Thursday, July 30, 2009

The God Who Meets Me at the Place of Shame

Serving as police chaplain for many years I was in the position of hearing more than a few Christians mock "jailhouse conversions." My sentiments are just the opposite. God seems to be in the habit of doing some pretty mighty and powerful things when people are brought to a place of profound, personal shame - and jail has a way of producing that kind of shame. In fact, I might push the point even further. The power of Jesus Christ is most often seen in weak, broken people who have nothing to offer God. I am not talking about the kind of humility we ministerial professionals often profess to possess, but the genuine thing that rises from the ashes of brokenness. C.S. Lewis once wrote, "A man is never as proud as when striking an attitude of humility," and heaven knows we ministers know how to strike the attitude. This seems to me to be the meaning behind the promise that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." The real blessings of God's grace and the power of His manifested presence fall on that person who has been broken and humbled.

Peter is an example of a believer who had everything going for him, and then fell into deep shame and brokenness because of his own failures. Early on in Peter's life Christ Himself had commissioned Peter for kingdom service (Matthew 16:17-19). Peter had the privilege of daily walking with Christ throughout our Lord's ministry (Matthew 17:1). Peter's closeness to Christ even brought Peter to thinking of his own spiritual greatness and legacy (Matthew 18:1). But when Christ was arrested we find Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas denying that he knew Christ (three times), cursing God (to prove he didn't know Christ), and then leaving the courtyard weeping because of his sin and shame over his conduct (John 18).

But something happened to Peter. This man who spat a curse, denying he knew Christ in order to save his own skin, eventually would die a courageous death, refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. We are told that at the end of Peter's life, under threat of death if he refused, Peter was ordered by Roman officials to deny Christ. Yet, Peter did refuse and then made the remarkable request that his tormentors crucify him upside down because he was unworthy to die in the manner of his Lord. What had happened to Peter?

Jesus met Peter at the place of his failure, brokenness and shame . . . and then empowered Him and sent Him out to minister from that very place. In other words, Peter's ministry went from powerless to powerful because Peter went from boasting to brokenness. Let me show you what I mean.

There are only two places in the Bible where the phrase "fire of coals" is used. First, in John 18:18, in Caiaphas' courtyard, when Peter denied Christ. Peter's failure to be faithful brought him great shame and brokenness, and we read that when Peter actually denied Christ he was warming his hands at "the fire of coals."

Then, after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, Jesus meets Peter for the first time since Peter's betrayal, shame and personal brokenness. It is at this meeting, recorded in John 21:9, that we find the second and only other occasion where "fires of coals" is mentioned in the Bible. It is also interesting that this is the only time in the Bible we find Jesus making a fire. Rather than making the typical fire, Jesus makes a "fire of coals." The smell of coal is unique. It burns differently, it smells differently. Everything about the fire of coal that Jesus made reminded Peter of his denial, his failure, and his shame in Caiaphas' courtyard. But it was at this meeting with Jesus, at the second fire of coal, that Peter's life was transformed - so much so that he leaves Christ to go and become a great teacher, missionary and martyr.

There is no need for pretension in real Christianity. There is no reason we Christians have to pretend we are something when we aren't. We don't need to hide our struggles, cover our failures, or sweep away our shame. In fact, the power of God will only rest on us when we allow ourselves to feel the flush heat of shame as we recount our failures to others. Christ is in the practice of pouring out His power and grace on the weak and the humble. "But we have this treasure (Christ Jesus) in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (II Corinthians 4:7 NIV). God chooses to use broken vessels so the glory and power of His Son will never be diminished by man's pride in supposed abilities.

Some might object by saying, "If a believer really does sense his or her utter unworthiness, inability and failure, will there not be a "checking out" of Christian ministry. No, for Christ will separate us, as He separated Peter, from the pain of our shame by giving us His grace and power. Christ recommissioned Peter at that fire of coals by the Sea of Galilee and then Peter goes out in power to minister Christ and to eventually die a faithful death. Peter was a different man. He was broken, but met the God who meets His people at the place of our shame.

Christ revealed to Peter. . . "You can't, I can." The nets that were cast at the command of Christ in John 21 came back full of fish. The fish pulled into the net were 153 and the net was not broken (John 21:11). This account is similar to the first meeting the disciples had with Christ in Luke 5, except in that instance the nets broke and fish were not numbered. But in this last encounter with Christ, at the coal fire, the fish were numbered and the nets were not broken - 153 fish.

Why 153 fish at this last encounter with Christ?

There may be other reasons, but the letters in Hebrew for the number 153 form the acronym "I AM GOD."

God has chosen imperfect people to advance His kingdom - but we must first meet Him at the place of our shame to grasp that He is God, and without Him, we are nothing.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Friends With Benefits? A Lie from Hell Itself

One of my friends and fellow leaders at Emmanuel is a bright attorney named Randy. His family and mine spent the last couple of days at their family home on Lake Keystone, where we had a very interesting conversation. Randy shared that one of our special guests at Emmanuel this spring, author and Christian school educator Josh Bullard, had revealed in his training of our youth leaders a cultural phenomenon among teens and even pre-teens in America. "Friends with benefits" is the lingo of our day to identify "friends" who will perform sexual favors with no commitment, no sense of "girlfriend/boyfriend" relationship, etc ... In other words, we are living in a culture where sexual activity among teenagers is not necessarily among "dating" couples who are not married, but simply among "friends" who have no intention of either dating and/or getting married. These kinds of relationships among kids is called "friends with benefits."

I was floored.

I had never even heard of such a thing but immediately turned to my fifteen year old son who had just recently returned from a summer long mission trip to Peru and asked if he had heard of "friends with benefits." He said yes. I then asked the attorney's seventeen year old daughter if she had heard the phrase and she said yes. The attorney then told me that the very next week, during a criminal trial, he heard a witness from the stand use the very phrase "friend with benefits." The conversation confirmed what our guest youth speaker had told our youth leaders this past spring. "Friends with benefits" is a fact of life among this world's youth culture.

My nurse wife, Rachelle, explained to us how rampant sexually transmitted diseases are. S.T.D's such as chlamydia are often silent until sterility is discovered after marriage. Other sexually transmitted diseases are much less silent and far more deadly.

The very concept of "friends with benefits" is a lie fired from hell itself. Were a teen to sneak off to a car, or a school locker room, or another location to spend time with a "friend with benefits," that teen will one day discover that his or her sexual partner should have been called a "friend with consequences."

The gospel of Jesus Christ delivers a sinner from hell to heaven, but thank God and His grace that the gospel of Jesus Christ can also deliver a sinner from believing the lie that friends who perform sexual favors are benefits.

They are friends with consequences of a curse.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Text Taken Out of Context Is Only a Pretext

The title of this post simply means, "Words taken out of their context lead the reader to false conclusions." I learned this principle years ago and it has been particularly valuable in properly interpreting the meaning and intent of Scripture verses. Some, however, don't seem to comprehend the importance of understanding context. This principle is as true in Bible interpretation as it is in the study of history. The following anecdote from history shows the power of context and should cause each of us to pause before we dogmatically assert the meaning of a single verse without knowing its context.

Atheists often use the following quote from John Adams to proselyte others to their atheistic beliefs.

"This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!

Adams did actually write the above sentence in a personal letter to Thomas Jefferson.

However, when the sentence is placed in its original context, the entire meaning changes:

Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!" But in this exlamation I would have been ... fanatical... Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.

Quite a change of meaning isn't it?

I wonder how many passages in Scripture, often quoted by us conservative Baptists, are taken out of their context, and if we framed the verses within their context, the meaning of the passages themseleves would change in our minds?

I have heard some people say "How can two, well-meaning, sincere, Bible-believing Christians disagree on the meaning of a passage or verse of Scripture?"

That's not as difficult as it might seem. It's all about context.

In His Grace,


Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Fingerprints of God: Science and Spirituality

Barbara Bradley Hagerty is the religion reporter for National Public Radio. I have spoken with Barbara on a few occasions via telephone, but have not had the opportunity of meeting her. However, this past week I read Barbara's first book Fingerprints of God . It will be evident to all who read this book that Barbara possesses an extraordinary mind. She recently received the Religion Newswriters Award and the 200 Gracie Award for Women in Radio and Television. She was also one of 10 journalists selected for a Templeton-Cambridge fellowship in science and religion in 2005, where she and her colleagues spent weeks questioning world-class scientists and theologians at Cambridge University. Barbara grew up a Christian Scientist, but in the early 1990's she left Christian Science and through a series of events, eventually came to faith in a personal God and now considers herself a mainstream Christian.

Fingerprints of God is her attempt to answer skeptics' questions about spirituality by diving into the emerging science of spirituality. The first chapter of the book is worth the purchase price alone. Barbara shares about a fascinating spiritual encounter she had outside Saddleback Church in California. She was on assignment for the L.A. Times in 1995 to discover what causes churches to grow numerically. She interviewed a young lady named Kathy Young on a park bench outside Saddleback's auditorium. Kathy shared with Barbara that cancer had returned to her body, but she believed the cancer was God's way of showing her she was on earth for a transcendent purpose. Barbara writes of how she experienced a spiritual encounter with God on that bench as Kathy described her faith in Jesus. I was captivated as Barbara went on in chapter one to describe her own crossing the "river" experience of personal faith in Christ. The book is written primarily for atheists, agnostics or others who struggle with the very concept of God or that the spiritual is real. Not everyone will appreciate the book, but for those who wrestle with the idea of a personal God who actually cares about individuals, Barbara's book will become a classic answer to their skeptical questions. Barbara Bradley Hagerty lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Devin Hagerty, professor and international security expert, and her yellow Labrador retriever, Sandra Day.

I don't agree with 95 percent of Barbara Hagerty's conclusions, particularly with her denial of the exclusivity of Christ, but if an evangelical conservative is going to be able to reach the intellectual liberal, it is important that we understand the way he or she thinks. This book will help you understand. The only thing we evangelicals should fear about intellectual liberalism is our ignorance of it. I think we display a genuine weakness within our own Bible believing faith when we act scared of what liberalism might do to our own faith. Christ in me is my hope of glory, and others who deny His exclusivity will not be won for truth through those ignorant of their views.

In His Grace,


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Logan, Welcome Home!

