What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 5: Linguistics and Interpretation

Kevin Grasso

The following post is by Dr. Kevin Grasso, a linguist and biblical scholar. Dr. Grasso have a BA in Communications from UGA, an MA in linguistics from Dallas International University, a PhD in Hebrew from Hebrew University, and an MA in comparative religion from Hebrew University. He also created a software program called Biblingo, a language learning app to help anyone and everyone learn the biblical languages using modern second language acquisition methods and technology (think Duolingo or Rosetta Stone for the biblical languages). Check out Biblingo’s YouTube channel and The Biblical Languages Podcast for more of Dr. Grasso’s work. -P.S

Introduction

One of the first reasons I got into linguistics is because I recognized that many of the theological arguments boiled down to the meaning of certain Greek and Hebrew words. I reasoned that if I wanted to contribute to those discussions in the most meaningful way possible, I needed to know Greek and Hebrew. I then reasoned that if I wanted to use Greek and Hebrew responsibly, I needed to have a theory of meaning. Ultimately, I was led to the world of semantics where scholars who don’t care about the theological arguments simply try to figure out how meaning is constructed in language.

Let me be upfront about my theological stance on the egalitarian/complementarian issue. Over my own journey as a follower of Jesus, I have had to revise my thinking multiple times after realizing that I believed something because of a presupposition I had and not my own research. Sometimes the research has confirmed my presupposition and at other times it has made me revise my thinking. I will say upfront that I have not done my homework on all the complexities involved in this issue to have a definitive stance, so when people ask me which camp I fall into, I generally try to avoid being put into either box.

Like many other debates, part of this theological issue (and it is only part) depends on what the word κεφαλή means and how it is used in certain passages in Paul. Preston has already laid out all the data in a very helpful way, so I will not rehash that here. Rather, I want to offer some thoughts on how linguists would approach this problem. In other words, I want to present a theory on the meaning of words that can help us think through the issues involved. To make the discussion more concrete, I will conclude with an exegesis of Ephesians 5:23 using these principles.

Metaphorical meaning

My refrigerator is running (italics are used in linguistics for words or sentences that are the object of analysis). Native English speakers do not struggle to understand a sentence like this, even though run is used metaphorically. Despite the jokes this sentence has led to, run here does not refer to the physical action of running, but to a machine that is powered on and functioning. Language is economical in that we regularly reuse words by expanding the meaning to refer to multiple concepts that are distinct but related. Words are often used in a non-literal sense (that is, as metaphors) to refer to distinct things or events. A word like run is notorious for its many, many metaphorical meanings: my refrigerator/nose/sister is running all mean different things. We will come back to this, but when we say my refrigerator is running, we do not ordinarily think of the below image.1Taken from the following site  We only think of the sense of run that has to do with a machine being on and functioning properly.

The interpretations of run with refrigerator and nose can be called conventionalized metaphors.2The distinction between conventionalized and novel metaphors discussed here is essentially the same as dead (conventionalized) and live (novel) metaphors. These terms are more often found in the literary literature. They are embedded within the English language, and everyone recognizes that run can have these different meanings. We also use words metaphorically in a one-off instance in what are called novel metaphors.3For discussion, see Kroeger (2018:97-99). I refer to Kroeger’s work throughout because he is a well-respected linguist (PhD from Stanford) who has written an accessible introduction to semantics that is open access, called Analyzing Meaning. He also happens to be the first semantics teacher I had. These metaphors do not have conventionalized meanings. They have meanings that are dependent upon a specific context and make use of the fact that we can use just about any word metaphorically by constructing a context where we embed a word with a particular meaning. For example, Lai et. al. (2009:147) compare all kinds of interesting things that happen in our brains when we encounter these two types of metaphors in the sentences Her life has a new direction and Their style has a new direction. The former is a conventionalized metaphor because life has a sense that is conventionally related to a path of some kind, while the latter is a novel metaphor because style does not have a sense that is related to a path. Given the right context, we can invest style with a path-like meaning, but this is not conventionally associated with the word.

Both of these kinds of metaphors will be important for us as we think about the meaning of κεφαλή ‘head’ (I’ll use single quotes for a translation from Greek into English). 

All of this has been an introduction to how we should think about the different kinds of interpretations that a word can encode (or in other words, the kinds of interpretations that a word may contribute to the context). When it comes to analyzing a word like κεφαλή, we have two basic questions: 1) What are the possible interpretations of the word? and 2) What are the features in the surrounding words that would lead us to interpret κεφαλή in a particular way in a given context? To put it differently, (1) what are the options for what κεφαλή can mean, and (2) how do we determine which meaning is correct?

Polysemous words

A polysemous word is a single word with multiple related senses. A sense is a particular meaning of a word that has been conventionalized. Going back to the word run, we can see that it can be interpreted differently when we change the thing doing the running. We can label the three senses of run as follows (with definitions only based on our examples):

Sense 1: (of sisters) to move your legs at a fast pace where both legs are never on the ground at the same time

Sense 2: (of refrigerators) to be on and functioning properly

Sense 3: (of noses) to have liquid dripping out of something

About 80% of words are polysemous, so this is a very common language phenomenon (Rodd 2020:411). Sense 2 and 3 are both conventionalized metaphors whereas sense 1 might be called the literal meaning of run. It is not the case that senses are only either “literal” or “conventionalized metaphors,” but those are the two categories of senses that are important for our purposes.4Some words have senses that refer to two different logical types of things. For example, lunch can refer to a physical object (something eaten) or an event (something protracted in time). Neither are metaphorical, but both are legitimate senses (and it is difficult to tell if one is derived from the other). For an important, though highly technical, discussion on this phenomenon, see Asher (2011:ch.2).

At this point, it may be helpful to clarify some of our terms. We have defined sense as a particular meaning of a word. It is a conventionalized way of interpreting a word which the speech community would accept as a legitimate meaning of that word. Whenever I use the word “interpretation,” I am either referring to a sense of a word or a way of understanding a word in a particular context. The word “meaning” is quite flexible, and it is commonly used in one of three ways. First, it may refer to the understanding of a word in a particular context, very similar to the second use of “interpretation.” Second, it may be used as essentially equivalent to “sense.” We can thus speak of a word having multiple meanings, or senses, that are possible contributions that the word makes to the context. Third and finally, “meaning” in linguistics is sometimes used to refer to the contribution of a word regardless of the context. We might also call this the “invariable meaning,” and I do not intend this sense of meaning unless I use “invariable” with it. Although determining the “invariable meaning” is an important part of doing semantics, I do not delve into this issue in any detail in this post.5Some are uncomfortable with the idea of an invariable meaning. There are a number of philosophical reasons why something like this must be the case, and we certainly cannot get into all of the details here. Angelika Kratzer, one of the foremost semanticists of our time, describes discovering the invariable meaning as integral to doing semantics: “It is the task of semantics to describe all those features of the meaning of utterances of linguistic expressions which stay invariable in whatever context these expressions may be used. This invariable element we may call the meaning proper of a linguistic expression” (1977:337). For those who find diagrams helpful, here’s one illustrating the relationship between how I am using “sense,” “interpretation,” and “meaning” and the relationship between the three.

For a word like κεφαλή, we must establish the possible senses, or meanings, of the word. As Preston has mentioned, scholars often suggest four different senses for κεφαλή:

Sense 1: ‘head’ (physical)

Sense 2: ‘leader’

Sense 3: ‘source’

Sense 4: ‘prominence’

We will take a closer look at the examples for sense 3. Before diving into the data, however, we must note a complicating factor in our analysis. Each of the English words that we have used to approximate the different senses of κεφαλή are themselves polysemous. For example, leader is given the following 4 definitions (among others) by Google:

Sense 1: person in charge of a person or group of people

Sense 2: organization/company that is most advanced in an area

Sense 3: principal player in a music group

Sense 4: shoot of plant at apex of stem

When we say that κεφαλή in sense 2 can mean leader, we do not mean that it can mean all of the senses of leader. Rather, we normally mean that κεφαλή maps onto a particular sense of leader, namely leader (sense 1). Just because κεφαλή might be best approximated by leader in contexts that have to do with a person in charge (sense 1) does not mean that κεφαλή would also be used to refer to a “principal player in a music group” (sense 3) or a “shoot of plant at apex of stem” (sense 4). Thus, each sense of κεφαλή must be associated with a particular sense of the English glosses. We can map this out with the diagram below. Throughout our discussion, I will refer to the content of this diagram in order to link senses of English words with senses of Greek words. For example, when I refer to source (sense 1), I am referring to the English word source that is defined as ‘place, person, or thing from which something comes.’ When I say source (sense 2), I am referring to English source as ‘spring from which a river issues,’ and so forth.

Linguists have noted that it can be highly problematic to use English as a metalanguage because it is difficult not to let the meaning of English words creep into our analysis (see Kroeger 2018:7-8 for some discussion of the issues). The trouble is that examples like the second sense of κεφαλή, ‘leader,’ might be best approximated by the first sense of English leader, but that does not make κεφαλή and leader absolutely equivalent even in those contexts. In order to reduce confusion and increase precision, linguists will often use small caps to refer to certain senses, which can then be defined however we want. For example, we might define the second sense of κεφαλή as LEADER “being a social authority of some kind.” We could then ascribe a feature (which is just a component of a word’s sense/meaning) to LEADER, such as [+SOCIAL AUTHORITY]. What we have just done is divorced sense 2 of κεφαλή from English leader and instead made it equivalent to LEADER meaning anyone who is a social authority (and whatever other features we might deem necessary). We will touch on these things in more detail below, but I introduce these concepts here to help get us away from letting English words dictate how we understand the Greek text. Accordingly, I will now use small caps when referring to possible senses of κεφαλή (I still use single quotes for translations into English and italics when discussing the meaning of English words).

In order to think through the meaning of κεφαλή, let’s look at the purported examples of the SOURCE sense to determine which sense of English source maps onto κεφαλή. It could be the case that κεφαλή maps onto more than one sense of source, but just because one sense of source fits one sense of κεφαλή does not mean that κεφαλή can map onto any sense of source. Our basic question is whether κεφαλή maps onto English source (sense 2) or source (sense 1). Here are the examples for κεφαλή with this meaning (from Preston’s third post):

Example 1: From the sources (kephalai) of the river Tearus flows the best and fairest of all river waters. (Herodotus, Histories 4.91)

Example 2: No river that comes from a single spring is smaller at its head (ten kephalēn) than it is thereafter (Galen, On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato 6.3.21.4)

Example 3: For covetousness is the head (kephalē) of every kind of sin (Life of Adam and Eve 19:3).

Example 4: …of all the members of the clan here described Esau is the progenitor, the head (kephalē) as it were of the whole creature. (Philo, Prelim. Studies 61)

In the first two examples, the source of a river is clearly being referred to. This would be sense 2 of source. Of course, this sense is entirely irrelevant for the discussion because no one argues that Christ being the head of the church means that Christ is the beginning of a river. With just these two examples, we could define SOURCE (the sense of κεφαλή) as having three features, such as [+LOCATION], [+START], and [+WATER]. Of course, we would ideally want to be more precise about what these features are, but this suffices for our purposes. Every instance of κεφαλή with the meaning SOURCE has these features. Our question now would be do we have other examples (such as 3 and 4) that would fit this meaning or would force us to change the features of this meaning? Can we say, for example, that SOURCE can actually refer to anything that is [+LOCATION] and [+START] but need not have the water component? Can we say something like Go to the κεφαλή of the race meaning the place where the race starts? We would then revise our features of SOURCE to fit such examples, or we would create an entirely new sense if we could not account for examples 1-4 with the same set of features.6Interestingly, we actually have the same metaphor in English head that Greek uses with κεφαλή. With just the examples from 1 and 2, we could replace the English gloss with headwater. This would restrict the sense of κεφαλή to only water contexts (as our features require for our current meaning of source). It would also reflect a similar metaphor we see in English: head is used in headwater to refer to the beginning of a water location just as κεφαλή is used either to refer either to a literal head of a body or to the beginning of a water location. At the very least, this suggests that a better translation of κεφαλή in these examples would be ‘headwater’ rather than ‘source,’ since it allows us to translate the conventionalized metaphor we find in Greek with a very similar metaphor we see in English.

We are left, then, with examples 3 and 4 to determine whether κεφαλή can mean something close to English source (sense 1). Let’s look at these more closely, starting with example 4. In Greek, the sentence starts with κεφαλή in the phrase κεφαλὴ δὲ ὡς ζῴου which is translated ‘the head as it were of the whole creature.’ Because the word κεφαλή is followed by ζῴου in the genitive, this example is, in my opinion, best understood as referring to the literal sense of ‘head.’ A head of a creature is being referred to. In this context, of course, the word ‘creature’ is being used in an extended metaphor to talk about Esau’s family, but within the phrase itself, κεφαλή simply refers to the literal head. This is invested with new meaning from the context, but the metaphor here is a novel metaphor rather than a conventional metaphor. The novel metaphor is that the creature (ζῴου) refers to Esau’s descendants, and the head (κεφαλή) refers to the thing from which Esau’s descendants come. The word κεφαλή could be translated as ‘source’ here because it refers to the literal top of the creature, namely the head, which is said to be the source of the body in the novel metaphor. However, κεφαλή itself does not seem to be contributing the meaning of source (sense 1) as a conventionalized sense. It just refers to the literal head of a creature, though this is given new significance in the context of the metaphor. At the very least, we would want more evidence to establish this as a legitimate sense of κεφαλή.

