Ephesians 5: 21-33
Again I am asking the same questions in this consideration as I did in Corinthians 11.
Do these passages present allegories assigning roles to male and female believers in the Body of Christ?
Also what is the spiritual and practical significance of the passage?
21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Regarding the attitude between married men and women this is good clear admonition and can be observed in the happiest and most solid of marriages namely: Mutual subjection. Hoopotasso: In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".
Mutual subjection however would be a new concept in the Greek, Roman, and Jewish view of marriage. So how would this mutual subjection be expressed in Christian marriages? The answer Paul offers is not a legal formula for Christian marriage it is an attitude for Christian marriage. He exhorts to the frame of mind believers should adopt. The Allegory of Christ being a bridegroom and the believers a bride should have been familiar to the Ephesians. So Paul uses that concept for his exhortation. The answer follows: this is how you accomplish mutual subjection. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. (note this verse does not say wives subject yourselves because he represents the Lord.) “Hoopotasso” this is a willing subjection, no one comes to Christ the bridegroom under compulsion, it is a voluntary union. Wives should come to their husbands just as they did to Christ, by their own freewill. Most wives would not have gone to their husbands of their own choosing. But even though now in the enlightenment of the Gospel she could respect him of her own freewill, out of reverence for Christ.
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. Once in Paul’s Jewish world he would have been taught that a husband was to be saved alive before the wife. She was certainly not regarded of as part of his own person, she was regarded as part of his own property. But Christ doesn’t view his wife like that, he views her as his own body. Believing husbands must now love their wives just like Christ does (note: only Christ himself is the Church’s savior). Husbands can not save their wives, that’s Christ’s work. However if Christ views his bride that way (as his own body) then a husband can adopt that attitude of “one flesh” as well. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. That call again is for willing subjection, placing one’s trust in Christ. Even Sarah called Abraham Lord because she trusted God, certainly not because Abraham was the superior in spiritual nature to her. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, The comparison again is that husbands should love their wives in the same way Christ does the Church 26 that he (Christ) 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. Christ gave himself up for his wife, so that he may sanctify her, make her holy. Remember this “wife” is all believers (including men) who in allegory are his bride. Christ cleanses his bride and makes her holy (all believers both males and females were in need of this cleansing). Men can not do that for their wives. Men along with their wives are the “her’ cleansed by Christ’s sacrifice. 28 Even so (just like Christ did) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Remember wives were not by culture an intricate part of the husband’s being they were a resource. Teaching men to see their wives as an extension of their own flesh, in value, in intellect and in God’s eyes was new territory. 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. Again a Christ like attitude toward one’s wife is the point. Just like Christ loved and nourishes his wife, so you must now do yourself. It’s a new paradigm but it is an old truth from Genesis…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; Paul says here that this verse in Genesis “…refers to Christ and the church” what an extraordinary insight. The profound type of Christ and his bride has its origin in Genesis! What an incredible thought: Men leave their parent’s households and join to their wives. Christ left his mother and father’s natures to join himself to his wife! No wonder Paul has to “come down” and back to the subject at hand after seeing a connection like that!
Paul is nevertheless touched and amazed at the beauty that this type of Christ and the Church evoke. But now he comes back down to his actual exhortation and says “however” (nevertheless) 33 however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. In their society this admonition makes such perfect sense. How would a man view as something treasured and unique an item that came along with the last business arrangement. And how much respect could a young woman have for a person who used her for procreation, considered her spiritually inferior, ignored her intellectually, and limited even his own social contact with her. Consistent with everything we considered in Christ so far believers were being ask to reconsider and change their most basic human ‘thinking’ in deference to Christ’s Gospel and so are we!
The original question.
Does Ephesians 5 present an allegory assigning roles to male and female believers in the Body of Christ? No such suggestion in the text is easily apparent . Paul uses a known allegory (that we’ve considered already) that being: Christ as the Bridegroom and the believers as the “Bride”. He uses the attitude Christ and the bride have in allegory to teach believers (husbands and wives) that a new way of seeing each other is required in Christ.
Paul uses that allegory to teach them a new way of thinking in marriage, he does not introduce a new allegory. It is marvelous exhortation and was contrary to all they would think as a people and a society.
It seems to me the answer to the question does the passage have practical significance is yes. It offers clear timeless exhortation on mutual subjection in marriage and love and respect for each other. These human dynamics have not been affected by changes in culture or time. Over thousands of years our human nature’s strengths and weaker impulses remain the same.
Again the answer seems to be yes, the spiritual significance in understanding Christ’s love for his bride is pure exhortation and broad in its scope. The example of Christ’s unfailing love compels us to set aside personal interests and even life for one’s mate. If Christ’s type of love for his bride is a template for us in marriage, then perhaps the unselfish love we strive for in marriage is a template for our love of others? “Love your neighbor as yourself and thus fulfill the Law.”
What is said here.
This passage has bookend statements which project and sum up the message. It is a message to husbands and wives on what kind of attitude they should acquire toward each other in a Christian marriage. The attitude Paul seeks them to acquire can be found using the allegory of Christ and his bride the Church.
However nothing is said in the verses about representations:
Ÿ There is no suggestion of the concept of males representing Christ.
Ÿ No suggestion wives represent the church.
Ÿ Men and women as believers represent the bride and the body of Christ. Individually they are afforded no unique role in any text we’ve examined so far.
The entire set of these verses is in answer to a question about believers in a Christian marriage. Various mortal designations play out no unique role in the ecclesia of Christ.. Female and male believers are just part of the people that makeup an Ecclesia of Christ. Paul himself saying in regard to “human positioning” none of these have any application in the Ecclesia of Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus”.
In the world in which Paul lived you can be quite sure these division applied outside of the “body“. To the shame of humankind and the pain of the “subordinate’ in most all these divisions. But there was to be no place for these attitudes or these divisions practiced in the “body”.
Let not the members that Christ has joined together as “one flesh” be “cut asunder” by men.