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Saturday, May 31, 2008

head of a family

Up until now I have always thought that it was best to translate κεφαλη kephale in 1 Cor. 11 as "head" by default. I still think this is likely the only solution, but I am not happy with the conclusions drawn from this translation.

In fact, "head of the family" of "head of the household" is a common phrase in English and in Latin as "caput familiae." In Greek it was οἰκοδεσποτέω and is found in 1 Timothy 5:14,

    βούλομαι οὖν νεωτέρας γαμεῖν τεκνογονεῖν οἰκοδεσποτεῖν μηδεμίαν ἀφορμὴν διδόναι τῷ ἀντικειμένῳ λοιδορίας χάριν

    So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
The LSJ lexicon clearly offers only one definition for οἰκοδεσποτέω oikodespoteo and that is "to be master of a house or head of a family." However, it is never translated that way.

Let's see what happens when we do find "head of a family" in the original language. First you won't find that kephale is ever used in such an expression in the scriptures. It is carefully avoided. Here is the pattern in Hebrew in Joshua 22:14, (head of a paternal house - rosh beit-avotam)
    וַעֲשָׂרָה נְשִׂאִים, עִמּוֹ--נָשִׂיא אֶחָד נָשִׂיא אֶחָד לְבֵית אָב, לְכֹל מַטּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְאִישׁ רֹאשׁ בֵּית-אֲבוֹתָם הֵמָּה לְאַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

    καὶ δέκα τῶν ἀρχόντων μετ αὐτοῦ ἄρχων εἷς ἀπὸ οἴκου πατριᾶς ἀπὸ πασῶν φυλῶν Ισραηλ ἄρχοντες οἴκων πατριῶν εἰσιν χιλίαρχοι Ισραηλ LXX

    et decem principes cum eo, singulos de tribubus, unusquisque erat caput familiae in cognationibus Israel. Vulgate

    and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel,(A) every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. ESV
Clearly Greek breaks the pattern. It is the word for the physical "head" in Hebrew, Latin and English. However, in Greek the word αρχων archon (ruler) is used instead and not kephale. So when Paul uses κεφαλη he knows very well that he is not using the normal Greek word for what we understand when we hear "head of the family." κεφαλη is not the way to say "head of state," "head of the nation" and "head of the family." There is a perfectly good Greek word for that - archon. Or, of course, οἰκοδεσποτέω.

I am therefore concerned about lack of clarity when someone writes about Sarah Sumners,
    She also calls into question attempts by fellow egalitarians to reinterpret 1 Corinthians 11:3 as if kephale in that passage means “source” and not “head.”
That is not enough. What does one mean in English by the term "head?" Clearly the English word has a similar range of meaning as the Hebrew rosh and the Latin caput, but, in fact, none of this informs the meaning of κεφαλη in Greek. So egalitarians rightly point out that kephale does not have the same semantic range as "head" does in English. That point was not made clear in the post I refer to.

Anyway, laugh all you like, I would prefer to see a lot more precision and attention to the original languages in discussions like these. Possibly Sumners does a much better job than this quote taken out of context would imply. The truth is that I have only read a couple of famous studies on kephale and I remain puzzled at why anyone associates kephale with "governing authority." I haven't decided about "source" yet. Maybe five years down the road I'll have a better idea.


At Sun Jun 01, 06:21:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

none of this informs the meaning of κεφαλη in Greek. So egalitarians rightly point out that kephale does not have the same semantic range as "head" does in English.

This is another very important post, Suzanne. I'm going to respond with a few things technical here but to stress as much as I can what you're saying.

You are right to bring into the discussion Paul's word οἰκοδεσποτέω in 1 Timothy 5:14. It's a favorite word of the astrologer Vettius Valens, so I'm not sure what Paul was doing with it.