Finally, we come to example 3. In this example, desire is said to be the κεφαλή of all sin. As Preston discusses in a footnote, this example is debated with ‘source’ (which would mean something like cause?) and ‘beginning’ as the main translation options. LSJ lists other examples where ‘beginning’ seems to be the meaning (where we have things like κεφαλὴ χρόνου ‘head/beginning of time’), so this is an attested meaning outside of this passage. The difficult thing about this example is that several potential glosses could fit the context. Desire could be the cause of all sin, the beginning of all sin, or even the chief/greatest of all sin—all of which would make sense. How do we decide? Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where it is very difficult. There aren’t enough triggers in the context to help us definitively determine the meaning (more on this below), though my analysis would be that the context lends itself best to a temporal interpretation. All sin starts at desire seems to be what is being communicated. At the very least, this is not enough evidence for me to conclude that κεφαλή is contributing the meaning SOURCE (as cause), particularly considering the fact that we have clear examples where beginning must be the meaning, and that sense is at least as good as source (as cause) here. We could then have a new sense of κεφαλή that we could call BEGINNING with the features [+TIME] and [+START].

This whole discussion has simply been to establish what our options are for κεφαλή. Based on my reading of the data, I don’t think κεφαλή ever means source (sense 1). I would argue for source (sense 2) and then an additional temporal sense meaning beginning (of an event). We now turn to how we can determine which sense is the best interpretation in a given context.

How polysemy is resolved

Let us return to run. We noted three senses of the word run, and we gave different contexts where run is interpreted differently. These examples give us several clues as to how to resolve ambiguity. First, we should remember that we interpret run to mean only one sense of run in any given occurrence of the word (think again of the “running” refrigerator—it is not that the refrigerator is functioning and moving quickly on legs at the same time). This is generally how polysemy works (see Kroeger 2018:94-96 for discussion).7There is a phenomenon called zeugma where two senses of a polysemous word are activated simultaneously. For example, we can say something like My sister and my refrigerator are running. In this case, running has to be interpreted with two different senses because of the different arguments it takes, but cases like these are very rare and are really not relevant to the discussion. Second, we noted in our definition that the senses were usually talking about different things. For a sister to run is different than for a refrigerator to run, and both differ from noses. In other words, each sense of run is triggered by certain words in the context. Given our definitions, we can predict the sense of run when sisterrefrigerator, and nose are the subjects. With more data, we could also begin to make more predictions. For example, the words brothercomputer, and faucet can be used with the three senses of run we have described. For the meaning of run as moving one’s legs, we could say that some feature like [+SIBLING] activates sense 1 of run if we saw that both sister and brother triggered that interpretation. Of course, we know this would not capture all the data—the feature [+SIBLING] is also too narrow of a category. With more and more data, we could refine what it is that triggers sense 1 of run, and we would probably come up with something like [+ANIMATE]. Animate things, such as animals or people, engage in running according to sense 1. If this is correct, it allows us to predict when we have sense 1 of run activated: when the thing doing the running is animate (i.e. has the feature [+ANIMATE]), we have sense 1.

Crucially, the above discussion is not a vague appeal to context in order to determine the correct interpretation of a word. Polysemous words must be disambiguated, which means that we must ascribe a particular sense to each use of the word. Whichever sense is given the correct interpretation in the context can be said to be “activated.” In the sentence Your refrigerator is running, the sense activated is the ‘functioning’ sense, and your refrigerator is the primary disambiguating cue, particularly the fact that it is a machine. The reason why the joke Then you’d better go catch it is indeed a joke is because the sense of run as moving one’s legs is not activated—we know that to be an interpretation not intended by the speaker. Although sense disambiguation is a complex phenomenon, the most important disambiguating cue is the immediate sentence context (Rodd 2020:412), and even the most immediate thing that the word combines with. The word run, for example, combines directly with my sister/refrigerator/nose, and it is the meaning of these words that forces us to interpret run in the way we do in any given context.8I would refer those with a high degree of interest (and theoretical background) to the work of Asher (2011) in this respect, whose work on how predication and lexical meaning interact is foundational.

I hope the utility of this discussion on run is obvious, but let’s spell it out. In order to determine what sense of κεφαλή is activated in a given context, we have to figure out what features are associated with each of its senses, and then we have to look carefully at the context to determine if any of those features are activated. To illustrate, we might say that the literal sense of κεφαλή is activated when we have the feature [+BODY] in a word that combines directly with κεφαλή. We saw this in κεφαλὴ…ζῴου ‘head…of the creature.’ Because creatures carry the meaning component of [+BODY], we interpret κεφαλή “literally.” For a sense like LEADER, we might have the feature [+SOCIAL HIERARCHY]. This would mean that whenever we have κεφαλή combining with a word that has this feature activated in the context, we would expect this meaning. If SOURCE as “cause” were a true sense, we would expect to find this sense where we have a feature of something like [+EFFECT] in the thing that κεφαλή is combining with. The word κεφαλή would then refer to the cause. As we said, though, we have clear examples where κεφαλή combines with something that is [+TIME] to mean BEGINNING, but other senses of English source (outside of the headwater of river sense) are dubious at best.

Let us return to our example in the Life of Adam and Eve before turning finally to Ephesians. What makes the example difficult is that we are not sure if ‘desire’ is being conceptualized as the beginning of sin or the cause of sin. In theory, the word ‘desire’ by itself could be either of these. The greater context would have to help us disambiguate how ‘desire’ is functioning, either as an indicator of time or cause, but it is hard to tell how it is being conceptualized.9One could argue that either feature is present in the context. Part of the trouble is that causes always precede their effects, so it is sometimes hard to tease apart the difference between one element that is causally related to another and one that is temporally related. If κεφαλή did not have the meaning of SOURCE as a cause, then Greek speakers would have intuitively thought of time (since we know that that was a legitimate sense). Perhaps the sense of SOURCE (as cause) was also an option, in which case this kind of example might have been genuinely ambiguous. Unfortunately, we don’t have the data to support this in the absence of clearer examples of the SOURCE (as cause) meaning.

We now have the basic tools we need to analyze Ephesians 5:23 and to try to disambiguate the text. Because the verse starts with a causal conjunction, we would want to go back to at least 5:21-22 of which 5:23 provides the reason. In 5:21-22, we read ‘submitting to one another in the fear of Christ, wives to their own husbands as to the lord…’ The basic question we would want answered about the participants here is how they are being conceptualized. Are sources/causes and products/effects being talked about, or are social hierarchies being discussed? If it is the former, the word ἀνήρ ‘man’ in 5:23 could be construed as a ‘head’ meaning SOURCE (if that were a legitimate sense of κεφαλή). If it is the latter, ‘man’ would be construed as being part of a social hierarchy, of which he would have a certain relation, namely as the κεφαλή meaning LEADER. Given this way of framing the question, the key to our analysis is actually found in the verb ὑποτάσσω. What component of meaning is this verb activating that would lead us to interpret ἀνήρ and Χριστός as either people that are sources or people that are social authorities? When used of people, as it is in this context, this verb really only means being subjected to someone as in submitting to them (e.g. Luke 2:51; Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18; etc.). Given this, I would say that the words γυναικός and ἐκκλησίας (the words that κεφαλή immediately combines with) inherit something like the feature [+SOCIAL HIERARCHY] from the verb ὑποτάσσω, and this disambiguates the sense of κεφαλή to mean LEADER (i.e. someone with social authority).

A related text to Ephesians 5:23 is Colossians 1:18. The contrast between these two is instructive. In Colossians 1:18, we have καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας ‘And he is the head of the body, the church.’ In this case, the word κεφαλή combines immediately with σῶματος ‘body.’ The word σῶματος is itself being used metaphorically to refer to a people, but the word κεφαλή refers to a physical head of the metaphorical body. Bodies have heads, so that is what is being referred to. In the context, the words κεφαλή and σῶματος are invested with different meanings as part of an extended metaphor about Christ and the church, but these kinds of meanings would fall under the category of novel metaphor (as described above, this is a one-off metaphor with a meaning dependent upon a specific context). They are not meanings that κεφαλή is itself contributing. It just means literal head within the metaphor. This is very similar to the example we saw in Philo above.

In contrast to this, Ephesians 5:23 has κεφαλή combining directly with γυναικός ‘woman’ and ἐκκλησίας ‘church/gathering.’ While a ‘woman’ has a physical head (and so passes the [+BODY] feature test), it is impossible to interpret ἀνήρ ‘man’ as the literal head of that body. Moreover, ‘woman’ in this context is also part of a list of words that all have social relations, particularly as contributed by the verb ὑποτάσσω. This suggests that it is this feature [+SOCIAL HIERARCHY] that is most salient in the context. When we move to ‘church/gathering,’ this becomes unambiguous. Churches/gatherings don’t have physical heads or bodies. They are a social group with a social function that is being commanded in this context to have a particular social orientation, namely to ‘submit’ (ὑποτάσσω) to one another (5:21). This makes the meaning of κεφαλή necessarily LEADER [+SOCIAL HIERARCHY], since the thing that it combines with only has this feature and not others.

Conclusion

Much more could be said, but I hope that this discussion provides a different way of thinking about the problem. Again, I do not have a dog in this fight , and my main concern is not proving one side or the other but to provide tools, so that we can all read the Bible responsibly and submit to it. As much as is possible, we must read the text with hearts and minds open and then build our theology off the text, not the other way around.

Based on my reading of the data, I doubt that the SOURCE sense even exists in the way that scholars describe it. It is clear that κεφαλή can mean ‘headwater’, but it is not clear that it can mean anything broader than this that would map onto English source. I do think BEGINNING would also be a clear sense of κεφαλή. However, this just gives us what options are out there for how κεφαλή is used. It does not tell us how it is used in a particular context. In Ephesians 5:21-24, the verb ὑποτάσσω is the disambiguating cue that leads me to interpret κεφαλή as referring to someone who is part of a social hierarchy, as the English word leader suggests, though other glosses may also be possible. The most obvious one, and what I would opt for, is ‘head,’ which can also be used to refer to a social authority and which is a pretty neutral term in and of itself (the “head of an organization” is neither bad nor good—just the person with the most authority in that organization). On this note, we must beware of thinking that κεφαλή = leader here or even κεφαλή = head. It does not. The word κεφαλή = κεφαλή. The trouble is that we have all kinds of baggage with the words leader and head in English (particularly in this debate), and we carry this into our interpretation when we read that word. It might not be the case that κεφαλή has the same baggage. At the very least, this analysis does not answer what kind of κεφαλή the man is to be to his wife or the Messiah is to be to His church. For that, one must continue to read Ephesians 5:25 and following. In my reading, such a leader is tasked with a very high calling to love and submit oneself to the good of the other.


  • 1
    Taken from the following site
  • 2
    The distinction between conventionalized and novel metaphors discussed here is essentially the same as dead (conventionalized) and live (novel) metaphors. These terms are more often found in the literary literature.
  • 3
    For discussion, see Kroeger (2018:97-99). I refer to Kroeger’s work throughout because he is a well-respected linguist (PhD from Stanford) who has written an accessible introduction to semantics that is open access, called Analyzing Meaning. He also happens to be the first semantics teacher I had.
  • 4
    Some words have senses that refer to two different logical types of things. For example, lunch can refer to a physical object (something eaten) or an event (something protracted in time). Neither are metaphorical, but both are legitimate senses (and it is difficult to tell if one is derived from the other). For an important, though highly technical, discussion on this phenomenon, see Asher (2011:ch.2).
  • 5
    Some are uncomfortable with the idea of an invariable meaning. There are a number of philosophical reasons why something like this must be the case, and we certainly cannot get into all of the details here. Angelika Kratzer, one of the foremost semanticists of our time, describes discovering the invariable meaning as integral to doing semantics: “It is the task of semantics to describe all those features of the meaning of utterances of linguistic expressions which stay invariable in whatever context these expressions may be used. This invariable element we may call the meaning proper of a linguistic expression” (1977:337).
  • 6
    Interestingly, we actually have the same metaphor in English head that Greek uses with κεφαλή. With just the examples from 1 and 2, we could replace the English gloss with headwater. This would restrict the sense of κεφαλή to only water contexts (as our features require for our current meaning of source). It would also reflect a similar metaphor we see in English: head is used in headwater to refer to the beginning of a water location just as κεφαλή is used either to refer either to a literal head of a body or to the beginning of a water location. At the very least, this suggests that a better translation of κεφαλή in these examples would be ‘headwater’ rather than ‘source,’ since it allows us to translate the conventionalized metaphor we find in Greek with a very similar metaphor we see in English.
  • 7
    There is a phenomenon called zeugma where two senses of a polysemous word are activated simultaneously. For example, we can say something like My sister and my refrigerator are running. In this case, running has to be interpreted with two different senses because of the different arguments it takes, but cases like these are very rare and are really not relevant to the discussion.
  • 8
    I would refer those with a high degree of interest (and theoretical background) to the work of Asher (2011) in this respect, whose work on how predication and lexical meaning interact is foundational.
  • 9
    One could argue that either feature is present in the context. Part of the trouble is that causes always precede their effects, so it is sometimes hard to tease apart the difference between one element that is causally related to another and one that is temporally related.

Bibliography

Asher, Nicholas. Lexical meaning in context: A web of words. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Kratzer, Angelika. “What ‘must’and ‘can’must and can mean.” Linguistics and philosophy 1.3 (1977): 337-355.

Kroeger, Paul R. Analyzing meaning: An introduction to semantics and pragmatics. Language Science Press, 2018.

Lai, Vicky Tzuyin, Tim Curran, and Lise Menn. “Comprehending conventional and novel metaphors: An ERP study.” Brain research 1284 (2009): 145-155.

