Head of the House

According to scripture, who is to be the head of the house? What does does it mean to be head of a family?

The word translated as head is ro’sh (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/rosh.html).  The NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon defines this word as:

  1. head, top, summit, upper part, chief, total, sum, height, front, beginning
    1. head (of man, animals)
    2. top, tip (of mountain)
    3. height (of stars)
    4. chief, head (of man, city, nation, place, family, priest)
    5. head, front, beginning
    6. chief, choicest, best
    7. head, division, company, band
    8. sum

So in short, it is the best, the chief, the one in front, the leader. Here are some of the uses of the term, to give you an understanding of its usage. I have left out most of passages which speak of head as a person’s head.

Exodus 6:14

These are the heads of their fathers’ households. The sons of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn: Hanoch and Pallu, Hezron and Carmi; these are the families of Reuben.

Exodus 6:25

Aaron’s son Eleazar married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ households of the Levites according to their families.

Exodus 18:25

Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.

Numbers 1:16

“These are they who were called of the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of divisions of Israel.”

Numbers 7:2

2 Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of their fathers’  households, made an  offering (they were the leaders of the tribes ; they were the ones who were over the numbered men).

Numbers 10:4

4 “Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you.

Numbers 25:4

4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.”

Deuteronomy 1:15

15 “So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you, leaders of thousands and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes

Deuteronomy 5:23

23 “And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders

Deuteronomy 20:9

9 “When the officers have finished speaking to the people, they shall appoint commanders of armies at the head of the people.

Deuteronomy 29:10

10 “You stand today, all of you, before the LORD your God : your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel,

Deuteronomy 32:42

42 ‘I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword will devour flesh, With the blood of the slain and the captives, From the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’

Joshua 11:10

10 Then Joshua turned back at that time, and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword ; for Hazor formerly was the head of all these kingdoms.

Joshua 21:1

1 Then the heads of households of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of households of the tribes of the sons of Israel.

Judges 7:16

16 He divided the 300 * men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers.

Judges 7:19-20

19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just posted the watch ; and they blew thetrumpets and smashed the pitchers that were in their hands. 20 When the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers, they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing, and cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon !”

1 Samuel 15:17

17 Samuel said, “Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel ? And the LORD anointed you king over Israel,

2 Samuel 22:44

44 “You have also delivered me from the contentions of my people ; You have kept me as head of the nations ; A people whom I have not known serve me.

1 Chronicles 8:28

28 These were heads of the fathers’ households according to their generations, chief men who lived in Jerusalem.

1 Chronicles 11:42

42 Adina the son of Shiza the Reubenite, a chief of the Reubenites, and thirty with him,

1 Chronicles 12:9

9 Ezer was the first, Obadiah the second, Eliab the third,

1 Chronicles 12:14

14 These of the sons of Gad were captains of the army ; he who was least was equal to a hundred and the greatest to a thousand.

1 Chronicles 27:3

3 He was from the sons of Perez, and was chief of all the commanders of the army for the first month.

Nehemiah 12:7

7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah. These were the heads of the priests and their kinsmen in the days of Jeshua.

Nehemiah 12:46

46 For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God.

Psalm 18:43

43 You have delivered me from the contentions of the people ; You have placed me as head of the nations ; A people whom I have not known serve me.

Proverbs 8:2

2 On top of the heights beside the way, Where the paths meet, she takes her stand ;

Proverbs 8:23

23 “From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.


Looking at the multitude of scripture where ro’sh is used, it is evident the heads of the father’s households, heads of families, heads of tribes, heads of nations were men and they were leaders. In fact, ro’sh is translated as leader or chief in a number of places.

The word ro’sh is used 595 times in the Old Testament: bands 1, beginning 11, beheaded* 1, best 1, best things 1, bodyguard* 1, captains 3, census 7, chief 35, chief men 6, chiefs 3, companies 7, company 5, corner 1, count 1, distant 1, divisions 1, ends 2, every 1, faced* 1, favor* 1, finest 2, first 12, full 2, hair 3, head 256, heads 129, laughingstock* 1, leader 4, leaders 8, leading man 1, leading men 2, masters 1, released* 1, ridge 2, rivers 1, sum 2, summit 7, themselves 1, top 51, topmost 2, topmost* 1, tops 15.

