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Wayne Grudem on “Does kephale (“Head”) Mean “Source” Or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples”

The following article is now on-line in PDF:

Wayne Grudem, “Does Kephale (“Head”) Mean “Source” or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples,” Trinity Journal ns 6.1 (Spring 1985): 38-59.

This is an important article for those interested in the role relationships of men and women because it fatally undermines the oft-repeated and unfounded argument that kephale means ‘source’ and not ‘head’ in the NT. Grudem’s later article on this subject is also available on-line:

Wayne Grudem, “The Meaning Of kephale (‘Head’: ‘An Evaluation Of New Evidence, Real And Alleged,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44.1 (2001): 25-65.

I have recently added another article that addresses the issue from a complimentarian position that is worth a read:

The New Testament Teaching on the Ministry of Women (P.G. Nelson)

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  1. I have a foggy recollection of reading somewhere–maybe something from Fee–indicating that this study had been criticized and partially rebuffed by Richard Bauckham. Does anyone have any more concrete references on that?

  2. mwh, if you can track that Bauckham reference down, I would be most grateful!

    Robert, you might want to post online Grudem’s third article on the topic here: Wayne A. Grudem, “The meaning of kephale (‘head’): a response to recent studies,” Trinity Journal ns 11.1 (Spring 1990): 3-72. (And, as I have said before, Robert, thank you for this service to the rest of us. We appreciate your hard work!)

    Having said that, I am amazed that discussions of Ephesians 5 so frequently focus on the question of authority rather than on Paul’s radical call to mutual, self-giving love . . . as cruciform followers of our crucified Savior (explicit in Ephesians 4:32, 5:1, 2, 25). That is, I believe Paul is not asking the question “Who is in charge?” but rather “Who is willing to not seek your own way and instead put the needs of the other person before your own, following in the footsteps of Jesus at the cross?”

    In this discussion of kephale, I want to commend several other recent articles presenting a different perspective from Grudem. When one of the doyens of NT scholarship like Howard Marshall suggests that “the debate has not been closed by the work of Wayne Grudem…,” it gets my attention.

    – I. Howard Marshall’s 2004 article, “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33,” pp. 186-204 in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, eds. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Gordon D. Fee.

    – In the same volume, Gordon D. Fee’s “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” pp. 142-160 has a significant section on the meaning of the metaphorical use of head in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

    – Gordon D. Fee, “The Cultural Context of Ephesians 5:18-19,” Priscilla Papers 16/1 (Winter 2002): 3-8.

    – Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGNT, 2000), pp. 812-822.

    – Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Eerdman’s Socio-rhetorical Series of Commentaries on the New Testament), pp. 316-335.

    – And an older contribution, Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation. A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, pp. 64-65, suggests that “the conventional authority structures of the ancient household are thereby subverted even while they are left in place.”

    – Tucked away in Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (2001) is an excursus on “Cruciform Love in Ephesians, with Special Reference to Ephesians 5” (pp. 261-267) that grounds the entire discussion about marriage “in the larger context of the letter and what it says about the fundamental responsibility of believers to one another: self-sacrificing, mutually submitting love.” His brief explication of what Paul meant by “be filled with the Spirit” shows how Paul gives definition to the verb “be filled” by following it with a series of participles that unpack its meaning: “speaking to one another…singing and making music…giving thanks…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In other words, part of “being filled with the Spirit” (v. 18) involves “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21), which is then unpacked for both wives (vv. 22ff.) and (surprisingly) husbands (vv. 25ff.)

  3. I am surprised that these articles have not been suppressed by the author. The first contains significant problems.

    There are possibly two cases in Grudem’s list where Kephale means “authority over” in terms of provider for the family. I discount this as not being gender related since all single mothers are the providers for their children and the heads of their homes. It is only a practical description of a breadwinner.

    There is no other citation in which the head of a family, tribe or nation is called kephale in Greek. The cases quotes by Grudem say “head of the staff” and not “head of the tribe” – they are translation Greek at any rate and depend on the underlying rosh, which most of the time is translated as archon.

    On specific quote, David is head of the Gentiles, but never over his own people. We have no citation for this.

    Jephthah, who is not a leader of any tribe at all is asked to be “head” because he is a hero leader, the most valiant or prominent.

    In Philo, here, Philadelphus is the head as the most prominent of the kings in his family, those who died before him, and those that followed him. It has no reference whatsoever to authority – this is completely bizarre as an example of authority over and falls very wide of the mark.

    In fact, in Philo “head” is clearly NOT a ruling authority, but a model or a prominent and illustrious person. Here is how the term is used. Please read carefully to the end of the quote,

    “If, then, any one proves himself a man of such a character in the city he will appear superior to the whole city, and if a city show itself of such a character it will be the chief of all the country around; and if a nation do so it will be the lord of all the other nations, as the head is to the body occupying the pre-eminence of situation, not more for the sake of glory than for that of advancing the interests of those that see. For continual appearances of good models stamp impressions closely resembling themselves on all souls which are not utterly obdurate and intractable; (115) and I say this with reference to those who wish to imitate models of excellent and admirable beauty, that they may not despair of a change for the better, nor of an alteration and improvement from that dispersion, as it were, of the soul which vice engenders, so that they may be able to effect a return to virtue and wisdom.”

    The “head” is a good model, and has no authority whatsoever. It appears to relate to authority because of the use in English of the word “lord” of all the other nations. f anyone can find a reference to authority here, please point it out.

    If you read this in context you will see that the lawgivers and authorities are described elsewhere. The “man of character” in Philo has no authority except that he is a good model.

  4. Sorry, I got the Scripture reference wrong on the title of the second Gordon Fee article — and it makes quite a difference! It should read:

    – Gordon D. Fee, “The Cultural Context of Ephesians 5:18-6:9,” Priscilla Papers 16/1 (Winter 2002): 3-8.

    In grateful memory of distinguished New Testament scholar David M. Scholer (1938-2008), whose homegoing just last month brought to my mind his thoughtful advocacy of the ministry of women as evidenced in the New Testament record as well as his courageous battle with cancer, I would also commend:

    – David M. Scholer, “The Evangelical Debate over Biblical ‘Headship’ ” – a 1994 essay accessible online at http://www.godswordtowomen.org/scholer.htm.

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