Submission and Sensibility (with apologies to Jane Austen)

I recently stumbled across and article (or blog, can’t really remember) arguing that κεφαλὴ, translated as “head” in most Bibles, is better translated as “source” in Ephesians 5:22–33. I had vague understanding of this argument so I read the article in more detail and then went to look at the associated verses myself. At the end of my study, I came to the following conclusion: who cares?

Paul opens Chapter 5 with the admonition to live in holiness (Ephesians 5:1–5), then reminds the reader not to participate in the “deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:6–14). Immediately, he calls his readers to submit to one another as a wise way of living (Ephesians 5:15–21). In this context, Paul gives his (near-infamous) instruction for wives to submit to your husbands as unto the lord (22). As many will (and should) point out, the Greek sentence doesn’t have submit in that verse; the word submit appears in the previous verse (21) in the command to “submit to one another.” In a somewhat literal translation, the verse reads, “wives, to your own husbands as to the Lord.” He then goes on the the husband is head/source as Christ is head/source.

Some want to soften the submission aspect by clinging to the source translation, while others want to reinforce male authority by emphasizing headship. Firstly, it seems to me that, whatever the translation, Paul is using a metaphor here, and we should therefore avoid a wooden one-to-one analogy. Secondly, the head/source analogy comes as a clarification of “wives to your own husbands [submit]”, implying that regardless of what you may understand κεφαλὴ to mean, wives must still submit to their own husbands.

I wonder if Paul has the not-uncommon orgies in mind when he makes the qualifier in 5:22 (and as he clarifies later for husbands to love their wives). Consider: in a culture where a group orgy is a possible reality and where someone of his audience had likely participated in such an orgy, Paul commands them to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I can see how he might see an immediate need to clarify.

Paul: “Okay, so before you take this too far, let me give you some more details: wives, submit to your own husbands. Just like Christ is the κεφαλὴ of the Church, so husbands are your κεφαλὴ. In the same way the church submits to Christ, wives, do the same to your husbands. You husbands, love your own wives just like you would love your own body. If you love your body, you love yourself, so take care of your body, just like Christ takes care of his church. By the way, do you see what I did there? Body of Christ/body of husband? See, I’m really talking about the church/Christ relationship.”

All I’m saying is that I can’t see how we can avoid the wives submitting to husbands part, but I would also point out in the same way that all Christians submit to one another, this is the way in which wives submit to their husbands. So if you’re going use this verse to say that husbands have the “final say” in marriage, then you also have to say that other Christians have the “final say” as well.

Please, lets have some sense as we continue to consider male and female within the church.

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