It was really challenging tonight to teach through Ephesians 5:15-33: to cover so much in an hour and a half because these sorts of opportunities aren't always there in the course of day-to-day Parish life. I aimed to pack a lot in, to take a look at two theological integrities on the issues and to work out where the fault lines were to help people navigate them. 

Because we are an evangelical church and the people with me at the study were all in one form of ministry or another or had been or were married to ministers, we could look at the passage in depth and I didn't apologise really for bringing an academic approach to the second half of the evening as we looked at words in the original languages. With the two theological integrities that the church of England recognises, manifesting themselves among the people in the room, we were able to have some debate. 

So I spoke about how evangelicals broadly approach this passage in two different ways: 

Kephale - head/source
One way is to reason 'Christ is the head of the church' and 'the husband is the head of the wife' as conferring on men authority over women. The meaning of the word 'head' here (kephale) is understood to mean 'authority over.' Grudem and Piper hold such a view.1

Another way supported by theologians such as Gilbert Bilezikian, Gordon D. Fee and Catherine Clerk Kroeger conclude that kephale means 'source' and that in the culture of the first century, people thought that the body grew out of the head, its source. Head was not a metaphor for rule or authority because the ruling organ was thought to be the heart. Bilezikian explains how mutual submission, and not headship, is being described in Ephesians 5:21-33. The bible creates an unhelpful separation between verse 21 and the rest of Paul's writing here when really verse 21 is the context within which the rest of the advice should be understood. The husband and the wife are to be mutually submitted to each other: the wife to the husband as the Church to Christ and the husband to the wife as Christ to the Church. Christ died for the Church, so the husband's love for the wife is to be self-sacrificial. Paul overstated the husband's submission to the wife to counteract the authority men had over their wives in the first century. Their relationship is distinct from that between slave and master or child and parent because the first in each pair here is called to obey. Bilezikian highlights the 'succinct, formula-like definition that goes to the heart of the matter: “Christ is the head of the church”. Paul adds this explanation: “He is himself the saviour of the body.” If Paul had meant to imply authority, this explanation would have been rendered, “He is himself Lord of the body”...''2 For Bilezikian, Christ is the life-giver. The sense of kephale as source or origin rests in an interpretation of Genesis where Adam is the source of Eve and his being made first does not make her subordinate. Eve is a 'helpmeet', accurately translated from the Hebrew word ezer to mean 'rescuer'. Ezer is attributed to God and so couldn't denote Eve's inferiority. Rosy Ashley explains how, 'Of the 19 uses of the word ezer, 15 are about God bringing help to needy people.'3

SubmitWe also briefly looked at how in translating hupotasso as submit, the word loses its sense of voluntary act. Hupotasso denotes voluntarily asserting the needs of another person above your own and is a call to all Christians. To submit should not be confused with being subordinate because it is about being active, not passive. Sometimes the English language fails to capture the Greek nuance. 

You'll be pleased to know that we also spent a lot of time talking about the old walk and the new walk and how this living in right relationship with one another is only made possible through the continual presence and filling of the Holy Spirit. 

We decided ultimately that we have probably missed Paul’s main point, by supposing that marriage illustrates the close relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church. It is, of course, the other way round: The unity between Jesus Christ and his Church is our model for marriage, meaning that husbands and wives are challenged to build unity, respect, nurture and love in marriages empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

1 PIPER, J. & GRUDEM, W., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, A Response to Evangelical feminism, p.168,

2 BELIZIKIAN, G., Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible says about a woman's place in church and family p121

3 ASHLEY R., 'Can a Woman Have Authority Over a Man?', p.90

1 comment:

Phil Almond said...

A question for you:
Is the church collectively and are all Christians individually subject to Christ, under his authority, commanded to obey him?
Phil Almond


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions