For a long time I felt that the metaphorical meaning of kephale was not important when considering translation issues. However, I have rethought the issue. It needs to be recognized that the English word “head” has a meaning which includes both the physical head, and “a person to whom others are subordinate, as the director of an institution or the manager of a department; leader or chief.”
The Greek word kephale had no such corresponding meaning of “leader” or “chief.” Over the last two years I have seriously considered every example which has been cited as an occurrence of kephale meaning “authority over” or “leader” prior to Paul’s epistles. Other than the translation of the highly irregular case of Jephthah, I have not seen one other instance of kephale being used in translation or original Greek writing as the “leader” or “chief.” This was contrary to my expectations.
So the Greek word means head in the sense of the physical head, but the meaning of “leader” attached to the word “head” is a product of interpretation. It is one of several possible candidates for the meaning of kephale.
Other interpretations of kephale, are “beginning” and “first principle.” Possibly both sides in the comp egal debate promote a meaning of “head” that is an interpretation of the word, rather than a referential meaning of the word. It is equally suspect to promote “leader” as to promote “source.” Personally, I find some support for “first principle” (and therefore, possibly “source”) and no support for “leader” so far. But someone may yet offer me support for “leader.” I don’t discount this.
However, I think we agree, technically, those who propose any meaning other than physical head, and therefore of one flesh with, and in perfect sympathy with, promote an interpretation. Here are some examples of the suspect translation of kephale.
- In a marriage relationship, there is authority from Christ to husband, and from husband to wife. The authority of Christ is the authority of God. Message
Now I want you to know that Christ is the head over all men, and a man is the head over a woman. But God is the head over Christ. CEV
But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man, the husband is supreme over his wife, and God is supreme over Christ. Good News
Each one of these goes beyond translation. The awkward thing is that since the word “head” in English has the meaning of “leader” and the Greek word kephale did not have that meaning, we are stuck with the realization that even by translating kephale as “head,” we are not using an equivalent.
It is a tricky thing to find a conversation about men and women that is not infused with the notion that the man is the leader or servant leader. And yet, women throughout scripture and throughout the history of the church have acted on their own moral judgement and God’s calling without a male leader. We must not commit to a meaning for a word that denies the scriptures as well as moral and ethical realities.
We must accept that the complementarian egalitarian divide exists on the level of interpretation. Some, like myself, will choose egalitarianism, that is the equal authority of women, as necessary to personal safety and offering the possibility of a relationship of loving interdependence. It is, for me, a moral and ethical choice, a necessary choice between two interpretations demonstrated to derive from scripture, ultimately a choice to neither harm nor self-harm.