Rachelle and I are in Dallas, Texas picking up our fifteen year old son, Logan, upon his return from Peru. He has spent six weeks this summer sharing Christ in street evangelism with a team from Awe Star Ministries out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Logan, candidly photographed (left) by one of the team members as he prayed over a village in Peru, has a heart for missions and evangelism. Logan's team leaders for this Peruvian mission trip were Brent and Deanna Higgens. This delightful couple lost their own fifteen year old son, B.J., to the bubonic plague in the summer of 2005 while he was ministering to the Peruvian people as well. I have previously written of the Higgens family and how their #1 bestselling book, I Would Die for You , an account of their teenage son's life and death on the mission field, greatly moved me. It was through reading B.J.'s story that our son, Logan, felt called to spend the summer of 2009 in Peru with Awe Star.

You can read the reports of this summer's Awe Star Mission trip to Peru here. Nearly 4,000 Peruvians professed their faith in Christ through the gospel ministry of Awe Star this summer. Awe Star Ministries was designed to help 14,15,16, and 17 year old kids go through a rite of passage into adulthood - through missions. Over the past fifteen years Awe Star Ministries has placed thousands of young people in 39 countries of the world to share the gospel, plant churches and make the transition to adulthood. I highly recommend Awe Star ministries to anyone and everyone interested in gospel missions done well. Walker Moore, President of Awe Star, and all the staff of Awe Star have been a blessing to the Burlesons.

Welcome home, Logan!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shiloh Has Come! The Joy of Fulfilled Prophecy

The Old Testament is replete with amazing prophecies that are fulfilled to the detail in the person, ministry and death of Jesus Christ. In many cases these prophecies were given thousands of years before their fulfillment. No other "religious" book, including the Koran, the Book of Mormon, etc ... contains even one prophecy foretold and later fulfilled. The Bible has hundreds. Christians sometimes make the mistake, in my opinion, of ignoring the prophecies that have already been fulfilled to focus primarily on those few they consider to be futuristic (i.e. to be fulfilled in the future). As for me, the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible are a great source of encouragement because they confirm the inspiration of the Scriptures, point to the centrality of Jesus Christ and His work for us, and they give me the impetus to share Christ with those who think Christianity is just one of many other comparable religions. The uniqueness of Christianity is seen in fulfilled prophecy.

My favorite prophecy in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, is found in Genesis 49:10.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

For the longest time I had very little understanding of what this prophetical utterance from Jacob, given at the point of his own death, really meant. We are all familiar with other prophecies regarding the Messiah, prophecies fulfilled in the life of Jesus, such as . . .

The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem --- (Micah 5:2).
The Messiah would be born of a virgin --- (Isaiah 7:14).
The Messiah would be existent before His birth --- (Micah 5:2).
The Messiah would suffer and die for His people by crucifixion --- (Isaiah 53:12).
The Messiah would become the righteousness of His people --- (Jeremiah 23:6).

But this prophecy, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be"(Genesis 49:10), has become my favorite.

Let me try to help you understand it by focusing on four key words or phrases:

Shiloh --- is the Jewish idiom (or name) for "the Messiah," and was often used by ancient Jewish writers in place of "the Messiah."
Judah --- is the name of Jacob's son, but even more importantly, became the name of the entire Southern Kingdom of Israel.
The sceptor --- is the tribal staff or the tribal identity of Judah. It's modern equivalent would be our "national flag" that would cease to exist if we were captured or conquered as a nation.
A lawgiver from between his feet --- is the ability of Judah (or the Southern Kingdom of Israel) to apply and enforce the Mosaic laws. In essence, for Judah to have a "lawgiver between his feet" was an idiomatic expression that spoke of Judah's right to adjudicate and administer capital punishment for violations of the Mosaic laws.

Using the above definitions, a simple descriptive translation of Genesis 49:10 would be as follows:

"The (national identity of Judah) shall not depart from Judah, nor (the ability to enforce Mosaic law, including the right to administer capital punishment) shall leave Judah, until Shiloh come." (Genesis 49:10).

Two questions must now be asked:

(1). WHEN did JUDAH lose her national identity?
(2). When did JUDAH lose the right to administer capital punishment?

According to Genesis 49:10, if you can identify those two dates or occasions, you will know that Shiloh has come.

Rome destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem (capital of Judah) in 70 AD. It was then that Judah ceased to exist as a nation. 70 AD was the culmination of years of conflict between the Jews and Rome.

But Judah's leaders had lost her ability to administer capital punishment for violations of the Mosaic law about 40 years earlier. The Romans took the "lawgiver ability" away from Judah in 30 A.D., though they allowed Judah to retain her national identity. The reason the Jewish leaders brought Jesus before the Romans is because they no longer had the power themselves to put him to death.

"A little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews." The Talmud, folio 24.

Even the Jews themselves understand the significance of this loss

"Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come." The Sanhedrin as recorded by the Babylonian Talmud, Ch. 4, folio 37.

Oh, but Shiloh already had come.

Just a few years before Judah lost her ability to adjudicate and administer capital punishment, God revealed His Son, our Messiah, at Jordan. The heavens opened and God declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16). It was then Jesus' public ministry began. Less than three years later, at the Mount of Transfiguration, God reiterated what He had said of Jesus the Messiah at Jordan and then added these words, "Hear ye him" . The Messiah had been revealed. His words were to take precedence over Moses' words. The Old Covenant would shortly be fulfilled and abolished. The New Covenant would be ratified by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah - the Shiloh that Genesis 49:10 promised would come.

Jacob, under inspiration of God, gave his Shiloh prophecy nearly two thousand years BEFORE Jesus came to earth. Jesus is Shiloh, and just like the prophecy declared, He arrives on earth just prior to the loss of Judah's ability to administer capital punishment (30 AD) and to her loss of national identity (70 AD).

Our sins are forgiven because --- Shiloh has come.
Our lives have meaning because --- Shiloh has come.
Our Bible can be trusted because --- Shiloh has come.

As C.S. Lewis so eloqutently stated: "You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Jesus is the Son of God. He is my Lord.

Shiloh has come.

In His Grace,


Sunday, July 19, 2009

When Cultural Bias Leads to Interpretive Error

It has been my distinct pleasure to discover the writings of Suzanne McCarthy of Vancouver, Canada. Suzanne has commented on this blog, which led me to her own blog to read several articles she has written. Out of the many that I found quite interesting, the following is a repost from Thursday, July 9th's blog, written the day before the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth. This post typifies the abilities of Suzanne to cause readers with a high view of the sacred text to pause before being dogmatic with particular - and often cultural - interpretations of the Word. Suzanne writes:

(Beginning of Post)_______________

Twice recently, I have heard an interpretation of 1 Tim. 5:8. Here it is.

εἰ δέ τις τῶν ἰδίων
καὶ μάλιστα οἰκείων οὐ προνοεῖ,
τὴν πίστιν ἤρνηται καὶ ἔστιν ἀπίστου χείρων.

(Translation)If anyone does not provide for his relatives,
and especially for his immediate family,
he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever

Three masculine pronouns give the average English reader the notion that this verse is addressed to men. However, in the Greek there are no masculine pronouns, and only one masculine plural ending. Not an indication of a male only subject.

But I have listened to two sermons lately where the preacher just assumed that the original Greek was addressed to men.

First, Mark Driscoll says that this is the perfect memory verse for men. And here is what he said in his sermon on 1 Tim. 5:1-16 at minutes 36-38 . . .

If you men don’t take care of your family you are worse than a pagan. … We don’t have any member in the church who is married and is a mother who works outside of the home.

And in another sermon, a more egalitarian preacher said that, although this verse was originally addressed to men, women can provide also. Both of these seminary educated men, who believe they have the credentials to interpret the scripture for their congregation, have misunderstood the Greek.

So, what did Calvin write about this verse?

Erasmus has translated it “If any woman do not provide for her own,” making it apply exclusively to females. But I prefer to view it as a general statement; for it is customary with Paul, even when he is treating of some particular subject, to deduce arguments from general principles, and, on the other hand, to draw from particular statements a universal doctrine. And certainly it will have greater weight, if it apply both to men and to women.

________________________________ (End of Post)

As Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes used to say, "Interesting . . . very interesting!"


In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Every Believer a Witness - A Personal Testimony

This past Sunday morning through Wednesday night our church hosted Dennis Nunn and Every Believer a Witness. Hands down, in twenty-five years of ministry, this past week did more to encourage our church family to be faithful in witnessing to others than anything I have ever before experienced. From 1500 people on Sunday morning, to the several hundred people who came back for each evening 6:30 session, there has developed within our church family this past week a culture of excitement about sharing Jesus. Dennis was funny and engaging, our people were captivated, and by Wednesday night they had learned how to naturally and easily share Christ with others - by simply relating their own story of being touched by Christ Himself. The blind man in the gospels declared, "This one thing I know, I once was blind but now I see." The believers that make up our church family are acting like that blind man.

Rather than give details of what we learned through Every Believer a Witness, allow me to tell you of three spiritually blind people who came to see their need of Christ and publicly shared with our church this past week their own stories.

The San Diego Police Officer

On Sunday night after we learned how to tell others our personal story of our life before Christ, how we came to meet Christ, and our life after Christ, Dennis asked for someone who had never spoken publicly in a church setting to share his or her story.

A fifty year old woman about midway back stood and told us her story. It is impossible for me to write down all she said and to do justice to what we heard that night. We all sat transfixed as this woman named Cheryl, who had just recently begun attending Emmanuel Baptist Church, explained to us how she had met Christ in February of this year. For years she had worked as a San Diego "cop" and had grown hard, cynical and bitter. She saw so much evil, so many wicked things, that she had closed her heart and mind to any concept of God. How could there be a God? - there was just too much evil in the world. Yet, after a medical retirement from the SDPD, she had moved to Oklahoma with her husband to work in the oil fields and God had pursued her. After hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ through the testimony of other believers she had come under conviction herself. She surrendered her life to Jesus Christ and her placed her faith in His death and resurrection. There were many tears as she shared the specifics of her story and how her life had changed since meeting Christ, and at one time she apologized for being so emotional. It was then that Dennis said something I'll never forget - "When God squeezes the heart, the juice comes out the eyes." God was squeezing a ton of hearts that night.

The Wealthy Businessman

On Tuesday night a man who owns his own business that employs three hundred people, and who himself had attended Sunday morning's service, stood and told us his story. He shared how he had allowed money to become his god, how he had been unfaithful to his wife, was going through a divorce, but his own 14 year old son had been talking to his father about repenting of his lifestyle and trusting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Through many tears, the businessman father shared with our church that just a few hours earlier he had given his life to Jesus Christ. He asked his 14 year old son to stand and publicly thanked him for being a faithful witness of what Christ could do for his father. The businessman will be baptized at our baptismal service at Ski Lake next month.