Rodd, Jennifer M. “Settling into semantic space: An ambiguity-focused account of word-meaning access.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 15.2 (2020): 411-427 


 

  • Share this story:

12 comments on “What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 5: Linguistics and Interpretation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Philip B. Payne on

    Grasso: Because the word κεφαλή is followed by ζῴου in the genitive, this example is, in my opinion, best understood as referring to the literal sense of ‘head.’ A head of a creature is being referred to.
    Payne: Grasso’s analysis of Prelim. Studies 61 ignores both Philo’s apposition juxtaposing “progenitor” with “head” and “as it were” that separates “head” from “of the whole creature.” The immediate context makes it clear that “head” is in apposition to “progenitor”: “of all the members of the clan here described Esau is the progenitor (ὁ γενάρχης ἐστὶν Ἐσαῦ), the head (κεφαλή) as it were of the whole creature.” Because “progenitor” never means “a literal head,” and because Philo by apposition expresses “progenitor” as equivalent in meaning to “head,” it should be obvious that “head” cannot mean “a literal head.” Since “progenitor” conveys the meaning “source” and because “source” is within the well-established semantic range of “head” in Greek, virtually any Greek reader would have understood “head” here to mean “source.” “As it were of the whole creature” makes it clear that Philo intended “creature” metaphorically. Since “creature” is not literal, its “head” cannot be literal either. It should be obvious that the meaning of the sentence is: “of all the members of the clan here described Esau is the progenitor (ὁ γενάρχης ἐστὶν Ἐσαῦ), the source (κεφαλή) as it were of the whole creature.”
    Grasso: In this context, of course, the word ‘creature’ is being used in an extended metaphor to talk about Esau’s family, but within the phrase itself, κεφαλή simply refers to the literal head.
    Payne: No! Neither Esau nor “the progenitor” is “the literal head as it were of the whole creature.” It cannot be true, therefore, that “κεφαλή simply refers to the literal head.” Grasso refers to “the phrase itself,” but the phrase is not “the head of the whole creation.” Grasso has ignored the crucial phrase “as it were” that identifies Philo’s metaphorical intent. It is precisely the relationship between “head” and “the whole creature” that demands that both be understood metaphorically.
    Grasso: This is invested with new meaning from the context, but the metaphor here is a novel metaphor rather than a conventional metaphor. The novel metaphor is that the creature (ζῴου) refers to Esau’s descendants, and the head (κεφαλή) refers to the thing from which Esau’s descendants come.
    Payne: It is true that “the head (κεφαλή) refers to the thing from which Esau’s descendants come.” But this is only true because “head” means “source,” which is a conventional metaphorical meaning for κεφαλή in Greek, as many Greek lexicons attest. Esau’s descendants did not come from “the literal head as it were of the whole creature.” Philo here presents a conventional, not a novel, metaphor.
    Grasso: The word κεφαλή could be translated as ‘source’ here because it refers to the literal top of the creature, namely the head, which is said to be the source of the body in the novel metaphor.
    Payne: The reason the word κεφαλή could be translated “source” here is that “source” was a conventional meaning of κεφαλή, not “because it refers to the literal top of the creature, namely the head.” It should be obvious that Philo is not saying that the literal head “is said to be the source of the body” because that would be taking one part of the unified imagery as literal and the other part and not literal.
    Grasso: However, κεφαλή itself does not seem to be contributing the meaning of source (sense 1) as a conventionalized sense.
    Payne: To the contrary, the apposition with “progenitor” makes it clear that κεφαλή is contributing the conventional meaning source.
    Grasso: It just refers to the literal head of a creature,
    Payne: Not so! “As it were” makes it clear that it does not “just refer to the literal head of a creature.” If it just refers to the literal head of a creature, the sentence does not make sense: “of all the members of the clan here described Esau is the progenitor, the literal head as it were of the whole creature.”
    Grasso: At the very least, we would want more evidence to establish this as a legitimate sense of κεφαλή.
    Payne: Grasso ignores that Greek dictionaries since at least the 12th century have recognized “source” as a legitimate sense of κεφαλή as I documented in my response to Preston’s third post.
    Grasso states concerning Life of Adam and Eve 19:3, “For covetousness is the head (kephalē) of every kind of sin”: LSJ lists other examples where ‘beginning’ seems to be the meaning (where we have things like κεφαλὴ χρόνου ‘head/beginning of time’), so this is an attested meaning outside of this passage.”
    Payne: Note that neither LSJ nor its supplement by Barber or Glare lists “beginning” as a meaning of κεφαλή. Under the subheading source, LSJ lists both “generally, source, origin” and “starting-point, κ. κρόνου.” I find it incredible that Grasso asserts based on this entry in LSJ, “so this is an attested meaning outside of this passage” but—in spite of LSJ’s many references to κεφαλή meaning “source” immediately before what he quotes—concludes, “it is not clear that it [κεφαλή] can mean anything broader than this that would map onto English source. I do think BEGINNING would also be a clear sense of κεφαλή.”
    Payne: There is a difference between the meaning of “starting point” and “beginning.” “Starting point” is the point at which something starts. For example the “starting point” of a race is the place where the race begins. The starting point of a race is not part of the race itself. The “beginning” of a race, in contrast, is actually part of the race itself, the beginning of the race. Consider all the examples of the meanings of “beginning” listed in the Third College Edition: Webster’s New World Dictionary (ed. Victoria Neufeldt and David B. Guralnik; New York/London/Toronto/Sydney/Tokyo/Singapore: Prentice Hall, 1989), 126: the “beginning of a book” is “the first part” of the book; “the beginnings of scientific agriculture” are “an early stage or example” of scientific agriculture, and so are part of scientific agriculture. When we say that “English democracy has its beginnings in the Magna Charta,” we imply that the Magna Charta was the earliest part of English democracy. Webster’s gives a generalized meaning of “beginning”: “the time or place of starting; birth; origin; source.” When we refer to “beginning,” therefore, we are referring to “a starting or commencing” in continuity with the thing of which it is the “beginning.” Grasso gives a false impression of what LSJ lists by stating, “LSJ lists other examples where ‘beginning’ seems to be the meaning.” LSJ does not list “beginning” as a meaning for κεφαλή. It lists, instead “starting point,” which is not the same as “beginning.”
    Payne: This is the reason I criticized the interpretation of “head” as “beginning” in other passages in Greek literature where Preston expressed preference for “beginning,” such as “Zeus the head.” As “head,” Zeus is the source of all things. But Zeus is not the “beginning” of all things. “Beginning” would imply that Zeus is part of all things. Pantheism teaches this idea. Greek literature, however, commonly calls Zeus the creator/source of all things. Furthermore, in my response to Preston’s third post, I identified many explanations of this “Zeus” saying that identify “head” to mean “source” or “cause.”
    Payne: Now, let’s apply this to Life of Adam and Eve 19:3, “For covetousness is the head (kephalē) of every kind of sin.” If the sin in view is an extension of desire, such as covetousness, then “head” could be appropriately understood as “starting point” or “beginning” of covetousness. If, however, the sin in view is not an extension of desire, such as murder, then “head” is not actually its “beginning.” Regarding all other sins that are not actually an extension of desire, but, instead, arise from desire, the far more natural meaning of “head” is “source,” because desire makes sense as the source from which all those sins comes. In this case the statement explicitly identifies the range of sins of which desire is the head: “desire is the head of every kind of sin.” Consequently, “source” is the obvious meaning that fits the statement best.
    Testament of Reuben 2.2 states similarly, “For seven spirits are established against mankind, and they are the heads of the deeds of youth.” Those seven spirits are not themselves the “deeds of youth or “the beginnings” of the deeds of youth. They are the sources of the deeds of youth, as is evident by the following list of those seven spirits: “First is the spirit of life, with which man is created. The second is the spirit of seeing, with which comes desire. The third is the spirit of hearing, with which comes instruction. The fourth is the spirit of smell, with which is given taste. The fifth is the spirit of speech, with which comes knowledge. The sixth is the spirit of taste for consuming food and drink; by it comes strength. The seventh is the spirit of procreation and intercourse, with which come sins through fondness for pleasure.” Each spirit is the source “from which comes” the things described.
    Grasso: other senses of English source (outside of the headwater of river sense) are dubious at best.
    Payne: This is simply not true. I have demonstrated that “source” was an established meaning of “head” in Greek literature in my comments regarding Preston’s posts 3 and 4.
    Grasso: the word ἀνήρ ‘man’ in 5:23 could be construed as a ‘head’ meaning SOURCE (if that were a legitimate sense of κεφαλή).
    Payne: Grasso correctly identifies “the word ἀνήρ ‘man’ in [Eph] 5:23” since the text has no article, which we would expect if Paul meant “the husband,” and there is no possessive pronoun “his” before “woman,” that would have specified “his wife.” In what sense is man κεφαλή of the woman as Christ is κεφαλή of the church? “Head” means “source” in both of the two closest parallels, 1 Cor 11:3 and Col 1:18. Furthermore, “source” fits the context of Ephesians 5 since the context gives this as a reason for a wife to submit to her husband. Since woman has her source in man, the meaning “man is the source of woman” provides a reason to respect man.
    Many church fathers interpret all three instances of “head” in 1 Cor 11:3 to mean “source.” Specifically, they explain that “man is the head of woman” refers to woman being taken out of man in Genesis 2. I demonstrated this in responses to Preston’s fourth post. In 1 Cor 11:3, Paul lays the foundation of the importance of respect for one’s source to guide how men and women lead worship because at least one man and at least one women had been leading worship with hairstyles that undermine sexual morality and so were disrespecting their head/source.
    “Head” in Col 1:18 is explained by apposition with ἀρχή to mean “source.” “And he is the head of the body, the church, who is its source [archē]” (Col. 1:18). The earliest manuscripts’ detailed emphatic apposition: “He is the head . . . who is the source” (autos estin hē kephalē . . . hos estin hē archē) explains that “head” means “the source of the body’s life” (TEV) or “origin” (NEB). These manuscripts have no punctuation separating “he is the head” from “who is the source.” The immediately following, “the firstborn from the dead” and verse 20’s “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” identify how Christ became the source of the body’s life and so further support the meaning “source.” Paul also affirms that Christ in the source of all things two verses earlier, “In him all things were created … all things were created through him.” Consequently, Paul first refers to Christ as “source” of all things twice in verse 16, then by apposition explains that Christ as “head” is the “source” of the church in verse 18, then explains how Christ became source of the church in verse 20.
    Grasso: ‘man’ would be construed as being part of a social hierarchy, of which he would have a certain relation, namely as the κεφαλή meaning LEADER. Given this way of framing the question, the key to our analysis is actually found in the verb ὑποτάσσω.
    Payne: Grasso ignores that by combining ὑποτάσσω with the reciprocal pronoun, “submitting to one another,” Paul actually overturns social hierarchies by treating the relationships as reciprocal. This is a novel and unexpected juxtaposition of “submitting” and “to one another.”
    Grasso: What component of meaning is this verb activating that would lead us to interpret ἀνήρ and Χριστός as either people that are sources or people that are social authorities? When used of people, as it is in this context, this verb really only means being subjected to someone as in submitting to them (e.g. Luke 2:51; Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18; etc.).
    Payne: But this ignores that ὑποτάσσω here is explicitly reciprocal, not hierarchical.
    Grasso: Given this, I would say that the words γυναικός and ἐκκλησίας (the words that κεφαλή immediately combines with) inherit something like the feature [+SOCIAL HIERARCHY] from the verb ὑποτάσσω, and this disambiguates the sense of κεφαλή to mean LEADER (i.e. someone with social authority). A related text to Ephesians 5:23 is Colossians 1:18. The contrast between these two is instructive. In Colossians 1:18, we have καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας ‘And he is the head of the body, the church.’ In this case, the word κεφαλή combines immediately with σῶματος ‘body.’ The word σῶματος is itself being used metaphorically to refer to a people, but the word κεφαλή refers to a physical head of the metaphorical body.
    Payne: “a physical head of the metaphorical body” does not make sense. Furthermore, Grasso ignores Paul’s own explanation of what he means by “head,” “who is the source” (hos estin hē archē) using emphatic apposition. It does not make sense to assert that “the word κεφαλή refers to a physical head of the metaphorical body.” How can a metaphorical body have a physical head?
    Grasso: Bodies have heads, so that is what is being referred to. In the context, the words κεφαλή and σῶματος are invested with different meanings as part of an extended metaphor about Christ and the church, but these kinds of meanings would fall under the category of novel metaphor (as described above, this is a one-off metaphor with a meaning dependent upon a specific context). They are not meanings that κεφαλή is itself contributing. It just means literal head within the metaphor. This is very similar to the example we saw in Philo above.
    Payne: As I have argued above, Grasso’s explanation in both cases, explaining one part of the metaphor as literal and the other part as not literal, does not make sense. “Source” is an established meaning of “head” in Greek, and it is this established meaning that Paul conveys by explaining “head” as “source.”
    Grasso: In contrast to this, Ephesians 5:23 has κεφαλή combining directly with γυναικός ‘woman’ and ἐκκλησίας ‘church/gathering.’ While a ‘woman’ has a physical head (and so passes the [+BODY] feature test), it is impossible to interpret ἀνήρ ‘man’ as the literal head of that body. Moreover, ‘woman’ in this context is also part of a list of words that all have social relations, particularly as contributed by the verb ὑποτάσσω. This suggests that it is this feature [+SOCIAL HIERARCHY] that is most salient in the context.
    Payne: Grasso has just stated that κεφαλή “just means literal head within the metaphor,” but now he says the opposite, “it is impossible to interpret ἀνήρ ‘man’ as the literal head of that body.” This last statement is true. The prior statement is false. Grasso does not mention that “submitting to one another” undermines hierarchy by its use of the reciprocal pronoun.
    Grasso: When we move to ‘church/gathering,’ this becomes unambiguous. Churches/gatherings don’t have physical heads or bodies. They are a social group with a social function that is being commanded in this context to have a particular social orientation, namely to ‘submit’ (ὑποτάσσω) to one another (5:21). This makes the meaning of κεφαλή necessarily LEADER [+SOCIAL HIERARCHY], since the thing that it combines with only has this feature and not others.
    Payne: Grasso correctly states that what “is being commanded in this context [is] to have a particular social orientation, namely to ‘submit’ (ὑποτάσσω) to one another (5:21).” That command’s reciprocal pronoun undermines the hierarchical implications of ὑποτάσσω. Paul’s “head” metaphor here is not, however, about human relations, but affirms “Christ head of the church, he savior of the body.” Again, Paul uses “emphatic apposition” [A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1934), 399] to explain what he means by “head,” but Paul’s explanation is not what “head” translations convey in English or what Grasso argues for, which would be expressed by “Christ head of the church, he leader of the body.” Nor does Paul refer here to “the Savior.” Here, “savior” has no article (“the”). All references to “Savior” as a title of Christ are in later literature. Paul explains that Christ as head/source is “savior of the church” (5:23) and goes on to explain that Christ became the savior of the church by giving his life for the church (5:25), which brought the church into existence.
    Payne: In sharp contrast to patriarchal Greco-Roman “household tables,” which directly address only the father of the family and assign him final authority in the household, Paul addresses all members of the household and calls all to be accountable to Christ. He tells husbands to love their wives self-sacrificially and masters to treat their slaves justly and with equality (isotēs, Col 4:1). He forbids masters from threatening their slaves and reminds them that there is no favoritism with God (Eph 6:9; Col 3:25). These statements by Paul undermine the foundation of Greco-Roman patriarchy, that male masters are superior to females and slaves. Paul’s Christ-centered reframing of the “household tables” subverts their Greco-Roman hierarchical purpose.
    Grasso: Based on my reading of the data, I doubt that the SOURCE sense even exists in the way that scholars describe it.
    Payne: Grasso is apparently ignorant of the established use of κεφαλή meaning “source” according to Greek lexicons since at least the twelfth century that I documented in my response to Preston’s third post.
    Grasso: In Ephesians 5:21-24, the verb ὑποτάσσω is the disambiguating cue that leads me to interpret κεφαλή as referring to someone who is part of a social hierarchy, as the English word leader suggests, though other glosses may also be possible.
    Payne: This ignores the reciprocal pronoun, that following ὑποτάσσω. It ignores that Paul asserts the mutual obligation of wives and husbands to put their spouses interests above their own (5:21 and the whole passage). It ignores Paul’s own explanation by emphatic apposition that he is using “head” to mean “savior,” namely the source of the life of the church (5:23). And it ignores Paul’s further explanation that Christ became “head,” namely “savior” by giving his life for the church (5:25), which brought the church into existence.
    Grasso: At the very least, this analysis does not answer what kind of κεφαλή the man is to be to his wife or the Messiah is to be to His church.
    Payne: This statement assumes that “the woman” means “his wife,” but there is no “his” in the text, and Paul’s closest parallel, 1 Cor 11:3, refers to “the woman” having her source in man (Genesis 2). The meaning “source” in 1 Cor 11:3 is evident both from its context and the many church fathers who explain that all three instances of “head” in 1 Cor 11:3 mean “source.” I listed some of these in my response to Preston’s fourth post.
    Grasso: For that, one must continue to read Ephesians 5:25 and following.
    Payne: Exactly! What follows is that Christ gave himself for the church. That shows what he did to bring the church into existence. This supports the meaning of “head” as “source.”
    Grasso: In my reading, such a leader is tasked with a very high calling to love and submit oneself to the good of the other.
    Payne: Now at last, Grasso’s statement correctly identifies what Ephesians 5 calls the husband to do: “to love and submit oneself to the good of the other.” This is also what this passage tells wives to do. Both husbands and wives are commanded to “submit to one another” out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21). This is mutual submission. It undermines Greco-Roman hierarchies in which the wife must submit to her husband, but not the reverse.

