The nature of headship - 1
If Jesus taught that we, his disciples, are not to exercise authority over one another (Mt 20:25-26), and if there is no longer male or female in Christ as far as status (Gal 3:27-28), then there is a serious problem with any interpretation that gives men status or authority over women in the church based on sex/gender differences.
Often the idea of "headship" is invoked by complementarians who want to do this. And while nowhere in the New Testament are leaders called "heads" in Christ's body, there are two key passages where men are called "heads" (kephale) to their wives. Today we will look at Paul's use of this word in 1 Corinthians 11, then we'll progress to the other uses in our subsequent blogs.
A passage very often cited to support this form of sex-based hierarchy and authoritarianism is:
"Now 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." (1Co 11:3)This verse establishes Paul's basis for the first-century practice of women's head coverings, which he calls a symbol of their authority (v. 10). Yet most modern interpreters who use verse 3 to deny women equality and authority do not require women in their churches to wear veils! It appears there is some kind of selective literalism going on that lets the gender-based interpreters off the hook when it comes to head coverings but allows them to excommunicate anyone who applies the real practice that is implicitly advocated in this text--women praying and prophesying (preaching) with authority in church (v. 5).
As we grapple with 1 Corinthians 11:3, then, we should note that one of the great errors of the popularized "headship" doctrine is that after it wrongly reads authority and submission into this passage, it then goes on to apply it's authoritarian thinking to church leadership. Yet there simply is no reference in the Bible to even suggest that Paul's view of headship can be transferred to church leadership. So, whatever headship is, there is no biblical support for seeing it as anything other than a marriage principle.
Second, while so-called "complementarians" often misuse this passage to establish a hierarchic chain of command (God, Christ, man, woman, dog, cat, mouse, etc.), this passage does not list relationships in this order or manner. What it literally says is:
"the head of every man (andros = man/person) is Christ;In other words, Paul does not provide a hierarchic list but a set of inter-connected relationships that begins and ends with Christ and can be charted like this:
the head of a woman (gynakos = woman/wife) is the husband (aner = man/husband),
and the head of Christ is God."
In no sense can this order be viewed as a hierarchy or chain of command. If so, Christ would be above God or below the wife, depending on which side of the diagram we look at. What is more evident is that each pair represents an intimate coupling in a network of relationships that begins and ends with Christ.Christ - Every PersonHusband - WifeGod - Christ
The critical question to ask about this text is, "What does Paul mean by 'head' (kephale)?" If he means that a kephale relationship involves a superior and inferior in terms of authority, then we have a problem with our belief that Jesus is equal to the Father in all deity and authority. For more discussion of equality and submission in the Trinity, see here.
During the latter part of the last century the heresy of subordinationism resurfaced in discussions regarding the status of women. Ironically, proponents of the error of hierarchalism revived this earlier error of subordinationism to build their case against equality of the sexes, arguing on the basis of 1 Corinthians 11:3 especially, that women are subordinate to men as Jesus is supposedly (according to them) subordinate to the Father. But the orthodox position of the historic Church is that Jesus and the Father are completely equal; any subordination within the Trinity occurred voluntarily as a means of accomplishing salvation in space and time; it was voluntary, functional, and temporary. There is a difference between one member of the Trinity voluntarily submitting to another and inferring that such submission implies a static or mandatory place of subordination within the Trinity that is then carried over into human relationships as normative.
The arrangement of the Trinity may appear to bear some resemblance to the sequential order in the creation of man and woman. Christ is begotten of the Father. Woman is created from man. Yet, since each member of the Trinity is eternal (without beginning or end) the equality of the Trinity is unaffected by its economic arrangement in accomplishing salvation history. This suggests the equality of man and woman remains unaffected by the order or chronology in which they were created. Perhaps this is why Paul concludes as he does in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12:
"In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God."In other words, in Christ what matters is not the fallen order, or even the created order. Rather, there is an essential equality between man and woman (Gal 3:28). Therefore, as there is in the Trinity, so there is to be in marriage a mutual submission between husband and wife (1Co 7:4, Eph 5:21), who though two are said to be one (Ge 2:24; Eph 5:31).
