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versión On-line ISSN 2304-8557
versión impresa ISSN 0023-270X

Koers (Online) vol.76 no.1 Pretoria  2011




Head as metaphor in Paul


Hoof as metafoor by Paulus



A. Wolters

Religion & Theology/Classical Languages, Redeemer College, Ancaster, Canada. E-mail:




Since the 1980s there has been a debate among New Testament scholars about the meaning of the Greek word "kephalē" ("head") in the Pauline epistles. Some scholars defend the traditional view that it means "leader", while others argue that it should be understood to mean "source". One result of this debate is that it is now clear that both the traditional and the new interpretation of kephalē have very little support in general Greek usage before the New Testament.
This article seeks to advance the debate by showing that the phenomenon of "semantic borrowing" can explain why the meaning "source" is effectively limited to one passage in Herodotus, and the meaning "leader" is only found in Greek works written by bilingual Jews. The passage in Herodotus probably reflects a semantic loan from Old Persian *sar while various places in the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus and Paul reflect a semantic loan from Hebrew "ro'sh" (or Aramaic "re'sh"). Because the latter semantic loan ("head" meaning "leader") is embedded in the Greek Bible (both in the Septuagint and Paul), the authority and prestige of the latter can account for the fact that the new meaning of kephal
ē, though unknown in previous pagan Greek writings, gradually became widespread in post-biblical Greek as Christianity spread.

Key concepts: Greek language, head, kephalē, Paul, semantic borrowing


Sedert die 1980s het daar onder Nuwe Testament-wetenskap-likes n debat gewoed oor die betekenis van die Griekse woord "kephalë" ("hoof") in die sendbriewe van Paulus. Sommige we-tenskaplikes verdedig die tradisionele siening dat dit "leier" beteken, terwyl ander argumenteer dat dit verstaan moet word as dat dit "bron" beteken. Een resultaat van hierdie debat is dat dit nou duidelik is dat daar vir sowel die tradisionele as die nuwe interpretasie van "kephalē" weinig ondersteuning te vind is in die algemene Griekse gebruik vóór die Nuwe Testament.
Hierdie artikel poog om die debat verder te voer deur aan te toon dat die fenomeen van "semantiese lening" kan verduidelik waarom die betekenis van "bron" effektief beperk is tot een passasie in Herodotus en die betekenis van "leier" slegs gevind word in Griekse werke wat geskryf is deur tweetalige Jode. Die passasie in Herodotus reflekteer waarskynlik 'n semantiese lening van die Oud-Persiese *sar, terwyl verskeie plekke in die Septuagint, Philo, Josephus en Paulus 'n semantiese lening van die Hebreeuse "ro'sh" (of Aramese "re'sh") reflekteer. Aan-gesien laasgenoemde semantiese lening ("hoof", wat "leier" beteken) in die Griekse Bybel ingebed is (sowel in die Septuagint as in Paulus), kan laasgenoemde se outoriteit en prestige verklaar word deur die feit dat die nuwe betekenis van "kephal
ē", alhoewel onbekend in voorafgaande heidense Griekse geskrifte, geleidelik wydverspreid geraak het in die post-Bybelse Grieks, soos wat die Christendom versprei het.

Kernbegrippe: Griekse taal, hoof, kephalē, Paulus, semantiese lening



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1 I am pleased to be able to offer this essay as a token of my respect and affection for my long-time friend and colleague Elaine Botha, whom I have known since we were both graduate students in philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam some forty years ago. Although I have since forsaken philosophy for biblical studies, I am aware of her excellent philosophical work on metaphor, and hope this contribution on a specific metaphor in the New Testament will be of interest to her, both professionally and personally.

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