30 What does Paul mean by head, 1?

by | Jan 22, 2020 | 01 Podcasts, Corinthians

Paul appeals to the creation of Adam and Eve from Genesis 2 to make his argument. This podcasts examines what Genesis 2 teaches us and why Paul appeals to it.

What Paul means by head is one of the major controversies in this passage. Entire books have been written on this question. This blog post and podcast do not fully cover the debate.


I argued in a previous podcast that in Corinthian culture married women kept their heads covered in public as a sign of respect for their husbands while husbands removed their head coverings when they stood up to pray or prophesy as a sign of respect for God.

Women did not participate in the Jewish worship service. In the Christian church, women begin participating alongside men, creating a conflict of symbols. 

What’s a married woman to do when she stands up to pray or teach? If she removes her head covering that is respectful to God but disrespectful to her husband.  If she keeps her head covering on, that is respectful to her husband but disrespectful to God. 

I understand Paul to be saying wives in Corinth should keep their head coverings on because that symbol speaks the loudest in their culture.


But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:3

Why does Paul appeal to a “hierarchy” as part of his argument?  (I am using hierarchy for lack of a better word.)

  • Paul clearly teaches that Christ is the head of the entire church, which includes both genders (Ephesians 5, 1Corinthians 11, etc).
  • Genesis 2 clearly teaches that both genders are in the image and glory of God.
  • The one point all 3 of the major positions agree on is that men and women are created equal before God and both genders are created in His image.
  • However, the relationship between husbands and wives is asymmetrical: The husband has a responsibility the wife does not have and the wife has a responsibility her husband does not have.
  • The husband/wife relationship is not a “hierarchy” in that sense of rank or importance;  it is “hierarchy” in that the roles are asymmetrical roles where one role is dependent on the other. 
  • Paul appeals to the creation of Adam and Even to establish these roles.

Genesis 2:15-25

2:15Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” 18Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. – Genesis 2:15-25

  • Before the fall, God created humans with a need for intimacy. Marriage is His solution to that need.
  • God gives Adam the responsibility of tending creation before He creates Eve. Adam is the one who is held accountable for the fall.
  • Husband headship is the biblical concept that God assigned the husband responsibility for the marriage and resulting family.
  • Being a Helper is recognizing who is responsible and granting him the freedom to follow his conscience.
  • The need for a head arises because biblical marriage is a permanent partnership. Every permanent partnership needs a way to break ties.
  • The head has the responsibility to cast the deciding vote because he is the one who will ultimately be held accountable.
  • Head and and helper are roles. They speak to responsibility, not ability, worth, talent, value or dignity.
  • Being the head is not equivalent to being the decision-maker, dictator or master.
  • Being the helper is not equivalent to being the housekeeper, laundry mat, gardener, chef, and chauffeur.
  • While many abuses have been practiced in the name of headship, the Bible never teaches that the “head” has the privileged position of being able to get his way in every situation. 
  • The Bible never teaches that a husband owns his wife the way a master owns a slave. 
  • The Bible never teaches that the man has the authority or freedom to dictate his will to the rest of the family. 
  • The roles of head and helper function within the commitment of a biblical marriage. 


What is a hard complementarian?

What is a soft complementarian?

What is an egalitarian?

Marriage God’s Way (8 audio files)

Marriage: In Order to Form a More Perfect Union (4 audio files)

For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.

Next: 31 What does Paul mean by head, 2?

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