Ephesians 5:21-31


Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The reading calls for taking verse 21 with what follows, not with what precedes. KJV, NKJV and NASB take it with the preceding. AAT, RSV and JB take it with the following. TEV, NIV and NEB make verse 21 a separate paragraph. Grammatically verse 21 goes with what precedes.

"Submit" is the fifth of the participles. But, so far as the thought is concerned, verse 21 goes with what follows. Verse 22 gets its verbal thought from verse 21.

Note carefully that the idea of subjection is limited to verses 21-24. Children are to obey their parents, compare 6:1. The same verb is used of the "slave" in 6:5. The verb  "submit" is limited to the mutual relation in verse 21 and the attitude of wives to husbands in verse 22. Two of our versions indicate that the verbs in 21 and 22 have a light difference in meaning. AAT reads: "As you respect Christ, SUBMIT to one another. You married women, OBEY your husbands as you obey the Lord." JB has this: "GIVE WAY to one another in obedience to Christ. Wives should REGARD their husbands as they regard the Lord." 

Stoeckhardt: The Christian's conduct toward God, which is expressed in song, praise, and thanksgiving, is placed beside their behavior toward one another, although the latter is here not described as mutual love, but as proper mutual submission. Christians are to submit themselves one to another, each is to consider the welfare of the other as his own welfare, each is to respect and give honor to the other, moved to do this by humble reverence for Christ, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister to others. See Romans 12:10; Galatians 5:13
Lenski: No rivalry, no self-exaltation, no divisive pride is to interfere . . . Each is to subject himself, voluntarily, freely.

The phrase "out of reverence to Christ" is a rare one. It denotes manner, how they deal with each other mutually. "Christ" is both subjective and objective genitive. Christ is both author and object of this Christian reverence. Christ is simply everything to the believer, not only in justification but also in sanctification.

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

Papyrus 46 and Codex Vaticanus have no verb for this verse. Many manuscripts have "submit" in the third person plural. The Majority text has "submit" in second plural imperative. The first variant reading makes "husbands" third plural. The second makes it vocative case. All our versions, except JB,make it vocative case. "Your" clearly indicates that the husbands belong to them.

"As to the Lord" gives the criterion of submission. They should submit to their husbands to the extent that they submit to Christ.

From verses 22 to 6:9 we have what is known as The Table of Duties. The duty or obligation of wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves and masters, is spelled out. Look at Colossians 3:18-24 and 1 Peter 2:18-3:7.

Lenski: A special self-subjection is referred to, something entirely different from that mentioned in verse 21 . . . Galatians 3:28 lies on the plane of verse 21, not at all on that of verse 22. . . Paul is not subjecting all women to all men, but all wives to their own husbands. This is not a text on the inferiority of women to men; it is a text on the Christian marriage relation.

This rule holds even if the wife is more intelligent and more gifted than her husband. See Genesis 3:16.

Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

This verse gives the reason for verse 22. "Head" speaks of authority and direction. The relationship between husband and wife and Christ and the Church are not alike in all respects. Only Christ is the Savior of the body, that is, the Church. The husband is not the savior of the wife. But the similarity is applicable with reference to the idea of "head." 

Lenski: Paul brings forward his great comparison which lifts Christian marriage to a plane so high that we are astounded. It is like the marriage of the Lamb, Revelation 19:7, his Bride the Church, the Lamb's wife, Revelation 21:9; 22:17 . . . The married couple is a unity. It can have but one head . . . Two heads would produce a monstrosity.
Stoeckhardt: The fact that He is the Savior does not remove the obligation of the congregation to obey Him, and in accordance with this the wives are to be obedient to their husbands. .. Of course, it is self-evident that the lordship of the husband and the subjection of the wife are confined to the natural realm, to which married life belongs. Galatians 3:28
Kretzmann: In the case of Christ it is a matter both of superiority and of headship, for He is both God and the Savior of the body . . . . In the case of the husband not all points of comparison can be stressed. It may not be a question of superiority, but it is always very distinctly a question of headship. It is God's will that the husband be the head of the wife; the provision made at the time of creation is thus confirmed for the time of the New Testament.

Ephesians 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

"Now" means that though the husband is not his wife's savior, nevertheless with regard to headship the two relationships are exactly alike.

Lenski: In all earthly matters the husband functions as the head. In this connection read Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:12; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, which are to the same effect.

To summarize: In all earthly matters in marriage Ephesians 5:24 pertains but in all spiritual matters Galatians 3:28 pertains. The husband and wife who clearly understand this distinction will have a blessed, happy relationship which ends only at death.

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

TEV, NIV, NEB and AAT follow the paragraphing of the Greek text of Nestle here. Nestle verse 25 makes a subparagraph. Nestle verse 26 makes a new paragraph.

"Husbands" is unmistakably vocative case. The present imperfect calls for a constant action and attitude. Note that the word for "love" is agape, not fileo. Ideally a husband should both love and like his wife. But, if need be, he can love her without liking her. And there will be such times.

Lenski: The love now described is one that makes it a delight for the wife to subject herself to such a loving husband. . . No wife can cultivate the self-subjection intended by the Lord without this intelligent and purposeful love.

