Posted: 25 Mar 2011 12:00 AM PDT
IN THE CONTEMPORARY CLIMATE, a straightforward reading of Ephesians 5:21–33 is increasingly unpopular. Without descending to details, I shall venture my understanding of the flow of the passage.
(1) Oddly, the NIV prints Ephesians 5:21 ("Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.") as a separate paragraph. In the original, this is the last of a string of participial expressions that fill out what it means to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18): functionally, being filled with the Spirit means everything in 5:19–21. Moreover, the words "submit to one another" should not be taken in a mutually reciprocal way, as if exhorting all Christians to submit to one another reciprocally. For: (a) the verb "to submit" in Greek always refers to submission in some sort of ordered array, never to mutual deference; (b) the idea is then picked up in the following "household table" of duties: wives submit to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters (5:22–6:4); (c) the same vision of submission is repeated in the New Testament (Col. 3:18–19; Titus 2:4–5; 1 Pet. 3:1–6); (d) the Greek pronoun rendered "one another" is often not reciprocal (e.g., Rev. 6:4).
(2) Nevertheless, certain things must be said about the wife's submission to her husband (5:22–24). (a) It is not to be confused with certain pathetic stereotypes—groveling, self-pity, unequal pay for equal work (as if God were the God of injustice), and the like. (b) This submission is modeled on the church's responsibility to submit to Christ. This brings up large issues of typology that cannot be explored here. But practically, it ought to reduce nagging, belittling one's husband, browbeating manipulation, and the like. (c) This submission does not deny equal worth (both are made in the image of God) or perfect functional equality in many domains (e.g., sexual rights, in 1 Cor. 7).
(3) Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (5:25–33)—which at the very least means loving their wives self-sacrificially and for their good. More explicitly, the husband's love for his wife must mirror Christ's love for his church (a) in its self-sacrifice (5:25); (b) in its goal (5:26–28a), seeking her good and her holiness; (c) in its self-interest (5:28b–30)—for there is a kind of identification that the husband makes with his wife, as Christ identifies himself with his church; (d) in its typological fulfillment (5:31–33)—which again introduces huge typological structures that run right through the Bible.
The responsibilities of both husband and wife are dramatically opposed to self-interest.
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