Throwback Thursday: Wifely Submission in the Rhetorical Context of Ephesians

Need books, commentaries, and resources on women in the Bible or the Letter to the Ephesians? Look no further! Purchasing the items through the links below will help to support this blog. Article below the jump.

I wrote about this subject a long time ago in segmented blog posts. Herein is a single article putting all of the content together in one spot.

Wifely Submission in the Rhetorical Context of Ephesians

By James R. Gregory

Wives throughout history have been subjected to certain unmentionable cruelties. In our contemporary setting, many women are taught to be subject to their husbands, because of this biblical imperative found in Ephesians: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (5:24, KJV). Unfortunately, it has been misunderstood and abused, as it has been used to justify domestic violence on the part of some. But there is more to this biblical imperative than the words in Ephesians 5:24. As Robert Wall has pointed out in his article, “Wifely Submission in the Context of Ephesians,” Ephesians 5:24 is part of a larger context.1According to Wall, we have to understand this biblical imperative in light of the context of Ephesians as a whole. When we consider the composition of Ephesians, Wall argues that we interpret 5:24 in a radically different way. We agree with his general argument, but we must take issue with the basis of his argument, that Ephesians 2:11-22 interprets 5:21-6:9, which includes 5:24. Although Ephesians 5:21-6:9 has a corresponding theological indicative in the letter, it is not Ephesians 2:11-22, but rather, it is Ephesians 3:1-13, and this correlation is supported by the composition of the letter in light of ancient rhetorical structures. Before we examine the rhetorical composition of Ephesians, we will first consider Wall’s argument, to which we now turn.

It is Wall’s understanding that Ephesians bears a unique composition. Maintaining Philip Carrington’s position that Ephesians was part of an early Pauline catechism,2Wall determines that this letter is shaped into a unitive structure for mnemonic purposes: by structuring it in a neat way, catechumen’s could easily learn the material. This unitive structure, as Wall sees it, is symmetrical. He argues that Ephesians is built with two equal halves, the first half being found in Ephesians 1:19b-3:13, and the second being Ephesians 4:1-6:20. The former half is doctrinal, while the latter is ethical. But the two halves correlate with each other, so that the ethical section cannot be fully interpreted without its corresponding doctrinal section of theological indicatives.3

Wall observes that each of the two halves of Ephesians break up into four further parts. The four sub-parts of the first half are as follows: first, Ephesians 1:19b-23; second, 2:1-10; third; 2:11-22; and fourth, 3:1-13. The respective corresponding subdivisions of the second half are as follows: first, Ephesians 4:1-16; second, 4:17-5:20; third, 5:21-6:9; and fourth, 6:10-20. The first subdivision of each half are linked with a common idea, thefullness of God(1:23 and 4:13). The second set of subdivisions relate with walklanguage (2:2, 10; 4:17, 5:2, 8, 15). The third set of corresponding sub-sections share a common theme, God’s household(2:14-18; 5:31). And the final set of subdivisions are tied together with a concept, the church as God’s witness to the rulers and authorities(3:10; 6:12). Wall relies on key terms and phrases for determining the four-fold structure of each half.4

Wall’s analysis of the context of Ephesians is impressive and attractive, but it fails to recognize the letter’s repetitive style. For instance, the first identified section, Ephesians 1:19b-23, bears body language, body(σῶμα) and head (κεφαλή), as does 5:21-33. It also contains the same rulerand authoritylanguage as 2:1-10, 3:1-13, and 6:10-20. In addition, to subjector to submit(ὑποτάσσω) is used here and also in 5:21-33, but it is found nowhere else in Ephesians. How can this subdivision share these links with other sections of Ephesians if they do not belong to its corresponding subdivision? Wall’s argument does not account for these links.

With regard to the second identified section, walklanguage can be found outside of its corresponding section, 4:17-5:20. Ephesians 4:1 also uses περιπατέω. Additionally, Ephesians 2:8 and 4:7 share gift language. How can these two sections share such language when they are not corresponding subdivisions? Again, Wall’s argument does not account for these links.

As for the third identified section, Wall argues that Ephesians 2:11-22 specifically relates to 5:21-6:9 with respect to God’s household. However, a key word in the next section, Ephesians 3:1-13, οἰκονομία(οἰκός,house, and νέμω,to manage; roughly, household management), is much more frequent, thus bearing a stronger tie to the household matters of Ephesians 5:21-6:9. Furthermore, what are we to make of a new man (καινὸν ἄνθρωπον), a phrase that is found in a mere two places in Ephesians, first in 2:15, and second in 4:23? Not only this phrase, but what are we to do with being alienated(ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι), found only in Ephesians 2:12 and 4:18? The language itself is suggesting that Ephesians 2:11-22 is not related to 5:21-6:9. As before, Wall’s argument does not take these ties into account.

