Ephesians 5:21-33…. Paul’s ‘wives be subject to your husbands’ statement

Scenario:  Your large, urban, 21st-century congregation is composed primarily of wealthy families of mixed ethnic origins. Discuss strategies for preaching on Ephesians 5:21-33. As you do so, pay particular attention to how you will present verses 22-24: “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.”

Preaching on this particular passage would require:

1.     Clarification of the context – the structure of society at the time was such that women/wives had limited authority beyond the limits of their homes

2.     Defining for the congregation the difference between our 21st century lens that sees this passage as anti-feminist and the 1st/2nd century lens that accepts this as part of their cultural reality and can accept what is being said and its implications without being caught up in conflict with modern thought and belief.  As well,  monetary or ethnic status does not play a role either.

3.     Defining the purpose of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – again, Paul is seeking to created a unified group/movement; to do this he compares the wife being subject to her husband as she is subject to the Lord.  The husband is likened to Christ in his role as head of the church.  In the alternative, the church is subject to Christ, therefore the wife as compared to the church is to be subject to her husband as compared to Christ, head of the church

4.     Note that Paul addresses ‘wives’ first thereby attributing honour and status to women in a culture where honour was valued and important and where women were not seen as equal in status.

5.     The exhortation is followed by a corollary that qualifies the ‘subject to’.  The wife is to be subject to her husband in the same way that she would be subject to Jesus/the Messiah.  It is important, I think, to point out this relationship.

6.     According to Capes et al in Rediscovering Paul, “The Ephesian household code orginates in the directive regarding mutual submission.  Mutual caring and yielding to others are constant themes in Paul’s letters.” (233) In footnote 31, “… the household code in Ephesians is not an attempt to impose pagan, patriarchal values on the church but to impose spiritually empowered, mutual submission on a pagan, patriarchal structure.” (233)

7.     It would then be important to define ‘household code’.   “These household codes typically provide guidance to family members on how to relate t one another in a manner consistent with the gospel.” (220 & 222)

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