INTRODUCTION

In Ephesians 5:22-23 the Apostle Paul is outlining several different things to the new believers in Ephesus. Readings of the previous verses will reveal a fatherly approach to the Christian life. Paul discusses where the Ephesians came from, the importance of Unity, and in this section he is moving into family life[1].

The passage also includes a beautiful image of Christ as the head of the church, and speaks of how Christ loved the church so much that he sacrificed himself for her. The Apostle Paul uses the model of Christ loving his church as a model on how husbands and wives should live out their faith. As Christ poured himself out for the church, husbands and wives should pour themselves out to each other in mutual submission and love. In his book Jesus the Bridegroom Dr. Brant Pitre states, “In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul not only describes the sacrificial death of Christ for the Church in terms of a husband’s love for his wife: he also explicitly describes the love between Christ and the church as a great mystery[2].”

This great passage from Ephesians tells us about how spouses should love, respect, and treat each other. In doing so it tells of the love that Christ has for his church, and brings to mind everything He had to endure to claim us as his own.

HISTORICAL/LITERARY CONTEXT

To understand this passage from the book of Ephesians we must first understand the historical context in which it was written. The Letter was written between 60-62A.D. by the Apostle Paul, and is not addressed to anyone specifically. There were some in the early church who speculated that this let was the “letter to the Laodiceans” referred to in Colossians 4:16[3]. To be fair there are many similarities between the letters, but Ephesians was a general letter that discussed more than one topic.

It is considered one of the “prison Epistles” and was written while Paul was in captivity. The Epistle was written to new Believers in Ephesus to give them instruction on doctrine and church life. In this regard Brooke Westcott states, “The unity of life, of all life, nay of all being, of the seen and the unseen: and, specially the fellowship of man with men and of man with God. The Epistle to the Ephesians.… in the fewest words commends this aspect of Creation to us, and it is … of intense practical significance[4].”

Ephesus was a huge city that had many pagan roots. It was not only an economic power, but was home to the Temple of the goddess Diana. As part of the worship of this goddess there were prostitutes for the goddess on the streets. The people could experience the goddess on a more intimate level by engaging in sexual acts with the prostitutes[5]. Paul is encouraging the new believers in Ephesus by telling them where they came from, how they were saved, how to live, and how to live with each other.

The Literary context in which Paul writes is much different than other letters he has written. In most Pauline letters Paul addresses his audience specifically, but this designation is omitted in Ephesians[6]. Paul also refers to the church as a congregation and not as a universal Christian people. The passage of Ephesians 5:22-33 fits in with what Paul is trying to teach the believers.

Paul tells the women in verse 22 to be submissive to your husbands. When taken alone this passage is very controversial, but when taken in context it is a beautiful imagery of mutual love between spouses. To illustrate this Ephesians 5:21 states, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ[7].” One needs to look no further to see that Paul is not teaching for men to be dominating over their spouse, but quite the opposite. They are to love their wives as they love themselves.

The literary context of the 5:22-33 can be further illustrated using 6:1 which states, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right[8].” Paul is talking about everyone’s role within the Christian household and how it will help maintain unity and cohesion in a city with so much immorality.

EXEGETICAL ANALYSIS

The passage in question is Ephesians 5:22-33 which states, “22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; 33 however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband[9].”

  1. Submission of Wives and Husbands

When it comes to the Christian household wives are addressed first. Some translations of scripture tell the wives to “submit”, but the Greek word used here means something different. The word used by Paul in the Greek is hupotassō, it means to “order oneself under[10].” Though it is true that the word can mean “obey”, but to get the precise meaning the passage must be read in context. Verse 21 is one of mutual submission, so it makes little sense to tell someone to obey someone else immediately after. In this case a “wife’s submission is not coerced, and is a free and voluntary act[11].” This is further illustrated when verse 33 is read. Ephesians 5:33 states, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband[12].” In this verse we see the word “respect.” In the Greek Paul wrote the word phobetai which means “fear[13].” This is not a fear like a fear of being bitten by a shark. This “fear” is the reverence and fear of the Lord[14]. Paul writes this to not put women down but to lift up the community of believers. It is a lesson in Christian unity. Paul knows that man and woman are equal and says so in Galatians 3:28. In that passage Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus[15].”

In verses 23-24 Paul compares the husband to Christ who is the head of the church. In this regard the husband is the head of the family, and therefore Paul says that the wife, though equal, should respect her husband. The authority that Christ has comes from his love for the church and his sacrifice for it[16]. Therefore the authority that the husband has comes from his sacrificial love for his wife. If anything the husband is held to a much higher standard in family life. This is best illustrated by looking at verse 25 which states, “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her[17].”

