In my opinion, one of the more dangerous things you can say as a proclaimer of the good news is, “the Bible says…” We say this all the time. I say it all the time. But there is a real danger if we are not very, very careful. It’s like driving a car. We do it all the time and think nothing of it; but we can easily forget that we’re driving a very heavy, fast-moving piece of machinery that can do incredible damage if not controlled with great care.
The point I’m trying to make is this: When we say, “the Bible says…”, we are taking on the voice of God. What comes next is not from us, but from Jehovah God himself. The danger is that this book that I’m holding is not the Bible. It is a translator’s interpretation of the original text. It is a Bible translation, and in this case, not a particularly good one. In fact, these translations are often called versions.
- NIV – New International Version
- ESV – English Standard Version
- NKJV – New King James Version
If you are asked for your version of something—whatever it may be—what does that imply?
This is why I use resources like biblehub.com and bibliatodo.com which give us many Bible translations to review as we try to discover the truth about a passage of Scripture, but sometimes even that isn’t enough. Our study for today is an excellent case in point.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:3.
“But I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ; in turn, the head of a woman is the man; in turn, the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NWT)
Here the word “head” is an English translation for the Greek word kephalé. If I were talking in Greek about the head sitting on my shoulders, I would use the word kephalé.
Now the New World Translation is unremarkable in its rendering of this verse. In fact, except for two, the other 27 versions listed on biblehub.com render kephalé as head. The two aforementioned exceptions render kephalé by its presumed meaning. For instance, the Good News Translation gives us this rendering:
“But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man, the husband is supreme over his wife, and God is supreme over Christ.”
The other is the GOD’S WORD Translation which reads,
“However, I want you to realize that Christ has authority over every man, a husband has authority over his wife, and God has authority over Christ.”
I’m going to say something now that is going to sound presumptuous–I, not being a Bible scholar and all—but all these versions get it wrong. That is my opinion as a translator. I worked as a professional translator in my youth, and though I don’t speak Greek, I do know that the goal of translation is to accurately convey the original thought and meaning in the original.
A straightforward word-for-word translation doesn’t always accomplish that. In fact, it can often get you into trouble because of something called semantics. Semantics is concerned with the meaning we give words. I will illustrate. In Spanish, if a man says to a woman, “I love you”, he may say, “Te amo” (literally “I love you”). However, as common if not more so is, “Te quiero” (literally, “I want you”). In Spanish, both mean essentially the same thing, but if I were to render “Te quiero” into English using a word-for-word translation—“I want you”—would I be conveying the same meaning? It would depend on the circumstance, but telling a woman in English that you want her doesn’t always involve love, at least the romantic kind.
What does this have to do with 1 Corinthians 11:3? Ah, well that’s where things get really interesting. You see – and I think we can all agree on this – that verse is not talking about the literal head, but rather it uses the word “head” figuratively as a symbol of authority. It’s like when we say, “department head”, we are referring to the boss of that particular department. So, in that context, figuratively speaking, “head” refers to the person in authority. In my understanding that is also the case in Greek today. However—and here’s the rub—the Greek spoken in Paul’s day, 2,000 years ago, didn’t use kephalé (“head”) in that way. How is that possible? Well, we all know that languages change over time.
Here are some words Shakespeare used that mean something very different today.
- BRAVE – Handsome
- COUCH – To go to sleep
- EMBOSS – To track with the intent to kill
- KNAVE – A young boy, a servant
- MATE – To confuse
- QUAINT – Beautiful, ornate
- RESPECT – Forethought, consideration
- STILL – Always, forever
- SUBSCRIPTION – Acquiescence, obedience
- TAX – Blame, censure
That is just a sampling, and remember those were used only 400 years ago, not 2,000.
My point is that if the Greek word for “head” (kephalé) wasn’t used in Paul’s day to convey the idea of having authority over someone, then wouldn’t a word-for-word translation into English mislead the reader to a wrong understanding?
The most complete Greek-English lexicon in existence today is one first published in 1843 by Liddell, Scott, Jones, and McKenzie. It is a most impressive piece of work. Over 2,000 pages in size, it covers the period of the Greek language from a thousand years before Christ to six hundred years after. Its findings are taken from examining thousands of Greek writings over that 1600-year period.
