Archive | June, 2013

A Controversial Word: “Head”

19 Jun

 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands”. ~Ephesians 5:21-24

Before we start evaluating the vying types of submission, let’s first examine what it means for the man to be the “head.”  The Greek word for head is κεφαλή or kephale. Complementarians translate this word into “authority.”  I’m going to say, upfront, that too much is read into this one word because, in reality, it has a variety of uses and meanings.  Typically, it means a physical head (you know, that thing that houses your brain).  However, it can also refer to being first, being preeminent, or the origin/source of something else.  We should look for all the ways it’s used, but we should especially watch the way Paul uses it in other letters.  Interestingly, Paul  typically uses kephale to mean “source” or “origin” rather than “authority.”

In 1 Cor. 11:2-16, kephale is used as a literal head and as source (which 11:8-9 makes clear).

In Col. 1:18, kephale, is being used in reference to the beginning, and thus can clearly be understood as origin or source.

In Col 2:10, kephale is clearly being used as source/origin because if it meant “authority” then Paul would be repeating himself.  It’s saying Christ is the source of all authority.

Eph. 1:22 is the only place where kephale can be taken as “authority” without any ambiguity.  However, just three chapters later, in Eph. 4: 15-16 Christ is identified as the “head” in that he is a unifying source of the whole body.[1]

In light of this evidence, I am more likely to believe kephale is being used as origin or source- which would be consistent with the Genesis account as well as other Pauline arguments.  Just look at this passage from 1 Cor. 11 which deals with head coverings.  “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God,” (1 Cor. 11:8-12).  Women come from men, but all things come from God.  Man is the source of women, but Christ is the source of the church.  This interpretation is just as biblically sound (if not more so) as the complementarian argument which insists kephale means authority.

In light of the varying ways the word kephale is used by Paul alone, can we really say, with %100 certainty, that “head” only means authority in Ephesians 5?  I don’t think so.  Am I willing to be a martyr over whether or not it means “source” over and against “authority.”  Probably not.  But the evidence sure does make one think…


[1] Alan Padgett. As Christ Submits to the Church.  66-67

Why Paul Was Radically Progressive

18 Jun

Okay, so I know that most of modern folks look at Paul’s writings about women and think, “What a Pig! What’s his problem with women?”  I know I’ve felt that way myself.  I never realized that for Paul’s time and culture, he was something of a radical.  Allow me to explain.

In the ancient Jewish and Roman cultures, men dominated.  It wasn’t even questioned.  Women were considered physically, spiritually and intellectually inferior.  Because of this, Romans held to a strict set of family codes that kept the patriarch (from the Latin for father) in control of his wife, children and slaves. 

Paul was a practical fellow.  He knew that Christianity was considered a subversive religion, and Paul would not have wanted to create any additional (and unnecessary) opposition to the Gospel, so he chose not to contradict the family structure of the Roman world.  He used the same three-part household construction Aristotle put forward.  However, Paul made some pretty drastic changes. 

He advocated wifely submission, but defined it as respect rather than obedience.  In the same way, Paul also called for husbands to submit to their wives.  In Ephesians 5:21, all Christians are commanded to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Husbands were called to submit their lives in place of their wives’ and both women and men are instructed not to withhold physical intimacy from their spouse (an instruction which was not typically given to men).  If Paul had broken entirely from the traditional family structure of his day, then he would have opened the Christian faith up for even more attack.  Furthermore, he would have alienated thousands of potential converts by making Christianity look even more subversive or undignified.  Not to mention the fact that no societies were really embracing the notion of egalitarianism 2,000 years ago.

Despite Paul’s involvement with the patriarchal structure of the ancient world, he was far from the chauvinist some have made him out to be.  It’s clear that even within the accepted system of patriarchy, Paul advocated for an ethic of mutual submission and self-giving love- which was a radical thing in his time.  Let’s give him credit where credit is due.  This man was progressive.  He pulled his readers towards the image of Christ, and an ethic of mutual submission which is more radical, and more beautiful, than any family system yet seen.[1]


[1] Craig Keener.  Paul, Women and Wives. 133-156

A Series on Christian Marriage

18 Jun

When I was eighteen years old, I had the following conversation with a guy who led one of the Bible studies I attended.

