Headship and Grudem and Kephale – OH MY!

July 26, 2013

in Headship/Submission, Reader Requested, YOU4HER

Kephale is the Greek word translated as “head” in Eph 5:22, 1 Cor 11:3, and elsewhere. I’ve had more debates than I like about “the true meaning” of Kephale, and I don’t wish to go through the linguistic arguments here. If you want to read about it, start with Wayne Grudem’s The Meaning Of Kephale (“Head”): An Evaluation Of New Evidence, Real And Alleged.

I think we can get the truth without having to have a Masters in Greek!

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” [1 Cor 11:3 ESV]

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” [Eph 5:23 ESV]

Solve for X © Keerati | freedigitalphotos.net

The five appearances of “head” in those verses are Kephale. What would happen if we exchanged the word with X (the unknowing quantity in math) and “solved for X” based on context?

But I want you to understand that the X of every man is Christ, the X of a wife is her husband, and the X of Christ is God. 

For the husband is the X of the wife even as Christ is the X of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Whatever “X” is, we have four examples of it – Christ and man, husband and wife, God and Christ, and Christ and the Church. What’s more, Paul says the word functions the same in these four relationships. Whatever the word means, it must be applied consistently across the four relationships mentioned. Obviously, God is not the same as a man, so there may be some difference, but we cannot in all integrity make the word mean one thing in some of those relationships, and something entirely different in others of the relationships.

One big reason for the debate about Kephale is that translating it as “head” is a problem for those who say God intends husband and wives to “mutually submit to each other.” Personally, I think the “solve for X” approach blows a hole in the egalitarian approach. Does Christ wait for agreement and consent from the Church before acting? Didn’t Jesus say to God “Not My will, but Yours be done?”

Bottom line: while I may not be as “strong” on headship as some, I am convinced it is the only biblical model for marriage. Feel free to disagree in the comments!

Note: I won’t be discussing this Sunday as I had another post promised. I will get back to this on Monday, with submission.

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I know this is a sensitive subject but I think it is because we forget something very important about God which helps us understand the issues for us here.  First off, we need to understand that 5:21 is not separate from the verses which follow.  Remember Paul wrote this as a letter, not with chapter and verse designations. As such Paul wrote one thought and which would then either transition into another thought or he would list his thoughts. In this case, he transitions which means that even though verse 21 is closing out the though above, it is also transitioning to the thought which follows.  Now this is where our understanding of God's character helps us understand what Paul is describing. Verse 22 and beyond, Paul is clear that the husband is to pick up the authority that God has made him responsible for - the authority over his wife and family. The wife is to submissive to her husband. We get that, even if we don't like it but what we don't get is that the husband is to be submissive to her wife the way God is submissive to us.  Let me explain - We all agree that God is the ultimate authority, yet God has given each of us a will and does not force us to do things we don't want to do. He submits to our wills until we become willing to submit to His. Are there consequences for our submission and lack of submission? Of course there are! But yet God never forces His will upon us - He willing chooses to submit to our wills until we become willing to submit to His.  Actually, because God is never selfish, He is unable to demand that we submit to His will regardless of whether we want to or not.  Understanding the character of God, He cannot impose His will upon us, and He is patient so He waits for us to willing submit to Him is key to understanding these verses. 

I believe that character of God is what is missing in our understanding of the husband and wife relationship.  Yes, wives are to submit to their Husbands, and if husbands love their wives as Christ loves the church, he will submit to her will when she is not willing to submit to his, until she becomes willing - just as God waits for us to submit to HIs will.  There are several other aspects of God's character involved in the relationship of husband and wife which has caused me to use the phrase, "Husband need to treat their wives the way God treats us when we act towards God the way she acts towards us."  When we don't submit to God's desires, God waits until we do. He also allows us to receive the consequences of our unwillingness to submit - the consequences of our decision to do what we want.  So we, as husbands, need to learn to do so with our wives.  I can tell you it is not easy, but as you intentionally begin to act toward your wife the way God acts towards you both in the positive and the negative actions, Over a period of time, it will surprise you as to how differently you wife will begin to respond to you.

It is not a matter of husband's submitting to their wife, it is a matter of them submitting to her will until she becomes willing to submit to the biblical authority over her. Some it will take longer than others, just as some of us men it takes us longer to submit to God's will then others.  But if we love God, eventually, we begin to submit to Him.  If you wife loves God, she will eventually begin to submit to you because you are God's indirect authority over her. The more your force you way upon her the more she will rebel, because that is not God's way - His way is to submit His will to ours until we become willing.  Since God really knows best, I am trying to intention do things his way. It is amazing the difference in the results.


I may be more of the egalitarian than you Paul, here's why:

I argue not that the husband is called to be the headship of his home and bride.  But I dare NOT disregard the context in which Ephesians 5 was written.  I find it unfortunate, yet disheartening when the scripture is used out of context.  This is so typically found in this particular passage.  Husbands around the world unite on this verse and yell-out "Amen!"....but forget to read on.

Firstly, I believe wholly that the Word is the inspired written Word of God.  I believe the Triune Headship of our Heavenly Father.  I, however don't believe that verse numbering or the headers or footnotes in our bibles are inspired.  Therefore I submit that quite possibly the First instruction to marriage and family is not Ephesians 5:22 but 5:21 (interestingly in the more recent version of the NIV the authors have placed 5:21 to within the header of "Instructions for Christian Households").  The first instruction is to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  The word 'submit' is hypotasso, meaning to arrange under, as described in the KJV NT Greek Lexicon "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden."  So I submit our first commandment to our marriage is for each of us, Husband and Wife, to submit to one another.  This means to selflessly love our bride/husband and focus our attention on meeting her/his needs.  This causes me to look outward at how I'm meeting her needs, and as I do so I'm no longer selfish, but selfless.  This is troubling to those in a worrisome marriage.  We get scared that our needs won't get met.  Who do we rely on anyways?  I hope you answered God (I could give a dissertation on this and the act of selfless love but I don't want to hijack your wonderful thread here).

