship. But probably because I have been taught differently for all 43 years of being saved and have a western mindset definition of head, I am having trouble making head not mean any sort of leadership, since when using the body analogy the head (ie brain) still leads the rest of the body, just as Christ leads the Church. We, as the Church or individual believers, hopefully never say no to that leadership, although I have free-will to Jesus, which my foot does not have to my brain, which again makes it hard for me to wrap my brain around the kinship/association definition, especially when the verses around this tell wives to be subject to their husbands and this word does mean subordinate. (Yes, run on sentence.)
    If I put paraclete (one who walks beside) in there then it would make more sense, but that is not what Paul said.
    Just for the record, I have a more “walk alongside” than leader-submitted type marriage, so it is nice to see support for that. If we each do our strengths and work together where we are both weaker, it works well as an “association/kinship” and each marriage must figure that out for that couple, but there often still must be the one who has the final word.

    • Tim says:

      It is hard to get idiom to translate well, especially over the course of 2000 years. But insisting – as some do – that our modern idiom governs (e.g., “head must mean leadership”) is cultural hegemony run amok. We need to know what the original writer meant in order to know what the writing means.

      • Shaylee Martling says:

        Hey Tim,
        Could you directly answer with your view of how any sort of leadership is not implied, even considering the comparison between Christ and the Church, where Christ is clearly leader and Lord over the church. I understand what you are saying about the emphasis being on unity, but it seems foggy on whether or not you believe the husband had any sort of unique leadership role in marriage scripturally.

        • Tim says:

          That passage does not refer to Jesus leading the church. As I said in the post, you will find that in other passages. And since this passage is not about his leadership, it is also not about anyone else’s leadership either. If you want to show God ordained husbands as leaders you’ll need to look elsewhere. I haven’t found it elsewhere.

        • Shaylee Martling says:

          Hey! Thanks for answering my comment so soon! I appreciate the work you have done a lot and I am coming from the standpoint of everything I’ve been taught and trying to allow it to be deconstructed, but I have to say I want to agree with you and think that everything you are saying makes sense. It is difficult to reconcile “One Lord” and “obey the governing authorities,” and if the governing authorities include men in the church who we should submit to saying that women should obey husband’s in everything… I’m rambling but can you see how I’m getting at the difficulty of a comprehensive view of scripture with a an appropriate humble and respectfuk attitude toward the word of God. It is a lot to process. So anyway, thanks for all you’re doing! God Bless.

        • Greg Hahn says:

          As I like to say, this passage is about Christ’s Headship, not about his Lordship. We must not confuse those two. Christ is Lord of the church. The husband is not the Lord of his wife.

        • Shaylee Martling says:

          Interesting point. What would you say to someone who refuted with the example of Sarah calling her husband Lord?

    • Greg Hahn says:

      I’d ask them to find the place in Genesis where Sarah did that. If they need help, it’s Gen 18:12. The only place in the Bible that Sarah calls Abraham lord is when she is laughing at him because she thinks he is too old to have sex with her.

      Then I’d show them that time Sarah was doing something Abraham didn’t want her to do. What happened?

      But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. Gen 21:12 ESV

      It looks to me that Sarah calling Abraham “lord” was a term of endearment and respect, but Abraham very clearly did not exercise lordship over Sarah as Christ is Lord over the church.

      • Shaylee Martling says:

        Ok. It seems like you have thought this out well and based it in scripture. Do you know of any resources that have like comprehensive scriptural arguments for complementarianism vs. egalitarianism? I’ve seen and read what comes up on the first page of google when you search already, but there are so many scriptures that complementarians use and I would like to be able to answer the people in my church community when they ask about these things. Thanks!

        • Tim says:

          Two excellent resources are The Junia Project and Margaret Mowczko’s blog. They will each come up easily on Google.

  8. nmcdonal says:

    So, Tim – you knew you’d get some questions from me on this one, right ;)? My questions are: 1. Which interpretation do you choose? Is it “source” or is it “thought”? And how does this make sense? 2. Since in your interpretation the only implication is connection, would you be comfortable saying “the church is the head of Christ”, and “the wife is the head of her husband?” If not, then what additional meaning do you give to “head” other than “connection”?

    • Tim says:

      I’m going with the word study work of others in saying that head doesn’t mean leadership. It just doesn’t. Once we establish that we can discuss whether it means source or connection or whether these are really all that distinct from one another in the Greek. But first we need to get past the wrong thinking that it means anything at all like leadership.

