Our next stop is Ephesians. Three passages use the "head" metaphor in Ephesians. One is in the household code in Chapter 5. We will first examine the other two instances in this post and then return to the household code in a later post.
Unlike Colossians, Ephesians does appear to be addressing any particular heresy. It seems to be written more as a general letter. Gordon Fee believes that in its original context Ephesians was a companion letter with Colossians and Philemon. Ephesus is not mentioned in the letter. The letter may have been a circular for wider circulation to the churches in Asia Minor that developed out the letter to the Colossians. Whatever the case, the parallels between themes and imagery in Colossians are unmistakable. If not written by Paul, then the two letters must surely be written by the same author.
The first passage that concerns us here is the use of the “head” metaphor in 1:22. It comes at the end of a prayer where Paul hopes that Christians may come to fully know God’s purposes and rely on God's power. The prayer mentions “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.” This parallels what we saw in the previous post on Colossians about the widespread belief in the powers of “elemental spirits of the universe,” which included things like the fates and celestial bodies controlling events (astrology.) This catalog of powers unquestionably encompasses human institutions but it is much boarder in scope. So as we come to the end of the prayer, we need to have a clear image of what is being referenced.
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (NRSV)
What does Paul what them to understand?
“…with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know … hope … his glorious inheritance among the saints … immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” (vs. 18-19)
In short, as with Colossians, Paul wants his readers to appreciate fully the source of glory and power to which they are connected in Christ. (vs. 20-21) Jesus has been seated in the most prominent place (“at his right hand” in verse 20, drawing on Psalm 110) and is far above (head of/over) all rulers, authorities, and powers, now and forever. Then we read in verse 22, “…he [God] has put all things under his [Jesus] feet…” This wording is straight from Psalm 8:6. I have included the entire Psalm below. As you read it, reflect on two things. First, compare verses 1-3 to the hymn given in Colossians 1:15-17 and in verses 20-21. Second, as you continue down to verse 6, pay careful attention to whose feet under which all things have been placed.
Psalm 81 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NRSV)
In the first three verses, we see the majesty and power of God, just as we have heard it articulated in Colossians and now here in Ephesians. Then in verses 4-8, we see a celebration of humanity’s creation as presented in the first two chapters of Genesis, with human beings exercising dominion over all creation. But now revisit Ephesians 1:22. It is Jesus’ feet under which all things are being placed. (See also 1 Corinthians 15:25 and Hebrews 2:8)
It appears that the early church took these words, clearly written about humanity, and found messianic and eschatological meaning in them. Humankind is dead in sin and has lost dominion over creation. As the church read the words “son of man” in verse 4 (translated "human beings" in the NRSV) they found a double meaning. The succeeding verses were taken to indicate events that would happen to the messiah, the “son of man.” He would come to have dominion over creation and all things would be placed under his (the messiah's) feet. By coming into inseparable union with the messiah, as a head is with a body, we are restored as regents over creation. I think this is the argument that the author of Hebrews in making in Chapter 2 of that book:
6 But someone has testified somewhere,
"What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
8 subjecting all things under their feet."
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,12 saying,
"I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."
13 And again,
"I will put my trust in him."
"Here am I and the children whom God has given me."
14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (NRSV)
Christ has made us "brothers" (male and female). In doing so, we are made to share in the same inheritance and his royal status. (A royal priesthood of believers. 1 Peter 2:9) We reign with him. Remember that “brothers” is the best imagery that existed in the Greco-Roman world for shared unranked status. Jesus uses fictive family to illustrate the atonement and restoration of humanity to co-regents over creation.
What we see in Ephesians 1:20-23 is the same theme with a different metaphor. Here, Christ is given full power and dominion but instead of a family metaphor we encounter a biological metaphor. It has two important meanings.
- “…has made him the head over all things...” Christ has been elevated above (head of/over; preeminence) all dominions, powers and authorities.
- “… for the church, which is his body …”
By being the head of the church, he becomes organically one with it, emanating his sustaining life force into it, and whatever glory and honor belong to the head are be extension experienced by the body. Whether it is by metaphorically becoming brothers with Christ in God’s royal fictive family (Hebrews 2) or by metaphorically being joined as a body to a preeminent life-giving head, humankind is restored as co-regents over creation and as children of God! And because Christ is now the sustaining head of the body, he fills the body with his presence.
Once again, this has little to say about the activity of ruling but much to say about status and organic union.
The second Ephesians passage is a little more straight forward.
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (NRSV)
Here we have the idea of gifts as life-giving nourishment for “building up the body of Christ,” given to the body by its “head.” Verse 15 tells us “we must grow up every way into him,” in a way similar to the way Colossians 2:7 tells us we must become “rooted.” Both statements are made in the context of not being led astray by false teaching and being nourished by sound teaching. We saw in Colossians 2:19, that we must not become disconnected from our head because …
…the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.”
…so here in Ephesians 4:16 we learn that it is the head ….
…from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
The head, in this instance, is the life-giving source to the body.
Before moving on to the Ephesians household code, we must visit one remaining use of the “head” metaphor in 1 Corinthians 11.