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29.1.04

St. Paul The Non-Revolutionary

Wives Submit To Your Husbands: Yeah Right

Paul is creating a model for leadership as Christians. It is a given for him that wives submit to their husbands, and that a husband is the head of the wife. What is not a given is how the husband should exercise this headship. The answer: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ’s model of leadership was not dominance it was servitude. He did not wear a crown. He gave no orders under pain of arrest or execution. He did not visit his wrath upon wrongdoers with violence. Instead he served. He washed feet. He healed the sick. He ate with sinners. He died for our sins. Any man who thinks he has, in this passage, a scriptural warrant to be the ruler of his wife/slave is sorely wrong. In fact, the husband in this passage gets a far harder charge than just to submit. He is charged to be Christ-like.

-- via kysandra


This more or less captures my interpretation of Ephesians 5:21-33. St. Paul was not out to change the world on a social level. You can also see this in his direction to submit to whomever happens to be the human ruler. One reason, of course, is that he expected the Second Coming to be just around the corner. There was no time for humans to work toward realizing God's kingdom in the physical world. The task was to get our spiritual lives in order in anticipation of God doing that work. Rev. Page asserts that this passage is in part an affirmation of marriage (in response to Gnosticism), but I'm a bit skeptical. Elsewhere Paul's attitude toward marriage is something along the lines of "there's no need, but go ahead if you can't keep it in your pants" -- probably a combination of his own success in subordinating his libido to his zeal for Christ, and his expectation that Jesus was about to return and thus fooling around with Earthly institutions is a waste of time.

The second reason, I think, might be an overreaction to Jesus' upsetting of expectations regarding the Messiah. First century Jews generally expected a political messiah, paralleling the way God's will is carried out politically (via conquests and captivity and escape from slavery) in the Old Testament. But Jesus framed himself as a spiritual messiah, challenging the Roman overlords not by driving them out, but by acquescing to their punishment but not letting it get him down. Paul recognizes this the paradox of the Cross. But he may have taken it too far, refusing to challenge the order of this world and separating it off from the spiritual world.

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