Finally, the fourth identified section, Ephesians 3:1-13, shares a link with a key word, mystery(μυστήριον) not only with 6:10-20 but also with 5:21-6:9. Moreover, Ephesians 3:1-13 shares wisdom language with 5:15-21. Wall’s argument does not account for these links in the same way that his argument fails in respect to each of the other subdivisions.

The rest of Wall’s argument rests on an exegesis of Ephesians 2:11-22 and 5:21-6:9. He argues that Ephesians 2:11-22 contains the overarching theme of Ephesians, which, in his words, is as follows: “. . . God, through Christ and by the Spirit, has redeemed the church, bringing about in its midst a cosmic unity between heaven and earth, between Jew and Greek, and between a true Israel and its God.”5He goes on to argue that the theme of Ephesians 2:11-22 is the one body(2:16) and God’s household(2:19), while in 5:21-6:9 the theme is one flesh(5:28-31) and the Christian home(5:21-6:9). Wall submits that wives are commanded to submit due to the unified nature of both God’s household and the Christian household.6Regarding Ephesians 2:11-22, he concludes that the wife’s submission in 5:24 “. . . constitutes an aspect of a new social and eschatological reality, the Christian home, which like the church, has been created by God’s reconciling grace.”7Because Christ has reconciled Judeans with non-Judeans, God’s household, and by extension the Christian household, is characterized by unity or reconciling grace; as a result the wife demonstrates this unity by submitting to her husband. Wall emphasizes the destruction of the dividing wall between man and his wife, an interpretation of 2:11-22.8However, Ephesians 5:22-33 does not have the destruction of the dividing wall in view. Rather, this section is focused on a body. To emphasize the destruction of the dividing wall does not suit the context. Moreover, the overarching theme is not what Wall has identified. The theme of Ephesians is certainly praise, and it is clear that it is praising God for the work that he has done through Christ. What is God’s work? The end result of God’s work is the church (2:10). All of Ephesians should be interpreted with this key verse in mind as it highlights the note of praise and the purpose of God’s work, that the church would fulfill the good works that God prepared for it to do, which is expounded upon throughout Ephesians.

Wall consistently speaks of the equality of the wife and the husband in the marital relationship mentioned in Ephesians 5:22-33. He looks at Christ’s work in Ephesians 2:11-22 and allows it to inform the current section of Ephesians. Christ brought peace when he sacrificed himself on behalf of the church (1:7; 2:13, 15; 5:25-27). As a result, wives can submit to their husbands as equals, but also with the expectation that their husbands will submit to them out of devotion to Christ.9However, Ephesians is not talking about equality, it is talking about co-heirs. To be a co-heir does not mean to be an equal necessarily. A sports team is typically a unified body, but it also usually has a captain that is the leader on the field, and a coach off the field, so that there is a hierarchy in which not everyone in the team are equals. However, if the team wins the championship, they are all co-heirs of the title. Instead, Ephesians 5:22-33 is focused on the one body, made up by the union of the two parts, the male and the female.

Wall also queues in on the headlanguage as it pertains to Ephesians 5:22-33. He maintains that the use of headin Ephesians does not mean autocrat nor ruler, but rather, nurturer or responsible builder (1:22, 4:15). Christ is the responsible builder of the church. Likewise, the husband is the responsible builder of his wife, so that the phrase he is savior of the bodyapplies to Christ and to the husband. As the head, the husband is a nurturer, not a dictator. Wall argues that this responsibility for the building means that the husband takes responsibility over his wife’s spiritual growth just as Christ builds the church spiritually. But wives are to submit to help foster growth, just as the church submits to Christ. The wife submits in the same way that the church submits. The church utilizes the gifts that Christ equips it with in order to be able to represent God throughout history. The wife utilizes her gifts in order for her husband to be strengthened and in turn nurture her. It’s a reciprocal relationship.10However, God caused all things to be subjected to Christ when he placed them under his feet (Ephesians 1:22). Should this use ofsubject (ὑποτάσσω) not inform how wives are to subject themselves to their husbands? It seems that submitting has more to do with authority than it does in offering gifts.

Wall’s argument is helpful, but it simply needs improvement. Ephesians 5:24 rests in a context that is focused on the body and not on the destruction of the dividing wall nor on the equality of the individuals. The understanding of wifely submission is also governed by the use of submit(ὑποτάσσω) earlier in the letter and not in an analogy regarding the church’s utilization of the gifts that Christ equips it with.

