(1Co 11:3 ESV) 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
There’s a good case from context that “head” or kephalē means source, but Greek is devoid of any prior use of kephalē in that sense. Rather, the more common uses are as the most prominent part, the end point, the beginning, and as chief, leader, or ruler.
But metaphors are always defined by context, and we cannot ignore the context in deciding what Paul has in mind. Moreover, we cannot assume that Paul abandons his understanding of Christ or of men and women.
Notice that the ESV translates anēr as “husband” and gunē as “wife,” contrary to the NIV. This is for a couple of reasons. First, as pointed out earlier, the subject of the passage is veils, and only wives were expected to wear a veil.
Second, there is nothing in the Old Testament or in the sayings of Jesus that suggests that women, as a group, are required to submit to the headship of men as a group. If that is Paul’s intended teaching, he is announcing an entirely new rule found nowhere — and yet up to this point, Paul has always based his teachings in 1 Corinthians on the gospel or on scripture – never on just announcing a new rule without explanation.
On the other hand, Genesis 2 teaches that Eve, as wife, is created as the “suitable helper” for Adam, her husband. This does not indicate inferiority, as the Hebrew word, ‘ezer, is usually used of God as Israel’s Helper. In English, “helper” often does indicate inferiority or subordinate status, but this is just not the case in Hebrew.
If this is what Paul has in mind, then he can say, based on scripture, that husbands are the “heads” of their wives, in that wives are created by God as suitable helpers — complements — to their husbands. Therefore, they may not bring them shame — such as by refusing to wear their veils in a culture where this is not only immodest but a virtual invitation to adultery! It goes against a duty owed by wives to their husbands from the beginning.
This is a type of submission, but a submission in unity. Remember the text:
(Gen 2:20-3:1 ESV) 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him [NIV: “suitable helper”].
God was not a helper fit for Adam, nor were any of the animals. Adam did not need a superior or an inferior.
21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
Long before Jesus, the Jewish rabbis taught — as we often teach in our weddings — that woman was not made from her husband’s head to be ruler over him or from his feet to be under him, but from his rib to be beside him.
23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Moses then comments on the unity of husbands and wives: “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” and “one flesh.” The one-flesh relationship is, of course, sexual, but obviously much more. As Paul had earlier written,
(1Co 6:15-16 ESV) 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”
We are married to Christ, and therefore a member of his body (not “member” like on a roll sheet but “member” like an arm or a leg). When we have sex with a prostitute, we are joining the body of Christ to her — making Christ one flesh with a prostitute. The unity is more than a momentary physical connection. It’s a profaning of the sacred.
25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
The relationship of husband and wife is one of purity and seeing beyond the mere physical. It’s not that Adam and Eve had perfect, newly made bodies and so looked good, but that they’d become a unity and therefore had no shame at each other’s appearance — whether 20 years old or 90.
And so, Adam is the head of the wife, not merely the source from which she originated, but part of the same unity. Just as Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body, Adam is the head of the unity which is marriage, and of which Eve is the body. They are one.
God, Paul says, is the head of Christ. But we also know that they are One. They are a unity.
Nowhere is Christ described as the “body” of God, although he was God incarnate, that is, God embodied. Jesus was obedient and submissive to God while on earth, incarnate, but now he has been given “all authority.” He gave up equality to become human (Phil 2:6!), and then by being obedient (Phil 2:8) —
(Phi 2:9-11 ESV) 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is not the language of inferiority and abject submission. On the other hand, while Jesus is in no sense inferior to God the Father, he received his authority from the Father. He exaltation comes by God sharing his own glory with Jesus.
Just so, when God created the heavens and the earth, he did so through the Christ (John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; 1 Cor 8:6). Thus, Adam and Eve were made in the “image” and “likeness” of God by the hand of Christ — who shared his glory with mankind.
And when God made Eve, he made her from the flesh of Adam — which was at the time uncorrupted and somehow in the image of God. Adam granted to Eve his own share of God’s image.
Thus, Eve not only derives her flesh from Adam, but her place as God’s own image. And she owes to her husband an obligation to be a suitable helper.