It lists a couple of dozen meanings for kephalé used in those writings. If you want to check it out for yourself, I’ll put a link to the online version in the description of this video. If you go there, you will see for yourself that there is no meaning in Greek from that period that corresponds to the English meaning for head as “authority over” or “supreme over”.
So, a word-for-word translation is just wrong in this instance.
If you think that perhaps this lexicon is just being influenced by feminist thinking, bear in mind that this was originally published in the mid-1800s long before there was any feminist movement. Back then we are dealing with a completely male-dominated society.
Am I really contending that all these bible translators got it wrong? Yes, I am. And to add to the evidence, let’s look at the work of other translators, specifically the 70 responsible for the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek done in the centuries prior to Christ’s arrival.
The word for “head” in Hebrew is ro’sh and it does carry the figurative use of one in authority or a chief just as in English. The Hebrew word, ro’sh (head) used figuratively to mean leader or chief is found some 180 times in the Old Testament. It would be the most natural thing for a translator to use the Greek word, kephalé, as a translation in those places if it carried the same meaning as the Hebrew word—“head” for “head”. However, we find the various translators used other words to render ro’sh into Greek. The most common of which was archōn meaning “ruler, commander, leader”. Other words were used, like “chief, prince, captain, magistrate, officer”; but here’s the point: If kephalé meant any of those things, it would be most usual for a translator to use it. They did not.
It would appear that the translators of the Septuagint knew that the word kephalé as spoken in their day did not convey the idea of leader or ruler or one who has authority over, and so they chose other Greek words to translate the Hebrew word ro’sh (head).
Since you and I as English speakers would read “the head of the man is the Christ, the head of the woman is the man, the head of the Christ is God” and take it to refer to an authority structure or chain of command, you can see why I feel the translators dropped the ball when rendering 1 Corinthians 11:3. I’m not saying that God doesn’t have authority over Christ. But that is not what 1 Corinthians 11:3 is talking about. There is a different message here, and it is lost because of bad translation.
What is that lost message?
Figuratively, the word kephalé can mean “top” or “crown”. It can also mean “source”. We have preserved that last one in our English language. For example, the source of a river is referred to as the “head waters”.
Jesus is referred to as the source of life, specifically the life of the body of Christ.
“He has lost connection to the head, from whom the whole body, supported and knit together by its joints and ligaments, grows as God causes it to grow.” (Colossians 2:19 BSB)
A parallel thought is found at Ephesians 4:15, 16:
“He has lost connection to the head, from whom the whole body, supported and knit together by its joints and ligaments, grows as God causes it to grow.” (Ephesians 4:15, 16 BSB)
Christ is the head (source of life) of the body that is the Christian Congregation.
With that in mind, let’s do a little textual emendation of our own. Hey, if the translators of the New World Translation can do it by inserting “Jehovah” where the original put “Lord”, then we can do it as well, right?
“But I want you to understand that the [source] of every man is Christ, and the [source] of the woman is man, and the [source] of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3 BSB)
We know that God as the Father is the source of the only begotten God, Jesus. (John 1:18) Jesus was the god through whom, by whom, and for whom all things were made according to Colossians 1:16, and so, when Adam was made, it was through and by Jesus. So, you have Jehovah, source of Jesus, Jesus, source of man.
Jehovah -> Jesus -> Man
Now the woman, Eve, wasn’t created from the dust of the ground as the man was. Instead, she was made from him, from his side. We are not talking about two distinct creations here, but everyone—male or female—is derived from the flesh of the first man.
Jehovah -> Jesus -> Man -> Woman
Now, before we go further, I know there will be some out there who are shaking their head at this mumbling “No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no.” I realize we are challenging a long standing and much cherished worldview here. Okay, so let’s adopt the contrary point of view and see if it works. Sometimes the best way to prove whether something works is to take it to its logical conclusion.
Jehovah God has authority over Jesus. Okay, that fits. Jesus has authority over men. That fits too. But wait, doesn’t Jesus have authority over women as well, or does he have to go through men to exercise his authority over women. If 1 Corinthians 11:3 is all about a chain of command, a hierarchy of authority, as some claim, then he’d have to exercise his authority through the man, yet there is nothing in Scripture to support such a view.