The Single Young Lady

On the very back row of one of our evening services, a young lady stood and described how she had longed for somebody to love her, and absent the kind of love that satisfies the soul, she had turned to alcohol and sexual promiscuity. Through the faithful testimony of a believer, the young lady had come to discover that her needs could only be met through a personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ. She described how she had placed her faith in His death and resurrection and how her life had changed since believing in Christ. Again, I cannot give her story justice in this blog, but what I want you to understand is that people like this stood before hundreds of people during worship services and shared their faith in Christ because they had been taught how to share their stories - "This one thing I know, I once was blind but now I see."

Throughout the week we learned practical ways of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with servers at restaurants, neighbors on the block, co-workers, friends and complete strangers. During the evening services we had testimonies of how God was moving through witnessing to others. Every Believer a Witness is not a new program. It's not a new "method." It is simply getting God's people excited about bragging on Jesus.

And it works.

Two things I wish to encourage those who read this blog to consider:

(1). First, if you are in a position to invite Dennis Nunn to come to your church to lead out in Every Believer a Witness - do it. Contact him at 1.866.888.8589. Your church will never be as excited about witnessing as they will be by the end of the week - and it's not something they have to do - it is something they are EXCITED and WANT to do. Dennis is a staff evangelist for FBC, Woodstock, the church that is pastored by the President of the Southern Baptist Convention President - Johnny Hunt. He will help your church whether it is big or small, metro or rural, traditional or contemporary. Sharing Jesus transcends all those things.

(2). Second, a few have remarked on other blogs that I am moving "leftward" theologically - at least in one case it was because they learned I am the Friday night keynote speaker at the New Baptist Covenant Conference in Norman, Oklahoma on Friday, August 7th, following Jimmy Carter's keynote address on Thursday night. Rather than defend myself against the "leftward leaning" accusations, just let me simply say that after I have spent one week observing the Spirit of God producing some incredible conversions to faith in Jesus Christ through the faithful sharing of the gospel by my church members at Emmanuel - I no longer care that others may accuse me of leaning "leftward."

I know my heart, and if the excitement I feel in seeing so many conversions to Christ- and knowing that we will be baptizing between 50 and 100 people at our baptismal service on August 9th - if that is what it means for my heart to "lean leftward," then give me more leftward leanings! :)

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Sincere Question for My Inerrantist Friends

As most of you know, I consider myself an inerrantist. I have no problem believing the sacred text is inspired, infallible and inerrant. However, I have long told the people who hear me teach that we worship the Christ the Scriptures reveal, not the Scriptures themselves. For this reason, I have no problem with textual criticism. In other words, in those few passages of Scripture where Greek scholars believe a later scribe added words to the Bible, it neither shakes my faith nor causes me to doubt the veracity of Scripture to agree with the scholars' conclusions.

For example, this Sunday I am preaching from I John 5:6-12. The text reads from the King James Version as follows.

6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. 10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. 11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

The emboldened words above (in vs 7-8) are considered by Greek scholars to be an addition to the original text. They believe that because of the controversies in the early church over the deity of Jesus Christ, scribes in the 4th century added the words - words not originally written by John - to help make a stronger case for the deity of Christ and put down the heretics of their day.

Frankly, the text itself seems to confirm the Greek scholars' conclusions. Verses 6-8 speak of the testimonies of man regarding the person of Christ. The water refers to His baptism in the Jordan and what those who witnessed it reported to others about it (God said 'this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased' Matthew 3:16). The blood speaks of Calvary and what those who observed the cross, the earthquake, the eclipse, etc... reported to others it all ('surely this man was the Son of God' Mark 15:39). The spirit (Greek has no capitalization), is "the gospel of truth" (at least according to John Gill), but it also could be a reference to the Holy Spirit which empowers men to proclaim the message of the gospel to others. Regardless, the water (Jesus' baptism), the blood (Jesus' death at Calvary), and the spirit (either the gospel or the Spirit's empowerment to share Christ with others), is the recounting of the history of Jesus Christ - and we believe the testimony. We don't believe a fairy tell. We believe a story that is confirmed by eyewitnesses of actual events. The scribal addition in verses 7-8 seems out of place with the context because it brings in the testimony of heaven, not earth.

It is only beginning in verse 9 that the transition from the testimony of people on earth to the testimony of God takes place. The testimony of God regarding the person of His Son is found in 'life.' He that has the Son has 'life' (an inner divine life). This is, of course, the life that comes from what John calls 'the new birth.' So, the testimony of man is the sharing of Christ's ministry and death with others. The testimony of God is the life that God implants in the person who believes on Christ.

The Greek scholars leave out the emboldened words in verses 7-8 because they don't show up in Greek texts until the 4th Century. For this reason the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, the New International Version and other modern English translations of the Bible leave out almost all of verse 7 and the first portion of verse 8. For example, the popular English Standard Version translates I John 5:6-12 as follows:

6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Notice how short in length verse 7 in the English Standard Version is compared to the King James Version. In addition, the ESV in vs 7-8 reads completely different than vs 7-8 in the King James Version. Bluntly, almost an entire verse (vs. 7) is left out of the ESV, NIV, NASB, and other translations. An entire statement on the deity of Christ is excluded from our modern English translations.

The question to my inerrantist friends is simple and two fold:

(1). Is your faith in Jesus Christ or in a "perfect" English text (or Greek manuscript)?

(2). Do you talk more to others about your faith in Jesus or your belief in a perfect English text (or Greek manuscript)?

We inerrantist need to realize that the belief in the veracity of the Scriptures does not exclude textual criticisms of our English translations.

We worship the Christ the Bible reveals, not the Bible itself.

In His Grace,


Monday, July 13, 2009

David Sanders: A Fresh, Conservative Thinker

My wife and I have the privilege of calling David and Becca Sanders from Little Rock, Arkansas our friends. David is a political columnist with a wide readership in dozens of major newspapers. Of all the newspaper columnists I intentionally read, David Sanders and Cal Thomas are two of my favorites. The Wall Street Journal will once again be carrying a 1,000 word article by David in this Friday's editorial section. Politicians seek his advice, people seek his opinion, political parties seek his favor. David is the featured host of a popular political television show in Arkansas, and on the few occasions when Rachelle and I have had the opportunity of sharing meals with David and Becca Sanders in restaurants within Arkansas, he is almost universally recognized by the patrons. David is young, conservative, articulate, highly connected, and quite influential.

He is also an evangelical Christian.

The Associated Baptist Press is now running regular opinion pieces by David Sanders. Two things that can be said about David's writing for ABP. First, the fact that he is writing for Associated Baptist Press means I will be reading ABP on a more regular basis. Second, the fact that ABP has asked a man the stature of David, conservative in his faith and cooperative in his nature, is an indication that ideological lines may be blurring just a tad for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ and cooperation among all Baptists.

My prayers is that David Sanders and his wife Becca are representing the new, fresh faces of Southern Baptist leadership (they are members of FBC Little Rock) and that Baptists in general will be seen by the world at large as the Sanders represent us -intelligent, Bible-believing, and cooperative with all Christians.

In His Grace,


Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Exhaustive Study on the Meaning of "Head:" Are Women Really Free To Function Freely?

My friend, Dr. Sam Storms, sent me a couple of articles last week in response to my statement that the Greek word translated head, as in the verse "The husband shall be the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church" ((Eph. 5:23), means "source" and not "authority or authority over." He suggested if I read the articles, written by Dr. Wayne Grudem, I would change my mind. I was familiar with Dr. Grudem's research, having read it before, but read the articles again - without changing my mind.

The following post is rather lengthy, but I have reprinted Dr. Grudem's short article where he proposes that "head" means authority (and that no biblical scholar can refute this position), and then immediately following, I am posting one of the finest articles I've come across that takes the position that "head" means "source." The second article is written by Laurie Fasullo. In the closing two paragraphs there are a couple of mentions of Grudem's respect, showing respect for, but disagreement with, the conclusions of Dr. Grudem.

Someone might ask, "What's the big deal?" Well, in practical terms, if one holds to Grudem's view, women can not have any type of "authority" over men. Whereas, if one holds that "head" means source, then there is no problem with a woman "teaching" a man, holding a position of "authority" over men, and women being considered equal to men. In my opinion, this is a subject over which evangelical conservative Christians should simply agree to disagree and not divide in fellowship over.

Regardless of your position, after reading both articles below, it should be very apparant that both views take a very high view of the sacred text. This issue is not "liberal" vs. "conservative" but "conservative interpretation" vs. "conservative interpretation."


The Meaning Of “Head” In The Bible
by 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 (kephal¯e) 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, p. 945), and (3) in both cases it just means "end point," in the same way that it can refer to the "head of a column" or "head of a pole," and these examples have nothing to do with the ideas of "source" or "authority."

I once looked up over 2,300 examples of the word "head" (kephal¯e) in ancient Greek. In these texts the word kephal¯e is applied to many people in authority, but to none without governing authority:
• the king of Egypt is called "head" of the nation
• the general of an army is called the "head" of the army
• the Roman emperor is called the "head" of the people
• the god Zeus is called the "head" of all things
• David as king of Israel is called the "head" of the people
• the leaders of the tribes of Israel are called "heads" of the tribes
• the husband is the "head" of the wife
• Christ is the "head" of the church
• God the Father is the "head" of Christ
(For details, see my 35-page article available under reprints on page 15, or see pages 425-468 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).

No one in a non-leadership position is called "head"-ever. The egalitarian assertion that a person who is called the kephal¯e can be the "source without governing authority" is simply false.

Therefore I would encourage you, in discussing these matters with egalitarian friends, to ask this simple question: May I see an example to support your claim that there is no authority implied in the word "head" in the statement, "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church"?

Can egalitarians find even one example out of millions of words of ancient Greek literature where a person is called "head" and it means "non-authoritative source"? If even one example could be found, then of course we could go on to discuss whether that meaning might be the one that best fits the context of Ephesians 5.

But if they cannot find one example of this meaning, then their proposed sense of the word in Ephesians 5:23 is a theory without one hard fact to support it. Of course, people can still believe in theories that have no facts to support them if they wish, but such belief can no longer be thought to be reasonable or academically responsible. And such unsupported theories should certainly not be used in debates, or written in commentaries and reference books, or thought to be true.


