What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 2: The Septuagint 

Preston Sprinkle

Introduction

As we begin studying what kephalē means in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23, one of the most important sources to consult is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, or what’s often called the Septuagint (hereafter LXX). How is kephalē used in the LXX? Does it mean “leader, authority over,” “source, beginning, origin,” or “prominent, preeminent, foremost?” (For simplicity sake, I’ll refer to these three interpretive options as “leader,” “source,” and “prominent” respectively.) How often is it used in these senses? And what possible influence does this have on our two Pauline passages noted above? 

Before we look at the relevant texts, it’s important to note three things. First, there is no such thing as “the” Septuagint, or “the” LXX, as some kind of standardized, singular Greek translations of the Old Testament that was around at the time of the New Testament. There was a Greek translation known as the LXX that was around at the time of Origen (AD 185-254), along with other Greek translations of the OT. But during the New Testament era, there was no single Greek translation of the OT that every Christian would have been drawing upon. (It’s similar to how we might refer to “the” English Bible, when there are many different English Bibles.)1See Jobes and Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint, 30. Instead, there were different Greek translations of the Hebrew Old Testament that were in circulation when Paul was writing. If this all sounds complicated, confusing, and messy, then yes—it is all of those things. There are scholars today, in fact, who dedicate their entire lives to “Septuagint Studies,” which should alert us to the fact that establishing which Greek translation of the OT Paul or other NT writers would have been drawing upon is quite complicated. So, I’ll still say “the LXX” for convenience sake but with the understanding that it’ll be tough to know for sure which Greek translation Paul might have been drawing upon for his understanding and use of kephalē

Second, the LXX was a source of much thought and influence on the apostle Paul and Greek-speaking converts to Christianity. The LXX is not just an interesting body of ancient texts to consult; it’s an influential source for early Christian thought. However it uses and understands kephalē will be important for our own understanding of how Paul uses the term.

Third, and most relevantly, when it comes to the use of kephalē in the LXX, modern scholars come to some very different conclusions. Of the 180 or so uses of kephalē metaphorically in the LXX, some say that there is only one time where it means “ruler, authority over.”2Payne, The Bible Vs. Biblical Womanhood, 54. Other scholars say there are at least 16 times where it occurs with this meaning.3Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’),” 453. Some of these differences are due to modern scholarly interpretation; others have to do with which Greek manuscript of the LXX we’re looking at. For what it’s worth, according to all the scholars I’ve read, kephalē never means “source” in the LXX.

Fourth, as we stated in the last post, words like kephalē can be polysemous—capable of more than one meaning at the same time. Or it may have one primary meaning but also convey other senses, depending on the context. To say “the king is the head of his family” might primarily mean that the king is the ruler over his family. But it may also convey some sense of prominence or even source. For our purposes, it will be important not only to establish the primarily meaning and senses of the term, but also whether this excludes other possible senses. If, for instance, “prominence” is the best meaning for kephalē in a particular context, we also should ask whether this would exclude all notions of leadership and authority. 

What I want to do is list out all of the relevant passages where kephalē occurs where it’s not referring to a literal head of a person and tease out what it seems like the word means and doesn’t mean in each passage. Again, our three interpretive options for kephalē are: 

  1. “Authority over, ruler” (hereafter “ruler”)
  2. “Source, beginning, origin” (hereafter “source”)
  3. “Prominent, preeminent foremost” (hereafter “prominent”)

Kephalē in the LXX

The one passage where few dispute that kephalē is used metaphorically to mean “ruler” is in David’s prayer recorded in 2 Samuel and Psalm 17:

2 Sam. (LXX 2 Kingdoms) 22:44 – You have delivered me from the attacks of the peoples; you have preserved me as the head (kephalē) of nations. People I did not know now serve me, foreigners cower before me; as soon as they hear of me, they obey me. 

Ps. 17:44 (LXX Ps. 18:43) – You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head(kephalē) of nations. People I did not know now serve me.

It does seem quite clear here that kephalē carries a primary sense of “leader,” and most scholars agree.4Richard Cervin lists this as one of 4 clear cases where there’s no variant readings and where the notion of authority is “reasonably understood” (Cervin, “On the Significance,” 14,”). The four are: 2 Sam 2:44; Ps 17:44; Jer 28:7 and Lam 1:5. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor says this is the “single exception” to the otherwise non-existent mean of kephalē as “authority” (“Sex and Logic,” 492). Andrew Perriman is the one scholar I’ve found that isn’t completely convinced that kephalē means “authority over, leader” here. He sees “the idea of leadership and rule” as “not entirely inappropriate, but it is by no means required. A distinction should still be maintained between the idea of prominence or primacy and that of leadership. Nothing in the psalm suggests that David expected to exercise authority over the nations” (Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 605). Such an interpretation is reinforced by the following phrase: “People I did not know now serve me, foreigners…obey me.”5Fitzmyer rightly says that “the last half of the verse makes it clear that kephalē is here used with the connotation of ‘authority’ or ‘supremacy’” (“Another Look,” 508). Perriman (“The Head of a Woman,” 605) argues that the succeeding words (“a people whom I knew not served me”) should not be used to support an interpretation of “leader” for kephalēhere. One could argue that the primary meaning here is “prominence.” But I think it would be difficult to say kephalē means “prominence” while excluding all notions of authority or leadership.   

In Judges, kephalē is used several times to refer to Jephthah and his relationship to the people of Gilead. There are some different readings among Greek manuscripts here; some contain kephalē while others don’t. (“A” refers to the 5th century LXX mss Codex Alexandrinus, while “B” refers to the 4th century LXX mss Codex Vaticanus.) 

Judges 10:18 – “The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever will take the lead in attacking the Ammonites will be head (A: eis kephalēn; B: eis archonta) over all who live in Gilead.”

Judges 11:8-11 – 8The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head (A: eis kephalēnB: eis archonta) over all of us who live in Gilead.” Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head (A: eis kephalēnB: eis archonta)?” 10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander (A: eis kephalēn eis hegoumenon; B: eis kephalēn kai eis archēgon) over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.”

According to manuscript “A,” kephalē occurs 4x, while according to “B,” it only occurs once (Judges 11:11). As far as the one undisputed reading in Judges 11:11, some sense of leadership does seem present in the use of kephalē, especially since it’s joined with “commander” (eis archēgon) and both terms describe Jephthah’s relationship to the people (“head and commander over them”). It would be difficult to say that kephalē here conveys no sense of authority or leadership.

What about interpreting kephalē as “prominent?” Andrew Perriman, for instance, 

doesn’t see much evidence in favor of “leader” but rather sees kephalē as “prominence or precedence rather than the exercise of authority” (emphasis mine).6Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 603.

I think it’s valid to include some sense of “prominence” here. Jephthah would certainly be viewed as a “prominent” figure. But I don’t find it convincing to say that kephalē means “prominent” and not “ruler.” The entire context of Judges 10-12 highlights Jephthah becoming a military leader over the people of Gilead in their battle against the Ammonites: “come and be our leader (eis archēgon), that we might fight against the Ammonites” (Judges 11:6). Jephthah indeed leads them into a victorious battle over the Ammonites (Judges 11:32-33). When the Ephraimites were upset that they weren’t invited to join in the battle, they came and complained to Jephthah (Judges 12:1), who in turn functioned as a leader when he “gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim” (Judges 12:4). In the end, “Jephthah judgedIsrael six years” (Judges 10:7)—another description of leadership. 

In short, both the near and far context of Judges 11:11 suggests that when Jephthah was described as a “head and commander” over Gilead, that “head” includes some kind of authoritative leadership role.7Philip Payne argues that the construction eis kephalen is significant; the eis indicates that the author means “‘as head’ (cf. acts 7:21) rather than as a metaphor ‘is head’. For people unfamiliar with ‘head’ as a metaphor for ‘leader’, ‘as head’ was far less jarring. This explains why the best-attested LXX text translates only 1 of these 180 places kephalē without an eisclearly a metaphor for ‘leader’” (Payne, The Bible, 76 n. 12). Payne expands on this point in a later work (“Forthcoming,” 29-31). As will be explained below, his main point is that eis, when interpreted as “as,” means that kephalē  is not a metaphor (“is head”) but rather should be interpreted “as head.” While I agree that eis can mean “as” (though it also can me “for” or “unto”), this doesn’t seem as significant as Payne makes it out to me. Unless I’m missing something—which is perfectly possible—however we interpret eis, the word kephalē in Judges 10 and 11 (and elsewhere) conveys some sense of authority or leadership in the context.

To state the obvious, there’s no sense of “source” here for kephalē. Jephthah never became the “source” of Gilead. 

