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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Should kephale be translated "leader"?

Suzanne's latest post on her Bookshelf blog has a statement which will not please some:
(Headship refers to marriage not to behaviour in the assembly.)
In the debates over the roles women can have in the church and home some (many?) believe that women are to submit to the "headship" of men in the assembly (or church, if you prefer).

But that is not what the biblical texts say. Note this essentially literal rendering from the RSV:
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. (1 Cor. 11:3 RSV)
Some might call translation of the Greek word aner as "husband", rather than "man", interpretive translation, but aner often does mean 'husband' in Greek, especially when it is juxtaposed to gune ('woman' or 'wife') as it is in 1 Cor. 11:3.

In Ephesians 5:22-24 Paul clarifies whether aner in 1 Cor. 11:3 refers to a certain man, any man, or a husband:
22. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
24. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)
The head of a woman is not any man. It is not a group of men, such as elders of a church. The head of a married woman is her husband. This is what Eph. 5:23 says. Dr. Sarah Sumner, who follows the biblical texts closely, makes the same point in her recent book, Men and Woman in the Church. That point is translated clearly in the RSV and several other English versions.

When the Bible teaches about headship, it is probably best to translate Greek kephale directly as "head." None of us knows precisely what kephale meant with all its connotations, allusions, and additional teaching that it can trigger. Clearly there is something special about the relationship between a biblical "head" and the group or person that submits to it. We must not go beyond what the Bible says about headship and import (eisegete) our own ideas about it, extending what the biblical text actually says to teachings about leadership roles in the church. They are two separate issues and accurate Bible translations carefully distinguish the two.

Adequate Bible versions should communicate in translation as much as, and no more than, what the biblical texts say and what they mean by what they say.

3 Comments:

At Tue Apr 18, 09:29:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Many in the debates over the roles women can have in the church and home believe that women are to submit to the "headship" of men in the assembly (or church, if you prefer).

I had to read that several times. Many (people)?

What I hear you saying here is that in Eph 5.22-23 the headship described refers only to the relationship between a wife and her husband, and does not extend to any man in the assembly.

There is quite a lot of hierarchy outlined in Paul's writings, but I think there is a telling omission.

I would expect to see something like, "Assembly submit to your overseer." But that in fact never occurs. Is that because those reading the Greek understood the roles of members of an assembly in a way we don't today? Perhaps the 1st century assembly was far more democratic than our churches today.

 
At Tue Apr 18, 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I posted:

Many in the debates over the roles women can have in the church and home believe that women are to submit to the "headship" of men in the assembly (or church, if you prefer).

Lingamish commented:

I had to read that several times. Many (people)?

Lingamish, I have revised that sentence slightly. I hope it makes better sense now. And I also hope I now have avoided any hint of the logical fallacy of an appeal to numbers!

:-)

You keep me on my toes. That's good exercise!

 
At Tue Apr 18, 08:05:00 PM, Blogger Eduardo said...

Wayne, you have touched a hornet's nest with this, but I found your post excellent. It is informative, clear, concise, and helpful. I hope to find it should I have to partake in the headship/equality polemics. Thanks!

 

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