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Published Date: January 23, 2013

Published Date: January 23, 2013

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“Man and Woman” or “Husband and Wife”?

Page numbers in parentheses below refer to Payne’s book, Man and Woman, One in Christ.

“But I want you to realize that the head/source (kephale) of every man (aner) is Christ, and the head/source (kephale) of woman (gune) is the man, and the head/source (kephale) of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).

Egalitarians are often asked how they understand biblical passages like 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Three crucial words within this passage must be carefully examined to address such a question: head (kephale), man (aner), and woman (gune).

Some Bible versions mistakenly translate “man” and “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as “husband” and “wife,” but there is no “his” before “woman” or an article that might lend support to this. A key reason they translate 11:3b as “the husband is the head of his wife” is that they have read back into head (kephale) the metaphorical meaning it often has in English and some other languages, but rarely, if ever, had in native Greek, namely, “authority.” The standard LSJ Greek Lexicon does not list “authority” or anything like it as a possible meaning among its forty-eight figurative translations of kephale. LSJ does, however, list various instances where kephale means “source,” and “source” fits the context of this passage perfectly (113-139).

Another reason for the translation of aner and gune to “husband” and “wife” is that people have, justifiably, felt uncomfortable with the idea that men in general have authority over women in general. The obvious way to avoid this misunderstanding is to translate kephale in a way that accurately represents its meaning in context in verse 3, namely as “source.” Yet many modern translations choose a different route. The New Translation, for example, reads, “the authority over a woman is her husband,” and the TEV reads, “the husband is supreme over his wife.” The flaw in this decision is evident in how it is inconsistently applied. The Greek words aner and gune are used consistently throughout the passage. Yet every translation reviewed in this study that introduces either “husband” or “wife” in 11:3 (Goodspeed, TNT, NAB, NRSV, RSV, Williams, Amplified, and TEV) reverts to “man” and “woman” in every other occurrence of these words throughout the passage. This is because aner andgune translated as “husband” or “wife” becomes awkward or even nonsensical:

“Christ is the head of every husband.” (v. 3)

“For a husband…is the image and glory of God.” (v. 7)

“For a husband was not made from a wife, but a wife from a husband.” (v. 8)

“For as the wife was made from the husband, so the husband is now born through the wife.…” (v. 12; cf. similarly vv. 4, 9, 11, 14, 15).

When an author uses words where the same meaning makes perfect sense throughout a specific context, as “man” and “woman” do in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, a translator needs clear justification to render only one instance of that word with a significantly different meaning. No such justification exists here.

Obviously, “man” includes husbands and “woman” includes wives, and the creation of man and woman is also the creation of the first husband and wife, so appropriate application to husbands and wives should be readily acknowledged. However, several points strongly oppose restricting the meaning of “man” to “husband” and “woman” to wife” in this passage:

  1. The undisputed use of aner meaning “man” in the first “head” relationship in 11:3.
  2. The lack of “his” or an article before “woman” in the second “head” relationship in verse 3, which could have suggested “his wife.”
  3. The inclusion of the article with “man” in verses 3 and also in 12, where it most naturally identifies Adam.
  4. The references to woman’s source being “from man” in verses 8 and 12.
  5. The consistent use of aner for “man” and gune for “woman” throughout the rest of the passage.

Since verse 3 introduces this passage, surely the words “man” and “woman” that define the subjects of the entire passage should be translated in harmony with their use throughout the rest of the passage. Since “authority” was not a normal meaning of the word “head” in Greek and since “man” and “woman” are consistently used throughout the passage to mean “man and “woman,” not “husband” and “ wife,” the context clearly supports the translation: “the man is the source of woman.”