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

Preston Sprinkle

Introduction

This has been a lengthy series thus far, but I promise you, we’re getting closer to exploring the meaning of “head” (kephalē) in Ephesians 5:23, where Paul says: “the husband is the head of the wife.” In this post, I want to look at the first two instances where Paul employs the head/body metaphor in Ephesians; namely, 1:22 and 4:15. Certainly, whatever Paul meant by “head” in these two passages could at least help inform what he meant in Ephesians 5:23. This doesn’t mean we should simply map the meaning of head in 1:22 and 4:15 onto 5:23; each context needs to be considered on its own. At the same time, 1:22 and 4:15 on some level prepares the reader to understand the head/body metaphor in 5:23.  

Before we jump in, I want to offer a few corrections to some things I wrote in previous posts. Again, these posts represent my thinking out loud thoughts in real time as I’m wading through the literature on the topic. I therefore have no problem correcting whatever errors exist in the previous posts. 

First, my thoughts on polysemy in the FIRST POST need to be corrected in light of Kevin Grasso’s GUEST POST on linguistics. While most words are polysemous—capable of more than one meaning—it’s very rare that a word’s different meanings are being conveyed at the same time. So, when I said in my first post that “Words can be polysemous—capable of more than one meaning at the same time,” this is mostly wrong. While two meanings at the same time are possible, this is quite rare outside of poetry. 

So, polysemy doesn’t mean “two meanings at the same time.” It just means that most words are capable of meaning different things in different contexts, not that these meanings are expressed at the same time when a word is used. 

Second, I need to integrate more linguistic precision when I’m interpreting kephale in various passages. I’m still learning about the finer points of linguistics, and all the insights from Grasso’s post (and some of Phil Payne’s and Andrew Bartlett’s comments) have been very helpful in this regard. I cannot promise that I’ll do this well! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the points that Grasso made, and I continue to dialogue with him about this area of study. I want the reader to know that I’m (now) aware of some of the linguistic complexities and will do my best to continue to refine my thinking on the topic in an effort to be more precise. 

Third, I want to draw your attention to Phillip Payne’s lengthy and thoughtful comments (and my responses to his comments) on posts 3 and 4 in particular. (Phil has offered very thoughtful and lengthy comments on all of the posts now.) Phil is one of the most prolific writers on the meaning of kephalē, and women in ministry as a whole. We’ve had several delightful interactions off line, and I’m very honored and grateful that he took the time to express his critiques publicly. While I’m still not persuaded by most of his critiques, he has caused me to revisit several of my points. Overall, I find myself at an “agree to disagree” spot with Phil when it comes to the meaning of kephalē.

For instance, Phil says that I do “not adequately distinguish between literal (including similes) and metaphorical uses of ‘head’” in many of the texts I cite in my third post. I think Phil may be right here; I don’t always distinguish between simile, metaphor, and literal uses of kephalē. (I typically use the phrase “non-literal uses” instead of “metaphorical uses” since the former is a broader category.)  

However, I really don’t think it matters nearly as much as Phil thinks it does. Phil seems to think that if kephalē is used in a simile to convey “authority,” this is irrelevant for understanding what kephalē means as a metaphor. For instance, regarding 

the royal city Jerusalem was the supreme, and rules (archei) over all the neighboring country, as the head (kephalē) does over the body.” 

Josephus, War, 3.54

Phil writes: “In this case, ‘head’ is literal and is used in a simile. This is not a metaphor or non-literal use of ‘head’.” Phil is right. I shouldn’t have labeled this a “non-literal” use of kephalē. But it is still a rather clear instance where kephalēconveys authority, is it not? The head rules over the body, and Josephus compares this “rule” to Jerusalem ruling (archei) over the country. Yes, it’s a simile, not a metaphor. But is there such a huge difference between simile and metaphor to render this passage irrelevant for understanding how kephalē could be used as a metaphor? Aristotle doesn’t think so. He said: “A simile is also a metaphor; for there is little difference…(Similes) should be brought in like metaphors, for they are metaphors, differing in the form of expressions” (Rhet. 3.4.1). 

Plus, the literal meaning of a word helps inform how that same word might be used in a metaphor or simile. If it was believed (and it was) that the literal head exercises some kind of ruling function over the literal body, this can help inform how “head” might be understood in a head/body metaphor. According to Josephus above, the literal kephalē rules over the body, and he felt like this was an apt parallel to Jerusalem’s “rule over all the neighboring country.” Phil seems to think this use of kephalē is irrelevant since it’s used in a literal sense in a simile and not as a metaphor. This is where I think we agree to disagree. 

