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Mar 16, 2006


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Rodger Sellers

"Submission by the wife is not given to the paterfamilias because he is the ruler of the household. It is no longer about status and male superiority as with the Greeks and Romans. Submission is given to a husband out of appreciation for the life giving sustenance and resources he provides to the household out of service to Christ;... The paterfamilias is the patron for his household subjects and in Roman culture that commands respect and service."

While I'll agree with the historical fact of the above in Roman culture, I'm not convinced that's what the passage is saying. (Or at least not all that it's saying.)

Vs. 21, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," is the controlling verb for the following phrases, especially the "target" (vs. 22) some use in an attempt to justify the "complementarian" point of view towards women. (Check out all the stuff posted by MH people on several of the gridblogs about International Women's Day for this, especially all the stuff Rachelle got on her blog at http://www.thursdaypm.org/blog/rachelle/ -- it's her Wed. Mar. 8th post)

Literally, it reads "being subjet to one another" (with that being the controlling verb for what follows), then the wives / husbands parts are participial, gaining their meaning from the verb and then adding nuance to the verb. But my take is that mutual submission - of equals - the "there is no longer male and female" of Gal. 3: 28 - is the idea that's being presented here.

The "being subject" for wives (while I'll grant may be a bone thrown to Roman culture like you seem to be saying)is one nuance to mutual submission while the "loving your wives just as Christ loved the church" is another - both of these are subordinate to the verb in vs. 21. To try to then further subordinate one of these to the other is non-sensical.

I've posted a sentence diagram that I toted around for years before scanning here: http://www.rodgersellers.com/Ephesians%205.htm (I'm not sure how to enter that as a link, so sorry about the cut and paste needed -- don't know enough HTML for that.)

It shows what I'm trying to convey.


Michael Kruse

Thanks for this Rodger!

I realized about 3/4 the way into writing this post I was trying to do too much with it. I don't think I fleshed out some pieces as well.

"While I'll agree with the historical fact of the above in Roman culture, I'm not convinced that's what the passage is saying. (Or at least not all that it's saying.)"

I agree that this is not all that it is saying. I suspect Paul has two aims in mind here. One is relationships within the household. Second is the relationship of the household to the larger world.

I fully agree with you that the "submission to one another out of reverence for Christ" is the controlling portion for what follows. What I am speculating is that if Paul stopped here and said nothing more you would have had a completely egalitarian household. I also suspect that had households lived openly in an egalitarian way the Romans would have quickly crushed the movement. Thus, Paul feels the need to give more instruction. I am suggesting that the wife subjecting herself to her husband as the “head” is the practical and culturally specific expression of the higher principle of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” within the Greco-Roman context.

Applying this to today's culture does NOT mean women submitting to their husbands as providers! It is no longer a scandal for husbands and wives to live as equals, therefore there is no need to "camouflage" their egalitarian relationship. Paul’s household code was a strategic not a universal trans-cultural mandate.

That is mostly what I was trying to say but maybe didn’t too well. Feedback like yours is exactly why I am writing this stuff. Thanks!

Rev. Thomas E. Smith

John Howard Yoder's work, The Politics of Jesus (1972) calls this "revolutionary subordination." I think his argument and yours are very similar. While the NT commands submission everywhere, it does so knowing full well that the unspoken expecation is that slaves, wives, and even children would refuse to submit to idolatry regardless of consequences from the "head of household." Submission is a radically subversive method of preaching the gospel from a place of weakness in the Roman world, submission in all respects but one! This is how the Roman culture was brought to its knees by the gospel, for as goes the household, so goes the empire. The only thing they could throw at slaves and women was death, which turned out to be not much of a weapon, for those who confessed faith in Jesus Christ knew that death was a defeated foe. We completely miss the point of the household codes when we abstract them from their first century evangelistic and appologetic context.

Michael Kruse

Thanks for this reminder about Yoder. I think that this is one of the great contributions Anabaptists like Yoder have brought to the Church.

What I wrestle with is this. Short of insurrection, it seems there was little people could do to change the social structures of the day in the New Testament era. Today, where “we the people” are the government, there are a variety of ways we may go about influencing social structures. It seems to me that submission and other-centeredness are still at the core but I sense that we are to engage culture in ways that New Testament Christians couldn’t and Anabaptists often haven’t. Yet I think the Reformed tradition often places too much faith in its ability to transform through political engagement. Maybe that is why God gave us each other. *grin*

Rodger Sellers

"What I am speculating is that if Paul stopped here and said nothing more you would have had a completely egalitarian household. I also suspect that had households lived openly in an egalitarian way the Romans would have quickly crushed the movement."

Yeah: Good point -- begrudgingly acknowledged... Simply because it really does a mind trip on me to delve too deep into the possibility that Paul was "working the process" a la church / empire political culture! :)


Hannah Im

Thanks so much for this. Your explanation of κεπαλη in the passages above finally helped make this more clear to me. I studied this passage in an exegesis class at Dallas Sem, but I wasn't exposed to as much modern (read: complimentarian) scholarship as I would have liked.

This is my first visit to your blog, but not my last.

Michael Kruse

Hi Hannah. I'm glad you found this post helpful.

I am about to wrap up my endless series on Theology and Economics. Sometime in August I hope to dive into the subordination of women question. I want to look at slavery, womens' subordination, and homosexual practice. I want to process in public how I have to the conclusions that slavery is wrong, women are equal to serve in every kind of ministry and homosexual practice is against God's will. Some see my position on women directly to affirmation of homosexual practice. It doesn't. Processing these three ethical issues has led to some the richest Bible study I have ever done. I do hope you will check back and thanks for stopping by.


I look forward to checking in on your posts regarding slavery, the role of women, and homosexuality....

Michael Kruse

Thanks listening. First I have to find the exit out of my theology and economics series. (I've fallen in. And I can't get out!) Actually I think I should be done in early August. I have a five post deal I want to do on Tom Skinner and a couple of book reviews. Then I think I should be ready to go. Thanks for visiting!

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