The other three references to kephalē in Codex Alexandrinus (“A”) of Judges 10:8 and 11:8-9 would almost certainly carry the same sense as Judges 11:11. Determining whether Codex “A” or “B” preserves a reading that would have been known to Paul is quite complicated and the experts I’ve consulted on this question don’t all agree.8Peter Williams (personal communication) says that “Codex A is much more relevant than Codex B to answer any question about the NT, since the NT citations (as a whole) are closer to Codex A. Even if the type of text in Codex B is (generally) earlier, that’s quite irrelevant to the question of what was in most circulation at the time of the NT.” Renown Septuagint scholar Henry Swete seems to support this view, when he says that “there is a considerable weight of evidence in favour of the belief that the Evangelists [the 4 Gospels] employed a recension of the LXX which came nearer to the text of cod. A then to that of our oldest uncial B.” But what about the rest of the New Testament? Swete continues: “This point has been recently handled in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschrift f. Wissenschaftliche Theologie, by Dr W. Staerk, who shews that the witness of the N. T. almost invariably goes with codd. אAF and Lucian against the Vatican MS., and that its agreement with cod. A is especially close” (Swete, Introduction, 370). The Vatican MS he’s referring to is Codex B. The references to “codd. אAF” includes Codex Alexandrinus (“A”). Unfortunately, Codex Sinaiticus (א) is missing large portions of the OT, including the portion of Judges, which includes 4 references to kephalē, which occur in Codex A but not B. Philip Payne disagrees, saying that Codex B is a much more reliable manuscript when it differs from Codex A, especially in the book of Judges (personal communication). Septuagint scholar Alexander Sperber wrote a hundred-page article on “The New Testament and Septuagint” (JBL [1940], 193-293), which is extremely technical. Unfortunately, I’m still not clear where he would land on the question at hand. On the one hand, he says that the “vast majority” of OT quotes in the NT “fully agree with Codex B” (pg. 279). But elsewhere, he argues quite extensively that “the ‘Bible of the Apostles’ is identical with the asterisk type of the Hexaplaric LXX, which thus antedates by centuries the days of Origen” (pg. 283). And he says that the asterisk type corresponds to Codex A.  As it appears, “A” preserved one manuscript tradition while “B” preserved another (and in LXX Judges, they are particularly different). Which one Paul would have been reading from is difficult to say for sure. But one thing is clear: the ancient translator who was responsible for the Greek translation now preserved in Codex “A” believed kephalē was a perfectly fine metaphor for “leader” in Judges 10-11.

The next reference comes in 1 Kings and also has some text-critical issues: 

1 Kings (LXX 3 Kingdoms) 8:1 – “Twenty years later, when Solomon finished building the house of the Lord and his own house, King Solomon assembled all the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes in Zion, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the city of David, which is Zion”

As far as I can tell, this translation is based on Origen’s editions made to the LXX; he added the phrase “and all the heads of the tribes” here. Codex Vaticanus (“B”) does not contain this phrase. (I don’t have the available sources to determine if “A” also contained this reading.) The significance of Origen’s editions is quite complex, and sorting out whether he was relying on some earlier Greek translation of the OT would take us down a deep rabbit hole that few of us would know how to navigate.9On Origen and his critical work on the LXX, see Jobes and Silva, Invitation, 48-56. For a much more technical and thorough discussion, see Sperber, “The New Testament,” 205-248.

There’s another translation issue here: kephalē could be referring to the literal top of staff, as Richard Cervin and others have argued.10Cervin, “On the Significance,” 13. On the one hand, the Greek word rhabdos (translated “tribe” above) does usually mean a literal “rod” or “staff” and not a “tribe.” (As far as I can tell, it never means “tribe,” but I would love to be corrected if I’m wrong here.) On the other hand, this literal rendering would produce a rather strange reading: “King Solomon assembled all the elders of Israel and all the tops of their staffs in Zion.” In the words of Grudem: “Did the Septuagint translators really think that Solomon had called together all the elders and all the tops of their staffs?”11Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’),” 441.

In light of these complexities, I don’t think we can include this reference as clear evidence for any meaning of kephalē.

There is a cluster of occurrences of kephalē in Isaiah 7:8-9:

Isaiah 7:8 – “for the head (hē kephalē) of Aram is Damascus,
    [and the head (hē kephalē) of Damascus is only Rezin]. 
Within sixty-five years
    Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

Isaiah 7:9 – The head (hē kephalē) of Ephraim is Samaria,
    and the head (hē kephalē) of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
    you will not stand at all.’”12Grudem says that A contains the second occurrence of kephalē in 7:8b (“Appendix 1,” 451). Richard Cervin says that the section in square brackets is not included in Rahlfs’s edition of the LXX but it is in “the apparatus with unnamed manuscripts either deleting or including the phrase” (“On the Significance,” 13). Payne says that “Origen (ca. 185-254) added [kephalē], as the asterisk symbols (*) in Q and 48 show” (“Forthcoming,” 32, citing the Gottingen LXX).

Kephalē occurs 4 times in these 2 verses. (The second of which is a variant reading.) Scholars widely disagree, and boldly so, on how to interpret kephalē here. “There is nothing in the context of Isa. 7:8,” writes Andrew Perriman, “to indicate that ‘head’ means ‘leader’ in the statement ‘the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus Rasim’…the point seems rather to be one of representation by virtue of primacy or prominence: Aram is summed up in Damascus, Damascus in Rasim.”13Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 604. Similarly, Richard Cervin points out that kephalē refers to capital cities here and not to people—which is mostly correct;14Cervin, “Does Kephalē Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’,” 97. the final reference in Isaiah 7:9b does refer to a person. Wayne Grudem, on the other hand, says: “these examples seem to be very strong and carry an unquestionable nuance of authority connected with the word kephalē.”15Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’),” 438. Cf. Joseph Fitzmyer: “this Old Testament passage is not an exact parallel to Paul’s words in 1 Cor 11.3, but no one can fail to miss the similarity in the use of kephalē in both passages or the bearing that this LXX text has on the meaning of the Pauline verse” (“Another Look,” 507). And Philip Payne, a relentless advocate for interpreting kephalē as “source,” says that the last reference in Isaiah 7:9 is the only instance in the LXX where kephalē means “leader.”16“Forthcoming,” 28. Payne goes on to say that “this one exception is best accounted for as a ‘Hebraism’, an idiomatic Hebrew meaning not native to its translation, kephalē” (Ibid., 29). In other words, even in this case, Payne doesn’t believe that the meaning “leader” is not natural to the Greek term kephalē.

I agree that kephalē refers to capital cites (Damascus, Samaria) in 2 of the 4 occurrences. But the final occurrence of the term does refer to a person, “Remaliah’s son.” Remaliah’s son was Pekah, the king who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel for 20 years. The fact that a king is called “head” certainly includes some sense of “prominence,” as kings are always going to be prominent. But doesn’t it also suggest some sense of “rulership?” I just don’t see how this sense could be dismissed, unless there’s a desperate need to ensure that kephalē cannot mean “ruler.” Exegetically, it appears to be a very valid reading given the context. 

And since Isaiah 7:9 uses kephalē to describe the capital city (Samaria) and its king (Remaliah’s son), it’s likely that the variant in 7:8 does reflect an early manuscript tradition, since this would complete the parallel: kephalē would refer to the capital city (Damascus) and its king (Rezin), just as it does in the very next verse when it refers to a capital city (Samaria) and its king (Remaliah’s son).17As far as I can tell, the second kephalē in Isa. 7:8 is in Codex A, which Jennifer Dines says is actually more reliable than Codex B when it comes to Isaiah (The Septuagint, 7). Jobes and Silva likewise says that “A” is “our best witness” when it comes to Isaiah (Invitation, 59). However, Payne, “Forthcoming,” 32 says that Origen added kephalē here “as the asterisk symbols (*) in Q and 48 show.” I have not been able to confirm whether the second kephalē is in A or was added by Origen or both. Jobes and Silva say that when Origen inserted Greek words into his version of the LXX he did so “by referring to the other existing Greek versions.” If one of these versions contained a reading that better corresponded to the original Hebrew, that’s when he “inserted that reading into the Greek text” and marked it with an asterisk (*) (Invitation, 53). Sperber argues that the text type represented by Codex A reflects the editions that Origen marked with an asterisk (“The New Testament,” 259-265). Therefore, I do think that the fourfold use of kephalē here at the very least includes some sense of authority.

Jeremiah also includes one non-literal use of kephalē, the meaning of which, as you might have guessed, has been debated among scholars.

Jer 31:7 (LXX 38:7) –  This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the head (kephalēn) of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’”

Joseph Fitzmyer says that the “notion of supremacy or authority is surely present” here and Richard Cervin says “I do not necessarily disagree.”18Fitzmyer, “Another Look,” 508; Cervin, “Does Kephalē Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’,” 108. Cervin, in fact, lists this as one of 4 clear cases where there’s no variant readings and where the notion of authority is “reasonably understood” (Cervin’s other three are 2 Sam 22:44, Ps 17:44, and Lam 1:5).19Cervin, “On the Significance,” 14. And Wayne Grudem, of course, agrees that “leader” is the best meaning for kephalē. Andrew Perriman, however, disagrees:

…under the circumstances ideas of authority and leadership are hardly appropriate: the sense must again be something like “foremost” or “pre-eminent nation” in that Israel was God’s chosen people…It is the special redemption and blessing of Israel that is proclaimed to the nations and islands (vv. 10-14), not Israel’s authority over them.20Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 605.