The Word Kephale ("Head") in the New Testament
Revisiting The Tradition That “Head” Means “Authority Over”
by Laurie Fasullo

The purpose of this paper is to show that neither Paul nor his first century readers would have understood the Greek word for “head,” kephale, to have the meaning given it by many church leaders, e.g., “authority” or “ruler.” I intend to show why that it is certain, and for sure highly improbable, for Paul to have used this word with the traditional notion of “authority over.”

There are two reasons for this paper. The first is that we are to be diligent so that we won’t be ashamed, handling God’s Word accurately (2 Timothy 2:15). The second reason is to show that there can be another valid and more likely meaning for this word other than the one read into it in the past.

Concerning the first reason, if our goal is to glorify God, no matter what, we will not be afraid to discuss different views to see what He is communicating to us. We have all too often seen people (or even ourselves) mishandle the Bible to make a point rather than to find the point the Word is making. We should all strive to be careful to learn what is being taught. It’s easy to read our preconceived ideas into a passage. Because this is a view which is different from the traditional view which most people are accustomed to hearing, I would encourage each reader to have the same teachableness that they would hope to see in someone when they are sharing something which is nontraditional to that person. It can be as heartbreaking, as it was for Luther and the early martyrs, to try to reason from God ‘s Word to share a truth which won’t be heard because it doesn’t fit with what is already traditionally believed. Most of us have experienced this at sometime or another in sharing what we have learned about these things with someone who seems more intent on keeping his original position than on hearing what the Bible actually says about the subject. So please evaluate the following material with this in mind.

The second part of the reason is linked to the first part. In the traditional view, I have consistently seen the English (and Hebrew) meanings of the word “head” brought into passages which were written in Greek. This can cause a wrong emphasis, if not a wrong meaning, to be taken from passages containing this word. The danger of this is that the right emphasis can be missed altogether. Because I believe this is widely practiced in the case of this word (often having far-reaching effects) I feel the need to present another viewpoint. It is vital to understand how this word was used, and what it meant in the first century.

I will give reasons why I do not think Paul meant for the word kephale to convey the meaning “authority.”

I. It does not seem to be a normal meaning of the word in his day:

A. as shown by the definitions we find of this word during that time,

B. as shown by the Septuagint,

C. as shown by the other words Paul used to convey the concept of “authority,”

D. due to a different understanding of the function of the head/brain than we have, and Paul‘s other references regarding them.

II. The contexts of the Bible passages using this word sometimes show a different meaning, and all allow for an alternative rendering.

I. A. In showing that “authority” or “superior rank” was not a normal meaning of the Greek word kephale in Paul’s day, I will rely on the work of others more knowledgeable in this area than I. To begin with I have not found any lexicon which gives that meaning (unless they use the very passages we are trying to understand with the meaning of “authority” already read into them). The following are excellent sources listed by Berkley and Alvera MIickelsen which show no such meaning for the readers of Paul’s day:

The most complete Greek-English lexicon (covering Homeric, classical and koine Greek) in current existence is a two-volume work of more than 2,000 pages compiled by .Liddell, Scott, Jones and McKenzie, published first in 1843. It is based on examination of thousands of Greek writings from the period of Homer (about 1000 B.C.) to about A.D. 600 -- a period of nearly 1600 years, including the Septuagint and New Testament times. This lexicon lists, with examples, the common meanings of kephale. The list includes more than 25 possible figurative meanings in addition to the literal meaning of physical head of man or beast. The list does not include “authority,” “superior rank,” “leader,” “director,” or anything similar as a meaning. There is an older Greek-Latin thesaurus published in 1851, but written primarily in the sixteenth century. It also gives no meanings such as “authority” or “supreme over.” Apparently, ordinary readers of Greek literature during New Testament times would not think of “final authority,” “superior rank” or “director” as common meanings for the word translated “head.”

The entry looks somewhat like this in the 1940 edition of Liddell, Scott, Jones and McKenzie lexicon:

I. a. Physical head of man or beast. Frequently used with preposition such as “down over the head,” or “above the head” or “from head to foot” or “head foremost” or “thrust headlong.” [In our day we would say “head first.”]

b. As the noblest part, periphrasis for the whole person.

c. Life, as in “staking their heads on...”

d.. In imprecation, as in “on my head be it!” [Or Paul’s response in Acts 18:6 to the Jews who opposed him in Macedonia, “Your blood be upon your own heads!”]

II. Of things, extremity.

a. In botany, head of garlic, tubers.

b. In anatomy, base of heart, but also apex; of muscles, origin.

c. Generally, top, brim of vessel; coping of a wall; capital of a column.

d. In plural, source, origin of a river, but singular, mouth; generally, source, origin, starting point.

e. Extremity of a plot of land.

III. A bust of Homer.

IV. Wig, head-dress.

V. Metaphorical

a. Piece de resistance [i.e. main dish of a meal]

b. Crown, completion, consummation.

c. Sum, total.

d. Hand of men; right hand of phalanx

e. Astronomy, Aries [as the gable of the world]

The lexicon gives references to Greek literature for each of these meanings. The lexicographers (with various editions spanning more than 100 years, from 1836 to 1940) apparently found no examples in their study of Greek literature where kephale could have the meaning “one having authority,” “supreme over” or anything similar. (Where other recognized meanings are possible, one cannot assume that the word kephale means chief, authority or superior rank.) These scholars living in 1800s and early 1900s surely could not be accused of being blinded by the “feminist movement,” and thus ignoring references in Greek that supported kephale as meaning “authority.” [1]

What follows is more research concerning the usual meanings for the Greek word kephale:

Including its 1968 supplement, the Liddell and Scott lexicon lists forty-eight separate English equivalents of figurative meanings of kephale. None of them implies leader, authority, first or supreme. To confirm that “authority” was not in the usual connotative range of kephale, I consulted three prominent specialists in ancient Greek literature. They all agreed that the idea of “authority” was not a recognized meaning of kephale in Greek.

An examination of other Greek lexicons further supports the Mickelsen’s thesis. None of the following lexicons lists any examples related to “leader” or “authority”: Moulton and Milligan, Friedrich Preisigke, Pierre Chantraine, and E. A. Sophocles gives only one such example from A.D. 952. S.C. Woodhouse lists twenty Greek equivalents for “chief” (p. 129) and twenty-six Greek equivalents for “authority” (p. 54), but kephale is not listed as an equivalent for either of these or for “leader.” [2]

One can certainly find an abundance of sources that impute the meaning of “authority over” to the Greek word kephale. However, it would appear that they do this in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. All the sources I could find used the passages containing the word kephale with their own definition of “authority” assumed and thus read into it to prove their definition. Some even went against the meaning of the word in context to give it the definition they desired. The following is an example:

The most common lexicon used by pastors and teachers of the Bible in our day is the koine Greek lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich, commonly known as Bauer’s. This lexicon is less than half the size of Liddell, Scott, Jones and McKenzie. The following is a basic condensation of the entry for kephale in Bauer:

[kephale, es, he,] (Homer,+ inscriptions, papyri, Septuagint, Enoch, Epistle of Aristotle, Philo, Josephus)

1 . lit.- a. actually of the head of man or beast [followed by thirty-six lines of entry giving examples of this obvious meaning, ranging from the New Testament to Aesop’s fables]….h. metaph... Christ the [kephale] of the [church] thought of as a [soma (“body”)] Col. 1:18;cf. Col. 2:19.

2. fig- a. In the case of living beings, to denote superior rank. (cf. Artem. 4:24. p.218 where [kephale] is the symbol of the father; Judg 11:11; 2 [Sam] 22:44) head (Zosimus of Ashkelon[500 A.D.] hails Demosth. as his master: [“0h, divine head”] [Biogr. p. 297]; of the husband in relation to his wife I Cor 11:3b; Eph 5:23a. Of Christ in relation to the church Eph 4:15; 5:23b. But Christ is he head not only of the church but of the universe as a whole, [“head over all things”] Eph 1:22, and of every cosmic power... the head of all might and power or all rule & authority]. Col. 2:10. The divine influence on the world results in the series (for the growing distance from God with corresponding results);...God the [kephale] of Christ, Christ the [kephale] of the man, the man the [kephale] of the woman, I Cor 11:3c,a,b.

B. of things the uppermost part, extremity, end, point... [kephale gonias] the cornerstone (forming the farthest extension... of the corner, though Joachim Jeremias... thinks of it as the keystone or capstone above the door;... Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17,...Ac 4:11; I Pt 2:7 B[arnahas] 6:4 (all [quoting] Psalm 118:22 [LXX Ps 117:22]).” [3]

The following are some criticisms of Bauer’s definition:

Under section two, where Bauer gives “superior rank” as a meaning for kephale, he cites only two references from secular Greek. One comes from Zosimus and is dated A.D. 500 -- at least 400 years after the New Testament was written. (Our question is not what kephale meant in A.D. 500 but rather what Paul meant when he used kephale when writing his letters to the churches in the first century.) Bauer’s only other reference to secular Greek to support the meaning of “superior rank” is to Artemidorus in the second century, where kephale is used as a symbol of the father. What Artemidorus said (Lib K, Capt 2, Para 6,) was “He [the father] was the cause (aitos) of the life and of the light for the dreamer [the son] just as the head (kephale) is the cause of the life and the light of all the body.” He also said: “the head is to be likened to parents because the head is the cause [source] of life.” Bauer’s reference may be an example of a lexicographer reading his own cultural understanding (i.e., fathers have “superior rank”) into the text.”[4]

Phillip Payne rightly comments:

The Mickelsen’s criticism of Bauer’s treatment of kephale is well founded. The inappropriateness of citing the Zosimus statement as an example of kephale denoting “superior rank” is not due only to its late date. It is virtually certain that this passage does not imply a position of authority over anyone. Stanford classicist Mark Edwards stated that ho theia kephale in the Zosirnus document is a salutation implying dignity, not authority. Presumably the Demosthenes referred to is the great Athenian orator (384-22 B.C.), who could not have had a position of authority over Zosimus since Demosthenes had died over 800 years earlier. [5]

The appendix has a list of other lexicons and dictionaries who assume the meaning of “authority over.”. They all, however, use the passages which contain this word with this meaning already assumed to prove this meaning of the word. We will refer to them in Part 2 where we deal with the actual passages and look at the contexts where the word occurs.

