Monday, August 11, 2008

The Mystery of Submisson - Ephesians 5 (part 1 of 16)


The relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, is a deeply needed cultural conversation with great import into apologetics. Not only does the Scripture tell us to give an answer for our faith, but even more often it tells us to live out that answer, even in marriage. How we relate to one another in love is a tall signpost. Today, more than ever, the doors are swung wide to explore this mystery of marriage; it is prudent for anyone who claims to follow Jesus as the Messiah to do so.

Ephesians 5 holds the most detailed passage on the relationship between husband and wife in the New Testament. In other passages of Peter and Paul, we find short reminders of marriage using the same language as Ephesians. So we turn to here for the clearest idea of what Paul means. This is not to preclude the many passages that speak to all humans to love, be neighborly, admonish, exhort, and stand firm in the Messiah.

The “roles” of marriage evoke a roller-coaster of images and emotion. Everyone has an opinion. Some welcome new insights and ideas from others. And more often, many avoid honestly entertaining other models outside the flavor of the day. Some want to be progressive and grab some egalitarian model. Others want to be traditional and choose a tradition of the past even though traditions change depending on the era. Yet among those who take the Bible literally and without error there lies a broad spectrum of views, each claiming to be the “Biblical” way.

With a renewal of scholars talking about “equality” in marriage countered by others who hold to a “subordination” view of marriage (commonly termed “complementarian,” husband is leader of wife),[1] let’s look at this passage with fresh eyes. Let’s get some perspective on Paul’s words. Perhaps Paul is saying things we often overlook. Or he is not saying things we often assume out of habit. Or perhaps we need our ideas reinforced. When we consider the text for ourselves and all its beautiful nuances, it prevents us from merely mimicking one or the other side of the party-line.

I hope you have read the Ephesians passage. It is important that you do. Take it in. Let it inform your view. Any person thoughtful about this passage will be an influential leader in his or her sphere to the freedom that truth brings.

These posts will reflect my own honest inquiry and understanding of this passage today. I am open to changing my mind as evidence presents itself. I grew up under Christian teaching adamant about a certain view of marriage, a view that many subordinationists and egalitarians would consider more cultural than Biblical. Yet as I’ve studied this text over the last few years, I’ve noticed things I’d never seen before and have read various scholars with views that agreed with my heritage and views that did not. My motivation as a married man is to see what God thinks about roles and submission in marriage. And you’ll see that, apart from some cultural notes, my explanations are found in the text when we let the text speak. Biblical scholars, who love God and scripture, land in different areas of the debate, so this essay will not appeal to “scholarly authority” in a quotation-fest. For issues that stir up as much heat as this one, anyone can find a scholar that agrees with his own point of view.

Some have made teachings on marriage as essential as our hope in the resurrection. It is not. While I believe our view of marriage will have deep implications traced all the way to our view of the Trinity, I believe there is room to disagree on this issue in love without demonizing anyone. We would do well to pray for ourselves and others to be nudged by God's gentle Spirit into the light.

I approach the text as a student of Jesus and Paul. I have Jesus' view that the Bible is inspired and telling the truth without compromise. I also realize that all language, even my own, is found in context—a literary and a cultural one. And that makes a study like this one all the more adventurous.

Stay tuned.

[1] Both subordinationists and egalitarians believe the sexes “complement” one another. So I’m choosing words that best describe the view they hold rather than allowing either camp play rhetorical games to sound more appealing.