In any case, I do agree with Phil that I need to use more precise terms (metaphor, simile, literal, etc.) when I’m examining how kephalē is being used. 

Without further ado, let’s look at the first two metaphorical uses of kephalē in Ephesians. 

Ephesians 1:22

 The full context reads: 

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God subjected (hupetaxen) all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over (kephalen huper) everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Most commentators and scholars agree (rightly, to my mind) that kephalē conveys some sense of ruling authority here.1Arnold, Ephesians, 115-16; Thielmann, Ephesians, 116-117; Lincoln, Ephesians, 70. This reading is supported by the larger context, which is loaded with terms and images that highlight Christ’s exalted position as ruler. For instance, “seated him at his right hand” is a royal image that highlight’s Christ’s ruling authority. The image was a common one in the ancient world, as Andrew Lincoln writes: “Occupying a place on the god’s right hand meant that the ruler exercised power on behalf of the god and held a position of supreme honor.”2Ephesians, 62. That Christ’s rule is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion” does not just refer to his vertical distance above these demonic forces, but his ruling authority over them. That God has “subjected (hupetaxen) all things under his feet,” alludes to Psalm 8:6: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” Psalm 8:6 itself alludes to Genesis 1:26 where humanity is commanded to rule over creation. The allusion to Psalm 8:6 together with the use of “subjected” (hupetaxen) highlights Christ’s ruling authority over all things. All of this provides the context for Paul’s statement that this exalted and royal Christ has been “appointed…to be head (kephalen) over everything for the church.” 

Given all of these contextual features, kephalē most likely conveys some sense of authority.  

But could kephalē mean “source” here? While other passages say that Christ is the “source” of everything (1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2), it’s unlikely that this is what kephalē conveys here, since Paul uses the phrase “head over” (kephalen huper) not “head of” everything.3“[T]he connotation of source does not fit the context at all. It makes no sense to say that Christ is the ‘source over’ (hyper) all things in the church” (Cervin, “On the Significance,” 16). “Here again the meaning of ‘source’ for kephalē is inappropriate to this context. In fact, the following huper panta would be inexplicable if one tried to interpret kephalē as source” (Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 365).Together with the other images discussed above that convey ruling authority, the phrase “head over all things” also highlights Christ’s rule. 

Some argue that kephalē means “prominence” without conveying any sense of ruling authority. Phil Payne similarly argues that kephalē means “top,” “crown,” or “apex” in both Ephesians 1:22 and Colossians 2:10 and that it cannot “be conclusively demonstrated to mean ‘authority over’” here.4Payne, Man and Woman, 128 n. 72; idem, “Forthcoming,” 56.

I don’t believe this reading can be sustained, however.5Cervin, who otherwise argues that kephalē most often means “prominence,” concedes the point that it probably does convey some sense of authority here: “While I will not deny that authority is a relevant issue in this passage, the question is whether authority is the primary connotation here, derived from the word kephalē itself” (Cervin, “On the Significance,” 16) Again, kephalē occurs in a cluster of images that convey ruling activity, not simply some kind of non-ruling prominence.6If by prominence, one means something similar to a mountain top that’s more prominent than other smaller mountains around it without that mountain top exercising any rule or authority over these other mountains, then this is an unlikely sense for kephalē here. Christ’s isn’t just more prominent than “all things under his feet;” rather, the image is one of Christ subjugating “all things” and actively ruling over them. Likewise, the phrase “head over everything” conveys active ruling not simply positional prominence. 

Some scholars point out that this passage does not say that Christ rules over the church. For instance, Gilbert Bilezikian says: “In this passage there is no reference to headship as assumption of authority over the church.”7(p. 244 cited in Grudem, “Appendix 1,” 461). See also Payne: “Ephesians 1:22 does not state or imply that God made Christ head/authority over the church” (“Forthcoming,” 56).  In one sense, Bilezikian might be right. Paul doesn’t specifically say that Christ as head rules over the church. He says that “God…appointed him to be head over everything for (or ‘to’) the church” (1:22). The dative, tē ekklesia (“for/to the church”) can be rendered several ways,8Cf. Cohick: “While the sense could be ‘with respect to the church’ (dative of reference), most who argue that the verb means “to give” conclude that this dative should be understood as an indirect object, ‘to the church’” (Cohick, Ephesians, 129). but Clinton Arnold represents the view of most scholars when he says 

Christ…is given to the church. God has given Christ a great victory over the powers of darkness and now possess full authority over them for the benefit of the church…On this basis, Christ can impart to the church all of the empowering resource it needs to resist the attacks of powers and to engage in the mission of filling the world that God has called it to.9Arnold, Ephesians,116; cf. Thielmann, Ephesians, 113.

