Ephesians 5, 21-32

Hello. I was born and raised a Catholic but fell away about 50 years ago. I still remember sitting in a park in Montreal on the first Sunday I chose not to attend Mass - and wondered if God would strike me dead. About 5 years ago, I came back to the Church and have now become a BIT active (Warden, Chair of the Liturgy Committee, on the Parish Pastoral Council, Lector and Eucharistic Minister)

I am so happy to have once again found God - but I DO have one question/concern on Ephesians 5:21-32. I am so happy I was not reading last week because I would have had a HUGE problem reading that one. How can the Church accept such a chauvinistic translation “The husband is head of his wife - so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything” As a 66 year old GUY, I find that actually borderline offensive.

Tim I know what you mean but there may also be some influence from the culture of the time, a kind of culture that persisted for many centuries even in English Law

There is also the ideal understanding that a man will love his wife as he loves his own body and as Christ loves the Church. Faithful, respectful love freely shared and given, is the ideal.
The trouble is that this ideal is seldom realized. If it were there would be no danger and no denigration for any woman in the text. However given that obedience to the letter of this law mostly can result in some level of injustice or abuse, subtle or blatant, the text is quite jarring to most persons

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 5:33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

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.”

We perhaps also may not necessarily always agree with “weaker partner” as many men and women know, women are often the stronger, the most faithful, the most able…even if some men don’t always recognize that! :slight_smile:

There may be some reassurance in what Paul also wrote in Galatians 3:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Lots of people are bothered by that passage, so you are not alone. I commend you for seeking out further information on the passage instead of just assuming the worst must be true.

This passage can often cause our modern sensibilities to recoil, but it needn’t. I think it’s quite unfortunate that so many dismiss the passage as a “product of the times.” It’s in Scripture for a reason. And it has many beautiful things to tell us about marriage if we can avoid our knee-jerk responses over what we think it means.

The key to understanding the whole passage is verse 21, which many people seem to gloss over. It reads: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We’re talking about mutual subordination. It is not a one way street. None of the rest of the passage is going to make sense if we do not understand what Paul is saying right from the outset.

Both the husband and the wife are called to be self-sacrificing and to put the needs of the other ahead of their own. Husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church. And how did Christ love the Church? Just take a look at a crucifix. If a husband doesn’t look like that, he’s not doing his job.

John Paul II does a wonderful catechesis on this passage in his Theology of the Body. Look at Audiences #87-103. He illustrates the great beauty of this passage and it’s true meaning for marriage. If this passage troubles you, I highly recommend reading all of those audiences. This is the Catholic understanding of that passage.

It’s the way God intended. The reason some take offense IMO is because they feel equality is being taken away. Equality of the sexes was never a given. I do not want to be or act like a man and I dont want my husband to be or act like a woman. Eoungh said.

That is a misreading of the passage and contrary to the Church’s understanding.

From my homily this past Sunday:

This brings us to our second reading from Ephesians; every lady’s favorite bible passage. This is one of the readings often suggested for weddings, but rarely ever chosen. That really is a shame, because when properly understood in context, it is quite lovely and a true template for a successful marriage and a good life. To understand this reading we need to make an effort to focus on two things: First, to whom and why was Paul writing; and second, what is the very first thing he tells them.
Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus, a busy Roman commercial city in present day Turkey. He was writing to address a problem the church was having from the local population. The people were persecuting these new Christians because they believed this Christian idea of “equality among all” was a threat to the established social fabric of Roman civilization, based on a strict hierarchy. Paul is setting the people at ease, by explaining that we Christians do have a hierarchy, but then also explaining how it should really work.
So what is the very first line of this reading that is so often overlooked? ***“Be subordinate to each other.” ***He then goes onto to explain how wives should be subordinate to their husbands AND how husbands should be subordinate to their wives. Yeah, sorry guys. Beautifully, he uses the imagery of Christ as the groom and the church as the bride to make his point. Just as the church honors Christ, so should wives honor their husbands. Just as Christ came, and lived and died for the church, so should husbands, live, and if necessary, die, for their wives and families. It isn’t about domination or subjugation. How could it be when St. Paul says that husband and wife “become one body” and should love each other as themselves? One would never rationally seek to mistreat one’s own flesh. This reading is not about giving ourselves 50/50 in marriage, but 100%/100% to each other, as Christ gave himself to the church, and continues to do so today in the Eucharist. This is a hard teaching, and Yeshua has given us all a choice. Statistics prove that those who accept this teaching usually live in happy, fruitful, healthy relationships in the model of being “Christlike”. Those who choose to walk away from this teaching, statistically often end up in an undesirable situation. This reading is really about the domestic church, our families, where we first learn how to be selfless – Christ like.
As we each approach the alter of the Lord to receive Him in the Eucharist, let us pray that we may become more like what we are about to receive, the One who became subordinate to all, who gave all, 100%, to us, his spouse, the Church.