For instance, in the Garden, when God spoke to Eve, he did so directly and she answered for herself. The man was not involved. This was a Father-daughter discussion.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think we can support the chain of command theory even with regard to Jesus and Jehovah. Things are more complicated than that. Jesus tells us that upon his resurrection “all authority in heaven and earth has been granted to him.” (Matthew 28:18) It seems that Jehovah has been sitting back and letting Jesus rule, and will continue to do so until such time that Jesus has accomplished all his tasks, at which time the son will again submit to the Father. (1 Corinthians 15:28)
So, what we have as far as authority goes is Jesus the one leader, and the congregation (men and women) together as one under him. A single sister has no basis for considering all the men in the congregation as having authority over her. The husband-wife relationship is a separate issue which we will deal with later. For now, we’re talking authority within the congregation, and what does the apostle tell us about that?
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28 BSB)
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and not all members have the same function, so in Christ we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another.” (Romans 12:4, 5 BSB)
“The body is a unit, though it is composed of many parts. And although its parts are many, they all form one body. So it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13 BSB)
“And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry and to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 BSB)
Paul is sending out the same message to the Ephesians, the Corinthians, the Romans, and the Galatians. Why is he beating this drum over and over? Because this is new stuff. The idea that we are all equal, even if we are different…the idea that we have only one ruler, the Christ…the idea that we all make up his body—this is radical, mind-altering thinking and that doesn’t happen overnight. Paul’s point is: Jew or Greek, it doesn’t matter; slave or freeman, it doesn’t matter; male or female , to Christ it doesn’t matter. We are all equal in his eyes, so why should our view of each other be any different?
This isn’t to say there is no authority in the congregation, but what do we mean by authority?
As for giving someone authority, well, if you want to get something done, you need to put someone in charge, but let’s not get carried away. Here’s what happens when we get carried away with the idea of human authority within the congregation:
You see how the whole idea that 1 Corinthians 11:3 is revealing a chain of authority breaks down at this point? No. Then we haven’t taken it far enough yet.
Let’s take the military as an example. A general may command a division of his army to take a heavily defended position, like Hamburger Hill was in the Second World War. All the way down the chain of command, that order would have to be followed. But it would be up to the leaders on the battlefield to decide how to best execute that order. The lieutenant might tell his men to attack a machine gun nest knowing that most would die in the attempt, but they would have to obey. In that situation, he has the power of life and death.
When Jesus prayed on the mount of Olives in incredible distress over what he was facing and asked his Father if the cup he was to drink could be removed, God said “No”. (Matthew 26:39) The Father has the power of life and death. Jesus told us to be prepared to die for his name. (Matthew 10:32-38) Jesus has the power of life and death over us. Now do you see men exercising that kind of authority over the women of the congregation? Have men been given the power of life and death decision for the women of the congregation? I don’t see any Bible basis for such a belief.
How does the idea that Paul is talking about source fit with the context?
Let’s go back a verse:
“Now I commend you for remembering me in everything and for maintaining the traditions, just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to understand that the [source] of every man is Christ, and the [source] of the woman is man, and the [source] of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:2, 3 BSB)
With the connective word “but” (or it could be “however”) we get the idea that he trying to make a connection between the traditions of verse 2 and the relationships of verse 3.
Then right after he talks about sources, he talks about head coverings. This is all linked together.
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for it is just as if her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off. And if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:4-10)
What does a man being sourced from Christ and a woman being sourced from man have to do with head coverings?
Okay, to begin with, in Paul’s day a woman was supposed to have her head covered when she prayed or prophesied inside the congregation. This was their tradition in those days and was taken as a sign of authority. We can assume that this refers to the authority of the man. But let’s not go jumping to any conclusions. I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m saying let’s not start out with an assumption we haven’t proven.
If you think it does refer to the authority of the man, which authority? While we can argue for some authority within the family arrangement exists, that is between husband and wife. That doesn’t give, for example, me the authority over every female in the congregation. Some claim that to be so. But then consider this: If that were the case, then why doesn’t the man have to wear a head covering as well as a sign of authority? If a woman must wear a covering because the man is her authority, then shouldn’t the men in the congregation wear a head covering because Christ is their authority? You see where I’m going with this?
