Ephesians 5 | Paul on the Role of Husband & Savior

Ephesians 5 | Paul on the Role of Husband & Savior January 20, 2020

The first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children. – Aristotle [1]

i. Greco-Roman husband

In Aristotle’s formula, all three main roles are the same person: master, husband, and father.  In all three of these roles, Aristotle states that the man is in a leadership role.  This is the common perception of the male in Aristotle’s day, and in the time of Christ.

This is also the foundation of the Greco-Roman Household Code.  “The purpose of such rules in the non-Christian community was to reinforce the hierarchical structure of the Greco-Roman family . . . and to quell any attempts to disturb that structure, in which men were preeminent, then women, then children, and finally slaves.”[2]

Husband, Head & Savior

ii. NT husband

To be sure husband, as defined in the New Testament (NT) Greek, may not be that different from the empire’s definition.  There is a sense, from the way it’s defined and used in the NT, that husband means the leader of the home and the respectable men of the community.  Paul uses the Greek term for husband 6 times in this passage, although not every time is evident in English (Ephesians 5.22-33).

The NT does not seem to have any of the questions we have today about what it takes to be a good man, husband, and father.

iii. Husbands today

Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church doesn’t seem to think that questions about what it takes to be a good husband are the core issue either, in our day and age.

The question today seems to be, When will the husbands and men of God rise up?  When considering these verses, Pastor Robert states:

The number one complaint I’ve encountered from women in marriage counseling is “My husband won’t lead.”  Wives don’t want to be dominated, but they do want their husbands to take initiative, especially when it comes to spiritual matters, children, and romance.[3]

Is that enough, to just recognize that there is a disparity between what husbands can be and what they are in our day?

iv. Development in Greece & the NT

James Fowler believes that society at large has forgotten rites of passage that helped form youth into men of the community, responsible citizens, and husbands.  He spent his career reminding us of classic Greek virtues and Christian truths that were always meant to help us forge a strong society.  He refers to the paideia, the Greek term for the well rounded education that forms youth into responsible Greek citizens.

Through schooling, through athletic competition and military training, through attendance at public enactments of drama, music, and ritual, and through the crucial theater of the political process itself, the young, at least those destined for citizenship, were formed in the paideia necessary for adulthood and full citizens’ participation.[4]

Paul is talking about the husband’s role under the heading of Spirit-filled living in the congregation (Ephesians 5.18-21).  We are living in the Spirit in a new polis, the Kingdom of God, becoming responsible men, husbands, and citizens.

Are we as intentional about developing our role in the Kingdom of God as the ancient Greeks are through their paideia?  Against the backdrop of ancient Greece and Paul’s use of the term husband, we may not only be talking about a role that a man assumes, but also a calling that he steps into.

v. Greco-Roman savior

The concept of savior is one that grew in significance as the NT was written.  However, this term is rooted in Greco-Roman history as well.  “Savior was particularly relevant when it came to describing what political and military leaders do for people; they save them.”[5]

A lower case -s . . . savior is someone who does something magnificently heroic for someone else, a family, a community, etc.  “Each city-state had its heroic figures by whose actions the city was founded, given its distinctive character, or saved from internal or external danger at crucial points.”[6]  Most Roman cities by the time of Christ would have statues/idols of their town heroes, their saviors.

Perhaps the savior is someone who founds and finances the whole city out of his own wealth.  The savior could be someone who wins a battle against an enemy that would have destroyed the town.  There are various possibilities.

vi. NT Savior

We should probably consider Paul’s words against this backdrop, and not read into this passage our modern day understanding of Christ as the Savior.  After all, Savior is only used 24 times in the NT.  You’ll find the term Lord used far more often in the NT, and the implications are staggering.

Consider Christ as Savior according to the common understanding of the time.  Perhaps we see Him as the one who founded and fully funded our new polis, the Kingdom of God.  Perhaps we see Him as the one who battled the enemy that sought to destroy us.  If we think of Him this way, we begin to see Jesus as Savior in a way that is possibly close to how the NT Church sees Him.  Like the heroes of old, our Savior has done something for us as a people that we could have never done for ourselves!