Secondly, I submit to you a continuation of my first paragraph rant.  We so grievously latch to our "God given right to Authority over our brides".  Without reading the next verses.  In 5:21 we are told to submit to one another.  If this is the case, then why repeat it in 5:22 for our brides to hear?  Because Paul, through the Holy Spirit, understood man's most intimate desire:  to be respected.  So he tells our brides again..."hey His love language is respect!"  Then Paul continues to remind us, "hey her love language is Love!"  I know my purpose on this earth is to strive to make myself think, talk, act and love like Christ, right?  If we are to be like Christ (Phil 1:21, Rom 12:1-2, etc) the I must ask myself How did Christ Love His church?  He laid down His life for her.  Who is the Church but us?  So if we are the bride of Christ and He loved us by sacrificing Himself for us, then as husbands should we not show our brides love by laying down our lives for them?  In 5:25 the word 'gave' is Paradidomi, meaning "to give into the hands (of another)".  Wait, that sure sounds like submission to me.  Christ chose to lay down His life, in Love, for us.  I choose hypotasso for my bride as Christ did for me!

Finally, I reject any component of one's theology that strips the meaning of a verse taken out of context like kephale without acknowledging the framework in which it is to exist such as hypotasso and paradidomi.  What better than for us to mimic Christ in our lives and where best to begin this triumphant challenge than in our homes with our brides!

In our marriage, we, through the deepest of trials, have emerged healthy.  At the center of our health is Christ.  In Christ we have learned hypotasso and to believe and know Christ, through my bride, will meet my every need as a man and husband and my wife believes and knows the same for herself.  This brings freedom to stop worrying about myself and my needs and gives me a world of opportunity to bless and love my wife as I meet hers!



TheGenerousHusband moderator

@E521 Yes, where you break the sentences does make a difference. It fits with 22, but I think it fits better as a segue - closing the last thought and pointing to specifics about marriage that modify the general commands to Christians as a whole.

Paul tells wives to submit, but does not then tell husbands to do the same. Given that he went both ways in 1 Cor 7 I think his not doing it here is significant. There are several places in the Bible where wives are specifically told to submit to their husband, but no place the reverse is stated. When you consider that the husband submitting would have been a radical thought in that day, I think Paul would have made a point of spelling it out if that is what he meant.

In the other relationships we know that the one who is listed as "Kephale" is the head, the servant leader. I see nothing that would justify ignoring that in the case of husband and wife.

Hypotasso is a military term - by definition it means some have a higher "rank". I agree that submission is a choice - I will get to that next week. You will find I do not think we have a "God given right to Authority over our brides".


@TheGenerousHusband I'm not in disagreement to the determination of authority of 'Kephale', rather the operation in which it is executed.  I agree 5:21 is a segue to the last thought, however I was striving to bring focus as it also modifies the verses that follow it.  I don't think my perspective blurs the God-assigned roles aforementioned, yet challenges us to imitate Christ in our relationships with one another.  

 The term hypotasso contain meanings in both military and non-military pillars.  The non-military pillar is described above in my original post as is the military pillar described in your reply.

You describe 'Kephale' as "...head, the servant leader."  This is my point and furthermore supported by its placement as a modifier to the noun leader. 

Lead by serving as Christ has also done.

I look forward to next weeks post.


Two things came to mind reading this. One, I've done extensive research about the women's role in the church, including the meaning of kephale. As you say, the "source" theory is weak and seems to me to be a reinterpretation in light of our current cultural desires. Two, we misunderstand that people fulfilling different roles does not mean that they have unequal value. Women and men are equally valuable to God and to family and to church, etc. However, they can function in different ways, including the husband being the head.

I know I'm an outspoken woman, but honestly, my husband is the leader. I wouldn't do or say anything I'm doing now without his express support (and pushing me at times to heed God's calling). But I've often said that when men are properly strong, women can be strong too and still not take over when they shouldn't.

TheGenerousHusband moderator

@HotHolyHumorous J - no arguments from me on any of that.

Personally, I don't see a many (any?) gender specific roles in the church. (Yes, I will catch flack for that.) I think there are some roles that are better suited to the strengths and gifts of one gender,but I don't see a biblical prohibition on most of those being held by the other spouse. What we see by way of example and necessary inference in the NT is based on culture and gender limits that were cultural (like education differences), not on commands. I think the Bible is clear that women can be deacons, and I can't find a solid biblical prohibition of female elders. As to female pastors, what we call a pastor is a role not found in the Bible, so the whole issue is extra-biblical.

In short I see God clearly making the husband the head in the home, but I do not see this extended to the Church.


I see two reasons why we don't like the word "headship."  First, we don't like being accountable to anyone and submitting to the authority of anyone especially of someone we think are better than or know as much as or more than.  The second, is society is teaching "teamwork" so much that the church is buying into that philosophy and when we do we bring it into our relationships in our families, in our church, and in our relationship with God. We want to be a team player with God and we want God to be a team player with us.  God does not work that way and until we get to the point of headship with God, we will never become all that He has designed us to be in His Kingdom.  I have found that when I struggle in my relationship with God about headship, I also struggle in my earthy relationship about headship and that never goes well, both with God and with having peace in my earthly relationships.

TheGenerousHusband moderator

@jsdelcamp I had never thought of your second point,  but you are dead on.

I have always seen marriage as a unique relationship - the only thing close is God and is people. God gave us some rather specific commands about marriage, and I think those must trump anything else, including more general commands found in the Bible. But saying that, and being free from other interlaces are two different things!

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