Instead of lovingly following the example of Christ, these men used the Bible as a weapon to control their wives. One specific way they did this was by interpreting the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 to mean “authority” or “overlord.”
In the kingdom of God, all people are equal in worth and in opportunity—women are not under the power of men, nor are wives specifically under the one-way authority of their husbands. Understanding this principle helps eliminate abuse.
Here are the verses in question:
A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. (Eph. 5:23, CEB)
Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3, CEB)
In Greek, in both of these verses, the word translated “head” is kephale.
Literally, kephale means the body part that sits on top of the neck. Translating it into English as “head” makes sense and is the closest we can get from the Greek—it’s not perfect, but it’s very close.
But a word-for-word translation from language to language doesn’t always convey the range of meanings, connotations, and cultural inferences that are inseparably tied to a word.
Re-examining these verses and the range of possible meanings for kephale is important, because it helps the church understand the author’s intent and safeguards against the sinful power of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse.
First, it can help to consider the word Paul did not use in these verses. Helga and Bob Edwards, in their book The Equality Workbook, point out that Paul could have written archon (the Greek word for “ruler”) if he meant husbands or men were rulers over wives or women.
Paul didn’t use a common Greek word for ruler; he deliberately used the word for head. What are possible meanings for kephale other than ruler or authority over? [One alternative meaning for that word is “source” which does not denote authority]
…Understanding kephale like this, instead of as “authoritarian overlord,” helps make Christian marriages into examples of mutual, giving, divine love, rather than hierarchy and abuse.
When I shared with my friends that morning that the Bible does not give their husbands power to control them, it freed them.
Please see the rest of this article on CBE’s site