Wednesday, March 16, 2016

KEFALH = "Head"? (Duncan)

BDAG says that KEFALH, when employed metaphorically,
may denote:

(1) A being of high status (Iren. 1, 5, 3; Hippol.
Ref. 7, 23, 3).

(a) "in the case of living beings, to denote superior

BDAG lists 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23a as examples of what I
have labeled 1a. Cf. Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23b.

Marion Soards (1 Corinthians in the NIBC Series)
discusses the views of commentators such as G. Fee and
N. Watson, who both argue that KEFALH means "source"
in 1 Cor 11:3. But he then adds the following caveat
on page 229 of his commentary:

"Nevertheless, the interpretive debate is not settled.
J. A. Fitzmyer ('Another Look at KEFALH in 1
Corinthians 11:3,' NTS 35 [1989], pp. 503-11) examines
the LXX and Philo alongside Paul to argue 'head' could
be understood as 'authority over' another person; also
J. A. Fitzmyer, 'KEFALH in 1 Corinthians 11:3,' Int
47 (1993), pp. 52-59. In a creative interpretive
1 Cor 11:10 and the Ecclesial Authority Woman,' List
31 [1996], pp. 91-104) argues that the charismatic
gift of prophecy gave the women who were endowed with
this gift an authority over their heads--the
men--because of the Spirit's presence and power at
work in their contributions to the congregation's

D. A. Carson also reports the following in Exegetical
Fallacies (2nd Edition):

"Although some of the New Testament metaphorical uses
of KEFALH . . . could be taken to mean 'source,' all
other factors being equal, in no case is that the
required meaning; and in every instance the notion of
'headship' implying authority fits equally well or
better. The relevant lexica are full of examples, all
culled from the ancient texts, in which KEFALH . . .
connotes 'authority'" (pp. 37-38).


Duncan said...

The current lexicons have many hurdles to jump before this one is settled and it does seem that word in the contentious verse has a very tailored meaning, as my erlier linked pdf points out:-

"If kephale had the meaning of either authority or origin, it was not used that way very often. Further, the arguments on both sides beg the question of why, whichever meaning Paul intended, he didn’t use the word ‘ruler’ or ‘source’/’origin’ directly?

If Paul meant to command a husband’s authority over his wife, he could have communicated this using the far more common and intuitive archon (ruler or power), exousia (authority), despotes or oikudespotes (used in the gospels to refer to the master of a household or landowner), or kyrios (lord). Indeed, use of the word kyrios, the term used for Jesus throughout the New Testament, would have seemed completely natural if that was the role Paul intended for the husband. Kyrios was also the more common Greek term for the master of a household."

Duncan said...

I think that the head and body imagery may be from something as yet unmentioned in any of the papers I have found - a Coptic/Egyptian one.

The Ancient Hebrew and Egyptian anatomy are very similar and the head or brain was rarely mentioned. The brain was discarded during mummification but the breath (the character) comes from the mouth. So I see a possibility that the word in question could mean instructor/teacher.

Edgar Foster said...

The context in 1 Cor 11:3ff explains why Paul chose kephale to mean "authority over." It fits nicely with his discussion of head coverings. Furthermore, this usage was a notable metaphor inPaul's time.

This discussion, like questions about soma, necessitate learning something about ancient medicine and anatomy as you indicate.

Edgar Foster said...

More arguments in favor of the "authority over" understanding can be found here:

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

This study does appear to be fairly comprehensive and does give weight to "authority over" as a possible meaning.

Duncan said...

There is something that I am curious about.

"that he was saying nothing out of his own head, but was only interpreting the words of another,"

Is the word here translated "head" one and the same?

During the 4th century BC Aristotle thought that, while the heart was the seat of intelligence, the brain was a cooling mechanism for the blood. He reasoned that humans are more rational than the beasts because, among other reasons, they have a larger brain to cool their hot-bloodedness.

Edgar Foster said...

I found a Greek text of Philo's "Vita" online, but it did not help me to find kefalh. You might be able to see it. Check out