I tend to agree with Perriman here. I think that “preeminent” is probably the best meaning of kephalē. It’s possible that some sense of “authority over” other nations is also present, but the context does not seem to demand this. Put differently, Jeremiah’s words would still ring true, even if Israel is not literally ruling over other nations. One can enjoy prominence as a nation that stands out among others without necessarily ruling over other nations. Switzerland may be a prominent nation, but they don’t rule over any other nation. 

Lamentations contains an occurrence of kephalē that almost certainly means “ruler.” 

Lam 1:5 – “Her oppressors have become the head (eis kephalēn), and her enemies prosper; for the Lord humbled her because of the greatness of her ungodliness.”

This is another one of Richard Cervin’s four texts that convey some sense of “ruler,” and I agree. The context of Lamentations 1 confirms this. It’s unlikely that “her oppressors (Babylon)” who “have become the head” simply means that Babylon is more prominent than Israel. Still less possible is the reading that Babylon has become Israel’s “source.” To my mind, the best meaning of kephalē here is that Babylon is now ruling over Israel.

There are several places where the LXX uses kephalē in “head/tail” metaphors, and naturally, their interpretation is disputed.

Deut. 28:12-13 – 12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head (kephalēn), not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.

Deut. 28:43-44 – 43 “The foreigners who reside among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head (kephalē), but you will be the tail.” 

Isa. 9:14-16 (LXX 9:13-14) – So the LORD cut off from Israel head (kephalē) and tail, palm branch and reed in one day—the elder and honored man is the head (archē), and the prophets who teaches lies is the tail; for those who lead this people lead them astray, and those who are led by them are swallowed up (RSV).

Isa. 19:15 – And there will be no work for Egypt, which will make them head and tail, beginning and end (kephalēn kai ouran, archēn kai telos).21The editions of the LXX that I consulted give different readings (one has: “There is nothing Egypt can do— head or tail, palm branch or reed”) and I don’t have access to a critical edition that sorts through all the variants, to I cannot be sure at this point which reading is the oldest.

Joseph Fitzmyer lists all four as examples of kephalē meaning “leader, ruler, person in authority.”22“1 Corinthians 11:3,” 54. I think a case could be made that the broader context of Isaiah 19 suggests some sense of leadership or authority implied in kephalē, especially if it’s implied in the same head/tail metaphor in Isaiah 9. Richard Cervin disagrees with this, arguing that “[p]rominence is surely a valid issue here. If Israel obeys, they will be a prominent nation in the world; if they disobey, they will be humiliated…[N]owhere in the text of Deut 28 does it expressly say that Israel will ‘rule’ other nations.23Cervin, “On the Significance,” 14. Andrew Perriman agrees with Cervin: “…the significance of the metaphor lies in the contrast between two extremes, between prominence and prosperity on the one hand and subjection and humiliation on the other.”24“The Head of a Woman,”, 606.

I tend to agree with Cervin and Perriman’s interpretation of kephalē in Deuteronomy 28 and Isaiah 19. The idea of prominence rather than leadership does appear to be the point. But the use of kephalē in Isaiah 9 seems to include some notion of authority. Not only is kephalē set alongside archē which suggests authority in this context, but the extension of the head/tail metaphor includes activities that can rightly be described as leadership. For instance, those considered the “tail” exercise bad leadership: “those who lead this people lead them astray, and those who are led by them are swallowed up” (Isa. 9:16 RSV). If the tail refers to bad leadership, wouldn’t this imply that the head exercises good leadership? Cervin does not actually disagree, but I find his reasoning to be a bit strange: “In this particular passage, the word kephalē is used only once, yet the notion of authority is clearly stated by the use of the Greek word arkheAuthority is thus derived from the context and the additional use of the word arkhe, and not merely from the word kephalē itself” (emphasis mine).25“On the Significance,” 14. But isn’t it sound exegesis say that context helps determine the meaning of words? It seems odd to downplay the fact that the context helps us understand kephalē to mean authority.

I’m inclined, then, to add Isaiah 9:14-16 to the list of instances where kephalē means “authority over, leader.” Once again, no scholar argues that kephalē means “source” in the above head/tail metaphors. 

There are also several metaphorical uses of kephalē in a second century A.D. Greek translation that was made by a scholar named Aquila, who refers to “The heads of the tribes” (Deut. 5:23; 29:9) and refers to Gog as the “ruling head of Meshech” (Ezek. 38:2). Aquila’s translation, however, is of limited value for our purposes, since it was made a century after Paul and it’s a woodenly literal translation of the Hebrew that makes it not the best representation of how Greek speakers would have naturally understood Greek words.26“In the area of vocabulary, undoubtedly, Aquila’s’ policy was to represent every detail in the most consistent fashion, even at the cost of acceptable Greek” (Invitation, 38). I’m inclined, then, not to use Aquila’s text as representative for the kind of Greek—let alone the Greek translation of the OT—that positions us to better understand Paul. (I would, however, love to hear from any Aquila scholars out there to correct my ignorance.) 


Summary 

To sum it up, I see some sense of “authority” or “leader” to be present in 13 occurrences of kephalē in following passages: 

2 Sam. (LXX 2 Kingdoms) 22:44 
Ps. 17:44 (LXX Ps. 18:43) 
Judges 10:18 
Judges 11:8-11 (3x)
Isaiah 7:8 (2x)
Isaiah 7:9 (2x)
Isaiah 9:14-16
Lam 1:5 
Isa. 9:14-16 (LXX 9:13-14) 

In some of these passages, kephalē occurs in one LXX manuscript (or as a variant) but not all (Judges 10:18; 11:8-9; Isa. 7:8b). While I don’t think these references can be easily dismissed, for reasons stated above, more text-critical work needs to be done to determine whether these readings would have been available to Paul, or whether they contribute to our understanding of Paul’s linguistic world. 

The idea of “prominence” with no clear sense of “authority over, ruler” does appear to be best interpretation one passage (e.g. Jer 31:7 [LXX 38:7]), but in a few other occurrences where the sense of “prominence” is present, this doesn’t seem to exclude, to my mind, some sense of “authority over, ruler” (e.g. Isa. 7:8-9; 9:14-16). I’m happy to be persuaded otherwise, but I currently don’t find it convincing when scholars suggest that that it was “foreign…for Greek to use kephalē as a metaphor for ‘leader’.”27Payne, The Bible, 54. But we still have several ancient texts to look at, and my next blog post will continue to look at more references.  

The Problem of the Septuagint 

Evidence from the LXX can cut both ways, however. Even if kephalē does mean “authority over, leader” 13 times, that’s actually a small percentage of times that it translates the Hebrew word for “head” (rōsh) when the Hebrew term is used metaphorically to mean “leader.” It’s quite common, in fact, for the Hebrew term rōsh to mean “leader” in the Old Testament. Most scholars have identified around 180 uses of rōsh in this manner. Why is it, then, that the LXX translates rōsh with kephalē to mean “leader” only 13 times (or in some estimations, as few as 1)? Payne sees this as “compelling evidence that the majority of LXX translators did not regard kephalē as appropriate to convey the metaphorical meaning ‘leader’” and that it “would probably never occur to Paul’s typical Greek readers that ‘head’ (kephalē) might mean ‘leader’ or ‘authority over’.”28Payne, Man and Woman in Christ, 121. Now, Payne only sees one instance where kephalē means “leader,” whereas I see thirteen. But even if I’m right, that’s still only 13 out of 180 times where the Greek translators thought that kephalē is the best word to use to translate rōsh when they wanted to convey the idea of “leader.”

Scholars such as Payne who argue that kephalē means “source” not “ruler” in Paul often use this argument as evidence for their view. But Grudem is quick to point out that kephalē never means “source” in the LXX. So even if it’s used 13 or even only 8 times to mean “leader,” that’s still an 8-0 ballgame.29Andrew Perriman, who does not think kephalē should be translated “authority over, ruler” says: “The argument that, when used metaphorically in Paul, kephalē means ‘source’ is greatly weakened by the lack of support in the LXX. It is weakened still further if we recognize that the evidence adduced from extra-biblical sources is less persuasive than some have claimed” (Perrimann, “The Head of a Woman,” 617).

Now, Payne responds to this by pointing out that the Hebrew term rōsh never means “source,” so of course we wouldn’t expect to see kephalē as a translation of rōsh to mean “source.” I think this is a good response, but I do have two things to note. First, the Hebrew term rōsh is used in Genesis 2:10 to refer to the “source” of the rivers, and yet the LXX doesn’t use kephalē to translate rōsh here—an odd decision if “source” was a natural meaning for kephalē among Greek speakers. (Payne argues that even here, rōsh doesn’t mean “source.”) Second, the point still stands that whatever the reason, a body of Greek literature (viz. the LXX) that exerted a high degree of influence on NT language and thought never used kephalēto mean source and did, on occasion, use kephalē to mean “authority over, ruler.” 