You see that when you correctly translate verse 3, you take the whole authority structure out of the equation.
In verse 10, it says that a woman does this because of the angels. That seems like such a strange reference, doesn’t it? Let’s try to put that into context and maybe it will help us understand the rest.
When Jesus Christ was resurrected, he was given authority over all things in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:18) The result of this is described in the book of Hebrews.
So He became as far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is excellent beyond theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say:
“You are My Son; today I have become Your Father”?
“I will be His Father, and He will be My Son”?
And again, when God brings His firstborn into the world, He says:
“Let all God’s angels worship Him.”
We know that angels can give way to jealousy just as humans do. Satan is only the first of many angels to sin. Even though Jesus was the firstborn of all creation, and all things were made for him and through him and by him, it appears he did not have authority over all things. Angels answered directly to God. That status changed once Jesus passed his test and was made perfect by the things he suffered. Now the angels had to recognize their status had changed within the arrangement of God. They had to submit to the authority of the Christ.
That may have been difficult for some, a challenge. Yet there are those who rose to it. When the apostle John was overwhelmed by the magnificence and power of the vision he had seen, the Bible says,
“At that I fell down before his feet to worship him. But he tells me: “Be careful! Do not do that! I am only a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who have the work of witnessing concerning Jesus. Worship God! For the witness concerning Jesus is what inspires prophecy.”” (Revelation 19:10)
John was a lowly sinner when he bowed before this holy, very powerful angel of God, yet he is told by the angel that he is only a fellow slave of John and of his brothers. We don’t know his name, but that Angel recognized his proper place in Jehovah God’s arrangement. Women who do likewise provide a powerful example.
A woman’s status is different from a man’s. The woman was created out of the man. Her roles are different and her makeup is different. The way her mind is wired is different. There is more crosstalk between the two hemispheres in a female brain than in a male brain. Scientists have demonstrated that. Some speculate that this is the cause of what we call feminine intuition. All this does not make her more intelligent than the male, nor less intelligent. Just different. She has to be different, because if she were the same, how could she be his complement. How could she complete him, or he, her, for that matter? Paul is asking us to respect these God-given roles.
But what about the verse that says that she is the glory of the man mean. That sounds a bit condescending, doesn’t it? I think of glory, and my cultural background makes me think of light emanating from somebody.
But it also says in verse 7 that the man is the glory of God. Come on. I am the glory of God? Give me a break. Again, we have to look at the language.
The Hebrew word for glory is a translation of the Greek word doxa. It literally means “what evokes a good opinion”. In other words, something which brings praise or honour or splendor to its owner. We will get into this in our next study in more detail, but with regard to the congregation of which Jesus is head we read,
“The husbands! Love your own wives, as also the Christ did love the assembly, and did give himself for it, that he might sanctify it, having cleansed [it] with the bathing of the water in the saying, that he might present it to himself the assembly in glory,” (Ephesians 5:25-27 Young’s Literal Translation)
If a husband loves his wife the way Jesus loves the congregation, she will be his glory, because she will become splendid in the eyes of others and that reflects well on him—it evokes a good opinion.
Paul is not saying that a woman is not also made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 makes it clear that she is. His focus here is merely to get Christians to respect their relative places in God’s arrangement.
As for the issue of head coverings, Paul makes it very clear that this is a tradition. Traditions should never become laws. Traditions change from one society to another and from one time to another. There are places on earth today were woman must go around with her head covered so as not to be considered loose and licentious.
That the direction on head covering should not be made into a hard, fast rule for all time is evident by what he says in verse 13:
“Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone is inclined to dispute this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.” (First Corinthians 11:13-16)
There it is: “Judge for yourselves”. He doesn’t make a rule. In fact, he now declares that longhair was given to women as a head covering. He says that it is her glory (Greek: doxa), that which “evokes good opinion”.
So really, each congregation should decide based on local customs and needs. The important thing is that women be seen to be honoring the arrangement of God, and the same goes for the men.
If we understand that Paul’s words to the Corinthians apply regarding proper decorum and not about the authority of men in the congregation, we will be protected from misusing Scripture to our own advantage.
