“Dear Pastor Keith: 1 Corinthians 11:3 says, ‘the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.’ What does this mean?” -The HFM Quiz Team
Dear Quiz Team: First Corinthians 11 is all about “heads,” and it’s confusing enough to give us all a head-ache! The Greek word for “head” is kephalẽ. This word usually means a person’s literal head (with hair, eyes, nose, etc.). That’s how Paul uses the word throughout most of this chapter. But verse three is different.
On rare occasions kephalẽ is used metaphorically. When we say that someone is the “head” of someone else, we assume it means they have authority over another person. (The President is the “head” of the United States.) Paul could mean that here, since he also says that “the head of every man is Christ.”
But the Greek word kephalẽ, when used metaphorically, usually means “source,” or more specifically, “source of life.” (As in, “The headwaters of the Mississippi are in Minnesota.”) When Paul says, “the head of a wife is her husband,” he may be referring to the fact that Adam was the source of life for Eve, since she was taken from Adam’s body. (Remember in Genesis when God made Adam fall into a deep sleep? That’s when God took a rib from Adam’s side and fashioned Eve.) That might seem odd except that Paul mentions this event in 1 Corinthians 11:8 when he says, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.”
In the end, we won’t settle any disagreements between husbands and wives with this one verse. This verse does not give a husband the right to rule over his wife. Nor does it take away the responsibility of a wife to submit to her husband. Ephesians 5:21 describes a Christian marriage as a husband and wife “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
There is a lot of confusion today about gender roles in families. To defeat this confusion, every husband must take responsibility for his home. If men fail in this then the family will crumble. Husbands and wives should strive to lead together with mutual love and respect, and husbands need to remember Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:25: “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”