The related and much more widely used word is οἰκονομική, or oiko nomikE, from which we get our economics. If I'm not mistaken, the only time a variant of this is used in the NT is by Luke (16:2) in Jesus's parable of the clever steward. Quite literally the word means Rules of the Household. Socrates seems to have coined it with the "-ική" (or our "-ics" suffix), which indicates it is some kind of technical art. Of course, we get Socrates's words both from Plato and from Xenophon. And although Aristotle in his various treatises on Ethics will say very much about οἰκονομική, it is Xenophon who writes an entire work on the subject.

This is no small thing for your point here. Xenophon is telling how Socrates develops this whole very popular Greek subject of ruling the household or the estate or the family with father, mother, children, and sometimes grandparents and more often with slaves. In this very thorough book he writes, (that we have entitled by tranliteration Oeconomicus), Xenophon does use the word kephale or κεφαλη, or what we tend to translate "head."

So the question is, in the discussion of household rule, how does Xenophon use κεφαλη or kephale? Does he use it in contexts where man is over woman, or the husband is the authority?

To be sure, there is "misogyny" surrounding the text. In fact, in Sarah B. Pomeroy's translation of Xenophon (Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary), she writes that in the 4th century when Xenophon was writing "Misogynistic remarks and complaints about marriage . . . while not quantifiable, seem abundant." (page 31). But Pomeroy goes on to say this:

“Aristotle would never have cited as a model the household described by Xenophon in the Oeconomicus in which a wife who has learnt her lessons well can exercise authority over her husband. Aristotle admits only one situation in which a wife may rule the husband: that is when she is an heiress.” (page 34)

Now, here's that one instance in which Xenophon uses kephale in his extensive treatise on family, estate, or household management rules:

ὁρᾷς μὲν γὰρ δὴ ὅτι βαθύτερος ὀρύττεται τῇ ἐλαίᾳ βόθρος• καὶ γὰρ παρὰ τὰς ὁδοὺς μάλιστα ὀρύττεται• ὁρᾷς δ’ ὅτι πρέμνα πᾶσι τοῖς φυτευτηρίοις πρόσεστιν• ὁρᾷς δ’, ἔφη, τῶν φυτῶν πηλὸν ταῖς κεφαλαῖς πάσαις ἐπικείμενον καὶ πάντων τῶν φυτῶν ἐστεγασμένον τὸ ἄνω.

Now here's an early translation by H. G. Daykins:

"You can see with your own eyes that the olive has a deeper trench dug, planted as it is so commonly by the side of roads. You can see that all the young plants in the nursery adhere to stumps. And lastly, you can see that a lump of clay is placed on the head of every plant, and the portion of the plant above the soil is protected by a wrapping."

What's the "head of a plant"? Pomeroy's more recent translation puts it this way:

"For you certainly have observed that they dig a deeper hole to plant the olive, since it is very frequently planted by roadsides. And you’ve observed that stems are attached to all the shoots. And you've observed,' he continued, 'that clay is smeared on the tips of all the plants, and the tip of every plant above ground is protected,' he said." (page 197)

Clearly, "head" here (or "tip") has nothing to do with "authority." And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the "rule of a household."

At Sun Jun 01, 06:51:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Let me correct something from my last comment: Paul's use of οἰκοδεσποτέω is the rare thing in the NT. But variants of οἰκονομ* are much more frequent: thrice by Luke (in ch 16) and by Paul once in I Cor 9:17, thrice in Eph (1:10, 3:2, 3:9), once in Col 1:25, and once in I Tim 1:4. For the person who manages the estate, household, or family, or οἰκονόμος, there are many uses by Luke and Paul, and one by Peter.

The question is whether they are following Xenophon or Aristotle (with a logic that compels the Romans very severely to put down woman in society, in the household too).

At Sun Jun 01, 07:49:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

At the moment I am unable to locate a recent Christianity Today exchange Sarah Sumner has on this topic. But I have found a 2005 article where she clearly states:

"it is often assumed that the word head means "leader"—though the Bible never says the husband is the "leader" of his wife. The mystery of one flesh is exchanged for a business model in which the husband is the boss and the wife his assistant.

