Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
— Ephesians 5:22
Taken in isolation, as it frequently is by those who seek to discredit Christianity, this verse appears horribly sexist, declaring women as inferior to men, and almost asking them to worship their husbands as gods! Given everything else Paul writes about idol worship this is clearly not what is meant. Taken in context of the whole chapter, a different narrative emerges. Firstly, it is worth noting that both Jesus and Paul treat women as equal members of the church, and this is clear from all four gospels and the majority of the genuine Pauline letters.1 This chapter is no different. This verse, and its surrounding text is not about women as second rate citizens but about both men and women as being subjects of God. The chapter goes on to command Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it...So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.2
These verses speak of the power of a loving relationship, where there is give and take, love and strength in both directions. The man-woman/woman-man relationship is the earthly implementation of the human-God/God-human relationship. As we both subject ourselves to, and love God, so we do the same towards one another. A strong marriage bond allows us to then extend such love towards others, neighbours and strangers alike.
The chapter ends with this: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.3 Asking a man to surrender himself to a woman, to become as one flesh with her, surrendering himself completely unto her, is surely the opposite concept of a man as ruler of women. This may be apologetics here, and of course I would like Paul's letters to offer me a Christianity I can embrace wholeheartedly, but even so, there is much to learn from absorbing this whole chapter rather than pulling out a single line here and there to justify a position. Scripture can be mysterious, but then, so was Jesus, and so indeed is marriage!
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. 4