      The passage just can’t be used to show that husbands are their wives’ leaders except by giving kephale a meaning the Greek speakers would not have given it.

      • nmcdonal says:

        1. Mmk – so which is it? (also – your source didn’t say it never meant leadership, just that it was rare, which is simply to say that context is determinative. Also, I wouldn’t use the word leadership but “authority”). If you deconstruct a position, you need to reconstruct something in its place or you don’t have an argument. 2. On the second question?

        • Tim says:

          My reconstruction is that Paul meant something the men of that time would have found odd: they were to consider their wives not only equal to themselves but as part of their very own identities, and care for them as such.

          As for connection, Paul was clear that Jesus as head and husband as head has some meaning. That goes to the creation account, where Eve was taken from Adam. But it does not mean that she is like the church to her husband. Paul himself recognized in Eph. 5:32 that he was getting into mysteries that don’t translate exactly one to the other. He tried to get back on track in verse 33 but notice he did not say: “And that’s how wives are under their husbands’ leadership just as the church is under Christ’s.” Instead of speaking of leaders and followers he spoke of love and respect in concluding the passage.

        • nmcdonal says:

          OK, Tim – but you do know that a connotation is not a definition, right? Yes, “head” has the connotation of connection, but it’s far from the definition…If I’m reading you correctly, you’re most closely associating with the “source” definition, with your comment about Eve coming from Adam. But how, then, is a husband the “source” of his wife? You could take “husband” and “wife” as “male” and “female” (they are interchangeable in Greek) – is that what you’re after?

          On Ephesians 5:32 – you may want to do a bit more research on the word “mystery”. It’s not the way we typically we take it, as “too difficult to understand,” but rather, “something which has been held back, and now revealed.”

          On Christ and the church not being like a husband and a wife…it’s very difficult for me to follow you, here. Are you just choosing to disregard Paul’s phrase “just as Christ is the head of the church?”

          You say, “notice he did not say, ‘that’s how wives are under their husband’s leadership just as the church is under Christ’s”, to which I would say – that’s exactly what he says in verse 22! How, in your conception, is Christ’s headship over the church justification for the wife’s submission to the husband? Especially if, as you argue, Paul is making a statement chiding men for acting like authorities?

          Tim – there are some areas where I’m willing to agree to disagree, but this seems extremely convoluted. Even most egalitarians in the church admit that Ephesians 5 is talking about male headship in the home. I think you need to try again, here.

        • Tim says:

          I haven’t seen most egalitarians say that Ephesians 5 teaches male headship ni the home. Do you have some cites for that?

          As for verse 22, the word submit (in the phrase “Wives submit to your husbands”) doesn’t appear in the original Greek, does it? It’s placed there by interpreters. Similarly, the word submit should be understood as equally applicable to husbands in verse 28 in order to understand how a husband’s love for his wife fits in with the mutual submission taught in verse 21.

          I’m not trying to define the word head, actually. I’m trying to show that reading it as leader is not as supported as comps would want it to be. Head doesn’t mean leader in every language (as Emmy showed below for Swedish), and those who say it means leader in Ephesians 5 have the burden of proving it.

        • nmcdonal says:

          Whoever told you “submit” isn’t in verse 22 evidently has a very limited understanding of Greek. The verb is in verse 21, and it’s a participle, meaning it applies to the nouns in verse 22 – if you don’t use the verb “submit” in verse 22, you’re left with a statement without a verb, which would be fragmentary. I’d be very curious as to an alternative translation, which I’m sure doesn’t exist. It’s repeated again in English for clarity. Besides, verse 24 makes the connection clear: “But as the church is in subjection to Christ, so also wives to their husbands in everything” (my literal translation).

          On the scholars, I’m thinking of the egalitarian scholars I’m familiar with – Roy Ciampa, N.T. Wright, Gordon Hugenberger. These guys admit that Paul clearly had an authoritarian structure in the home, and they have different ways of getting around it, though some of them have given up the argument and relegated egalitarianism to the church (N.T. Wright, specifically). I’ve never heard anyone argue that Paul is saying something otherwise in Ephesians 5. What scholars are you looking at who say otherwise?

          Glad you brought up the burden of proof, because by all definitions, anyone opposed to “headship” as “authority” is the one with the burden of proof: 1. You don’t have an acceptable definition otherwise (that should be enough!) 2. Church history goes clearly against that interpretation. 3. Any other definition makes mash of the context of Paul’s argument immediately before and after. 4. Male headship in the home was the assumed Jewish practice in the OT through to the extant literature. So – in what way do others have the burden of proof?