In addition, many evangelicals assume that the husband is the head of the house. But the Bible does not say that. It says that the husband is the head "of the wife" (). He is the head of her. That makes sense in light of the biblical picture of one flesh. It's nonsensical, by contrast, for anyone to think that the husband is one flesh with his household."

Dr. Sumner does write about the meaning of kephale. She disagrees with egalitarians who suggest that it does not mean "head" in the biblical passages discussing marriage. It does mean "head" in those passages. But she also disagrees with complementarians who understand "head" as a translation of kephale to refer to leader or boss. She attempts to find a "middle way" (one she considers more "biblical") between the complementarian and egalitarian positions.

John Hobbins is blogging a series largely based on Sarah Sumner's claims.

Dr. Sumner calls on egalitarians to accept biblical teaching that calls for a wife to submit to her husband. But that submission is to be because he is her husband, not her "head".

At Sun Jun 01, 08:57:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

Thank you, Wayne,

for bringing out a number of important points.

Sarah Sumners' stance is refreshing in my eyes. She freely admits that some texts are difficult to square with egalitarianism. She calls on comps to admit that some texts are difficult to square with their stance.

In our heart of hearts, we all know this to be true. It's time that we be honest about it, for the sake of the Gospel and the unity of the people called according to his purpose.

At Sun Jun 01, 09:04:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Dr. Sumner calls on egalitarians to accept biblical teaching that calls for a wife to submit to her husband. But that submission is to be because he is her husband, not her "head".

Wayne, One of our pastors used John 13, where he translates Jesus as saying to Peter in reply:
ἐὰν μὴ νίψω σε οὐκ ἔχεις μέρος μετ' ἐμοῦ.
Peter retorts, κύριε μὴ τοὺς πόδας μου μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τὴν κεφαλήν.

Now our preacher today was making the point that Jesus is speaking prophetically also, about his need to clean Peter (by the blood of the cross). But, look, Peter is replying by saying, in effect, "If you're going to clean one extremity, then clean all of them. If you wash my feet, then my hands and my head also."

The point is that Greek often looks at "head" as a point on the body, like hands, like feet.

But now for you to say in English that "biblical teaching" is "a wife to submit to her husband" suggests that "head" really is irrelevant to the conversation. And Wayne some of us have to object that this "to submit" thing, as if it's only for all wives in all places at all times in the church (and nothing of submission for the husband) is really "biblical teaching" at all.

For you to say that Sumner says this is a very sweeping statement. Worse, if we must use logic, then it's a logical fallacy of begging the question. To say that egalitarians must accept "biblical teaching" assumes they don't.

At Sun Jun 01, 09:07:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

our heart of hearts, we all know this to be true

John, What are we all in denial about? Why have this conversation if all we need to do is to look so deeply within us and admit that we all are only limited in what we see in the scriptures, and more specifically in certain passages attributed to Paul, about limiting roles for women?

At Sun Jun 01, 09:10:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

John Hobbins is blogging a series largely based on Sarah Sumner's claims.

Suzanne McCarthy is also blogging a series, which starts here. I think all of our voices should be heard, as Sumner seems to suggest they should.

At Sun Jun 01, 10:15:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The article to which I was referring above is found in the June 2008 issue of CT. I do not know if we can read that article online without a subscription. However, the CT website does have a news article referring to the article.

At Sun Jun 01, 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, whenever I, as a Myers-Briggs Sensor post concise comments I run the risk that gifted iNutuitives like yourself will think of things that are not included in my comments. That happened again this time. It takes too much of my energy to go back-and-forth with "I said" but "you said I said", etc.

Suffice it to say that saying that Sumners advocates wives submitting to their husbands does not deal with the many other issues involved including husbands mutually submitting to their wives, what to do when a husband wants a wife to do something she believes is wrong, etc. Sumners does believe that egalitarians can move more closely to a biblical position, just as she believes complementarians can. She is a welcome prophetic voice in the polarizing debates today. I highly recommend reading what she has written, rather than my attempts to concisely represent a part of what she has said.