 But even where it is translated as head, there are two meanings: a person’s head, and the one in charge.

Every place in the Old Testament where ro’sh is used concerning a person, the word is used to mean a person’s head, a group of people (company of men), the position of honor (at the front of the people), the top, the beginning, the first, or to indicate the person in charge of a family or a tribe. In the case of a person in charge of a family, the gender is male, and he is the one who makes decisions for the family and its resources.

Ok, so what about the New Testament?

The word translated as head (as in head of house) is oikodepotes. It comes from oikos, which means house, and despotes, which means master or lord (one with absolute power). Oikodepotes means “master of the house, householder.” That is to say, the one who makes decisions regarding a home.

Luke 12:39

” But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.

Luke 13:25

“Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘ Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘ I do not know where you are from.’

Luke 14:21

“And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’

In every case in the New Testament, the head of the house is the owner. This is the one who gets to determine what happens in his house. However, this is not exactly the term used when speaking of Christ being the head.

1 Corinthians 11:3

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

This word is kephale. It means:

  1. the head, both of men and often of animals. Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment.
  2. metaph. anything supreme, chief, prominent
    1. of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife
    2. of Christ: the Lord of the husband and of the Church
    3. of things: the corner stone

In most cases where this word is used, it is speaking of the head of a person or animal, much like ro’sh in the Old Testament. And similarly to ro’sh, kephale also speaks of being supreme, chief, prominent. In this regard, being the head of the church is the leader. In the same way, being the head in a marriage is to be the leader.

Kephale is the same word used by Paul to describe Jesus’ relationship to the church in Ephesians 1:22

22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

In this verse, we see all things are in subjection to Christ, and He is the head over all things to (for) the church. And in the same way, the husband is to be head of the wife.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for this excellent post. It is very important, as a woman, to see God has a specific plan for His people. He has given men a role and a responsibility in the home as leaders and wives (as we see in Proverbs 31, Ephesians 5, etc) the responsibility to care for the man, family, and home. The first ministry God gives a married woman is her family and home!!

    • You’re welcome. And I think the first ministry for both man and woman is their family – they simply have different roles within that ministry.

  2. The word translated as head (as in head of house) is oikodepotes. It comes from oikos, which means house, and despotes, which means master or lord (one with absolute power). Oikodepotes means “master of the house, householder.” That is to say, the one who makes decisions regarding a home.

    Yep, we wives have a TALL order!

    wb, are you aware that Paul refers to the WIFE as the oikodespoteō? Check it out for yourself:

    And nowhere in the NT are HUSBANDS referred to by this term (despite all the Christian mythology that “husbands are the head of the household”).

    • I agree. Women of God have a lot on their shoulders. As do men of God.

      The only place oikodespoteō is used in the New Testament is 1 Timothy 5:14. It is a verb, not a noun or adjective, and speaks of the fact that widows should marry and run their homes. This is reflected in Proverbs 31:10-31.

      But men are very obviously considered to be head of the house in both the Old and New Testaments. Take a look at the usage of oikodespotēs. It is a masculine noun and is only used to describe men. That term is translated as land owner and head of house.

      The qualifications for elder/overseer and deacons are that a man should rule/manage his household well to be able to rule a congregation.

      When we take it even farther and look at the term head, as was used in reference to Christ and men, kephalē, we see

      The same word that is translated as “chief” (meaning more important) is translated as “head” in describing Christ in relation to men and men in relation to women. And before one thinks this is in reference to anything other than authority, we see that in 1Cr 11:3, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” And then in 1Cr 11:10 that the woman is to have a symbol of authority on her head, “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” And we see in Eph 1:22 that God put all things in subjection to Christ and made Christ head (leader) over all things to the church: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” Of course, being head entails much more than simply leadership – it means source of sustenance (food enters the body through the head, and in the same way, the leader provides for his household).

      I’m afraid for those who do not want to follow what God said concerning male leadership in the home and in church, you are going against scripture. God has made it quite clear men are to lead in the home and in the church.
      Genesis 3:16

      16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children ; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”

      1 Timothy 2:12-14

      12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

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