The Meaning Of “Head” In The Bible -- By: Wayne Grudem

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 01:3 (Jun 1996)
Article: The Meaning Of “Head” In The Bible
Author: Wayne Grudem


The Meaning Of “Head” In The Bible

A Simple Question No Egalitarian Can Answer

Wayne Grudem

If you ever meet an egalitarian (an evangelical feminist) claiming that the word “head” in the Bible doesn’t mean “authority” but means “source,” you may wonder how to answer. Their purpose, of course, is to get rid of the idea of authority in the family in verses like, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). So they claim that the word “head” (the Greek word kephalē) meant “source” rather than “authority” in the ancient world. Sometimes they quote some ancient Greek texts which, they say, show Zeus to be the “source” of all things, or Esau to be the “source” of his clan, or which mention the “head” of a river. For a verse about husbands and wives, even this idea makes no sense (I am not the source of my wife!), but they will usually then suggest a more specific meaning like “source of encouragement.”

At this point in the discussion there is something that can be done. There is a simple question which they have never been able to answer. It is this:

You claim that the Greek word for “head” means “source without the idea of authority.” Will you please show me one example in all of ancient Greek where this word (kephalē) is used to refer to a person and means what you claim, namely, ”non-authoritative source”?

I asked this of both Catherine Kroeger and Gilbert Bilezikian in public debate in Atlanta in 1986 and they gave me no example. I asked this question in an academic article published in Trinity Journal in 1990 and received no example. I asked this question in the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1991 and received no example. That is because no example has ever been found.

The reason is simple: In the Greek speaking world, to be the head of a group of people always meant to have authority over those people. Notice the egalitarian examples: Zeus is the chief of the Greek gods! Esau was the leader of the clan descended from him. These examples don’t disprove the idea of authority; they confirm it.

The example of “head of a river “doesn’t prove “source without authority,” because (1) this usage is not referring to a person at all, and (2) the example is misquoted for Eph. 5:23, because there “head” is singular, and “head” in the singular is in fact used to refer to the other end of the river, the “mouth” while only in the plural is it used of the “source” of the river (see the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon,...

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