On the life of the Trinity, mutual submission and gender…(excerpts from Why Not Women?)
Do not be filled with wine which leads to debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,
speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,
making music in your heart to the Lord,
always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives, [ ] to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior
“Paul’s long sentence hinges on the command ‘Be filled with the Spirit.’ What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Some have used speaking in tongues as a sign of being filled with the Spirit. But Paul gave another measuring stick: Are we living a life characterized by mutual submission? The Holy Spirit doesn’t know any other way to live. He has lived throughout eternity in mutual submission with the Father and the Son. If the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, we’ll have the same attitude.”
In Greek, the word translated “head” is kephale. It is possible that Paul used kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3 to mean that man should be the “leader” or “ruler” over woman, but that would be a rare usage of the word, as seen by the evidence of the Septuagint. On the other hand, we find many, many times in ancient literature where head/kephale mean “source” or “origin.” This came from the ancients’ idea that semen, the source of life, was produced in the male brain, which is, of course, located in the head.
If kephale could be either “ruler” or “life source,” how was Paul using it in 1 Corinthians 11:3? If we were to substitute these meanings for head/kephale in the text, we could come up with two alternatives:
1. “Now I want you to realize that the authority/leader of every man is Christ, and the authority/leader of a woman is the man, and the authority/leader of Christ is God.”
2. “Now I want you to realize that the source/origin of every man is Christ, and the source/origin of a woman is the man, and the source/origin of Christ is God.”
If Paul was talking about man being the authority/leader over woman, if he was teaching that women should submit to men’s “God-given” leadership, we could expect to see that theme woven thoughout these verses. But when we look at the passage, two things are striking because of their absence:
1. The word submission is never used once in this passage.
2. Authority appears only once, and there it speaks of “the authority a woman has over her own head.”
What about the other meaning for head/kephale as “source/origin”? The idea of “origins” is found throughout the passage.
If we look at 1 Corinthians 11:3 with head/kephale meaning “source/origin,” everything falls into place in the entire passage. Jesus is the “source/origin” of everyone and everything, even though not everyone yet acknowledges Him as his or her “authority/leader.”
Translating head/kephale as “origin/source” also answers the question, Who is “the man” in 1 Corinthians 11:3? Paul started by saying that Christ was the origin/source of every man, then went on to say “the man” was the source/origin of woman. Who else could that man be but Adam? Adam was the origin/source for Eve. Once again, Paul was denying the teaching of Greek philosophers, who claimed that women had a separate and inferior origin. No, Paul said, woman came from man, making her fully human and fully equal to man.
Another indication of what Paul meant can be found in the order in which he listed the three pairs: “every man/Christ,” “a woman/the man,” and “Christ/God.” If Paul were giving us a divinely established hierarchy, we’d expect him to begin at the top and work his way down. However, Paul did not list the pairs in a normal flowchart. Instead, he began with “every man/Christ,” then, “a woman/the man,” and finally, “Christ/God.” If Paul mean head/kephale to be “authority/leader,” he was arranging this supposed hierarchy in a strange order, starting with the second pair, then moving to the third, and then jumping back to the first pair. Paul was a very orderly writer. His linear logic was always precise and clear, line upon line and precept upon precept. This haphazard listing would be very odd unless he had something entirely different in mind.
If you read “origin/source” instead of “authority/leader” for kephale, Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 11:3 makes perfect sense. In the order of creation, Adam was created first, from whom “every man” descended. Then God created Eve, “a woman” from “the man.” Finally, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
CHRIST IS EQUAL TO GOD THE FATHER
The fourth reason we believe that head/kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3 should be understood as “source/origin” rather than “authority/leader” is based on the theological implications for the third pair in the series, Christ/God. We know that Jesus voluntarily yielded to His Father’s will throughout His earthly ministry. But this doesn’t mean that within the Trinity the Son is in some sort of permanent, one-sided submission to the Father. In fact, the mutual submission we’re supposed to have in the Body of Christ flows out of the mutual submission of members of the Trinity to one another.
In the Bible we see each member of the Trinity lovingly bestowing honor on the others. The Father always commends the Son and works through the Spirit; the Son always yields to the Father and promotes the Spirit, and the Spirit always points to the Son and does what the Father says. The Trinity is the ultimate model of servanthood, preferring one another in love and honor, always submitting to one another in perfect unity.
Whatever else it may mean, the phrase “the head of Christ is God” cannot mean that there is inequality between the Son and the Father. Jesus is “very God of very God,” fully equal to the Father in every respect. There is no hierarchy within the Trinity. This is why Athanasius, the fourth-century church father, said regarding 1 Corinthians 11:3 that “‘head’ must be understood as ‘source’ rather than ‘boss’ lest one arrive at a faulty understanding of the Trinity.”
We cannot say that Paul meant kephale as “authority/leader” without giving a distorted image of the Trinity.
In closing, Paul returned once again to our creation as human beings, restating how we depend upon one another: “For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” Because we have interdependent origins, we shouldn’t be squabbling, as the Corinthians were, over who is more important. Everything we have is a gift from God. Men and women have been created by the same wise and loving God to minister together. We shouldn’t be sniping at one another, despising one another, feeling superior, or excluding one another. There is no place for this in the family of God, according to Paul. In the Lord, the sex war is over.
from Why Not Women? (Cunningham & Hamilton, YWAN Publishing, 2000)