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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


i. In the Gospels.— 1 . The word ‘head’ (κεφαλή), as applied to the relation of Christ to His Church, occurs only three times in the Gospels, and there in the passages in the Synoptics ( Matthew 21:42 ||  Mark 12:10 ||  Luke 20:17) in which, applying the lesson of the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, Jesus quotes  Psalms 118:22 in the Septuagint version, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner’ (οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλἡν γωνίας), where the expression κεφαλὴν γωνίας is an exact rendering of the Hebrew רא̇שׁפּנְּה. The meaning of the passage is clear. The building of which the Psalmist speaks is the theocracy, Israel as the people of God. The corner-stone, a stone fitted into an angle of the building and binding together the walls which meet at that point, and without which the structure must collapse, represents the Messiah, through whom the theocracy finds its realization.

What the Psalmist says about the rejection of the stone on the part of the builders has been explained by some as an allusion to an alleged incident in the building of the Second Temple.

‘Some stone, a fragment, we may conjecture, of the Old Temple, rescued from its ruins, had seemed to the architects unfit for the work of binding together the two walls that met at right angles to each other. They would have preferred some new blocks of their own fashioning. But the priests, it may be, more conversant with the traditions of the Temple, knew that that was the right place for it, and that no other stone would answer half as well. The trial was made, and the issue answered their expectations’ (Plumptre, Biblical Studies , quoted by Perowne, Psalms, in loc .).

It is more likely, however, that this story was suggested by Psalms 118 than vice versa . Probably what was in the Psalmist’s mind was  Isaiah 28:16 ‘Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone.’  Psalms 118:22 was applied by Christ to His relation to the Church as uniting Jew and Gentile, and to His approaching rejection by Israel. Thus quoted and applied, the words of the Psalm speak of the Messiah as of Him ‘upon whom depend the maintenance and development of the theocracy, without whom it would fall to pieces, as the corner-stone is the upholder and stay of a building’ (Meyer). They speak of Christ as representing the principle of unity, that which constitutes the Church a grand whole. If we compare with this application by our Lord of  Psalms 118:22 the use made of the same figure by St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles ( Acts 4:11) and in his First Epistle ( 1 Peter 2:4-8), where he speaks of the Church as a temple built of living stones, and by St. Paul when he describes Jesus Christ Himself as the chief corner-stone of a holy temple ( Ephesians 2:20), we find the connecting link between the idea of the Headship of Christ as it is expressed in the Gospels and the similar conception of St. Paul in his Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians (compare also  1 Corinthians 11:3).

St. Peter, while keeping to the architectural figure suggested by the passages quoted from the Psalms and Isaiah, and speaking of Christ as ‘head stone of the corner’ (κεφαλὴ γωνίας), adds the thought of life to that of unity. St. Paul, still further working out the same idea, adopts a different figure, that of the head as the seat of life in the body, that which controls and regulates the action of each individual member ( Ephesians 1:22-23;  Ephesians 4:15-16;  Ephesians 5:23;  Ephesians 5:28-30,  Colossians 1:18;  Colossians 2:19). See § ii.

2 . The idea of Headship is suggested in the Gospels in connexion with another figure, in our Lord’s similitude of the Vine ( John 15:1 ff.), in which He illustrates and works out in detail the thought that He is the source of life and fruitfulness for the whole Church and for each individual member of the Church, the vital principle which unites all in one. As the head no less than the heart is the seat of life in the human body, inasmuch as the brain is the centre of the nervous system, and the nerves radiating from the brain and spinal cord are the source of the healthy activity of every part, the beautiful description which St. Paul gives ( Colossians 2:19)—‘the head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God’—corresponds to what Christ says in His parable of the Vine of the source of life and fruitfulness, with the thought of the healthy flow of life-giving sap which His words suggest: ‘As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me (χωρὶς ἐμοῦ—marg. ‘severed from me’) ye can do nothing’ ( John 15:4-5).

3 . Again, the thought of Headship is involved in that view of the Church’s relation to Christ which our Lord presents in the blessing pronounced on St. Peter at Caesarea Philippi ( Matthew 16:18-19), and in a passage from the same Gospel, in many respects similar, in which He repeats His promise of power to bind and to loose ( Matthew 18:18-20). These passages are the more worthy of note in this connexion, that they are the only instances in which the Gospels represent Jesus as using the expression ‘Church’ (ἐκκλησία). According to the first, that which constitutes the being and the strength of the Church is her faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus speaks of the community which is founded upon faith in the Christ as ‘My church’ (μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν), and then promises to invest this Church in the person of her representatives (in this case St. Peter as spokesman of the Twelve) with the power to bind and to loose. The other passage occurs in connexion with our Lord’s injunction to make ‘the church’ the final court of appeal in cases of disputes among brethren. In it Jesus repeats the promise of power to bind and to loose, and states, in more universal terms than He employs in His promise to St. Peter, what constitutes the Church, or what entitles any body of believers to the name of ‘Church.’ That is the presence of Christ Himself in the midst of them. ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ That which constitutes the Church and invests her with authority and power, that which is the source of her life and energy, is the presence with her of Christ as her living Head, in whose name and guided by whose Spirit she discharges her spiritual functions.

