“Why do so many people concentrate on Ephesians 5:22-23 and skip over Ephesians 5:21?” – asks Christian marriage blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire, in response to this Pinterest post.
Interesting question. First, it’s not really a question, it’s a statement of assumption veiled as a question.
Second, I don’t think it’s a matter of, “so many people […] skipping over ….” I think it’s a matter of Bible exegesis. Some people (like Darrell and I) interpret the marriage paradigm as a complementarian, believing that verse 21 is a concluding sentence for Ephesians 5:1-20. They’re not ‘skipping over it’ from ignorance or even fear, they simply believe it’s not part of the instruction to wives and husbands. Others, that interpret marriage from the egalitarian paradigm, believe that verse 21 is a topic sentence for Ephesians 5:21-33.
Complementarian or Egalitarian?
It’s an important question that’ll make a big difference in your marriage: Are you a complementarian or an egalitarian?
In simple terms, complementarians favour specific gender roles for husbands and wives, each with their own power and purpose. Sometimes it’s referred to as Biblical hierarchy, bridal paradigm, or Christ’s bride/body. While, egalitarians favour interchangeability of power and gender roles because they don’t define a leader; but also favouring a designated role split. It’s referred to as equality, mutual submission, or 50/50.
To be fair, the Bible doesn’t refer to either classification – we call them these names to differentiate between the two schools of thought. Complementarians interpret verse 21 to be the conclusion of corporate instruction. Egalitarians interpret verse 21 to be the preface for the marriage instructions.
The quick response to Sheila’s statement is: Verse 21 has nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with the corporate body. By hinging these two sections of Scripture on one verse, you not only blurr marriage into other relationships – lowering its significance, but, you also complicate submission into a dysfunctional mess.
A slower, researched response, is more involved …
It’s repetitive and confusing to say: “everyone submit to everyone wives submit to your own husbands,” see, it makes no sense. In all of the thought for thought translations (modern versions), you’ll see verse 21 driven into to the next paragraph so it joins the marriage part. To make it happen they’ve replaced the colon, semicolon, or comma with a period so that the section will complete with verse 20. Yet in the word for word translations, (KJV, NASB) you’ll find the punctuation left intact making verse 21 the concluding sentence for the previous section.
In verse 21, Paul is concluding his general address that targets everyone in the assembly. We know it’s a corporate address to a body (a group) of believers because he doesn’t name a subject by a noun, instead he uses pronouns in the plural form:
- (v2) us – “… has loved us and given Himself for us …”
- (v3) you – “…let it not even be named among you …”
- (v5) you – “…For this you know…”
- (v6) no one, you – “let no one deceive you with empty…”
- (v8) you – “… For you were …”
- (v14) you – “… Awake you who … will give you light…”
- (v15) you – “… that you walk circumspectly …”
- (v19) one another, your – “… to one another… in your heart…”
- (v20) our – “…in the name of our Lord …”
- (v21) one another – “…submitting to one another …”
Paul includes verse 21 with all the preceding plural pronouns
But in verse 22, he changes up his target audience. Notice how he signifies his change? He’s not speaking corporately any more. He’s not using plural pronouns anymore. He could’ve said something like, “Now, all you who are married … “ Or, “Those of you who are married…” Or even, “Any of you who are spouses …” But he didn’t.
Instead, he distinguishes those who are married by calling them out separately from everyone as well as individually … he speaks directly to wives then directly to husbands:
- (vs 22-24) Wives, submit to your own husbands …
- (vs 25-32) Husbands, love your wives, …
Then in verse 33 he wraps up his instruction to all those who are married using a concluding sentence. He signifies switching back to plural, but not everyone only corporately to those married. He’s capturing the attention of, every husband and every wife, Each one of you in particular:
- Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Paul makes special delineation for marriage, above the instructions for everyone else. I think he wants us to know that the relationship rules that apply to everybody, similarly apply to marriage; however, there’s extra weight when you get married. The aspects of love and submission he’s been talking about up to verse 21, that apply to everyone … are now going to change. Love and submission look different in marriage.
- Prove it to yourself. Let your own marriage be the litmus test, not what I say or what others say. Yes, take in information – but see if it brings unity. Find what brings the peace of Christ, the peace that you cannot comprehend or understand … even though you’re experiencing it. Ultimately, that’s the light you want the world to see.