Me:  “I’m getting a little frustrated with this relationship.  I know it’s important for him (my boyfriend at the time who shall remain nameless) to be the leader in this relationship, but he’s not doing that at all.  I’m pretty sure I’m more spiritually mature – not to mention more emotionally mature- than he is anyway.”

Mentor J:  “Kate, if you want him to be the spiritual leader of this relationship, then you need to wear the skirt.”

I cringe even writing out this excerpt from my complementarian days.  I had been taught that men were the leaders in society, in church, and especially in the home.  My future husband was to be my spiritual “head” and I was to be his docile and submissive “helper”.  Since that was the kind of husband I needed, it was important that the guys I dated fit the bill.  I had a checklist.  1) He had to be Christian (which I still think is essential). 2) He had to pursue me. 3) He had to be a spiritual “leader.” To be honest, this list contained over sixty expectations (with varying importance), most of which I could care less about now.  Even as I evolved into the Christian egalitarian I am now, I assumed my husband would function as the spiritual leader of our home.  Mutuality wasn’t even on my radar until seminary.  Even then, I figured my future husband would want to “lead” in some fashion, even if we didn’t practice hard patriarchy.  I just assumed all men needed to feel like they were in charge in order to be satisfied in the relationship.

Then I met RC.  He’d dealt with the womanhood issue when he was in college, and came to an egalitarian position.  I knew how he felt about women in ministry early on (that was a litmus test for second dates), but it wasn’t until we got engaged that we started talking about roles within the family we were on the verge of creating.  I still remember driving on Highway 64 West, along the Ohio River in Louisville, and saying, “So you really don’t see yourself as the spiritual leader of our family?”  His response was thoughtful and considerate- classic RC.  He told me that he was a leader to our future children, just as I will be, but when it comes to our marriage, we’re on equal footing. 

That statement, while certainly not meant to be offensive, is sure to rub somebody the wrong way.  Living in a region that is almost 50% Baptist means that this kind of thinking is ingrained in the evangelical culture here.  One could respond, “But wifely submission is biblical!” Believe it or not, I agree with you.  Wives are to submit to their husbands, but the Christian ethic of submission is much larger than wives and husbands.  After all, Ephesians 5:21 states, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  So do I submit to my husband?  Yes.  Does he also submit to me?  Yes.  The ethic of submission is the foundation of our marriage (which by the way is pretty awesome), but the submission is mutual and not patriarchal. 

In this series on Biblical Womanhood, I will be exploring the world of Christian marriage.  We will cover Ephesians 5, Proverbs 31, The Song of Solomon and much more.  For this section, I’m drawing from a few sources more than others.  The first is a book by Alan G. Padgett called As Christ Submits to the Church.  The Second is Paul, Women and Wives by Craig Keener.  The third is A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans.  Finally, I’ll be drawing from Liberating Tradition, by Kristina LaCelle-Peterson.  The Evans source is less scholarly, but still a thought-provoking read. 

I’d like to close by saying that I don’t think marriage –even Christian marriage- can be prescribed down to a “T.”  I know godly men and women who uphold complementary roles and still love and respect each other very much.  At the same time, I know couples who are hard-core Jesus feminists, reverse every role, and maintain a passionate devotion to the Lord and one another.  If God is the center of a marriage, and each partner seeks to love and honor the other, I am convinced that the couple will find a natural rhythm of leading and being lead.  That rhythm won’t be the same for everyone.  Thus, if your marriage doesn’t function the same way mine does, that’s okay.  I’m not interested in critiquing individual marriages.  I do, however, want to present an ethic of mutual submission which evangelicalism has wrongly shunned out of fear.  You may evaluate the evidence I present, and decide you disagree.  That’s fine.  You may see things for the first time and experience the same freedom I did.  That’s good too.  All I ask is that we really wrestle with this issue, let the Holy Spirit lead, and, when we disagree, do so with grace.