Ephesiansby Robert M. Solomon
In his discussion of the husband-wife relationship, Paul begins with the wife’s attitude to her husband. The key word is submission (Ephesians 5:22). The wife is to submit specifically to her husband; Paul does not say that she should submit to all men. The phrase “as you do to the Lord” (v. 22) suggests that she submits to the Lord when she submits to her husband—that is, she accepts the God-made order in marriage.
The theological reason for this instruction is that the husband is the “head of the wife” (v. 23). The model for this is the headship of Christ over the church. In the same way that Christ is head of the church, the husband has spiritual authority over his wife. Some may recoil at this, seeing it as a case of ancient patriarchy or male chauvinism. But Paul uses a theological argument, which means this is not merely a cultural view confined to specific cultures or historical periods.
God instituted marriage, and though both man and woman are made in His image and are equal in dignity and essence (Genesis 1:27, 5:1–2; Mark 10:6), He also established an order in which the husband has spiritual authority (1 Corinthians 11:8–10). Sin has marred this relationship, which often results in power struggles between husband and wife (Genesis 3:16).
The statement that the husband shall rule over the wife (Genesis 3:16 NLT; 1 Corinthians 14:33–35; 1 Peter 3:1–6) is not prescriptive but descriptive of the consequences of sin—husbands will tend to bully their wives because of their physical and social advantage, while wives will often fight back, seeking to control their husbands in some way. The word “desire” in Genesis 3:16 is the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 4:7, where sin is described as seeking to master Cain. In other words, sin has turned marital relationships into battles for dominance.
However, in Christ the marital relationship is redeemed and made new (1 Corinthians 11:11–12; Galatians 3:28). It can now be viewed in terms of divine love: the wife loves her husband as she submits to her husband “in everything”, just as the church does with Christ (Ephesians 5:22). In so doing she shows her love for her husband and her Lord.
What is God’s order for marriage? How has this been affected by modern ideas and practices?
How can spiritual authority be abused? Is the church submitting to Christ? What lessons can we l earn from this for marriage?