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Topic 40: “be subject to one another”


Ephesians 5:[21]  Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  [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. 

“The word which Paul uses to describe this order  — subordination — (The Greek word for subordination is hypotage, which is formed from the word tasso — to appoint, to order, to arrange, and hypo — under) — does not carry with it any notion of inferior value or oppression.  This term is used by Paul simply to refer to order in the relationship of man and woman to one another.  St. Paul teaches in 1 Cor. 11:7-9, ‘For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.)'”  (LCMS’ Commission on Theology and Church Relations “Women in the Church” [Sept. 1985]. pg. 23).

Thesis One: The Biblical word radically reinterprets the cultural patterns of its time.

(A) Jewish attitudes of the New Testament times are expressed in words like these: “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman,” and “When a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world; when a girl comes, nothing comes.”  In the synagogue women were assigned special places behind a screen.

(B) “The restricted role of women in the New Testament needs to be viewed in the light of attitudes toward women prevalent at that time” (Concordia Theological Monthly, June 79, page 134).

(C) “In the light of this background it is clear that New Testament authors did not introduce a subordinationist view of women as a new, central divine teaching that was in conflict with the view of Jewish and pagan society around them.  Rather, they shared or at least did not fully oppose, the views of their environments” (CTM, June 79, page 134).

(D To add verse 21 (“… upotassomenoi allelois en phobo theou…”) is the radical (evangelical) Christian reinterpretation of community and religious norms.

Thesis Two: Mutual submission is the Christ-like way.

(A) “[vs 21]… be subject to one another …”:  This verse establishes the framework of the entire passage: mutual voluntary submission; no spouse is superior or inferior in any way.

(1) (Much of the literature in discussing Ephesians 5 for some inexplicable reason begins with verse 22; for example, Zerbst, The Office of Women in the Church, pg. 80).

(2) The passages which relate to the role of women in marriage, Genesis 21:12, Ephesians 5:21-33, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Peter 3:1-7, all urge wives to submit to their husbands, yet reciprocally the responsibility of the husband is stressed.  In these passages husband and wife are seen as “joint heirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).

(3) “[21] …be subject to one another … [22] …(be subject) to your husbands …”:  The English verb (“ subject…”) in verse 22 is not in the Greek; rather, the verb from verse 21 is carried over as understood into verse 22.  Wifely submission is dependent upon the verb for mutual submission.  We cannot separate the issue of voluntary wifely submission from mutual submission.

(4) “When Paul speaks of wives submitting themselves to their husbands, he is building upon the concept that every Christian is intended to submit to every other Christian, to serve every other Christian, to defer lovingly to every other Christian” (Mollenkott, Women, Men, and the Bible, pg. 23).

(5) “Sometimes 5:21 is translated as if it begins a new section only incidentally related to the preceding section: ‘Submit to one another.’  But it is more likely that the Greek phrase ‘submitting to one another’ retains here its usual force in the context of the parallel phrases that precede it: a subordinate participial clause dependent on the preceding imperative.  In other words, the submission of 5:21, like the worship of 5:19-20, flows from being filled with God’s Spirit (v. 18)” (Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives, pg. 158).

(B) Clarifying “mutual submission”:

◆ “A woman who sees her rights and her dignity of being a human being as violated by the ‘obey’ clause in the marriage ceremony probably has never calculated the honor and dignity of being wife and mother worth the price of the loving service she owes her husband” (Naumann, “Natural Orders,” The Springfielder, Vol. XXXIII, No. 4 [March 1970], pg. 8).

(1) Paul does not use the word “obey” for wives toward husbands (he does use “obey” [upakouo] for both children [Ephesians 6:1] and slaves [Ephesians 6:5]).

(2) There is no reference to the husband possessing authority “over” his wife.

(3) No permission is given for the husband to demand that his wife submit to his authority.

(4) The husband is not given leave “to rule” the wife or “to be lord” over her.

(5) There is no reference here to a “chain of command.”

(6) “This passage depicts marriage not as a hierarchical organization, but as a living, unified (head and body) organism” (Groothius, Good News for Women, pg. 153).

(7) Christ is himself the provider of definitional content for “head”: self-giving, cherishing, self-sacrificing, nourishing; not exercising domineering authority and rule.

(8) The thrust in this passage is not to the Christ “possessing authority” over the Church, but to the Church’s willing self-subjection to Christ.

(9) “Christ’s self-humbling and voluntary self-humiliation is pictured as a model for the Christian husband, not for the wife at all” (Mollenkott, pg. 123).

(10) Culture and society do not define the roles, but rather the pattern between Christ and his Bride, the Church.

(11) The ideal is “one flesh” (5:31), achieved when there is mutual submission prompted by the Spirit.

(12) “Masters are not directed in the Bible to have slaves submissive to them; men are not directed to have wives submissive to them.  The directive is always toward the person under authority, that they should bear it without concern.  Therefore, it is humility that is being called for on the part of both men and women” (Dentinger, “Women in the Church,” pg. 6).

(13) The address of a word of submission to one person is not simultaneously a word of superordination and domination to the other party.  To ask women (in a specific context) to be submissive or silent is not an order to males (or even the church!) to subject women to lesser status or silence or exclude them from certain functions.

Thesis Two: The concept of kephale is not applied in the Scriptures to the public ministry.

(A) The concept kephale is not used of any office within the early Christian church within the New Testament.

(B) The term is used only in the context of the marriage relationship.

(C) Therefore, any application of this concept to the church’s ministry is an inference which does not have direct warrant in the text itself (Priebe, “Some Observations on the Orders of Creation and the Office of the Ministry”).