In any case, the headship of Christ still conveys ruling authority, even if the specific entity he rules over is “all things” and not the church. In this context, the church joins Christ in his rule over all things. 

In short, I agree with the majority of scholars who understand kephalē to convey some sense of authority here in Ephesians 1:22. 

Ephesians 4:15

The next occurrence of kephalē in Ephesians also occurs in a head/body metaphor, but the context is quite different from Ephesians 1:22. 

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.10Mickelsons: “source;” Bilezikian: “provider.” Cervin thinks both of these may be applicable, “but I do not believe that those notions can be derived from the semantic range of the word kephalē itself…I just do not think that the connotation of authority is necessarily explicit in the metaphor in this passage” (“On the Significance,” 17).

Paul here goes into detail about the head’s relationship to the body, making this passage (along with the parallel passage in Col. 2:19) an important window into Paul’s understanding of the head/body metaphor. It’s an important passage, but it’s also a rather odd one. Con Campbell points out the strangeness of the head/body metaphor: “The image that the reader is caused to visualize is somewhat absurd—a head with a body growing out of it, which simultaneously is growing into it.” The effect of the image, Campbell continues, is nonetheless understandable: “to spur a profound, new thought about the body, in which its goal for growth (conformity to Christ) and its source for growth are underscored.”11(Campbell, “Metaphor, Reality, and Union with Christ,” 71 (emphasis original); cited in Campbell, Ephesians, 187).

Several scholars have pointed out that Paul’s image here is similar to how some ancient medical writers (esp. Hippocrates [ca. 460-370 B.C.] and Galen [AD 129-199]) and others like Plato, Philo, and Rufus discussed the literal head’s relationship to the body.12First proposed by J.B. Lightfoot, Colossians, 198-201, and explored further by Barth, Ephesians, 1.190 and Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 350-355. (We briefly discussed these in my third POST.) Specifically, these writers believed that the head was the source of the nerves, ligaments, veins, and other body parts, and that the head ruled over the rest of the body. Source and authority. For instance, Galen writes: 

Nor is it necessary that because the brain, like the great King, dwells in the head (tē kephalē) as in an acropolis, for that reason the ruling part of the soul is in the brain, or because the brain has the senses stationed around it like body guards, or even if one should go so far as to say that as heaven is to the whole universe, so the head is to man and that therefore as the former is the home of the gods, so the brain is the home of the rational faculty” (Galen, On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato, 120.1-10).13Cited in Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 353.

Rufus considers the head to be the source of the nerves and senses: “the processes springing from the brain (egkephalos) are the sensory and voluntary nerves (neura), through which feeling and voluntary movement—in fact, all the activities of the body—are carried out” (Onom. 163:12-14).14Cited in Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 355. Plato writes about a similar connection between the head and body: “God set the sinews at the bottom of the head round about the neck and glued them there symmetrically…and the rest of the sinews he distributed amongst all the limbs (ta melē)), attaching joint to joint” (Tim. 75c-d).15Cited in Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 353 According to Clinton Arnold, Hippocrates believed that the head was “the source of supply for the members of the body.” For “[f]rom the head, the veins reach to every part of the body and give nourishment (hē trophē) and provide (diadidomi) what the body needs (Nat. Hom. 19.11).”16Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 352.

These same writers also ascribe to the head a ruling function over the body. “The ‘head’,” says Plato, is “the most divine part and reigning over all the parts within us. To it the gods delivered over the whole body they had assembled to be its servant” (Timaeus, 44d). This is similar to Galan quoted above, who said that “the head” houses “the ruling part of the soul” which is “the brain.” Elsewhere, Galan says that this is a common perspective: “To most people the head seems to have been formed on account of the encephalon and for that reason to contain all the sense, like the servants and guards of a great king” (De Usu Partium, 1.445.14-17). 

Clinton Arnold surveys many other similar examples17For instance, Arnold points out that “Philo frequently uses the word hegemonikos and its cognates (the ‘dominant’ or ‘leading’ part) to characterize the head (e.g., Op. Mund. 119; Fug. 110, 182; Somn. 2.207; Vit. Mos. 2.30, 82; Spec. Leg. 3.184; Quaest. In Gen. 1.3, 10; 2.5; QuaestIn Exod.2.124)” (“Jesus Christ,” 356). and concludes: “one may safely conclude that for the medical writers (and for philosophers like Plato, Philo, and others), the head not only exercised sovereignty over the physical body, but was also the source of its sensations and movement.” 

