Two Shall Be One Flesh prints and framed art include these verses:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own
husbands, as unto the Lord.
What does the Bible say about marriage and about how husbands and wives are to relate one to another?
The epistle to the Ephesians is often called the deepest book in the New Testament and has been referred to as the "crown of St. Paul's writings." Its vision of God's plan for salvation is comprehensive, stretching from eternity to eternity, and this epistle gives a "heaven's eye view" of Christian living here on earth. Unlike many of Paul's other letters, no particular problem is raised in Ephesians so there is no hint that the epistle was written to correct any specific problems or errors in a local church. Rather, Ephesians defines the church and sets forth its function, explaining how the church should present itself in the world. The believer's union with Christ is emphasized in this epistle, as is the corporate nature of the believers in the body of Christ. On more than one occasion, the point is stressed that believers have corporate relationship and responsibility to one another, particularly due to their union with Christ.
As it relates to the believers walk in the world, Ephesians chapter 4, verse 1 through chapter 6, verse 9 can be divided into six distinct segments, as follows:
The basic principle of Christian submissiveness that governs the community life of the church applies also to social relationships. In Ephesians 5:21-33 Paul selects the most conspicuous of these, namely the relationship between a husband and wife, and demonstrates how it is transformed when controlled by a prior obedience to Christ. The verb "to submit" (hypotasso) in verse 21 occurs twenty-three times in Paul's writings and denotes subordination to those considered worthy of respect, either because of the position they held or their inherent qualities. Christians are to submit to civil authorities, to church leaders, to parents, and to masters. The whole structure of society as ordered by God depends on the readiness of its members to recognize these sanctions. Without them anarchy prevails. The Christian, however, observes them not merely for their own sake, or even because they are imposed by God, but out of "reverence" (phobos) for Christ ( v. 17). Moreover, within the fellowship of the church this submission to others is reciprocal ("to one another," allelous).
In verse 22 however, Paul is mindful to assert that it is to their own (idios) husbands that wives are to be subject (Col 3:18) and thus the legally binding exclusiveness of the marriage relationship is underlined. "As to the Lord" differs slightly from "as is fitting in the Lord" in Colossians 3:18. In obeying her husband, the Christian wife is obeying the Lord who has sanctioned the marriage contract. It should be noted that all Paul says is within the context of a Christian marriage. He is not implying that women are inferior to men or that all women should be subject to men. The subjection, moreover, is voluntary, not forced. The Christian wife who promises to obey does so because her vow is "as to the Lord."
In verse 23 Paul continues his argument, establishing the marriage relationship as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His church. This is to raise it to an unimaginably lofty level. In 1 Corinthians 11:12 Paul had already marked out a hierarchy in which God is seen as the head of Christ, Christ as the head of the man, and the man as the head of the woman. Paul continues that theme in Ephesians, yet from another angle. If the head of the woman is the man and the head of the church is Christ (Eph 1:22; 4:12, 16), then it is permissible to draw an analogy between the wife's relationship to her husband and the church's relation to Christ. Compared with the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, marriage is interpreted in the best of terms.
Paul regards the husband, even if to an infinitely lesser degree, as the protector of his wife (reference verses 28 and 29). The "Now" (alla) of verse 24 continues the same line of argument rather than reversing it. In other words, Paul is not saying that even though ultimately the relation of Christ to the church is incomparable, nevertheless wives should submit to their husbands. As Hendriksen explains (p. 249), he is pursuing a likeness rather than pointing out a difference: "as ... so." Here the verb "submit" stands unambiguously in the text and does not have to be supplied, as in v. 23. The church as the bride of Christ readily acknowledges His authority and seeks to please Him in every respect. When marriage is seen in the light of this higher relationship between Christ and His body, the wife finds no difficulty in submitting to her husband, for he too has obligations to her in the Lord (vv. 25-33).
In verse 25 Paul turns to the reciprocal duties of the husband. In Greco-Roman society it was recognized that wives had obligations to their husbands, but husbands were not seen as having obligations to their wives. In this, as in other respects, Christianity introduced a revolutionary approach to marriage that equalized the rights of wives and husbands and established the institution on a much firmer foundation than ever before. One word summed up the role of the wife--"submit" (v. 22). One word does the same for the husband--"love" (agapate). This is the highest and distinctively Christian word for loving. As over against eros ("sexual passion") and philia ("family affection") Paul chooses the verb agapao to insist that the love of a Christian man for his wife must be a response to and an expression of the love of God in Christ extended to the church (cf. vv. 1, 2). Colossians 3:19 spells out the practical implications of such love: "do not be harsh with them."
Once again the apostle draws a comparison between the marriage relationship and the relationship of Christ and the church (cf. vv. 22-24). It was on the cross that our Lord gave himself up for his bride. The analogy is all the more telling, since ekklesia is feminine. This is an aspect of the atonement not given such prominence elsewhere in the NT. Paul himself has already declared that Christ laid down his life "for our sins" (Rom 4:25; Gal 1:4), or "for me" (Gal 2:20), or "for us all" (Rom 8:32). Now he affirms that our Lord's sacrificial death was "for her," i.e., for the church. "For" (hyper) may carry substitutionary overtones, as in v. 2.
