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© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

As we have seen above, in terms of his relationship to the Father, Jesus Christ modelled submission. But this is not the only parallel drawn by Paul in 1Corinthians 11:3. Paul also parallels the Christ/man and man/woman relationship; and in Ephesians 5:22ff he parallels the Christ/church and man/woman relationship. In both of these we see Christ modelling headship.

It is not possible to avoid or discard the issue of male headship if we to remain true to the Bible. Paul clearly states ‘the head of the woman is man’, and clearly bases his teaching not in culture but in the very nature of the Trinity. It cannot be dismissed on cultural grounds. Given the unavoidable biblical fact of male headship, both in the church and in the home, there are divergent opinions about the biblical meaning of this headship:

Does headship refer to authority?
Does headship refer to ‘source’?
Is headship defined in terms of representation?

The New Testament does not permit us to see these as three alternative definitions of headship. Read in context, the texts affirming one or the other of these aspects of headship indicate that these aspects of headship are mutually inclusive – especially the aspects of authority and source. The  three sections below investigate this.



Summary: The texts below indicate that, while kephale is in fact used with the meaning of ‘source’, this is not in isolation from its reference to authority/position. Indeed, the authority/position derives from the fact the ‘head’ is the ‘source’. ‘Source’ then does not exclude authority/position, rather it necessitates authority/position.

Contexts in which Christ is referred to as ‘head’:

Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1Peter 2:7
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone

The Greek reads – ‘has become the head of the corner’. This is the most important stone of all; the one that holds the arch together; or the one that sets the right angle of the structure.

If the headship of Christ over the whole church is a pattern of male headship over the local church and the home, then this text speaks of the extreme significance and responsibility of headship. The stability and direction of the local church and the home depends on (is sourced from) the integrity of its male leadership.

1Corinthians 11:3
‘... the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’

This parallels male headship with the headship of God over Christ and of Christ over man. It is a powerful affirmation that makes male headship unavoidable. An understanding of how God is head of Christ gives important insight into the nature of the headship of man over woman. [See above.]

The context is concerned with honouring the head.

It is in this context that Paul refers to man as the source of woman [verse 8 and 11], and woman as created for man [verse 9]. But Paul rather disempowers the source concept here by saying that, similarly (hosper = as) man is born of woman and that, in any case, everything comes from God.

Regardless of Paul’s stated ambivalence about the ‘source’ concept, his over-riding concern is that of honour – both of the ‘head’ and of the woman.

Ephesians 1:20-23
‘... seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be named ... And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body ...’

Here Christ is obviously in a position of supreme authority over – ‘far above’ - everything else that might be seen as an authority. ‘Head’ here cannot be understood as ‘source’; it is essentially about rank/position/authority.

Note that Paul is not in this context speaking of Christ as ‘head’ of the Church.

Ephesians 4:15,16
‘... we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work’

This probably supports the inclusion of the ‘source’ concept in the ‘headship’ of Christ. ‘From him’ (Greek – ek) can infer origin.

But this raises questions: Is Christ our ‘source’ because he is the Head? Or, is he the ‘head’ because he is the ‘source’? Or, is he our ‘source’ in addition to and separate from being our Head?

Ephesians 5:23-32
‘... as Christ is head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour’
‘... the church submits to Christ ...’
‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy ... to present her to himself ...’
‘... as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body’

Here Paul sees the Christ/church relationship as:

[1] headship/submission
[2] head/body
[3] Saviour/saved
[4] Self-denier/beneficiary

Is there any evidence of the ‘source’ concept here? Possibly – in that Paul says ‘of which he is the Saviour’ [without his saving action the church would not exist], and states that Christ’s sacrificial cleansing action was so that he could present the church to himself ...

But ‘source’ is in this primarily related to Christ’s role as Saviour, not to his position as ‘Head’.

Colossians 1:18
‘He is head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in all things he might have the supremacy’

There is both authority and ‘source’ in the context:

1:16 speaks clearly of Christ as the source of everything.

arche, the word translated ‘beginning’, which is its primary meaning, is also commonly translated ‘ruler’ and ‘rule’. So both concepts of ‘source’ and ‘authority’ are contained in this word.

‘firstborn’ – is a title referring to priority of rank and position.

All of this is that Christ ‘might have supremacy’ – which is a reference to authority/position.

It is obvious here that ‘source’ cannot be understood to the exclusion of ‘authority’. They are not either/or alternatives.

Lightfoot, a Greek scholar, comments about ‘head’: ‘and not only does He hold this position of absolute priority and sovereignty over the Universe – the natural creation. He stands also in the same relation to the Church – the new spiritual creation. He is its head, and it is His body. This is His prerogative, because He is the source and the beginning of its life, being the First-born from the dead. Thus in all things – in the spiritual order as in the natural – the Church as in the World – He is found to have pre-eminence.’

