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Friday, June 13, 2008

Head and body, an organic unity

Since we don't have one of those fancy widget thingies that Iyov has put on his blog, I'll respond to a comment here with a new post.

Dru asks on this post,
    If 'kephale', despite it's use twice in Judges 11 in what appears to be the way it is used in English, is only normally used in greek to mean a physical head, then what on earth can Paul be meaning when he uses it metaphorically in what appears to be a similar way to how the equivalent word for 'head' is used in Hebrew, English and various other languages?

    If that metaphorical usage, which is so familiar in English that it is hardly a metaphor at all, did not work in Greek, what was he trying to say? If it really didn't work, would it have meant anything to his readers?

    After all, in English, Christ being the skull or the cranium over men does not work.

    Or was he thinking in Hebrew and translating so instantly that he didn't notice he was doing it? And for that matter, what was Paul's first language, and how was the word for 'head' used idiomatically in Aramaic?

    'Head' used biologically has a fairly precise meaning. I would query whether it is legitimate to insist that 'head' when it is used idiomatically as a metaphor/cliche, must have a meaning that is quite as precise as its biological one.

    What I think I am trying to say, is that I'd query whether it is possible to say that Paul does not mean by this metaphor something much like what we'd probably expect it to mean in English.

    I'd also, though, query, and I hope Suzanne you'll agree with me on this, how much one should found doctrine on a metaphor.

    We assume thought takes place in the head. Do you, or any other readers happen to know whether the ancients believed this?
First, I don't have the answer, I want to be clear on that. But I have been thinking about it. In the Septuagint kephale is used to translate r'osh in Judges 11 for Jephthah who is brought in to lead the tribe, and in 2 Sam 22:44, where David will be the "head of the heathen." There are almost 200 other instances where r'osh means leader of one's own people, and it is translated as archon, hegemon, archegos and chiliarch. Paul was familiar with the Septuagint. These words mean "leader" or "ruler."

Here is the catch. There seems to be an agreement between the early patriarchs, more recent complementarians and egalitarians, that in Eph. 5 the head forms an organic unity with the body. However, in the few examples that we have where kephale is used to translate r'osh, the leader has discontinuity with the people. David is not of the same people as the Gentiles. This, I believe, is what posed a problem for Chrysostom. He writes,
    Is He then Head of the Gentile also? In no wise. For if we are the Body of Christ, and severally members thereof,1 Corinthians 12:27 and in this way He is our head, He cannot be the head of them who are not in the Body and rank not among the members. So that when he says, of every man, one must understand it of the believer.

    Christ is called the Head of the Church. If I am to take nothing from what is human in the idea, why, I would know, is the expression used at all? On the other hand, if I understand all in that way, extreme absurdity will result. For the head is of like passions with the body and liable to the same things.

    What then ought we to let go, and what to accept? We should let go these particulars which I have mentioned, but accept the notion of a perfect union, and the first principle; and not even these ideas absolutely, but here also we must form a notion, as we may by ourselves, of that which is too high for us and suitable to the Godhead: for both the union is surer and the beginning more honorable.
Therefore, I suggest that Paul is not using the very limited occurrences where kephale translates r'osh as background for his use of kephale. That does not mean that Paul does not have some notion of gender hierarchy. That is simply another question. But Chrsysostom thinks that Paul has another meaning here. Organic continuity is crucial.

Oddly, when some people report the results of the kephale study, they claim that "David as king of Israel is called the "head" of the people" thereby giving the impression that kephale is used to refer to the ruler of one's own people. There is actually no case of that. There is no example of the phrase "head of the people" using kephale in Greek. And yet this is cited as evidence.

The other example is, of course, in Philo, where King Philadelphus is called the "head" of the herd, the most illustrious of all the Ptolemies. Philadelphus is not actually called the "head of the nation" although, once again one finds this cited. Since the family of the Ptolemies includes Philadelphus' father, the meaning of "authority over" is not in view. I don't know how or if this occurrence relates to Paul's use.

So, simply put, there is no evidence for the use of kephale as the leader of one's own family, tribe, or nation before the epistles and this is an important point. If one wants to maintain the notion of perfect unity, then one has to appeal elsewhere for an idea of ruler or leader.

Naturally, one can say that the head makes the decisions. But, for the Greeks, there are many different psychological models. In the tripartite soul, reasoning takes place in the head, appetite in the belly, and the will is located in the thumos, or lungs. There is no point in equating "reason" and kephale since Christ is the logos of God, and God is the kephale of Christ. So we chase a wild goose on this one.

Some say that the head is where the semen is stored and there seems to be some evidence that the head is related to the idea of reproduction. The head is also the place where we eat, see, talk, hear, and so on. Does God provide this for Christ, and man for woman? Does man think for woman? It becomes rather complicated. Chrysostom does not go in that direction. Here is another passage from Cyril of Alexandria,
    Therefore of our race he become first kephale, which is arche, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as kephale, which is arche, of those who through him have been formed anew unto him unto immortality through sanctification in the spirit. Therefore he himself our arche, which is kephale, has appeared as a human being: indeed, he, being by nature God, has a kephale, the Father in heaven. For, being by nature God the Word, he has been begotten from Him. Because kephale means arche, He established the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the kephale of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore one Christ and Son and Lord, the one having as kephale the Father in heaven, being God by nature, became for us a kephale accordingly because of his kinship according to the flesh.
The point again is kinship, not headship. Imagine how radical it would be if we taught the "kinship" of man and not the headship of man. Personally, I believe Paul's concern was about the nature of Christ. God shares his nature with Christ, Christ with men, and man with woman. Not that women are a step further from God, but for the purpose of what Paul is trying to say, he uses this pattern. Woman is contingent on man, just as man is clearly contingent on woman - just in case women forgot that.

