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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Kephale in translation

For a long time I felt that the metaphorical meaning of kephale was not important when considering translation issues. However, I have rethought the issue. It needs to be recognized that the English word "head" has a meaning which includes both the physical head, and "a person to whom others are subordinate, as the director of an institution or the manager of a department; leader or chief."

The Greek word kephale had no such corresponding meaning of "leader" or "chief." Over the last two years I have seriously considered every example which has been cited as an occurrence of kephale meaning "authority over" or "leader" prior to Paul's epistles. Other than the translation of the highly irregular case of Jephthah, I have not seen one other instance of kephale being used in translation or original Greek writing as the "leader" or "chief." This was contrary to my expectations.

So the Greek word means head in the sense of the physical head, but the meaning of "leader" attached to the word "head" is a product of interpretation. It is one of several possible candidates for the meaning of kephale.

Other interpretations of kephale, are "beginning" and "first principle." Possibly both sides in the comp egal debate promote a meaning of "head" that is an interpretation of the word, rather than a referential meaning of the word. It is equally suspect to promote "leader" as to promote "source." Personally, I find some support for "first principle" (and therefore, possibly "source") and no support for "leader" so far. But someone may yet offer me support for "leader." I don't discount this.

However, I think we agree, technically, those who propose any meaning other than physical head, and therefore of one flesh with, and in perfect sympathy with, promote an interpretation. Here are some examples of the suspect translation of kephale.
    In a marriage relationship, there is authority from Christ to husband, and from husband to wife. The authority of Christ is the authority of God. Message

    Now I want you to know that Christ is the head over all men, and a man is the head over a woman. But God is the head over Christ. CEV

    But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man, the husband is supreme over his wife, and God is supreme over Christ. Good News
Each one of these goes beyond translation. The awkward thing is that since the word "head" in English has the meaning of "leader" and the Greek word kephale did not have that meaning, we are stuck with the realization that even by translating kephale as "head," we are not using an equivalent.

It is a tricky thing to find a conversation about men and women that is not infused with the notion that the man is the leader or servant leader. And yet, women throughout scripture and throughout the history of the church have acted on their own moral judgement and God's calling without a male leader. We must not commit to a meaning for a word that denies the scriptures as well as moral and ethical realities.

We must accept that the complementarian egalitarian divide exists on the level of interpretation. Some, like myself, will choose egalitarianism, that is the equal authority of women, as necessary to personal safety and offering the possibility of a relationship of loving interdependence. It is, for me, a moral and ethical choice, a necessary choice between two interpretations demonstrated to derive from scripture, ultimately a choice to neither harm nor self-harm.

17 Comments:

At Mon Jun 09, 04:15:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Possibly both sides in the comp egal debate promote a meaning of "head" that is an interpretation of the word, rather than a referential meaning of the word.

I understand that you are picking on a particular "interpretation" (i.e., a suspect interpretation "leader" or a suspect interpretation "source"). This points to a larger issue of Eugene Nida's Dynamic Equivalence (DE) translation theory, so that ultimately you try to conclude that "Each one of these goes beyond translation."

Pardon the pun here, but the DE translator always must assume the role of "authority" on the "original" language meaning and the "source" of the "equivalent" meaning in the "target" language. The way you are using the word "interpretation" here seems fairly Platonic, as if there is an ideal correspondence between the respective phrases across languages such that a mechanistic formula or even a machine could correctly match the equivalence. We humans who go beyond translation (this formulaic understanding) then always and only "interpret."

But every translation is interpretation.

For example, in I Corinthians 11:3, no Bible translator seems bothered by "interpreting" χριστός as "Christ." Dynamically, it's now equivalent to a technical theological word, a transliteration so that Christian seminary professors and students can teach and learn "christology." Why not call David "Christ" as in I Samuel (esp. LXX 12:5, 16:6, 24:7, 24:11) or the priests "Christs" as in Leviticus (LXX 4:5, 4:16, 6:15) or "Christ" the referent in the history / prophesy of Lamentations (4:20)? Then again, another and better "interpretative" possibility, is just to translate the word in I Corinthians (and in the NT generally) not as such a "christ-ian" Christ at all. The Greek word has a very Jewish referent even in this letter to people in Corinth. (But our extant Greek texts show that even Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Aristotle used the word or its variants, with a less technical less religious referent.)

Since the translation / interpretation / "equivalence" can of worms is open -- since you've had us look at I Cor 11:3 -- can't we all agree to the ambiguity in ἀνδρὸς / ἀνήρ and γυναικὸς? There is no singular interpretation that demands a translation of these words as "husband" or as "man" and as "wife" or as "woman." What does seem clear enough is that the males and females are juxtaposed; and that θεός is differentiated from χριστός (and by implication that χριστός is an ἄνθρωπος).

Your conclusion, Suzanne, is important: "It is, for me, a moral and ethical choice, a necessary choice between two interpretations demonstrated to derive from scripture, ultimately a choice to neither harm nor self-harm." But I think to be limited only to this DE choice, to these two, is to be rather limited indeed. Bibles can be better than that.

