2002 North Texas Free Conference
Study of 1 Corinthians 11: 3
Women’s ordination is knocking at our door. Many of its proponents, whom I call evangelical feminists, affirm the authority of Scripture as God’s Word, but they offer a radically different interpretation of key texts. One of those texts will inevitably be 1 Cor. 11: 3, the subject of this paper. The issue immediately at hand is Paul’s teaching on "headship". Inevitably, this topic raises red flags and causes uneasiness, even among pious Christians, because our post-modern, egalitarian culture drives us in the very opposite direction. So, I ask that you hear the totality of my presentation with charity and patience. The issues at hand are simply too fundamental and the stakes are simply too high for us to ignore this subject. Biblical headship can not be cleanly removed from the biblical narrative without affecting the following: 1) ontological issues about our very being (What does it mean to be man in relation to woman, and vice versa?), 2) soteriological issues concerning the salvation of women through the Man, Jesus Christ, and 3) Trinitarian issues concerning the relationship of the Father to the Son. This paper, however, is largely confined to only one facet of that broad discussion, namely, Paul’s teaching on headship in 1 Cor. 11: 3.
As with any other group, there is a variety of opinions among evangelical feminists. They generally hold the view that prior to the Fall, man and woman were created equally in the image of God. There was no essential distinction between them before their Creator in terms of dignity, value, and righteousness. This, I must stress, is perfectly correct. In terms of nature or essence, men and women are perfectly equal. The biblical doctrine of headship only makes a distinction in terms of the role, function, or relationship between two equals. However, evangelical feminists contend that the curse of patriarchy was imposed upon Eve as a consequence of the Fall. Patriarchy, by feminist definition, demeans women by placing their will under that of man. Therefore, it is inherently unjust, oppressive and evil. Other hierarchal structures also mask this masculine propensity to control and oppress. This is not the Creator’s intent, so Christ’s redemptive work includes the removal of patriarchy. The new creation makes no distinction of roles. It is perfectly egalitarian. Their key proof text is from the writings of Paul, Gal. 3: 28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Some even advocate matriarchy, and justify it on the grounds that woman will safeguard egalitarian virtues. Other feminists, who find it impossible to reconcile Scripture to their opinions, contend that men wrote Scripture with conscious or unconscious intent to impose patriarchy on women. Therefore, they attributed the masculine gender to God and other teachings to further their agenda.
These comments merely suggest the scope of an adequate response to the feminist perspective. Certainly, a study of the creation account and the Fall in Gen. 1-3 and other key passages is necessary. Numerous issues concerning the application of the biblical teaching on headship must also be addressed. All of these are outside the scope of this paper. This study simply seeks to address the principle of headship in 1 Cor. 11: 3.
With that, let us move to our text, 1 Cor. 11: 3: "I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man; the man is head of woman; God is head of Christ." First, a word about the context—the who and where in this situation. What does Paul have in mind with "every man" (pantoV androV) and "woman" (guaikoV)? How far is Paul applying his discussion? These men are Christian men in an assembly for Christian worship. Paul identifies "every man" (pantoV androV) in the following verse: "Every man (paV anhr) who prays or prophesies…." In verse 16, Paul specifically states that head covering is the practice of the "churches of God." The presence of angels (v. 10) and the subsequent discussion on the Lord’s Supper (vv. 17ff) indicate that the Divine Service is the context for Paul’s discussion of headship. In other words, the assembly of the baptized in the Divine Service is a living witness to the new creation in Christ, so it is to be rightly ordered according to the Creator’s intent. Outside the assembly of saints, either in the Divine Service or Christian marriage or Christian family, the application of biblical headship becomes more diffused, more ambiguous, and largely determined by cultural standards of appropriateness. In today’s text, Paul speaks generally of the relationship of Christian men and women in the Divine Service, but elsewhere Paul applies the headship principle to Christian marriages (e.g. cf. "idioV" in Eph. 5: 22; Titus 2:5; and 1 Pet. 3:1, 5) and Christian homes (e.g. Eph. 6:1). .
The key word in our discussion of headship in 1 Cor. 11: 3 is kefalh, which literally means "head". Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, the standard lexicon for ancient Greek, adds the meanings of "superior rank," "uppermost part," "extremity," and "end." In Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Heinrich Schlier identifies other possible meanings of kefalh, including: "top," "end" (as in the beginning and end of a river), "point," "prominent," "outstanding," "determinative," "first," "chief," "superior," "ruler," and "leader."