B. Many of these sources used Old Testament passages from the Septuagint to support their definition. Let’s examine the evidence from the Septuagint. The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Old Testament done before Christ’s time. For many people who spoke mainly or only Greek, it was the only Old Testament scriptures they knew. Although the passages containing “head” from the Septuagint are used to prove that kephale meant “authority” in the traditional sense, the opposite is actually true. Let’s look at how kephale is translated in the Septuagint.

From this we see that when rosh (the Hebrew word for “head”) referred to a literal head it was almost always directly translated kephale. However, when rosh had the meaning “ruler, commander, leader or chief” the word kephale is rarely used and so appears to be avoided. If it were a normal meaning, why would it not have been directly translated as it was for literal head? Of the 180 times that rosh was used in this sense, only 10 times it was translated with the Greek word for “head,” kephale. Of these, 6 have variant readings (4 in a single manuscript), 4 others involve head-tail metaphors (where the word could not be avoided). That leaves 8 of the 180 times where kephale was used with an unusual Greek meaning. Let’s look at them individually:

Jeremiah 31:7-- Since Israel did not rule or have authority over the nations, this probably refers to her exalted position in God’s eyes.

Judges 11:11 -- The Hebrew text follows rosh with another word qatzyn, meaning chief or ruler. The Greek text followed suit and used hegeomai or archegos, meaning leader. This would have made it clear to Greek readers the meaning of the passage even with a normal Greek usage of “top” or “crown” for kephale.

Psalm 18:43, Isa.7:8-9 (3 times), Lam.1:5, 2 Sam.22:44 (which is the same as Ps.18:43). All of these passages could be read with the meaning of “top” or “crown” and the meaning of the passage would not be lost.

So we can see that “when the Old Testament meaning of rosh was ‘leader’ the Septuagint translators realized quite clearly that this would not be conveyed by kephale, so they resorted to some other translation in 171 cases out of 180. This occurred in spite of the strong tendency in the Septuagint for ‘Greek words to extend to their range of meaning in an un-Greek way after the Hebrew word which they render.’ Thus we have strong evidence of the high degree to which ‘head’ meaning ‘leader’ was recognized by these translators to be foreign to Greek.”[6]

At this point I will mention that there is list in the Appendix of works that critique Wayne Grudem’s work dealing with kephale.. He has been associated with proving that kephale carried the meaning of “authority over.” This critique is here to deal with his assertions, but also to show that it is easy to ignore facts to make our point. As I have read on this subject, and women’s roles in general, I will freely admit seeing this done on different sides of the issue. I don’t claim to be free from preconceived ideas and perceptions myself. That is why I write this and invite scrutiny of what I propose. If I’m shown to be in error, I want to change what I think. Let us all dialogue to find truth that we may please our Lord.

C. Let’s look at how Paul communicated elsewhere and see if he would have used kephale to express the idea of “authority.”

“The apostle Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew (he grew up in the Greek-speaking city of Tarsus); indeed, Greek was his native language. He knew both Hebrew and Greek, but he wrote his epistles to Greek-speaking churches in areas where most of the converts (including Jews of the dispersion) knew only Greek. A man of his superb intellectual ability and intense passion to spread the gospel would likely use Greek words with Greek meanings that his readers clearly understood.”(7) In Romans 13:12 he used exousia (”authority”) and in Romans 13:3 he used archon (”leader”). When Paul does use exousia (“authority”) in a husband-wife context, it is definitely in a mutual sense (1 Cor. 7:4). “If Paul does use kephale with the meaning ‘leader,’ he is the only New Testament writer to do so, even though most of the New Testament writers use more Hebraic Greek than he does. For example, “head of the house” is a very common expression throughout the Gospels, but kephale is never used to convey this meaning.”[8] (See Matthew 10:25; 13:52; 24:43; Luke 12:39; 13:25; 14:21. The Greek word oikodespotes is used. This word comes from two words meaning “master” and “house.”). In addition, the term for the “head of the synagogue” (which was the leading office) did not employ kephale, but was called the archisynagogus. [9]

D. Let’s look further at what Paul and his readers would have understood about the head so that we won’t also read our understanding into their understanding. This will have an effect on how the word could be used metaphorically. “The ancient Greek world through the time of Paul commonly believed that the heart, not the head, was the center of emotions and spirit, the ‘central governing place of the body.’ Aristotle held that the heart was not only the seat of control but also the seat of intelligence. Classicist Michael Wigodsky of Stanford is probably correct that many, even the doctors with the most advanced anatomical understanding of the brain, did not really believe that the brain exerted more control over the body than the heart. Such a notion seemed to contradict the nearly universal belief that, since the life is in the blood, the heart must be the center of life. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the idea of authority was not normally associated with the word for ‘head’ in Greek thought.”[l0] Although this information may be debatable, we do know that know that neither Paul nor his readers would have known what we know about how the brain controls the body. Regardless of their knowledge, or lack thereof, Paul “seems to associate intelligence and control of the body with the heart in such expressions as ‘their foolish heart was darkened’ (Rom. 1:21), ‘the law written in their hearts’(Rom. 2:15), ‘it is with your heart you believe’(Rom 10:9-10), ‘no heart has conceived God’s plans’(1 Cor. 2:9), ‘he who has decided in his own heart’(1 Cor 7:37), and ‘may the eyes of your heart be enlightened to know’ (Eph 1:18). Nowhere does he associate the mind with the head.”[11] (This last reference is in the immediate context of one of the passages where kephale is used [Eph. 1:18-23] which we will look at in section II.) Gordon Clark’s work on head knowledge/heart knowledge will also bear witness to this.

Let me restate why I believe we can come to these passages without assuming “authority” is a normal meaning of the Greek word kephale for Paul and his readers. It does not seem to be a normal usage for Paul given: 1 ) his choice of other words for authority, 2) his expression of control of the body by the heart verses the brain or head (and his lack of association of the mind with the head), and 3) the context of the passages where kephale is used -- which we’ll look at next. It does not seem to be a normal meaning his readers would have understood given: 1) the avoidance of the word with this meaning in the Septuagint, and 2) the Greek meanings of this word in dictionaries and lexicons. The only reasons I would believe it could be a possible definition are: 1) Grudem’s study and 2) the definitions in some dictionaries and lexicons. Neither of these carry much weight, in light of the other factors, because they come with the meaning of “authority” read into the word to prove it’s meaning. And I will apply Grudem’s own judgment to his study. He said (concerning one of the criticisms of his study), “the major point of his disproved by his use of improper methodology and several inconsistencies in his argument, and it is contradicted by an abundance of evidence. It must therefore be rejected.”[12] (See the Appendix for a critique of Grudem’s study). As we go through the passages it will be evident that the writers of the dictionaries and lexicons with a meaning of “authority” for kephale had to give the meaning to the word in order to find this meaning (e.g., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).

II. So now let’s go to the second part and look at the actual passages containing kephale and see what Paul was saying to his readers.

I did Part I first so that we could try to come without the English (or even Hebrew) meaning of “authority” for head or rosh read into the Greek word for head, kephale. If we can come to these passages with the Greek meanings of the word, we can let the context determine the meaning Paul and his readers were most likely to have understood. If in reading the Scripture, we find Paul is giving the word a new meaning (or flavor), such as “authority,” that is fine. But let us look at the passages to determine this instead of us assuming what the passage means today by inserting something into it. Let the context speak.

We’ll first look at 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. This is probably the most commonly cited passage (next to Ephesians 5) to show that kephale means “authority.” Yet given the full context of the passage and comparisons of verses in chapter 15, I see it to be not only an improbable meaning, but maybe even an implausible meaning in this passage. To get the full context of this passage we need to go back further. As Walter Liefield points out, “Paul has just urged limitation of one’s freedom in order not to hinder others from accepting the gospel (chapters 8-10). He is apparently modifying the principle of liberty in Galatians in certain respects: (1) In Galatians he affirmed freedom regarding table fellowship, but in 1 Corinthians he restricts certain associations and foods. Even what is ‘permissible’ may not he ‘beneficial’ (10:23-30). (2) Although in Galatians he insisted on his status as an apostle and on his freedom from the law, in I Corinthians he is willing to ‘become as a Jew’ and as ‘under the law’ to ‘win some’ (9:22). (3) He taught in Galatians that there is ‘neither male nor female, but in 1 Corinthians he introduces certain limitations on women. We may reasonably ask whether this last modification also involves avoiding something that might obstruct the gospel. There are two reasons to suppose this: (1) Immediately before the passage under consideration Paul reaffirms that what he does is for the glory of God and for the good of others (10:31-11:1). (2) 11:2-16 is connected with the preceding discussion and theme by the Greek conjunction de, which is seldom used to introduce a totally new topic.”[13]

As we get into the passage, we see several concepts repeated throughout it: 1. the word head appears nine times -- some referring to a physical head and some in another sense; 2. the idea of a covered or uncovered head appears seven times; 3. the words shame, shameful, glory, dishonor and becoming appear eight times; 4. the idea of source or origination appears nine times.

It would seem, then, that these words/concepts would be an integral part of the message of this passage. Since this passage is used quite often to show the authority of the man (husband?) over the woman (wife?) because of the word head used in verse 3, it is interesting to note that, unless one comes to this passage with this meaning of the word read into it, the idea of authority is only mentioned once and refers to the woman’s authority on her own head. Verse 10 says, “Because of this the woman ought to have authority on her head because of the angels.” ‘A sign (or symbol) ‘ is often inserted in translations before the word ‘authority’ without justification. This would give the word for ‘authority’ a passive sense for the woman. “In 1907 W.M. Ramsey called this passive sense ‘a preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the New Testament, where (as they seem to think) Greek words may mean anything that commentators choose.’” [14] Paul uses the same word for ‘authority’ (in the active sense) that he uses a few chapters earlier (chapter 9) in referring to his own rights, or authority, in his ordering of his life as an apostle. So not only does this verse not support that the word kephale in referring to the man means the ‘authority’ of the woman, but instead would be a support for the woman’s right to function as a female priest.

Before we go further into the passage to see what the context may tell us about the meaning of kephale in verse 3, let’s look at what we may need to rule out based on another passage. I have yet to find any among those that contend that the word kephale has the meaning “authority,” who reconcile this with 1 Corinthians 15:28. Verses 20-28 tell of the risen Christ. We read of His being the first-fruit, of everything being put under His rule and of how He will turn all things over to God, the Father. Although the incarnate Christ made it clear that He was doing what His Father wanted Him to do, the aspects of being a first-fruit and ruling over all are recurring when the risen, exalted Christ is spoken of. Verse 23 says, “And when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be made subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” This is in the future tense, and refers to that last day when we are raised, clothed with immortality and death is no more (1 Corinthians 15:51-55; Revelation 20:12-15; 21:1-4). 1 Corinthians 11:3c is in the present tense: God is (estin) the head of Christ. If God is the ‘authority’ of Christ in this time of His glory and reign, then Christ would have be subject to Him. Why will He be made subject in the future, when He turns everything over, if He already is subject now in the present? I believe this question should he addressed before we can even consider reading the meaning of ‘authority’ into kephale in chapter 11, much less using it as proof of this meaning.

