In other Bibles, 1 Corinthians 11:3 says:
‘...the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.’ –KJV
Likewise, Ephesians 5:23 in other Bibles says:
‘For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.’ –KJV
However, these might be missing an important neuance to the word ‘head.’ How so?
If you just look up the Greek word in Bible dictionaries, it’s κεφαλή (kephalé), which is always defined as meaning ‘head, ruler, lord.’ Likewise, if you look up the Aramaic word, which is risheh, it appears to mean ‘head, top, chief.’
So what’s the problem?
The meaning of the word has changed over the centuries, and the dictionaries are not giving a full and complete definition. In ancient times, the Greek word did mean ‘head,’ but only the physical head on your shoulders. It did not mean to be ‘in charge’ as a chief or lord.
>The Greek word kephalé
You’re welcome to check this for yourself in the Greek lexicon. That lexicon tracks all ancient real-world uses of Greek words. You’ll find that there are no ancient uses of kephalé meaning ‘head’ as in ‘ruler’ from around the time that Paul wrote. Not one.
It seems that custom of calling someone in charge ‘the head’ did not arise in Greek until later. At the time Paul wrote his letter, the Greek word likely just meant the head on your shoulders, and any physical extremity, but also the starting point or source of something, such as the source of a river.
For example, the ancient Greek writer Herodotus wrote:
‘From the headwaters (>kephalé) of the river Tearus flows the best and finest water of all’ –Historiae, book 4, paragraph 91, part 2
Likewise, there is nowhere in the Greek texts of the New Testament where kephalé is clearly and unambiguously used to mean someone in charge (unless you include the verse we’re discussing, which is circular reasoning). Every time it means the head on your shoulders.
The closest it gets to meaning someone in charge is where Jesus is described as the ‘head’ of the figurative Christian ‘body’ (e.g. Ephesians 1:22). One might think that this is an apt illustration because Jesus is King, and rules over all Christians. However, Jesus is also the source or origin of all Christians, just as our heads are the sources of all thoughts as we direct our bodies. Yes, it’s in charge of our entire body, but this only part of the meaning.
Even when the word is translated to describe Jesus as the ‘chief cornerstone,’ one must understand that a cornerstone was the first stone laid to build something. In other words, it was the origin of the building. Yes, it’s true that Jesus is indeed our ‘chief,’ but this is not the point being made.
When other Bibles say he is the ‘chief cornerstone’ of the Church, the original text likely meant that he is the ‘initial cornerstone,’ because he founded the congregation, or Church, and all Christians came from him – just like the first stone from which one constructs the rest of a building.
This understanding even helps to clear up odd-sounding expressions. For example, have you ever read Matthew 21:42 and wondered what a ‘head cornerstone’ is?
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the head cornerstone’
There’s no such thing as a head cornerstone. By definition, there are usually at least four cornerstones that all identical. How could one be a chief, or in charge? And if Jesus is one, who are the other three that are equal to him?
However, when we understand that one cornerstone can be laid first, and the rest of the building laid out from it, we can see that this special cornerstone is the source or origin of the rest of the building. That well describes Jesus, he was indeed the starting cornerstone and origin of the Christian ‘building.’
You could also see that this first cornerstone is ‘in charge,’ somewhat, because the rest of the building must obey it’s position.
The Aramaic word risheh
It’s a similar story in the Aramaic texts. The Aramaic version is important because ancient sources tell us that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic. Also, it’s possible that Paul originally wrote his letters in Aramaic. Even if he didn’t, the Aramaic translation likely took place shortly afterwards, so it tells us how Christians in the east understood his words at the time.
If you also check the real-world uses of the word risheh in the Aramaic Lexicon you will find something remarkably similar to that in the Greek. Yet again it mostly means the head on your shoulders, or a physical extremity.
It is sometimes used to mean a chief or someone in charge (e.g. in Revelation 6:15, ‘chief of the thousands’). However, this is not the most common meaning, and just like the Greek equivalent, it can also mean the source of a river or a spring.
For example, in the Aramaic translation of Genesis 2:10, where it describes the river around Edem as splitting into four, it uses the word to say:
‘from there it divided and turned into four headwaters (literally: risheh)’,
Also, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls uses the word to mean the source of a river. Not all of the scrolls were copies of the Bible, some were extra-biblical texts. One is called the Genesis Apocryphon, and it re-tells some of the stories in Genesis, with extra details (probably mostly speculative or traditionally-told).
In one place it describes Abram entering Egypt and crossing the branches of the Nile delta. Column 19 of the scroll, says:
‘So I [Abram] moved to [enter] the land of Egypt [ … … … ] I reache[d] the Carmona River, one of the branches of the river [ … … ]. Now we [ … ] our land, and I [cro]ssed the seven branches of this river which [ … … … ].’
The word translated above as ‘branches’ is indeed risheh (appearing in the Hebrew script as ראשי).
Funnily enough, ancient Greek and Aramaic are not alone. We do the same today! Modern British English also calls the source a river its head.
Possible correct translations
Adding it all up, the only real-world ancient uses that match in both Greek and Aramaic are:
- The physical head on your shoulders,
- A physical extremity,
- The source or origin of something, such as a river.
There is no shared definition of ‘a head or chief who is in charge.’ In the Greek, that definition came years later, and in Aramaic it was not often used. Therefore, when all other English Bibles translations say ‘the head of...’, they are missing the true flavor of the word.
So what is the correct translation?
Head and origin
From both the historical evidence and the context, it’s clear that Paul was talking about a source or origin that may guide everything else. Consider the context.
According to Genesis, the first woman was created by taking Adam’s rib, and building upon it. So the origin of the woman was the man, and his rib (or DNA) directed the creation of the woman.
Who created the man? Jesus, the Anointed One, since the Bible says that all things were created through him and for him. So the origin of the man was Jesus, and of course, Jesus is now King. So Jesus has both authority over man, and he is the origin of man.
What is the origin of Jesus? The Bible describes him as coming ‘from’ the Father, and that he was ‘sent’ to Earth by the Father. So the origin of Jesus was God, and of course, the Father is his God, so the Father both his origin and has authority over him.
So our translation puts 1 Corinthians 11:3 as:
‘The head and origin of the woman is the man, the head and origin of every man is the Anointed One, and the head and origin of the Anointed One is God.’
Likewise, our translation puts Ephesians 5:23 as:
‘because a man is the head and origin of his woman as the Anointed One is the head and origin of the congregation and the savior of that body.’
Why did Paul use this word at all? Well, in 1 Corinthians, Paul goes on to talk about the issue of women using head coverings when praying or prophesying in the congregation.
He was probably using a play on words, as in both Aramaic and Greek, the same word means origin/source as well as the physical head on your shoulders.
He was arguing that, in their culture of the time, a head covering was a way of showing respect to the fact that the origin of the first woman was the first man. The fact that these two words (head and origin) happened to be the same worked well to make his argument.
Unfortunately, less precisely-translated Bibles have been exploited by some men as a license to lord it over women and put them down. Not only is this not the correct meaning of the text, but it also contradicts Paul’s inspired words at Ephesians 5:25:
‘Men; love your women as the Anointed One loved the congregation and gave himself up to make it holy.’
This more accurate understanding means that some additional verses must also differ from other Bibles, such as Colossians 2:10:
‘And you’re also part of the fullness of this one that is the head and source of all governments and powers’
Also, all references to the ‘head’ or ‘chief’ cornerstone, such as Matthew 21:42, appear like this:
‘The stone that the builders rejected Has become the foundation cornerstone’
Our Bible uses older manuscripts than most Bibles do. Check us out!