  1. Husbands are to Love as Christ Loved the Church

If the husband is to love as Christ loved the church then there is nothing that a husband would not do for his wife. A husband would be willing to suffer, deny himself, and do everything possible to love and provide for his spouse[18]. The Pulpit Commentary states, “This parallel restores the balance; if it should seem hard for the wife to be in subjection, the spirit of love, Christ-like love, on the part of the husband makes the duty easy[19].” Paul was writing to the Ephesians and the husbands of the time reigned like tyrants over their wives. They now have a much bigger responsibility and that is to build up his marriage and family. When put into context it shows a loving and nurturing relationship where the husband puts the needs of his spouse before his own. Paul puts it very eloquently when he writes, “Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself[20]

  1. Husbands and Wives are One Flesh

Verse 28 plainly says that a husband should love his wife as he loves himself. Verse 31 emphasizes this unity of the two by saying, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh[21].” Here Paul goes back to the beginning of scripture and directly quotes Genesis 2:24, and again emphasizes that the husband and wife relationship is like the relationship between Christ and his church[22]. The Septuagint translation of Genesis 2:24 contains the Greek word ἀντὶ τούτου, which means “for this cause[23].”

It is the unique relationship between a husband a wife that a man leaves his father and mother and lives with his wife. The man does not abandon his father and mother, but leaves to fulfill a higher purpose in God’s plan. In a similar way Jesus left his father in heaven and came to be with his bride, the church. Russell Moore writes in regard to the two becoming one flesh, “The drive toward marital unity is powerful, so powerful that it can feel as wild as fire. In Paul’s theology, this universal truth is because the one-flesh union points beyond itself to the union of Christ and his church[24].”

  1. The Great Mystery

Through the course of these passages Paul has been writing about the roles of husbands and wives, and relating that back to Christ and the church. In verse 32 Paul pauses and writes, “This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church[25].” The relationship between spouses and Christ and the church are similar to the foundations of the world[26]. Marriage on Earth is representative of the divine union between Christ and the church. This is the great mystery that Paul refers to. In regards to the Church Paul previously said that he “loved her” (agapao in Greek) and gave himself for her. At that moment Christ is fulfilling his role as the Divine Bridegroom and the new Adam joined his wife to become one flesh[27]. Part of the mystery that Paul refers to is the hidden meaning in Genesis that may is interpreted in a Typological fashion when the New Covenant has been established[28].

In this typology the Adam and Eve are joined as one flesh from the side of Adam, and the Church is joined to Christ through his side that was pierced by the spear at the crucifixion. It is an eye opening passage that paints marriage in a new light and underscores its role in salvation history. This view is confirmed by D.A. Carson who writes, “At one level, then, Paul’s teaching on marriage is grounded in the Old Testament, while at another level the church’s marriage to Christ is prefigured in Adam and Eve[29].”

APPLICATION

There are several applications of Ephesians 5:22-33 which are applicable for the believers of today. Just as in Paul’s time there are some wives who are taken advantage of. In some cases verse 22 is taken out of context as justification for it. Just like the early church, and the church of today, we must keep everything in context. Husbands are not to be tyrants and treating their wives badly. In verse 28 Paul says that he who loves his wife loves himself[30]. Using that logic if a man loves himself he would love his wife just as much if not more so.

Verse 22 is also taken out of context by some feminists groups who say that Christianity is all about oppressing women. A further reading into the passage will prove that theory false. Ephesians 5:22-33 equality that men and women have, because the two become one. How can one flesh oppress half of itself? The church has certainly made mistakes in the past, and will most likely continue to do so. That is because there is a human factor in the church, and it is not because God wants to demean women.

Lastly is the recognition as the church as the bride of Christ. Everything we can apply from this passage hangs on that. Wives submit to their husbands out of reverence for Christ, and husbands love their wives the same way that Christ loves the church. This also means as a husband that we are to forgive and put ourselves second for the good of our spouse. Through our profession of faith in Christ we have become part of his body, and we are now his bride. We are to submit to him and therefore verse 22 comes full circle.

CONCLUSION

This passage of scripture has a lot of content that can be easily glossed over. If we read superficially we may miss the typology with Genesis, or that the great mystery spoken of is the union between Christ and the church. In fact that union is something that we hear often, and we tend to think that it is a nice little metaphor. When we exegete a passage properly it brings so much more meaning then we could ever fathom.

Ephesians 5:22-33 is an ever present reminder of marriage functionality, love, respect, and physical and spiritual union. As Christ loves the church so husbands should love their wives. As wives love Christ so should they respect their husbands. Christ is the center of it all and both spouses must always remember that.

This assignment has been very beneficial in allowing this passage to be seen properly. Sacrificial love and respect are what make successful marriages according to Paul. He relates it to Christ and the church so it is a big deal. We just need to realize that?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“A Survey and Outline of the Book of Ephesians.” foundations for freedom. Accessed May 1, 2015. http:/​/​foundationsforfreedom.net/​References/​NT/​Pauline/​Ephesians/​Ephesians0/​Ephesians0_Survey.html.