As we get into this controversial passage, I will freely admit that I don’t have all the answers. But I will ask questions regarding a traditional view of it, and will present another possible interpretation (and invite questions regarding my view). Although few people who read this passage with a traditional interpretation require head coverings for women in this culture, in this day, most would still maintain that the abiding principle of this passage is male headship (i.e. male’s authority over women and a woman’s display of submission to that authority). Although they will allow for a different display of that submission, they will say that Paul’s call is for a culturally effective display based on headship (using their definition of authority) and on the order of creation. Aside from the questions I already have regarding their definition of headship and their use of this to insert the words “a symbol” to change the reading (and meaning) of verse 10, I have other questions regarding this interpretation.

1. If Paul’s point for all time is this abiding principle of a women’s display of submission to a man’s authority, why does he then in 1 Cor.11:11 use the word plen and give what seems to be contradictory statements and tell the Corinthians to judge for themselves? Liefeld comments: “The introductory word, ‘nevertheless’ (plen), is a strong adversative. It can also have the sense of “only,”“but,”“however.” In our text, it appears without any accompanying word of further modification, which makes it stronger than a mere limitation or exception. It could range from a complete reversal of the previous argument to simply indicating that the freedom of the woman expressed in verse 10 does not mean complete independence from her husband.” [15] Then Paul goes on to make points different from the points made in the first section. In the first part the point is made that the source of the woman is the man (and that the source of the man is not woman) and woman was made for the man. In the second section Paul stresses that neither sex is independent of the other, and each has the other as a source. The first part says that if a woman is uncovered, she should be shaved. Paul then says that her hair is her covering in the second section.

2. If this submission of women to men being displayed is Paul’s point, does this mean that all women are to display submission to all men? Are all women under the authority of all men because Eve came from Adam and was made for him, or is that an application to be made to husbands and wives only?

3. If Paul is agreeing with the first part, instead of questioning it, then I would like to know how does nature teach that long hair is a disgrace for men. If it is a naturally understood disgrace, then how is this disgrace reconciled with men such as Absolom, and Samson and other Nazarites (who had long hair because of God’s instruction and/or to show their commitment to God)?

4. A crucial question could he asked concerning the phrase “in the Lord” in verse 11. Isn’t this how we are to view ourselves -- “in the Lord”? The emphasis in this section seems to be one of mutuality and discernment of what is becoming, rather than of a hierarchy and a fixed display of it (as is the case in the first section).

This leads me to offer another reading and emphasis of this passage than the traditional one. I would agree that we are not bound by a cultural practice stated here, but should look for the abiding principle. I would disagree with the traditional view of what the abiding principle is. I would say that given the context of this passage (as laid out earlier in chapters 8-10 and continuing in the following chapters) Paul is continuing the theme of calling the Corinthians to be aware of what they do always remembering their liberty in their faith in Christ, yet never forgetting the effect their actions have on others and the glory of God. In the immediately preceding verses he states, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may he saved. Be followers of me, just as I also am of Christ.” This along with his statement of mutuality, and yet his admonition to judge the properness of coverings (or the lack thereof) would fit well with an admonition to consider their actions knowing not only the truth (“everything is permissible” -- but not everything is beneficial, 10:23), but also how others will perceive things (nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others [10:24]). The first section, then, could have been a quote or belief of “Jews . . .or Greeks.. .or (some in) the church of God.” So although Paul is not agreeing with it, he does not dismiss it because what the Corinthians do will have an effect on others and their perception of the Gospel. He tells them to judge themselves whether it is becoming of a woman to pray uncovered. The abiding principle for us is the same and is covered in the previous verses, “Do all for God’s glory.. .give no offense.. .not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

In evaluating the meaning of the word kephale, these things need to be considered:

1) “Authority” does not seem to be a well known metaphorical meaning for this Greek word in this day.

2) The meaning “authority” would be hard to reconcile with 1 Corinthians 15:28 and would raise questions about whether this is to be applied to men-women or husbands-wives.

3) Another metaphorical meaning of the word seems to be “source” (see quote by Artemidorus on page --- of this article, Ephesians 4:15-16, Colossians 1:18). We know that Christ said He “came” from the Father (John 7:29; John 8). We know that every man comes from God. This would help the connection between verse 3 and verses 8-9. I would say, then, that there would be more weight for the word kephale, when used metaphorically in this passage, to have the connotation of “source” than of “authority.” But regardless of the meaning of the word in verse 3, it seems the abiding principle is not a fixed particular, but an emphasis on what we do to further the gospel being aware of our liberty which can be given up if needed.

The next passage we will deal with is Ephesians 5:22-33. Ephesians 5:23 is also frequently used to show that the word kephale has the meaning “authority.” Because this passage is so clear in what it is says to husbands and wives, it is not only surprising but also disheartening to see that what is written there is often de-emphasized (if not ignored) in order to stress a concept which may not even be inherent in the text. This happens when people use this text to show what a husband’s role is using kephale -- meaning “authority” -- instead of using what God directly spells out for the husband. This passage gives instructions to husbands and wives in how they are to act toward one another based on the example of Christ and the church. Although some on opposite ends of the spectrum of ideas may try to deny one or the other, most would have to agree that wives are to submit to and respect their husbands, and husbands are to love and lay down their lives for their wives (this is partially repeated in the twin passage in Colossians 3:18-19). Even though God apparently found this to be enough instruction for husbands and wives in order to live lives glorifying to Him, I have heard and read very few representing the traditional view who not only go further, but will even make their point (of male headship [authority]) the central theme around which they relate all other aspects of the passage. “The wife’s submission is based on his authority; he is to exercise his authority through love and self-sacrifice.” I would not dispute the fact that in many husband-wife relationships the husband is in a position of authority over the wife, and was probably the case in marriages of Paul’s day. But is it an inherent part of marriage and the duty required of the husband in this passage? I would submit that it is not; but rather it is the mutual submission expressed in these ways (wives submitting and respecting, and husbands loving and sacrificing) which are required and will promote and show unity and love. This is the picture of the relationship between Christ and His church which a marriage is to he. I would submit that that this word (kephale) is used to show the unity of Christ and His church because of the sacrifice He made for her, and the unity of the husband and wife (like the unity of a head and a body). That unity will be shown and maintained as the wife submits and respects (like the church) and as the husband loves and sacrifices (like Christ).

We will first look at the passage to see if the emphasis on unity or hierarchy is most fitting; then we will look at other passages using this word to see if the context of those passages shed more light on how Paul would use this word (especially in relation to Christ and His body).

As we look at Ephesians 5, one thing that stands out are the parallels between Christ/husband as head and the church/wife as the body. Since the husband is to mirror Christ as head, let’s see what the passage says that Christ does, or is, as head. Starting in verse 23 we see that when Paul comments on Christ as head of the church, his parallel is (using the same grammatical construction) that He is the Savior of the body. If we don’t come reading the Hebrew or English meaning of the word ‘head’ into the Greek word, but let the text speak, we can see that not only is this metaphor clearly stated, but is carried throughout the passage when dealing with the husband’s role. Verse 25 tells the husband to love his wife the way Christ loved the church -- He gave himself up for her. Verses 28-30 tell the husband to love his wife as he loves and takes care of his own body, just as Christ loves and takes care of the church -- his body. If these verses were not enough to show the relationship of unity and the role of self-sacrifice the husband is to follow in emulating Christ, verses 31-33 emphasize the example of unity that is to he followed in marriage (“be united,” “the two will become one flesh,” and “love his wife as he loves himself”). It is interesting to note that some versions read in verse 30, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” This is the same thing Adam said about Eve, and is now said about Christ and the church; and the same pronouncement of unity is made about both: For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is the conclusion God draws from this head-body relationship. Any mention of ‘authority’ is absent. It is not only puzzling, then, but disturbing to see that most people holding the traditional view feel the need to use this passage to give the husband a duty which God is not giving to him as He tells him his duties. Other arguments for requiring husbands to have authority which are mentioned in relation to this passage are covered in the Notes for this passage in the Appendix.

Now that we have looked through this passage and have found that it neither gives this Greek word, kephale, a new meaning for that day, a meaning of “authority,” nor have we found this passage giving the husband a duty or role of taking authority; we are now ready to look at other Scriptures written by Paul using this same language (head-body metaphor) to help us understand what concept he was expressing. Since “authority” was not a usual meaning for kephale in Paul’s day, we will look for the answer to two questions as we look at the other occurrences of kephale in reference to Christ. They are:

1. Does the word kephale have the meaning of “authority” in this passage? (Related to this are: Is it a necessary meaning? Is it even a possible meaning?) and

2. Is this head-body metaphor used to show the authority aspect of the relationship? If the answers are “yes, then there is more justification for making that an inherent part of the relationship between a husband and a wife. If the answers are “no,” then those who would make it a duty for husbands to have authority over their wives will need to either rethink their position or find some other basis for it. Other than the verses we have already looked at in I Corinthians 11, the only times kephale is used metaphorically (rather than literally—-a physical head of a body) are in Ephesians and Colossians. [Note: when ‘head’ is used to refer to “head of the house” a different Greek word is always used, oikodespotes (from “a house” and “master”). Kephale is never used. (see Mt 10:25, Mt 13:52, Mt 24:43, Lk 12:39, Lk 13:25, Lk 14:21). We’ll first look at the other verses in Ephesians since they are the closest to this passage.

The verses in Ephesians using head (kephale) in reference to Christ and body (soma) in reference to the church are:

Chapter 1:22-23 -- and he put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all, and

Chapter 4:15-16 -- but speaking the truth in love we are to grow in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

As we look more closely at these passages we will be looking for Paul’s use of the word ‘head’ to see if that would show that he and his reader’s would have understood it according to the traditional interpretation.