One final, and quite technical issue, has to do with the significance of the constructions eis kephalēn which is used in several of our passages above (specifically: Deut 28:13; Judges 10:18; 11:8-9, 11; 2 Sam 22:44; Ps 18:44; Lam 1:5). Philip Payne says the translator used the eis kephalēn (“as head”) construction to convey the idea of “leader” since Greek readers wouldn’t have understood kephalē by itself to mean “leader.” Payne writes:

In context, eis kephalēn could convey “leader” even though in normal Greek kephalē did not mean “leader.” Particularly in contexts where eis kephalēn is paired with “as ruler,” thoughtful readers could understand that being “like a head” was equivalent to being “as ruler.” But even if readers did not associate “head” as conveying “ruler,” the LXX translators recognized that Greek readers would accept “as head” as far more natural Greek than “is head.”30This and the following quotes are from a delightful email exchange I had with Phil. 

“Greek readers,” Payne continues, “could have understood these few references to eis kephalēn to mean as head rather than metaphors (is head).” In other words, eis kephalēn is used as a simile not a metaphor. “Understood as a simile,” says Payne, “Jephthah ‘was made to be like a head’, which is not nearly as jarring. Greek readers would probably think of this as a reference to Jephthah being in some sense ‘top’, since that was a common metaphorical use of kephalē, whereas ‘leader’ was not.”

In short, kephalē does not mean leader, but the simile “as head” (eis kephalēn) is “a reference to Jephthah” in Judges 10-11 “being in some sense ‘top’.”

The reader is encouraged to evaluate the strength of this argument for themselves. Personally, I still don’t find it to be a more compelling understanding of kephalē than the interpretations I offered above. First, “as, like” is a possible meaning of eis but it’s not the most common, especially when the Hebrew correspondent is a lamed prefixed to rōsh. (I’ll let the Greek and Hebrew readers do their own lexical analysis here.) It seems more natural to conclude that the translator used eis kephalēn simply because that was the best way to translate l’rōsh, which means “for a leader” (as rōsh often means). Second, I don’t see a huge significance between simile and metaphor here. As Aristotle says: “A simile is also a metaphor; for there is little difference…(Similes) should be brought in like metaphors, for they are metaphors, differing in the form of expressions” (Rhet. 3.4.1). In any case, whether it’s a simile or a metaphor, the point is: kephalē does not mean a literal head, but conveys some sense of authority or leadership in several passages, especially Judges 10-11, as argued above. If someone were to argue that it actually means “top” or “as a head” (not is a head), I’d still want to know: what does “top” or “head” trying to convey when it’s clearly used to describe Jephthah’s relationship to Gilead—whom he’s clearly exercising leadership over. Therefore, rendering kephalē as “top” in an attempt to exclude all notions of leadership or authority seems interpretively unpersuasive in light of the context. 

To sum it all up, kephalē rarely means “authority over, leader” in the LXX, but there are in my estimation 13 times when it does. In some of these passages, kephalē also conveys the idea of “prominence” but rarely to the exclusion of some sense of leadership. 

We still have a lot of ground to cover before we can understand Paul’s use of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. In the next post, I’ll examine some uses of kephalē secular Greek. 


  • 1
    See Jobes and Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint, 30.
  • 2
    Payne, The Bible Vs. Biblical Womanhood, 54.
  • 3
    Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’),” 453.
  • 4
    Richard Cervin lists this as one of 4 clear cases where there’s no variant readings and where the notion of authority is “reasonably understood” (Cervin, “On the Significance,” 14,”). The four are: 2 Sam 2:44; Ps 17:44; Jer 28:7 and Lam 1:5. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor says this is the “single exception” to the otherwise non-existent mean of kephalē as “authority” (“Sex and Logic,” 492). Andrew Perriman is the one scholar I’ve found that isn’t completely convinced that kephalē means “authority over, leader” here. He sees “the idea of leadership and rule” as “not entirely inappropriate, but it is by no means required. A distinction should still be maintained between the idea of prominence or primacy and that of leadership. Nothing in the psalm suggests that David expected to exercise authority over the nations” (Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 605).
  • 5
    Fitzmyer rightly says that “the last half of the verse makes it clear that kephalē is here used with the connotation of ‘authority’ or ‘supremacy’” (“Another Look,” 508). Perriman (“The Head of a Woman,” 605) argues that the succeeding words (“a people whom I knew not served me”) should not be used to support an interpretation of “leader” for kephalēhere.
  • 6
    Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 603.
  • 7
    Philip Payne argues that the construction eis kephalen is significant; the eis indicates that the author means “‘as head’ (cf. acts 7:21) rather than as a metaphor ‘is head’. For people unfamiliar with ‘head’ as a metaphor for ‘leader’, ‘as head’ was far less jarring. This explains why the best-attested LXX text translates only 1 of these 180 places kephalē without an eisclearly a metaphor for ‘leader’” (Payne, The Bible, 76 n. 12). Payne expands on this point in a later work (“Forthcoming,” 29-31). As will be explained below, his main point is that eis, when interpreted as “as,” means that kephalē  is not a metaphor (“is head”) but rather should be interpreted “as head.” While I agree that eis can mean “as” (though it also can me “for” or “unto”), this doesn’t seem as significant as Payne makes it out to me. Unless I’m missing something—which is perfectly possible—however we interpret eis, the word kephalē in Judges 10 and 11 (and elsewhere) conveys some sense of authority or leadership in the context.
  • 8
    Peter Williams (personal communication) says that “Codex A is much more relevant than Codex B to answer any question about the NT, since the NT citations (as a whole) are closer to Codex A. Even if the type of text in Codex B is (generally) earlier, that’s quite irrelevant to the question of what was in most circulation at the time of the NT.” Renown Septuagint scholar Henry Swete seems to support this view, when he says that “there is a considerable weight of evidence in favour of the belief that the Evangelists [the 4 Gospels] employed a recension of the LXX which came nearer to the text of cod. A then to that of our oldest uncial B.” But what about the rest of the New Testament? Swete continues: “This point has been recently handled in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschrift f. Wissenschaftliche Theologie, by Dr W. Staerk, who shews that the witness of the N. T. almost invariably goes with codd. אAF and Lucian against the Vatican MS., and that its agreement with cod. A is especially close” (Swete, Introduction, 370). The Vatican MS he’s referring to is Codex B. The references to “codd. אAF” includes Codex Alexandrinus (“A”). Unfortunately, Codex Sinaiticus (א) is missing large portions of the OT, including the portion of Judges, which includes 4 references to kephalē, which occur in Codex A but not B. Philip Payne disagrees, saying that Codex B is a much more reliable manuscript when it differs from Codex A, especially in the book of Judges (personal communication). Septuagint scholar Alexander Sperber wrote a hundred-page article on “The New Testament and Septuagint” (JBL [1940], 193-293), which is extremely technical. Unfortunately, I’m still not clear where he would land on the question at hand. On the one hand, he says that the “vast majority” of OT quotes in the NT “fully agree with Codex B” (pg. 279). But elsewhere, he argues quite extensively that “the ‘Bible of the Apostles’ is identical with the asterisk type of the Hexaplaric LXX, which thus antedates by centuries the days of Origen” (pg. 283). And he says that the asterisk type corresponds to Codex A. 
  • 9
    On Origen and his critical work on the LXX, see Jobes and Silva, Invitation, 48-56. For a much more technical and thorough discussion, see Sperber, “The New Testament,” 205-248.
  • 10
    Cervin, “On the Significance,” 13.
  • 11
    Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’),” 441.
  • 12
    Grudem says that A contains the second occurrence of kephalē in 7:8b (“Appendix 1,” 451). Richard Cervin says that the section in square brackets is not included in Rahlfs’s edition of the LXX but it is in “the apparatus with unnamed manuscripts either deleting or including the phrase” (“On the Significance,” 13). Payne says that “Origen (ca. 185-254) added [kephalē], as the asterisk symbols (*) in Q and 48 show” (“Forthcoming,” 32, citing the Gottingen LXX).
  • 13
    Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 604.
  • 14
    Cervin, “Does Kephalē Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’,” 97.
  • 15
    Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’),” 438. Cf. Joseph Fitzmyer: “this Old Testament passage is not an exact parallel to Paul’s words in 1 Cor 11.3, but no one can fail to miss the similarity in the use of kephalē in both passages or the bearing that this LXX text has on the meaning of the Pauline verse” (“Another Look,” 507).
  • 16
    “Forthcoming,” 28. Payne goes on to say that “this one exception is best accounted for as a ‘Hebraism’, an idiomatic Hebrew meaning not native to its translation, kephalē” (Ibid., 29). In other words, even in this case, Payne doesn’t believe that the meaning “leader” is not natural to the Greek term kephalē.
  • 17
    As far as I can tell, the second kephalē in Isa. 7:8 is in Codex A, which Jennifer Dines says is actually more reliable than Codex B when it comes to Isaiah (The Septuagint, 7). Jobes and Silva likewise says that “A” is “our best witness” when it comes to Isaiah (Invitation, 59). However, Payne, “Forthcoming,” 32 says that Origen added kephalē here “as the asterisk symbols (*) in Q and 48 show.” I have not been able to confirm whether the second kephalē is in A or was added by Origen or both. Jobes and Silva say that when Origen inserted Greek words into his version of the LXX he did so “by referring to the other existing Greek versions.” If one of these versions contained a reading that better corresponded to the original Hebrew, that’s when he “inserted that reading into the Greek text” and marked it with an asterisk (*) (Invitation, 53). Sperber argues that the text type represented by Codex A reflects the editions that Origen marked with an asterisk (“The New Testament,” 259-265).
  • 18
    Fitzmyer, “Another Look,” 508; Cervin, “Does Kephalē Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’,” 108.
  • 19
    Cervin, “On the Significance,” 14.
  • 20
    Perriman, “The Head of a Woman,” 605.
  • 21
    The editions of the LXX that I consulted give different readings (one has: “There is nothing Egypt can do— head or tail, palm branch or reed”) and I don’t have access to a critical edition that sorts through all the variants, to I cannot be sure at this point which reading is the oldest.
  • 22
    “1 Corinthians 11:3,” 54. I think a case could be made that the broader context of Isaiah 19 suggests some sense of leadership or authority implied in kephalē, especially if it’s implied in the same head/tail metaphor in Isaiah 9.
  • 23
    Cervin, “On the Significance,” 14.
  • 24
    “The Head of a Woman,”, 606.
  • 25
    “On the Significance,” 14.
  • 26
    “In the area of vocabulary, undoubtedly, Aquila’s’ policy was to represent every detail in the most consistent fashion, even at the cost of acceptable Greek” (Invitation, 38).
  • 27
    Payne, The Bible, 54.
  • 28
    Payne, Man and Woman in Christ, 121. Now, Payne only sees one instance where kephalē means “leader,” whereas I see thirteen. But even if I’m right, that’s still only 13 out of 180 times where the Greek translators thought that kephalē is the best word to use to translate rōsh when they wanted to convey the idea of “leader.”
  • 29
    Andrew Perriman, who does not think kephalē should be translated “authority over, ruler” says: “The argument that, when used metaphorically in Paul, kephalē means ‘source’ is greatly weakened by the lack of support in the LXX. It is weakened still further if we recognize that the evidence adduced from extra-biblical sources is less persuasive than some have claimed” (Perrimann, “The Head of a Woman,” 617).
  • 30
    This and the following quotes are from a delightful email exchange I had with Phil. 
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13 comments on “What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 2: The Septuagint 