          Also – I’d do a word study on “submit” as well. There’s a reason that verb is not ever used to refer to the husband, because it really means something like “obey” or “be in subjection to” – those sound a little harsh in English, so “submit” is most often used.

          Tim, I think you’re better than this…this does not feel like the thoughtful exegete I’ve come to know. I’m fine with different interpretations, but this, frankly, is a bit of a mess.

      • Tim says:

        “There’s a reason that verb is not ever used to refer to the husband, because it really means something like ‘obey’ or ‘be in subjection to’ … .”

        Yet if verse 21 really means “one another” then there must be some way that husbands are to submit to wives. Otherwise the “one another” part in verse 21 means merely wives to husbands. Now the task is to determine what the mutual submission of verse 21 looks like. To say it looks like husbands leading wives doesn’t constitute submission on a husband’s part at all. It’s just more of the same patriarchy that the world has been under ever since the fall.

        • nmcdonal says:

          Well, it’s not necessarily true that “there must be some way that husbands are to submit to wives”, just as there is not really some way in which parents are meant to submit to their children, as in 6:1! In order to support your argument, you’d need to point to somewhere husbands are directly enjoined to submission – but, conspicuously, Paul changes the verb to “love” when he gets to the husband. Why?

          But all this is really irrelevant if you can’t answer the first two questions I posed: 1. “What’s your definition of head?” and 2. “Are you comfortable saying the church is the head of Christ?”

          That’s probably enough from me on this, I’ll let you have the last word. I’d encourage you to read outside your circles and look at some scholarly resources (not blogs!) on the issue. I think there are good arguments to be made for egalitarianism – pointing to cultural context is particularly compelling. But playing deconstructive word-games with Ephesians, I think, is extremely precarious territory. If you insist on presupposing your conclusion, I think you can get there in ways less damaging to the text.

          -Your brother in Christ.

        • Tim says:

          I’ve read Moore and Grudem and others on the subject. Their position – Grudem in particular – seems to be a matter of having a conclusion and reaching it as best they can. Perhaps that’s how my position here reads to those who agree with Mr. Grudem.

  9. Michele Hunt says:

    Very interesting explanation. Thank you for taking the time to research the original. One concern – toward the end you mention husband and wife being married together for eternity – there is no marriage in heaven. Matthew 22:30 At the resurrection people will neither marry not be given in marriage; they will be like the Angels in heaven…

    • Tim says:

      I didn’t mean their marriage is eternal, just that their love for one another is eternal as those who belong to Christ are all joined in his eternal love. I can see how the line might be taken as referring to the marriage relationship though, so I will edit it for clarification. Thanks.

  10. Even if you do still take the verses as having the ‘traditional’ meaning I see no difference in the way husbands and wives are told to love one another. In the culture of the time, wives would have been seen as ‘less than’ their husbands. Paul is exhorting husbands to love their wives in the same way that Christ loves – and Christ is the Servant. He says to be first I have to be last. Marriage is a mirroring of the relationship we have with Christ in the sense that we love one another through submission to each other – and submission not in the sense of being ‘less than’ but in the sense of putting the other person’s needs ahead of my own. So even if you take the traditional complementarian view it still doesn’t mean anything different, in my opinion. The marriage will look the same if we are focused on Christ and following Him.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve thought the same, Sandy. Comp marriages under comp doctrine should look a lot different than the patriarchy taught by prominent comp pastors.

  11. Preach it, Tim!

    Seriously, I am helping to deal with the fallout from a now-defunct marriage of a dear friend. The tenacious tentacles of complementarian marriage are still twitching. What a horribly wrong-headed mis-translation of kephale. What evil can result. It boggles the mind.

  12. Angie says:

    Fantastic post.

  13. ninafreebird says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I have long asserted this is a spiritual passage, and always translated out of context. We would never do the same to the gospels. Women were given into marriage for various reasons, the least of all love. And many would resist the traditions & values of the culture of the husband, clinging to their various pagan gods. Look at the example of king Solomon, 1000 wives & not one righteous.

  14. ezerkenegedo says:

    Adam in a way was the source of Eve – so maybe, just as Jesus’ side was pierced and his church came forth following his death and resurrection, so too Eve came forth once Adam’s side was opened, he too was in a sense dead and then brought back to life. Maybe there is a ‘source’ or ‘connection’ there?
    Thank you for allowing a safe forum where can people can ponder the great mysteries! Shalom.

