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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
• Nave's Topical Bible
• Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
Hair, of head, oils & gold dust in, baldness: & Beard, Absalom's
Head brought
John the Baptist: & Hairy man, Head brought, Clean, Locusts
Man; a worm, maggot
Women & wives; respect for: & Toe
• Torrey's Topical Textbook
Christ, the Head of the Church
• Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
Head, Headship
• Easton's Bible Dictionary
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Ax (axe), Ax-Head
Covering, For the Head
Greek - head, heads
Greek - wound in the head
Greek - head of a household, head of the house, head of the household
Greek - head, heads, heads of grain
Hebrew - head, heads
Hebrew - head, beheaded, heads
Hebrew - crown of the head, top of the head, crown of his head, crown of your head
Hebrew - ahead, head, headlong
Hebrew - at his head, head
Hebrew - head
Hebrew - grayheaded, hoar head, hoary head, gray head
Hebrew - shaving the head
Hebrew - head, axe head
Hebrew - tire of thine head, headdresses
Hebrew - head
Hebrew - bald head, head
Hebrew - shave his head

Literally, the uppermost part of the body considered to be the seat of life, but not the intellect and figuratively for first, top, or chief. The Jewish notion was that the heart was the center or seat of the intellect. “Head” meant the physical head of a person (Genesis 48:18; Mark 6:24) or of animals, such as a bull's head (Leviticus 1:4). It was often used to represent the whole person (Acts 18:6). Achish made David “keeper of mine head,” that is his bodyguard (1 Samuel 28:2).

“Head” was used frequently to refer to inanimate objects such as the summit of a mountain (Exodus 17:9), or the top of a building (Genesis 11:4). The word “head” often has the meaning of “source” or “beginning,” that of rivers (Genesis 2:10), streets (Ezekiel 16:25), or of periods of time (Judges 7:19, translated here as “beginning”).

In Psalms 118:22, “head of the corner” (cornerstone) refers metaphorically to a king delivered by God when others had given him up (compare Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7, where it is used in reference to the rejection of Christ). “Head” designated one in authority in the sense of the foremost person. It can mean leader, chief, or prince (Isaiah 9:15), and it can have the idea of first in a series (1 Chronicles 12:9). Israel was the “head” (translated “chief”) nation, God's firstborn (Jeremiah 31:7). Damascus was the “head” (capital) of Syria (Isaiah 7:8). A husband is the “head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23).

A distinctive theological use of the word “head” was seen in the New Testament concept of the “headship” of Christ. Christ is the “head” (kephale) of His body the church; the church is His “bride” (Ephesians 5:23-33). In His role as “head,” Christ enables the church to grow, knits her into a unity, nourishes her by caring for each member, and gives her strength to build herself up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16). Not only is Christ “head” of the church, but also He is “head” of the universe as a whole (Ephesians 1:22) and of every might and power (Colossians 2:10). The divine influences on the world result in a series: God is the “head” of Christ; Christ is the “head” of man; man is the “head” of the woman, and as such he is to love and care for his wife as Christ does His bride (1 Corinthians 11:3). This theological use of the word may be an extension of the Old Testament use of the word “head” for the leader of the tribe or community or may be a reaction to early Gnostic tendencies. See Gnosticism.

Because the head was the seat of life, value was placed on it. Injury to it was a chief form of defeating an enemy (Psalms 68:21). As part of contemptuous insult, the soldiers struck Jesus' head with a reed and crowned Him with a crown of thorns (Mark 15:16-19). Decapitation was a further insult after the defeat. Herodias, through treachery and out of spite, had John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:1-11). David cut off Goliath's head and brought it before Saul (1 Samuel 17:51). The Philistines cut off Saul's head (1 Samuel 31:9), and the sons of Rimmon cut off that of Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 4:7). Attested to in many inscriptions and portrayed on several monuments, it was common for the Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Egyptians to cut off the heads of their dead enemies slain in battle.

Conversely, blessing comes upon the head (Genesis 49:26); and, therefore, hands are laid on it (Genesis 48:17). Anointing the head with oil symbolized prosperity and joy (Psalms 23:5; Hebrews 1:9). In the service for ordination of priests and dedication to priestly service, the head of the high priest was anointed with oil (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 16:32). Human sins were transferred to the animal of the sin offering by laying on of hands upon the head of the animal (Exodus 29:10,Exodus 29:15,Exodus 29:19).

The head is involved in several colloquial expressions. The Jew swore by his head (Matthew 5:36). Sadness or grief was shown by putting the hand on the head or putting ashes on it (2 Samuel 13:19). In other instances, grief was shown by shaving the head (Job 1:20). To “heap coals of fire upon his head” was to make one's enemy feel ashamed by returning his evil with good (Proverbs 15:21-22; Romans 12:20). Wagging the head expressed derision (Mark 15:29), but bowing the head was a sign of humility (Isaiah 58:5). Finally, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).

Darlene R. Gautsch

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'HEAD'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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