Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS PinaforeChapel End 2009 photo by highstone
Susanne at BLT: Not Just a Sandwich has an amusing post, The end of male headship, about the patriarchal assumption of male leadership and a British soap-opera currently popular in the USA, replete with upper-class twits and grovelling serfs.
That got me thinking. The word that American Evangelical Patriarchs have invented to claim biblical support for their theories is “headship”. The origins of this usage seem clear, the suffix -ship attached to the metaphorically used noun “head” found in Bible verses like Eph 5:23. The meaning of the -ship suffix is clear:
-ship suffix having the rank, position, skill or relationship of the stated type
It is therefore usually attached to a title, job description etc. like the examples listed. Indeed the usual English usage of “headship” reflects this, it refers to the time when someone acts as head teacher of a school. There “head” is no longer a metaphor but has become through common usage a title or position descriptor.
Does “head” as Paul uses it work that way? To Anglophone readers used to head teachers, head nurses, heads of department etc. it sounds as if “Christ is head of the church” works like that. Except as we have seen, it doesn’t. There is no use of kephale “head” as such a position descriptor in Koine Greek. Paul’s own usage does not support it.
This modern invention of male “headship” is just that, a modern invention. Paul uses the metaphor of head to describe a relationship of nurturing, uniting and nourishing, he uses kyrios “lord” to describe leading and commanding.1