Traditionally, kefalh in 1 Cor. 11: 3 was understood to connote "authority over," but evangelical feminists contend that it means "source". Berkeley and Alvera Mickelson, Philip Payne, Gilbert Bilezikian, and Catherine Kroeger are notable examples. The feminist rendering would then be thus: Christ is the source of man; man is the source of woman; God is the source of Christ. On the surface this sounds plausible.
However, there are very serious problems with this interpretation. Feminists base their argument primarily on two citations over 400 years prior to the writing of 1 Corinthians. The first, from Herodotus (4.9), applies the plural kefalai to the beginning points of the Tearus River. Elsewhere, kefalh indicates the mouth of a river. Although Herodotus was discussing the sources of the Tearus River, the specific meaning of kefalh was actually "ends" or "farthest extremities". The other citation, from Orphic Fragments (21a), says that Zeus is the "head of all things." However, this could very well mean "first one" or "beginning" rather than "source". Richard Cervin, a feminist, concedes that all other examples cited by feminists are even less convincing. Wayne Grudem has done the most thorough study of the word kefalh, a study of 2,336 citations of kefalh in classical and koine Greek literature. He found no example of kefalh unambiguously meaning source—not in the New Testament, the Septuagint, nor in ancient non-biblical literature. However, there are numerous examples of kefalh that clearly connote authority. Context is determinative. I commend to you the following New Testament examples: Eph. 1:21; Eph. 5: 23; Col. 1: 18; Col. 2:10; Rev. 13:1, especially in view of 13: 3 and 17:10.
But what about 1 Cor. 11: 3? What meaning for kefalh does the context suggests? First of all, it should be observed that the verses that follow verse three clearly weigh against the egalitarian presuppositions of evangelical feminism. Notice that Paul bases his argument for women wearing a head covering not on the Fall, but on God’s creative intent. Verse seven ("Man ought not wear a head covering) and verse ten ("Women ought wear a head covering") parallel each other with the Genesis creation account in between as the rationale. In verse seven Paul states, "For a man ought not have his head covered, being an image and glory of God; but the woman is [the] glory of man." Now, Paul obviously knew that both men and women were made equally in God’s image (Gen. 1: 27); here he must be speaking of the ordering or relationship between two equals before God. I understand "glory" to mean the honor the woman gives to the man and the man, as a representative head of the family, to God. In verse eight he adds, "For man does not come from woman, but woman comes from man." And verse nine affirms that the woman was created for the man (dia ton andra), not the other way around. Paul’s whole argument based on the creation account is to assert a fundamental distinction between men and women. Quite significantly, in 1 Tim. 2: 11-14, Paul argues that woman should not exercise authority over man, basing his argument on the order of creation and Satan choosing to deceive Eve (which usurped Adam’s headship, as I understand it). Contrary to feminist’s assertions, Paul asserts a non-egalitarian understanding of the relationship between man and woman prior to the Fall. On the basis of the creation account, men and women are to observe the custom current in Paul’s day of wearing a head covering to acknowledge the headship principle.
That Paul intended kefalh to mean "authority" in 1 Cor. 11: 3, is abundantly clear by the meaning of the head covering. Paul is very explicit about this. In verse nine Paul says that man was not made for woman, but woman was made for man. Then, in verse ten, he adds, "Therefore (dia touto), the woman should have authority (exousian) on her head because of the angels." It’s very clear. Paul first states that Christ is the head of every man; the man is head of woman; and God is head of Christ. This serves as the rationale for asserting that women should wear head coverings and men should not. The head covering is a symbol of man’s authority over woman. The specific nature of this headship, understood as authority, needs to be clarified. I ask for your patience here, for I first want to address a final argument by feminist to the contrary.