Literature:—Cremer, Bib.-Theol. Lex. s.v. κεφαλή; Grimm-Thayer, Lex. Novi Testamenti, s.vv. κεφαλή, ἀνακεφαλαιόω; Comm . of Meyer and Alford; Baethgen, Psalmen, ad loc .; Perowne, The Psalms , ii. p. 338; Beyschlag, NT Theol . i. 165 ff.

Hugh H. Currie.

ii. In the Pauline Epistles.—The Headship of Christ, suggested in the teaching of our Lord Himself, is expressly taught in the Pauline Epp., and is applied, moreover, to a much wider sphere than that of Christian discipleship. For while emphasis is especially laid on Christ’s Headship over the Church, suggestions are given for a doctrine of His Headship over the human race and even over the whole created universe.

1 . Christ’s Headship over the Church .—In  1 Corinthians 12:27 (cf.  Romans 12:5) we find St. Paul, in his desire to impress his readers with a sense of their unity and mutual dependence, describing the local church as ‘a body of Christ’ (σῶμα Χριστοῦ)—conceiving of it i.e. under the figure of a body whose several members (eye, hand, head, feet,  Romans 12:21) are individual Christians. In Eph. and Col. this figure is elaborated at more points than one. In the first place, Christ is no longer thought of as Himself the whole body, of which individuals are the members—the head being a particular member like the rest. The Church is now the body, from which He is distinguished as the Head ( Ephesians 1:22 f.,  Ephesians 4:15 f.,  Ephesians 5:23,  Colossians 1:18;  Colossians 2:19). He is the vital centre, the ruling and directing power of the whole organism. Moreover, as the use of the art. before σῶμα (absent in  1 Corinthians 12:27) now shows, it is the writer’s intention that the figure should be applied not to any local church merely, but to the Church universal, and to this Church ideally conceived—the actual Church, no doubt, but regarded sub specie aeternitatis , so that the radiance of the heavenly antitype shines through the earthly form. To this Church, Christ is ‘head over all things’; while it is ‘his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’ ( Ephesians 1:22 f.). See, further, art. Body, ii. (3).

2 . Christ’s Headship over the human race .—In  1 Corinthians 11:3 the Apostle writes, ‘The head of every man is Christ.’ Here we have a doctrine of Headship stretching out beyond the limits even of the universal Church. The statement, as Hort points out ( Chr. Ecclesia , p. 151), is a natural application of St. Paul’s view of Christ as the Second Adam ( 1 Corinthians 15:22;  1 Corinthians 15:45 ff., cf.  Romans 5:12 ff.). The Incarnation not only reveals the kinship of the ‘man from heaven’ with all the sons of men; it sets Him before them as the true spiritual Head of humanity, in whom the race is ideally summed up.

3 . Christ’s Headship over the universe .—In  Ephesians 1:10 we read that it is God’s purpose ‘to gather together all things under a head (ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τὰ πάντα) in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth.’ And in  Colossians 2:10 Christ is expressly called ‘the head of all principality and power’—words which are explained in  Colossians 1:15-16, where He is declared to be ‘the firstborn of all creation,’ in whom ‘were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.’ In these passages there is affirmed of Christ a relation of Headship to the universe alike for the past, the present, and the future. In Him all things were created at the first. In Him they even now consist as their vital Head, the underlying ground of their very being. And unto Him from whom they had their origin they shall all finally return, in the day of that great consummation when God shall ‘gather together all things under a head in Christ.’

With this Pauline doctrine of the Headship of Christ over (1) the Church, (2) the human race, (3) the universe, it is interesting to compare the teaching of the Fourth Gospel regarding (1) the union of Christ as the living Vine with His people as the branches ( John 15:1 ff.); (2) the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world ( John 1:9); (3) the creative Logos ‘without [whom] was not anything made that hath been made’ ( John 1:3).

Literature.—The Comm. and NT Theologies on the passages referred to; Hort, Chr. Ecclesia , 144–152; Dale, Eph ., Lecture vi.; Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity , 331 ff.

J. C. Lambert.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(n.) Authority or dignity; chief place.