like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. – 1 Peter 3:6
Lord – a title of respect – often refers to someone who has authority over others. We can think back to the Middle Ages as a time of lords and ladies. We saw it as a time of inequality, a lord could demand something of his knights, a knight could demand something of his page, a wealthy man could demand something of his servant; but it was never the knight’s place to countermand his lord, a page’s place to go against the wishes of his knight, and it was always wrong for a servant to disobey his wealthy master. For ages beyond memory, our world thought in terms of an authority who was in charge and directed his underlings.
“Here the very constitution of the soul has shown us the way; in it one part naturally rules, and the other is subject, and the virtue of the ruler we in maintain to be different from that of the subject; the one being the virtue of the rational, and the other of the irrational part. Now, it is obvious that the same principle applies generally, and therefore almost all things rule and are ruled according to nature. But the kind of rule differs; the freeman rules over the slave after another manner from that in which the male rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in an of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature. So it must necessarily be supposed to be with the moral virtues also; all should partake of them, but only in such manner and degree as is required by each for the fulfillment of his duty. Hence the ruler ought to have moral virtue in perfection, for his function, taken absolutely, demands a master artificer, and rational principle is such an artificer; the subjects, oil the other hand, require only that measure of virtue which is proper to each of them. Clearly, then, moral virtue belongs to all of them; but the temperance of a man and of a woman, or the courage and justice of a man and of a woman, are not, as Socrates maintained, the same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying. And this holds of all other virtues, as will be more clearly seen if we look at them in detail, for those who say generally that virtue consists in a good disposition of the soul, or in doing rightly, or the like, only deceive themselves. Far better than such definitions is their mode of speaking, who, like Gorgias, enumerate the virtues. All classes must be deemed to have their special attributes; as the poet says of women,
“Silence is a woman’s glory, “
but this is not equally the glory of man. The child is imperfect, and therefore obviously his virtue is not relative to himself alone, but to the perfect man and to his teacher, and in like manner the virtue of the slave is relative to a master. Now we determined that a slave is useful for the wants of life, and therefore he will obviously require only so much virtue as will prevent him from failing in his duty through cowardice or lack of self-control. ” – Aristotle, Politics Book 2
At least Aristotle was honest about the way he viewed the world; free women might be able to think for themselves as much as men can; but they lack the authority required to do so. Sons have the same ability to think, but they are immature. Slaves, on the other hand, don’t have that ability to think; otherwise they wouldn’t be slaves. Christianity holds that men and women are equally capable, but God has place authority over women on the shoulders of men. It’s just coincidence then, that Christians ended up agreeing with the form and function of how families ought to operate with the world.
Much of that is because of the interpretation and application of 1 Corinthians 11 insists that “authority over” “boss of” “in charge of” “leader of” is the only acceptable and proper interpretation of “kephale” meaning “head”. Somehow head meaning “first” (as in, head of the line) isn’t a proper way to understand the passage. And head meaning “prominent” (as in, head of the class) isn’t acceptable either. And of course, “head” can’t mean “source” as in “headwaters” either. But what if our steadfast interpretation of “authority” as being the only acceptable interpretation of “head (kephale)” is due to our cultural predisposition to understand that word that way? What if we’re so hard-wired to see “head” as “authority” (as in heads of the state, head honcho) that we have a hard time seeing other possibilities?
So I was watching Marvel’s Dr. Strange and The Ancient One says: “You cannot beat a river into submission. You have to surrender to its current and use its power as your own.”
It opened my eyes to a whole other way of understanding this verse. While we might be under the illusion that we can dam up a river, control it’s course, create spillways, and use it’s power however it suits us; the idea that’s still more of a modern way of thinking about the relationship between man and rivers. Ancient Egypt, for example, knew that floods would come every year, and so they surrendered to the might of the river, let floods water their fields and fill up the wells they had dug. Perhaps men shouldn’t see women as a force they can control and must direct and micromanage – as if it were possible – but as the river that they should surrender to, and let their current help them achieve their goals. Perhaps men shouldn’t think that they are meant to control their wives anymore than they can control forces of nature.
An ancient Rabbi spoke of the ezer kenegdo role of women to be a helper to men when he was doing something right, but an opposition to men where he was not. Rivers can be like that – sources of power that channel energy and are helpful in the transportation of goods; but also forces that are treacherous when crossed. Perhaps there really is something to the idea of “source” as an understanding of Kephale.
But the true test is whether or not it works for the other parties in the illustration. Since Christ and man are two parties in the same verse, one might point out that an interpretation would put Christ at the mercy of man, asking the former to surrender to the latter. you would think that our theology of Jesus as the suffering servant who came to serve the many by giving his life would render this as valid; but some are so stuck on this concept of authority that they feel that just as they have authority over their wives, so Christ must have authority over men, and men must submit to Christ. Which, wouldn’t be bad, if that theory was more than ethereal. Were men to practically submit to Christ in the way that women are told to submit to their husbands, then they might change their minds on how they go about it – but until that time, guys pretty much get to run things unhindered and unchallenged; whereas their wives get to make do with what’s left over and without any oversight of their husband’s decisions. That just leaves Christ/God as the final parties of the verse. We don’t really have that clear of a picture of Christ submit to God is functionally the same as how women are supposed to submit to their husbands; but apparently it’s biblical. It’s just that to some degree God gave Jesus autonomy during his incarnation. Perhaps there’s an element of God who quite naturally doesn’t need to direct each and every step Jesus takes and each and every word he says because he recognizes that his own power is one that agrees with what is needed and any attempt to control it would be counterproductive.
In a lot of ways, women can be a source for a lot of good in their families, if they were allowed to work under their own power and with some latitude in how they go about helping as they were meant to and opposing when the situation calls for it. But interpreting kephale as “authority” suggest women is a smaller, weaker, less significant force who – as as Aristotle thought – though able to think has insufficient authority to operate in the public sphere.