  15. freeing hope says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I shared it on my facebook page.

  16. Lilly says:

    This has really got me thinking. I’m curious to know more.

    1. Was there ever a time in church history (90 AD forward) where someone interpreted kephale to mean source/connection as opposed to leadership? Or is this a fairly recent change/update in word history, per more access to extra biblical documents?

    2. Why do multiple lexicons seem to not support your interpretation?

    3. If a legitimate complementarian translation of the text (the man as servant leader) has basically the same behavioral output of your translation, why take the time to have a different interpretation (the man and woman as interconnected) at all? Wouldn’t accepting male headship in any way still create an unequal structure?

    4. Do you ever find the complementarian concept of “man as servant leader/man as spiritual leader for whole family” to be harmful to the man as well?

    • Tim says:

      I think it is harmful to both men and women, Lily. As for why bother, it’s because getting things right is important. If kephale means leader, then I’d like to see more proof than someone merely saying it’s because that’s how we understand the word head in English. I haven’t seen that yet.

  17. Lydia says:

    I really appreciate reading this.

    I would be interested to hear the correlation between this passage and 1 Peter 3, as some translate it to say “wives obey your husbands.”

    • Emmy says:

      Hi Lydia,
      If you haven’t already, you might like to check out Marg Mowczko’s articles over at She’s an excellent scholar but also writes in a very accessible way, and she’s posted lots on the meanings and usage of kephalé in the NT. She also has some Bible study notes available on her website – some, as it happens, on 1 Peter.
      I’m not sure if she’s written anything specifically on the Connection you mentioned, but ( if I’ve done it right) this link should bring you to a search summary of all her articles on 1 Peter:
      I hope this helps.

    • Tim says:

      I haven’t looked at the 1 Peter 3 connection to Ephesians 5, but I agree with Emmy that Marg’s site is a good place to start. You might also search The Junia Project and see what they have on 1 Peter 3.

  18. Emmy says:

    Thank you for this article, Tim.
    I’ve known for a while that kephalé doesn’t mean “leader”, and thankfully “head” doesn’t have quite the same connotation in my native Swedish as it does in English. There, “huvud” (head) carries more of a metaphorical meaning of being the “main” or “central” thing, as in “huvudentré” meaning “main entrance”.
    Still, I’ve struggled to make sense of the whole of this text when reading “head” strictly as “source” – reading it as “head and body” being a picture of profound unity made things clearer for me. I think it may be the difference between knowing what something is supposed to mean and actually understanding the meaning for yourself and being able to take it to heart.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the insight on how the word head is used metaphorically in Swedish, Emmy. It just goes to show that head means many things in many languages.

  19. Rev Dr Chuck Yopst says:

    What ever happened to Ephesians 5:25 ? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The fundamental error is in this scissors cut and paste way of reading Scriptures, instead of really reading Scriptures. Then everything else, everything else is skewed.

    • Tim says:

      I mention the husband’s love and Christ’s love in the section on how this was quite different from the way husbands were expected to relate to their wives in that culture.

  20. Here is a link to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek
    No mention of leadership. There are a couple of interesting ones. Source has been mentioned. Life is another, though the examples given refers to people being concerned about losing their lives, ie keeping their heads attached. Christ as life of the Church would fit, and Paul could have been making a point about husbands and wives in terms of Eve’s life coming from Adam. Eph 5:31&32 quotes Genesis and allegorizes it to talk about Christ and the Church. Eph 5:25 talks of Christ giving himself up for the church, ie laying down his life. Maybe a husbands being head of the wife means laying down our life for her? The other interesting idea is ‘crown’ which might throw some interesting light on 1Cor 11 and head covering.

  21. Good read as always Tim. During seminary we examined this scripture as well. It is interesting that we accept “the two shall become one” but have a hard time seeing this verse as union or connection, or association. I’m glad you also examined the culture at that time, because when we do we see that Paul was going against the culture at the time with all of the things he was saying, why give instructions on husbands and wives if they were already conducting themselves accordingly.

    • Tim says:

      Great point, Rodney. Paul certainly wasn’t saying: “Carry on. Your cultural concept of marriage is exactly like Jesus and the church already, so good show everyone!”