 
At Mon Jun 09, 09:19:00 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Hey, Suzanne. The thing I like about you is that when you pick a horse you ride it. I mean it, I'm serious, because I can relate to that. And I guess it's your tenacity in these things that I admire so much, and it just makes me want to join in the discussion. :)

So no agenda here. And by the way, I'm sorry to have misunderstood you twice recently. It was genuine ignorance on my part, I assure you. And in case you ever thought I 'wanted to be contentious' let me again say I've 'had no such custom, nor do the churches of God' that I've known. :)

Finally, Bravo on your conclusion. Honestly, I think that's all any of us can do anyway. To your Lord, I trust, you stand. And the rest of us learn to dwell together...

Now, to the points:

I see that "over" has absolutely no place in the greek text of those verses (Eph & 1Cor). I also find some interesting snippets in the Liddell-Scott definition of 'kephale'. (Yep. First time looking it up.) Some of them might be very interesting to discuss some time, or not. But I do see no place in the lexicon where 'kephale' was ever a metaphor for authority or anything close to it. And there ARE metaphorical renderings included in the litany of quotations. So that supports your point, I think.

Now, I didn't see you cite the verse, so I looked at 1Cor and Eph both. And in Ephesians, it occured to me to wonder: What do you do there with 'hupotasso'? And how does that intersect with your interpretation of 'kephale' in that verse?

Honestly, this is all exploration for me. But that's what crossed my mind at that point. So I just thought I'd ask. :)

 
At Mon Jun 09, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Since the translation / interpretation / "equivalence" can of worms is open -- since you've had us look at I Cor 11:3 -- can't we all agree to the ambiguity in ἀνδρὸς / ἀνήρ and γυναικὸς? There is no singular interpretation that demands a translation of these words as "husband" or as "man" and as "wife" or as "woman." What does seem clear enough is that the males and females are juxtaposed; and that θεός is differentiated from χριστός (and by implication that χριστός is an ἄνθρωπος).

You're right - there are some other translation puzzles in this passage. As you say, all translation is interpretation.

Bill,

There are many directions this thread could take. First, we can say that the pairs in Eph 5 are

husband - wife
head - body
Christ - church
sacrifice - submit
love - respect

There is no pairing of authority to submit. Nor does the word hupotasso imply that there must be an authority in view. There are examples in Greek literature of hupotasso for a Christian to his neighbour, and king to his subjects. So, no, hupotasso does not imply authority.

Eph. 5 is a mirror of the household codes in Greek lit. It is a way of describing Christian relations in cultural dialogue with Greek and Roman customs. We do not treat the master slave relationship as valid today. I have serious concerns about absolutizing this passage.

There are several ways to approach head in this passage. Aristotle, in the household passages discusses the husband as the soteria of the household, he is the security or preservation of the house. The husband was the legal and financial representative. Of course, this was not absolute since wealthy and independent women clearly also filled this role. But ideologically, for the Greeks, the male was the leader of the house. The laws were built around this.

This does not apply to our society. Every mother and father is equally responsible in law for their children. They are equally responsible for their own crimes, for their own civil actions and debts.

 
At Mon Jun 09, 08:57:00 PM, Blogger Michael Kruse said...

With the Ephesians passage, I have come to conclusion that Paul is looking for a metaphor that captures two identifiable entities that are indivisible parts of one being: head and body. That is what a marriage is. The instruction is not for the wife to submit and for the husband to rule but for the wife to submit and the husband to sacrifice; two alternate ways saying put the other ahead of yourself or at least see you and your spouse as one indivisible entity with two identifiable parts.

In one sense it would not matter which spouse was assigned to each part but I suspect Paul (as he often does) is using multiple layers of metaphor here (and, yes, I think Paul wrote Ephesians.) I think Suzanne’s comment about Greek households is spot on. I would think the challenge for households operating under Christian freedom might be wives (experiencing new found freedom) acting in ways that bring shame on their husbands and the household (thus submit) and husbands reverting to selfish domineering “master of the house” attitudes (thus sacrifice.) Paul is expanding on how mutual submission works in the context of a Greco-Roman marriage.

 
At Mon Jun 09, 09:29:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Michael,

Thanks for your thoughts. Your blog has provided lots of stimulation for me on this topic. I wonder if you have thought about the fact that Aristotle uses both philia and soteria when talking about households. In fact, I think Aristotle said that the superior one in a pair receives more love (philia) and the lesser one less love. So, Paul would be reversing that by saying that the husband loves and the wife respects.

I think Paul is still patriarchal, but he does not set up the "command" and "obey" pairing that Aristotle does. It is as if Paul preserves the patriarchal shell but posits reciprocity, each seeking the interests of the other, within.

 
At Tue Jun 10, 07:49:00 AM, Blogger E said...

Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water again, this article:

Paul's Argument From Nature

will throw a new wrinkle into your understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

 
At Tue Jun 10, 06:50:00 PM, OpenID adventuresinmercy said...