Anders, Max. Holman New Testament Commentary: Galatians and Ephesians. Nashville, TN: Broadman &​ Holman Publishers, 1999.

———. Holman New Testament Commentary: Galatians and Ephesians. Nashville, TN: Broadman &​ Holman Publishers, 1999.

Blaikie, W. G., ed. The Pulpit Commentary: Ephesians. New York, NY: Funk &​ Wagnalls Company, 1990.

Bratcher, Robert G., and Eugene A. Nida. Ephesians: A Translators Handbook. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1982.

Carson, D.A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

———.a., ed. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B.eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.

———.A. ed. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B.eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.

Moore, Russell D. “Man, Woman, And the Mystery of Christ: An Evangelical Protestant Perspective.” JETS: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 58, no. 1 (2015, March 1): 89-94.

Neufeld, Thomas R. Yoder. Believers Church Bible Commentary: Ephesians. Scottdale, PN: Herald Press, 2001.

Pitre, Brant. Jesus the Bridegroom. New York, NY: Image Books, 2014.

———. Jesus the Bridegroom. New York, NY: Image Books, 2014.

Simeon, Charles. HORÆ HOMILETICÆ: Galatians and Ephesians. London, ENGLAND: Holdsworth and Ball, 1933.

Spence-jones, H. D. M, ed. Ephesians. London, NY: Funk &​ Wagnalls Company, 1909.

Westcott, B. F., and J. M. Schulhof, eds. Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: The Greek Text with Notes and Addenda. London;NY: The Macmillan Company, 1909.

Williamson, Peter S. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.

[1] D.A. Carson, ed., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 65.

[2] Brant Pitre, Jesus the Bridegroom (New York, NY: Image Books, 2014), 112.

[3] W. G. Blaikie, ed., The Pulpit Commentary: Ephesians (New York, NY: Funk &​ Wagnalls Company, 1990), iv.

[4] B. F. Westcott and J. M. Schulhof, eds., Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: The Greek Text with Notes and Addenda (London; NY: The Macmillan Company, 1909), lxiii.

[5] “A Survey and Outline of the Book of Ephesians,” foundations for freedom, accessed May 1, 2015, http:/​/​foundationsforfreedom.net/​References/​NT/​Pauline/​Ephesians/​Ephesians0/​Ephesians0_Survey.html.

[6] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 480.

[7] Ephesians 5:21 (Revised Standard Version).

[8] Ephesians 6:1 (Revised Standard Version).

[9] Ephesians 5:22-33 (Revised Standard Version).

[10] Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Believers Church Bible Commentary: Ephesians (Scottdale, PN: Herald Press, 2001), 217.

[11] Peter S Williamson, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 316.

[12] Ephesians 5:33 (Revised Standard Version).

[13] Max Anders, Holman New Testament Commentary: Galatians and Ephesians (Nashville, TN: Broadman &​ Holman Publishers, 1999), 174.

[14] Ibid, 174.

[15] Galatians 3:28 (Revised Standard Version).

[16] Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, Ephesians: A Translators Handbook (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1982), 139.

[17] Ephesians 5:25 (Revised Standard Version).

[18] Charles Simeon, HORÆ HOMILETICÆ: Galatians and Ephesians (London, ENGLAND: Holdsworth And Ball, 1933), 402.

[19] H. D. M Spence-jones, ed., Ephesians (London, NY: Funk &​ Wagnalls Company, 1909), 212.

[20] Ephesians 5:28 (Revised Standard Version).

[21] Ephesians 5:31 (Revised Standard Version).

[22] Max Anders, Holman New Testament Commentary: Galatians and Ephesians (Nashville, TN: Broadman &​ Holman Publishers, 1999), 175.

[23] B. F. Westcott and J. M. Schulhof, eds., Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: The Greek Text with Notes and Addenda (London;NY: The Macmillan Company, 1909), 86.

[24] Russell D. Moore, “Man, Woman, And the Mystery of Christ: An Evangelical Protestant Perspective,” JETS: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58, no. 1 (2015, March 1): 90.

[25] Ephesians 5:32 (Revised Standard Version).

[26] Charles Simeon, HORÆ HOMILETICÆ: Galatians and Ephesians (London, ENGLAND: Holdsworth and Ball, 1933), 414.

[27] Brant Pitre, Jesus the Bridegroom (New York, NY: Image Books, 2014), 113.

[28] Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, Ephesians: A Translators Handbook (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1982), 146.

[29] D.A. Carson, ed., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 65.

[30] Ephesians 5:28 (Revised Standard Version).

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