1 Corinthians 11:3 and “head”
In the last post I summarized the foundational points from chapter 10 that is necessary to the understanding of chapter 11. If you haven’t read it already, it can be read by clicking here. In this post I will continue our verse by verse discussion from 1 Corinthians 11:3. I will be using the New American Standard Version for most of these posts unless otherwise indicated. I Corinthians 11:3 –
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul commended the Corinthians for holding firm to the traditions that he had delivered to them and now Paul is going to help them to understand some of these traditions. In the fall of 2006 I heard a Pastor give an excellent sermon on the traditions that the Jewish people hold to this day that actually symbolize the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus even though they do not even know what they are doing with their traditions. At Passover they take a piece of unleavened bread and fold it into a white napkin and then they hide it in their house for 3 days. When the 3 days are over, the children look for the napkin and when they find it they bring it out and uncover the bread. They keep the tradition but never understand what the tradition is all about. The tradition of the unleavened bread in the white napkin being revived after 3 days is symbolic of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In verses 2 and 3, Paul says that the Corinthians were holding to the traditions that he gave them but he wanted them to understand what the traditions meant.
Context of “head”
There has been much scholarly debate about the meaning of the word “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Some have given a meaning to “head” as “authority over another person” or simply “boss” as in a hierarchal order. Others say that “head” means source or origin. However the only way that we can know for sure is to read the context surrounding verse 3 as well as to pay close attention to the inspired word order regarding “head”.
In verse 3 Paul sets up the order of the relationships that he lists in a very unusual order if he had meant a hierarchal ordering. If we come to the passage with the presupposition that God has completely inspired it including inspired words, inspired grammar and inspired word order, then we can clearly see a different pattern presented. If Paul had wanted us to believe that he was constructing a hierarchal ordering, then he made a grave error. He should have listed man as head of woman first, then Christ as head of men second and lastly God as head of Christ. The hierarchy would be woman at the bottom with man over her, Christ over all men and God over Christ.
Yet this is not the way that the word was inspired. Instead we have Christ listed first as head of all men, then the man head of woman, then God head of Christ. In this ordering we have God as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end and an ordered list of origins. In the ordering we have Christ as the origin of all men, the man as origin of woman, and lastly Jesus Christ (as the one born through a woman) having his origin through God.
It isn’t just the order that tells us that “origins” not “hierarchy” is the meaning of the word “head”. The context of the passage also tells us that Paul is referring to our origins.
1 Corinthians 11:8 says:
“For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;”
Here Paul teaches about the origin of woman. Woman originates from the man. This fits perfectly with verse 3 where the man is the “head” of woman.
1 Corinthians 11:9 says:
“for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”
The woman’s origin
Here again Paul is referring to origins and the reason for the woman’s origin.
1 Corinthians 11:12 says:
“For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.”
Paul repeats the fact that woman originates from the man (remember that Paul said that repetition is for our safety – Philippians 3:1) and he sums it up by saying that all things originate from God. This is the Alpha and Omega of origins. Christ is the source of all men (He is the Alpha) and God is the source of Christ (the Omega). All things begin and end with God as the ultimate source.
However if we are to interpret “head” as “authority over” or “boss of” in a hierarchal ordering we will find no repetition of this concept in the passage. In this passage Paul is silent regarding any authority that the man has over the woman or any authority that the Father takes over Jesus Christ. Why is that? It is because the interpretation of “head” as “authority” or “boss” is completely out of step with the rest of chapter 11 and it is something completely out of kilter with the subject of the passage.
If we interpreted it this way, we are left scratching our heads wondering what Paul could possibly mean by sticking verse 3 in amongst this passage. We could be left thinking, “What does authority or being boss over someone have to do with this passage? What has this to do with the price of rice in China?” It is completely foreign to the context.
Paul should define his own term
Instead of trying to force the text to mean what we would like it to mean, we must let Paul define his own terms for himself. When we come to the passage with a hierarchal mindset, we miss Paul’s connecting the relationship of man to woman with the importance of origins. There is also more to see about the importance of origins that we will be discussing later on in the chapter.
The next thing that we need to pay attention to is the inspired words of verse 3. Here Paul uses the word for man twice which is “aner”. Let’s look at the second phrase…the man is the head of a woman. Now if we interpret it as “origin” or “source” as Paul repeats in verses 8, 9 and 12, we can understand that Paul is talking about the first man “the man” Adam and the first woman – Eve. Eve literally had her origin from the side of the man. Also wherever man and woman are placed in a relationship to each other in a biblical passage it is a sound practice to interpret this as husband and wife not just any man as head over any woman. That it is the husband that is the head of the wife is repeated by Paul in Ephesians 5:23 so we can know by repetition that this is what Paul is talking about. Paul said:
“For the husband is the head of the wife…”
Now the curious thing about this verse is that the inspired word used in the first relationship is that Christ is the “head” of every “man”. Man here is “aner” meaning a male or a husband and it is not the generic word for mankind. This is the inspired word used and it is not by accident that God has inspired it this way. If “aner” means husband in the second set of relationships, then we can logically give the same meaning to the first set of relationships where the very same term “aner” is used.
Christ then is the “head” of all husbands. Christ is the “source” or “origin” of all husbands. Now Paul is not saying that Christ is “head” only of men or husbands because Christ certainly is “head” of the wives too, but I believe that Paul is emphasizing a special relationship between Christ and the husband. We will talk more about the implications of this later, but for the time being perhaps you would like to give your thoughts on why God inspired the word “aner” to be used twice in verse 3 instead of the generic term for mankind that would normally include women.
Next post we will be discussing the cultural and spiritual “shames” that are brought about by the “head” relationships.