Monday, August 18, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 8 of 16)

What is not here

Let me make a special observation about what is not in this Ephesians 5 instruction to women.

There is no mention of “roles” of wives nor reference to how wives are “wired.” Nothing about staying home with children or keeping house. No mention of a need for spiritual guidance for wives. No mention of decisions that women cannot handle or make. Not even a mention of weakness like we find mentioned elsewhere.[1]

We only find an attitude of humble submission to a life-giving head. If “head” could possibly mean “authority,” I find no notion of what that means in Paul’s view of marriage of a husband with authority. What are women prohibited from doing that would require a husband to keep her in check? Does the husband trump everything? Is the woman to stay at home? Or work out of the home? What about overseeing finances? Does care-giving the children fall more on the mother than the father? Is she unable to share truth from Scripture? What if there is disagreement? What prevails? The husband? Or their best individual understandings based on Scripture and the Spirit? What exactly are the wives not permitted to do or oversee in this text? There are no specifics; specifics show up when theologians and writers try to make these simple verses practical. The mystery of submission goes deep. We would do well to stay our focus. We step out of bounds, import our modern cultural lenses when put things in the Scripture that are not being said. [2]

For much of my life, I was told the Bible is the authority and the Bible assigns “roles” to men and women. Yet many today uphold the Bible as the authority but tack on what Jesus referred to as “traditions.” We must re-examine ourselves, our intentions, our thoughts. We may find sociological studies supporting our views, but let's not overlay them on God's word. Modern studies, unlike the Bible, usually come with expiration dates.

In summary of the details to wives, it is clear to me that to read “head” as “authority” is to read too much into the text, especially with Paul’s understanding of “submission to one another” and his understanding of “savior.” The section on what submission looks like for a wife in marriage is short, filled with metaphors of life and gives us pictures consistent with the meanings of Paul’s original thesis: “submit to one another.”

[1] 1 Peter 3:7: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. For more, see Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, page 109-113.

[2] Though some will find these examples bizarre, try generating some of your own examples and what you have seen imposed on women that are in the name of “submission” but are not in the text. I will not mention any titles, but there are numerous popular books today that bring in pop-psychology at this point, read into the text, share some anecdotal stories, interview statistics that are culturally laden, and then say this is what Scripture is teaching. As an apologist defending the faith, one of the pitfalls I try to be careful of—though am never immune—is importing assumptions in the text that have their origin in other places.


Molly Aley said...

This was spot on!

For much of my life, I was told the Bible is the authority and the Bible assigns “roles” to men and women. Yet many today uphold the Bible as the authority but tack on what Jesus referred to as “traditions.”

Same here... Coming out of these traditions---heck, even getting up the courage to question them---was hard work but has sure been worth it. :)

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks, Molly! Standing up against traditions is always hard, for me too. But it should be. It shows, as Chesterton said, that if we're going to take down a fence, we must know what it's there for.

So the struggle is understanding the fence, and then, when no good reasons abound, we may need to knock it over and erect a new one in a better place.

Thanks for the voice you have. Jonalyn's really enjoying her exchange with you!