When you think about it, St. Paul is actually giving a more demanding commandment to husbands than he is to wives. He commands wives to obey their husbands, yes, but what does he command husbands to do? Love your wives as Christ loved the Church…what a tall order! Christ loved the Church so much that He laid down His life for her…husbands are called to to give their all to their wives - to love them with a supernatural love that is only made possible by the grace of Christ. A man who truly loves his wife as Christ loves the Church would be easy to “obey”, would he not? Every decision he made would be full of love, compassion, understanding, and self-sacrifice.

It is not a misread. Because I do not believe being subordinate as a bad thing. We each man/woman have our place. The Bible says so. Christ is the Head of the church and Man is the Head of Woman. It does not say the Woman is slave to Man.

It also says for the Man to love his Wife as He loves himself. We cant just take one verse from the Bible and run with it. It must be read in Context and entirety.

When we all realize we have our place and that neither of us is at the top, the world would be a better place.

This can sound like a controversial passage, but I heard a great explanation on the radio.
The two verses that sound controversial are:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…

For verse 22, we must look at the 2nd half of the verse “as you do to the Lord.” It doesn’t say “as you do to a slave-driver” or “as you do to a dictator.” It’s important to note that Paul is trying to set up a framework for a relationship based on loving sacrifice. This was radical at the time, as love was absent from many (if not most) marriages of the day. Wifes should submit as to the Lord, and the Husband has his own responsibilities of love and service explained later.

Verse 23 is important to look at the word “head.” Head does not mean leader, or boss, or tyrant, or dictator. It means head. One time Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was having a media conference, and one of the reporters asked him “How are you going to handle such-and-such a problem as the leader of the diocese?” He gave her a quizzical look and said “I’m…not the leader of the diocese. I’m the head of the diocese.”

When I’m hungry…my stomach is the leader. However, it looks to my head to find good food and consume it. The head is in a position of service to the stomach, and to the rest of the body. Just like the Cardinal is in a position of service to the diocese. The diocese trusts the Cardinal and looks to him to have their needs met. Just like the wife should look to the husband to have her needs met, whatever those may be. “Headship” implies service, not chain of command!

These ideas were radical, because women weren’t much more than slaves in the ancient world. This revolutionized marriage. Paul was far from sexist, he sought to raise men and women to equals. He stated that a man should love his wife. Some thinkers of the day would have said, “why?” It was not common, she was a piece of property. The Christian ideal of marriage, based on love, submission, and service, it really amazing.

I hope this helps a little. It helped me a LOT when I heard it. Have a good one everybody! :slight_smile:

People who object to this passage need to chill out. First of all, it is inspired scripture. While Paul may have intended the message to be carried to the people of Ephesus, the Holy Spirit intended it for all generations and all people. Yes, even you and me.

Ladies, think back to when you were dating the man you married. Did he ever buy you dinner, hold the door open for you or step back and allow you to approach the altar rail first?

In each of these cases, he was loving you and you were submitting to his expressions of that love.

Paul says that husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Wives, why wouldn’t you submit to such a love as this.

I constantly remind my wife that I love her as Christ loves his bride. My wife responds with, :Oh yeah, then why didn’t you put your dishes in the dishwasher? As I wipe and load the dishes, I sense that it is I who is submissive…

I may sound chauvinistic, but really I´m not. Before I married Miriam, 42 years ago, I used this verse when I proposed. I really got the meaning of it, as well as the importance of it. I believe she did too. She was a very independent Social Worker. I told her that I wanted to marry her, but would not if she didn´t agree with that verse. She agreed. We´re still married. In any covenant between two people or groups of people, someone has to be the one to make the final decisions. Personally I don´t like making decisions. But it seems God, in a marrage, puts the man in charge. How many women out there wish, that their man would step up? How many marriages out there on the brink, because the husband checked out? Should a marriage be fifty fifty? No. If you do it Christs´way it´s one hundred one hundred. The husband gives all to the wife and the wife gives all to the husband. But the final decision making … is for the husband. A big responsibility, but that´s the way God wants it. God bless:thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:




As a side note: it is safe to look up the word subordinate in google, but if you just look up the word submissive it does NOT take you straight to the definition, but rather yields some… less than savory results.

As to your question: you’ve got a contextual problem, because what you quoted was NOT the message of what Paul is saying at the end of Ephesians 5.

Let’s look at the whole thing in context, and I’m going to highlight some key parts:

***Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. **Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
**In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. ***

Okay, let’s start off with the portion I highlighted in RED:

Husbands and wives are called to be SUBORDINATE to each other. But submission here is not meant in the modern sense of the word. Submission here means to be under the mission of… we are called to SUPPORT (be under) the MISSION (salvation) of one another. In other words, in marriage we are to subvert our selfishness for satisfaction to support one another in our spiritual walk with Christ.

Now, let’s move to the part I highlighted in ORANGE:

Wives are called to subordinate themselves to their husbands and all are called to subordinate themselves to the Christ. Is that such a heavy burden? No. We are called to follow the teachings of Christ (spiritual leadership) and to reverence the Lord. This is about a fundamental need of men: the need to be respected… men have a need to know that their wives respect them both privately and publicly. A woman here is being informed: a happy relationship with a healthy male involves giving praise for when he does right. Women are being told to: 1) build up their husbands to a healthy ego rather than trying to subvert them and 2) to follow the lead of the husband where it is appropriate.

Okay, now let’s talk about that GREEN bit:

Men are being told that we need to love our wives… because affirming love and loyalty is IMPORTANT to a wife. Men are psychologically better at giving respect, but poorer at expressing emotions (a side effect of the fact that what we desire is respect rather than emotion). Paul is telling us here that we are to express love to our wives. He furthermore clarifies how this love is to take shape: in the form of the love of Christ (aka, expressing love does not mean sex). In other words, in expressing this love, the husband is to care for his wife, to provide strong and correct spiritual leadership (side note: I really can’t stand when I go to mass and see a whole family kneeling EXCEPT the father… :mad:).

Paul sums this whole passage up in ONE sentence, that bit in PURPLE:

Basically, thousands of years before the field of psychology was introduced and gender studies commenced in formal manner, St Paul is offering keen insight on the relationship needs and desires of men and women: men seek respect, women seek emotive love. What he’s doing here is not saying that women are inferior to men, but rather he is dispensing a condensed form of what hundreds of years of gender study has finally revealed to us to be true: that men and women have different needs in a relationship, and that we have to learn what the other needs in order to fulfill it and be successful in a marriage. Paul is giving the first recorded instance of Catholic marriage counseling, not disparaging women

You must remember that St Paul wrote in the culture of his time**. He also speaks of slaves and master…another thing common in the culture of his time, and the Church has spoken out against slavery in the past few centuries. John Paul ll spoke of mutual submission in his encyclical “Mulieris Dignitatem” ( in the culture of **our time) **with these words:

“The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife” (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a “mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ” (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the “head” of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give “himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the “subjection” is not one-sided but mutual.”