    Reply
    • Kevin Grasso on

      Hi Phil,
      Thank you for your comments. Let me say two things upfront. First, I do not have the bandwidth at the moment to engage in every detail of your post. I will try to address what I consider to be the most important issues, and unfortunately, I cannot engage in an extensive back and forth as you had with Preston on the other post. This isn’t to disparage your comments—just don’t have the time at the moment. Second, you are right to point out my ignorance on some of the issues, such as very old Greek lexicons and what they say. You have clearly read more than me in this respect. I think that kind of data is interesting and could be tangentially relevant, but it is not that important. I am happy to just assume you are correct on that point, but at the end of the day, lexicons do not determine meaning—usage does. I think that the most important source for determining how Paul would have used κεφαλή in these kinds of contexts is the LXX, in which Paul was clearly steeped.
      1. The role of English – I think there is a lot of confusion around the use of the English word ‘source’ as a gloss for κεφαλή, and because of this, it is difficult to tell what is being argued for. The English gloss we assign to a particular use of a word should not be considered equivalent to what the word means in Greek. It is only a reflection of how we might translate the word into English, but that does not tell us the meaning of the word in Greek. As I said, you can certainly translate the Greek word κεφαλή as ‘source’. That’s because the English word ‘source’ has a sense meaning ‘start of a river.’ As I explain in my post, that does not mean that any sense of ‘source’ maps onto κεφαλή. So when we come to LSJ II.d where they give ‘source’ as a gloss, the first citation is the river sense of ‘source.’ We then have the Orpheus text (with which I disagree on the interpretation and in which Zeus is called all kinds of things metaphorically and which is produced from a very different socio-linguistic setting from Paul) and then two examples with temporal phrases κεφαλὴ χρόνου and κεφαλὴ μηνός, both glossed as ‘starting-point.’ Whether you want to use the English terms ‘starting-point’ or ‘beginning’ for this sense are irrelevant to the discussion. The word κεφαλή in this instance refers to the left-boundary of a temporal interval. Call it what you want in English. That’s all I am arguing for. Personally, I think that the temporal uses of English ‘starting-point’ and ‘beginning’ are both appropriate glosses in English, but again, that misses my point. My primary argument is for the meaning BEGINNING not for the English word ‘beginning’. The former is just the start of a temporal interval. The reason why we must interpret κεφαλή temporally in these phrases is because of the temporal word with which κεφαλή combines, namely χρόνου and μηνός. This brings me to my next point.
      2. Genitives and κεφαλή as a relational noun – At multiple points, you appeal to something in the context to determine the meaning of the noun. Everyone argues for context being on their side. The issue is that words are primarily disambiguated by their immediate syntactic context. In this case, the word κεφαλή has a genitive immediately following the noun. In every occurrence of κεφαλή, this is the most important factor for determining what sense is activated. That’s why we have the temporal sense with temporal words and the literal sense with words that refer to a creature. There are, of course, other things in the context, but many of them are irrelevant for determining which sense is actually activated. This is particularly true of a noun like κεφαλή, which is a relational noun (see Lobner 2011: Concept types and determination for noun types). A relational noun is something like sister. In order to be a sister, you must be a sister of someone. There is a relationship encoded in the noun itself (relationship understood broadly as in related to something else, not human relationships). This is in contrast to a noun like ball. A ball does not have a particular relationship to another entity. The word head (and κεφαλή) is a relational noun. In order for an object to be a head, it must be the head of something. As in English, the ‘of something’ is normally given in the genitive in Greek. This is why I said that the most important disambiguating cue for κεφαλή is the immediate word it combines with (for an introduction to the linguistics literature on this principle, you can check out Partee 1998: Genitives, Relational Nouns, and Type-Shifting). Here’s a minimal pair to consider:

      1. The head of the organization fell. (leader)
      2. The head of the woman fell. (literal)

      Everything about these two sentences is the same except for the genitive. The reason why the genitive is so significant here is that the word ‘head’ encodes a relationship. It can either encode a relationship to something that can be governed (the ‘leader’ sense) or a relationship to a physical body/person (the “literal” sense).
      If it were referring to the ‘source’ of something, it would be combining with something that is construed as a created thing. If what preceded the reason/ὅτι clause was ὁ θεὸς ἐστιν κτίσας τὰ πάντα…, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, then I would happily agree with you, since both γυναικός and ἐκκλησίας could be said to be construed as created things (that they are created is the relevant feature from the preceding participle). However, that’s not the context. You have the word ὑποτάσσω, which is about social relations. The reciprocal pronoun is also irrelevant to the meaning of the verb. It does not change what the verb itself is contributing here. I think we all agree that Paul is flipping social relations on its head. I am just arguing that he is indeed talking about social relations and not about the origin of created things, and we disagree on the kind of flipping Paul is doing. As a social relation, the ἀνήρ is still the κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικός, and κεφαλή, as a social relation, refers to someone with an authoritative ranking (as we often see in the LXX).
      3. Briefly on metaphors – A metaphorical body can have a physical head. I can use the word ‘body’ in a metaphor and talk about the ‘head’ of that body. Thus, I can relate a body to a house in a novel metaphor with something like “the body is the ground floor, the legs are the basement, and the top floor is the head.” I can then tell some story about what these things mean in the house (hence, there is a ‘head’ in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which is a literal, physical head on a statue that is invested with a certain meaning). Philo does this a lot, and I think you would agree (you seem to call these similes, but simile vs. metaphor is irrelevant for this discussion; it seems like you are calling simile what I am calling novel metaphor). My argument is the same for the Colossians passage. I actually would agree with your interpretation of some passages in Greek literature for the same reasoning (Test. Zeb. 9:4; Josephus, War 3.54; Philo, Fug. 108-11), namely that all of these refer to a literal head, even if they are invested with more meaning from a novel metaphor in the context. However, the fact that κεφαλή is often used in these kinds of metaphors does suggest that it could have become a conventionalized metaphor (i.e. a real sense) where κεφαλή itself can contribute the meaning of [+SOCIAL AUTHORITY]. This would be my analysis.
      I consider those issues to be the most important. Hopefully, that clarifies my position and shows where we agree and disagree.

      Reply
      • Philip B. Payne on

        Grasso: Greek lexicons and what they say. You have clearly read more than me in this respect. I think that kind of data is interesting and could be tangentially relevant, but it is not that important. I am happy to just assume you are correct on that point.

        Payne: Secular Greek dictionaries’ conclusions regarding the range of meaning of κεφαλή should be the obvious starting point for any investigation of the meaning of κεφαλή in Greek literature. Yet, even though it has been common for Greek dictionaries to identify the meaning “source” for κεφαλή, your post repeatedly expresses doubt that “source” was ever a meaning of κεφαλή in Greek. Furthermore, you repeatedly affirm that “leader” and “beginning” are established meanings for κεφαλή even though the most thorough Greek Lexicon, LSJ, does not mention “beginning” or “leader” or anything related to “leader” as a meaning for κεφαλή. As I demonstrated from Webster’s Dictionary, “beginning” normally has different implications than “starting point,” which LSJ does list. Nor is the issue just a matter of inadvertent omission since Liddell and Scott’s 9th edition identifies the meaning “leader” as “Byzantine” and according to Dhimitrakou’s dictionary the meaning “leader” is “medieval.” If you accept that “source” is a well-established meaning listed in many in secular Greek dictionaries, this requires a completely new assessment of each of the passages you discuss.

        Grasso: I think that the most important source for determining how Paul would have used κεφαλή in these kinds of contexts is the LXX, in which Paul was clearly steeped.

        Payne: If “leader” had been an established meaning of κεφαλή in Greek, we should expect that the LXX would have translated most of the 180 instances where “head” in Hebrew meant “leader” with the Greek word for “head,” κεφαλή. After all, most English versions of the Bible translate most of them “head.” The NASB translates 116 of these “head” and the ASV 115. In only a tiny percentage of these 180, however, does the LXX translate them κεφαλή. The LXX translators did this even though they almost always translated the Hebrew word for “head” κεφαλή when it refers to a literal head, in 226 of 239 instances. The fact that they so consistently avoided translating “head” κεφαλή when it meant “leader” shows that they realized that “head” used as a metaphor for “leader” would sound strange to Greek ears. They did this even though it is common for the LXX to use the closest equivalent Greek word to convey a Hebrew meaning when the Hebrew meaning was not a normal Greek meaning for that word. Furthermore, all but one of the few instances where the best-attested text of the LXX does have κεφαλή, it has εἰς κεφαλή (“as head”), which would be less jarring to Greek readers unfamiliar with “head” meaning “leader” since they could understand it as a simile meaning “as top.”

        Grasso acknowledges “I disagree” with the LSJ interpretation of κεφαλή meaning “source” [in the Zeus saying].

        Payne: Grasso has not cited any reasons sufficient to overturn the meaning identified not only by LSJ but also by the many Greek authors I cited who explain that Zeus being “head” in this saying means “source” or “cause” or in the context identify Zeus as the creator of all things.

        Grasso: [regarding the Zeus saying] “head” “is just the start of a temporal interval.”

        Payne: But Zeus was not “just the start of a temporal interval.” Greeks regarded Zeus not as “the start of a temporal interval” but as the creator of all things. The reason that “beginning” does not fit as the meaning of “head” in this saying is that “beginning” normally indicates that whatever is the “beginning” is part of what follows, just like Webster’s Dictionary describes it. But Greeks normally did not regard Zeus as part of what he created. They generally regarded Zeus as the creator of things other than himself.

        Grasso: In this case [Philo regarding Esau], the word κεφαλή has a genitive immediately following the noun.

        Payne: The word κεφαλή does not have a genitive immediately following the noun. Philo’s description of Esau as κεφαλή is separated from “of the whole creature” by “as it were.” This is crucial because it makes clear that Philo is not referring to a literal head. Furthermore, the primary contextual specifier of the meaning of “head” is Philo’s apposition that explains “head” as “progenitor.” Similarly, in Eph 5:23 Paul explains that “head” means “savior” by emphatic apposition. Andrew Bartlett’s comment affirms this as well, “In 5:23 itself, Paul indicates that his meaning of ‘head’, as applied to the husband, uses the idea of ‘savior’. That fits with 4:15-16 and with 5:25-33a. Paul says nothing there about authoritative ranking.”

