Wives be subject; an analogy mistaken – Tuesday, 30th Week in ordinary time – Ephesians 5:21-33

Chapter 5:21- 6:9, the reading of today and tomorrow, focuses on the relationships among members of a household. In both form and content, it has many parallels in early Christian literature especially Colossians 3:18-4:6. Today’s text focuses on husbands and wives; tomorrow we will look at parents (fathers in a special way) and children and finally on slaves and masters. In each of these three relationships there is a call to obedience. In that sense, verse 21, which calls for obedience to one another out of reverence for Christ, can be seen as an introduction to all three groups of people.

These texts may raise eyebrows. Obedience in our day and time sounds servile and there is a tendency to disregarded these texts and in the case of master and slaves, even their context, as belonging to another era. But it would be foolish to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to examine the heart and mind of the author of the Ephesians. Having said that, while obedience is called for, it is not servitude that is demanded. If you study the texts, you will see that for every injunction there is a reciprocal responsibility that is also called for. If wives are called to be subject to their husbands, then husbands are called to love their wives. If children are called to obey their parents, then parents are called not provoke their children. If slaves are to obey their earthly masters, then masters are called to stop threatening them.

So, let’s state the intended intention of this text rather than get lost in the subtext. The author to the Ephesians is concerned primarily with the desire to define the nature of the Church. This is the point that we need to focus on. He says this plainly in verse 32 “this is a great mystery and I am applying it to Christ and the Church. “The Church is subject to Christ; he is the head”. This is the point being mad. In order to express this truth, the author to the Ephesians finds a parallel in the institution of marriage, family and society, borrowing largely from the social behavioral patterns at that time. So, let’s says this again, primarily this is not a teaching on marriage or parenting skills or social emancipation.

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