Thursday, July 16, 2015


Warning...heavy reading. Not for children
or for those who have to read children's stories. It is
for those willing to put away childish things.

For the moment anyway. :)

Does 1 Corinthians 11:3 actually say and mean that Christ is eternally subordinate to God the Father as some people say it does because that's what "head" means? Is the Son's "will" to be obedient to the Father's "will" in eternity to come? Is the Eternal Father OVER the Eternal Son in eternity future in terms of authority? Some say yes, yes, and yes.

I'm not so sure about that. I believe to be textually true and correct about this verse [1 Corinth 11:3] you would have to see what the meaning of the word 'head' really was to that culture and that is a difficult thing to do. "Kephale" [head pronounced "kef-a-lay"] in 1 Cor. 11:3 and would have, I believe, been understood by them to be referring to the origins or source of something and not to authority at all. If I'm correct, then it does NOT mean what many in our present Christian culture might think at first glance.

You see there are some perfectly good words in Greek [kuriotes, exousia, epitage] for "authority" but '"kephale" isn't one of them. I've examined every verse where Paul is speaking of "authority" or "rule" and a word other than 'kephale' is used. Add to that the Middle Eastern thought in the biblical culture of putting someone under your FEET as being a symbol of being above another in value or position [Still present in the Middle East as shown by the shoe thrown at then President Bush several years ago on a Middle Eastern trip.] and you would have good reasons for believing the idea of "head" does NOT mean authority in 1 Corinth. 11:3 or other places in scripture. [For example Colossians 1:18. See verses 16-17 for context.] 

In fact, the 'head' in Greek culture was often times thought to be the source of life. Just as the loins were thought of as the seat of emotions [See Philippians 1:8]  and the heart was the center or essence of being. So what we have in this verse is a word used that might make perfect sense to those of us living in the American culture today who think of it as meaning "boss." But it just did not usually have that sense in that day at all.

This is NOT to say that in the incarnation moment there was not a submission in Jesus to the express "will" of the Father. He was desirous to and He did submit to the Father. But always remember that the word used is a Greek word "Hupo tasso" meaning one of equal value and voice, choosing [middle voice] to serve another. That was, after all, the express PURPOSE of the incarnation [to live with perfect obedience as man] which culminated in the Cross where He became our substitute as the sinless Lamb of God.

That idea of submission is not, however, the natural flow of this 1 Corinthian 11 passage at all. Source is the natural flow.

And, by the way, do you realize that no where in scripture is a husband told to lead his wife? [He is told to serve her.] The words lead, leader, servant-leader, spiritual leader are not in the text of the scripture at all. Paul doesn't use them. Peter doesn't use them. And most of all Jesus never does.

These words are only DERIVED  LOGICALLY from the word "head" used here and in Eph 5 translating it the way our culture means it today. So if Paul had a different intention or idea he wished to convey to that particular culture, we will really miss it thinking of "head" the way we do in our present culture.

But back to our word "kephale." My favorite illustration of the natural meaning of this word to that NT culture is, as many of you who have heard me teach know, that of a river. When we speak of the 'head' waters of a river, we mean its "source" with no idea of authority at all bearing in mind what they thought "head" meant. That's the intention of Paul here I believe.

So what is being said in 1 Corinth. 11:3 is that we have God's only begotten Son coming from God who is the "source" referring to the incarnation. This verse was never intended to be a statement of his ]Jesus] ontological [nature] or functional [role] subordination to God the Father in either eternity past OR future. It was only speaking incarnately as the Son takes on a human nature in which He ASSUMES a subordinate relationship to God the Father. So 1 Cor. 11:3 is referring to God [ The Father] who is the SOURCE of Jesus coming in human flesh to accomplish His purpose and not the One who is 'BOSS' over Jesus pre-incarnation or post-incarnation. That idea has to be read into the text.