Colossians 2:10
‘... Christ, who is the head over every power and authority’

The Greek has ‘head of ...’
Unless it is presupposed that ‘head’ means ‘source’ this verse is automatically understood to refer to Christ’s position of authority.

However: Lightfoot comments on kephale: ‘The image expresses much more than the idea of sovereignty: the head is also the centre of vital force, the source of all energy and life ...’

It would seem that Lightfoot sees ‘source’ as the primary meaning of ‘head’ and authority/sovereignty as derived from and concurrent with ‘source’. Christ is in the position of authority because he is in fact the source. If this is the case, then interpreting kephale as ‘source’ intensifies rather than removes the concept of authority.

Colossians 2:19
‘He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow’

Dependence of the body on Christ, the Head. Obvious inclusion of the ‘source’ concept’.



Summary: In the texts below Christ is seen very clearly as the source without the use of the term ‘head’. However, in the context of each one of these references the authority and supremacy of Christ are also clearly seen. The concept of ‘source’ cannot, in respect to Christ, be divorced from the concept of authority and position.

Texts in which Jesus is referred to as ‘source’ in some manner.

John 1:1-4
(Jesus, who is God, is the creator of everything that exists, and the life-source of all that exists, including humans.)

The fact that Jesus is the source of everything is dependent on the fact that he is God. I don’t think that any Bible-believing person would seek to remove the concept of authority from God.

1Corinthians 8:6
‘... there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’

Context: Jesus Christ is clearly identified as the ‘one Lord’ – the one who is the source is also the Lord, that is, the one who is ‘supreme in authority’ (Strong); ‘owner, possessor, potentate, sovereign’ (Bagster’s Lexicon); ‘having power or authority’ (Vine).

Colossians 1:15-17
(Jesus the source of everything)

Paul’s intention in Colossians is to stress the full deity of Christ. His mention of Christ as the source of everything is part of his strong and repeated affirmations of the divine supremacy of Christ.

In addition, at the same time as identifying Christ as the source he also identifies Christ as the goal of all things – the end purpose for the existence of all things.

The perspective of using ‘head’ in terms of ‘source’ to deny any idea of gender role distinctives is rather undercut by these Colossian verses, which clearly present Christ as both source and goal. As do the Revelation texts below. Rather than removing gender role distinctions the source/goal perspective intensifies those role distinctions [if we understand the headship of Christ as analogous for male headship.]

Also in the context the term ‘firstborn’ is used twice: Christ is ‘firstborn over all creation’ and ‘firstborn from among the dead’. The title ‘firstborn’ is more a reference to primacy/priority of rank and position than a reference to chronological primacy. This is inferred in the NIV’s use of the preposition ‘over’ in verse 15 (there is no preposition in the Greek text), and explicit in Paul’s added statement ‘so that in all things he might have the supremacy’ in verse 18.

Hebrews 1:2
‘... through whom also he made the universe’

Christ is the creative source of the universe. As such he is ‘heir of all things’. Source and ownership go hand in hand.

Revelation 1:17; 2:8; 22:13
‘I am the First and the Last’ x 2
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’

All of these are spoken by the glorious Lord, Jesus Christ – the one who walks among the ‘lampstands’ (the churches), and the one who comes in final judgment. The one who is the source – the beginning, is also the ‘End’ – the one in supreme authority whose words, and our response to whose words, determines our final destiny.


Summary and comments: Both Adam and Christ are seen as representative heads: Adam as the representative head of the whole human race; Christ as the representative head of the redeemed. This representative headship has a high element of responsibility. There is also a ‘source’ element. In both of the main texts anthropos is used [= man with the meaning of human]. This representative headship is essentially about one human being representing multiple human beings, not one male person representing multiple human beings. It is, however, instructive that Paul clearly holds Adam, not Eve, responsible for plunging the whole human race into sin and death, even though it was Eve who ate the fruit first. The only reference to authority is a contextual reference to the authority of Christ as the conquering King of the kingdom.

Texts teaching representative headship

Romans 5:12ff
(Adam, the one man – anthropos – is held responsible for the entry of sin and death into the world and impacting all; Christ, the one man – anthropos – is similarly responsible for bringing life and justification to all.)

Adam is the representative head of the human race.

Christ is the representative head of the redeemed human race.

Representative headship is about responsibility and accountability.

There is nothing of authority mentioned or inferred in this passage.

There is an inference of the ‘source’ concept – in that it is ‘through’ the one man Adam that death reigns, and it is ‘through’ the one man Christ that we reign in life.