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  1. Barbara Roberts on

    Commenting to follow the discussion.

    Thank you Preston for your continuing work on this topic. BTW, when reading from my phone I can’t see other comments on this post. Maybe you’d like to re-jig your blog, Preston, to make it easier for folks to find the comments that others have written on your posts.

    Reply
    • preston on

      I probably should have worded that differently. To be clear, I’m referring to the fact that the Hebrew word ROSH (“head”) means “leader” in about 180 places. But in only 13 of those places is ROSH translated with KEPHALE. So, that’s like 7% of the time, which is why I said “rarely.” But still, I should have something like: “KEPHALE doesn’t often translate ROSH to mean “leader,” but there are still 13 times when it does.” Or something like that.

      Reply
  2. Stoller Reinhard on

    As a fun side note, for anyone (like me) wondering, according to Logos, Kephale (κεφαλή) is used 333 times in the LXX, and over 75% of the time translating rosh or a variation of rosh. Step Bible says about 338 times.

    Reply
  3. Philip B. Payne on

    Preston asks: “How often is it used in these senses?”

    Payne: The more important question is: “When the Hebrew word for ‘head’ means ‘leader,’ how often do the LXX translators translate it with kephalē as a metaphor for ‘leader’?” This is important because we know that the LXX translators almost always translated the Hebrew word for “head” when it refers to a physical head kephalē. So the most obvious word to translate ‘head” into Greek was kephalē. Consequently, if kephalē had been an established metaphor for “leader” in Greek as it is in English, we would expect that just like English translations of the Old Testament translate most of the 180 cases where “head” meant “leader” as “head,” so, too, would the LXX translators. Virtually all competent analyses of the meaning of kephalē acknowledge that only metaphorical uses of kephalē can establish new meanings. So it is a serious methodological error for Preston to include similes to argue that kephalē means “leader.” In note 28 Preston writes, “Now, Payne only sees one instance where kephalē means ‘leader,’ whereas I see thirteen. But even if I’m right, that’s still only 13 out of 180 times where the Greek translators thought that kephalē is the best word to use to translate rōsh when they wanted to convey the idea of ‘leader’.” This is misleading for four reasons. First, one of them (Isaiah 7:8b) is not in the Rahlfs LXX, but was added by Origen in the third century AD. This is important because it shows that it was not “around at the time of the New Testament” and so could not have influenced Paul’s usage. Second, of the 13 Preston counts, over half (7) have εἰς κεφαλήν, which, as I will show below is best translated “as head.” Consequently, it is not clear that typical Greek readers would have understood any of these as a metaphor, and even if they did, they would probably assume that it has the established Greek meaning, “top.” Third, 3 of Preston’s 13 occur in one manuscript only, so it is not true, as Preston states, that in these cases “the Greek translators [plural] thought that kephalē is the best word to use to translate rōsh when they wanted to convey the idea of ‘leader’.” Fourth, 2 of Preston’s 13 describe cities, and cities are not “leaders.”

    Following are the 13, but only one, Isa 7:9b, clearly used kephalē as a metaphor for “leader”:
    2 Samuel (LXX 2 Kingdoms) 22:44 εἰς κεφαλήν (“as head”)
    Psalm 17:44 (LXX Ps. 18:43) εἰς κεφαλήν (“as head”)
    Judges 10:18 εἰς κεφαλήν (“as head”), only in A, therefore not “the Greek translators”!
    Judges 11:8-11 (3x) εἰς κεφαλήν (“as head”), 11:8 and 10 only in A, therefore not “the Greek translators”!
    Isaiah 7:8 (2x) In fact, the LXX has no κεφαλή … Ῥασείν. Origen (ca. 185–254) added it, as the asterisk symbols (*) in Q and 48 show (Ziegler, Göttingen Septuaginta, 23, 148; Rahlfs, Septuaginta 2:574). The other refers to a city, which is not a “leader.”
    Isaiah 7:9 (2x) The first refers to a city, which is not a “leader.”
    Isaiah 9:14-16 The LXX explains by apposition “head and tail, great and small,” not “leader.”
    Lamentations 1:5 εἰς κεφαλήν (“as head”)

    Preston writes, “there is no such thing as “the” Septuagint, or “the” LXX, as some kind of standardized, singular Greek translations [sic] of the Old Testament that was around at the time of the New Testament. There was a Greek translation known as the LXX that was around at the time of Origen (AD 185-254), along with other Greek translations of the OT. But during the New Testament era, there was no single Greek translation of the OT that every Christian would have been drawing upon. (It’s similar to how we might refer to “the” English Bible, when there are many different English Bibles.) Instead, there were different Greek translations of the Hebrew Old Testament that were in circulation when Paul was writing.

    Payne: I know of no extant copies of any version of the Greek OT other than the LXX that support Preston’s claim that “there were different Greek translations of the Hebrew Old Testament that were in circulation when Paul was writing.” Wikipedia states: “The earliest gentile Christians used the Septuagint out of necessity, since it was the only Greek version of the Bible.… Biblical scholars agree that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible were translated from Biblical Hebrew into Koine Greek by Jews living in the Ptolemaic Kingdom, probably in the early or middle part of the third century BCE. The remaining books were presumably translated in the 2nd century BCE … Early LXX manuscripts [are] datable to the 2nd century BCE. The Greek text was produced within the social environment of Hellenistic Judaism, and completed by 132 BCE. … [The] Theodotion version [is] from c. 2nd century CE. … Theodotion is much closer to the Masoretic Text and became so popular that it replaced the original Septuagint version in all but two manuscripts of the Septuagint itself … Aquila, a disciple of Rabbi Akiva (d. ca. 132 CE) [made a new translation] which seemed to be more concordant with contemporary Hebrew texts. … Although Jerome argued for the superiority of the Hebrew texts in correcting the Septuagint on philological and theological grounds, because he was accused of heresy he also acknowledged the Septuagint texts.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint#:~:text=The%20Septuagint%20(%2Fˈsɛ,of%20the%20Hebrew%20Bible%20from
    Symmachus (fl. late 2nd century) translated the Old Testament into Greek. Some fragments of “Symmachus’s version that survive, in what remains of the Hexapla, inspire scholars to remark on the purity and idiomatic elegance of Symmachus’ Greek. He was admired by Jerome, who used his work in composing the Vulgate. Symmachus aimed to preserve the meaning of his Hebrew source text by a more literal translation than the Septuagint.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symmachus_(translator)

    The LXX was so firmly entrenched as the standard translation of the Hebrew OT in use in the church by the late 100s that Origen, like Jerome, later, had to be very diplomatic in the way he wrote about it even though he was so convinced of LXX errors in translating the Hebrew Scriptures that he devoted much of his life to create a critical edition of the LXX that brought it back into conformity with the Hebrew Scriptures. All of the “competing translations” preserved in Origen’s Hexapla were written after the New Testament era. When the NT writers quote the Hebrew Scriptures, the text they quote is recognizably either the LXX or, rarely, the Hebrew text.

