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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Translating kephale

What is the figurative meaning of the biblical metaphor kephale (denotationally 'head') and how best to translate it is the subject of intense debate, one that goes to the heart of differences between complementarians and egalitarians.

Yesterday Dave Barnhart of Vulgar Homiletics asked What is "Headship"? Regardless of what you believe the meaning of the metaphor kephale to be, it would be worth your while to read Dave's post at Vulgar Homiletics. Dave cites recent posts by BBB contributor Suzanne McCarthy on her blog Suzanne's Bookshelp.

Most Bible translators choose to translate the figurative language of the biblical metaphor kephale, literally. That is one interpretation. This interpretation typically leads to translation users assuming that the Bible's metaphor of "head" means the same as our English metaphor of head.

A few Bible translators translate the meaning of the biblical metaphor in a way that doesn't assume that our English metaphor of head has the same meaning as the biblical metaphor of head:
For a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ has authority over the church (Eph. 5:23 TEV)

The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church (Eph. 5:23 The Message)

The man is the source of the woman just as the Anointed One is the source of the assembly. (Eph. 5:23 The Source)
And so we come to the, er, head, of one of the most pressing matters in current Bible translation debates. It is whether it is best to translate the biblical text, including its figurative language, as literally as possible, and leave to Bible teachers the task of explaining the meaning of the literal translations, or whether it is better to translate the meaning of the biblical text more directly, including translating figurative language with wordings which make the figurative meanings as accurate and clear as possible. Godly translators with sincere intentions take different sides in this important debate. There is room for both kinds of translation, IF we understand the value and limits of each. Many Bible teachers, professors, and pastors recommend using both literal and idiomatic translations for one's own Bible study. I'm in their camp.

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At Sun Jan 08, 06:00:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

Any reader of the Bible needs to be aware of the metaphor of head. It occurs throughout the New Testament (off the top of my head). We're talking about English Bibles so I'd vote for retaining "head" where it occurs. It is a live metaphor and I understand its biblical meaning to include most of those it carries today. If somebody could give a quick definition of complementarian, I'd appreciate it.

At Sun Jan 08, 07:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I rather think one should keep 'head', with the understanding that the range of meaning in Greek is somewhat different from English. However, it may well relate to the legal guardianship that a woman had to have in Greek society. If her husband was dead she had to have someone to legally represent her in money matters. We don't follow this today so a woman doesn't need a male guardian in that sense.

There is also the juxtaposition of 'head' with 'savior' (soter)in Ephesians 5. This can be translated as protector, guardian or provider, and refers to nourishment and care. If a woman is legally in this situation, as they were in the NT times, then the metaphor for Christ and the church was fairly close. We have definitely lost this meaning for 'soter.'

About complementarians, I do appreciate that there are *many* different kinds of complementarians.

At Sun Jan 08, 09:39:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Lingamish asked:

If somebody could give a quick definition of complementarian, I'd appreciate it.

Hi Dave, there are some definitions in this article by Dan Wallace of DTS. I hope they are quick enough:

Biblical Gynecology

And following are the quickest definitions I know of. Complementarians believe that men and women are of equal spiritual value but have some differing spiritual roles. In particular, women must not practice the role of pastor-teacher or exercise spiritual authority over men. Egalitarians believe that men and women are of equal spiritual value and can each practice any spiritual role.

There are variations upon these definitions and in the degrees of differences or sameness believed to be divinely ordained for the spiritual roles which can be practiced by women and men.

Typically complementarians and egalitarians also differ in what they believe to be divinely ordained roles of husbands and wives. Complementarians believe in a divinely ordained hierarchy in which a wife is to submit to her husband, in the same way that her husband is to submit to God. Egalitarians believe that husbands and wives should mutually submit to each other.

Both complementarians and egalitarians believe that their positions are supported by Scripture and cite specific Bible passages which they believe support their positions.