How do we respond to so great a Savior?  Like the cities that try to respond to their heroes, we have no way to repay.  So we do a couple of things that we can.

First, we make His name glorious

This is how ancient cities would respond as well.  They would set up statues, build amphitheaters, temples, or great civic buildings in honor of their heroes.  They would pass the stories along for ages.  Do we do anything so intentionally anymore?  Do we make the name of our Savior glorious?

Second, we simply submit

The term submission could mean submission as yielding.  We yield to the ways of our Savior.  This is common in the ancient world.  Think about it.  Who doesn’t want to yield to a hero?

Whether or not we want to admit that we have role models, who doesn’t try to emulate their favorite music or big screen celebrity?  What die-hard fan doesn’t wear the colors of the Spartans or Wolverines in Michigan?  Who doesn’t do a little name dropping when he knows some VIP’s?

In social psychology, we call it basking in reflective glory, and it’s not always bad.  We submit to the ways of our heroes.  We should have no problem submitting to the ways of our Savior.

vii. Husband as savior

Ah, but Paul says this term savior also applies to the husband.  In some way like Christ, the husband is the savior of the body, and the wife’s subjection is more naturally associated with his role (Ephesians 5.22-24).  Remember to think of the generic Greco-Roman, lower case s- . . . savior.

I can prove that husbands still want to be the savior with one simple vignette:

The husband and wife finally get a chance to talk after dinner.  The wife presents the husband with some type of “problem” from her day.  At least he hears the term “problem,” even if she never says it.  So the loving husband straps on his relational tool belt and begins working away.  After awhile, the wife gets frustrated, but the husband has no idea why.  He’s just tried to solve a problem for his wife that she could not solve.

The only problem is, she didn’t have a problem.  She just wanted to talk to him.

This may not happen to all couples, but it’s happened to me countless times . . . even though I have a seminary degree in counseling.

Can I get escape these feelings?

I still want to fix it . . .

or perhaps do something for my wife that she cannot do.

I want her to be proud of me.

I want her to be my cheerleader.

Maybe I’m not her savior, but I still like the ideal of being her knight in shining armor.

I want to sweep her away to a better life . . .

to provide great things for her that she could never afford . . .

to provide for her professional development.

Are my thoughts “normal” for a husband?

Yes!  They’re perfectly natural, and historically accurate for Greco-Roman heroes or saviors.

This way of thinking is what Paul has in mind in the NT.

Rev. Jared Ingle
Pastor: Long Lake Friends Church
Supervised Therapist: Individuals, Couples, and Families
Traverse City, MI

JC Ingle, Inc.

Pastor David Alvarez

Pictured in the video are Pastor David I. Alvarez and his wife Carlyn.  Their church is Trinity Christian Center in Price, UT.

To take a moment to check out their webpage CLICK HERE

To drop by and LIKE their Facebook page CLICK HERE


These are related articles and sermons from this series on marriage and family from Ephesians 5-6.  Read a related article, or tune-in to a message on your morning commute.


Submission CLICK HERE

Submission in the House of God CLICK HERE

The Sanctity of Water & the Word CLICK HERE


Submission CLICK HERE

Sanctification CLICK HERE

Sexuality CLICK HERE

Husband, Head & Savior CLICK HERE


[1] David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000), 173.
[2] Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament: It’s Literature and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 387. [3] Robert Morris, “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” in the New Living Translation Fresh Start Bible: Direction for Every Day, ed. John Andersen (Southlake, TX: Gateway Press, 2019), 1046. [4] James W. Fowler, “Reconstituting Paideia in Public Education,” in Caring for the Commonweal: Education for Religious and Public Life, ed. Parker J. Palmer, Barbara G. Wheeler, and James W. Fowler (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 64. [5] Frederick J. Long, OneBook Daily-Weekly: The Letter to the Ephesians (Franklin, TN: Seedbed Publishing, 2017), 114. [6] Fowler, 64.

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