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Q&A #130 - Kephale in 1Co 11 & early art showing women administering sacraments

by Robert Nguyen Cramer

This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.





I'm looking for either more examples of kephale [Strong's Greek #2776] as "source" in classical Greek, and also fescos or other depictions of women adminstering sacraments in early Christian centuries. If you have that, please let me know.



A. Examples of kephale as "source" in classical Greek

Your question obviously is in reference to the section of Paul's correspondence found in 1Co 11:2-16. The commentary on 1Co 11 found at provides some explanations of kephale, as well as the context in which it is used. As desirable as "source" may be as the meaning of kephale in 1Co 11:3, it is not a conclusion that is easily drawn in the context of the entire passage, as Richard Hayes points out in his Interpretation commentary on First Corinthians. Then again, Hayes also points out how Paul in 1Co 11:7-9 gets tangled up in his references back to Gen 1 and Gen 2.

What we do know is that women did play very active roles in Paul's churches and that 1Co 11:2-16 was not intended by Paul to in any way impede women's active participation in church. After all, Paul had written a letter of introduction for Phoebe, the presiding church leader in Cenchrae, as she journeyed to Ephesus, as described in detail by Helmut Koester at It was the dignity of women and order in the church that Paul was really emphasizing in 1Co 11:2-16, as the above-mentioned commentary points out.

B. Fescos or other depictions of women adminstering sacraments in early Christian centuries.

It may be very difficult to find very early fescos and other religious art that depict women administering sacraments, since Constantine and the church he founded quite successfully destroyed -- at times by house to house searches -- any documents and art representing doctrines contrary to the imperial church.

In the development of proto-orthodoxy, by at least the first quarter of the 2nd century, when 1Ti 2:11,12 and the 1Co 14:34,35 interpolation were likely written (see, it was the teaching of some Christian leaders that women were to remain silent in church and not have any official duties. Then around A.D. 198 Tertullian (Ante-Nicene Fathers, 3:677) made it clear that women were not to baptize, and around A.D. 207 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4:33) he stated:

It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church, nor to teach, baptize, offer, or to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to mention the priestly office.

This of course was in contrast with Paul's genuine teachings and practice, as documented extensively at

The problem in finding works of art is that after A.D. 313 not only were the original theology and practices of Jesus further eroded by Constantine's cooption of the proto-orthodox church, but over the next century house-to-house searches rooted out virtually all documents and their adherents that were contrary to doctrines dictated by the imperial church. Such documents were burned and the adherents were persecuted. A.D. 313 was the beginning of the end of theological, ecclesiastical, and social diversity within what had been relatively autonomous, self-governed Christian churches throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East regions, including African, Asian, and European churches.

Prior to A.D. 325 there was generally a spirit of fellowship among most Christian communities, and any gatherings of chuch leaders was done only regionally. Constantine's world-wide Council of Nicea was a mega-event that was the first of its kind, in terms of its scope, its lavishness, and its centralization of ecclesiastical authority. Even the church offices and their regional ecclesiastical organizational structures became increasingly modeled after the Roman government.

(To further explore Constantine's impact on the Christian church, see

See also Francine Cardman's chapter in Women and Christian Origins (edited by Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D'Angelo (NY: Oxford University Press, 1999), especially her brief section on "Early Christian Art and Archeology," pages 320-322, which she concludes as follows:

Titles in inscriptions and frescoes, as well as depictions of meal scenes in catocomb art offer fragmentary and highly ambiguous evidence about women's leadership in the early Christian churches. Nevertheless, they constitute part of the context in which to interpret the repeated declarations of church orders and canons that women could not be priests.


Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer