Misogynists love to quote St. Paul’s admonition about the submission of wives to their husbands in Ephesians 5:22-33. However, they usually cite just the first three verses because, like all those wanting to twist the truth, they need to quote out of context.
The lines about wives read pretty much like the societal rules of the times. St. Paul was steeped in those rules, having been a learned Jewish zealot before his conversion to Christianity. It is not unexpected that he would echo contemporary standards.
Verse 22: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (New International Version of the Bible)
It is in the nine lines for men that the new way of Christianity shows itself. Perhaps this is where the Holy Spirit stepped in and said, “Okay, Paul, you said what you think you are expected to say, now let’s really lay it on the husband.”
Verse 25. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . .”
A man should be willing to die for his wife. This willingness demonstrates great love far beyond that given to a servant, that is, one who submits to the man’s authority.
John would later write in his gospel “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) A man’s greatest love is supposed to be his wife, so she must be a friend. A friend is not a servant.
Verses 26-27: “. . .to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
This sentiment reflects reverence and tender care. A wife should be a man’s treasure, not a servant. A “radiant” wife is one who is using her full potential to be worthy of the gifts God has given her, and her husband should be facilitating that to the fullest.
However, abusive husbands read this line as permission to “make” the wife follow his “word” and expect her to be perfect. That way, if she steps out of line, he has a right to beat her, always finding blame instead of blamelessness.
Verses 28-30: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. 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—for we are members of his body.”
Can you think of anything to which you are more submissive than your own body?” If your body is hungry, you have to feed it. If you are sick or injured, you have to heal it or you can’t function.
This verse, then, is telling husbands to be as submissive to their wives as to their own bodies. Also, since the two have become one in marriage, if he loves himself, he loves his wife, and vice versa; he cannot hate her or mistreat her, cannot regard her as an underling.
Further, since both husband and wife are made in the image and likeness of God, since both are members of Christ’s body, the Church, then they must hold each other in the highest regard and not put each other down.
Verse 31: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”.
Verse 31 is taken from Genesis 2:24, so Paul is quoting Scripture, giving this statement further weight. The idea of husband and wife being “one flesh” cannot be emphasized enough. In a homogenous union, there is equality.
What’s Good for the Goose
Verses 32-33: “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Wait! Is this big flip-flop? Is Paul saying, “Hey, I was talking about the Church this whole time! Did you think I was talking about husbands and wives? Oh, well, as to them. . .”
The last verse seems to say the opposite of “wives be submissive to your husbands.” It says, a husband should love his wife as himself, but a wife need only show some respect!
Let’s just call it a draw!