  22. Pingback: Headship in Context – theBrokenCurse

  23. nataliakwok says:

    I just stumbled upon this post and it is so so good. And so important for others to keep reading/ writing about. Thanks for your exegesis of the text… I’ve been looking for one on this!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Natalia. How we relate to one another truly is important, and I think it’s because this is part of how Jesus loves us and what he wants us to be in him.

  24. Christian Morency says:

    The golden rule would cut through all this talk of what words meant.
    Forgiveness would pick up the crumbs.

    • Tim says:

      True, because as James tells us the law we are to follow is the law of royal love.

    • jocelyne says:

      True, Christian, but words have consequences… and I don’t want to live my life with someone who thinks I’m below them and treats me accordingly. It is necessary to define our terms so we are not living off the cuff with wrong mind-sets that affect another human being. I would rather see “prevention” than “let’s fix the mess”…. even when that thankfully includes forgiveness.

  25. Pingback: Why Men Need Love And Women Need Respect | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  26. Pingback: Scripture, Culture and Context – a quote from Keri Wyatt Kent | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  27. Toiler says:

    From the Blue Letter Bible and Strong’s Concordance G2776:
    “Head” κεφαλή kephalḗ, kef-al-ay’; from the primary κάπτω káptō (in the sense of seizing); the head (as the part most readily taken hold of), literally or figuratively:—head.

    So, thats that! Everybody got it now?

    Here’s another interesting note from the BLB on Eph 5:23 in the outline of Biblical Usage:
    “the head, both of men and often of animals. Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment.”

    The loss of Head destroys life….but the loss of Body ALSO destroys life. One can not live without the other. Kill the Heart…Kill the Head and vice-versa. Just an observation. God uses this Head and Body imagery for Christ and the Church. And then again for Husband and wife. Chop off the head and kill the body. Chop off the body and kill the head. Someone who is brain dead can not live without modern technology. The brain tells the heart to pump blood. But a dead heart can not pump blood to a brain that needs it. They both need each other to be functioning to have life. The author of this blog makes a great point. Something to think about.

  28. Pingback: Tim Fall-Male Headship: Heading in the Wrong Direction | Funhouse

  29. lorpol100 says:

    Thanks for sharing this Lisa!

  30. Janey says:

    Tim, somewhat off topic:

    I serve on several Christians boards, and that means interviewing and selecting new leadership:

    I recently realized the belief of *male headship* is damaging to MEN’s careers. If they hold a male headship view in the workplace, they may actually be unemployable.

    Boards of directors ask about a candidate’s personal convictions. When they discover a candidate who is likely to violate employment law by discriminating on the basis of sex (for example, won’t let women lead or teach men even if she is otherwise qualified), the board rejects them.

    Male headship might be fine between and husband and wife. But when it goes past the privacy of their personal relationship, into the workplace, it is out of bounds and in some cases illegal.

    • Tim says:

      I wouldn’t apply it in the marriage relationship either. In the workplace it certainly could be a disqualification.

      • Michael Cham says:

        Thank you! I find your thought process clear and consistent and easy for me (NOT a theologian) to understand. I am personally still wrestling with the question. In a nutshell, I was taught to be egalitarian in church and society and complementarian in the home. While that has worked for me it never seemed theologically consistent.

        The questions I have in my head:

        1. Does the bible have anything to say about gender? Or can we just change it all to “person.” (I instinctually do not trust that God does not say anything about gender.)

        2. Is it possible for God to give instructions to men and women but not mandate roles? Something along the lines of… it is better for men to lead but it is not mandated and God blesses women leadership when those are the circumstances.

        3. What does God think about submission and leadership in general? I wonder if our western society gives no value to authority even outside the roles of men and women. Parents/Children. Church leader/member. Master/Slave. Personally I tend to have a theology that there is a place for general authority/submission (under Christ where it is not always mandated but a general rule) and that it is not a bad thing nor reflective of the overall worth or value of the persons involved.

        4. Most tangential. What are your thoughts on homosexuality? I find that sometimes, these issues go together. (I tend to mistrust those who also think that gay monogamy is not a sin.)

        Thank you once again. I find your overall tone and clarity very encouraging and helpful as I honestly seek God’s answers.

        • Tim says:

          I can’t answer all those, but as for number 2 I don’t see the Bible saying it’s better for men to lead but not mandated they do, because I don’t see it saying either men or women are better to lead.

        • Michael Cham says:

          Thank you. If you ever do get a chance to answer the other questions, I’d be very curious to hear more.

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