Ephesians 5:22-33 likens the relationship of husband and wife to the relationship of Christ and His Church. The first three verses are imperatives directed to wives: they are told to submit to their husbands in the same way that the Church submits to Christ (Eph 5:22-24). Christ is likened to the head of the Church, and wives are told that their husbands are the heads or superiors of them. If Christ rules over, guides, and directs His Church, wives are reminded that they should expect no less from their husbands and that they should be subject to the men they marry.
The next eight verses are imperatives directed to husbands. Husbands are commanded to love their wives just as Christ loved His Church (Eph 5:25-28). The husband is reminded that just as the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ so too is the wife part of the body of the family, of which the husband is the head and in which the two are one flesh (Eph 5:29-32). Husbands are reminded that no man scorns his own body or abuses his own flesh and so there is no reason that he should scorn or abuse his wife, since she is to be considered the same as his own flesh. The mystery of "two in one flesh" is likened to the mystery of the union of Christ and His Church.
The final verse is a summation and reminder to both husbands and wives: husbands must love and wives must respect (Eph 5:33). Just as Jesus commanded men to love their neighbors as they love themselves, husbands are here commanded to love their wives as they love themselves; and the wife is commanded to respect her husband.
One may infer some telling ideas about the nature of man and woman from Ephesians 5:22-33. The most obvious idea is that women require fewer words than men. Indeed, the amount of verses directed toward men in the passage is more than double those directed toward women. It appears in Sacred Scripture as though women are able to intuit the reasons implied in the passage much more easily than men, who must have ideas drawn out for them in detail before submitting their intellects to them and fully embracing the reasons upon which they are to base their actions. This paper will give an exegesis of Ephesians 5:22-33 and show how it illuminates the nature and mystery of man and woman and deepens the beauty, practicality and mission of their matrimonial relationship while providing it with a valuable framework and system of accord.
Historical-Cultural Context: About the Author, Audience, and Their World
The Epistle to the Ephesians was written by St. Paul during his imprisonment in Rome in 63 AD and carried to Asia Minor by Tychicus, where it very likely circulated from Ephesus to Colossae to Laodicea "as a sort of circular letter to the various Christian communities in that part of Asia Minor."
The intended audience of the Epistle to the Ephesians is disputed, but some things are certainly known about the Christians who inhabited Ephesus and the neighboring towns in Asia Minor. St. Paul himself had evangelized Ephesus (which was considered to be "the chief city of western Asia Minor") a decade prior to the writing of the Epistle.
The Ephesian Christians had then catechized Laodicea. Therefore, most of the converts had been pagan Gentiles; few had been Jews. This may explain the lack of references to the Hebrew Old Testament.
As for St. Paul, to him are attributed thirteen epistles -- if not written by his hand then at least under his direction. His conversion from a Jewish persecutor of Christians to Christian Apostle is one of the most dramatic conversion stories in all of history. Such drama is infused in his writings, in his works, and in his travels. A missionary who traveled widely to spread the news of Christ, Paul brought with him his own passionate style and zeal and applied it in several different ways, always striving to reach a particular audience in the way it needed to be reached. Living in a world ruled by Romans, it should be no surprise that authority as depicted in this Epistle is distinctly patriarchal. Patriarchy was very important to the ancient world.
Literary Context: How the Passage Contributes to the Flow
The letter to the Ephesians, written around 63 AD by St. Paul to the Gentile converts in western Asia Minor, is composed in the epistolary narrative tradition and may be divided into two main sections (Doctrinal and Moral), each with three distinct parts. The Doctrinal section is first, follows the initial introduction, and includes the idea that "the Church is One with Christ," that Paul himself has been commissioned by God to preach the Mystery of Redemption, and that Paul is praying for the brethren. The Moral section is next and it includes a general explanation of what it means to be Christian, the governance of the Christian home (in which is found Eph 5:22-33), and the character of Christian Warfare, which is a spiritual war. The focus of this exegesis, Paul's admonition to husbands and wives, contributes to the flow and character of the Epistle by illustrating the "abstract, profound, and systematic" ideas concerning Christ, the Church, and Christian living.
The major theme of the Epistle is like that of the Epistle to the Colossians, however, it is deeper, fuller, and more systematic in its approach. The Church is defined as the Mystical Body of Christ, through which Christians (members of the body) receive graces as they come from God through the Head of the Body which is Christ. The theme of starting a new and fresh life in the Mystical Body is emphasized as well. The major characters of Ephesians are the receivers of the letter themselves: the husbands, wives, slaves, and masters, children, and parent: all are called to put on the armor of God, which will serve them well in the battle to be fought for their souls. No major events are recorded in Ephesians, but the Epistle touches on the adoption of Christian morality, and explicitly touches upon the ideas at the foundation of the Christian marriage.
The Epistle to the Ephesians in a Social, Natural, and Literary Context
Any exegesis of Ephesians 5:22-33 must be rooted in the historical-cultural context of the Epistle itself. It is important, therefore, to divorce neither the passage from the intention of writer (St. Paul) nor from the whole Epistle in which it is situated (nearly at its heart, in fact). St. Paul's intention should be clear in a general sense (the further instruction and enlightenment of the Gentile converts in Asia Minor) and in a specific sense (the solidification of the faithful through the transmission of a rational, systematic acknowledgment the Faith in the then contemporary real world). Just as slavery (which is not lauded "as an institution" but humbly accepted as a fact of then contemporary life) is treated on by St. Paul following the instruction to husbands and wives, the reality of the relationship between men and women in matrimony is treated on without any pretense of what today may be called political correctness.
Socially speaking, St. Paul simply obliges husbands and wives to recognize their roles, positions, and duties according to both their natures and their respective relationship in the larger Mystical Body, of which they serves as figures.
Likewise, just as the doctrinal first half of the Epistle presents the foundation for the moral second half of the Epistle, Eph 5:21 serves as a kind of foundation for the passage that follows. Eph 5:21 provides the appropriate literary context for understanding the verses 22-33; it is a single command, under which all of the following commands may in the passage may be situated: "Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." The important phrase is "to one another," which emphasizes the fundamental rule of servitude, placed by Christ upon his Apostles. St. Paul similarly places it upon all Christians, even husbands and wives, who are clearly expected to serve and be subject to one another (despite the following imperatives explicitly directed toward wives indicating that they should be subject to their husbands). Since this imperative precedes the commands issued to wives, it acts as an overall rule -- a cautionary guide indicating the direction in which Eph 22-33 must be taken.
St. Paul is not licensing men to be tyrannical governors of women, and Eph 5:21 shows that. Husbands and wives are to be subject to one another -- Eph 5:22-33 shows just how they are to be subject to one another; for, indeed, they are to be subject to one another in very different ways. Wives are to be subject to husbands by way of respect, and husbands are to be subject to wives by way of love. This admonition clearly points to a difference in the…