Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
What does “head” mean?
I’ve been rereading Philip Payne’s monumental study of Paul’s letters in relation to the roles of men and women in the church and home, Man and Woman, One in Christ. There is so much in this book to discuss I feel as though every single page deserves its own post. For now, I wanted to highlight his discussion of the meaning of “head” in the much-discussed 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Payne writes:
The majority view in recent scholarship has shifted to understand “head”… in this passage to mean “source” rather than “authority”… One reason for the popularity of [interpreting it as “authority”] is that in English, German, and Hebrew… the most common metaphorical meaning of “head” is “leader”… Interpreters who in their native tongue associate metaphorical uses of “head” with “leader” naturally make this association when reading this passage. (117-118, cited below)
In the book, Payne goes on to demonstrate why it is that the majority view has turned to viewing “head” as “source.” He provides 15 reasons to think this is the case. A few highlights include contemporary 1st-3rd century usage of the term, lexical support for “source” and lack thereof for “authority,” other usage within the Pauline epistles, difficulties raised by reading it as “authority,” and support for the meaning as “source” from a number of contemporary authors and Church Fathers. In the passage above, I think it’s interesting to see that one’s native language often imports meaning into the text. I’m sure this happens in many places, and I’ve caught myself on some.
If you have any interest at all in the debate over women’s roles in the church and home and do not have this book, you must amend the situation immediately. It doesn’t matter if you are egalitarian or complementarin; you must deal with the arguments raised by Payne, who interacts with top scholars from both sides of the debate (including Piper, Grudem, Wright, and more).
What are your thoughts? How do you read this difficult passage? Does your native tongue perhaps change your perception of the meaning of some parts of the Bible?
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).
Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).