Ephesians 5:21–33 on August 25/26, 2012

As mentioned previously, I hope that some preachers will take up the challenge of preaching on Ephesians this coming summer.

This means that they will need to study Ephesians 5:21–33 not only in itself but also in its liturgical context.

Because of the liturgical context, some preachers might choose to avail themselves of the short form of the reading to avoid an erroneous association of the Ephesians passage with the “hard saying of the gospel of the day.

Too many years ago (forty?!) Daniel Harrington wrote enlighteningly of the Ephesians passage (in Interpretation, I seem to recall; I can’t put my hands on it now); and I have kept track of writing on it ever since. I’ve distilled my understanding onto the first link above, helped by A Profound Mystery: The Use of the Old Testament in Ephesians by Thorsten Moritz (Leiden: Brill, 1996). All depends on the main verb in verse 21: Be subject to one another and is bracketed by verse 33. What Moritz calls a digression is for Harrington (I seem to recall) the central point in verse 30: because we are members of his body.

Shall we have a civil conversation?


  1. Over the years, we have occasionally proclaimed this passage of God’s word in a different manner, with the result that many people have developed a new appreciation for the passage – and for its author.

    Notes on the passage and its proclamation are in brackets: [The opening verse is repeated as a theme for the reading. Verses 21-24 are interwoven with verses 25-28. When this is done, both the continuity of each passage and the parallelism of the two are evident. Preferably, this should be proclaimed by a couple who have been married for many years.]

    Key to readers: B = Both; W = Wife; H = Husband

    B: Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.
    W: Wives should be submissive to their husbands
    H: Husbands, love your wives
    W: as if to the Lord
    H: as Christ loved the church
    W: because the husband is head of his wife
    H: he gave himself up for her to make her holy
    W: just as Christ is head of his body
    H: purifying her by the power of his word,
    to present to himself a glorious church
    W: the church
    H: holy and immaculate
    W: as well as its savior
    H: without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.
    W: As the church submits to Christ, so
    W: wives should submit to their husbands
    H: husbands should love their wives
    H: as they do their own bodies.
    W: in everything.
    B: Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.
    H: He who loves his wife loves himself.
    [added for parallel:]
    W: She who loves her husband loves herself.
    B: Observe that we never hate our own flesh;
    no, we nourish it and care for it, as Christ cares
    for the church for we are members of his body.
    “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother,
    and shall cling to his wife, and the two
    shall be made into one.” This a great foreshadowing;
    I mean that it refers to Christ and the church.
    Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.

  2. I think this text has something to say to us about genuine authority. The historical and cultural bound idea of a man as the head of the woman is problematic, especially in our sacramental understanding of marriage. I take it that the main idea is to defer to one another because of the love of Christ dwelling in us.

  3. “The historical and cultural bound idea of a man as the head of the woman is problematic,”

    In what way? For what reason?

    “I take it that the main idea is to defer to one another because of the love of Christ dwelling in us.”

    Yes. So there is no problem, is there?

    1. In the way that, for many centuries, women were considered property. In the way that they were not able to own anything or earn any income. On the cross, Jesus gave his mother to John: as a widow with no surviving male children, she’d have been royally screwed in the society of the day.

      Saying that a woman needs a man to be her “head” is just as insulting (and absurd) as saying that a man needs a woman to be his head. It is interesting, today, to hear the same arguments that were used to justify slavery being wheeled out to justify the continued oppression of 50% of God’s children.

      In creating us equal, God also created us uniquely. To put all men in one camp and all women in another camp is simply to stereotype. Variations within genders are, in my experience, wider than variations between genders and to say that someone should behave, think, feel or believe in any specific way simply because of their gender (or hair colour [blonde jokes, anyone?] or skin colour or number of functional limbs or anything else for that matter) is to impose our flawed judgement on them: something Christ explicitly commanded us to eschew.

      While I agree that the main idea espoused by the text under discussion is “to defer to one another because of the love of Christ dwelling in us”, that fact does not obscure or negate Bryon’s point about “the historical and cultural bound idea of a man as the head of the woman”.

  4. Fortuitously, a young woman preparing for her wedding mentioned this while our RCIA group was discussing the washing of the feet. The image of Christ as servant washing St Peter is near perfect here.

    Reading this passage with an exclusively exalted picture of Christ distorts St Paul’s point; the woman submits to the man who is compared to Christ. But Christ the servant submits to his Father’s will, providing a model for both woman and man. “Jesus is Lord” always exemplifies the paradoxical “the servant is Lord” as well as the straightforward royal imagery.

    IMO that is the issue with this passage. We too often come to Scripture with one sided ideas that distort what we read.

  5. Where do the celibate get their authority to comment on this?

    And where did Paul get his authority?

    This might rank up there with “his blood be upon us” as one of the most horrendous passages of scripture. How often over the centuries have people and marriages suffered because of Paul’s ridiculous command?

    Also, marriages are too unique and richly dynamic to serve as metaphor here. Every husband and every wife will understand it differently. If the language is metaphoric, it complicates rather than clarifies the message. If the language is absolute, it reflects a more — one person is superior to another in a loving relationship — that makes no sense.

    Paul should have stuck to fathers and children, like Jesus so radically did.

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