As I reflect on the meaning of kephalē in Ephesians 4, it seems rather clear that its meaning draws from the ancient understanding that the head was the life source of the rest of the body. As the head is the main source of life for the body and all its parts, so also Christ is the spiritual life-source for the church, the “body” of Christ. Kephalē simply means a literal “head” here and is being used in a novel (as opposed to a dead or conventional) metaphor that is playing off of what the culture thought of the function of the literal head during that time.18This wording is from Kevin Grasso who critically read earlier drafts of this post.  Just as the literal head (as it was understood) gives life to the body, so also “kephalē” is “used to highlight the organic and life-giving unity of Christ with his body.”19Dawes, 147. I do think that kephalē conveys the idea of “source” in the sense of “spiritual life source” here. 

But, if Paul’s understanding of the head/body metaphor reflects the ancient understanding of the head/body as expressed in medical writers and other philosophers, then the ancient idea of the head being the “source” of the body included the understanding that, as the source, the head also rules over the body.20“Here again the dual notion of leadership and provision is present in the head-body imagery. This corresponds to the common notion of the function of the head in relationship to the body in the contemporary physiological understandings, and especially as represented by Philo” (Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 363). While this may be true, I don’t think Christ’s rule over the body is the main point of Paul’s head/body metaphor in Ephesians 4.

So where does this leave us? Should we understand kephalē in Ephesians 4:15 to convey the idea that the head is the life-source of the body and not ruling over the body? Or could both notions of source and authority be present, as we see inseveral medial writers and philosophers cited above? (Not that kephalē has two different meanings here, but that the ancient idea of the head being the “life-source” of the body includes notions of authority.) It’s difficult to say for sure. It’s at least plausible since Paul’s prior use of kephalē (Eph. 1:22) clearly refers to ruling authority.   

These are my working thoughts, at least. I’d love to hear yours.


  • 1
    Arnold, Ephesians, 115-16; Thielmann, Ephesians, 116-117; Lincoln, Ephesians, 70.
  • 2
    Ephesians, 62.
  • 3
    “[T]he connotation of source does not fit the context at all. It makes no sense to say that Christ is the ‘source over’ (hyper) all things in the church” (Cervin, “On the Significance,” 16). “Here again the meaning of ‘source’ for kephalē is inappropriate to this context. In fact, the following huper panta would be inexplicable if one tried to interpret kephalē as source” (Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 365).
  • 4
    Payne, Man and Woman, 128 n. 72; idem, “Forthcoming,” 56.
  • 5
    Cervin, who otherwise argues that kephalē most often means “prominence,” concedes the point that it probably does convey some sense of authority here: “While I will not deny that authority is a relevant issue in this passage, the question is whether authority is the primary connotation here, derived from the word kephalē itself” (Cervin, “On the Significance,” 16)
  • 6
    If by prominence, one means something similar to a mountain top that’s more prominent than other smaller mountains around it without that mountain top exercising any rule or authority over these other mountains, then this is an unlikely sense for kephalē here.
  • 7
    (p. 244 cited in Grudem, “Appendix 1,” 461). See also Payne: “Ephesians 1:22 does not state or imply that God made Christ head/authority over the church” (“Forthcoming,” 56). 
  • 8
    Cf. Cohick: “While the sense could be ‘with respect to the church’ (dative of reference), most who argue that the verb means “to give” conclude that this dative should be understood as an indirect object, ‘to the church’” (Cohick, Ephesians, 129).
  • 9
    Arnold, Ephesians,116; cf. Thielmann, Ephesians, 113.
  • 10
    Mickelsons: “source;” Bilezikian: “provider.” Cervin thinks both of these may be applicable, “but I do not believe that those notions can be derived from the semantic range of the word kephalē itself…I just do not think that the connotation of authority is necessarily explicit in the metaphor in this passage” (“On the Significance,” 17).
  • 11
    (Campbell, “Metaphor, Reality, and Union with Christ,” 71 (emphasis original); cited in Campbell, Ephesians, 187).
  • 12
    First proposed by J.B. Lightfoot, Colossians, 198-201, and explored further by Barth, Ephesians, 1.190 and Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 350-355.
  • 13
    Cited in Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 353.
  • 14
    Cited in Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 355.
  • 15
    Cited in Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 353
  • 16
    Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 352.
  • 17
    For instance, Arnold points out that “Philo frequently uses the word hegemonikos and its cognates (the ‘dominant’ or ‘leading’ part) to characterize the head (e.g., Op. Mund. 119; Fug. 110, 182; Somn. 2.207; Vit. Mos. 2.30, 82; Spec. Leg. 3.184; Quaest. In Gen. 1.3, 10; 2.5; QuaestIn Exod.2.124)” (“Jesus Christ,” 356).
  • 18
    This wording is from Kevin Grasso who critically read earlier drafts of this post. 
  • 19
    Dawes, 147.
  • 20
    “Here again the dual notion of leadership and provision is present in the head-body imagery. This corresponds to the common notion of the function of the head in relationship to the body in the contemporary physiological understandings, and especially as represented by Philo” (Arnold, “Jesus Christ,” 363).
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5 comments on “What Does “Head” (Kephalē) Mean in Paul’s Letters? Part 6: Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15