As mentioned earlier, evangelical feminists assert that kefalh in verse three means "source". This has been shown to be highly unlikely since there is no clear evidence of that meaning in any ancient Greek literature. To bolster their argument they appeal to verses eight and twelve, in which Paul says that woman came from (ek) man. It’s true, ek does connote source, but these two references to source do not further the feminist argument because they do not serve to inform or support the principle of headship in verse three. It should be observed that Paul’s discussion of head coverings in vv. 4-16 is an application of the general principle of headship stated in verse three. The reference to source in verse eight is intended to support a specific point about Paul’s application; it does not function directly to inform or support the principle of headship stated in verse three. Moreover, feminists interpret kefalh as source in order to deprive men of any perceived advantage over women. Paul, however, cites that man is the origin of women for the very purpose of asserting some kind of advantage. Likewise, the function of verse twelve does not serve to support the general principle stated in verse three. In verse twelve, Paul highlights a reciprocal relationship between man and woman: the woman came from man and man now comes through woman. Yet, the principle itself is one directional: Christ is head of man; man is head of woman; God is head of Christ. Moreover, the whole application of head coverings is not about a reciprocal relationship at all. The woman is to wear the head covering and the man is not. It’s intended to distinguish them. The flow of Paul’s argument is an assertion of masculine authority over women. Paul’s reference of man being the "source" of woman in verse twelve almost runs contrary to the headship principle stated in verse three. The "however" (plhn) in verse eleven, indicates that Paul is inserting a brake or chain on the flow of his argument, lest this teaching on man’s authority is taken too far
And for the same reason, I now want to explain the biblical teaching of headship more fully, lest I start to conjure up in your mind images of the Taliban and Islamic extremists. That would be a natural concern since this study focused only on one facet of biblical headship, namely, exousiaV or, authority.
Headship is NOT domination. Domination is a perversion of God’s creative intent. It seeks to control, manipulate, or even crush the will of his or her spouse for selfish purposes. Domination says, "I’m the master. You’re here to serve me." Domination is demeaning. It creates insecurity, immaturity, and spiritual weakness in another. Both husbands and wives may succumb to a fleshly appetite to dominate. For example, female domination may take the form of constant hen pecking. Male domination often becomes physically and emotionally abusive. The Taliban’s treatment of women is simply an extreme perversion of God’s creative intent.
Paul’s teaching on headship in 1 Cor. 11 and other related passages stands in stark contrast to domination. In Ephesians 5:21, Paul says that husbands and wives are to submit to one another, but each in their appropriate ways. Christ’s relationship to His beloved Bride, the Church defines his intended meaning. Paul says that the husband is the head (kefalh) of the wife, and this headship entails authority, for the wife is to "respect" her husband (v. 33, fobhtai ton andra) but that same authority expresses itself in the form of benevolent service to the wife. In Paul’s understanding, headship is not a right or license to abuse and demand, but the husband’s responsibility to love his wife, just as Christ loved the Church. The biblical teaching of headship requires men to exercise their God given authority for the benefit of his wife and family, not himself. Christ is crowned King precisely in His act of self-sacrifice. Unlike domination, which demeans and destroys women, mature masculinity is intended to edify women. Paul says that Christ gave Himself up for His Bride "that he might sanctify her" … "that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle" … "that she might be holy and without blemish." "In the same way," Paul adds, "husbands are to love their wives…" Husbands are to nourish and cherish their wives as they nourish and cherish their own bodies. As for the wife, Paul only says submit to your husbands. I understand this submission as receiving, affirming, and encouraging godly expressions of masculine leadership. The Bride of Christ willfully and joyfully submits herself to her Lord’s benevolent leadership. Again, this in no way should be construed as a means to rob women of dignity or honor. Gentlemen, the biblical doctrine of headship means a responsibility to lead in a manner that serves, edifies, nurtures, strengthens, and ennobles women.
In a concise manner, Paul speaks of headship in terms of Christ and the Church in 1 Cor. 11: 3. He writes, "I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man." Paul does not exclude women as we have seen in Eph. 5, but it does reveal another facet of biblical headship, namely, a summation of the parts or members in the head. In one sense this other facet entails authority: The man as head has authority to represent others. Dr. David Scaer once commented about the Lutheran Archbishop of Latvia, Janis Vanags, whose face and demeanor betrayed years of severe persecution: "Take one look at him and you see the entire Lutheran Church in Latvia." The man as head of the household speaks for the whole household. Our culture, which stresses individualism, does not readily embrace this. Moreover, feminists balk at this and find it offensive. They contend this robs women of their own individual dignity and personhood. Therefore, they reject the representative authority of masculine headship.