Since Wall’s subdivisions do not account for the repetitive style of the letter, we must consider a different explanation. Ephesians follows an epideictic rhetorical style. Its rhetorical composition accounts for the repetitive style of the letter and the corresponding structures. When we understand Ephesians in light of epideictic rhetoric, we become well-equipped for interpreting the words of Ephesians 5:24 within the context of the letter. To the rhetoric of Ephesians and its composition we now turn.

The Letter to the Ephesians is a letter of praise, which classifies it as epideictic rhetoric.11According to Aristotle, all forms of rhetoric, including epideictic, could have four parts: an exordium; a narratio; a set of proofs; and a peroratio.12We will consider the Letter to the Ephesians with respect to these divisions.

The first section of rhetorical composition is the exordium. Aristotle compared the exordiumto a musical prelude that gave a keynote throughout, thus linking it with the rest of the song.13The purpose of the exordiumwas to equip the listeners with a ready ear for the rest of the speech according to Quintilian, the First Century CE rhetorician.14The exordiumwas a short introduction to the rest of the letter, which prepared the listeners for what was to come by use of key themes that would later by amplified. We see such an exordiumin the Letter to the Ephesians. God is being praised in Ephesians 1:3-23 for the work that he has done in Jesus Christ on behalf of human beings. This work is mentioned in several instances in Ephesians, so that it functions as the keynote of the exordiumthat ties it in with the rest of the letter. Indeed, the vocabulary of the exordiumin Ephesians is seen throughout the rest of the letter. Through a redundant style, the themes of the introduction come forth throughout the letter.15

The next section is the narratio. According to Ad Herennium, an ancient manual on rhetoric, there were a few classes of narratio, one of which reports realistic things that could have happened and in effect they did.16Aristotle spoke of the narratioas being one part in-artificial, it reports the facts, and one part art. He also understood that the narratiohad a moral character, for it was to make clear the moral purpose of the facts, and that moral purpose was the end goal for the listeners. In addition, the narratiowas also to draw upon the emotions.17The narratioof a rhetorical speech was the statement of facts that had a moral end. The Letter to the Ephesians has a narratiothat reports the facts for the purpose of moral development, as seen in Ephesians 2:1-3:19. This section reports the facts without alluding to a sequential series of events while utilizing imagery to artistically convey the facts (2:14). The tone of the narratioin the letter exhibits emotions (2:12-14) and focuses on God’s work for the listeners and its moral ramifications (3:4-7, 14-19).18

The third section consists of supporting proofs. In epideictic rhetoric, proofs were replaced with exhortations, called an exhortatio. Quintilian admitted that exhortations were an accepted figure for proof.19Additionally, the exhortations further amplified the themes of the letter, thus acting as proof.20The exhortatio is the narratio’smoral end. In Ephesians, the narratiobegins to unpack the moral purpose in 3:4-7 and again in 3:14-19. But it is the exhortatioin Ephesians 4:1-6:9 that strongly corroborates the moral purpose of the narratio. The indicatives of the narratioarrive at their corresponding epideictic proofs in the exhortatio.21

The fourth section of any rhetorical work is the peroratio. When speaking of the peroratio, Quintilian stated that its purpose was to recapitulate the arguments of the speech while exciting the emotions, such as envy, goodwill, dislike, or pity. Not only were the emotions to be let loose, but so were eloquence, amplification, vocabulary, and ornate and magnificent reflections.22Aristotle mentioned that the purpose of the peroratiowas to dispose the listener favorably towards the author and unfavorably towards the adversary while appealing to the emotions, such as pity, anger, jealousy, or emulation in addition to amplifying and recapitulating the statement of facts and corresponding proofs. In particular, the peroratiowas not to have a connecting particle.23As the conclusion, it was free to abound in imagery, eloquence, and emotion. We find a peroratioin the Letter to the Ephesians. The last section of the letter, Ephesians 6:10-20, is the peroratio. It has no connecting particle, but rather, it begins with a closing statement, of the restor finally(v. 10). This section disposes the listeners favorably towards God for equipping them with the ability to stand firm against the adversaries–the powers, rulers, and authorities (vv. 12-13). It amplifies God’s provisions, thus summarizing the earlier proofs, that is, the exhortatio, and themes from the exordiumwith imagery of a warrior suited for battle against the evil one who is attempting to harm them with flaming arrows (vv. 14-17). It also appeals to the emotions by asking the listeners to pray for boldness (or courage) to be given to Paul and the saints (vv. 18-20). Thisperoratioalso shares vocabulary with the rest of the letter, thus acting as a conclusion to what precedes it.24