    Preston: it’ll be tough to know for sure which Greek translation Paul might have been drawing upon for his understanding and use of kephalē.

    Payne: NT scholars regularly refer to the translation Paul quoted as the LXX. I can’t recall any NT scholar ever writing of a translation other than the LXX that Paul quotes. Handwritten copies contain textual variants, but they do not constitute evidence that Paul used, or was even aware of, any translation of the Hebrew Scriptures other than the LXX.

    Preston: words like kephalē can be polysemous—capable of more than one meaning at the same time. Or it may have one primary meaning but also convey other senses, depending on the context.

    Payne: As noted by others who have commented, it is rare for a polysemous word to have “more than one meaning at the same time.” It is also rare for a word in a specific context to “convey other senses.”

    Preston: For our purposes, it will be important not only to establish the primarily meaning and senses of the term, but also whether this excludes other possible senses.

    Payne: Because such instances are rare, one should not regard as important “whether this excludes other possible senses.” When an established meaning of a word made sense in context, it is unlikely that Greek readers would have even considered “other possible senses.”

    Preston: The one passage where few dispute that kephalē is used metaphorically to mean “ruler” is in David’s prayer recorded in 2 Samuel and Psalm 17. Note 4: Andrew Perriman is the one scholar I’ve found that isn’t completely convinced that kephalē means “authority over, leader” here.

    Payne: Preston should not have stated that “Andrew Perriman is the one scholar I’ve found that isn’t completely convinced that kephalē means ‘authority over, leader’ here” because I had provided to him the following argument against interpreting kephalē in 2 Sam 22:44 and Ps 17:44 (MT 18:44, English 18:43) as “authority over, leader”: The best-attested LXX text, which was current in Paul’s day, translates only one of these 180 occurrences κεφαλή clearly as a metaphor for leader without a preceding εἰς that could convey “as head” rather than a metaphor, “is head.” That one is: “the head of Samaria, the son of Remaliah” (Isa 7:9b).
    All other alleged LXX instances were added by Origen, are explained in context to mean something other than leader, or translate לראשׁ as εἰς κεφαλήν. לראשׁ occurs nineteen times in the MT. Eight are translated εἰς κεφαλήν in at least one manuscript. They are Deut 28:13 (where εἰς κεφαλήν means ἐπάνω “above”); Judg 10:18; 11:8, 9, 11; 2 Sam 22:44; Ps 17:44 (MT 18:44, English 18:43); and Lam 1:5 [Judg 10:18; 11:8, 9 Alexandrinus only. The earlier Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (ending at 11:2) have ἄρχων, which is how the LXX normally translates “head” when it means “leader,” not κεφαλή. So probably neither Paul nor his readers read κεφαλή in these three]. Eight εἰς κεφαλήν translations out of nineteen לראשׁ occurrences contrasts sharply with one out of 180 where ראשׁ meaning “leader” is translated simply κεφαλή. This shows that εἰς κεφαλήν was far more appropriate to convey “leader” than κεφαλή by itself.

    Preston: First, “as, like” is a possible meaning of eis but it’s not the most common, especially when the Hebrew correspondent is a lamed prefixed to rōsh.

    Payne: The only English equivalent either BDAG 288–91 or LSJ 491–92 lists for εἰς that fits these eight LXX εἰς κεφαλήν is “as head,” just as the NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament translates all of them [Ed. John R. Kohlenberger III; 4 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982]. GKC §119 t explains, “esteeming as something” [See also GKC §102 g “as these” and §129 d “as it were.” BDB 512 II.2 e explains similar instances: “as” or “so as to be.” No meaning BDAG or LSJ lists for εἰς conveys “so as to be”]. Εἰς can mean “as (like normal Greek ὡς)” [Nigel Turner, Vol III: Syntax (A Grammar of New Testament Greek; ed. James Hope Moulton; 4 vols.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963), 247, citing five examples]. Εἰς can also mean “as, expressing equivalence” [H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (Toronto: Macmillan, 1957), 103, citing, e.g., Heb 1:5, “as a father” and “as a son,” Mark 10:8, “as one flesh,” and Acts 7:53, “as delivered by angels”]. Similarly, BDAG 290 4.d cites “as a witness” (Jas 5:3), “as servants” (Heb 1:14), “tongues are as a sign” (1 Cor 14:22). BAG 229 4.d, 8.b. cites “as her own son” (Acts 7:21) “as a light for the Gentiles” (Acts 13:47).]. Greek readers could naturally interpret εἰς κεφαλήν as head rather than as a metaphor, is head.
    Preston should not list this as a clear instance of kephalē “used metaphorically” since if Greek readers read it is a simile then they would understand it as a comparison between David and a physical head. Alternatively, they may have understood it with the common Greek metaphorical meaning of kephalē, “top.” Why did the LXX translators translate לראשׁ as εἰς κεφαλήν 8 out of 19 times, but ראשׁ without ל prefix meaning leader as κεφαλή only 1 out of 161 times? In light of the analysis of secular Greek lexicons I provide in response to Preston’s post about “head” in secular Greek, the answer should be obvious. The LXX translators recognized that κεφαλή is not an appropriate word to be used as a metaphor meaning “leader.” But because the most obvious meaning of εἰς κεφαλήν is “as head,” it could make sense to Greek readers either as “like a [physical] head” or with the common Greek metaphorical meaning “as top.” So even though 8 of 19 is not nearly as high a percentage as most English versions translate the majority of these 180 “head,” LXX translators clearly regarded εἰς κεφαλήν as far more appropriate to convey “leader” than κεφαλή by itself. In other words, the LXX translators recognized that κεφαλή was not a native established Greek metaphor for “leader.” Preston’s n. 7 states, “this doesn’t seem as significant as Payne makes it out to me.” The purpose of Preston’s investigation is to determine whether κεφαλή meaning “leader” was an established metaphor when Paul wrote. Consequently, it should be obvious how crucial it is that in all but one of the cases where κεφαλή clearly conveys the meaning “leader” in the LXX, it is in a form that readers could understand as a simile.

    Preston: As far as the one undisputed reading in Judges 11:11, some sense of leadership does seem present in the use of kephalē, especially since it’s joined with “commander” (eis archēgon) and both terms describe Jephthah’s relationship to the people (“head and commander over them”). It would be difficult to say that kephalē here conveys no sense of authority or leadership.

    Payne: This is one of the eight cases out of nineteen which the LXX translates “as head” (εἰς κεφαλήν). The LXX translators probably felt free to do this precisely because the text makes it sufficiently clear by the addition of “and as commander” that Jephthah “as head” was “top” as regards command. Preston’s translation (“head and commander over them”) ignores the eis and changes the word order. The Greek text states “The people placed him over themselves as head and as commander.”

    Preston: But one thing is clear: the ancient translator who was responsible for the Greek translation now preserved in Codex “A” believed kephalē was a perfectly fine metaphor for “leader” in Judges 10-11.

    Payne: H. St. J. Thackeray, A Grammar of the Old Testament in Greek according to the Septuagint. I. Orthography and Accidence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), 13 classed Judges as one of the “literal or unintelligent versions.” As such, it is of minimal value in determining normal Greek usage of κεφαλή. Concerning the form of the LXX used in NT citations of the OT, it is crucial to remember that the prophetic books of the LXX in Vaticanus (Codex B) preserve Origen’s edited form of the text. Vaticanus includes 121 obeloi marking where the LXX added words that are not in the Hebrew text. Vaticanus also includes 12 asteriskoi marking where the LXX left words out that are in the Hebrew text. Those missing words are in B alongside the asteriskoi. Consequently, where these symbols occur, Vaticanus’s text is not the LXX text known in the New Testament era. Nor is it in the twelve other places an abbreviation for “this text is not in the Hebrew text” occurs in the margin without an obelos in the prophetic books of Vaticanus (B).

    Preston: “Philip Payne, a relentless advocate for interpreting kephalē as “source,” says that the last reference in Isaiah 7:9 is the only instance in the LXX where kephalē means “leader.”

    Payne: What I actually wrote to Preston is “The best-attested LXX text, which was current in Paul’s day, translates only one of these 180 occurrences κεφαλή clearly as a metaphor for leader without a preceding εἰς that could convey ‘as head’ rather than a metaphor, ‘is head’.”

