You Go to My Head: Women and Headship in the Writings of Paul

This is going to be the last of my posts on women in leadership. The series has been interesting, but has gone a bit long.  The next series may go even longer . . . but I think it has greater staying power!  But you’ll have to wait to hear about that one. For today, let’s talk about the term kephale (head) in the writings of Paul, and how this term is a point of great controversy.

There is indeed quite a bit written on this subject. often dogmatic and heated. In order to understand the various camps and arguments on this issue, rather than giving a poor summary of the relevant articles in this brief blog posting, I instead will refer you to a variety of sources which will reward your investigation in getting a picture of the arguments gathered around this word, often used to support a position of male headship which some would view as patriarchy or the traditional view, while others, insisting on the dignity of both female and male roles, opt for a complemenntarian view where the roles complement but do not duplicate each other, while others opt for an egalitarian view where all roles are open to either men or women.

For a rundown of the traditional, or some would say, patriarchal view, see Paul Tanner’s article. Other treatments of the traditional view are those by Graham Beynon and David Miller.

The best known champion of the complementarian view is Wayne Grudem. He argues that men and women have different and complementary roles holding that the kephale passages mean than man “has authority over” women, while also arguing that there is no evidence in the ancient literature for the interpretation “source,” for kephale, which is the translation egalitarians prefer. Find his seminal article here.

Some view the egalitarian view to be a concession to modern feminism.  That sounds credible, but not everything that sounds credible is true!  David Scholer, perhaps the most prominent and beloved of egalitarian scholars, points out that the first article arguing for a feminist interpretation of Paul’s texts about women is Margaret Fell, writing in 1666!  He points out as well that in the 19th century no less than thirty six treatments were generated arguing for an egalitarian role for women in the Church. While I am not arguing that this makes the egalitarian position true or preferable, I am arguing that those who dismiss this position as a concession to trendy feminism simply substitute their prejudices for the facts of the matter.

I was pleased to meet David Scholer when I was at Fuller Seminary.  He was a warm, godly, jovial man whose wife Jeannette and daughter Agatha, like himself, exuded a sort of holy joy (there is another daughter whom I never met, whom I am sure is likewise graced). Scholer argued his case for the enfranchisement of women with characteristic warmth, humility, and scholarly acumen.  Of his many articles on the subject, a comprehensive one may be found here. This was written shortly before his untimely death from cancer on August 22, 2008 at aged 70. Although the entire article repays reading, and I strongly commend it, in keeping with today’s subject, do a search within the article for his excellent three pages or so on the debate about kephale, as to whether the word means “authority” or “headship” so that men have a God- given authority or headship over women, or whether the word means instead “source,” that men are the source of women, as Christ is the source of the Church, and should therefore be treated with honor.

Grudem argues strongly against the meaning “source,” but many argue against him, including especially Richard S. Cervin, “Does Kephale Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” Trinity Journal 10 NS (1989), pp. 85-112 which you may read here. Others who also argue against his position include Gordon Fee, Berkeley and Alvera Micklesen, Gilbert Bilezikian, and online,  a lovely treatment  by Laurie Fassulo, “What About the World Kephale (‘Head’) in the New Testament?,” which you may read here. For a comparison of Cervin’s and Grudem’s approaches see here. And for an excellent list of scholarly blog discussions which challenge Grudem’s very strongly defended complementarian position, see this.

There are many other articles findable on the web, such as a critique of  Grudem’s approach and that of his fellow traveler, John Piper, by Jim Reiher, and another list of egalitarian articles to be found here.

Obviously, both the passion and extent of this discussion precludes by imagining I could give a comprehensive and authoritative treatment here. Instead, I have opted to direct you elsewhere. If this discussion matters to you, happy hunting!






About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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