Phil. 2.5-11 helps clarify this when it shows that the pre-existent Son of God had the condition and status of being equal to God. This means Jesus WAS God in pre-time eternity one in nature or essence or being with the Father who is God and the Spirit who is God. One God----not three gods with three wills or three minds but One God with one will or mind---- who is expressed in three unique persons. Relationally, I suppose you could say, as did Erick Sauer... "Father-is the Lover, Son-is the Beloved, Spirit-is the Spirit of love" because God IS love.

But God the Son CHOSE to not abide in that condition of equality, but rather humbled himself [REMEMBER..involving a choice, not an inherent condition or state of the divine Son] and took upon Himself human nature with a human body. This, while never less than God in His nature. He, thus, became the unique God-man and while living as man was submitted to God the Father as the Second Man or Last Adam.

Now the rest of the verse makes sense as this whole idea of 'kephale' in 1 Cor. 11:3 continues to substantiate the 'source' of the woman being the man and Christ being the 'source' of the man?

The man as"head" [Kephale-source] of the woman can certainly be seen by going back to the Genesis story in which the woman is literally brought out of man. [The rib thing.] But someone might ask "how does the 'man' have his source in Christ?" I'm glad you asked. I read one person who said it well when he said there are perhaps two possible answers to this. One is when we remember that Paul stated that Christ pre-existed and was involved in the creation of the first human-kind [Adam] in the beginning. Col. 1.16 is quite clear about that as is John 1.

But also, we should remember that Paul is the one who articulated the Adam Christology as it applied to Jesus and that he said in a biblical reality Jesus is to be seen as comparable to the historical Adam and who, as such, is the founder/source of a whole new kind of human beings [redeemed] made up of all those who are in Christ, both men and also women out of every nation, tribe, and race on earth. [Whew, long sentence read it again.]

Which one of these is correct? I lean toward the first but maybe both are true. Either one would cause the words in 1 Cor. 11:3 to make good sense. Verse 12 seems to pronounce a benediction on the source idea as well.

So I don't see how 1 Cor. 11.3 can be used as a proof at all for the idea that Christ is eternally subordinate to the Father. I don't see it as providing any proof for the idea that men are perpetually in authority over women either. That's not what kephale means in this verse from my understanding. I have the same view of the language when interpreting Ephesians 5 as well.

My conclusion then, is that in eternity there are not three gods with three different wills and minds but one God Who has one will and mind expressed in three persons of equal nature or essence. The incarnation had a different purpose to be sure. Beyond this I have little understanding of the Trinity which is FAR beyond understanding with our finite minds anyway. So much more could be said but I had promised to give my two-cents and I want to do just that and no more.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


If what you have written is "two cents worth" it's the best two cents anyone could spend. Top value!

"Which one of these is correct?" I go for both!

Cheryl Schatz said...

Pastor Paul, that is so good. May I have permission to repost on my blog at

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

"Thanks" is almost inadequate for my appreciation for your comments.



Cheryl Schatz said...

Thanks Pastor Paul!

Gordon said...

It is correct to use the relationship within the Trinity as our basis for understanding the relationship between a man and his wife, as we read in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Man is to woman as God is to Christ, but not as Christ is to man. The Son proceeds forth from the Father, begotten, not created, One in essence and substance. Each of the Three Persons willingly submits to the performance of agreed functions within the united purpose of the Godhead.
So too,husband and wife become one flesh to fulfil their common purpose. Marriage is like a mixed doubles tennis match where each partner complements, submits to and supports the other as required by the situation. An attitude of dominating subordination is a contradiction of the purpose; it is a willing and glad subordination among partners, as you can see from their joy when they win the point.

The functions and roles in marriage that each partner willingly adopts will be determined essentially by their created gender and gifts. We can't ignore these destiny determining characteristics in the division of labor. But situations can and do change in the course of life and one partner should be ready to assume the role of the other as time goes by. Many a woman has had to become the head and source of the family to keep it going, and many a man has had to assume the role of domestic carer when his wife gets struck down by ill health , like dementia.
There are no fixed roles or rules in this game, except that you and I are the servant of all, as Jesus was. He came not to be served, but to serve.

Again, man is to woman as God is to Christ, but not as Christ is to man. Our marriage relationship should aspire to the heavenly relationship in the Trinity.