Sunday, 29 May 2011

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

This post continues from my last one which started from a few ideas that I have heard recently where I have heard the Greek word κεφαλὴ can mean "source" or "origin" and not "have authority over". I thought the debate had been settled years ago, but I guess not.

In trying to work out what a word means, it is generally best to consult a dictionary, and classical Greek is no different. One of the most definitive Ancient Greek dictionaries is the Greek-English Lexicon edited by H. G. Liddell, Robert Scott, and revised by Henry Stuart Jones (it is also called the LSJ). Their entry on κεφαλὴ (1940) initially says "A. head of man or beast" and  after a few other meanings does it say: "II. of things, extremity d. in pl., source of a river... generally, source, origin...starting-point." The condensed version of the LSJ from 1889 (also called Middle Liddell) doesn't have the source definition and has the basic definition as: "I. the head of man or beast." Georg Autenrieth's, A Homeric Dictionary (2009) has both meanings stating: "head; typical of the source of voice." The wikipedia entry doesn't list "source" as a possible meaning (remember it's a wiki it has to be true!).

Judging from these definitions, at least in the LSJ (which really is the one that counts), does suggest that κεφαλὴ can mean "source." Now what would be good is, if it was possible (and easy and quickly) to look at all the referenced to κεφαλὴ in ancient Greek and then see how that word has been used in different examples and contexts. The LSJ did link to some examples, but a massive list would be really useful. Because of the power of the Internet, this site states that there are 2,301 references to κεφαλὴ (it states that κεφαλὴ is mentioned 77 times in the New Testament, which is strange as I only found it 76 times) in a bunch of ancient Greek texts.

Now my Greek skills are very poor. I did two subjects of Biblical (koine) Greek last year and in my second semesters I only just scraped through. I also don't really have the time to look at  2,301 references in Greek from Classical Greek (which is slightly different to koine). But luckily there are academics who have the time and one actually did.

Wayne Grudem knows his Greek. He was one of the general editors of the ESV, which some people may suggest is biased in some areas, nevertheless I think to be an editor of a bible you would have to know a bit about the Greek language. I have also heard a debate between Grudem and Mark Strauss about the translation of the TNIV and Grudem got Strauss to say: "Well, it [adelphos] refers to a brother in Christ. I think the TNIV doesn't quite have it right here [referring to Mat 7:3]" which is pretty big, considering Strauss was on the TNIV committee.

Anyway in 1985 Grudem looked at 2,336 references to κεφαλὴ (he mustn't of used the site I linked to above) from Greek texts spanning from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. He published this article in a journal (Trinity Journal, Spring 1985 Vol 6.1) which can be downloaded here.

In this article he goes over some arguments (and refutes them) for κεφαλὴ meaning "source" or "origin" (as Eve came from Adam) and looks at the LSJ meaning and how κεφαλαί (the plural of κεφαλὴ) can be used to refer to the "heads" of rivers but in the singular it is the "mouth" of a river and that the dictionary states that this use is only related to "things" not "persons".

There is one case that κεφαλὴ could maybe mean "source", the Orphic Fragments 21a calls Zeus the "head" of all things or maybe the "source" of all things. There is also another copy of the same text that uses the word ἀρχή (beginning, ruler or even authority) instead of κεφαλὴ, which means there are just as many ancient copies of the Orphic Fragments that agree with one argument as those that don't. To use this one case that is by an unknown person, form an unknown date is a little shaky to make a huge case out of it, especially in the face of all other (well) known references.

Grudem then he states there are probably 12,000 known references to κεφαλὴ in all of the know ancient Greek texts but that was too much time to look at, so he investigated at all of the major authors of classical Greek works totaling texts from 36 authors, spanning over 1,000 years, making 2,336 references for him to look up. From Grudem's findings he found no uses of the word meaning "source" or "origin" and 49 (16.2%) references to mean "ruler" or "person of superior authority or rank" which he lists and comments on them.

Case closed, right? The dictionary meaning says κεφαλὴ could mean "source" only when used as a plural and in reference to "things" and not "persons". Grudemn look at over 2, 300 references to the word and didn't find anything of interest... But in the academic world, this paper only served to start a debate, which I will look at next.


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