A Reader Wonders about Some of the Marriagey passages in the NT

He writes:

How does the Church interpret the following scriptural passages pertaining to men as head of their families? Do you know of a good book or article that explains what the Magisterium says about how to construe them?
Eph 5.21-28
“21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

1 Cor 11.3
“3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband[a] is the head of his wife,[b] and God is the head of Christ.”

1 Cor 11.7-12
“7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection[c] of God; but woman is the reflection[d] of man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of[e] authority on her head,[f] because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.”

Col 3.18-19
“18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.”

The Church, as a general rule, almost never offers us The Definitive Explanation of What Each Verse in a Passage Means. Scripture is far too rich and multi-valent and allows for all sorts of interpretations. For the Church’s summary of the theology of marriage, go here.

For a fine piece of instruction, see JPII’s Letter to Families.

One other suggestion, see the Ignatius Study Bible for Scott Hahn’s and Curtis Mitch’s informed commentary on these passages. The key to understanding Paul’s theology of marriage is that it is a sacrament that is, like all sacraments, totally referred to Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Not a lot of room for bullying and domination in that since men with nails through their hands have trouble making fists. Likewise, wives are to love their husband as the Church loves Christ, with humility and gratitude and confident love, not craven servility. The master passage for interpreting the whole thing, in JPII’s thought, is this:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

All marriage is to construed in the context of that mutually humble love and respect.

I’m not sure that scratches where you itch, but I hope it helps.


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