Excerpted from "What Paul Really Said About Women" with permission of HarperCollins.

"The husband is head of the wife," Paul explained, "as Christ is head of the church." In English, the word "head" means literally the physical head of one's body and figuratively the leader of a body of people. The two meanings are intertwined.Not so in Greek, where two different and distinct words are translated "head." One of these is arche (pronounced ar-KAY). It means "head" in terms of leadership and point of origin. It was used to denote "beginning" in the sense of the first or point of inception (and we use this Greek word as a prefix in such words as archaeology, archetype, and archives, all relating to old or first things). Just as it was used to denote point of origin, so we use head that way in the word headwaters (of a river). Arche was also used to denote "first" in terms of importance and power (and we use it as a prefix in such words as archangel, archbishop, archenemy, archduke, and so on, all relating to the head of a group in terms of leadership). Forms of arche are used throughout the New Testament, including the writings of Paul, to designate the head or leader of a group of people. These forms are translated "magistrate," "chief," "prince," "ruler," "head," and so forth.Now, in the Bible we find many puns, not as a form of humor so much as a form of wisdom, where a word was used that meant two things, both of which were true and were intended to be understood by the one word. For example, Jesus told a woman in Samaria that he would give her "living" water (John 7:10), and the word translated "living" also means "running." Another time Jesus "breathed" on his disciples and told them to "receive Holy Spirit" (John 20:22); in Greek (and also in Hebrew) the word for "spirit" also means "breath."Therefore, if Paul had believed as Aristotle taught, that husbands should command their wives and rule over them, then Paul could have made a pun out of the word arche. He could have written that the husband is the arche (head) of the wife, and in that one sentence he would have meant that the husband is to rule over the wife and at the same time have reminded his readers how man (Adam) was the source of woman (Eve, who was formed of Adam's rib). Both senses of arche (ruler, and point of origin) would have been invoked.However, Paul did not choose to use the word arche when he wrote of how the husband is head of his wife. He was well aware of that word, but he deliberately chose a different term.
Instead, Paul used the word kephale (pronounced kef-ah-LAY). This word does mean "head," the part of one's body. It was also used to mean "foremost" in terms of position (as a capstone over a door, or a cornerstone in a foundation). It was never used to mean "leader" or "boss" or "chief" or "ruler." Kephale is also a military term. It means "one who leads," but not in the sense of "director." Kephale did not denote "general," or "captain," or someone who orders the troops from a safe distance; quite the opposite. A kephale was one who went before the troops, the leader in the sense of being in the lead, the first one into battle.Therefore, two words in Greek can both be translated into the one English word head. One word means "boss," the other means "physical head" (or, sometimes, "the first soldier into battle"). Unfortunately, an English-speaking person who reads that "the husband is head of his wife" will normally conclude that this means the husband is to rule over his wife. This is what Aristotle taught and what most Hellenized people thought. The husband is an arche to his wife, head of the household and ruler over all his family. Paul deliberately chose the other word. But people who depend on the English translation cannot know that.Can one be certain that arche and kephale were so different from each other in meaning? Could kephale not sometimes mean "boss" or "ruler"? One way to be certain is to note how these two words were used in the Septuagint. The Old Testament, except for a few portions, was written in Hebrew. But by the age of Paul, few persons could read that language. Instead, they depended upon a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, which was called the Septuagint. Paul was familiar with this translation and quoted from it.Now, in Hebrew, just as in English, one word means both "physical head" and "ruler." The word is rosh. If arche and kephale were more or less synonymous and could be used interchangeably, then when the seventy scholars who wrote the Septuagint came to the Hebrew word roth, they could have used either Greek word as they wished, or instead just used one of the two all the time. However, they were very careful to note how the word rosh was used, whether it meant "physical head" or "ruler of a group." Whenever rosh meant "physical head," they translated it kephale; or whenever rosh referred to the first soldier leading others into battle with him, they also translated it kephale. But when rosh meant "chief" or "ruler," they translated it arche or some form of that word. Every time, this distinction was carefully preserved.Paul was certainly familiar with both words. He knew the language, he read and quoted from the Septuagint, and he used both words in his own writing. The difference between the two would have been obvious to him. Modern readers, however, may misunderstand Paul, assuming that the word for head that Paul used also carried the figurative meaning of "boss" or "ruler." Paul in fact took great care not to say that.Understanding "Be Subject To"In one translation of Ephesians 5:21-33, the words "be subject to" appear three times. Church members are to be subject to one another, and wives are to be subject to their husbands just as the Church is subject to Christ. Three kinds of relationships are defined by a key word that is usually translated "be subject to."This phrase in English may bring to mind images from children's fairy tales of medieval settings, with kings and their subjects. "Be subject to" may sound like a command to bow before the ruler, who sits on his throne dressed in ermine and holding a jeweled gold scepter. And one might then assume that Paul was telling wives that they are to obey their husbands as a subject would obey the king.
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