E,
That article is fascinating!!!! ACK!

 
At Tue Jun 10, 11:09:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

that article misquotes Paul in it's opening premeses

"such" not "other"

haven't we covered this?

 
At Tue Jun 10, 11:16:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Bill,

Could you quote the line from the article? We have discussed this in the past, some time ago.

 
At Wed Jun 11, 06:56:00 AM, Blogger Bill said...

I should have said the article mischaracterizes Paul's words. On a thorough review I cannot find the actual quote anywhere in English OR Greek.

But the opening sentence claims Paul's "argument" is "for" the veiling. From start to end, when Paul's text is addressed (if not analyzed), the author's view remains consistent. The introductory quote from Fiorenza states Paul is making points "for" the custom. The next quote, from Furnish, says Paul is deliberately trying to give "instructions about the hairstyle" and presents verse 13 as a threat of excommunication!

Indeed, the line of reasoning before v.16 seems convoluted and "bewilderingly difficult". But it may actually be a line of rhetorical questions, not necessarily intended to stand one upon the other in direct sequence.

------------------
I have heard it suggested instead that Paul is simply referring to the mix of various opinions among the Corinthians themselves, and that Paul is doing so rhetorically as a way of hilighting the confusion (perhaps even the silliness) of their views.

In any event - whatever may or may not explain the sequence of rethorical questioning - the traditional mistranslation of "houtos" (NASB, RSV, NIV, NLT) has been corrected by most other translations, including Young and Lattimore. (Even the KJV got this one right!)

The proper rendering of "houtos" suggests Paul is wiping away all of the previous questions, making them an exercise, not an argument.
----------------

In any event, the article assumes Paul is arguing the direct opposite of what his final statement suggests. In fact, it's final paragraph says again, "Paul's argument.. for the veiling..."

Bizarre, btw, that the article never even quotes the verse.

 
At Wed Jun 11, 06:59:00 AM, Blogger Bill said...

The rest made me think of Steve Martin's Medieval Barber sketch. ;)

I don't believe any of that stuff informed Paul's opinions. But - come to think of it - I bet it was somewhere in the thinking of certain Greek Corinthians. Or maybe fundamental to the thinking, if not conscious-in-their-thinking.

 
At Wed Jun 11, 08:15:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Bill,

I take your point now. We did a rundown of which translations use "such" and "other" a year or two ago.

I think Kurk has provided a helpful counterargument to the "testicles" suggestion here.

However, I do think there are allusions to reproduction in this passage and an important aspect of this discussion is that biologically men are born from women, but cosmologically(?) women are created from man.

Another useful point in the article is that the covering was not a symbol of submission, one has to count that out, I think, since free women wore a veil, and slave women did not. It is rather a symbol of status or decency.

 
At Thu Jun 12, 07:16:00 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Good points. Keep in mind, also, there were at least three major culture groups in Corinth. It was a Roman capital, so they had many Italians. Greeks, of course, would be prominent. And there were many Jews, even moreso since the expulsion of Claudius in 49 AD. Besdies that, it was a major port, with the isthmus ship-dragging-tracks.

Point: it's likely there were even more than two divergent opinions among the Corinthian church women, about headcovering.

Which underscores my view, expressed before. Paul reviews different arguments and then says he didn't have an official position on the matter.

 
At Fri Jun 13, 03:45:00 PM, Blogger dru said...

I've been puzzled by this discussion all week, but it's only gradually dawned on me why. I've also a feeling that I'm about to reveal myself as both thick and ignorant.

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.


Two extra asides, are;-

a. We assume thought takes place in the head. Do you, or any other readers happen to know whether the ancients believed this?

b. Going back to j.k. gayle's first comment, Thomas Sternhold's version of Psalm 2 v 2 reads:-

"The kings and rulers of the earth
conspire and all are bent
Against the Lord, and Christ his Son
whom he among us sent."

I find that a distinctly odd way to translate 'annointed' in this location.

Dru

 
At Fri Jun 13, 04:21:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Dru, I haven't done the necessary research so I'll just ask another question in response to your question:

Is kephale ever used by Paul in any way other than to refer (even if only implicitly) to the relationship between a head and its body. Of course, when he speaks of Christ and the Church, he is speaking metaphorically, but we don't know the ground of comparison of the metaphor other than that a head and body are intimately connected to each other. Any other suggestions for Paul's usage of kephale, such as that the head is the "boss" or "leader" of the body may just be theological speculation. Again, the research needs to be done.

 
At Fri Jun 13, 10:29:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Dru,

I answered with a new post.

 
At Sun Jun 15, 06:55:00 PM, Blogger Michael Kruse said...

Suzanne wrote:

"I wonder if you have thought about the fact that Aristotle uses both philia and soteria when talking about households. In fact, I think Aristotle said that the superior one in a pair receives more love (philia) and the lesser one less love. So, Paul would be reversing that by saying that the husband loves and the wife respects."

Interesting wrinkle worth investigating. Thanks for this insight.

 

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