    Preston’s note 16: Payne goes on to say that “this one exception is best accounted for as a ‘Hebraism’, an idiomatic Hebrew meaning not native to its translation, kephalē” (Ibid., 29).

    Payne: Preston should acknowledge that, virtually all LXX specialists agree that Hebraisms are common in the LXX. Specifically regarding Isaiah, Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (rev. R. Ottley; New York: KTAV, 1968), 299, 324, states, “The book of Isaiah shows obvious signs of incompetence … entire sentences are unintelligible … [containing] Greek with little regard for … the requirements of the Greek tongue.” Similarly, Abi T. Ngunga and J. Schaper, “Isaiah,” in The T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint (ed. James K. Aitken; London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 456–68, at 459, referencing other supporting studies, states, “Greek in the LXX Isaiah was not exempt from interferences of Semitic languages (Hebrew & Aramaic) in its vocabulary, syntax, and style.” Peter Walters, The Text of the Septuagint: Its Corruptions and Their Emendations (ed. D. W. Gooding; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 143 writes that there was a strong tendency in the LXX for “Greek words to extend their range of meaning in an un-Greek way after the Hebrew word they render.” J. A. L. Lee, A Lexical Study of the Septuagint Version of the Pentateuch (Chico, Ca.: Scholars, 1983), 1 states, “Hebraisms have been recognized in the LXX from the early days of the critical study of the Greek Bible.” See also Emanuel Tov, The Greek and Hebrew Bible: Collected Essays on the Septuagint (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 109–28 on “Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings”; H. St. J. Thackeray, A Grammar of the Old Testament in Greek according to the Septuagint. I. Orthography and Accidence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), 25–55, 244; David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms (SNTSMS 5; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967).

    Isaiah 7:9b is the only case where the best established text of the LXX uses kephalē clearly as a metaphor that means “leader.” LXX translators avoided translating “head” kephalē in spite of their desire to translate the Hebrew with the closest corresponding Greek words and even though they almost always translated the Hebrew word for “head” referring to a physical head as kephalē. Clearly, LXX translators avoided using kephalē as a metaphor when the Hebrew word meant “leader.” The obvious reason they would do this is that they recognized that “leader” was not an established meaning of kephalē in Greek.

    Preston: Kephalē occurs 4 times in these 2 verses. (The second of which is a variant reading.)

    Payne: The second was added by Origen in the third century, so it is not, and as far as we know, never was a variant reading of the LXX. See Rahlfs, Septuaginta 2:574.

    Preston: Note 16 states: even in this case, Payne doesn’t believe that the meaning “leader” is not natural to the Greek term kephalē.

    Preston’s final sentence has one too many negatives. It should state, “This is the only case out of 180 where the LXX uses kephalē clearly as a metaphor for “leader.” It shows that the meaning “leader” was not an established meaning of the Greek term kephalē.

    Preston note 17: Codex A, which Jennifer Dines says is actually more reliable than Codex B when it comes to Isaiah. Jobes and Silva likewise says that “A” is “our best witness” when it comes to Isaiah (Invitation, 59). However, Payne, “Forthcoming,” 32 says that Origen added kephalē here “as the asterisk symbols (*) in Q and 48 show.”

    Payne: The reason that A is a better witness to the original (pre-Origen) LXX text of Isaiah than B is that Codex B is our best-preserved record of Origen’s text of Isaiah. It is precisely because B in Isaiah contains Origen’s additions to the LXX of Isaiah that B is less reliable than A in preserving the LXX text. B includes kephalē four times in Isaiah 7:8–9. The Göttingen LXX confirms Origen’s addition of kephalē to 7:9b by noting that the asterisk symbols (*) in Q and 48 show that Origen added kephalē in Isa 7:8b.

    Preston note 17: As far as I can tell, the second kephalē in Isa. 7:8 is in Codex A.… I have not been able to confirm whether the second kephalē is in A or was added by Origen or both.”

    Payne: Why, then does the Rahlfs LXX text not include the second kephalē in Isa. 7:8? Preston’s note 17 undermines “As far as I can tell, the second kephalē in Isa. 7:8 is in Codex A” by writing, “Sperber argues that the text type represented by Codex A reflects the editions that Origen marked with an asterisk (“The New Testament,” 259–265).”

    Preston: it’s likely that the variant in 7:8 does reflect an early manuscript tradition, since this would complete the parallel

    Payne: When we have explicit manuscript acknowledgement by asterisks identifying that Origen added “and the kephalē of Damascus Rasim” where it was absent in the LXX and when the Rahlfs text here at Isa 7:8b has no kephalē, we should trust the manuscripts and LXX editors. We know that the Hebrew text has a four-fold parallel and Rahlfs LXX text omits “and the head of Damascus, Rasim.” The asterisk in the manuscript tradition here identifies “and the head of Damascus, Rasim” as text that Origen added to the LXX to bring the LXX text into conformity with the LXX. In the light of this clear evidence, it appears to be sheer conjecture for Preston to assert that Origen’s “variant in 7:8 does reflect an early manuscript tradition.”

    Preston: the fourfold use of kephalē here at the very least includes some sense of authority

    Payne: Cities do not have “authority,” so the first and third instance do not convey authority. Since “the head of Damascus, Rasim” is not in the LXX, the LXX in this case does not convey authority. Only in the one case, “the head of Somoron, the son of Romelias,” does kephalē convey authority. This is the only case in the entire LXX where kephalē is clearly used as a metaphor for “leader.” We understand that this is a not native Greek, but rather a Hebraism, an idiomatic Hebrew meaning not native to Greek, for several reasons. This is a well-established Hebraism that occurs 180 times in the Old Testament. Hebraism are very common in the LXX. This is the only case of all 180 where the LXX uses kephalē clearly as a metaphor for “leader.” Secular Greek dictionaries, LSJ and Dhimitrakou respectively, identify this meaning (“leader”) of kephalē as Byzantine or Medieval. Its rareness even in the LXX, which contains so many Hebraisms, is strong evidence that “leader” was not an established meaning for kephalē in Greek at the time Paul wrote.

    Preston: Isa. 9:14-16 (LXX 9:13-14) – So the LORD cut off from Israel head (kephalē) and tail, palm branch and reed in one day—the elder and honored man is the head (archē), and the prophets [sic] who teaches lies is the tail; for those who lead this people lead them astray, and those who are led by them are swallowed up (RSV). … the extension of the head/tail metaphor includes activities that can rightly be described as leadership. For instance, those considered the “tail” exercise bad leadership: “those who lead this people lead them astray, and those who are led by them are swallowed up” (Isa. 9:16 RSV). If the tail refers to bad leadership, wouldn’t this imply that the head exercises good leadership?

    Payne: Preston should know that the RSV is a translation of the Hebrew text, not the LXX text, and the two texts are very different here. Preston even gets the LXX verse numbers wrong (“13-14” instead of 13–15). I translate the LXX of Isa 9:13–15 to reflect the “structure of the Greek as follows: “So the Lord took away from Israel the head and tail, great and small, in one day: the old man, and them that flatter, this is the beginning; and the prophet teaching unlawful things, he is the tail. And they that pronounce this people blessed shall mislead them; and they mislead them that they may devour them.” Preston based his conclusion that this is about leadership on the RSV’s verb “lead,” but in the LXX there is no verb “lead.” It is the verb for “deceive” or “mislead” (πλανάω).

    Preston: If the tail refers to bad leadership, wouldn’t this imply that the head exercises good leadership?

    Payne: Preston’s citation of the RSV completely ignores the LXX apposition that explains “head and tail” as “great and small,” not “leadership” and “bad leadership.” .” Isaiah 9:13’s apposition explains that κεφαλή means “great,” not “leader.” Isaiah 9:14 LXX states regarding the one clear leadership position: “the prophet teaching unlawful things, he is the tail.”

    The RSV’s following explanation, “the elder and honored man is the head” is quite different from the LXX. The LXX does not mention “head” here, but rather ἀρχή. The LXX states this in the context of describing those “the Lord took away from Israel,” so is naturally understood as the beginning (ἀρχή) of those “the Lord took away from Israel.” Consequently, the text should be understood: “the old man, and them that flatter [showing respect to the face, πρόσωπα θαυμάζοντας], this is the beginning; and the prophet teaching unlawful things, he is the tail” [taking up the rear, whom the Lord will also take away from Israel]. The context of the Lord taking these people away from Israel shows how unlikely it is that “the old man, and them that flatter” refers to good leaders.

    Preston: I currently don’t find it convincing when scholars suggest that that it was “foreign…for Greek to use kephalē as a metaphor for ‘leader’.”

    Payne: My response has argued that out of 180 instances where the Hebrew text used “head” to mean “leader,” there is only one case where the LXX used kephalē clearly as a metaphor for “leader.” Yet Hebraisms, Greek words used to convey Hebrew meanings that are foreign to Greek, are a prominent aspect of the LXX. English versions typically translate most these 180 ראשׁ as head. For example, NASB does this 116 times and ASV 115 times, even though always translating “head priest” as chief priest. If leader had been an established meaning of κεφαλή, LXX translators, like English translators, probably would have translated most of these 180 ראשׁ meaning leader as κεφαλή.