I'm going to leave my comments as they are, but remind us all that when we comment we are not usually being exhaustive. I was not being exhaustive in my comment here on Suzanne's post.

At Sun Jun 01, 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, I'm rushed as we need to head out the door for church and I'm still in my bath robe!

But I want to tell you what I mean by "biblical". By this term I am referring to what the Bible explicitly teaches (and even there, there is room for differences of interp), not to systematized ideologies or theologies of the Bible based on proof texts that are used to support those belief systems

I also need to point out that Sarah Sumners is senior pastor of a church. She believes that she is being fully biblical in having this role.

Finally, hmm, I forget the "finally". Gotta get dressed and get to church. Oh, I remember now. In my exchanges with you I want to focus on the main point of a blog post of comment. In my case the main point of my comment on Suzanne's post is that "head" (from Greek kephale) does not mean that a husband is boss or leader of his wife. Any other ideas that come to your mind from my comment, please take them up with me off-blog or under a post that deals with that specific topic.

Thanks, and, as always, I appreciate you and am stimulated by your wonderful mind.

At Sun Jun 01, 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I think it is instructive to look at what John's intention is in posting about a "middle way." He is not talking about common ground, that is a shared text, and a shared vocabulary, which is my central concern. He is talking about a "middle" road between the comp and egal positions. This is what John comments on Kurk's blog.

At some point, however, within a Christianized West, slavery takes on forms that make slavery as practiced among the Jews and the Greek seem almost philanthropic. The conscience of some is stirred, leading to the abolition of slavery.

But new problems emerge. In place of slavery, we have millions of black men and women incarcerated for long stretches of their lives. Their wardens are once again white.
Have we made progress?

The answer is clearly yes and no, though others might say, no and yes. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I might use the comp-egal debate as another example,

Now, quite frankly, I want John to go back in time and sit down at the table with some former slaves who carry the scars of slavery in their flesh, and tell them how bad liberty is going to be, and renogotiate with them a 'middle' road between slavery and liberty.

Then he can come back and preach a middle road between the subordination of women and treating women as equals.

At Sun Jun 01, 01:09:00 PM, Blogger John Hobbins said...


you make it very hard to have a conversation on these issues because you quickly cast those you disagree with in the role of ogres. With all due respect, that is what I think you do in my case.

I trust that most people will catch the sense of my words. It pains me that you do not. I am asking hard questions, and I acknowledge that there is truth on both sides of the comp egal debate. Correct me if I am wrong, but you do not.

At Sun Jun 01, 02:49:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am asking hard questions, and I acknowledge that there is truth on both sides of the comp egal debate.

Go and ask the Black community if they think there is truth on both sides of the debate about the abolition of slavery and report to me their answer. I am not some kind of uncooperative freak. I am a real human being.

Whatever it is that you want, I can't imagine. You welcome women as equals in ministry so there must be some other domain where you think complementarians have some special truth. If you want a complementarian home life, then I am just the wrong person for you to discuss this with. Wrong time, wrong person and wrong place.

I think that the complegalitarian blog would be a more appropriate place to have a discussion on this topic.

Let's just talk about how kephale is translated here. I am interested in hearing more about Sumners treatment of this word because as far as I am concerned "source" is not out of the running since there is some evidence that κεφαλη and αρχη were treated as synonyms. Some complementarians also agree that κεφαλη can mean progenitor as well as ruler, so it is not really an either/or proposition.

I would be delighted to hear any further insights on the translation of κεφαλη. Thanks, Kurk for mentioning the tips of the plants.


I sense that you are quoting what Sumners is saying about kephale in Eph. 5. What about 1 Cor. 11? The "one flesh" metaphor does not seem so clear there.

At Sun Jun 01, 09:40:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Many thanks for your clarification and kind words!