The point is well taken. Christ's love for the Church causes the self-subjection of the Church to Christ. Likewise, the husband's love for his wife causes her to subject herself to him.

"Just as" means "precisely as." A marvelous comparison. How did Christ love the Church? By giving Himself in her stead.

By the way, this verse is not maintaining a limited atonement. The thought of the Church as Christ's Bride necessitates the language of this verse.

Ephesians 5:26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

In verses 26 and 27 we have three "so that" clauses. These two verses apply only to what Christ has done and is still doing for His Church. These verses show how deeply Christ has and still does love the Church. We have marvelous Gospel in the midst of the Table of Duties. 

"To make holy" means "to set aside for a specific purpose." Stoeckhardt and Kretzmann think that this refers to the sanctification of the Church. Lenski thinks it refers to the justification of the Church. Either is possible. The former think that the verse should read "after He cleansed her," but Lenski thinks it denotes simultaneous action "by cleansing, etc." 

Stoeckhardt and Kretzmann: The water of Baptism cleanses from the corruption of inherited sin, it has the power to regenerate, to renew heart and mind, the nature of man, see Romans 6:3; Colossians 2:12; Titus 3:5.


Lenski: By means of the "justitia imputata" cleansing us from all sin and guilt in justification.

In any case, we take this to mean a "water washing."  In fact, it is a "water with Word washing." 

Smalcald Articles  (Tappert 310.1): Baptism is nothing else than the Word of God in water, commanded by the institution of Christ; or as Paul says, 'the washing of water with the word' Ephesians 5:26; or, again, as Augustine puts it 'the Word is added to the element and it becomes a sacrament.'

Ephesians 5:27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

 "The Church is His bride which He will present to Himself." 

He will present the Church to Himself glorious. The word is explained by the words which follow it. "Not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing" is figurative, explained by the words which follow. These following words "holy and blameless" are literal. Here look at Ephesians 1:4. When a bride presents herself to her husband she is to be immaculate, spotless, clean. And on the last day when the flesh of all Christians will forever have been put away, the Church as one person will be presented to Jesus as His bride. Look at 1 John 3:2.

Kretzmann: The sanctification of this present time will reach its climax in the final glorification.

Ephesians 5:28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Christians are obligated to do God's will. Look at this same verb in Romans 13:8. We call it the Table of Duties not Table of Privileges. The relationship of a man to his wife is motivated by the renewed will, not mere feelings. He will love his wife whether he feels like it or not. It is his duty. First of all his great model is the love of Christ for the Church. Secondly, the rule is  "as they love their own bodies." This implies that the body of the husband and that of the wife are really one.

This is followed by a sentence in the singular number to individualize the idea. It is a startling sentence. A husband is not really taking good care of himself unless he is taking good care of his wife. A man who does not love his wife, who does not live for and sacrifice himself for his wife, is detrimental to himself.

Only three verses, 22-24, are devoted to wives. But seven verses, 25-31, are devoted to husbands. Theirs is the greater burden. They must take the lead as Christ took the lead.

Ephesians 5:29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church --

This is an explanation. It introduces an axiom. It is quite plain that Paul is comparing a man in his physical dealing with himself, and Christ Who deals with the Church in a spiritual way. The words stress the natural role, not the exception. The masochist would be an exception. There are people who enjoy harm to their own bodies. They are not natural.

Stoeckhardt: No normal person injures or gives pain to himself.

A normal man takes good physical care of himself just as Christ takes care of the Church. It is implied that he should take just as good care of his wife.

Ephesians 5:30 for we are members of his body.

TEV makes verses 29-30 parenthetical. No other English version does this. We, individually, are members of His body, the Church.

Stoeckhardt: We owe our spiritual life to Christ, that we have the spirit, mind and life of Christ.
Bengel: The Church is propagated from Christ, as Eve was from Adam; and this propagation is the foundation of the spiritual marriage.

Note that the words "of his flesh and of his bones," found in the Majority text, are not found in the Nestle Greek text. The following quotation from the Formula of Concord (Tappert 607.78-79) indicates that the Majority text was used at that time:

Christ is present not only according to his deity, but also according to and with his assumed human nature, according to which he is our brother and we flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, Ephesians 5:30. To make certainty and assurance doubly sure on this point, he instituted his Holy Supper that he might be present with us, dwell in us, work and be mighty in us according to that nature, too, according to which he has flesh and blood.

Ephesians 5:31 -- For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh --.

There seems to be no connection between this verse and what precedes. The old  Concordia Bible with Notes  says:

On account of the oneness which God has formed between a man and his wife, which represents the union between Christ and believers, and is somewhat like the union between the soul and body.
Lenski: Paul does as Jesus did, Matthew 19:8;22:29, he goes back to the beginning, to Scriptures, to the institution of marriage itself.

True. Married Christian couples should constantly remind themselves of the creation account. Husband and wife are one flesh. That is a mysterious statement. They are not one person. But they are a unit. They must treat each other as a unit. Units do not fight themselves.


(Adapted from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,
by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987,pp. 56-59)

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