Note also that prayer serves a special function in the Letter to the Ephesians. Prayer helps the letter make transitions from one section of the letter to the next. The first prayer section is in 1:15-23. It functions as the close of the exordium. It further amplifies the content of the eulogy in 1:3-14, but it also links the exordiumwith what is to follow in the narratio.25At the end of the narratiowe find the next section of prayer. Ephesians 3:14-21 is Paul’s prayer and doxology. He prays on behalf of the listeners and then gives another praise to the Lord for his magnificent work. This prayer section brings the narratioto a close by amplifying the end goal of the facts, but also by linking the narratioto the exhortatiothrough emphasizing the work of God.26The final section of prayer, Ephesians 6:18-20, is at the end of theperoratio, where the section further amplifies the instructions of the warrior of God while making a personal prayer request, thus transitioning into the epistolary postscript. But why is there no section of prayer in between the exhortatioand the peroratio? While the peroratiois a distinct section of a composition, in the Letter to the Ephesians the peroratiocontinues the force of the exhortatio. Presumably there is no reason that there should be a section of prayer that links the two sections because they flow together. Prayer can be understood to help the argument progress throughout the letter, which in turns aids our ability to see its main sections.

In light of ancient rhetoric, the Letter to the Ephesians should be understood in these terms. There is an exordiumor introduction from 1:3-23. In this introduction, the prayer and thanksgiving section in vv. 15-23 transitions the exordiumto the narratio. Ephesians 2:1-3:21 is the narratio, and it also ends in a prayer (3:14-19) and a doxology (3:20-21), which allow for the next section to enter. Following the narratio, Ephesians has an exhortatio. This section takes the most space of the entire letter, spanning from 4:1-6:9. The peroratiofollows the exhortatio, bearing the same force, but concluding the letter as a whole. Theperoratio, Ephesians 6:10-20, does end in a section of prayer (vv. 18-20), which helps the letter come to a close. The letter is not divided into two equal halves. Instead, following ancient rhetorical practices, it has several sections. Two of the sections, the narratioand the exhortatio, are directly related to each other. The latter functions as the proof of the former. Therefore, when interpreting a portion of theexhortatio, we must take care to understand it in light of its counterpart in thenarratio.

When interpreting the Letter to the Ephesians, we must respect its rhetorical context. The exordiumand peroratioare the introductory and concluding parts of the letter, respectively. Therefore, we cannot compare, for example, the prayer and thanksgiving section at the end of the exordiumwith Ephesians 4:1-16, nor can we compare the peroratiowith Ephesians 3:1-13 as Wall proposes. Regarding Ephesians 5:21-32, we must understand it according to the corroboration between thenarratioand the exhortatio. Afterwards, we can consider the other factors of the letter that might influence our understanding of the text, because the epideictic style is redundant, thus allowing the rest of the letter to have its full effect.

Thenarratioand the exhortatioboth have three parts. The narratioprogresses through three concepts. First, even though we did not deserve it, we were given a gift called grace(2:1-10). Second, since we were given grace, we should remember that we are part of a new person (2:11-22). Third, this new person is a mystery, which, in God’s wisdom, is his plan of salvation (3:1-13). The exhortatioprogresses through three corresponding concepts. This progression is developed by the use of walk(περιπατέω). First, in light of the gifts, the new person, and the mystery, we should walk worthily and according to the gifts (4:1-16). Second, since we are being built up into the head, we should walk as though we are part of the new person and not part of the old (4:17-5:14). Third, since we have been brought into the light, we should live as wise and not as unwise (5:15-6:9). Before we continue further, we must briefly examine the second section of the exhortatio.

Note that the second section of the exhortatioconsists of two parts. We see an additional use of walk(περιπατέω) in 5:1. Is this verse the start of another section? Given the argument and the surrounding context of Ephesians 5:1, it is not likely. The two sub-sections of this part of the exhortatioshare the same language and concept. Both sections emphasize living out the new life in contrast to the old person, and both refer toimmorality(ἀκαθαρσίαin 4:19 and 5:3), greediness(πλεονεξίαin 4:19 and 5:3), righteousness(δικαιοσύνηin 4:24 and 5:9), and truth(ἀλήθειαin 4:24 and 5:9). Therefore, we should consider these two parts to belong to the same section.27

Now that we have seen the sub-parts of both the narratioand the exhortatio, we can summarize the corresponding relationships. Then we will be able to examine Ephesians 5:21-6:9 in connection with its related section. The first section of both the narratioand the exhortatioare concerned with divine gifts. The second set of corresponding sections are concerned with the new person. Finally, the last set concerns wisdom. It is our position that Ephesians 5:21-6:9 should be interpreted in light of its preceding and corresponding section, Ephesians 3:1-13. As a result, we cannot understand 5:22-33 without first understanding 3:1-13.

