Saturday, April 01, 2006

Submissive wives no more!

Paternity leave has left me with (a little) time on my hands, and has given me the chance to read a few other blogs.

Dave (a UCCF worker with the Christian Union in Reading University) keeps a blog. His recent thoughts on 'wives submitting to husbands' (according to some readers of the Letter to the Ephesians) provoked me to reach for the Greek New Testament and a few commentaries.

Having often heard Conservative Evangelicals trot out the 'wives should submit to their husbands' line, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what the Bible really says.

The (mis)quote comes from Ephesians ch.5.

Several observations can be made:

1) The author begins by stating that every Christian should 'submit' to every other Christian. This envisages the creation of a sort of love communitarianism with the intention of countering any one individual's pride. 'Submission' is thus a general ethic (according to the writer) and not a vocation merely for Christian wives.

2) Most surprising of all is that the earliest Biblical manuscripts (dating to around 200 AD) don't have the phrase 'wives submit to your husbands' at all. The verb is missing (only added by latter copyists). Whenever the phrase is used by modern preachers it is - at best - misleading as it is hopelessly out of context, or - at worst - simply 'unbiblical' (to use an evangelical phrase).

3) An ethic of 'submission' is, however, still present in the passage. What the writer seems though to be getting at when it comes to how husbands and wives should treat each other is a matter of mutual deference. Submission by one partner to the other is to be perfectly balanced by the surrender of the other to the wishes of the first...

All very abstruse. But a relief to be able to rehabilitate that part of the Bible.

'Pass the chocolate, dear, and make me a cup of coffee will you... ouch! ... Ok, I'll do it myself - want one, too?'

With thanks to Dave for prompting these reflections and to John Muddiman's commentary on Ephesians. The full exchange of views can be seen here.

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