What does it mean to be the head? Why is Adam called the head of Eve? Are husbands called to be the head and, therefore, leader of their wife? Does “head” really mean leadership? The description “head” actually means you are the “source of life.”
- The term “head” does not mean “leader” it means “beginning/source of life;”
- Jesus is the “beginning/source” of every man;
- Adam is the “beginning/source” of Eve;
- Being the “head” is a revelation of God; however, being the “stream” is also a revelation of God.
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.”(1 Cor. 11:3, NRSV)
Being the Head Does Not Mean You are the Leader
This is the key verse that many pastors teach “male leadership” from. Men are to be “the heads of their wives” suggesting that men are the official “leaders” of their wives. But notice in the above scripture that “Christ is the head of man.” What does it mean to “be the head of man”? Does Christ lead men but not women?
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the “leader” of every man, and the husband is the “leader” of his wife, and God is the “leader” of Christ.” –1 Cor 11:3, NRSV
Obviously this is not the correct interpretation of “head” since Jesus showed us in the Bible that he is willing to teach and lead both men and women. A husband and wife team simply does not wait for the husband to communicate with Jesus in order to receive direction and teaching–in the New Testament both husband and wife seek God’s Holy Spirit for direction:
If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided [led, taught] by the Spirit. –Gal. 5:25, NRSV
Being the “Head” means “Beginning/Source of Life”
In the Bible, when you want someone dead you take their head. OR, if you want to kill a whole army, you take the leader’s head—you go straight to the “source of life” as Judith and Jael illustrate:
She [Judith] came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, “Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel!” Then she struck his neck twice with all her might, and cut off his head. –Judith 13:7–8, NRSV
She [Jael] put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head. –Judges 5:26, NRSV
This action guarantees the death of the whole army. It’s like cutting off the flow of an army by turning off the source. Likewise, if someone were to say, “You would endanger my head with the king” (Dan 1:10) they mean their very life is in danger–they do not mean to suggest that their leadership abilities are in danger.
Similarly, to “lift up the head” means to grant life and to “bow the head” means to forfeit life:
Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head. –Gen. 40:13, NRSV
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. –Jn. 19:30, NRSV
[Jesus said] “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” –Jn. 10:17–18, NRSV
Therefore, in reference to our key verse in 1 Cor. 11:3: “I want you to understand that (1) Christ is the head of every man, and (2) the husband is the head of his wife, and (3) God is the head of Christ” we clearly see that:
(1) Jesus is the “source of life” for every man simply because Jesus was the one who originally created Adam from dirt in the garden of Eden. Therefore, Christ is said to be the head of every man.
(2) The husband is the “source of life” of his wife simply because Eve came forth directly from the body of Adam. Therefore, we say the husband is the head of the wife.
(3) God is the “source of life” of Jesus because Jesus came from God: “I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father” (Jn. 16:28).
1 Corinthians 11:3 is not speaking about who should lead. After all, in the Bible the “head” does not signify the place where decisions are made. In the Bible the “heart” makes all decisions:
And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth –Gen. 8:21, NRSV
But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? –Mt. 9:4, NRSV
A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. –Prov. 16:9, NKJV
1 Corinthians 11:3 is describing the process of birth, the place from where each of us came from which why the teaching ends on this note: “For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God” (1 Cor 11:12).
Being the Source is a Revelation of God–but Being the Stream is also a Revelation of God
The image that best illustrates the term “head” comes to us from the story of Moses and the “rock” that became the source of a “stream” that gave life to the people:
Take the staff [said God], and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. –Num. 20:8, NRSV
[God] made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers. –Ps. 78:16, NRSV
In this instance, the rock that is spoken about as being “the head” of a stream actually represents a person. The term “rock” is a metaphor for Jesus:
All drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. –1 Cor. 10:4, NRSV
However, the stream of water that flows from the rock also represents a person–the stream is the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, within the rock was a whole other person. When the rock was opened (through Jesus’ death on the cross) the Spirit flowed and proceeded to give everlasting life to everyone who drank as the story of Jesus and the woman at the well illustrates:
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” –Jn. 4:10–15, NRSV
So within the metaphor of “head” we find the two revelations of God at play–Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Therefore just as Adam’s body once brought forth Eve, the body of Jesus also brought forth a female person–the Holy Spirit. Eve was the image and likeness of the Holy Spirit on earth–the one who gave life to humankind, but the Holy Spirit is the original image–and she births everlasting life in us.
When we ignore the true meaning of “head” and instead replace it with the word “leader” we lose a foundational revelation. We lose the link between Eve and the Spirit. And that is too great a loss.