Skip to content

On the life of the Trinity, mutual submission and gender…(excerpts from Why Not Women?)

June 22, 2007


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,

        singing and

        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

Ephesians 5:18-23

“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.”


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)

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2007 6:04 am

    Thanks for posting this sometimes you divinely come across a new blog where you see the exact words you need to hear. I’ve gone through some extreme criticism myself and these words you’ve shared from this book have encouraged me. Gotta get the book.

  2. July 1, 2007 1:05 am

    Thanks, Brian for the good, clear explanation here.

  3. Bridget Harman permalink
    August 1, 2007 1:12 pm

    I don’t know you, but must thank you for your thoughts here. I’ve been facing a kind of inner struggle spiritually with myself lately, specifically in relation to wives’ “submission” to their husbands. I couldn’t bring myself to accept others’ interpretation of this because I know God created women with leadership qualities just as well as men… it’s reassuring to know someone else out there doesn’t think me ungodly for doing so.

  4. November 13, 2007 2:49 am

    Thanks for you comments on this passage of scripture. I do have some reservation about what you are saying. I do agree that Paul was very precise in what he said. I also believe that the Holy Sprite inspired what he wrote. If what is being written is a picture of mutual submission and the Trinity is in mutual submission and men and woman are to be in mutual submission to each other then it should hold true that Christ and man should be in mutual submission to each other. Could you help me understand because the same set of scripture tell me that every knee will bow in submission to Christ. How could this be if we are all mutually submitted?

    Thanks for your response
    A brother in Christ.

  5. Adam Bradford permalink
    June 7, 2008 4:06 am

    With all courtesy, may I point out some possible error? Paul consistently distiguishes between single and married women (eg 1 Cor 7:34). In 1 Cor 11, he is speaking of married women (gunh). Similarly, the man (vs 3) is not humanity (anthropos) but aner, commonly translated husband. Seen in this light, Paul’s teaching here reflects that of Ephesians 5 (see ‘The New Testament on Women’).
    Also, Paul uses literal ‘head’ illustrations (coverings + hair) which do not work with ‘source’.
    Also, for ‘source’ of man he would have said Adam, not Christ.
    I would appreciate hearing your view.
    Dr Adam Bradford

  6. December 4, 2009 12:29 pm

    just found your blog..amazing stuff..Thanks for digging deep..will want to keep in blog linked above. I became a Christian largely due to my Spanish prof (missionary to Mexico) at an MB university..i see we have plenty to talk about

  7. just an apprentice permalink
    December 4, 2009 12:54 pm

    Hi Dave,
    Glad for dropping by. We do have a lot to talk about. Peace to you out in Fresno!


  8. Scott Lockhart permalink
    December 8, 2009 3:58 pm

    I would like to comment on the study of Kephale. I am working on a Bachelor of Religious Education and am writing a paper for a Prison Epistles class. My topic is on Ephesians 5:21-24. After a lot of studying (especially in Grudem, and Piper’s book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) I have found the meaning of “Kephale” to truly be translated as authority or head rather than source.

    You stated that there are many uses of Kephale as “source” in ancient literature… Sadly there are only 2. In a search of 2,336 examples of Kephale in Greek literature only two sources gave a possibility (other than the ones in the NT) of the use of Kephale as source. Herodotus, and Orphic Fragments. Both of these come about 400 years before the New Testament was written.

    Herodotus uses the term to show “end points” of a river, perhaps the source, but probably referring to the mouth… In the Orphic fragments head is used for Zeus where it is still debated whether it means beginning/first one or if it is used as source….

    Neither of these examples give enough reason to justify the use of source for Kephale (although interesting to look at) there is no way a conclusion can be made off of these two insignificant sources…

    In the same search turned up 49 texts (including biblical passages) where the word clearly represented authority or head.

    In all of your contexts the word head could be used as authority a still make perfect sense. Adam is head over Eve. Paul did not have to make a flow chart in the order we expect to still mean a hierarchy.

    Your points make sense, but i feel they are too weak to make such conclusions.

    Your other argument about the Trinity I would also argue (with humility of course, no one understands the trinity) is off key. The son does in many cases submit to the father. We see an example of this in the Gospels. When Jesus leaves the disciples to pray before his betrayel (specifically in Luke 22:44) Jesus prays that he be spared from his duty, but if the Father wills it he will obey. – does Jesus not submit here? Does he not obey the father rather than his own desires.

    The trinity is a great example of the difference in creation of human beings. We are equal but different. We are also given different roles.

    Christ was equal to the Father, but he submitted to the Father in everything. If Jesus can submit to the Father and still be equal why cannot a Women submit to a Man??

    You even said yourself that the Son yields to the Father. Sounds a bit like submition. You can change the wording if you want, but it really means the same thing.

    I do not, however, support chauvanism, but I do see submition to be honoring and respectful. It takes a lot for a women to fully trust and be lead by an imperfect man. Submition should be how Christ submits to the father. They are seen as one (just as a man and wife become one at marriage) as equals, but play different roles.

    Anyway, thought I would give some insight to the subject. I look forward to a response or feedback.

    Again if you want to look further into the topic read Grudem and Piper’s book “Recovering biblical Manhood and Womenhood.” This is where I found most of my facts.

  9. June 19, 2011 8:46 pm

    I too would have to contest your opinion as it comes to submission. It is in fact true that Christ is “very God of very God” yet equally true that Christ is completely submissive to the Father. Though Equal in nature, the Christ is positionally inferior to the First person of the Trinity (the Father is not begotten but the Son is). Let us remember that Christ came to do the will of the Father and he who is sent is not greater than he who sends. Marriage is a portrayal of God as he is in himself, as Christ–equal to the Father in every way–willingly submits to the Father, so is the woman called to submit to the husband. This does not mean that she is the lesser in nature but merely as it comes to position. There is a reason why the Father is called the Father and is the First Person of the Holy Trinity. There is a reason why even in his divinity, Christ calls the Father his God (Rev. 3:12) and why the bible declares that:

    24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. — 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 NIV

    In the above we find a clear portrayal of submission within the Godhead. Though it is quite clear that each person of the Trinity seeks the glory of the other, it is equally true that the Father is the head of Christ and that even Christ is subject to him.

  10. ryan permalink
    April 19, 2012 10:45 pm

    Jesus did not have an origin starting from God, because he is eternal, in the trinity being one with God the father and holy spirit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: