I’ve previously questioned the usefulness of preaching from the church calendar as I’ve felt it lacks a certain spontaneity often useful in today’s culture. However, this past weekend it fit my recent circumstances like an old pair of underwear. The topic in question, discussed over pizza with friends on friday night, and in the reading at Immaculate Conception on Sunday morning, is the role(s) of marriage in Ephesians 5.
We Christians in American like to think of Scripture as a plain and simple, nuts and bolts, easily approachable and easily understandable text. Yet, in my opinion, the only part that comes naturally is our reading personal circumstances and preferences into the text. Depending on cultural circumstances and the hermenuetical tools employed you could produce a number of different readings, though this doesn’t mean they would be equivalent in credibility.
In light of recent discussion, I thought I might explore some points to consider in reading this passage.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Functioning as the beginning of the passage, we could accept this passage as the foundation, or point of reference, for the discussion of marriage. As was pointed out by Fr. McClellan of IC, the subversion of the male to the female is particularly important as in Greco-Roman culture as wives were often ‘acquired’ as much for material, territorial, social, or political gain as they were for companionship.
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.
Since we covered the ‘be subject part already, lets look at what it means to be the head. Does head = leader? It can in western culture, but does that hold true for the Greco-Roman world, and if so how probable would it have been for the author to use it in this way? If the husband is the head, then what does it mean for wife to be the body?
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kindâ€”yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.
Husband’s, what does it mean to give yourself up for your wife? Is that to include your position of power?
In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.
…for we are all members of his body? Is the author redefining the body metaphor (does it now include the ‘head’)? Is the body metaphor consistent with this theme of being ’subject to one another?
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.
How are Christ and the Church to be thought of as ‘one flesh’? The Church body is often referred to as the ‘body of Christ’. If the Church is the physical representation of Christ, is marriage then also representative of Christ?
Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
It’s interesting that the author chose to conclude using different verbs for each spouse. How does this relate to the metaphor of the body, or the image of Christ and the Church, or the theme of mutual subjection? Does it change the mutual submission presented at the beginning of the passage?
Hopefully, if nothing else, I’ve helped to illustrate that Scripture isn’t always as cut and dry as some would claim (hope?) it to be. This is not to say that it should be dismissed, but rather we must come to Scripture through the Church (in dialogue), with humility, reverence, patience, and discipline.
(NOTE: Though not explored here, textual critical reading can also be of benefit in approaching Scripture. The themes in Ephesians five would be compared to other letters attributed to Paul to evaluate where the text’s agree and disagree. In this instance, a comparison to the marriage passage in 1 Corinthians 7 would be a fruitful next step.)