        Grasso: In every occurrence of κεφαλή, this [the following genitive] is the most important factor for determining what sense is activated.

        Payne: If that were the case, “head of his wife” would refer to the wife’s head! Surely, what determines whether “head” is literal or not is its subject, not the following genitive. Neither Esau nor “progenitor” is a literal head, so “head” in this case clearly is not literal. In Eph 5:23 (and also 1 Cor 11:3) a man is not the head of a woman, so “head” cannot be literal.

        Grasso: “Head” “can either encode a relationship to something that can be governed (the ‘leader’ sense) or a relationship to a physical body/person (the ‘literal’ sense).”

        Payne: Suggesting that there are only these two options is far too simplistic. LSJ list 49 figurative meanings for κεφαλή, not just two, and “leader” is not even one of those 49! Consequently, Grasso’s analysis of each passage he cites from Greek literature where “head” is a metaphor is made out of context from normal Greek usage.

        Grasso: If it were referring to the ‘source’ of something, it would be combining with something that is construed as a created thing.

        Payne: The Zeus example states, “Zeus the head, Zeus the middle, Zeus the completer of all things.” This implies that Zeus as head, like Zeus as completer, is the “head/source” “of all things.” Surely, “all things” are created things.

        Grasso: The reciprocal pronoun [in Eph 5:21] is also irrelevant to the meaning of the verb. It does not change what the verb itself is contributing here.

        Payne: The reciprocal pronoun is crucially important to the meaning of the verb “submit” because it shows that it must not carry its usual meaning of “ordered over” because it is specifically qualified as reciprocal and consequently must refer only to voluntary submission, not hierarchical ranking. Grasso should recognize this because he acknowledges, “I think we all agree that Paul is flipping social relations on its head.” In Eph 5:21, as BDAG states, by “submitting to one another” Paul is affirming “voluntarily yielding in love.” As virtually all editions of the Greek New Testament conclude, Paul follows this without repeating the verb ὑποτάσσω, “wives to your own husbands.” Consequently, the context of 5:22–23 is mutual submission.
        Andrew Bartlett’s comment also expresses this same point and further adds, “If Paul were thinking of the husband’s authority over the wife (as Kevin interprets v23), it would logically follow that the wife should submit (v24). If head = authority, Paul’s conjunction (alla) makes no sense.”
        As Grasso acknowledges, Paul goes on to urge husbands also to submit to their wives. It is after calling wives to submit to their husbands within that context of mutual submission that Paul gives a reason for this: “because ἀνήρ is κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς as Christ is κεφαλὴ of the church, he savior of the body (ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος).

        Grasso: I am just arguing that he [Paul] is indeed talking about social relations and not about the origin of created things … As a social relation, the ἀνήρ is still the κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικός, and κεφαλή, as a social relation, refers to someone with an authoritative ranking (as we often see in the LXX).

        Payne: Grasso assumes both that Paul’s reason must assert a social relation and that the social relation is “an authoritative ranking.” But if that were the case, we would expect Paul’s explanation of what he meant by head by emphatic apposition (A. T. Robertson’s Grammar) to be something like “lord” (kurios) or “ruler” (archōn) or some equivalent word. The only explanation Paul gives to what he means by “head,” however, is “savior” in 5:23. How is Christ savior of the body? In verse 25, Paul explains what Christ did as savior, he “gave himself up for her.” The only established Greek meaning of “head” listed in LSJ that fits Paul’s explanation is “source.” There are two possible ways of understanding Christ as the “source” of the church, either as the church’s source of cleansing (5:26–27), nourishment (5:29), and growth (4:16) or as the one who gave his life for the church (5:2, 25) namely as the source of the church’s existence. It was Christ’s death on the cross that was the source of the existence of the church. “Source” is a meaning for “head” that Paul’s readers would understand, whereas it is doubtful that they would have understood “head” to mean “leader.” Furthermore, it is not true that “κεφαλή, as a social relation, refers to someone with an authoritative ranking (as we often see in the LXX).” There is only one case out of the 180 in the Hebrew MT where “head” meant “leader” that the best-attested text of the LXX uses κεφαλή clearly as a metaphor for “leader.” All other alleged cases were either added by Origen in the third century, are explained in context to mean something other than “leader,” or, in five cases, “as head” (εἰς κεφαλήν) occurs. These could be understood as similes meaning “as top” rather than metaphors for “head” meaning leader.”
        But, you may ask, does Paul ever argue similarly using κεφαλὴ to mean “source” either of Christ as source or of man as source of woman in either of these two senses of “source” (source of growth or source of existence)? Yes, Paul does precisely this in the first sense of Christ as the “source” of growth of the church in the prior chapter, Eph 4:15–16, and also in Col 2:19. Paul also explains that Christ is “the head” of the church as the “source” (achē) of the church in the second sense as “source of existence” in Col 1:18 and of both Christ as the head/source of the existence of every man and man as the head/source of the existence of woman in 1 Cor 11:3 in a context that clearly means “source.” Paul argues in 1 Cor 11:3 that man should respect Christ as his source and women should respect man as her source. Many church fathers explicitly argue not only that these two “head” metaphors mean source, but the third as well, that “God is the head/source of Christ.” Paul concludes in 11:12, “as woman came from man, so also man comes through woman.” Consequently, both should respect the other as their source. This provides a reason why women should not let their hair down loose (1 Cor 11:15): hair let down loose symbolized “unrestrained sexuality” and would disrespect man and their husbands in particular.
        This same argument, man being the head/source of woman (in either sense of source), fits as a good reason for husband-wife mutual submission in Ephesians 5. If anēr and gunē are understood to mean “husband” and “wife” (as in the preceding and following verses), the first sense, “source” of nourishment/growth makes best sense since a husband in that culture was the primary source of nourishment, protection, and love and because Paul goes on to command husbands to be the source of these things to their wives. If anēr and gunē are understood to mean “man” and “woman,” then “source of existence” makes best sense, as in the similar use of “head” in 1 Cor 11:3 referring to man as the source from whom woman was taken. That sense is a natural reading of Paul’s specific wording since there is no article (“the”) with “man” (there usually is an article with anēr when Paul intends “husbands”) and since there is no possessive “his” with “woman.”

        Grasso: A metaphorical body can have a physical head. I can use the word “body” in a metaphor and talk about the ‘head’ of that body. Thus, I can relate a body to a house in a novel metaphor with something like “the body is the ground floor, the legs are the basement, and the top floor is the head.”

        Payne: But the second floor is not a literal head. Because the entire imagery is metaphorical, part of it cannot be literal.

        Grasso: there is a ‘head’ in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which is a literal, physical head on a statue.

        Payne: But both the body and the head in that case are literal parts of the literal statue in the dream.

        Grasso: Philo does this a lot, and I think you would agree.

        Payne: Unless you can identify a specific example of Philo appealing to a metaphorical body with a literal head, I do not agree.

        Grasso: simile vs. metaphor is irrelevant for this discussion.

        Payne: But this discussion is about the use of “head” as a metaphor, when something or some person is called “head” and that thing or person is not a literal head. To say that someone is like a head is not a metaphor. It is a simile. As Wayne Grudem and Professor Glare also rightly observe, this is a crucial distinction. Only metaphors (not similes) can establish a metaphorical meaning of a word.

        Grasso: it seems like you are calling simile what I am calling novel metaphor.

        Payne: I am calling a simile something that is said to “like” or “as” (or some equivalent expression for) something else. What I call a novel metaphor is when a word is used metaphorically for which there is no precedent, such as when Paul calls the church the “body of Christ.” There can be novel similes as well, but they tend to lack the “shock” value of metaphors, because the hearer is alerted in advance that these two different things are similar in some way. A novel metaphor, and to a less striking degree, a novel simile may have the potential to produce a new way of seeing something.

        Payne: Thank you for agreeing with my “interpretation of some passages in Greek literature … (Test. Zeb. 9:4; Josephus, War 3.54; Philo, Fug. 108-11), namely that all of these refer to a literal head.”

        Reply
  2. Andrew Bartlett on

    May I offer what I hope might be some clarifying thoughts on this long discussion? They are about methodology for gaining an accurate understanding of Paul’s intended meaning in Ephesians 5.
    METHODOLOGY
    Kevin has made some important points here:
    (1) Normally, the use of a word activates only one sense at a time.
    (2) A metaphor may be dead/fixed (Kevin uses the term ‘conventional’) or it may be live (Kevin uses the term ‘novel’).
    In addition, Phil has made the important point:
    (3) Metaphors usually convey single, not multiple, meanings.
    Point (3) reflects the truism that the assertion which a metaphor makes is only ever partial, never total. If I say ‘my friend is a pig when he eats’, I mean only that he eats a lot, or perhaps messily. I don’t mean that he puts a snout into the food or stands on all fours while eating. Still less do I mean that when he eats he is covered all over with short bristly hair. The pig metaphor riffs off the cultural fact that people think of pigs as greedy or messy eaters.
    In church history, forgetting point (3) has led to serious doctrinal error. In Scripture, Christ’s death to set us free is appropriately described using the metaphor of ransom, because a ransom obtains liberation by paying a cost. But many commentators (for example, Origen, Gregory the Great) went further and said: a ransom is paid to someone, so this metaphor implies that the ransom was paid to the devil. But that is something that Scripture never says. The assertion made by the metaphor was only partial. It was not intended to convey that the devil was paid. That misunderstanding gave the devil an exaggerated status and wrongly suggested that he had legitimate rights over human beings, which had to be satisfied. Centuries passed before this false doctrine was ultimately discarded.
    I think Preston lost sight of point (3) when he wrote in his first post: “if kephalē does includes some sense of “source” in its usage, we need to ask the question—based on the surrounding context of the word—does this meaning of “source” exclude all notions of authority and leadership?”
    Likewise, in his second post, he wrote: “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.”
    With respect, that is not the right question. We are concerned with a simple metaphor here (head, or head-and-body). A simple metaphor that was intended to convey two different meanings at the same time (both source and authority, or both prominence and authority) would be very unusual. A simple metaphor that was intended both to convey one meaning and also to exclude a different, unrelated meaning would be extremely unusual. And with every metaphor, we need to remember that the assertion which it makes is only partial.
    I think Preston’s approach here may be derived from reading Wayne Grudem, who repeatedly misreads metaphors as saying more than is intended (references for this are in my book, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, pages 118-119).
    I would add two more cautions:
    (4) A live metaphor cannot be understood directly from previous usage or from a dictionary but must be understood from its use in its literary and cultural context. A live metaphor works by riffing off something that writer and audience are able to connect with the words used.
    (5) It is often assumed that Paul’s metaphorical usage of ‘head’ is consistent. In theory, it could be. But there is no rule which says that he must make only a single, consistent use of a head metaphor. For example, he uses a ‘temple’ metaphor with two different meanings. In 1 Corinthians, Paul riffs off the cultural understanding that a temple is where a god dwells, but in two different ways. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, the believers in Corinth are (metaphorically) God’s sacred temple. But in 6:18-19 it is each individual believer’s body that is (metaphorically) God’s sacred temple.
    With the above points in mind, if we want to know what the apostle Paul means by ‘head’ in Ephesians 5, we need to be asking the right questions.
    EPHESIANS 5
    It is obvious, and everyone agrees, that Paul’s use of ‘head’ in Ephesians 5 is metaphorical. So, we need to ask: ‘What kind of metaphor is Paul using? Is this metaphor dead or live?’
    It appears to be live. As far as we know, no previous writer used a head-and-body metaphor to signify something about husband and wife.
    Since it is a live metaphor, we need to get the meaning from the literary and cultural context, tracing Paul’s train of thought.
    We’re not here trying to determine what the word ‘head’ meant. Instead, we’re trying to determine what the apostle Paul meant. A dictionary, or previous usages of the word ‘head’, cannot tell us the tenor of Paul’s metaphor.
    It is at this point that Kevin’s analysis of Ephesians 5:23 contains some mis-steps. Because this is a live metaphor, its tenor cannot be reliably understood by asking the questions that Kevin frames, because they are framed too narrowly.
    Kevin poses a binary question derived from a survey of prior uses: “Are sources/causes and products/effects being talked about, or are social hierarchies being discussed?” He goes for the latter, because the verb hupotassō (ὑποτάσσω) is used in close proximity.
    But there is no sound reason for assuming that the tenor is to be found from a binary choice based on two options from prior usage. Pre-existing understandings of words are just one aspect of the context. Instead, we need to trace Paul’s train of thought, with an awareness of the cultural facts of how people thought about heads and bodies in Paul’s world. That is what Kevin’s analysis doesn’t do.
    Ideally, the analysis should start at Ephesians 1:1, but as a minimum it should start at 4:14 and continue to 5:33. In 4:15-16 we can see Paul thinking of the head and body in union, the head being the part which supplies nourishment to the body and makes it grow. In 5:25-33a we can see Paul thinking of the husband and wife in union, the husband caring for and nourishing his wife.
    To interpret 5:23, Kevin employs the axiom that kephalē (κεφαλή), as a social relation, refers to someone with an authoritative ranking.
    But if we read the next verse, we can see at once that Kevin’s axiom does not fit Paul’s train of thought.
    Ephesians 5:24, which encourages wives to submit to husbands, starts with ‘but’ (Greek, alla). But if Kevin’s axiom matched how Paul was thinking, verse 24 would be introduced with a conjunction meaning ‘therefore’. If Paul were thinking of the husband’s authority over the wife (as Kevin interprets v23), it would logically follow that the wife should submit (v24). If head = authority, Paul’s conjunction (alla) makes no sense. The KJV translators saw the problem. So firm was their belief in male authority that they audaciously changed Paul’s “but” to “therefore”! But Paul thinks of the wife’s submission in v24 as a contrast with what he has just said in v23.
    In addition, Kevin’s axiom is incorrect because his understanding of hupotassō is over-simplified. When used in the middle or passive voice it can refer to voluntary submission to someone who is not in authority – placing oneself below them as if they were higher in rank than oneself, even though they are not. Ephesians 5:21 is an example of that usage.
    In 5:23 itself, Paul indicates that his meaning of ‘head’, as applied to the husband, uses the idea of ‘savior’. That fits with 4:15-16 and with 5:25-33a. Paul says nothing there about authoritative ranking.

