Vol. 2, No. 2     April 1999 

Dead "Head" Leads SBC Family

by Bruce Prescott, Ph.D.

They would never admit it, but it looks like SBC leaders have been reading the Mainstream Messenger. Since we published our November 1998 issue, Fundamentalist arguments defending their ill advised family statement have shifted.

Even a glance at the April 1999 issue of SBC Life reveals that a lot more space is being given to discussions of the metaphor kephale (head, source) in the Greek text of Ephesians 5:23 and considerably less space is being devoted to discussing hupotasso (submit) which they admit is in the Greek text of Ephesians 5:21 and not in 5:22.

Here we only highlight the central error in their understanding of biblical metaphors.

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Fundamentalist explanations of kephale rely on the archaic presuppositions of the pagan Greek philosopher Aristotle. For Aristotle, and for Fundamentalists, metaphors are mere decorations. They substitute a pleasing image for a stable concept behind an ordinary word.

Many scholars find this view inadequate to explain the language of the Bible. Christian philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, calls Aristotle’s metaphors "dead" metaphors (The Rule of Metaphor, U. of Toronto Press, 1977). They have no power to open the mind and heart to new meanings or new possibilities.

The best way to best way to grasp the difficulty with Aristotle’s thought is to apply it to the metaphors that Jesus used. Would we be missing something if being "born again" could only mean returning to the womb? What difference would it make if "Son of Man" and "Suffering Servant" were just "ornaments of speech" and the meaning of Messiahship could not be extended beyond what was ordinary in Jesus‘ day?

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The truth is, the metaphors of the Bible are more than decorations and the words of the Bible are more than ordinary words.  The Bible is inspired by God and its metaphors create new meanings that open the mind and heart to God and his grace.

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Ricoeur calls the Bible’s metaphors "living" metaphors. They have the power to open the mind and heart to new meanings and new possibilities.

Fundamentalism turns the Bible’s "living" metaphors into "dead" metaphors. Their explanation of kephale in Ephesians 5:23 is a case in point. For them, when Paul says "the husband is the head of the wife," he can only mean that "the husband is the ruler of the wife." The metaphor "head" merely dresses the ancient concept of male supremacy in a pleasing image.

If Paul wanted to say that husbands are the "rulers" of their wives (denoting "superior rank"), why didn’t he just say so?

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For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior."  (Ephesians 5:23 NIV)

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I think Paul deliberately avoided the word "ruler," just as he avoided directly pairing the word "submit" with "wives" in both 5:22 and 5:24 (see Greek text).

Instead, Paul used the "living" metaphor of the "head" of a body. That allowed him to emphasize two things.

First, the "living" metaphors of head and body combine to present an image of interdependent unity analogous to the mutually submissive marriage relation that he described in 5:21. The body is a whole and it is senseless to say that one part is more important than another. (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-27) In other words, a head without a body would be a "dead" head.

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Second, and most importantly, the analogy of Christ as "head" presents an image of "servant leadership" that is diametrically opposed to the image of a military "ruler."

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The husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Christ is head of the Church because he is the Savior. Jesus saved the Church by sacrificing himself for us. He humbled himself, setting aside his power and glory, and submitted to death for us. (Phil. 2:3-8)

The husband is the head of the wife because he must make the greatest sacrifices to save the marriage and make it work. He does that by sacrificing himself for his family. He must humble himself, set aside his power and authority, and be willing to give his life for his wife and family.

Whenever husbands truly love their wives as Christ loved the church, they will have little difficulty finding wives who will follow their lead. 


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