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  1. James Giordano on

    I very much appreciate and value the work of theologians and scholars. I also acknowledge that some biblical passages are challenging to understand. But I don’t think God’s Word is as difficult for lay people to understand as some scholars make it out to be. The Holy Spirit knew how His Words would be understood by most believers. While there are certainly errors in interpretation and application made by both complementarians and egalitarians, I think the plain meaning of the vast majority of Scriptures that touch on the roles, responsibilities, and relationships between men and women strongly favors the complementarian interpretations.

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  2. Greg Coles on

    On the subject of polysemy: While I agree that your comments in the first blog post merited some revision, I’d argue that this new framing imports a different error. On the one hand, you’re quite right to offer the correction that “polysemy doesn’t mean ‘two meanings at the same time'”; that is, simultaneity of meaning isn’t inherent in the definition of polysemy. But I think your new framing exaggerates the rarity (or interpretive irrelevance) of potential simultaneity, especially insofar as broadly similar denotative meanings can be layered with multiple and even contradictory connotative meanings. Rhetorical theorists tend to argue that different groups of people have the capacity to receive the same messages very differently (hence the need to communicate adaptively to differing audiences)—and part of this variability in reception can be due the ways people prioritize their awareness of words’ multiple functions.

    An obvious example here would be something like the word “queer” in the 21st century, which has (among other meanings) both a strongly pejorative sense and an honorific (or at least neutral) one. Most people who encounter the word in the wild are predisposed to prioritize one of these senses over the other; but many of them encounter it with an awareness that both senses exist, and therefore both senses have some complex simultaneous relationship to the word’s invocation.

    A bit closer to this current series: Consider the (vexingly ambiguous) power of the phrase “women’s church leadership.” Broadly speaking, we’re all working with the same basic denotative understanding of leadership (though if tasked with deciding whether we mean “the office or position of a leader” or “the act or an instance of leading”—two different definitions in Merriam-Webster—some of us might shrug and say, “Maybe both?”). But part of the rhetorical power of the phrase is that it can call to mind more than one kind of leadership at once, and which kind of leadership is perceived says as much (or perhaps more) about the listener/reader as it does about the communicator. Are we talking about endorsement/restriction of a very narrow set of leadership activities, or endorsement/restriction of leadership more broadly conceived? The word could do both kinds of work—and indeed, has done both kinds of work—depending on who says it to whom, and when, and why.

    To be clear, this isn’t precisely an objection to anything I’ve seen Kevin Grasso arguing. But there are some important disciplinary differences in focus between linguistics (which is Grasso’s field) and rhetorical theory (which is mine), including the attention each discipline habitually gives to the theoretical codification of language versus the rhetorical function of language. When Kevin writes that, “Polysemous words must be disambiguated, which means that we must ascribe a particular sense to each use of the word,” his word “must” is true insofar as the aim of the disambiguation is a coherent codification of language. But in rhetorical analysis, disambiguation is of less importance than rhetorical effect; and when we examine effects, the capacity of words to do more than one thing properly belongs as part of the analysis rather than a question to be answered prior to analysis.

    When you write, “While two meanings at the same time are possible, this is quite rare outside of poetry,” I agree in one sense; I’d simply propose that language as a whole functions far more poetically than we may give it credit for. (This is one of Kenneth Burke’s major suggestions in his essay “Semantic and Poetic Meaning,” for instance.) In fact, lots of early semioticians—including Charles Sanders Peirce, sometimes described as the father of modern semiotics—spent a decent amount of time trying to rescue language from the interpretive messiness created by polysemy, which they saw as an endemic flaw in communication. (See, for instance, Peirce’s “The Ethics of Terminology”; Joel Weinsheimer describes this essay as portraying a conflict between Peirce’s “desire for semantic fixity” and his “recognition that the symbol is amorphous and alive.”)