1Corinthians 15:21,22
‘For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’ (man = anthropos in both)

The ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’ speaks of Adam and Christ as the representative heads – including the concepts of responsibility/accountability.

The ‘through’ infers the source concept.

The context includes authority in reference to Christ – Christ ‘must reign’ v25ff

1Corinthians 15:45
‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit ... just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man’

Minor elements of representation and source.


C.1 Representative headship and the burden of responsibility

It is probably under this heading of representative headship that the concept of ‘servant’ headship modelled on the suffering of Christ best fits. The burden of headship is heavy. Adam, as representative head bears the burden/responsibility of being the ‘one man’ through whom sin, death and condemnation entered the world. Christ, as the ‘one man’, bore in his own body that sin, death and condemnation in order to liberate from it all who through faith are united to him as their ‘head’, and to give to those whom he represents life, grace and justification. As the representative head Christ is thus also the source of the Church and of its life.

Christ, who is the ‘head’ of the Church, thus voluntarily subjected himself to suffering to secure the present and eternal well-being of the Church. This is clearly depicted in the following texts:

Mark 10:45
‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’

The title ‘Son of Man’ is a title of high authority and power [Daniel 7:13,14; Revelation 1:12-18]. This adds significance to the fact that he came ‘to serve’ and ‘to give his life’.

John 10:10-18
‘... I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ...’

The ‘shepherd’ is in charge of his flock and has the responsibility for the well-being of the flock. As part of that responsibility, Christ, ‘the good shepherd’, lays down his life for the sheep.

John 13:1-17
[Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Peter, recognizing the inappropriateness of such an action, objected. Jesus, clearly anticipating his sin-bearing death, replied that his cleansing action was necessary. Jesus then said]: ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.’

Both Peter and Jesus knew that Jesus was in a position of authority.

He who is ‘Lord’ put himself in the position of a servant.

Jesus deliberately referred to this culturally inappropriate action as a model of the attitude that should characterize his followers.

Ephesians 5:23-32
‘... for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour ... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless ...’

The costly, self-denying, sacrifice of Christ for the well-being of the church – is a model for male headship in the home.

Philippians 2:5-11
[Which describes the self-denial, humility, abasement, etc of Christ, who is by very nature God, and equal to God.]

The self-denial and humility of Christ, described here in terms of putting aside one’s real rights, is a model for inter-personal relationships within the Church.

Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:14-16
[An extended passage about the real humanity and comprehensive suffering of Christ necessary to his atoning and mediatorial role.]

Christ, identified as God in Hebrews 1, had to become fully human and experience the suffering common to humans, in order that he could substitute for us in his death and in order that he could represent/mediate for us.

Also worthy of inclusion under this heading of the burden of representative headship are the many references in Revelation to Jesus Christ as ‘the Lamb’. The first such reference is surprisingly unexpected: In Revelation 5:5 John was told ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ These words, tracking right back to Genesis 49:8-10, throb with power and authority. But when John turns to look he sees not an all-conquering Lion, but a Lamb, a Lamb with the marks of a brutal death still upon him. The term ‘Lamb’ has a long biblical history of representation – of sacrificial substitution. But the fragility and vulnerability contained in the word ‘Lamb’ and in the concept of a slain Lamb, is far removed from the contexts in which we find ‘the Lamb’ in Revelation. As we read through Revelation we see the Lamb in positions of power and glory: the Lamb is on the throne, the Lamb is the conqueror, the Lamb is the King of kings and Lord of lords. And, in addition, those whom he represents are with him.

Representative headship thus speaks of inclusion, not exclusion. Although he is the representative head, and bore the intense burden of representation so that we do not have to bear it, Christ takes those who believe in him with him. He does not stand apart from them. Indeed, they share in his glory, they partake of his victory.



What can we learn from Christ’s headship that will assist in the definition of male and female roles and responsibilities in the Church?

[1] Christ’s headship includes the concept of ‘source’. As ‘source’ the head of the Church bears the responsibility for the integrity, growth and maturity of the Church. In the divinely appointed order within the Church this responsibility is borne by the male leadership of the Church.

[2] Of necessity, if the male leadership of the Church is held accountable/responsible for the integrity, growth and maturity of the Church, authority is synergistic with that responsibility. Responsibility without the necessary authority is an impossibility.

[3] The concept of headship as responsibility is intensified by the representative nature of Christ’s headship. As our representative head Christ bore the full responsibility for all of our actions. His representation of us makes him the source of our identity as the Church: we, the Church, exist only because of his representative action. But this representative action also required of him an immeasurable degree of self-denial, exposure to horrific misunderstanding, and deep, deep grief. This representative headship modelled by Christ instructs us that headship, at least the divine order of headship, is a painful role indeed.