However, even prior to the Fall the creation account presupposes this facet of headship. Gen. 1: 26-27: "And God said, ‘Let us make man (lit. adam) in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…. So God created man (lit. "adam") in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them." Like "man" in English, the word "adam" in Hebrew and "anqrwpoV," in the Greek can mean Adam (the first individual created) and the male gender, but the primary sense of "man" is "one and the same time, total, singular (simple), and personal," says Vernard Eller. By "personal" Eller means that God relates not only to individuals, but He also relates to the whole, in wrath, for example, against fallen man (i.e. the old man) and in love toward redeemed man (i.e. the new man). God could have very well chosen a different word to connote the whole of the human race, but His choice indicates that "adam" is not only the first man but in his person is the whole, that is, God designated Adam to be head of the entire human race. Adam and Eve were created as the pinnacle of God’s creation, and therefore both are to have dominion over the earth as head of creation. But within the relationship between Adam and Eve, Adam was head. As the head goes, so goes the body. Therefore, in Adam’s Fall, the whole of man fell; indeed, all of creation became subject to death and decay (Rom. 8:18ff).
We do not confess in the Nicene Creed that the Son of God became a human being—a genderless person of some sort. No, Pontius Pilate beheld the MAN, the perfect MAN, who, as the new head of the new creation, stood in place of fallen Adam, fallen Eve, the fallen human race, and the fallen creation, to redeem it from bondage to sin, death, and the devil. Therefore, Christ is described as the sum of, the pinnacle of, and the principle of unity for the new creation. Like the shape of a pyramid, the new creation grows into and is bound together in its head, Jesus, the Second Adam. Paul writes, "we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph. 4: 15). Paul criticizes those who do not "hold fast to the head [ie. Christ], from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God." Authority is not altogether lost here, for the summing up of the totality of man to the Head does not take place without its subjection to his Head.
As stated earlier, feminism regards this sense of headship as unjust and not true. If that were the case, then consider the consequences. Biblical headship explains how the Son of God assumed both genders in assuming the flesh of one man. If masculine headship is unjust and not true—as feminists contend, then the MAN Jesus Christ did not stand in the place of women and become one of them. In other words, He did not redeem them. In my opinion, feminism’s rejection of masculine headship is the worst form of abuse against women because it denies women salvation. St. Athanasius correctly asserted that what the Son of God did not assume in His incarnation He did not redeem.
Feminist presuppositions ultimately change our understanding of God Himself. Feminism is unable or unwilling to permit the possibility of true essential equality between men and women in a hierarchal arrangement in which the woman’s role or function is subordinate to that of the man or husband. This is Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 11. Feminists contend that hierarchal structures, particularly patriarchy, are inherently unjust, oppressive, and demeaning. Even God Himself must submit to this presupposition. Rosemary Ruether, for instance, understands Christ’s incarnation in Phil. 2:7 as a "kenosis of the Father," "a self-emptying of God’s power as divine patriarch."
For the sake of consistency, evangelical feminists must also reject the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Paul tells us that "the man is head of woman" and "God is head of Christ" (1 Cor. 11: 3). They parallel each other. In 1 Cor. 15, Paul adds that after the Son destroys "every rule and every authority and power" (v. 24), "the Son Himself will also be subjected (upotaghsetai) to [the Father] … that God may be all in all" (v. 28). This same verb (upotassw) and its cognate (upotagh) are applied to wives’ subjection or subordination to their husbands (cf. Eph. 5: 22; Col. 3: 18; Titus 2: 5; 1 Pet. 3: 1, 5; also, 1 Tim. 2:11). Just as the Son and the Father are essentially equal in glory, dignity, wisdom, knowledge, etc., so, also, man and woman are essentially equal, being made in the very image of God. Within a relationship of two essential equals—and, at no loss to that equality, the Son was obedient to the Father’s will, even to death on a Cross; so, also, the woman’s role is subordinate to the leadership of the man.
Contrary to the objections of feminism, the doctrine of headship neither degrades women nor gives men license to abuse authority. The stakes are simply too high for the Church to bow to the egalitarian ideals of feminism. We simply can not let go of biblical headship without letting go of an orthodox confession of Christ, our head, and the Holy Trinity. I’m not sure why we would want to do this at any cost. After all, Christ, the Bridegroom adorns His beloved Bride with the most precious treasures: His righteousness, life, and an eternal inheritance. And what earthly ideal can surpass the dignity, honor, glory, and wonder of reflecting the very Godhead in our own relationships? These are marvelous mysteries, and I think we should hold onto them.
Pr. Duane Osterloth
The Baptism of our Lord, 2002
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