    In the end, I don’t find the denotative debate over κεφαλή particularly important to complementarian/egalitarian questions, so I don’t think solving the degree of potential simultaneous meaning in its interpretation is a great necessity. But as to whether Paul might have ever used polysemous words (in contexts where both he and his original hearers would be aware of the polysemy) in a way that never definitively solves the question of disambiguation and therefore refuses to foreclose certain interpretive possibilities, I wouldn’t want us to reject this possibility out of hand on purely theoretical grounds.

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    • preston on

      Greg, thanks so much for your very thorough and incisive comment! I’m actually going to be teasing out some of what I think you’ll consider the rhetorical impact of words and metaphors in my next post. In fact, I do have a short aside in that post that explores, once again, how I’m thinking through metaphor. Here’s what I say; I’d love your thoughts (of course, you’ll need the larger context to fully get my point, but I’m curious what you think about my “he’s such a pig” analogy.

      ———————————–

      The specific kind of authority Paul intends to convey by the head-metaphor is narrowly defined as self-giving love.

      This point isn’t me being creative or slippery. It’s just how metaphors work. Metaphors typically convey a specific meaning based on context. For instance, the phrase “he’s such a pig” can mean various things depending on how it’s used. If I were looking at a guy shoving a bunch of food down his mouth, “he’s such a pig” means something like he’s eating very sloppily or it could also mean he’s eating way too much (or possibly both). I probably don’t mean he’s eating on all fours or is feeding on rotten vegetables from a trough, or everything else that might come with pigness. In another context, the sense of “eating too much” might not be present. If I were watching a 1 year old with mushy peas all over his face, high chair, bib, and hands, and then I said “he’s such a pig,” here I probably only mean “he’s a messy eater;” I’m not necessarily saying anything about the quantity of peas going down the kid’s gullet. Not everything about pigness transfers over in the use of the metaphor.

      We might encounter another meaning altogether for “he’s such a pig.” In another context, “he’s such a pig” could refer to how a guy is treating women. “That guy is such a pig! He dates a different girl every week, and everyone he’s with, he treats them like crap.” Here, the pig metaphor has nothing to do with eating. But we know this from the context. The phrase alone—“he’s such a pig”—cannot tell us what exactly it is about pigness that’s being communicated.

      I think something similar is going on in Ephesians 5. The metaphor of “head” by itself conveys some sense of authority, but we need the context to tell us what exactly Paul means by authority, which of course he does. He defines “head” with “Savior,” and then spells out in detail what Christ as Savior looks like—self-sacrificial love and service. Paul does not mean that the husband has categorical authority over his wife in every sense and in every way that Christ has authority over the church, nor does he mean that a husband, as “Savior,” atones for the sins of his wife through his sacrificial death. Paul tells us exactly what he means by “head/Savior.” He means self-giving love and service toward his wife (5:25-29).

      Reply
  3. Karen on

    I find it curious that you say the context of Ephesians 4 is quite different than the context of Ephesians 1 – it seems to me that there are quite a few repeated themes and references that tie the two together quite tightly. The verses in Ephesians 1 are the thesis statement – Ephesians 4 is where Paul elaborates on it.

    Not only is Paul revisiting and expanding on the head/body metaphor in Eph 4, he repeatedly references the “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” from chapter 1 phrasing throughout the expanded head/body metaphor in chapter 4 (vv 6, 10, 13). And the body metaphor in both places is immediately preceded by someone being given to the church – “And He gave some as apostles… for the building up of the body of Christ” (4:11-12), all “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (4:7) who was “given as head over all (things) for/to the church, which is his body” (1:22-23).

    It seems pretty clear to me that chapter 4 IS the answer to what Paul means by the head/body metaphor in chapter 1 (and potentially throughout his letters since he develops the same theme in multiple places).

    Reply
  4. Rick Evans on

    I appreciate your research into the wording and your attempts to carefully handle the resources you are utilizing. My main concern is that you seem to be leaving out much discussion on what may have been the situation in Ephesus that Paul was addressing. Granted, new scholarship on that seems to come out regularly, but what the context was in that specific city and church most likey would shine some light on how Paul (assuming it was Paul) may have been using his terms.

    Reply

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