The third sections of the narratioand the exhortatioare uniquely tied together conceptually as well as verbally. Both are concerned with the concept of wisdom, the counterpart of which is God’s household plan. Additionally, both share the same language, which is seen in the following relationships: wisdom of God(3:10) and being wise(5:15);28the household administration(οἰκονομία, 3:2, 9) and the household rules (5:21-6:9); and the use of the wordmystery(μυστήριον, 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32), which is found nowhere else in the narratioor exhortatio. Since the narratiowas followed by corroborating proofs in a rhetorical composition, and because the concepts and vocabulary of both of these sections are shared, we can legitimately claim that these two sections bear a significant connection and are specifically related. In light of Ephesians 3:1-13, how should we begin to understand Ephesians 5:21-6:9?

In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul was attempting to help the recipients of this letter understand the mystery, God’s diverse wisdom, that in Christ there is a new person in which the Judeans have been joined together with the non-Judeans. This new person was created by God as a part of his plan of grace, which again is called a mystery.29The administration of the mystery(ἡ οἰκονομία τοῦ μυστηρίου, 3:9) declares that the new person consists of co-heirs, where the Judeans and non-Judeans are equal members or shareholders (3:6-9).30The purpose of this new person is to proclaim to the rulers and authorities the diverse wisdom of God, his mysterious plan (3:10).31All of these things relate to what we find in Ephesians 5:21-6:9. The mysterious union of the Judeans with the non-Judeans forms the theological indicative from which the ethical exhortations proceed. Furthermore, the purpose of this union is proclamation, for the new person is responsible for spreading the mysterious plan. Therefore, we should begin understanding Ephesians 5:21-6:9 based upon these two concepts from Ephesians 3:1-13.

In Ephesians 5:21-6:9, Paul took the two concepts and applied them to the household, specifically between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. Even though each party plays a different role in the relationship, each party is instructed on equal grounds. In other words, each party is understood to be a co-heir with the other in the mysterious plan, because they are all part of the same new person. While they are all understood to be co-heirs, together they were to fulfill the will of the Lord, that is, to spread the good news of the mysterious plan (3:10; 5:17). It is within these concepts that we must understand Ephesians 5:22-33.

After all parties are instructed to submit to each other, wives are instructed to submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5:22, while husbands are instructed to love their wives in Ephesians 5:25.32Both parties are addressed.33Different roles are given, but each party in the relationship is seen as a co-heir. Already we are beginning to see a different nuance to the situation. Yes, wives are instructed to submit to their husbands.34But the wives are equal shareholders in the new person with their husbands.35This equality is described as a mystery. Just as it is a mystery for Christ and the church to be joined together, and just as it is a mystery for the Judeans and the non-Judeans to be joined together, it is also a mystery for wives and husbands to be joined together in a new person (5:32). All of these factors make up the mysterious plan, God’s diverse wisdom.36Furthermore, it is this plan that the new person, including wives and husbands, is to proclaim to the rulers and the authorities through its actions.37Therefore, each party is instructed for a purpose. Wives are to submit to their husbands, and husbands to love their wives, so that each party might take part in the proclamation. Each party, being co-heirs, is given separate tasks in order to come together and fulfill the mission. Together they communicate a bold message to the rulers and authorities. Wives are responsible agents who submit to their husbands and husbands are responsible for loving their wives. This relationship follows the model of the relationship between Christ and the church. Wives submit to their husbands just as the church submits to Christ (5:24). Husbands love their wives just as Christ loves the church (5:25).38Based upon the corresponding section in Ephesians 3:1-13, we are beginning to see that there is more to the exhortation for wives to submit to their husbands than its words. These words are linked with a foundation of equality, and they bear a specific purpose, to participate in the proclamation of God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities. Now that we have begun to understand Ephesians 5:22-33 in light of its corresponding section in Ephesians 3, we can now examine it in light of the rest of the letter, particularly the use of submit(ὑποτάσσω) in Ephesians 1:22, as well as the use of head(κεφαλὴ) in Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15-16.

In Ephesians 1:22, Paul said that God caused all things to be subject to Christ. Christ is the superior, whereas everything else is subject to Christ. Yet, in relation to the church, the new person consists of two parts as follows: Christ is the head; and the church is the body. Not only have all things been subjected to Christ, but the church is also subject to Christ, who is its head. In Ephesians 4:15-16, Christ is again declared as the head of the body, the church. The church is exhorted to grow up into the head (v. 15). But Christ is seen as the nurturer of the body, because it is from him that the rest of the body, his body, his own flesh and bones, is joined and knit together through the gifts that he equipped it with for its own growth (v. 16).39Although the church subjects itself to Christ, the head is still responsible for building up the body.40There is a reciprocal relationship between the head and the body.41In light of this information, we should apply it to our understanding of the exhortation for wives to submit to their husbands and for husbands to love their wives.