I want to share one last thought on this subject of kephalé as source. While Paul is urging both men and women to respect their roles and place, he is not unaware of the tendency for men to seek prominence. So he adds a little balance by saying,
“In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” (1 Corinthians 11:11, 12 BSB)
Yes brothers, don’t get carried away with the idea that the woman came from the man, because every male alive today came from a woman. There is balance. There is interdependence. But ultimately, everyone comes from God.
To the men out there who still disagree with my understanding, I can only say this: Often the best way to show the flaw in an argument is to accept the argument as a premise and then take it to its logical conclusion.
One brother, who is a good friend, does not agree with women praying or prophesying – that is, teaching – in the congregation. He explained to me that he does not allow his wife to pray in his presence. When they are together, he asks her what she would like him to pray about and then he prays on her behalf to God. To me it seems like he’s made himself her mediator, since he is the one who speaks to God on her behalf. I imagine if he had been in the Garden of Eden and Jehovah had addressed his wife, he would’ve stepped in and said, “Sorry God, but I’m her head. You speak to me, and then I’ll relay what you say to her.”
You see what I mean about taking an argument to its logical conclusion. But there is more. If we take the headship principle to mean “authority over”, then a man will pray in the congregation on behalf of the women. But who prays on behalf of the men? If “head” (kephalé) means “authority over”, and we take that to mean that a woman cannot pray in the congregation because doing so would be to exercise authority over the man, then I put it to you that the only way a man can pray in the congregation is if he is the sole male in a group of women. You see, if a woman cannot pray in my presence on my behalf because I’m a man and she is not my head—has no authority over me—then neither can a man pray in my presence because he is also not my head. Who is he to pray on behalf of me? He’s not my head.
Only Jesus, my head, can pray in my presence. You see how silly it gets? Not only does it get silly, but Paul clearly states that a woman can pray and prophesy in the presence of men, the only stipulation being that she should have her head covered based on the traditions held at that time. The head covering is merely a symbol recognizing her status as a woman. But then he says that even long hair can do the job.
I fear that men have used 1 Corinthians 11:3 as the thin edge of the wedge. By establishing male dominance over women, and then transitioning to male dominance over other men, men have worked their way into positions of power for which they have no right. It’s true that Paul writes to Timothy and Titus giving them qualifications required for one to serve as an older man. But like the angel that spoke to the apostle John, such service takes the form of slavery. The older men must slave for his brothers and sisters and not exalt himself over them. His role is that of a teacher and one who exhorts, but never, ever, one who rules because our only ruler is Jesus Christ.
The title of this series is the role of women in the Christian congregation, but that comes underneath a category I call “Reestablishing the Christian Congregation”. It has been my observation that for many centuries the Christian congregation has been deviating more and more from the righteous standard set by the apostles in the first century. Our goal is to reestablish what has been lost. There are many small nondenominational groups around the world who are striving to do just that. I applaud their efforts. If we are going to avoid the mistakes of the past, if we are going to avoid reliving history, we have to stand up to those men who fall into this category of slave:
“But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk.” (Luke 12:45 NIV)
Whether you are a man or a woman, no man has the right to tell you how to live your life. Yet, that is precisely the power of life and death that the evil slave assumes for himself. In the 1970s, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the African nation of Malawi suffered rape, death, and the loss of property because the men of the Governing Body made a rule telling them they could not buy a party card which was required by law in a one-party state. Thousands fled the country and lived in refugee camps. One cannot imagine the suffering. About the same time, the same Governing Body allowed Jehovah’s Witness brothers in Mexico to buy their way out of military service by purchasing a government card. The hypocrisy of this position continues to condemn the organization to this day.
No JW elder can exercise authority over you unless you grant it to him. We have to stop granting authority to men when they have no right to it. Claiming that 1 Corinthians 11:3 gives them such a right is a misuse of a badly translated verse.
In the final part of this series, we will discuss another meaning for the word “head” in Greek as it applies between Jesus and the congregation, and a husband and wife.
Until then, I would like to thank you for your patience. I know this has been a longer video than normal. I also want to thank you for your support. It keeps me going.