Here is an article I wrote for my friend’s web site a few years back.
I also created a page in my art journal to go with it! I’ll post that too. 🙂
We are fortunate to have easy access to the Bible, and many translations are quite easy to read. But when we try to understand the original language, we do have a disadvantage, since we are so far removed, both in time and language. The Greek language is very precise and was a brilliant choice for writing the New Testament. But most of us don’t know Greek at all, so we depend on translators. And translators sometimes rely on other translators and scholars, many of them from modern day, which means we may lose touch with some of the reasons for certain descriptions and metaphors, and how they related to the culture of the Greek-speaking church body of the Roman Empire.
One word which sometimes causes confusion is the Greek word “head,” often used by Paul the Apostle as a metaphor, both for Christ and for husbands. Paul was great with word pictures and even puns, though you have to study Greek to fully appreciate it. But even in English, if you read lots of Paul’s writings one after another, you begin to get a sense of the overall picture he is drawing about Christ and the church, about us.
“But speaking the truth in love, we may grow into him in all respects who is the head, Christ, of whom all the body being brought together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:15-16 (Fleming).
For the English word “head,” the Webster’s Dictionary on my bookshelf lists 20 different meanings. The most important of course is the literal meaning of the top part of your body above your neck! Then there are all sorts of metaphors drawn from this word. Meaning #15 for head in my dictionary is “leader,” for example. That is a meaning that English speaking Bible readers often think of, though it is a rare connotation for the word in Greek (in fact, when it does mean leader in Greek it has the military connotation of “the first one into battle” rather than “general” or something).
Athanasius was the early church leader who figured out which writings should be “The Bible,” as agreed with the other church leaders. He wrote way back in the 300’s about what Paul meant in the Bible by the Greek word head: “For the head (which is the source) of all things is the Son, but God is the head (which is the source) of Christ.”
Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, writes about Adam about 300 years after Paul: “Therefore of our race he became first head, which is source, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, He has been placed as head, which is source, of those who through Him have been formed . . . Therefore He himself our source, which is head, has appeared as a human being.” Cyril goes on in much more detail, but I’ve shortened it here.
St. Augustine also uses the word “head” this way in his own writings about Paul: “The Apostle Paul, when he wishes to commend the fruit of the Spirit against the works of the flesh, put this at the head: ‘The fruit of the spirit is love,’ he said, and then the rest, as springing up from this head, are twined together. These are joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control and chastity.”
These ancient writers were much more familiar with the original Greek Bible, and also more familiar with the metaphors and ways of thinking in those days. It is helpful to see how the history of Bible commentaries, the very oldest ones, gives us insight into the use of this word.
Studies such as this can help us better understand the scripture as we read. May the Lord increase your passion for knowing and understanding His word!
© Copyright 2006 Becky Virta