The exhortation for wives to submit to their husbands needs to be understood in light of Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15-16. Wives, by analogy, are to act in the same way that the church functions in relationship to Christ. The church submits itself to Christ. This action involves a conscious decision to yield out of love.42Therefore, wives are to submit to their husbands, but this action is motivated out of love for their husbands and respect for the unity of the relationship. Husbands, by analogy, are to act in the same way that Christ treats the church. Christ sacrificially loves the church. He gave himself up for the church as a fragrant offering (Eph. 5:2). Christ equips the church with gifts to help it grow (4:15-16). Therefore, husbands are to love their wives, sacrificing themselves and tending to their wives for their own growth.43Just as the relationship between the church and Christ is reciprocal, so also is the relationship between husbands and wives.44Both are called to love and respect each other. They are on equal ground as co-heirs; they are both equal participants in the relationship. And they are both acting for a common purpose, to proclaim God’s mysterious plan to the rulers and authorities.

In sum, we have determined that the Letter to the Ephesians is composed according to ancient rhetorical structures. We agree with Wall’s argument that Ephesians contains theological indicatives that form the foundation for the ethical imperatives that follow, but we disagree with his proposed corroborating sections. Since the Letter to the Ephesians is an epideictic rhetorical composition, it has a repetitive style that runs across its four main sections, theexordium,narratio,exhortatio, and peroratio. But most of all, its narratioand exhortatioare linked, and we cannot understand Ephesians 5:22-33 without first understanding 3:1-13. Since the letter is redundant, we must also consider the other relevant sections of Ephesians. We have seen that, when we understand Ephesians 5:22-33 first in light of 3:1-13, wives are involved in a relationship with their husbands in which both parties are co-heirs with a common mission that is fulfilled when they both carry out their roles. When we also take into consideration the rest of the letter, we have seen further that both parties are to act out of love and respect for each other. The exhortation in Ephesians 5:24 must not be taken out of context. It is not simply a command to support the hierarchy of men over women, nor should it be used to justify domestic violence. Instead, when understood in light of the composition of the letter, it gives wives a special function within a reciprocal relationship.


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Witherington, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A socio-rhetorical commentary on the captivity epistles. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

1Robert Wall, “Wifely Submission in the Context of Ephesians,”Christian Scholar’s Review17 (1988): 272-85.

2Philip Carrington, The Primitive Christian Catechism: A study of the epistles(Cambridge: University Press, 1940).

3Wall, 272-4.

4Ibid., 274-5.

5Ibid., 274.

6Ibid., 276.

7Ibid., 279.


9Ibid., 281.

10Ibid., 281-3.

11Cf. Cicero, Brutus, 325-7. The style of Ephesians aligns with what Cicero describes as the second type of Asiatic rhetoric, which is a swift, impetuous, ornate, and rich style. For a further description of this style, see Ben Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A socio-rhetorical commentary on the captivity epistles(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 4-10, 219-23.

12Rhetoric, 3.13.4.

13Ibid., 3.14.1-11.

14Institutio Oratoria, 4.1.5.

15Cf. Witherington, 228-30, 238-9.


173.16.1-10. Cf. Andrew Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 42 (Dallas: Word Incorporated, 1990), xliv. Lincoln references Aristotle, Rhetoric, 3.6.1-11 and Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, 4.2.1, saying that the narratioreported the circumstances that provided the foundation for understanding how to act.

18Cf. Witherington, 250-1.


20Aristotle, 3.17.3.

21Cf. Witherington, 279-83, 295, 302-4, 313. Cf. also Roy Jeal,Integrating Theology and Ethics in Ephesians: The ethos of communication, Studies in Bible and Early Christianity, vol. 43 (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2000), 66, 71-2. For Jeal, the exhortatiois not based on an argument dependent on the narratio, but he accepts that the two are integrated by way of rhetorical convention. The narratiostates the current realities of the recipients, which predisposes them to accept the instructions in the exhortatio. However, we must account for the strong conceptual and vocabulary ties that run throughout the respective sections of both thenarratioand exhortatio, something that Jeal does not do.

226.1.1-8, 51-52.


24Cf. Witherington, 344-7; Lincoln, 431-40.

25Cf. Witherington, 238-9. Witherington specifically writes that this section of prayer and thanksgiving brings the exordiumcloser to the main subject, the church, which is treated at the start of Eph. 2. Cf. also Lincoln, 53-4; Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and Apollos, 1999), 254.

26See Witherington, 270-1; Lincoln, 200. Note that Lincoln refers to this prayer and doxology as a transitus.