I hope I have defined complementarians and egalitarians adequately. Since this is a blog about Bible translation and not doctrine or ideology, we like won't need to pursue this topic further at this point, unless my definitions need to be corrected or amended. It is, of course, appropriate to discuss any differences among Bible versions believed to reflect complementarian vs. egalitarians differences. While allowing for such discussion I have come to the conclusion that it is wise to be very cautious about suggesting that some specific translation decision can be attributed to complementarian vs. egalitarian positions of a translator or translators. I have seen much harm done when humans attempt to divine the thoughts and intentions of others. I personally find it more productive to deal with specific translation wordings, discussing them on their own merits with linguistic and exegetical data which supports or does not support a specific translation decisions.

At Sun Jan 08, 11:13:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

Suzanne and Wayne,

Thanks for the definitions and some good stuff on collocation of head and salvation. I will look at it more in depth soon.

Time to "head" for bed.

At Mon Jan 09, 05:26:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne wrote: "it may well relate to the legal guardianship that a woman had to have in Greek society. If her husband was dead she had to have someone to legally represent her in money matters. We don't follow this today so a woman doesn't need a male guardian in that sense."

This is an interesting point. In some societies, including the one for which I am working on translation, there is still a concept that women need a male guardian. An unmarried woman I know there told me that after her father died her uncle became her official guardian. Now I don't think we can use "guardian" for kephale in an English translation, but this has made wonder whether we should use the equivalent word in the translation I am working on, at least in places like 1 Corinthians 11:3. But I'm not sure that that would be acceptable to the audience for the translation, who don't it to be too far from literal. Perhaps it would work better in a footnote.

In any case, in English as well, perhaps it is appropriate to use the word "head" but with a footnote explaining better the possible meanings of the Greek word, and so pointing away from the sense "boss".

At Mon Jan 09, 06:59:00 AM, Blogger Brian Russell said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Mon Jan 09, 07:00:00 AM, Blogger Brian Russell said...

This is an excellent post that describes concretely the dilemma of translation. When I was in grad school, our weekly exegetical seminar had the task of translating a short passage each week. I had been a critic of various translations until I participated in this seminar. Translation is a very difficult yet absolutely essential task.

I really enjoy the dialogue of this blog.

At Mon Jan 09, 12:13:00 PM, Blogger Buddy said...

Personally, I think its more appropriate to fall back to 'word for word' translations instead of 'paraphrasing', in general, but it depends on the situation. I tend to use a wide cross-section of translations when studying (e-sword rocks)

I think kephale conveys a pretty good sense of 'taking hold of', 'seizing control of', or perhaps 'guarding' but also to some extent 'directing' or 'responsibility', 'source of', or 'beginning', 'giver of life' and more directly, to some extent, 'Head' as in 'controlling authority', or 'caregiver' (of, for example, your body), as is used commonly of 'head'. Be aware, I am not meaning in the sense of 'property' but rather 'being part of the same unit.' It's a symbiotic relationship with the 'head' being the 'providor'.

'Captain' maybe works, to some extent too, although I'm not sure it has the same level of 'care for the body/wife' as 'head' does. Kephale as used in 1 Cor, implies a sense of caring/providing for the wife as you would your own body. Just as the head of the body (in a righteous state) would never have any desire to do anything that would harm the body, as such, neither would Christ seek to harm the church, nor the husband seek to harm the wife, etc.

The comparison here is 'Christ and God are one, but God is 'head of' Christ'; Man and Wife are one, but man is the head of the 'twain are one'.

C.f Eph 1:22, Col 2:10, 19, et al.

At Mon Jan 09, 01:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The one area that is really missing in English is that in Ephesians 1 there is a relationship of deposit to inheritance (verse 14) and kephale(the capital sum) to pleremos (the entire or full sum) (verses 22 - 23). The parallel is entirely lost in English. In Greek it gives the impression of an asset or increase, something that is to ones benefit or gain and works well with 'soteria' meaning the preservation or security of the family in Ephesians 5.

We have so theologized 'soteria' and other Greek words that we forget that they had a common sense meaning.


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