We are about ready to turn to the household code in Ephesians. But before I go there in the next post I want to summarize what we have learned about the "head" (kephale) metaphor over the past week and set the stage.
I wrote a week ago:
I believe there are actually three ways the metaphor is employed in the New Testament based on three different ways of perceiving a physical head. We can view the physical head in terms of function, representation, and elevation.
Function – According to the Greeks, the anatomical function of the head was to provide life-giving sustenance and nurture to the rest of the body. It is the origination point from which the rest of the body springs up.
Representation – The head is the most visible and physically distinguishing part of the body. The face and head are the primary means by which we identify a whole person. The head represents the whole body to the world.
Elevation – The head is at the top, the highest point, of the body. In Greek, high elevation signifies prominence, preeminence, and importance.
So lets briefly look again at all the “head” metaphors in the New Testament:
1 Peter 2:7 (Post)
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
"The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner, ..."
“Head of the corner” is the highest and final stone laid in a building or an arch. Its elevated position signifies both prominence and completion.
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband (or man) is the head of his wife (or woman), and God is the head of Christ.
“Head” signifies “origin.” Christ was the origin of man at creation, man was the origin woman in the creation account, and God was the origin of Christ, sending him into the world as the firstborn of a new creation.
Colossians 1:18 (Post)
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
“Head” is coupled with a “body” metaphor. The joining of the two symbolizes organic unity. Christ is the head. Christ is head because A) he is the first (in sequence) with regard to new creation, B) he is elevated in status over all else and over all others in the universe. Because head and body are organically united, the body (the church) shares in the qualities of the head (Christ).
While not calling Christ head of creation, verses 15-17 describe him as prior to (head of) creation and declare that he is what sustains and holds all things together. The Greek view of head is clearly in mind.
Colossians 2:9-10 (Post)
9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
“Head” applies to Christ here without a corresponding image of body. Christ is preeminent in rank and status compared to all rulers and authorities. From the context, “ruler and authority” appear to reference the celestial bodies and forces of nature that many believed governed human affairs.
Colossians 2:18-19 (Post)
18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
“Head” is Christ and the church is the body. Head signifies fountain and source of life, sustaining and holding the body together.
The next two passages are from Ephesians, which contains a household code that employs the “head” metaphor. Therefore, it seems we should pay close attention to how the metaphor is used two other times in the letter to understand its possible use in the household code.
Ephesians 1:22-23 (Post)
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.
“Head” seems to me to be part of double entendre here. The head is Christ but he seems to be both A) elevated and supreme over all things, and B) organically attached to the church as his body. I think this is a restatement of the sentiment expressed in Colossians 1:15-20. Colossians describes him as “head” of creation without explicitly saying as much and then explicitly says that Christ’s body is the church. Here in Ephesians, Christ is explicitly identified as “head over” everything and then the church is identified as Christ’s body without directly linking the “head” and “body” metaphors.
The “all things under his feet clause” is a messianic reference that seems to imply Christ returning humanity to their place in the pre-fall created order. By becoming “head over” everything and then being organically linked to his body (the church), he extends his status to the body as its head. He brought all things under himself for the church to experience restoration to rightful status.
Ephesians 4:15-16 (Post)
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.
Here we have the same connotation as Colossians 2:19 except that the benefit is stated in the affirmative rather than as that which is lost when there is severance from the head. “Head” is Christ and the church is the “body.” Head signifies fountain and source of life, sustaining and holding the body together.
Paul makes extensive use of fictive family and household metaphors throughout his letters. The central focus of his fictive family metaphors is other-centered love as siblings, the closest and least status conscious of relationships in the Greco-Roman world. God is the paterfamilias. Yet the church lived in the midst of an extremely status conscious society where the powerful were already skittish about subversive movements detracting from worship of traditional gods and undermining status hierarchies that preserved the social order. How would you instruct the good folks to behave in such circumstances?
Become flippant about Roman customs and you risk alienating and provoking the people you wish to reach. Continue living as you always have lived and you negate the core message of the gospel. Those folks with less status are likely to want to act on their newly elevated status in Christ, thus making the community suspect with outsiders. Those folks with status are likely not to surrender status and thus negate the gospel.
What common posture will you encourage among folks that creates a way past this dilemma? What metaphor might you use to help them visually keep your teaching before them? I believe Paul’s household code in Ephesians was his answer to this question.