27Cf. Witherington, 294. Witherington writes that there is a natural progression found in 4:17-5:15; this notion is not unfamiliar with what we have proposed. However, Witherington divides the exhortatiointo five distinct sections based on the use of περιπατέω, whereas we recognize the function of περιπατέωwhile maintaining three distinct sections.

28The link between Eph. 3:1-13 and Eph. 5:15-6:9 through wisdom language strengthens when we consider the use of “fear of Christ” in 5:21. See Lincoln, 366-7, which states that wisdom and the fear of the Lord were closely associated concepts in the Old Testament.

29Cf. Witherington, 263-9. According to Witherington, the revelation of the mystery spells the doom of the rulers and authorities, and the existence of the church proclaims the victory of Christ over these powers. However, he also concedes that it is possible that v. 10 is simply a reference to the purpose of the church to proclaim the mystery to the powers.

30Cf. Margaret MacDonald, Colossians and Ephesians, ed. Daniel Harrington, Sacra Pagina, vol. 17 (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008), 263. MacDonald adds that the mystery is a summary of the facts in 2:11-22. Cf. also Lincoln, 181. For Lincoln, within the church, non-Judeas are no different than Judeans in the sense of membership.

31Cf. MacDonald, 266. MacDonald sees a progression of revelation, where the mystery was first revealed to the apostles and prophets, then to the church, and finally to the rest of the world. Paul was an instrument of revelation in the sense that he was used to reveal the mystery to the church, so that, in turn, the church would become the instrument for revealing the mystery to the world. Cf. also Lincoln, 186-7; O’Brien, 246. Lincoln identifies the church as the means or instrument for God to reveal his wisdom to the powers. But it is not the church’s testimony that reveals God’s wisdom. Instead, as O’Brien also states, it is its existence as a new person. God is still the one who discloses his wisdom, but he does it through the presence of the church, which he created.

32Cf. MacDonald, 325. Verse 21 sets the theme for what comes next according to MacDonald. It generally describes the way of life that sets believers apart from the old life. This theme is mutual submission. Cf. also Lincoln, 366. Lincoln notes that believers are instructed here not to insist on always getting their own way, so it follows that in a general sense husbands are to submit to their wives by putting their wives’ interests first. See especially Russ Dudrey, “‘Submit Yourselves to One Another’: A Socio–Historical Look at the Household Code of Ephesians5:15-6:9,”Restoration Quarterly41 (1999), 40-2. Dudrey emphasizes the reciprocity within each of the relationships involved in the Ephesian household rules as a result of spiritual transformation in all parties, including the husbands, fathers, and masters. For the understanding that the submission is done to those in proper authority only, see O’Brien, 404; Harold Hoehner,Ephesians: An exegetical commentary(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 717.

33Cf. Witherington, 320; O’Brien, 409. Witherington specifically notes the stark contrast between the Ephesian house rules and the treatment from Greco-Roman literature. The difference is that in Ephesians, not men only, but both men and women are moral agents. O’Brien notes that all parties addressed in the household code are addressed as equals in the sense of ethical responsibility. Cf. also MacDonald, 326. For MacDonald, the Ephesians household code reflects the predictable scheme of Greco-Roman house codes. She states that the pairs, wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters were typical. In contrast to MacDonald, see Craig Keener,Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and women’s ministry in the letters of Paul(Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 168. Keener states that many household codes addressed the male of the household and not the other parties. Therefore, what we have in Ephesians is not typical, as it directly addresses other members of the household in addition to the husbands.

34Cf. Linda Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 118-9. That the wives were called to actively submit, not obey, and that elsewhere in the New Testament this wifely action was linked to service demonstrates that the instruction here in Ephesians begins to lose its patriarchal force. Furthermore, what the wives were instructed to do was no different than what everyone else was instructed to do (5:21). Cf. also Lincoln, 372; Markus Barth, Ephesians, The Anchor Bible, vol. 34a (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 712. Both Lincoln and Barth emphasize the voluntary submission by the church to Christ, which further informs how wives are to submit to their husbands.

35Cf. Witherington, 320. Witherington contrasts the role of wives in Ephesians with the roles of women in other ancient literature, showing that Ephesians was far more liberal than Philo, Josephus, Plutarch, and others. Cf. also I. Howard Marshall, “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy, ed. Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2005), 203. Marshall understands that the wife must be viewed as a joint-heir in relation to her husband, a position to which her submission is inseparably linked.

36Cf. Witherington, 333. Witherington seems to agree with our description of the the marriage relationship as part of the mystery when he writes that the term in Eph. 5 deals with the spiritual union between two parties as a result of God’s salvation. This mystery is applied to the union between husband and wife in addition to Christ and the church, and Judeans and non-Judeans. Cf. also MacDonald, 331. MacDonald agrees that μυστηρίονrefers to the union of Christ and the church, the union of husbands with their wives, and the union of Judeans with non-Judeans. Cf. also Lincoln, 381. Lincoln essentially concludes that the mystery in view is only the Christ-church relationship, which forms the model for perceiving the husband-wife relationship.