    Reply
    • Kevin Grasso on

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think I agree with all 5 of your methodological points without really any qualifications, and I appreciate your constructive comments.

      It seems like the point of disagreement is on how we would resolve ambiguity in Ephesians 5 and the nature of the metaphor. When you say that the metaphor is “live/novel” in Ephesians 5, can you please explain in more detail what you mean by this?

      My understanding of what you are saying is that it is live because the particular relationship between husband and wife is not used in this way by other writers. This makes me question whether your live metaphor = my novel metaphor and your dead metaphor = my conventional metaphor. Let’s take an example from English ‘head.’ We have a conventionalized sense (which is metaphorical) where ‘head’ can mean ‘person in charge.’ We see this in a phrase like ‘head of an organization.’ Since organizations do not have physical heads, we must interpret ‘head’ in a different way. Since we have a sense of ‘head’ where someone can have authority over some other entity, that’s how we interpret it. However, this sense can work for any noun that combines with ‘head’ where the noun refers to a concept that has some sort of social hierarchy. We could just as easily say something like ‘head of the staff’ to refer to an individual who is in charge of the staff. Whether or not someone has ever spoken of a ‘head of staff’ or not is irrelevant to whether the metaphor is novel or conventional. You just need ‘head of x’ where x = something with a social hierarchy. That’s all that is needed for this sense to be activated.

      A novel metaphor would be where we are actually referring to a literal head and investing it with new meaning. The x in such a case would be ‘something with a body.’ We might say something like ‘the head of the statue stands for the greatest kingdom.’ Here ‘head’ is being used in a novel metaphor. We could, in theory, put all kinds of things after ‘stands for’. This is where we are investing the literal meaning of head with a new meaning in the context.

      Coming back to Ephesians 5, I do not consider this a novel metaphor. In fact, if you were to argue that κεφαλή means ‘source’ here, you cannot say that it is a novel metaphor (at least in how I am using that term). That would be a conventionalized metaphor. I am not sure if we agree on this or not, honestly. This is the problem with the context argument from Ephesians 4:14-16. There (as in Colossians 1), you have an extended metaphor with ‘Christ’ being the head and the body being the people. Here is where I would appeal to your points 4 and 5 above, which I agree with. If we don’t have a novel metaphor in Ephesians 5, then κεφαλή would need to refer to an established sense of the word, a conventionalized metaphor (or the literal, physical head). As I said, I just don’t see a lot of support in the data for ‘source’ as a sense with the relevant meaning (happy to be convinced otherwise if I see it in the data).

      One more point about disambiguating polysemy. Again, there is a LOT of literature on this in linguistics. It is generally accepted that the default interpretation of a relational noun interacts in systematic ways with the genitive noun it combines with. The Greek word κεφαλή is a relational noun. It relates one thing to something else. The key to disambiguating it, then, is found in the genitive. That’s why the question is, at its core, how is the woman being construed in the immediate context. My only argument is that she is being construed as a social being and not a created thing, since there is nothing in the context to trigger the latter interpretation and the verb ὑποτάσσω triggers the former. The problem with arguments from “context” is that everyone can have “context” on their side. You just have to pick the right verses, but there are principled ways that context actually interacts with other words to create meaning. As an aside, I’ll say right off the bat that there is no comprehensive theory of context in linguistics, though there are valiant attempts, and a lot of progress has been made. However, there is a lot of work on immediate syntactic context, particularly predication, and it is quite well understood how it works. Because κεφαλή is a relational noun, that’s what we are dealing with here.

      At this point, it might be helpful for me to explain my understanding of what Paul is actually saying in more detail. I totally agree that he is subversive, and I would point to Ephesians 5:21 and tell a husband that there is a sense in which he needs to be submitting to his wife. I would explain this sense as laying down his life for her, as it goes on to say in the rest of the passage. There is also a sense in which a wife should be submitting to her husband. Since man is the ‘head’ of the woman, I would say that she should submit to him as an authority. That’s what I think Paul is saying. If we define mutual submission in that way, I’m totally on board. I also agree with you that ὑποτάσσω can refer to voluntary submission. All I am holding to is that it refers to submission. That doesn’t change my argument.

      On the phrase αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος· 24 ἀλλʼ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ: I see a contrast between the Messiah being the savior and the head (as an aside, I don’t think ‘Christ’ is a proper name, and I think it means ‘king’, which is further support that we are dealing with social relations here–‘the king is the head of the congregation’ feels very social to me in a context dealing with submission). What I think is incredible about this statement is that the Messiah as σωτήρ meant that he laid down his life. This is picked up, of course, in 25 when Paul addresses husbands. So here is the contrast: despite the fact that the king dies for the body, the body (the church) must submit to the king. We would not ordinarily expect a king to be a σωτήρ through his death, and if he were, we certainly would not need to submit to him, BUT the church submits to the Messiah, despite him being a σωτήρ who has died. Why? Because it is through the Messiah’s death that his body, the church, was transformed (25-33). This is how our king displays his social authority. Husbands should do the same thing for their wives. That’s what I think Paul’s train of thought is.

      Reply
      • Andrew Bartlett on

        Thanks, Kevin. Glad we agree on the five methodological points. I could usefully have added:
        (6) The cardinal rule for understanding a metaphor is to pay attention to any explanation that the author provides.
        VALUE OF CONTEXT
        There remain two respects where it seems we disagree on methods.
        The first is your view on the value of context (which you say is a developing area in linguistics).
        You say “The problem with arguments from “context” is that everyone can have “context” on their side. You just have to pick the right verses …”
        But that is a post-modern counsel of despair.
        If you said that about context in my own professional field of law, the judge or tribunal would probably think: “Call for the men in white coats!” Every day in courts and tribunals the contested meaning of contracts or correspondence is resolved by careful attention to context.
        Many times, my understanding of context has been tested when I cross-examined the people who wrote the correspondence. After witnesses’ answers made me look stupid time after time, I began to learn better how to understand context and read letters as the writer meant. The actual context is a real-world fact, and there is only one correct answer to what the person meant when they wrote the letter.
        The fundamental question is: What is king? Is it context or is it the meanings of words? Context is king. Suppose someone says: “I went to an event at a Spanish restaurant last night and they danced a flamingo.” From context, the speaker was clearly referring to a flamenco. It would be no good arguing “they didn’t mean ‘flamenco’ because that is not a known meaning of the word ‘flamingo’.” That argument would not reflect how we interpret meaning in ordinary life. When someone speaks or writes, what we want to know is the meaning of the speaker or writer, not the meanings of the words.
        The other point of method is closely related to this. In my previous comment I disagreed with your method when I wrote:
        “… But there is no sound reason for assuming that the tenor is to be found from a binary choice based on two options from prior usage. Pre-existing understandings of words are just one aspect of the context. Instead, we need to trace Paul’s train of thought, with an awareness of the cultural facts of how people thought about heads and bodies in Paul’s world.”
        HOW DID PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE FUNCTIONS OF THE HUMAN HEAD?
        In Paul’s world there were different views on whether the human head ruled the human body. Aristotle, Diocles, Zeno, Chrysippus, and the Hippocratic treatise ‘On the Heart’ were all before Paul, and all five taught that the body was ruled by the heart, not by the head.
        However, irrespective of whether the command center was in the head or the heart, Hippocratic medicine held that the head provided life and nourishment to the body. Of course, this happened visibly and was obvious to everyone, irrespective of medical knowledge, because food and water enter via the head, so the head nourishes the body and so gives it life. But in addition, in Hippocratic medicine, this function was also understood to operate invisibly by some kind of internal flow, since it was believed that the veins nourished the body from the head.
        To perform this function, the head must be joined to the body, in close organic union. Paul evidently has that idea in mind in Ephesians 4 and Ephesians 5. The head is similarly the source of the body’s nourishment and growth in Colossians 2:18-19.
        INTERPRETING EPHESIANS 5
        You write: “Since man is the ‘head’ of the woman, I would say that she should submit to him as an authority. That’s what I think Paul is saying.”
        But why?
        You acknowledge that in Ephesians 5:21 the use of hupotassō does not call up an idea of actual authority. The believers are not in authority over one another. Paul is describing what Spirit-filled life should be like – “placing yourselves below one another in reverence for Christ” (who, as savior, placed himself below others, as described in his own words in Mark 10:43-45 and in Paul’s in Philippians 2:7-8).
        If hupotassō is not calling up an idea of actual authority in 5:21, why should we think that it is calling up an idea of actual authority in 5:22 (where in the best Greek manuscripts the verb is implied across from the previous verse) or in 5:24?
        If I understand correctly, your answer is that ‘head’ (kephalē) is about social relations and calls up the idea of authority. But it doesn’t call up authority in Ephesians 4, so why must it call up the idea of authority here?
        Your argument on v23-24 is: “I see a contrast between the Messiah being the savior and the head”.
        But that is the opposite of what Paul says. He says (translating v23 pretty much word for word): “a husband is head of the wife as also the Messiah head of the church himself savior of the body”. He is here explaining husband-as-head as being akin to savior. Rule (6).
        This meaning is then confirmed by the nature of Paul’s instructions to the heads (husbands) in v25-33a, all of which are about the husband giving himself up in humble caring for his wife, with whom the husband is one flesh. None of Paul’s instructions to the husband is about exercising authority over the wife.
        P.S. TERMINOLOGY: I think you may be right that there is not a complete match between your terminology ‘conventionalized/novel’ and my words ‘live/dead’. I was thinking of Paul Ricoeur’s explanation that dead metaphors are so routine that we don’t even think of them as metaphors. (In English, when someone refers to ‘head of sales’, we think of head as a word meaning ‘person in charge’, rather than as a metaphor.) But with live metaphors we need to exercise our imagination. I think that’s what we have to do in Ephesians 5 because Paul’s usage of head-and-body for husband-and-wife was new (see Phil Payne’s big book Man and Woman, One in Christ, p287, citing Markus Barth; to the best of my knowledge, this fact is accepted on all sides.)

        Reply
        • preston on

          Hello Andrew and Kevin,

          I finally got a chance to read through your interaction and have learned very much. You both have given me much to wrestle with. For the most part, I’m simply reading and learning and going back to the text to try to better understand Paul. In short, it’s been a great day!

          A few thoughts and questions.

          First, I really appreciated Andrew’s 3rd methodological point, which goes as follows:

          “(3) Metaphors usually convey single, not multiple, meanings.
          Point (3) reflects the truism that the assertion which a metaphor makes is only ever partial, never total. If I say ‘my friend is a pig when he eats’, I mean only that he eats a lot, or perhaps messily. I don’t mean that he puts a snout into the food or stands on all fours while eating. Still less do I mean that when he eats he is covered all over with short bristly hair. The pig metaphor riffs off the cultural fact that people think of pigs as greedy or messy eaters.”

          I (now) agree with this and do think my previous understanding of metaphor was a bit sloppy, and I’m in the process of refining my understanding. Hopefully, my future posts will reflect more precision (though not perfection).

          Let me try to explain what I was getting at when I earlier said that KEPHALE can mean both source and authority. (That was poor wording.) Keep in mind, as I lay out in my previous posts, I do see many more instances where KEPHALE conveys some sense of authority and only a few where it can mean SOURCE, and very rarely does it mean source when KEPHALE describes a relationship between people.

          For the latter, I do see some church fathers interpreting 1 Cor 11:3 in light of 11:8-9 to refer to Adam being the “source” of Eve and drawing implications for the husband/wife relationship. However, this idea of “source” conveyed by the lexeme KEPHALE seems to–in their minds–highlight the husband’s authority. I’m not sure how to be word this linguistically (Kevin has been helping me with this!), but contextually, it doesn’t seem valid to conclude that some fathers thought the husband/Adam was simply the SOURCE of the wife/Eve and THEREFORE KEPHALE carries no sense of authority. Currently, I find this problematic, given the context in which some fathers talked about “source.” (See my previous post on these texts.)

          Put differently, some fathers see the concept of “source” to be the grounds for wifely submission, and this all occurs in a context (literary and historically) where husbands were considered an authority over their wives.

          So again, I don’t (or no longer) want to say: KEPHALE means both authority and source at the same time. What I want to say, is that the lexeme KEPHALE can be used refer the idea that the man is the source of the wife (or Adam…Eve), and that idea itself was understood by some fathers to convey notions of authority. (Would love both of your thoughts on the linguistic logic of that sentence.) Kind of like how the concept of progenitor was understood in the ancient world, and how some interpreters understand 1 Tim 2:12-13. Not saying I agree with this. Just saying that for some ancient readers, “first born” meant being chronologically born first, but that concept–being born first–carried with it assumed notions of authority. When the fathers understood KEPHALE to mean “source,” they seem to convey similar notions.

          But again, I think the overwhelming majority of non-literal uses of KEPHALE in all the ancient texts DO convey some sense of authority and not source, especially when used to describe the relationship of a person (or people) with other people.

          I’m still trying to understand the different kinds of metaphors (live vs. dead; novel vs. conventional), so I’m sure I’ll keep refining my language as I keep working through these issues. Both of your comments (Andrew and Kevin) have been helpful. I’m also reading thorough through various linguists who discuss the differences. My learning curve has been steep.