In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul is encouraging the saints by speaking of the blessings of redemption. In verses 18-23, he is focusing on our hope, riches, and His power toward us; along with Christ’s position. His position in relationship to the Father is that He is at His right hand. His position in relationship to all powers is that, as He is in the heavenly places, He is far above. Also everything is under His feet and He is head over all. His position in relationship to the church is that she is His body. This passage clearly speaks of Christ’s unsurpassed power and authority. And what a comfort it is to us who believe that He is. The same principalities (arche) and authorities (exousia) that we are told we struggle against in chapter 6 of this book, we are told in Chapter 1 are far below Him! His power toward us is measured by the power God used to raise Christ from the dead and make Him “head over all things to the church.”

But enough of this encouragement, we are here to answer questions about the meaning of the word ‘head’ in this passage. Does the word kephale have the meaning “authority” in this passage? It is definitely a possible meaning given the context. If all things are in subjection under His feet and He has been given head over all things, then the word head could mean “authority” and the passage could be understood correctly. But is it a necessary meaning of the word? Could the passage be understood correctly with a more usual Greek meaning of the word such as “top” or “crown” (or “source”, see definitions in Appendix and pages --- and --- of this article)? We see that “authority” is not a necessary meaning of the word since the context tells us that he is in authority because all these things are under Him and are in subjection to Him. If we say that someone is the head of his swimming class we are not saying that he is the authority of the class. We are saying he is the best swimmer. Now the word head is not given a new meaning of “best swimmer.” It still means “top,” but the context shows us what he is the top of -- the swimmers. Similarly, if Christ is the “top” of all authorities and all things are in subjection to Him, then we can fully understand this passage using this meaning.

So “authority” is not a necessary meaning.

To help us understand how Paul uses this word, kephale, we are looking to see if the context shows us that he uses it to express a relationship of authority between the head and the body. Although this is a part of our relationship to Christ, we do not see Paul using the head-body image in this passage to express that aspect of the relationship. It is for us that all things are in subjection to Him, but this passage is not speaking of our subjection to Him. In fact, if we wanted to carry the metaphor through consistently, it says all things are in subjection “under his feet.” If we are His body, then everything would be in subjection to us too, since the feet are at the bottom of the body. I wouldn’t say that this is the intent of the passage, but we can see that our subjection to Christ is not the topic in view.

We will now move to Ephesians 4:11-16. The answer to the first question about the meaning of the word head being “authority” in this passage is “no,” even to most who hold the traditional view. Aside from the obvious references to the physical body (head, joints, growth), this passage shows the head as causing the growth of the body dependent on the union they share. This is paralleled in Colossians 2:19 which says, “and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” We see that not only is it not necessary, but would not be beneficial to give this word the meaning of “authority” in these passages. Even commentators holding a traditional view tend to speak of Christ as our “source” of life and growth in these verses. The analogy here of head-body is not being use to show a hierarchal relationship, although it exists between Christ and the church.

The next set verses are Colossians 1:16-18. “For by Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He himself might come to have first place in everything.”

This, too, has a lot of parallels to the verses in Ephesians. We see again His surpassing supremeness in all things. He is before all things and He is the beginning. “The word is arche, ‘the origin, the beginning,’ this in relation to the Church. The word arche here involves priority in time our Lord was the first-fruits from among the dead; and originating power He was also the source of life.” [16] To give the meaning of “authority” to the word ‘head’ here is not necessary and would not go with the flow of the passage as much as “source” would. There is nothing in the context to show that Paul was using the head-body metaphor to show the hierarchal relationship between Christ and the church.

The last passage containing the word kephale in reference to Christ is Colossians 2:9-10: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.”

This use of kephale is much like the verses in the first chapter of Ephesians. The necessity of understanding the meaning of the word to be “authority” is not warranted due to the context. Since the church is not referred to as the body in this passage, we would have to say that Paul is not here using the head-body metaphor to show a relationship of authority between Christ and the church.

In summary, we were not able to come up with definite affirmative answers to these two questions for any of the passages where Paul uses kephale in reference to Christ in Ephesians and Colossians. We cannot, then, use these as support for applying this meaning to this word and/or metaphor used in Ephesians 5.

In conclusion of section II, when looking at all the passages containing the word kephale in a metaphorical sense, none of the contexts necessitated giving the word a meaning of “authority.” Some, in fact, would be better understood with a different meaning. And all allowed for a more usual Greek meaning than the one traditionally read into it.

Further, in this paper I have shown why I don’t believe Paul or his readers would have understood the Greek word for ‘head’ (kephale) to have the meaning “authority” because:

1) it does not seem to be a usual meaning for that word for that day, and

2) the context of the passages containing kephale do not necessitate this meaning (in fact, some would be better read with a different meaning). Unanswered questions linger when this word is interpreted in these passages in the traditional way. Maybe others can give me answers for these questions and raise questions concerning my view which I haven’t thought of. I welcome input from anyone who is willing to dialogue on this issue. I am not interested in dogma from anyone who is not interested in an exchange of information and thoughts. I am interested in true dialogue toward truth.

by Lauren Fasullo
Baton Rouge, LA


Other than inserting our assumed meaning for the word ‘head’ into this passage, the common arguments I have heard for this duty for the husband are:

1) This is the way it should be because God set up this authority structure in the beginning, and so in a Christian marriage we should practice what God has ordained,

2) Because the wife is told to submit to the husband, it shows that he is to have authority over her (and to support this are the statements that the husband is never told to submit to his wife and the wife is never told to take authority over her husband), and

3) Since Christ is the head of the church and is in authority over her, then this same aspect carries over into the husband-wife relationship since he is her ‘head.’

There may be other arguments I haven’t heard, but these are the ones I have consistently heard from many sources. We will deal with each argument to see if it is valid enough to ascribe something to this passage which isn’t clearly given.

I see the first argument to be similar to building on a foundation made of sand. If we look back to the beginning, we find the case of people so often saying something is there, that we assume that it is. Let’s look back to see if an authority relationship is established, or if once again it is a relationship of unity (not necessarily including, or excluding, an authority structure). What we find in creation is that God made all the animals, and then made man in his image.

Some pertinent facts relating to this discussion are:

—The order of creation (man and then woman) is not enough to suggest, much less deduce, that since the man was made first he is placed in authority over the woman. We cannot assume this since it is not stated. In fact, if we want to read something into the passage which God didn’t make plain, there would be more weight for the opposite conclusion (that the woman is to have authority over the man) using traditional reasoning. The clear pattern in the creation of living things thus far has been an ascending, not descending, order. First plants are made, then animals, then humans. Since we don’t have any stated change of direction it would seem logical to see the upward progression continue. See article on I Tim. 2 in the Appendix for discussion on how this passage relates to this argument.

—The fact that Eve was created as Adam’s helpmeet (suitable helper) also does not warrant establishing an “inequality” of the sexes since God fails to do so. If one were intent on inserting a hierarchy into the picture, once again, the facts would not show a traditional one. The Scriptures do not show the creation of a being (the man) followed by the creation of another being (the woman) who was made in order to follow him and help him whenever he told her to. Rather we see, in the creation of man, a being standing in need. God says, for the first time during creation, that something is not good. The Hebrew word used for helper in this passage [ezer] is used most often in to describe the helping activity of God. God is above those He helps, as a parent is over the child he or she helps. So if an inequality is assumed in this relationship based on this word, it would be more likely (although less traditional) to put the woman above the man.

We also are not told of a leading role for the man being established by God at creation. If we wanted to force a leading-following from the passage, the only movement we see ordained is that the man is to leave his home and cleave to his wife. If it were stated the other way (that the woman was to leave her parents and cleave to her husband) it would have been used as a proof text by traditionalists that the man is to lead and the woman is to follow. However, since the Word makes no mention of inequality or leadership, I think it best to stay with what it does say.

—The need the man had was for a companion, not a servant, aide or follower. God provided such a perfect companion that they could be like one. The relationship established was one of unity, with no mention of hierarchy or inequality. This is not to say that there were no differences. A male and a female are like a nut and a bolt, each different, but not one above the other. In fact, this unity can only be achieved because of the differences between the two. This is also why any divergence from the marriage that God ordained will be a perversion.

— So where does this idea of rule come in? The two places where rule is mentioned are listed as support for the man’s authority:

1) God makes man in His image to rule over the animals and tells him to fill the earth, subdue it and rule over the living creatures (Genesis 1:26-28), and

2) God announces to Eve after the fall that her desire will be for her husband and he will rule over her (Genesis 3:16).

The problem with the first “proof” is that it is misquoted. It actually says: “Let us make man [Adam] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over (all the creatures). So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over (all the creatures).’” The command to rule was given to “them” (plural) not “him” (singular).

The second proof raises some questions if it is to be considered as valid. Is this something God instituted in the pre-fall creation which was all declared as being good; or is this a result of the fall and so is declared as predictable in light of sin’s effects? I think the answer is obvious to all. Some would still contend that it is still a part of God’s design that the husband should rule over his wife, that this is a good thing. Since there is no mention of a hierarchy before this, it would have to be asked of these proponents if they would also say that other parts of the curse are also good and should be maintained. Would they advocate, as some religious men in the past (and even some today) have advocated, that pain medication be withheld from women in labor? Would they forbid men to use air conditioning when they are earning money so they will be sure to sweat? Although men have ruled over women through the ages, does this fit anywhere with the New Testament teachings on the relationship between a husband and a wife? There has also been slavery through the ages and was not forbidden. Instructions were given on how to function in that position in order to glorify God and live peacefully. Does that mean we should also advocate slavery in the Western world in our day? Would this be a good way to live out the command: Love your neighbor as yourself? Beside the overall message of servanthood, the specific teachings of mutuality (1 Cor. 7) and submission and self-sacrifice (Eph. 5) between a husband and wife don’t support one person ruling over another. So we don’t find support in Genesis for the first point that the hierarchy was set up there. [Note: for objections using I Cor. 11, please see discussion above. For objections using I Tim. 2, please see Notes On I Tim.2 in the Appendix.].

