In most languages and cultures, a characteristic of everyday speech is to use the names of parts of the body (eyes, head, hands, feet, etc.) figuratively as well as literally. People in Bible times, for example, often referred to the head in a figurative sense. This was because they considered the head to be in some way representative of the whole person (1 Kings 2:32; Acts 18:6). People in Bible times might therefore show their shame or grief by covering the head, throwing dust on the head, or shaving the head (2 Sam 15:30; Isa 15:2; Jer 14:3; Rev 18:19). By contrast people were honoured by the anointing or crowning of the head (Ps 23:5; Prov 4:9; Mark 14:3; Heb 2:9). Lifting up the head symbolized victory (Ps 3:3; 27:6; 110:7); hanging the head symbolized shame or grief (Lam 2:10; Luke 18:13). When used figuratively of people or nations, ‘head’ could indicate leadership or authority (Deut 28:13; Judg 11:9; 1 Sam 15:17). The rulers of Israel were called the heads of Israel (Micah 3:1). By New Testament times the figurative usage of ‘head’ was largely concerned with its being the source of life and the seat of authority.

This is clearly seen in Christ’s headship of the church. As the head is both the source and controller of the body’s life, so Christ is the source of the church’s life and has supreme authority over it (Eph 1:22; 4:15-16; Col 1:18; 2:10,19). Another form of headship is found in the marriage relationship. The husband’s headship of the wife results from the different responsibilities given to each as created by God. For the Christian husband and wife, this relationship should be patterned on Christ’s self-sacrificing love for the church and the church’s obedient love for Christ (Eph 5:23-25). Although the husband’s headship means that he has a certain authority, it does not mean that he is superior. There is an equality in status, though a difference in function. The husband is head of the wife in the same way as God the Father is head of God the Son. Yet the Son, though under the Father’s authority, is equal with him (1 Cor 11:3; cf. John 5:19; 8:28-29; 10:30; 14:9-10; see HUSBAND; WIFE).

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