A recent commenter on this blog relied on this passage for the lordship of husbands over wives:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24.)
There are a number of good resources for understanding this passage correctly, such as Marg Mowczko’s Ephesians 5:22-33, in a Nutshell and Patrick Franklin’s Ephesians 5:21-33: How Paul Turns Headship on Its Head, but let’s take the commenter at his word and look at what this passage would then mean for him.
Don’t stop halfway – continue on to being a savior, men!
The commenter – as do many others who read the passage superficially – insists wives are to submit to husbands, so it’s worth looking at what the next part of that passage says about a husband’s responsibility to a wife. By the commenter’s reasoning, verses 22 to 24 mean a wife’s role is to submit to her husband as the church does to Christ, that is, since Christ is Lord over the church in all things so the husband is lord over the wife in all things.
The husband’s role isn’t limited to lordship, though, if that commenter is being intellectually honest about verses 25 to 27.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 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. (Ephesians 5:25-27.)
As those verses put it, the husband is to give himself up for his wife just as Christ did the church. Here is how Christ carried that out:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8.)
The lordship commenter now needs to decide if he is ready to carry this out. Is he ready to die to save his wife in that very moment his wife is in rebellion against him and his lordship? And is he ready to do it in the most unglamourous, humiliating, and debasing manner possible, just as Jesus did for his people?
It doesn’t end there. Verses 25-27 also say that this is all tied in to the salvation Christ brings. So the lordship husband is not only ready to die a humiliating and perhaps unappreciated death for his wife, but also responsible for her salvation into holiness. If the lordship husband requires his wife to submit because his relationship to her is like Jesus’ relationship to the church, then he needs to go all the way in being Christ to his wife.
This turns the husband into a savior. That’s blasphemy.
Reading the Bible like an Ephesian
The Ephesians never would have read the passage the way. It’s not only because they would have been reading it correctly: as a passage using marriage to illustrate something greater rather it being a passage using the church and Christ as an illustration to govern something lesser. It’s also because they would have just read these earlier words from Paul in the same letter:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6.)
Wives – just like husbands and single women and single men and children and widows and widowers – have one hope, and it’s not in their husbands being their personal savior. It’s in the One Savior.
Jude honed in on this when he wrote:
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25.)
It is Christ – and Christ alone – who is our Lord and Savior who died for us all and presents us holy and without fault.
Which means that reading verses 25-27 as putting this responsibility on the husband is nonsense. And by the same rules of reading, it also means that using verses 22-24 to put on the wife a responsibility to be submissive to her husband because the church is submissive to Christ is nonsense too.*
But the next time someone tells you wives have to submit to their husbands because that’s what the church is supposed to do for Jesus, ask them if the husband is ready to do everything – every single thing – for his wife that Jesus did for his people. If not, the inconsistency is clear. If so, the blasphemy is clear.
Let’s all just submit to one another as Paul intended to advise. After all, that’s what he said in leading off the passage that extended not only to married couples, but also to parents and children and slaves and slave-owners.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21.)
That’s the way to relate to one another.
*How to read the passage as the Ephesians would have read it? That is a whole other blog post, and happily it has already been written by Marg Mowczko in Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33 where she explains the chiastic structure of the passage and how it would have been apparent to the original readers.