Some women (as they have shown on this thread) may prefer to total submission to their husband, but John Paul ll has told us that it’s actually mutual submission in a marriage.

Some Bible verses and teachings must be understood that they were written in the culture of their time and cannot be taken out of that context. How does one know what is part of that time and what is relevant to us today? Look to the Church- the Popes write their Encyclicals to instruct us in the things that do change because of where we are in the history of humanity and they do this with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Wives are to be in total submission to their husbands. Submission is not slavery. And yes the Church may speak against Slavery today, but slavery is still very alive today.

Submission is to respect, including respecting your husband’s authority. He is the head of the house and even if you disagree with a decision he makes, it’s his to make and you should respect the decision in private and in public, whether you agree or not.

One might want to read 1st and 2nd Timothy as well. here you will find more instruction on Christian living, including more in depth on what the role of a man and woman are, namely what is expected from a man as Head of Household.

While I agree with that husband and wife should give one another mutual respect, that does not mean that we are equals. If the bible could be read in a unisex fashion, the writers would not have to use the words, he, she, husband, wife, man, wife, child.

We both have roles to fulfill and they are pointed out in a very matter of fact way in the bible. Too many folks dont want to step on toes or rock the boat. If you are getting your toes stepped on, then maybe you need to step up and if you are afraid of rocking the boat, buy a lifejacket.

Wonder why there are so many different denominations? Because somebody somewhere, read a verse that didn’t set well with them, decided it must mean something else, something that tastes better or is easier to swallow, find some like minded fellows, Shazam! New Church.

i.e. I have met some Catholics that believe there is no way God would send people to Hell, I replied to them He doesnt, you send yourself…it’s called Freewill.

i.e. I met one guy who said Once saved Always saved, so he doesnt understand the need to pray or ask for forgiveness.

I see that you’re in RCIA. Reading some of John Paul ll and Pope Benedict XVl’s encyclicals would benefit you greatly. You need to realize that the Catholic Church interprets scripture less literally than fundamentalists and other Protestant denominations. Our Magisterium and our Pope’s know that certain things change within the course of time and culture. Obviously the truths of salvation don’t change, but just as we don’t follow certain the rules listed in the OT (such as pork being forbidden to eat or forbidding the wearing of mixed fiber clothes), we do follow things such as the 10 Commandments. The Church determines those things for us. It started with our first Pope, St Peter and continues on with an unbroken chain of Popes, each who guide Catholics through their respective times on Earth. Hence, the writing of Encyclicals to further educate us on the interpretation of Scripture. We don’t live in the 1st Century Middle East, so issues of culture and time are brought current for us in the wisdom of Encyclicals. St Paul lived in a time where women were property and less in value to some than animals. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but he had to write in the culture of his time. Just as John Paul and Pope Benedict have written to things relevant to the present time.

Yes, slavery is very much alive today, much to the sadness of the Church…but that doesn’t make it right, now does it? The Church has spoken out about it and John Paul ll has instructed us on how a marriage constitutes mutual submission. I respect your choice if you are happy with it, but as far as Church teaching…I’ll go with John Paul and the Roman Catholic Church on this one…which is what is in his encyclical.

Well said. Yes, marriage is about mutual submission. If some women/men want their marriages to be about the submission of the wife only, it may be their choice but let’s be clear that it is not God’s/Christ’s rule.

We have some (even a few on CAF) who even take the position that women are subordinate to men. Paul did say to the effect that under Christ all are equal.

All I know is that in the real world, nobody is fooling nobody… the wives have it hands down.
And if they don’t, I wouldn’t want to be in that poor guy’s shoes. St Paul or no St Paul.

Just a realistic thought.

Off-topic really.

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