In vv. 26, 27 Paul explains more fully the aim of Christ's atonement so far as the church is concerned. It was "to make her holy" (v. 26) and "to present her to himself as a radiant church" (v. 27). To sanctify is to set apart, and when he died on the cross, our Lord's purpose was that he should separate for himself a people for his own possession. From the beginning the church has been called out in this way, but the ethical demands of such privilege require a response in every age. There is an old Jewish wedding custom in which, when the ring is given, the bridegroom says to the bride: "Behold, thou art sanctified to me." If the church is to attain the actual holiness that alone befits her status as the bride of Christ, then purification is essential. "Cleansing" is literally "having cleansed" (katharisas). The fact that the church must be cleansed before she begins to be holy makes it clear that Paul's concept of sanctification involves an immediate need for a subjective change. While purification may assume a logical priority, however, the process is really simultaneous. This essential cleansing is effected "by the washing of water" (to loutro tou hydatos), which is said to be accompanied by a spoken word (en rhemati). The term loutron means "a bathing"--the action rather than the bath itself, which would be louter. It is also possible that Paul was alluding to the purification of the bride before the marriage ceremony (Ezek 16:9). There seems to be little or no doubt that the reference is to baptism. The "washing with water" here is equivalent to "the washing of rebirth" in Titus 3:5. There is, however, no hint of any mechanical view of the sacrament, as if the mere application of water could in itself bring about the purification it symbolizes.
This begs the questions, what is "the word" that accompanies baptism? The Greek term rhema means something spoken--an utterance. It could refer to the preaching of the gospel at a baptismal service (1 Peter 1:23-25). It is more likely, however, to indicate the formula used at the moment of baptism. In principle, this was trinitarian in shape but on occasion it simply invoked the all-sufficient name of Jesus. Others, again, take rhema to be the word spoken by the candidate for baptism as he confessed his faith in Christ and called on the Savior's name.
The ultimate aim in view when Christ gave himself up for the church (v. 25) was that at the end of the age he might be able to present her to himself in unsullied splendor as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2). The verb (paristemi, "to place beside") is used of the presentation of Christ in the temple (Luke 2:22). Paul himself applies it to the presentation of the church as a pure virgin to Christ her husband (2Cor 11:2). It was normally the friend of the bridegroom John 3:29) who thus handed over the bride. But Christ dispenses with all intermediaries and he alone introduces the bride to the bridegroom, who paradoxically is himself. As Zerwick puts it, Christ is his own "matchmaker" (p. 155). "Present," however, becomes almost equivalent to "make" or "render" and that aspect of its significance is clearly involved (BAG, p. 633). The eschatological church is transformed by Christ so as to be "all glorious" (Ps 45:13). No ugly spots or lines of age disfigure the appearance of the bride. The church becomes what it was intended to be--holy and blameless (Eph 1:4). All this is possible only because Christ is the Savior of his body (v. 23).
In verse 28 Paul returns to his analogy and declares that just as Christ loves the church so husbands ought to love their wives as being one flesh with themselves. Christ loves the church, not simply as if it were his body, but because it is in fact his body. Husbands therefore are to love their wives, not simply as they love their own bodies, but as being one body with themselves, as indeed they are. Lest the staggering implication of what he has affirmed should fail to register with his readers, Paul puts it in another way to avoid ambiguity. So intimate is the relationship between man and wife that they are fused into a single entity. For a man to love his wife is to love himself. She is not to be treated as a piece of property, as was the custom in Paul's day. She is to be regarded as an extension of a man's own personality and so part of himself.
The apostle appeals to a self-evident fact in verse 29. It will hardly be denied that no one ever hates his own body (sarx, "flesh"; cf. Gen 2:23; Eph 5:30, 31). He devotes himself to looking after it. He provides for it in every way. He supplies it with food (ektrephei) to promote its development and maintain its health. He cares for it and cherishes it (thalpei, literally, "keeps [it] warm"). This is how Christ loves his body, the church (v. 25), argues Paul. He appeals to the same principle when addressing husbands as he did when addressing wives. Wives are to obey their husbands as the church obeys Christ. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church.
The reason why Christ thus cares for the church is now made clear in verse 30. It is because Christians are living parts of his body. In Ephesians 4:25 Paul has dealt with the relationship of the members to one another individually. Here he is concerned with their relationship to the whole. Earlier in the letter he has spoken about the church as a body whose head is Christ (1:22, 23; 4:12, 16). Here he stresses the closeness of the Christian's communion with Christ as a part of himself, just as the branches are part of the vine.
The phrase "For this reason" of verse 31 is not a preface to the quotation but part of it. When Adam recognized that Eve was part of himself ("bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh," Gen 2:23), Genesis 2:24 adds: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (RSV). The marriage tie takes precedence over every other human relationship and for this reason is to be regarded as inviolable. Nevertheless, what is basically a divine ordinance is graciously designed for mutual satisfaction and delight. "United" means closely joined (literally, "will be glued") and, taken in conjunction with the reference to "one flesh," can refer only to sexual intercourse, which is thus hallowed by the approval of God himself. It is because of this exalted biblical view of marital relations that the church has taken its stand on the indissolubility of the marital bond and the impermissibility of polygamy, adultery, or divorce.
Sources: Expositor's Bible Commentary, New Testament: Zondervan Reference Software. Class Notes, New Testament Epistles; Dr. Dwight Kim, Capital Bible Seminary, (Lanham, Maryland).
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