Ephesians 5:21-23, Egalitarianism and Ben Irwin

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Complementarianism, Culture, General

Well, not totally doing this in a chronological order, but I felt I should tackle this portion of Ben’s objections next!

Ben states the following:

“Aaron also cites Ephesians 5:22-23, claiming that Paul couldn’t have endorsed mutual submission, since he told wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. This is a better argument, though I suspect that as with most analogies, Paul wasn’t trying to suggest the husband-wife relationship is like that of Christ and the church in every way.

More importantly, Aaron didn’t account for two vital pieces of context. The first can be found just one verse prior, in Ephesians 5:21.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This is the governing statement for everything Paul says in the “household codes” of Ephesians  5:22–6:9. In fact, the Greek word for submit (hupotasso) doesn’t even occur in verse 22; it has to be supplied from verse 21. Grammatically and logically, then, Paul appears to subordinate the wife’s submission to the greater call for mutual submission. Which convinces me that the wife’s submission and the husband’s love (Eph. 5:25) are in some ways two sides of the same coin for Paul.

Second, we have to look at the historical/cultural context of the “household codes” in letters like Ephesians and Colossians. Rachel Held Evans has a good summary on her blog, but the short(-ish) version is that these codes were relatively common in first-century correspondence. You can find similar codes in the writings of Philo and Josephus, for example. The household codes were considered vital to the preservation of Roman society and the all-importantpater familias. Any attempt to undermine the established system would have drawn unwelcome scrutiny from the authorities. So for the sake of the gospel, it was necessary to defer to Roman cultural sensibilities about how a family should be run.”

Now, there are a few issues with the section above, so let’s work through them, shall we?

First of all, let’s look at our text in question! Always a good thing to have the text in front of you when dealing with these things!

Eph 5:18-6:9 (NASB)

18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19  speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20  always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21  and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

22  Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

25  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26  so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

6:1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;  not by way of eye service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,  knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Let’s deal with the first part:

“Aaron also cites Ephesians 5:22-23, claiming that Paul couldn’t have endorsed mutual submission, since he told wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. This is a better argument, though I suspect that as with most analogies, Paul wasn’t trying to suggest the husband-wife relationship is like that of Christ and the church in every way.”

My actual argument can be found here: http://www.christian.co.uk/opinions/is-leadership-male-part-3-p11034

I thought this was a bit of a weak response to my argument. When we look at the text, we can see a few things. Firstly, as always, what is the context of this passage? It is the filling of the Holy Spirit which results in a number of different things, singing, thanks giving and submission. The section we are most interested in here is in reference to submission – so looking at 5:21 through to 6:9, we see many instances of different examples of submission being given here. I agree with Ben that we cannot take the analogy to mean the relationship is to cover every aspect of the relationship of Christ to the Church, so the question is then, in reference to Ben’s objection, in what way or aspect is the wife to demonstrate in her relationship with her husband in fulfilling the analogy of the Church and Christ? Well, if we look at the pattern of what is being said from 5:21 to 6:9, we should be able to see. You should see the fact that v22-24 is talking about a wife’s submission and subjection to her husband, in v25-33 we see that love is given in reciprocation. In 6:1-3 we see that children are to be obedient to their parents, in v4 we can see that the children are to be brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord ( one brings to mind the general relationship between discipline and love mentioned in Hebrews 12:6).
In 6:5 we see that slaves are to be obedient to their masters, and in v9 masters are to be good to their slaves and not threaten them.

In every section, there is the repeating motif of submission, subjection or obedience to be rendered, and love, kindness, respect and sincerity to be reciprocated. The submission is, in every case, to that of an authority- the submission always goes one way.  Clearly therefore, the aspect of the analogy that is in place is in reference to submission to Christ’s authority – this being more clearly shown with the larger context of the other two examples given of children and parents, and slaves and masters. Certainly no one would possibly argue that a child is to have authority over a parent (indeed this would be called a disobedient child, a characteristic mentioned in the many sins in 2 timothy 3:2 that would become more prevalent in the last days). Nor could someone say that a slave has authority over the master! A slave, by definition has no authority over the master!

Therefore, in view of the relationship of Christ and the Church to the husband and the wife, we should note that the wife should render, in fulfilling the analogy, submission and subjection to the husband’s delegated authority. As I said before – it is simply unthinkable to conceive that Christ is submissive to the Church.

It may also be worth noting that nowhere in scripture – nowhere – does it ever speak of a husband told to be in subjection to the wife. It speaks many times of loving their wives, but never being in subjection to them. A hard thing to miss in scripture I think! If it is to be as the egalitarians would have us believe, such a clear idea for God’s design for husbands and wives, I think we would expect to see at least some verses that stated otherwise – but alas, it is not.

So, we read on:

“More importantly, Aaron didn’t account for two vital pieces of context. The first can be found just one verse prior, in Ephesians 5:21.”

Yes, I did leave this verse out, for two reasons.

1) I wanted to focus more on the specifics that the apostle gave in reference to v21
2) I only have one article with a limited word count to reply to both of Ben’s, therefore had little room for being as verbose as I am here. I didn’t manage to cover as much as I should have.

However, I now have no such restriction, so we shall deal with this verse and the subsequent objections!

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

This is the governing statement for everything Paul says in the “household codes” of Ephesians  5:22–6:9.

I wonder why Ben thinks that this should be the overriding governing statement for the rest of the section? An assertion alone simply won’t do! Perhaps it is what comes next:

“In fact, the Greek word for submit (hupotasso) doesn’t even occur in verse 22; it has to be supplied from verse 21.”

