TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER TO EPHESIANS WITH COMMENT
EPHESIANS 5: 15
Look shrewdly at your way of life, as wise rather than stupid people, buying back time for goodness, for the days are evil. So do not be ignorant but understand what the master wants – and do not get drunk with wine, for that is wastefulness – but be filled by the spirit: talking amongst yourselves with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the master with all your heart, always giving thanks for everything to our God and father, in the name of our master Jesus Messiah. And be subordinate to one another in reverence to Messiah.
Wives, be to your husbands as to the master, for the husband is head of the wife as Messiah is head of the assembly, the body he protects. But just as the assembly is subordinate to Messiah, so the wife should be to her husband in all matters.
Husbands, love your wives as Messiah also loved the assembly and handed himself over on her behalf, to consecrate her; cleansing her by the bath of water, in the word; so that he might present the assembly to himself in all her glory, without a stain or a wrinkle or anything like that, but she would be holy and faultless. Similarly husbands should love their wives like their own bodies; the man who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever slighted his own flesh, but rather feeds it and keeps it warm, like Messiah and the assembly, because we are limbs of his body.
As scripture says, “For this purpose a man will leave his father and mother behind, and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”
This is a great hidden truth but I am applying it to Messiah and the assembly.
Anyway, every one of you should love his wife as himself; and let the wife revere her husband.
Rose, first black woman bishop of the Church of England
The person (almost certainly a man!) who wrote this letter had at least two things in mind when he composed this section:
1. The prevailing social custom of Greek society at the time, which emphasised the role of the Family Father as master and protector of his household.
2. The knowledge that St Paul had given instruction that “in Messiah” that is, in the life of the assembly, all social distinctions were abrogated. Within some assemblies, at least in their corporate life, this instruction was followed to some degree. In some indeed, women had leadership roles.
He does not admit that he knows the second of these, perhaps because he’s dealing with marriage, a social institution which existed both inside the assembly and outside. Here he is concerned with marriage as outside the corporate life of the assembly., but he consistently uses the relationship of Jesus and the assembly to guide the behaviour of husbands and wives. In essence he moderates some of harshness of the social custom, by reference to the love of Jesus, which is, by his definition, the love of a master to his servants. Jesus loves his body, the assembly, with a caring love, and so privileged husbands ought to do the same towards their wives, who, recognising their goodness, ought to revere them.
This assertion of male identity with Jesus along with the implicit denial of any female identity, is a fundamental departure from the teaching that the whole assembly is the body of Messiah. It cannot be reasonably defended as it contradicts the author’s own teaching. Yes, the image of the husband caring for the wife as for his own body is powerful and moving, but it is also clearly biased. The author’s attempt to modify the prejudice of his society corrupts his radical understanding of God’s plan for the assembly of Jesus: it accepts the gentiles as equals but not women. If Messiah and the assembly are one flesh, how can female flesh be not quite equal with male? This confusion betrays the author’s timidity. But it’s also true that if the text of his letter to Corinthians can be trusted, St Paul himself shrank from the implications of believing that all are one in Messiah, as expressed in his letter to Galatians. This is an issue with which some major denominations of the Christian church have yet to deal.