Sunday, 22 May 2011

How has kephalē (κεφαλὴ) been used inside the New Testament?

I think I might live in a bit of a complementarian bubble surrounded by like minded people. I thought this debate about the meaning of κεφαλή had been killed years ago, but in the last month or so I have heard that κεφαλή can mean "source." I first started this post after I heard the guy who wrote the prepare marriage course, (which my wife and I did before we got married), bring this argument up. Later at Easter Convention someone asked Don Carson about this issue after he gave a talk on Ephesians 5, to which Carson said that this argument had been settled years ago and that the egalitarians had lost this point in the debate.

Around this time ESV online release a 30 day trial on their ESV GreekTools to which I had a play around with (my trial has now expired, which shows how long it takes me to write some rants). From their GreekTools this is what I found on the word κεφαλή:

English: head
Greek: κεφαλὴ
Translit: kephalē
Parsing: NNSF— Noun, Nominative, Singular, Feminine

Greek Root: κεφαλή
Translit: kephalē
Strongs: 2776

Not been happy with just this, I went on and used their word search (I wanted to get my monies worth), and search for all the uses of κεφαλὴ in the New Testament (not sure if that link will work now). I got back 76 references, which break down to: 

1 Corinthians
1 Peter
From this overview of the word κεφαλή it seems the NT uses this word 61 times for an actual head; 9 times as authority; 5 for cornerstone and one time for hair. In the sense of κεφαλή meaning authority I mean it in the same sense that today we may call someone the head honcho, or say that someone will head up a meeting or someone is the head of a company. When someone is called the head, they are in the position of authority and this is normally in a relational sense.

Now online Greek dictionaries are not new. After doing a quick search (and after I had crunched the numbers above) I found which has the following for κεφαλή:

Original Word: κεφαλή, ῆς, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Transliteration: kephalé
Phonetic Spelling: (kef-al-ay')
Short Definition: the head
Definition: (a) the head, (b) met: a corner stone, uniting two walls; head, ruler, lord.
NASB Word Usage: chief (4), hair (1), head (50), heads (19), very (1).
From the primary kapto (in the sense of seizing); the head (as the part most readily taken hold of), literally or figuratively -- head.

κεφαλαὶ (kephalai) − 3 Occurrences
κεφαλὰς (kephalas) − 13 Occurrences
κεφαλῇ (kephalē) − 15 Occurrences
κεφαλὴν (kephalēn) − 28 Occurrences
κεφαλῆς (kephalēs) − 15 Occurrences
κεφαλῶν (kephalōn) − 1 Occurrence

(That could have saved me a bit of time.) All this above seems to suggest that in the New Testament κεφαλή isn't used to mean "source."

One objection to this could be that all the people (to my knowledge) who edited the ESV are complementarian. That maybe, but that strongs numbers site isn't using the ESV, it is using the NASB, which according to one guy on the internet may have its shortcomings but gender issues and the definition of κεφαλή is not one of them. Also with James Strong's dictionary his only agenda (to my knowledge), was to make a reliable Greek (and Hebrew) dictionary to help people know what the words mean. His concordances was first published in 1890, well before this gender debate even started.

The other main objection to this could be that the New Testament doesn't have a wide Greek vocabulary. Wouldn't it be better to look at all of the ancient Greek writings to see how κεφαλή has been used? After all the objection that κεφαλή means "source" comes from an argument from Greek writings outside of the New Testament. This objection has some weight, and is where I hope to turn to in my next post in this series.


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