We shift into the first of the NT texts to focus on what woman can or cannot do in the life of the church. This is a very difficult passage in a number of ways. But it is also one that challenges many people’s sensibilities.
“This passage proves to be a critical test case for biblical authority.” Paul Barnett
|2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.||2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.||2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
The church in Corinth struggled with an over-realized eschatology. The false teachers told them that redemption has overturned creation. For instance, marriage was to be avoided (as in the eternal state), sex was to be avoided etc. They struggled to identify/distinguish the “already” and the “not yet”. They were putting too much of the “not yet” into the “already”.
Pratt thinks Paul focus of this passage was the behavior of husbands and wives in worship.
Presuppositions and Critical Questions:
- Is Paul speaking primarily of men & women, or of husbands and wives? Not the differences in the translations.
- Does “head” refer to “primacy” or “source”? How does it reflect relational responsibility?
The traditions here are most likely the verbal instruction by the Apostles, in distinction to the written instruction. This is not to be confused with the use of tradition in either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. It is more authoritative then when we talk about the “Reformed tradition”.
Is Paul being sarcastic? Keep in mind, most of this letter is corrective.
understand/realize (eidw) to see, to perceive, notice, discern, discover
Christ is the head of every man/person (andros)
The man is the head of a woman
God is the head of Christ
Man (andros) a male, a husband, a betrothed or future husband; can be used generically of a group of men and women
Head (kephale) head, supreme, chief, prominent; it is used both literally & metaphorically in this passage; not used often in LXX for authority/chief
Woman (guna) woman, wife
So, we see that the words Paul used can mean either man or husband, and woman or wife depending on the context. The context doesn’t offer us many clues, but we have to utilize some other passages.
Authority or Source?
The Reformation Study Bible notes indicate it could be both. Because of “source” there is “authority.”
The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible also notes “the two ideas, however, should probably not be viewed as mutually exclusive.”
Summary of Wayne Grudem’s Survey on the meaning of kephale
We often use head as the source of something, like the head of the Mississippi River. But the fact that we do it in English and other modern languages doesn’t mean they use it that way in Koine Greek. Some argue it is synonymous with archa, beginning or ruler. Some think this refers to temporal priority. These arguments lack support in older lexicons. They are proposing a new meaning.
Bedale argues the ‘head’ does not normally mean ‘ruler’. But he provides no evidence. Bedale argues the ancient world didn’t think the head controlled the body. Correct they didn’t have the knowledge of anatomy we do. But they did understand the basics of wrestling and riding horses. If you control your opponent or horses head you control them. Bedale argues that the Septuagint shows it can mean ‘source’. The Hebrew word for ‘head’ was translated by both “head” and “ruler/beginning”. When the context literally referred to a head, they used kephale. When referring to the first or beginning of something, they used archa. When referring to a ruler or chief, it was translated with either. So, he argues, they are approximately the same therefore since the later can mean source so can the former. His error is that overlap in one area of semantic range does not mean overlap in all areas of semantic range. He provides no examples when it is actually used for “source” or “beginning”.
Bedale refers to 2 extra-biblical texts. In the Herodotus citation it is used in the plural for the head for the head of the Tearus River. However, in the singular it is used to refer to the “mouth of a river” (Callimachus). We see from this that when used of things it can refer to extremities.
In the Orphic Fragments 21: Zeus the head, Zeus the middle, Zeus from whom all things are perfected. Another copy of this same fragment uses archa instead of kephale. Doesn’t seem to mean “source” in the context. In his study, Grudem looked at 2,336 examples of kephale. Most uses were to actual or literal heads of people or animals. Ruler is the meaning 16% of the time it was used metaphorically. Source was the meaning 0% of the time.
Christ is in authority over every man
The man is in authority over a woman
God is in authority over Christ
Christ is the source of every man
The man is the source of a woman
God is the source of Christ
Man being the source of woman only makes sense if we are talking about Adam and Eve. Paul does go their later. But this is about the structuring of life in the present church. So ….
I am not the source of my wife, but I have authority in that relationship.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1
22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5
Which makes more sense in the context?
Authority makes more sense consistently. In some cases, source has some application. Christ is the source of the Church, and has authority over it. When we talk about God as the source of Christ we can get onto thin ice in terms of the Trinity.
Paul addresses authority under the term “head”. These seem to be covenant relationships. This is would mean that Christ or Messiah is the head of humanity (or at least the redeemed). Every man/person is under the authority of Messiah, ultimately (Ps. 2). Likewise, the husband is the head of a wife. If we interpret it as man/woman we end up with patriarchy rather than complementarianism. This is the subjection of women to men, not the submission of a wife to her husband like we see in Ephesians 5.
In the covenant of redemption, God is the head of Messiah. The Eternal Submission of the Son (ESV Study Bible, Grudem, Ware) treats this text as if Paul said Son so this submission is seen as eternal. Paul’s choice of “Messiah” ties it into the covenant relationship for our salvation. This is recognized by Calvin.
“In asmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. … this is spoken of Christ as mediator.” John Calvin
“In this passage, the headships of Christ, husbands, and God had one thing in common to which he drew attention: each head should be honored.” Richard Pratt
Covenant Headship (Roles)
God => Christ => man/husband => woman/wife
If we stop here, we get patriarchy, or Gothardism. In this perversion of the Scriptures women are under the authority of men. A woman approaches Christ through her husband, not directly. We have to hold this in tension with Galatians 3:28.
In terms of Being or Essence
God => Christ => man and woman.
Both are made in the image of God
Both have equal access thru Christ
Men and women are equal before God, and have equal access to God through Christ Jesus. But we are also in some covenant relationships that shape our roles and responsibilities. The text continues to explore those further. We’ll explore that soon.