          Currently, I think it’s very difficult for us to say whether KEPHALE was a novel or conventional metaphor, since we really can’t know the minds of the author or reader. While we have no evidence of head/body metaphors applied to husband/wife in the literature that’s been preserved for us (an important point to note), we DO have several instances of head/body metaphors where a person who occupied a socially higher position IN THAT CULTURE was called the “head” while those he (it’s always a “he”) was leading are referred to as the body (or parts of the body). I think it’s a bit of a red herring to say that since we have no instances (in the literature that’s been preserved for us) of head/body metaphors being applied to husband/wife and therefore this must be a novel metaphor. If we do have instances of KEPHALE being applied to a king/leader/person of authority, while those they’re leading are referred to with some kind of body metaphor, I don’t think it would stretch the audience’s minds too far for Paul to use this same metaphor and use it to refer to the husband/wife.

          As I understand it, if Paul’s Ephesian audience was familiar with this metaphor–and I think it’s impossible to know for sure–then Paul could be employing a “dead/conventional” metaphor, correct? If not, then it would be a “live/novel” metaphor, where we would really need to depend on certain contextual clues to understand what Paul meant by this metaphor (since his audience would not have known what he meant).

          To sum up my question/thoughts:

          If it’s a dead metaphor, then we don’t need as many contextual clues, since his audience would readily know what he meant.

          If it’s a live metaphor, then we would expect to see more contextual clues, since Paul would need to explain what he meant to his audience.

          Am I on the right track?

          Here are my working thoughts. I think Paul is using a dead metaphor and flipping it on its head. That is, he IS using KEPHALE to convey some kind of authority but then redifining what authority looks like by referring to the self-giving sacrifice of Christ. That is, “authority” does not mean authority in every way. E.g. only husbands can dive the car, make the final decisions, tell the family what they are to do and where they will live, work outside of the home, have final say in raising the kids, etc. etc. we know these tropes all too well. Drawing on an important point that Andrew raised above (re: “eats like a pig”): “the assertion which a metaphor makes is only ever partial, never total.” Here, the very nature of headship Paul’s seeking to convey is one of sacrifice and service. It’s the kind of “authority” that’s completely different from secular notions of “ruling it over them” (Matt 22). It’s the kind of “authority” that’s defined by Christ’s own sacrificial love.

          To say that KEPHALE conveys no sense of “authority,” I think, not only rests on shaky exegetical and historical grounds, but it blunts the teeth of Paul’s quite scandalous rhetorical argument. For Paul to turn “kephale on its head” (Barnwall)–that is, for Paul to redefine what authority means–rests on the notion (established, I think, through many uses of KEPAHLE in ancient texts)–that KEPHALE conveys some sense of authority.

          If you all aren’t yet exhausted by these rather massive comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

          Reply
          • Philip B. Payne on

            I applaud Preston’s acknowledgment that “my previous understanding of metaphor was a bit sloppy, and I’m in the process of refining my understanding.” Yet his post continues with the same sloppy use of “metaphor,” blurring the meaning of a metaphor with attributes of the person to whom the metaphor is applied. For example, Preston writes, “When the fathers understood KEPHALE to mean “source,” they seem to convey similar notions [of authority].” In the many examples I cited in response to Preston’s fourth post, of church fathers explaining “head” to mean “source,” in 1 Corinthians 11:3, those fathers do not explain that “head” also conveys “authority.” Quite the opposite, many of them explicitly repudiate the Arian interpretations that allege that “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 conveys “authority.” It is irrelevant to those fathers’ understanding of meaning of the metaphor “head” in 11:3 as “source” that some of them in other contexts write that women are inferior to men or are under the authority of men, as was commonly believed in Hellenistic culture. When church fathers identify “head” to mean “source,” Preston should not assert that “head” also “conveys” authority.

            I applaud Preston’s acknowledgment that that it was poor wording to say “that KEPHALE can mean both source and authority” and “I don’t (or no longer) want to say: KEPHALE means both authority and source at the same time.”

            I applaud Preston’s desire to learn from others, exemplified in his closing, “I’d love to hear your thoughts!” But statements Preston reiterates in this post make me wonder if Preston has read and assimilated into his understanding of “head” my Dec. 14 comments on his third post on “head” in Greek literature. Again Preston writes, “I think the overwhelming majority of non-literal uses of KEPHALE in all the ancient texts DO convey some sense of authority and not source, especially when used to describe the relationship of a person (or people) with other people.” I have shown that the vast majority of what Preston has listed as “non-literal uses of KEPHALE in all the ancient texts” are not metaphors at all, but are comparisons between someone and a literal head of a literal body. Preston asserts, “we DO have several instances of head/body metaphors where a person who occupied a socially higher position IN THAT CULTURE was called the ‘head’,” but in almost every case the writer compares that person to the head of a body. The writer does not call that person “head.”

            Professor Glare makes the same point: “Where I would agree with Cervin is that in many of the examples, and I think all the Plutarch ones, we are dealing with similes or comparisons and the word itself is used in a literal sense.” (cited from Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 588). In Preston’s third post on “head” in Greek literature, he repeatedly states that “head” conveys authority without clearly showing how the context makes it clear that these instances are metaphors that mean “authority.” In fact, virtually all of the instances he cites in that post to mean “authority” are comparisons between someone or something and a head, not metaphors stating that someone is “head.” Preston needs to acknowledge the crucial distinction between metaphor and simile since it is only metaphorical uses, not comparisons, that can justify new meanings.

            Preston writes, “I think it’s impossible to know for sure … if Paul’s Ephesian audience was familiar with this metaphor [“head” meaning “authority”].” Nevertheless, Preston writes, “I think Paul is using a dead metaphor and flipping it on its head. That is, he IS using KEPHALE to convey some kind of authority but then redifining [sic] what authority looks like by referring to the self-giving sacrifice of Christ.” Preston’s use of “dead metaphor” presupposes that “head” was an established metaphor meaning “authority.” But I see virtually no interaction with secular Greek dictionaries. Why don’t secular Greek dictionaries include any citation of “head” meaning “source” from before the 4th century A.D. if head was a dead metaphor meaning “leader” in Greek literature as Preston thinks?

            Preston does not acknowledge either that according to Liddell and Scott’s dictionary the meaning “chief” emerged as an established meaning for “head” in the Byzantine era or that according to Dhimitrakou’s dictionary this didn’t occur until the medieval era. Preston has not acknowledged that I have shown that none of the examples the BDAG dictionary of New Testament Greek cites to support its alleged meaning “person in rank before” actually demonstrate that meaning.

            Why do virtually all church fathers who comment on the meaning of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 explain clearly that “head” means “source”? These include Cyril of Alexandria, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Athanasius, Cosmas Indicopleustes, Cyrillus Hierosolymitanus, Eusebius, Photius, Chrysostom and “Ambrosiaster.”

            I have seen no response from Preston acknowledging all the evidence I have given that many Greeks who commented on the meaning of “head” in “Zeus the head, Zeus the middle, Zeus from whom all things come” explained “head” as “source.” This is by far the most quoted metaphorical use of “head” in Greek literature around the time of Paul.

            Preston refers to “the very nature of headship Paul’s seeking to convey.” “Headship,” however, since by definition it refers to an authority relationship, assumes that “head” conveys “authority.” Surely, the question at issue is what Paul intended to convey by “head.” Furthermore, no word for “headship” occurs in any of Paul’s letters or in the Bible. It is not right to assume that because in English “head” often conveys authority, that Paul when using the Greek word for “head” intended “headship” or “authority.”

            Preston: To say that KEPHALE conveys no sense of “authority,” I think, not only rests on shaky exegetical and historical grounds, but it blunts the teeth of Paul’s quite scandalous rhetorical argument. For Paul to turn “kephale on its head” (Barnwall)–that is, for Paul to redefine what authority means–rests on the notion (established, I think, through many uses of KEPAHLE in ancient texts)–that KEPHALE conveys some sense of authority.

            Payne: According to Cambridge Dictionary, “to turn something on its head” means “to cause something to be the opposite of what it was before” https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/turn-on-head#:~:text=to%20cause%20something%20to%20be,Changing
            If Paul had thought that “head” had the established meaning of “authority” and desired to change the Hellenistic view of the subjection of wives to husbands to the opposite of what it was before, do you really think he would have called for wives to “submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is head of his wife, as Christ is head of the church, he savior of the body”? Would Paul affirm the opposite of what he meant? The proper way to understand what Paul meant by “head” is to appreciate that Paul here explains by apposition that by “head” he means “savior.” Then in verse 25, Paul explains what he means by “savior,” that Christ “loved the church and gave himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). This is what Christ did to bring the church into existence. Just as Christ is the source of the church, Christ is the ongoing source of nourishment and growth for the church, as Paul had just written in Ephesians 4:15–16 and also wrote in Colossians 2:19. Understanding “head” to mean “source” has the distinct advantage that “source” is a meaning of “head” that has been listed in secular Greek dictionaries since at least the 12th century. It does not depend on a meaning the Greek dictionaries identity as Byzantine or medieval. The meaning “authority” makes sense to English readers because that is a well-established meaning of “head” in English, not because it was well-established in Greek as I argued in my December 14, 2023 response to Preston’s third post on “head” in Greek literature.

      • Philip B. Payne on

        Grasso: We might say something like ‘the head of the statue stands for the greatest kingdom.’ Here ‘head’ is being used in a novel metaphor.

        Payne: “Stands for,” is equivalent to “is like” or “as.” It marks a simile in this case, not a metaphor since the kingdom is not said to be a statue. See, for example the definition of “simile” in Webster’s New World Dictionary: Third College Edition (1989) 1250: “a figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another, dissimilar thing by use of like, as, etc. (Ex.: a heart as big as a whale, her tears flowed like wine) Distinguished from METAPHOR.”

        Grasso: I totally agree that he is subversive, and I would point to Ephesians 5:21 and tell a husband that there is a sense in which he needs to be submitting to his wife. I would explain this sense as laying down his life for her, as it goes on to say in the rest of the passage. There is also a sense in which a wife should be submitting to her husband.

        Payne. I agree completely with these words by Grasso.

        Grasso: Since man is the ‘head’ of the woman, I would say that she should submit to him as an authority.

        Payne: Paul’s use of the reciprocal pronoun in “submitting to one another” in Eph 5:21 cannot mean “submit to him as an authority” because if Paul were referring to an authority relationship, with one ordered higher than the other, it would not be reciprocal submission.

        Grasso: I see a contrast between the Messiah being the savior and the head.

        Payne: Paul makes it clear that he intends “head” to be understood as equivalent to “savior.” Paul’s construction makes it clear that he is NOT indicating a CONTRAST between Christ being “head” and his being “savior.” A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1934), 399 states, that “head” in Eph 5:23 is in “emphatic apposition” with “savior.” Webster’s New World Dictionary 67 defines “apposition” as used grammatically: “the placing of a word or expression beside another so that the second explains and has the same grammatical construction as the first,” giving the example, “Mary, my cousin, is here.” In Eph 5:23, apposition is abundantly clear since the grammatical construction of the two parallel expressions exactly match:
        subject, descriptor, genitive article, descriptor’s object in the genitive:
        Christ head of the church ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας
        He savior of the body αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος
        There is no question that “he” (αὐτός) is Christ and that “the church” is “the body.” Paul places “savior” in apposition to “head,” showing that he intends “head” to be understood as equivalent in meaning to “savior.” Recognizing this apposition is crucial in interpreting “head” since, apart from this explanation, Paul’s intention would not be clear. The appositional structure is evident, for example, in the ASV: “Christ also is head of the church, being himself the savior of the body”; in the NASB: “Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body”; in Weymouth: “Christ also is head of the church, Himself the Saviour of the body”; and in the Amplified: “Christ is the Head of the Church, Himself the Savior of [His] body.” Translations like the ESV and NIV that conceal Paul’s emphatic apposition and as a result conceal his explanation of what he meant by “head,” do the church a great disservice. Note as well, that this and Phil 2:20 are Paul’s only uses of “savior” (σωτήρ) prior to the Pastoral Epistles, and neither has a definite article. Consequently, “savior” is clearly descriptive, not a title, so it should not be capitalized.
        If Paul had intended to explain “head” in the sense of authority, he would have used an appositional phrase like, “he the authority of the body,” but instead, he explained it with “savior.” His subsequent description of Christ’s relationship to his body, the church, states nothing about Christ’s authority either (as Andrew Bartlett correctly notes in his following comment), but says that Christ loved and gave himself for the church (Eph 5:25), to make her holy, cleansed without stain, and blameless (5:26–27), nourishing and caring for her (5:29). These are his actions as savior, the source of life and nourishment of his body, the church. Paul calls the husband to imitate Christ’s actions in relations with his wife (5:28–31, 33), not to assume authority over her.

        Grasso: I don’t think ‘Christ’ is a proper name, and I think it means ‘king.’

        Payne: What about just before this passage, in Eph 5:20 “giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father”?
        What about, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (1 Peter 4:14)?
        What about, “where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20)?
        What about, “we beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 3:6)?
        What about, “the one named Jesus Christ” and “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38; 3:6; 4:10; 8:12; 10:48; 16:18)?
        What about, “on behalf of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:26)?
        What about, “those calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2, 10)?
        What about, “justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11)?
        What about, “Jesus, the one called Christ” (Matt 1:16)?
        What about, “we believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:23)
        What about the hundreds of references to “Jesus Christ” (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν) “Christ Jesus” and expressions like “sanctified in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ)”?

        Grasso: it is through the Messiah’s death that his body, the church, was transformed (25-33).