As Wayne illustrates here, it's possible (bc of personality or other personal things) to overstate, to understate, to misread, to be misread. A conversation on eqalitarianism and complementarianism is not just some abstract theoretical discussion; it is highly personal and reveals personal politics often that people don't want to show. These are hard questions even you are asking; and yet the conversing is harder because it involves us personally. But I can't imagine having a conversation without having, well, a conversation.

In Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian, Sumner discusses kephale at length. Unfortunately, she deals with it, per egals and comps, rather reductively. She says egals believe it is "source"; comps believe it is "authority"; those with "ignorance of the Greek" sometimes and wrongly call it "covering." She concludes: don't define it:

Wayne Grudem “was striving . . . to prove conclusively that kephale does not mean ‘source.’ Grudem openly says that in the 2,336 examples, only 2 percent of them in his judgment appear to be used metaphorically to mean ‘person of superior authority or rank, or ruler, or ruling part.’ I think that is telling. What it tells me is that in 2,287 instances of the 2,336, kephale clearly has a different definition. In those 2,287 cases kephale means the same thing that it always means either literally or metaphorically in the New Testament. The word kephale refers to a head. Yes, a physical head.” (page 151)

“In spite of the prominence of the arguments of both sides of the debate, I believe that ‘head’ as it appears three times in the Greek in I Corinthians 11:3 and twice in Ephesians 5:23 connotes the idea of a picture of a head. Sometimes evangelicals have a tendency to convert the biblical metaphors into clear-cut definitions that demystify the mysteries of God.” (page 152)

“According to the Bible, marriage is a ‘mystery’ (Eph 5:23). Indeed, headship is a mystery too. As much as we might wish to define the word head, it is not appropriate to do so because ‘head’ is a metaphor, and metaphors are not meant to be defined.” (page 153)

This is a clever solution!! It suggests, nonetheless, that Sarah B. Pomeroy's translation of Xenophon's κεφαλαῖς as "tips" might work to translate Paul. How do we like this?

"But I want you to know that Christ is the tip of every man, and the man is the tip of the woman, and God is the tip of Christ."

or this?

"for the husband is tip of the wife as also Christ is tip of the church. He is the Savior of the body."

Neither "source" nor "authority/ruler" works for Xenophon's κεφαλαῖς as extreme parts of plants. Nor does "source" or "authority/ruler" work for John's translation of Peter's conversation with Jesus about the washing of his "head" and "hands" as well as "feet," all extreme tips of the body for Greek speakers.

At Sun Jun 01, 10:15:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am very surprised that Sumners conceded that in 2% of cases kephale meant "authority over." There is only one case in all of Greek literature where kephale seems to mean "authority over" in any obvious way. I note then that she does not interrogate Grudem's studies. She must accept then that Philadelphus is the head of the nation, as Grudem claims, when the citation does not come close to saying that.

I would say that the first thing on the agenda must be to clean up and clarify the serious misrepresentations that have been made about the word kephale.

Thanks to encouragement from Iyov, I have written more on my other blog about why I disagree with an attempt to find a middle road.

At Sun Jun 01, 10:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Here is the problem, Grudem writes,

"About 50 examples exist where the person called "head" is the king of Egypt, or the king of Israel, or the leader of a tribe, or the general of an army, or Christ as "head" of the church, etc. In every single case, where person A is called the "head" of person(s) B, A is in authority over B."

But can't we say that person A, Ptolemy II, is the kephale of persons B, all the kings including Ptolemy I, and Ptolemy II is not in authority over Ptolemy I. This is Grudem's best example. The others are obscure pieces of translation Greek as my discussion with Gerald recently demonstrated.

At Wed Jun 04, 01:12:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

You all seem to have missed the twelve cases of oikodespotes, the noun, in the New Testament. All are in the synoptic gospels: Matthew 10:25, 13:27,52, 20:1,11, 21:33, 24:43, Mark 14:14, Luke 12:39, 13:25, 14:21, 22:11.

At Thu Jun 05, 12:57:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Peter, this stuff would make a fun post.


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