PS By "headship" I mean the definition in English, that man is the master of woman. That is not a likely meaning for the Greek word kephale.


At Sun Jun 15, 05:23:00 PM, Blogger Dannii said...

I've just read what Grudem has to say about kephale (in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and he lists over 40 examples where he says kephale has the meaning of ruler or authority. It all seems quite convincing to a non-Greek-reader like me. Presuming you've read his arguments at some time, what do you think about them?

At Sun Jun 15, 06:04:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I have read each example in the original context. Since 40 is a lot to tackle at first, I started with the list on the CBMW blog.

Take the first example -

the king of Egypt is called "head" of the nation

The reference for this in Philo, and the king is Philadelphus, the second king in the line of the Ptolemies. His father was Ptolemy I Soter, founder of the the Ptolemaic dynasty.

This is the passage from Philo.

the whole family of the Ptolemies was exceedingly eminent and conspicuous above all other royal families, and among the Ptolemies, Philadelphus was the most illustrious; for all the rest put together scarcely did as many glorious and praiseworthy actions as this one king did by himself, being, as it were, the leader of the herd, and in a manner the head of all the kings. Moses 2:30

Here Philadelphus was the most illustrious of his family who were "eminent and conspicuous." Philadelphus had no governing authority over his father. So how can anyone claim that Philadelphus, head of the family in renown, was the authority over his father?

He was certainly never called the "head" of the nation. That was clearly an invention on the part of Grudem.

Here is how Philo uses the word kephale,

If, then, any one proves himself a man of such a character in the city he will appear superior to the whole city, and if a city show itself of such a character it will be the chief of all the country around; and if a nation do so it will be the lord of all the other nations, as the head is to the body occupying the pre-eminence of situation, not more for the sake of glory than for that of advancing the interests of those that see.

For continual appearances of good models stamp impressions closely resembling themselves on all souls which are not utterly obdurate and intractable; (115) and I say this with reference to those who wish to imitate models of excellent and admirable beauty,
On Rewards and Punishment 114

Although this person is called pre-eminent, it is clear that authority is not in view. The "head" is a model, but has no power. That is clear.

I do not think that this is how Paul is using the word kephale. Men are not, by nature, more virtuous, or more excellent, than women. This refers to a natural attribute of excellence, but not to attributed power or authority. The virtuous man is the head of the city but he may be poor - we don't know.

This is the example which Grudem choses to put first in his list. The rest of the examples are similarly problematic. There have been many studies written to refute Grudem's study but they have not become as popular as his work. They are not as well known or freely available on the internet. Cervin and Micklesen are names that come to mind.

Since I got my information basically from researching it myself, I can't tell you which is the best. Here are some suggestions,

Cervin, Richard S. "Does Kepale Mean `Source' or `Authority Over' in Greek
Literature? A Rebuttal." Trinity Journal 10:1 (1989): 85-112.

Mickelsen, B. and A. "Response to `What does Kephale Mean in the New
Testament?' in Women, Authority, and the Bible. Ed. B. and A. Mickelson.
Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1986, pp. 97-110, p. 124f.

At Sun Jun 15, 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Michael Kruse said...

Last Fall I did a series on the Household of God where I detoured into a lengthy mulitple post discussion on "kephale" in the Bible. Go to the index ("Household of God" Series Index) and scroll down to the next to last section called "New Testament Household Codes. Starting at the seventh post ("Household Code Lost in Translation: Kephale") there are twelve posts on the the topic.

Household Code Lost in Translation: Kephale
"Head" as "Origin" or "Source"
"Head" as "Symbol of the Whole" and "Preeminence in Status"
The Fictive "rosh to kephale" Exceptions in the Septuagint (Part 1)
The Fictive "rosh to kephale" Exceptions in the Septuagint (Part 2)
“Head” as Function, Representation, and Elevation, and the Centrality of Status
"Head" in 1 Peter 2:6-8 (Three Stones)
"Head" in Colossians
"Head" in Ephesians
"Head" in 1 Corinthians 11:3 (Part 1)
"Head" in 1 Corinthians 11:3 (Part 2)
Synopsis of the "Head" Metaphor in the New Testament

Rather than trying to recapitulate lots of things here, I just thought I'd invite readers to check out my take in these posts.

For an analysis of the Judges passages by Andrew Perriman see The Fictive "rosh to kephale" Exceptions in the Septuagint (Part 2).

At Sun Jun 15, 07:42:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you, Michael, I was hoping you would comment also.

It is very hard to answer this question because one cannot simply discuss the list of 40 occurrences in sufficient detail and make it comprehensible to readers. They do need to be grouped in some useful way.

At Sun Jun 15, 10:25:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I see that I have simply repeated in my comment what was in the post. Oh dear, I am losing track. I would have to ask you to present any of Grudem's examples and we could go through them one at a time. I have reviewed many of them before, any one that you like, any time.


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