That is indeed correct, albeit there are some later manuscripts that have hupotasso in them in verse 21 – but let’s assume for the minute that we run with the earlier manuscripts, which I think would probably be the better reading. What Ben has left out, knowingly or otherwise, is that hupotasso is used in v24, reaffirming what has already been said in v22, so his dismissal of v22 on the basis of a missing word simply won’t help his case here. Frankly, even if the word was missing completely, it still wouldn’t be a case to promote what he is attempting to assert here:

Grammatically and logically, then, Paul appears to subordinate the wife’s submission to the greater call for mutual submission. “

Wrong.

First of all, as I mentioned in the previous section and also in my article, this kind of thinking would make mincemeat of the apostle’s use of the analogy of Christ and the Church, which is why I brought up the argument in the first place! Furthermore, if consistency is to be pushed, why does Ben limit the mention of v21’s mutual submission to v22-24? If he was to be consistent, he would have to force that submission upon the relationship of the parents and children, and the masters and slaves – not only then, would we have children telling parents what to do, but slaves telling masters what to do- a reversal of the roles – and one that makes the idea of a master and a slave incoherent and the relationship between children and parents silly. So by asserting this position, he has made the apostles commands incoherent. Grammatically and logically then, Paul cannot be calling for the kind of submission Ben has in mind, it just isn’t possible.
Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in the article on this matter, but hopefully that is now cleared up.

So what IS the purpose of v21 then?

Generally in the New Testament, Christians in the church are called to be humble and submissive to each other as a general principle, consider:

Phil 2:3:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Why is this the case?

Because as v5-11 in the same context states:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As with all the Christian life, our motivation for doing what we do is in reference to Christ and the gospel.

So, therefore, it is out of this general principle (not a governing or over-ridding one) of Christians submitting to other Christians that Paul gives specifics admonition to the wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters. Paul is simply bringing further clarification on top of the existing principle.

We go on:

Which convinces me that the wife’s submission and the husband’s love (Eph. 5:25) are in some ways two sides of the same coin for Paul.”

Yes, I would agree – however, this would be a complementarian view, not an egalitarian one, as that would involve two coins. Wife’s submission and husbands love being one, and the husband’s submission and the wife’s love being another.

Further we read:

Second, we have to look at the historical/cultural context of the “household codes” in letters like Ephesians and Colossians. Rachel Held Evans has a good summary on her blog, but the short(-ish) version is that these codes were relatively common in first-century correspondence. You can find similar codes in the writings of Philo and Josephus, for example. The household codes were considered vital to the preservation of Roman society and the all-importantpater familias. Any attempt to undermine the established system would have drawn unwelcome scrutiny from the authorities. So for the sake of the gospel, it was necessary to defer to Roman cultural sensibilities about how a family should be run.”

I do find, often, when reading egalitarian views, objections or questions, they all have one thing in common – an over-arching consistency between most of them in finding ways to get around the clarity of passages by obfuscating them in favour of questionable or dubious historical sources or supposed situations.

Before we ever turn to historical sources, we should be certainly sure that we have scanned the scriptures themselves for answers in reference to the questions we have, and even then, if we cannot get anything clearer, we should look to the historical information we have – and be fearfully sure that the sources we are using are reliable!

In the above case, it is a matter of not looking at the apostle’s argument close enough!

You can read through the above information if you wish, however, one simply has to ask, what is the apostles reason for grounding the submission of the wife to the husband? Is the grounding some contemporary Greco-Roman idea, or is it, much more in character with Paul, the scriptures themselves?

It is of course, the latter.

What is Paul’s over all understanding of the roles of husbands and wives?

You can note that the reason Paul has given is found here in v23:

For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church,”

So, what is this concept of headship? The Greek word is kephale, means “to have authority over”

Of course, there is disputation about this by the egalitarians, however, I think the objections have been quite readily dealt with by Wayne Grudem  in his article “The Meaning Of kefale (“Head”):

An Evaluation Of New Evidence, Real And Alleged” here: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/kephale.pdf

So, with that in mind, where else does the term ‘kephale’ get used, within the same kind of context we are discussing? We find it in 1 Corinthians 11:3 amongst a discussion of how a woman is to prophesy and pray in church (which I will cover in another aspect of Ben’s objection to my point, but I shall stay on topic for this section)

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. 

So, how does Paul ground this idea of headship? What reason does he give for the husband being the head of the wife? Christ and the church and God and Christ to be sure, however, there is also another interesting mention a few verses down:

For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. “

Paul’s understanding of this headship is also grounded in the creation account of the man being made before woman in Genesis 2! He appeals to this to show that there is a particular authority inherent in this created order!

So, having looked at another aspect to Paul’s understanding of husbands and wives, men and women, we have then go back to our previous question, what is the apostles reason for grounding the submission of the wife to the husband? Conformity to Greco-Roman household codes? Clearly not! Paul, being consistent with himself, refers to the creation order as the reason! This is what I also think he means when he mentions ‘just as the law says’ here :

1 Cor 14:34
“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”

So this objection that Ben has raised by appealing to historical cultural norms is not what the apostle had in mind at all, therefore is an invalid objection.

Having now looked at the Eph 5 objections, I will, God willing, look at the rest of Ben’s objections soon! Thanks for your patience!

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Thanks for your response to Ben’s articles, I appreciate the thorough-ness of your arguments.

  2. […] Pureantithesis on Ephesians 5:21-23, Egalitarian… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s