    LXX usage should be considered in light of Greek dictionaries stating that in secular Greek kephalē meaning “leader” is Byzantine or Medieval (see my comment on Preston’s post regarding secular Greek usage) and the absence of any meaning in LSJ (the standard classical Greek dictionary) related to “leader” or “authority.” I have yet to find even one citation of kephalē meaning “leader” in secular Greek literature before the fourth century AD in any secular Greek dictionary. For specific evidence that kephalē means source in Greek literature see my response to Preston’s post regarding Greek literature.

    Preston: the Hebrew term rōsh is used in Genesis 2:10 to refer to the “source” of the rivers

    Payne: Neither HALOT nor BDB lists “source” as a meaning of “head.” The text of Gen 2:10 states, “A river watering the garden flowed from Eden and from there divided and became four “heads” [NIV: headstreams], and the name of the first is Pishon … the name of the second river [הנּהר] is Gihon … The name of the third river [הנּהר] is the Tigris … And the fourth river [הנּהר] is Euphrates.” The four heads are explained explicitly as four rivers, each of them named. “Heads,” therefore cannot refer to four “sources” but refers instead to four separate rivers. Clearly, the text is not saying that the first “source” is Pishon, the second “source” is the river Gihon, etc. It is saying that there were four rivers (or four “branches” of the original river) with these four names.

    Since “head” is never used in the Hebrew Scriptures to mean “source,” one can hardly expect that the LXX would translate any instance of the Hebrew word for “head” kephalē meaning “source.” And because we know that the LXX translators regarded kephalē as the Greek equivalent for Hebrew word for “head” when it refers to a physical head, we should not expect them to translate other Hebrew words with kephalē, especially since there are non-metaphorical words for “source” in Greek such as ἀρχή (source) and αἴτιον (cause). Consequently, there is nothing remarkable about the LXX not using kephalē as a metaphor for “source.” We should not expect this in any case since the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that does not use this idiom. If kephalē were an established metaphor for “leader,” however, we should expect that the LXX translators would have translated most of the instances of “head” when it means “leader” in Hebrew as kephalē, just like English versions translate these “head,” especially ones aimed at formal equivalence, like the LXX tends to do.

    Preston: whatever the reason, a body of Greek literature (viz. the LXX) that exerted a high degree of influence on NT language and thought never used kephalē to mean source and did, on occasion, use kephalē to mean “authority over, ruler.”

    Payne: If there were 180 instances in the Hebrew Scriptures where “head” meant “source,” and the LXX translated only one of them kephalē clearly as a metaphor meaning “source,” virtually all scholars would rightly conclude that kephalē was not an established Greek metaphor for “source.”

    Why did the LXX translators almost always avoid translating the Hebrew word for “head” when it means “leader” kephalē even though those same translators almost always translate it kephalē when it means a physical head? The answer should be obvious: the LXX translators knew Greek well enough that they instinctively recognized that kephalē does not convey “leader” in Greek like it does in Hebrew. Their recognition of this was so strong that even though in in so many other places they used Greek words with Hebrew meanings that are not native to Greek, the only clear case is in a book of the LXX of which Swete’s Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 299, 324 states, “The book of Isaiah shows obvious signs of incompetence … entire sentences are unintelligible … [containing] Greek with little regard for … the requirements of the Greek tongue.” known for “Greek with little regard for … the requirements of the Greek tongue.”

    Why do so few English-speaking scholars even ask why the LXX translators almost always avoid translating as kephalē the Hebrew word for “head” when it means “leader”? And why do the few who do consider this question dismiss it without providing any answer? The answer seems obvious to me: they are so accustomed to using “head” to mean “leader” in English that they simply assume that Greeks in Paul’s day would do the same. They feel no need to examine that assumption. Similarly, they simply assume that because we, today, regard the brain as the control center of the body, that Greeks in Paul’s day did, too.

    Preston: It seems more natural to conclude that the translator used eis kephalēn simply because that was the best way to translate l’rōsh, which means “for a leader” (as rōsh often means).

    Payne: I agree that rōsh often means “leader.” I do not agree that that “the best way to translate l’rōsh, [is] “for a leader.” “For a leader” is not natural English unless it is followed by something like “to act in this way” followed by a judgment of that action. To translate these passages in Judges using “for” is something a non-native English speaker might do. For example, this would result in the only one in any manuscript besides A, Judg 11:11, being translated: “the people made him for head and for ruler.” It is far more natural English to write, “the people made him as head and as ruler.” Furthermore, although there are relatively rare contexts in which εἰς can be translated “for,” none of the examples of this in BDAG 288–291 are similar to any of the LXX eis kephalēn instances.

    Preston: I don’t see a huge significance between simile and metaphor here. As Aristotle says: “A simile is also a metaphor; for there is little difference.”

    Payne: Aristotle, Rhet. 3.4.1 continues where Preston has the symbol for ellipsis, “When the poet says of Achilles, ‘he rushed on like a lion,’ it is a simile; if he says, ‘a lion, he rushed on,’ it is a metaphor; for because both are courageous, he transfers the sense and calls Achilles a lion.” Aristotle could write this only because “lion” was an established metaphor for conveying the idea “courageous.” Preston’s goal is to determine whether “head” was an established metaphor meaning “leader” in Greek. The only way to answer this affirmatively, is to establish clear cases in Greek literature where “head” is used as a metaphor meaning “leader.” I believe that every competent scholar in this debate agrees with this. Wayne Grudem has repeatedly stated things like this. He rightly asserts that similes are insufficient to establish native Greek metaphorical usage. For example, imagine if we were trying to determine whether “rock” was an established Greek metaphor for “leader.” It would be insufficient to establish this simply by citing references to leaders who are said to be like a rock (similes). Whenever there is a simile, two things are being compared. The simile is understood literally, and something is compared to it. The reader is alerted by the “as” or “like” that two dissimilar things are being compared. Even though the things are different, the statement is not jarring because the reader has been alerted that they share some similarity and is invited to imagine how the two things are similar.

    In the case of metaphor, however, if someone is said to be a rock and if the reader is not aware of any established metaphorical meaning that is shared by that person with a rock, the statement is jarring. Unless “rock” is an established meaning for “leader,” the reader will have no way of recognizing that meaning. The LXX translators recognized that same was true for “head” in Greek when the LXX was written. This explains several things. First, it explains why even though they almost always translated the Hebrew word for “head” as kephalē when it refers to a physical head, of the 161 instances where “head” by itself (without eis) meant “leader” in Hebrew, they translated it kephalē clearly as a metaphor for “leader” only once. Second, it explains why in 8 of the 19 instances when “head” has a lamed prefix, they translated it eis kephalēn, “as head.” Eis alerted readers to a comparison and so made “head” less jarring to readers for whom kephalē was not an established metaphor for “leader.” Third, it explains why in those contexts other words are usually added that help the reader to understand that the person who was appointed as “as head” was appointed “as commander” or something similar.

    Reply
  4. Autumn Igo on

    I’ll keep on reading…and I’m sure you’ll provide an answer along the way, but I wonder why so many scholars use the term “leader” to refer to the authority described by kephale. It seems from this post that the more clear meaning is “ruler.” “Leader” seems to be a softening of the term. I’d be interested to understand the distinction. If most of the references mean “ruler” why default to “leader?”

    Reply
  5. Karla Swalve on

    I so appreciate your thorough study! I need to go through it little by little as my head can start swimming with amount of information 😆 When I start to get overwhelmed as a woman who really wants to understand what Paul meant, I try to break it down to the simplest observation I can see. Even if I didn’t have the option to know exactly what “head” means as you have so carefully studied, I look at how Christ related to God the Father as that is the comparison. I just don’t see Christ using all his energy to prove he had just as much authority, he submitted to the Father and he humbled himself. If Christ submitted to the Father first as an example to us, how then can we as women say, “Yeah, that’s great for you Jesus, but I am not going to submit to my husband, head has to mean something else.” That is what I am wondering. 🤔 I know it’s tricky because the Father is perfect and human men are sinful but Jesus still submitted to earthly parents who were prone to sin. If Jesus is our Lord and we spend any amount of time in Philippians 2 and read about the submission of Christ, how can that passage not cause any of us women to lay low to the ground and desire nothing more than to be lower still? I just think the humility of Jesus is astounding. I want women to use their gifts for SURE, but also desire more than that, more than any “position,” to follow the humility of Jesus. And to men the same, the humility of Jesus should cause them to shake in their boots if they are trying to exert power in a prideful way God didn’t intend. 😬 All that to say, I sure get overwhelmed as I try to understand and I so appreciate how deep you dive-I am always running to catch up so my simple brain just goes back to Philippians 2 at the end of the day. 😅

    Reply

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