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Published Date: July 31, 2000

Published Date: July 31, 2000

Featured Articles

Featured Articles

Women As ‘Masters of the House’

People familiar with the debates about gender issues know how universally the patriarchalist position defines and applies the Greek word kephale as “authority” and “leader.” The word kephale is literally the anatomical component of the head, but commonly used metaphorically throughout literature and language.

Another Greek word, despotis (from which the English word despot originated) is used in Scripture to clearly mean “master” or “lord.” But the concept of authority carried by despotis is being forced by cultural patriarchalists into the Ephesians texts, among others, that use the word kephale instead. The correct contemporaneous metaphor of kephale, which is most clearly defined as “beginning, origin, or source,” is totally ignored.

This tactic forces into the English translation what would have been far better established by the use of despotis rather than kephale. For an example of the “beginning, origin, or source” concept of head, look at Colossians 1:16-18: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.”

Here is a fine example of kephale being used in a “beginning, origin, source” context. Jesus as kephale is the source and sustainer of all creation. The connection to authority in the passage is that authority follows his status as the divine source. For instance, Colossians 1:15 describes Jesus as the prototokos (preeminent, having paramount dignity), not despotis of all creation. Prototokos is poorly translated “first-born,” connoting in English more of the despotis concept than is in the Greek. Despotis, or master, is ascribed to Jesus elsewhere, but not in this context. And further to the point, the entire text of Colossians 1:15-18 repeatedly echoes “beginning, origin, and source” in clear definition of kephale as “the beginning, the “prototokos” from the dead . . .”

Further in the text is this: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is head over all rule and authority” (Col. 2:9-10, NASB). Surprisingly, the NASB itself directs the reader to a footnote indicating that a more direct rendering of the text would be “head of all rule” rather than “head over all rule.” The word head is kephale. Being “head over” something connotes in English a rule, mastership, or authority. Being “head of” something easily carries meaning as the “beginning, origin, or source” of something.

What is even more important, if “head over all rule and authority” means “authority over all rule and authority,” the text would take on a clumsy redundancy and lose the grandeur of its context, which is our completeness of being, of createdness sourced in Christ because of the fulness of deity dwelling in him. This reading of the text then is much more in concert with the wonderful and forceful exhortation that is the entire second chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians.

Recently I discussed Isaiah 3:12 with a traditionalist. In this verse, “Women will rule over them” is stated as a dire event. I set this verse in contrast to 1 Timothy 5:14, which says: “Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach” (NASB).

This may seem a peculiar contrast to Isaiah 3:12, but upon digging deeper into the translation of the Pauline text, you will find something rather surprising. The following Scriptures contain the Greek word despotis, which means “authority, master, or owner.” It is translated “master” of slaves in Titus 2:9, 1 Timothy 6:1, and 1 Peter 2:18. It is translated “lord” in Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, and Revelation 6:10.

In the following Scripture references, despotis is translated “head,” specifically as “head of the house”:

• “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matt. 24:42-44).

• “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” (Matt. 10:24-25).

• Luke 13:25 also translates despotis as the “head” of the house in Jesus’ kingdom teaching. “Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door . . .”

One can see that despotis is clearly intended by scriptural authors for concepts very different from kephale. Look again at despotis in 1 Timothy 5:14: “Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach” (NASB) The words keep house are actually the Greek verb form of despotis, literally instructing the young women to be “masters of the house” (oikodespotin—present, active, infinitive: to rule a household). It is interesting that the NASB translates the male context of the word as “head of the house,” but the female context as “housekeeper.” T o be sure, the huge difference in meaning in English is absent in the Greek. Furthermore, when in 1 Timothy 3:4, 12 Paul instructs overseers and deacons to “manage” their households, he uses the word proistimi, a much softer word, meaning to “manage” or “care for.”

What we find in 1 Timothy 5:14 is the only instruction from Paul in which he uses such strong language—despotis—for someone to master or lord over the household, and he clearly states that is to be a woman! How funny and ironic in contrast to the traditionalists’ recoiling at any notion of female leadership, a position sometimes justified by invoking a twisted understanding of Isaiah 3:12.