Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Ephesians 5:22-33, in a Nutshell

Ephesians 5:22-33, in a Nutshell

In Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul makes several statements about the relationship between husbands and wives, and he presents the relationship between Jesus and his Church as a model or example. Some think that Jesus’ authority is given here as an example for husbands to follow, but Jesus’ authority is not mentioned in this passage. Rather, unity is the example, and Paul uses a head-body metaphor to illustrate this.

Metaphorically, Jesus is the “head” united to the Church, which is his “body” (Eph. 5:23, 30). Unity was made possible, and is maintained, because Jesus loves the Church and gave himself up for her. The Church sustains this union by being fully cooperative and faithful to Jesus.

In marriage, the husband (the metaphorical “head”) and the wife (the metaphorical “body”) are united. To foster this unity, Paul urges husbands “to love their wives as their own bodies.” And he adds, “He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the Church” (Eph. 5:28-29).

Paul continues with the theme of unity by quoting Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). (Again, note that leadership and authority are not simply not mentioned in this passage.)

Paul was not teaching husbands to be the leaders, and wives to be the followers. Instead, he urged husbands to love and nurture their wives, and he urged wives to be deferential, cooperative and loyal (i.e. submissive), as well as respectful, to their husbands.

In Ephesians 5:22-33 husbands and wives are singled out and given instructions concerning certain attitudes and behaviours, but this doesn’t mean that wives are exempt from being loving and nurturing towards their husbands, or that husbands are exempt from being submissive and respectful towards their wives, especially as Ephesians 5:22-33 is prefaced by a call to mutual submission (Eph. 5:21), and chapter 5 opens with a call to love sacrificially (Eph. 5:1-2).

These instructions for mutual submission and sacrificial love in Ephesians 5:1-2 and 21 are given to all Christians: submission isn’t just for wives, sacrificial love isn’t just for husbands.

Genuine and reciprocal love and loyalty were absent in many marriages in the first century Greco-Roman world. It is in this context that Paul wrote Ephesians 5:22-33 and pressed for unity in Christian marriage, with the union of Jesus and the Church as the model.

For more on this passage, see the related articles below.

Related Articles

Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33
Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters
Mutual Submission is not a MythIn a Nutshell Series
Equality and Unity in Ministry – 1 Corinthians 12
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
1 Corinthians 11:9, in a Nutshell
1 Corinthians 14:34-35, in a Nutshell
The Status of Christian Women, in a Nutshell


Posted June 21st, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

17 comments on “Ephesians 5:22-33, in a Nutshell

  1. Cassandra Wright says:

    The Bible says that a man should leave his mother and father. It says nothing about the woman leaving hers. I often think that God’s ideal was more of a matriarchal society so that women would be better protected. Just a thought that entertains me from time to time!

    Love you much!!

    • Marg says:

      Hi Cassandra,

      I definitely think wives would be safer if they didn’t have to leave their families and be joined to their husbands’ families, which is the case in many cultures. Young wives in these cultures are often completely powerless and vulnerable to abuse.

      I think the point in Genesis 2:24 is that husbands and wives are to leave their families in order to make each other their top priority and first loyalty, not their parents. The text is andro-centric, focussing on the man, but I think it applies to women too.

  2. Knut AK says:

    I have been thinking that it will help when reading this text to distinguish between attitudes and roles. We tend to think that Paul is writing about roles, but I believe that isn’t the case at all. Instead, the normal roles of members of a household of that time forms the background for what Paul writes, they are not prescribed, but presupposed by Paul. And Paul isn’t even thinking of trying to regulate those outer roles. He is instead much more interested that all the members of the household be filled with the Holy Spirit (v18), resulting in new inner attitudes towards each other, resulting again in a new behaviour towards each other.

    When learning from this today, those roles from the 1st century should be left there. Instead we should learn from the attitudes; only we must do so in such a way that we do not, after all, drag those 1st century roles along with them. We, too, can be filled with the Spirit and have new attitudes and new behaviour towards each other, only we should do so in the roles that we now have.

    A completely different topic: You had a blog-post about Adolph Harnack and his view on the Letter to the Hebrews, but then that disappeared again. I can’t help being curious. What happened?

    • Marg says:

      I completely agree that Paul isn’t speaking about roles (or ranks) but about spirit-filled attitudes and behaviours. I like how you’ve put this.

      As to the post quoting Harnack: Some of my evangelical friends thought that quoting from someone who doesn’t believe in the virgin birth, Jesus’ miracles, or the resurrection, could hurt my cause. I decided to err on the side of caution and removed the post. Harnack’s suggestion that Hebrews may have been written by Priscilla is mentioned in this article: http://www2.cbeinternational.org/new/E-Journal/2006/06winter/06winterhoppin.html

  3. Excellent. That’s the same point I made in my post about the word head in my blog, although it was much longer. But I agree and find it a shame many misinterpet this phrase as establishing male authority over women in the marriage and the church. God Bless.

  4. I discovered your blog just recently and found it so helpful, especially as I was writing a post about the whole “head of the household” conversation this week.
    What astonishes me is how stubbornly some folks cling to the idea of this passage spelling out authority or hierarchy, and roles (as Knut AK pointed out) when the entire chapter is about unity and connection, not authority.
    Thanks for your scholarship, I find it very helpful.

    • Marg says:

      I do understand the resistance to rethinking the meaning of “head”. The faulty patriarchal interpretation (or presumption) is so entrenched in church literature and culture. Hopefully, some of the scholarship will trickle down more freely to church leaders and members. But more than that, I hope the Holy Spirit opens people eyes to the fallacy and harm of male “headship”.

  5. Petr says:

    Nevertheless, even if headship in Eph doesn’t imply leadership (and I am willing to grant that), there are numerous other passages that speak about wives being in subjection to (obeying) their own husbands – 1st Peter 3:5-7, for instance.

    The crucial point, however, is that the true Leader of a marriage is to be Jesus – expressing Himself in the husband’s life by sacrificed loving, in the wife’s life by submissive loving.

    So it’s not about who’s holding the shorter stick, but about holding the same stick, i.e. love, which is being expressed in different forms in different roles (by the same token, slaves and masters were to express Christ’s love in different forms too).

    Like Knut AK said, the roles are given and various, but the attitudes in them are to be Spirit-wrought love.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Petr,

      What is the difference between “sacrificed loving” and “submissive loving”?

      We all are to be loving to one another (Eph. 5:1-2), and we all are to be submissive to one another (Eph. 5:21), so I guess we are in agreement that all we are holding the same stick (although I haven’t heard that idiom before.)

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