We will now deal with the second argument for the necessity of giving husbands the duty of being in authority. Although it is traditionally assumed that because a wife is told to submit to her husband, therefore he is to have authority over her; a closer look at what this would also assume, shows that this is not valid. If it is insisted that because a wife is told to submit, then the husband should have authority over her; wouldn’t it also be consistent to say that because a husband is told to lay down his life for his wife, then she should demand that he do so and tell him what she needs him to do for her and he must do it? Is it necessary for a husband to have authority, for a wife to submit? What will lead to better submission -- one based on the authority of the other person, or one based on the resolve of the person doing the submitting because of Christ? Wouldn’t the latter better encourage the wife to not only do what the husband requires, but to go beyond, to seek to please him as much as she can in whatever he merely desires? In Eph.6, this is the basis for Paul’s call to slaves to he obedient to masters. This relationship would inherently involve an aspect of authority. Although many marriages of that day would also involve the husband having authority over his wife (and would also today in other cultures that are based on something other than the Bible) it does not have to be required in our marriages today in our Western culture. Paul does not require it. I’m not saying Christ doesn’t have authority over the church. He does! He has all authority. But is that the aspect of Christ that the husband is told to emulate? Even though this passage clearly shows that the self-sacrificing aspect of Christ is what the husband is to follow, some will dismiss this in favor of the authority aspect which isn’t even mentioned for the husband (see The International Critical Commentary and the Translators Handbook in the list of reference materials). Ephesians 5:15-21 tells us how to live as children of the light. Verse 21 says, “and be subject to one another in the fear of the Lord.” If we are going to assume that because the wife is told o submit to her husband that it is because he does have and/or should have authority over her, would we then also say that we have authority over each other because we are told to submit to one another? When we admonish one another, does the authority lie in us or in the Scripture we use? The word ‘submit’ (or be subject) is the same in both places. In fact, it doesn’t actually appear in verse 22, but is brought down from verse 21. So most would agree that one person submitting to another doesn’t necessitate the other person having authority over them.

The support beyond this, then, for the husband-wife hierarchy is that the husband is never told to submit to his wife and the wife is never told to take authority over her husband. (Even if these statements were accurate, would that be a basis for the husband to have an authority over a wife that a wife is forbidden to have? If so, then following the same reasoning, wives should be forbidden to lay down their lives for their husbands! Neither of these statements are valid support for several reasons. Given the concept of mutual submission in verse 21, if a husband and wife are believers, then a husband is told here to submit to his wife. Once again, the verb in verse 21 is assumed (but not actually stated), so it would be presumptuous to say it is a different kind of submission. Even so some would say that submission “is the essence of femininity.” But as we look at the whole New Testament, from the Sermon on the Mount to the epistles, we see that submission is more the essence of Christianity. Verse 22 tells a wife to submit herself to her own husband. We see the unity of the relationship being stressed and preserved again. Just as the church is not to put any other before pleasing Christ, so a wife is to submit to her husband, not to what another man may want instead. This is the way to keep unity and peace in the relationship. This fits well with other passages dealing with the head-body metaphor in relation to Christ and his church:

The church is Christ’s body and he is her head (Eph 4:l6ff.), the two cannot be severed. In this unity of head and body, Christ directs the growth of the body to himself; he is not merely the source of being of the body (1 Cor 10:16ff.) but also the consummation of its life (Eph 4:l6ff.). Hence to give allegiance to any other spiritual mediator, as was being done at Colossae, cuts the vital link between the limbs and Christ the head, who is the source of all their being (Col 2:18ff.) [see the comments from The Illustrated Bible Dictionary in the reference materials]. The alternative will bring division and strife. Verse 24 points out that this must be in everything to be complete, just as it must be to the Lord.

The last support for this hierarchy is that the wife is never told to take authority over her husband. This, too, is not valid because 1) the husband is also never told to take authority over his wife, and 2) the only place where a husband is specifically given authority over (exousia) his wife, is the same place where the wife is given authority over her husband (I Cor. 7:4)! We see once again, things which lead to a unity between two individuals: two people created for a side-by-side companionship, which has been marred by sin and the curse resulting from it.

The last argument, that because Christ has authority over the church so the husband has authority over the wife, was dealt with above. Beside the fact that we would not ascribe all aspects of Christ’s relationship to the church also to the husband in relationship to his wife (e.g. perfect love, knowledge, strength, etc.) we have seen that the parallel given relates to love and self-sacrifice without mention, much less requirement of, authority.

Note: None of this lessens the wife’s submission (in fact, it only broadens it, if anything). If a husband and wife, or even just the husband, want a marriage with the husband in authority over the wife, the wife is called to submit. This is what she will be held accountable for. In a Christian marriage, the husband will be held accountable for sacrificing for and loving his wife. If his conscience is clearest by having authority over his wife in order to do this and to be one with her, then it is not explicitly forbidden here. It is a liberty issue, not a mandate and is subject to all the other qualifications a liberty is subject to: is it wise, is it expedient, will it minister/edify, is it done to serve or as an occasion for the flesh, etc.


1. Berkeley & Alvera Mickelsen, “What Does Kephale Mean in he New Testament?,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Micklesen (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), pp. 97-99.

2. Phillip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, pp. 118-119.

3. Mickelsen & Mickelsen, “What Does Kephale Mean in the New Testament?,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Micklesen, pp. 99-100.

4. Ibid., p. 100.

5. Phillip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, p. 120.

6. Ibid., p.123.

7. Mickelsen & Micicelsen, “What Does Kephale Mean in the New Testament?,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Micklesen, p. 104.

8. Phillip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, pp. 123-124.

9. Ross Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings (New York, N.Y.:Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 118.

10. Philip Payne, “Response,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. AIvera Mickeisen, pp. 119-120.

11. Ibid., p. 121.

12.. Wayne Grudem, “Appendix I: The Meaning of Kephale,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1091), p. 449.

13. Walter L. Liefeid, “Women, Submission and Ministry in I Corinthians,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen, p. 136.

14. Ibid., p.145.

.15. Ibid., p.146.

16. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament Vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdnans Publishing Co, 1983), p. 185.


List of Reference Materials

Encyclopedia of the Bible, Walter Elwell (1980) Greek philosophers used the image of the body to represent

the universe. The head of this body -- called Zeus or Reason -- was considered responsible for the creation and sustenance of the remaining members (celestial beings, humans, animals, plants and inanimate objects). The universe or ”body” owed its existence to the “head.”

The apostle Paul drew from the Old Testament metaphorical understanding of the term to express the authority of God over Christ, Christ over man, and man over woman (I Cor. 11:3-16, Eph. 5:23).

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (1962)

A characteristic biblical usage, apparently unknown to secular Greek, is that of the term “head” for the leading member of a family (Ex 6:14) or community (Deut 33:5). Consequently it can be used to mean simply “source of authority” as in depicting the superiority of man to woman in marriage (Eph 5:23).

Greek & English Lexicon Edward Robinson pp. 397-398

THE HEAD. 1. Pr. of man - as the principal part, put emphatically for the whole person Acts 18:6

Trop. of persons the head, the foremost, chief, e.g. the head of the corner the chief cornerstone, the main foundation. 2. Trop. of persons i.e. the head, the chief one to whom others are subordinate

e.g.-- a husband in relation to a wife I Cor 11:3 Eph 5:23 -- of Christ in relation to the church, which is his body 1 Cor 11:3 -- of God in relation to Christ I Cor 11:3.

An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vine

HEAD: 1. natural significance 2. figuratively — your blood be on your own heads

3. metaphorically, of the authority or direction of God in relation to Christ, of Christ in relation to believing men, of the husband in relation to his wife (I Cor 11:3) -- of Christ in relation to the church Eph 1:22, 4:15; Col. 1:18, 2:19 -- of Christ in relation to principalities and powers Col 2:10. As to 1 Cor 11:10, taken in connection with the context, the word “authority” probably stands, by metonymy, for a sign of authority

-- is used of Christ as foundation of the spiritual building with its cornerstone Matt 21:42.

The International Critical Commentary, Driver, Plummer and Briggs

Special injunctions to husbands and wives. Wives to be subject to their husbands, husbands to love their wives. This relationship is illustrated by that of Christ and the Church. As Christ is the Head of the Church, which is subject to Christ, so the husband is head of the wife, who is to be subject to the husband; and Christ’s love for the Church is to be the pattern of the man’s love for his wife. The analogy, indeed, is not perfect, for Christ is not only the Head of the Church which is His body, but is also the Savior of it; but this does not affect the purpose of the comparison here.

Translator’s Handbook, Bratcher and Nida 1982

For a husband “has authority” -- Christ’s authority derives from His love for the church and his self-sacrifice in its behalf. This aspect of the relationship of the Christ to the church has no counterpart in the relationship of the husband to the wife; the analogy between the two relationships is not exact.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G. Kittel 1965 p. 673

A. outside the N T first, supreme or extreme “head” of a man, point, top, end or point of departure the mouth of a river also its source -- 2nd aspect prominent, outstanding or determinative head is first and chief member of body -- 3rd whole man. “It will be see in secular usage kephale is not employed for the head of society. This is 1st found in the sphere of the Greek OT. 2. The LXX adopts the Greek use. The implied element of what is superior or determinative is expressed in the LXX along with the sense of “man” or “person.” To be sure, there is no express reference to Israel as the kephale over others….

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 615

The head is not regarded as the seat of intellect, but as the source of life (Matt 14:8, 18; Jn 19:30) -- lift up head, grant life in the sense of success (Judges 8:28 Ps 27:6 Gen 40:13) -- to cover head -- mourn loss of life (2 Sam 13:19, La 2:10). Figuratively, headship denotes superiority of rank and authority over another (Judges 11:11; 2 Sam 22:44) though when Christ is spoken of as head of this body the church (Eph 5:23;Col 2:19), of every man ( I Cor 11:3) of the entire universe (Eph 1:22) and of every cosmic power (Col 2:10) and when man is spoken of as the head of the woman (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23; cf Gen 2:21f) the basic meaning of head as the source of life and energy is predominate. The church is Christ’s body and he is her head (Eph 4:15f), the two cannot be severed. In this unity of head and body, Christ the head directs the growth of the body to himself; he is not merely the source of being of the body (1 Cor 10:16f) but also the consummation of its life (Eph 4:15f). Hence to give allegiance to any other spiritual mediator, as was being done at Colossae, cuts the vital link between the limbs and Christ the head, who is the source of all their being (Col 2:18f).


The following is a list of critiques of Grudem’s article, “Does Kephale (‘Head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples” published in the Trinity Journal. 6 NS (1985): 38-59:

Gordon Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament, I Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) pp. 502-503, footnotes 42-46.

Richard S. Cervin, “Does Kephale Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” Trinity Journal 10 NS (1989), pp. 85-112.

Berkeley and Alvera Micklesen, “What Does Kephale Mean in the New Testament?” and Philip Payne, “Response,” Women, Authority and the Bible (Downer’s Grove,IL: Intervarsity Press, 1985), pp. 97-110 and pp.118-132.

Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), pp.215-252.