b) Eph 5:21–24: This section continues Paul’s discussion of how we can tell if we are living in the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18–21).

It opens with, “Being submissive (hypotassō) to one another in reverence for Christ.” Verse 22 states, “wives to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

Therefore, when a Bible translator separates verses 21 and 22 into different paragraphs, it leaves verse 22 without a verb.[1]

“Being submissive” (hypotassomenoi) appears in masculine plural form. In New Testament (NT) Greek, that can encompass either a group of men or both genders.[2]

As a result, one cannot accurately interpret this phrase as applying to only women. We cannot separate Paul’s exhortation to wives to submit from his charge to husbands (Eph 5:25–30).[3]

In the NT, subordination involves placing oneself under someone else. Yet, it does not necessarily imply obedience.[4]

Accounts from the book of Acts indicate that Paul would not have condoned women following their husbands into sinful practices (Acts 5:1–11, 27–29). He also never advocated that they subject themselves to abuse.[5]

Regarding verse 24, R. C. Sproul wrote this:

There is a teaching which has gone widely through evangelical Christianity which says that for a woman to be obedient to this passage, she must obey her husband no matter what he tells her to do. This is not true.

For example, if her husband tells her to live a life of prostitution, she is to show her obedience to Christ by disobeying her husband’s wicked commands.

That woman must disobey her husband, because her husband is commanding her to do something that God forbids. Similarly, if the husband forbids her to do something that God commands, she must disobey her husband.[6]

In other words, our allegiance to the Lord trumps our loyalty to our spouses (Acts 4:16–20).

In all five NT usages of “head” (kephalē) concerning Christ and the church, the word depicts Jesus as the nurturer who provides for our growth and well-being (Eph 1:22–23; Eph 4:15–16; Col 1:18–20; and Col 2:18–19). Scripture does not describe him as one who wields authority over his people. Thus, Christ does not hold headship over the church—but for it—as our servant-provider.[7]

This counter-cultural attitude meshes with Jesus’s command to his disciples when they sought positions of preeminence (Mark 9:33–35; Mark 10:42–45).[8]

The Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus (30–102 AD) provides us with the closest Greco-Roman parallel to Paul’s admonition to Christian couples. He wrote this:

But in marriage there must be above all perfect companionship and mutual love of husband and wife, both in health and in sickness and under all conditions, since it was with desire for this as well as for having children that both entered upon marriage.

Where, then, this love for each other is perfect and the two share it completely, each striving to outdo the other in devotion, the marriage is ideal and worthy of envy, for such a union is beautiful.

But where each looks only to his own interests and neglects the other, or, what is worse, when one is so minded and lives in the same house but fixes his attention elsewhere and is not willing to pull together with his yoke-mate nor to agree, then the union is doomed to disaster and though they live together, yet their common interests fare badly; eventually they separate entirely or they remain together and suffer what is worse than loneliness.[9]


Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Eph 5:21–24. How does the masculine plural form of the verb meaning “being submissive” affect your understanding of this passage? Why should a wife submit to her husband? How do the NT texts depict Christ’s headship? What does this mean for Christian husbands?




Go to Sacrificial Love (Eph 5:25–30)


[Related posts include Unity in the Spirit (Eph 5:18–21); Sacrificial Love (Eph 5:25–30); Obedience in the Lord (Eph 6:1); Life-Long Honor (Eph 6:2–3); Nurturing and Training (Eph 6:4); Partners in Ministry (Acts 18:1–3, 18–20, 24–26 and 2 Ki 22:11–23:4); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); Dissolution of Marriage (1 Cor 7:15–16)Three Heads (1 Cor 11:3); Interdependence (1 Cor 11:11–12); A Minority Religion (1 Pet 3:1–2); In the Spirit of Sarah (1 Pet 3:3–6); and Living Together with Understanding (1 Pet 3:7–9)]


[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History; or to Chapter 8: Pain and Desire (Genesis 3:16, 20)]


[1]Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 651.

[2]Longenecker, Galatians, 297.

[3] Lincoln, Ephesians, 374.

[4]Gerhard Delling, “′υποτασσω” (hypotassō), TDNT 8:39–46, 41.

[5]Arnold, Ephesians, 380.

[6]R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus, 1994), 135–6.

[7]Gilbert Bilezikian, “The Issue I Can’t Evade: The Headship of Husbands is a New Testament Teaching,” Priscilla Papers 17, no. 2 (1 April 2003): 5–6, https://www.academia.edu/35109479/The_Issue_I_Cant_Evade_The_headship_of_husbands_is_a_New_Testament_teaching.

[8] Arnold, Ephesians, 356.

[9]Musonius Rufus, Musonius Rufus, the Roman Socrates. Translated by Cora Lutz (YCS; New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1947), 13a, 89, Https://archive.org/details/MUSONIUSRUFUSSTOICFRAGMENTS/page/n27/mode/2up.