Just as orthodox Evangelicals reject the idea of hierarchy within the Trinity, so too we should reject the idea of hierarchy within marriage, between the sexes, or within the church. In the church, women and men are to share in the priesthood of all believers (Gal 3:26-29; 1Pe 2:5,9; Re 1:5). This is demonstrated by Paul's association with women as coworkers (e.g. Ro 16:1-7 ff) and by the New Testament's affirmation of women both as equal participants with men in the Christian endeavor and as prophets and leaders (e.g. Ac 2:16-18; 21:9; 1Co 11:4,10; Tit 2:3).
Passages that seem to indicate otherwise must be treated in the same way as passages that seem to indicate subordination within the Trinity. That is, they should be interpreted and understood within the broader context of Scripture and in light of its clear doctrines. To do otherwise is to flirt with heterodoxy and to break with the historic stance of the Church on a doctrine as essential as the Trinity.
How then should we understand Paul's use of kephale in 1 Corinthians 11? If Paul by the term "head" Paul means to say that men have an authority over women that excludes women from equal participation in the church or in their marriages, this would raise many other troubling questions about other statements by Paul.
First, if having a kephale-head excludes someone from leading or ministering, why did this not stop Jesus from leading and ministering? The text clearly says God is his kephale-head.
Second, every man (person) is said to have Christ as their kephale-head. Rather than excluding us from serving heaven, it rather has the effect of making us co-heirs with Christ so that we are told we will actually reign with him and someday judge angels.
Third, if having a kephale-head excludes one from holding positions of "authority," then how then could Paul conclude that women do and should therefore prophesy and lead in prayer with authority (exousia) on their heads, like the angels (v. 10)? For the text clearly speaks of their doing so with authority--not with a sign of submission --on their heads.
Fourth, if Paul thinks male headship means male authority over women, then why would he say in 1 Corinthians 7:4 that a wife has "exousia" (authority) over her husband's body, and that he does not have authority over his own body but must yield to his wife? This passage is a clear case of Paul teaching that husbands and wives are to practice mutual submission and mutual authority (7:4-5). This is not consistent with the notion that male headship grants men non-reciprocal authority over women by virtue of gender.
The "headship means authority-over" interpretation further conflicts with Paul's conclusion in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, which he derives from the meaning of headship in verse 3. Note:
In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God (1Co 11:11-12).No, the idea that headship means authority in 1 Corinthians 11 does not fit theologically or contextually. The truth is that verses 11 and 12 actually complete and illustrate Paul's comments about kephale headship. In verses 7 to 12, Paul develops the idea of man being the source of the woman in creation and of women being the source of men in reproduction ("nature"). Yet Paul concludes that in the Lord man and woman are interdependent. In other words, the order of creation may mislead us to assume one type of priority, the cyclic order of nature in reproduction might mislead us to assume another, but the deciding factor for Paul is not found in creation or in nature but "in the Lord" (v. 11). We can diagram this thus:
CREATION Man => WomanIt is in the context of speaking of man and woman as each other's source that Paul speaks of the man as the woman's kephale. Paul evidently does this because he understands the word kephale to refer to an origin or source (like a fountainhead) that sustains and supplies its body with life and nourishment through an organic kind of connectedness. This is consistent with other New Testament references containing the same word. Had he wanted to speak of a head in the sense of an authoritative head, a more fitting and more likely Greek word would have been arche. But when we trace Paul's use of that word (a topic for another study), we find that arche is almost always a pejorative term for Paul.
NATURE/REPRODUCTION Woman => Man
IN THE LORD Woman = Man
To say, then, that Christ is the kephale-source of all persons, that a man is the kephale-source of a woman, and that God is the kephale-source of Christ, is to state the intimacy of the relationships involved and the responsibility each person paired has in nurturing and caring for the other. Christ is connected to us by his humanity, making him equal to us, and yet is also connected to the Father by his divine nature, making him equal to God. So also man and woman are organically connected as equals and become mystically united as one in holy matrimony.
We conclude, then, that instead of establishing a hierarchy or chain of command, 1 Corinthians 11:3 actually argues for unity and equality.