        Payne: Grasso is correct that Paul’s reference to “savior” is to Christ’s death, as verse 25 confirms. But Christ’s death did not “transform” the church. Before Christ’s death, there was no church. Christ’s death brought the church into existence and Christ as “head” is the continuing “source” of nourishment and growth for the church, as Paul had just explained in Eph 4:15–16. Which of these two senses of “source” Paul intends depends whether the “head” relationship in Eph 5:23 refers to “husband” and “wife” (for which “source of nourishment” fits best) or “man and woman” (for which “source of existence” fits best).

        Grasso: Messiah’s death … is how our king displays his social authority. Husbands should do the same thing for their wives.

        Payne: Ephesians 5:25–33 never mentions Christ’s “social authority” or says anything about his kingly authority or the husband’s authority. The focus throughout is on Christ’s saving work, giving himself up for the church, Christ’s loving, nourishing, and cherishing the church. This is what Christ models for husbands, not social authority! Furthermore, Paul makes it clear in this same chapter that it is not only the husband for whom Christ’s self-giving is a model, but for all believers, including wives. Ephesians 5:2 commands all believers using the identical forms of the identical Greek words in 5:25 to love, “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up” for us: καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χρισὸς ἠγάπησεν … καὶ παρέδωκεν ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ… Paul, therefore, commands both husbands and wives to give themselves up for their spouse using identical words. Consequently, just like mutual submission in Eph 5:21, following Christ’s sacrificial self-giving cannot be based on a hierarchy of “social authority.” Otherwise, Paul could not have given the same command to wives in 5:2. To interpret “head” as “social authority” is contrary both to how Paul explains “head” by apposition and how Christ models self-sacrificial love for both husbands and wives.

        Payne: I just read and commend Andrew Bartlett’s articulate and insightful responses to Grasso’s responses to Bartlett’s earlier comments.

        Reply
        • Kevin Grasso on

          Andrew and Phil, thanks again for your responses. I’ll try to respond to what I think is most relevant.

          To Andrew
          ON CONTEXT
          I think I am being misunderstood on the context issue. It is not that it is unimportant. In fact, I feel like I have given specific ways in which the context interacts with word meaning. My frustration with how “context” is used is certainly not a post-modern cry of despair. It is a recognition that biblical scholars claim to have context on their side with EVERY interpretation they propose. They certainly do not claim that the context is against them. Most scholars just have no way of determining how context interacts with lexical meaning, and in the absence of such a theory “context is appealed to by everyone.” This makes the context argument almost meaningless, since all sides claim it supports them. My point is that we need more theory on the significance of context, not less.
          Let me further explain my perspective with the example you have given. Here’s your example to show that “context is king”:
          You say, “I went to an event at a Spanish restaurant last night and they danced a flamingo.” From context, the speaker was clearly referring to a flamenco.”
          In this example, you have chosen two words that are phonologically very close to contrast, though they have different meanings, i.e. flamingo and flamenco. Suppose we chose a different word like “elephant.” Let’s say the person could not remember which animal exactly was close to the name of the dance, so they said “I went to an event at a Spanish restaurant last night and they danced an elephant.” I don’t know about you, but I would hear this sentence and would be very confused. Context would not lead me to go from elephant to flamenco. Your example only works because phonologically similar words are stored in similar places in our brain (as our semantically similar words). That is why phonologically and semantically similar words are sometimes confused. Your example also works because of the predicate “dance.” Notice, you again would be very confused if you heard “I went to an event at a Spanish restaurant last night and they ate a flamenco.” In this case, you would probably think that they meant to say “ate a flamingo,” and then you would think the Spanish restaurant was very odd. Whatever is meant by “context” would probably not make you change ‘ate’ to ‘dance’ in the context of a Spanish restaurant. In both of these cases, it is the immediate sentence context, particularly the verb/predicate, that is driving the disambiguation. Again, this is based on a theory of predication, which is part of the immediate sentence context. It is a theory of context, but a very specific part of it, the most important part for disambiguating polysemous words.
          My point is that I can explain why the context allows us to substitute “flamingo” and “flamenco” and not “elephant” and “flamenco.” It is how the properties of the words are interacting with the context. To determine which of two competing interpretations is best, we need a way to distinguish between sound and unsound appeals to context. In my original post, I said that the immediate sentence context has been shown to be the most important factor for disambiguating polysemous words, and with relational nouns, it is even narrower: the most relevant word is the word that the relational noun would combine with in the genitive construction. My claim is that these are the most important elements in the context. Per your methodological point (4), I think that is what is going on in Ephesians 4 and that it is not relevant for interpreting the κεφαλή metaphor in Ephesians 5. The immediate sentence context leads us to a different use of κεφαλή.
          ON ὐπατάσσω IN EPH 5
          Again, I think English is leading to confusion here. When I say that the verb ὑποτάσσω is [+SOCIAL AUTHORITY], it is not the case that the English word ‘authority’ is equivalent to that meaning. I do not know what you mean by “actual authority” in this respect (when you say “You acknowledge that in Ephesians 5:21 the use of hupotassō does not call up an idea of actual authority”). Believers submit to each other as authorities, rightly understood. It just depends on what you mean by authority. They think about the needs of the other person and then submit their own will and desire to those needs, in the sense that they do the thing that the other person wants. It must “call up the idea of authority” here because that’s what the verb ὑποτάσσω means. The verb certainly does not require that the person submitted to is ontologically better or socially greater than the other person. It just says that the subject of the verb places his or her will under someone else’s. That’s what the verb means. This is what I mean when the other person is considered [+SOCIAL AUTHORITY], not that there is any inherent difference between the subject and the person being submitted to. To paraphrase Paul, I would say, “All of you should submit to one another in some sense. Wives, you should submit to husbands as your leader, as the church submits to the king. Husbands, you should submit to your wives as savior, as laying down your life for her, just as the king laid down his life for his people.”

          To Phil

          RECIPROCAL SUBMISSION
          Hopefully, my comments on ὑποτάσσω in Ephesians 5 help to clear some of this up. It just depends on what you mean by submission. My analysis of ὑποτάσσω is that it refers to voluntary submission on the part of the subject. This means you put yourself under the authority of another person’s wills or desires in the relevant sense. Again, does submitting to one another exclude husbands to wives? I think not. You just have to figure out in what sense husbands should submit to wives. That’s laid out in 5:25-33. My only point is that when it comes to wives, the only description we have of their submission is in ἀνὴρ κεφαλὴ γυναικός ἐστιν. We are still talking about social relationships, not about anyone’s genesis.

          ON APPOSITION
          I don’t really know what these grammarians mean by apposition. Normally, apposition is between two adjacent constituents that are serving the same syntactic function in the sentence, such as ‘The child, the oldest one, ate the last slice of pizza. If σωτήρ were in apposition to κεφαλή, the two would have to be adjacent. Most translations actually take αὐτός to be what is called an “intensifier,” i.e. ‘He himself is savior of the body’ (where the reflexive pronoun is functioning as the intensifier—Greek regularly uses αὐτός for this). The meaning of intensifiers is that they present something as contrary to expectation, e.g. ‘The king himself came to the people’ creates an inference that it is surprising that the real king came, and he did that even thought it is contrary to our expectations. This would be the point. Christ is the head (in the sense of authority) of the church; he himself is savior of the body, meaning it is contrary to expectation that the kingly head would be savior of the body. This is because the way he was savior is by exercising love and not authority. Husbands, despite being in a patriarchal world, should do the same for their wives. They are the authorities, but they should exercise that authority just as the King did.

          ON Χριστός
          Correct, I think that it refers to the anointed king in all of those passages and every other time it occurs. See Novenson 2012 for his analysis of χριστός as honorific. I think that is essentially correct, which just means that it is never devoid of meaning, just like “President Biden” is not devoid of meaning.

          Reply
          • Andrew Bartlett on

            Hello Kevin. Thank you for your response.
            Since in your latest response you write about husbands submitting to their wives, perhaps there is really not a lot of difference in how we are reading Ephesians 5, after all (only the meaning of the head metaphor).
            I remain puzzled that you seem to be interpreting Ephesians 5:23 as if it said something very different from what it actually says. If we ask, “in what way is the husband head of the wife?” Paul’s answer is: “as also the Messiah (is) head of the church himself savior of the body”. And Paul shows husbands how to live this out in vv25-33a, which is about how to be savior-like towards one’s wife, and where there is nothing about exercising authority over her or leading her.
            I am surprised that you say you do not know what “actual authority” means. In a friendship, one friend does not have actual authority over the other. But that would not prevent one friend voluntarily behaving as if placed below the other, as if the other had authority. Or they could both behave like that (= mutual submission). But in an employment relationship, the boss has actual authority over an employee. The employee is placed below the boss.
            The issue over ‘head’ in Ephesians 5 reflects whether (a) Paul is affirming that the husband has actual, God-ordained, authority over the wife, or (b) he is instructing the wife to behave as if her husband had authority over her.
            If Paul believes that husbands have God-ordained authority over their wives, one wonders why he gives no instruction to husbands to exercise authority over their wives. And indeed why there is no statement anywhere in the Bible that husbands ought to exercise authority over their wives. (I’m sure no-one believes that husbands are so naturally virtuous that they wouldn’t need to be instructed in and reminded of that duty, if it existed.)
            Likewise, one wonders how Paul came to write in 1 Corinthians 7 that the wife has authority over the husband’s body (v4b). That is in line with the idea that husband and wife are one flesh (Eph 5:31; 1 Cor 6:16) but it is in conflict with a hierarchical relationship in which the husband has superior authority.

          • Philip B. Payne on

            Grasso is to be commended for acknowledging that “ὐπατάσσω IN EPH 5 just says that the subject of the verb places his or her will under someone else’s” and for writing, “does submitting to one another exclude husbands to wives? I think not.”

            Grasso: My only point is that when it comes to wives, the only description we have of their submission is in ἀνὴρ κεφαλὴ γυναικός ἐστιν.

            PBP: In fact, we also have the context of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Indeed, Ephesians 5:22 depends on 5:21 for its verb. Consequently, the nature of the submission is of a relationship that is mutual, therefore it cannot refer to a hierarchical social authority.

            Grasso: If σωτήρ were in apposition to κεφαλή, the two would have to be adjacent.

            PBP: In emphatic apposition, an entire phrase or clause is put adjacent to one in which there is a word that needs disambiguation. In this case, the ambiguous word is “head,” and Paul clarifies what he means by “head” by putting it into apposition with “savior.”

            Grasso: Most translations actually take αὐτός to be what is called an “intensifier,” i.e. ‘He himself is savior of the body.’

            PBP: This is not true. Bible Gateway lists 61 translations. Of those only 8 translate αὐτός “he himself.” 14 others include “himself” somewhere in their translation, but only 2 of them are intensifying (GNT, NTFE). 40 have neither “he himself” nor “himself,” nor do any of those 40 translate αὐτός as an intensifier.

            Grasso: The meaning of intensifiers is that they present something as contrary to expectation.

            PBP: Is it contrary to expectation that Christ is savior? No, it is not.

            Grasso: This is because the way he was savior is by exercising love and not authority.

            PBP: This is precisely the point Paul is making. The apposition makes it clear that Paul by “head” is not talking about a hierarchy of authority. Since we know that Paul is not talking about a hierarchy of authority, we should ask, “What then does Paul mean by ‘head’ that is not about a hierarchy of authority?”

            Grasso: Husbands, despite being in a patriarchal world, should do the same for their wives. They are the authorities, but they should exercise that authority just as the King did.

            PBP: You are correct that Paul is telling husbands to follow the model of Christ. But nothing in this passage indicates that Paul is saying, “Husbands are the authorities over their wives.” This should be clear because the chapter begins with almost identical words calling all believers, including wives to “walk in love, just as also Christ loved us and gave himself for us.” Since both husbands and wives have Christ as their model and since the context is mutual submission (5:21), we should understand “head” to mean something that was in its established range of meaning in secular Greek at that time, not to import the English sense of “authority over” that is contrary to its context here. The established Greek meaning of “head” as “source” makes sense here both because this is how Paul uses “head” in Ephesians 4:15–16 to mean “source of bodily growth” and because of Paul’s argument in Ephesians 5:28–29 that husbands should “love their wives … nourish and cherish … just as Christ does the church.”


RELATED BLOGS

podcast-image
What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 8: Ephesians 5:23

Introduction We come now to the first of our two highly anticipated texts in Paul. (The other being 1 Corinthians...

Read Story
podcast-image
Why Abused Voices and Taboo Questions Belong in the Church

By Brenna Blain. Learn more about Brenna here, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram. “Come on up, Brenna!”  I...

Read Story
podcast-image
What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 7: Household Codes (Eph. 5)

Introduction  We finally come to Ephesians 5, where Paul says that “the husband is the head (kephalē) of the wife”...

Read Story
podcast-image
What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 6: Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15

Introduction This has been a lengthy series thus far, but I promise you, we’re getting closer to exploring the meaning...

Read Story
podcast-image
Living as Exiles in the Shadow of Empire 

My book Exiles: The Church in the Shadow of Empire releases in less than a month! You can pre-order it today. And if...

Read Story
podcast-image
The Theology & Politics of Israel-Palestine

On October 7th, 2023, 1200 Israelis were murdered in a Hamas attack. I felt sick to my stomach and angered...

Read Story
podcast-image
Women, Power, and Abuse in the Church

I’m writing these words with a profound sense of urgency and nervousness. I can easily confess that the evangelical Christian...

Read Story
podcast-image
What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 4: Early Church Fathers

Introduction We turn now to what I think will be my final survey of how kephalē is used in Greek literature outside...

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

Introduction As we begin studying what kephalē means in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23, one of the most important sources to...

Read Story
podcast-image
What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 1: Introduction 

Introduction  On two occasions, the apostle Paul says that man (or a husband) is the “head” of woman (or his...

Read Story

EXILES

 

The Latest from Preston Sprinkle

 

LEARN MORE BUY NOW