37Cf. Witherington, 322. Witherington’s discussion agrees with our understanding, for he writes that this section of Ephesians is about living in such a way that one’s actions become a testimony to distant onlookers. Cf. also Keener, 168. Keener writes that the metaphor of the husband and wife as a body with a head illustrates that the two are to see themselves as one unit that work together with a common goal. Cf. also Lincoln, 358-60. In commenting on the Greco-Roman culture of the time, Lincoln notes the importance for wives to submit to their husbands so as not to upset the established social order, lest the new religion be discredited or dismantled as a potential threat to society. In this way, the role of wives can be seen as an evangelistic tool. For a contrasting view, see Timothy Gombis, “A Radically New Humanity: The function of the haustafel in Ephesians,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society48 (2005): 317-30. Gombis makes the case that the house rules in Ephesians were rather radical and were intended to directly subvert the cultural and social structures of the Roman Empire.

38Cf. Witherington, 323. Witherington notes that the husbands are exhorted to love as Christ loved, that is, in a self-sacrificing, subordinating way, which further indicates that a patriarchal design is not in view. For an opposing view, see MacDonald, 328. MacDonald states that the patriarchal design is reinforced by this household code, especially because it uses the Christ-church model to justify the husband-wife relationship. Christ is the head authority of the church; therefore, according to MacDonald, Eph. 5 reinforces the authority of the husband over the wife. But MacDonald still sees a difference in the traditional understanding of the husband to what we have in Ephesians. She notes that the expected traditional role of the husband was to rule his wife, but Paul did not instruct the husband to rule, implying that in this instance there is a counter-cultural theme.

39If we understand Gen. 2:23 to be part of the quotation in Eph. 5:30-31, the organic relationship is emphasized. Irenaeus, D, F, G, Ψ, the Vulgate and part of the Old Latin traditions include Gen. 2:23. The second corrector of Sinaiticus included it; it is also in the margins of 1739. All of the Syriac traditions include it, save Syriac Peshitta. Against these witnesses are P46, A, B, 33, the original hands of both Sinaiticus and 1739, the entire Coptic tradition, and one manuscript of the Vulgate. The witnesses that include Gen. 2:23, although bearing the longer reading, appear to maintain the original text, especially given the early support of Irenaeus in combination with fairly wide support from the western and byzantine texts. For a further discussion, see Peter Rodgers, “The Allusion to Genesis 3:23 at Ephesians 5:30,” Journal of Theological Studies41 (1990): 92-4.

40Cf. Witherington, 328. Witherington takes κεφαλὴto be in reference to service. As Christ came to serve, so also must the husband, who, like Christ, is the head. However, inherent in this idea of a servant is a nurturer. Cf. also Lincoln, 379-80; David Scholer, “The Evangelical Debate Over Biblical ‘Headship,’” in Selected Articles on Hermeneutics and Women and Ministry in the New Testament(Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005), 200; Klyne Snodgrass,Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 295. For Lincoln, Scholer, and Snodgrass, κεφαλὴdoes not mark authority but rather responsibility, highlighting one’s role as a nurturer in this context.

41Cf. John Chrysostom, Homily 20 on Ephesians. In his discussion of 5:25, Chrysostom spoke of a reciprocal relationship between the husband and the wife. For Chrysostom, if the husband wanted a submissive wife, he had to lovingly care for her. Furthermore, she should not have to fear her husband as a slave fears the master. Instead of instilling fear into his wife, as Chrysostom understood it, he should invest in his wife with love.

42BDAG, s.v., ὑποτάσσω, §1.b.β.Cf. Eph. 4:1-3. The understanding of ὑποτάσσωas provided by BDAG is supported by the context. In Eph. 4:1-3, there is a call to unity. Unity must be grounded in love. Bearing with one another in love also entails submitting or yielding to each other for the sake of unity. This sense comes out in Eph. 5:21, which provides the immediate context for 5:22. For a further discussion, see Lincoln, 365.

43Cf. Witherington, 329-30; O’Brien, 419. According to Witherington and O’Brien, the exhortation for husbands to love their wives is not about feelings only but it is also about volition or an act of the will.

44Cf. Witherington, 331-2; MacDonald, 326; Lincoln, 374. Indeed, the relationship between the husband and the wife is “an organic unity” as Witherington describes. Furthermore, the relationships in the household code are described as having “reciprocal responsibilities” by MacDonald. For Lincoln, the call for the wife to submit to her husband cannot be separated from the exhortation for the husband to love his wife.