It may seem obvious to suggest that we should start with context, but despite our best evangelical intentions, there are two temptations which can distract us from this. We might describe them as the temptation to play “Proof Text Trumps” and the temptation to treat all the Household Codes the same.
1.1. Proof Text Trumps
The rules of the game are as follows. The Complementarian quotes Ephesians 5:22 to show that wives must submit to their husbands. The Egalitarian responds with Galatians 3:28, “There is neither male nor female.” The Complementarian trumps this with Genesis 1-3, arguing that there is a creation order.
In one sense, they are right to set the question within the wider Biblical narrative. Ephesians 5 has its place within God’s unfolding revelation. However, even as we turn up these references, we find that each one raises questions of its own. For example:
- Can we infer hierarchy from chronological order in Genesis 1-2? What about the animals that are created before Adam?
- What is the status of a helper? Whilst some have interpreted this function to suggest that Eve is subordinate to Adam, others note that God himself acts as Israel’s helper.
- Is Gen 3:16 positive or negative; a statement of consequences or a permanent punishment?
- How does the New Creation and its now – not yet character affect male-female relations?
So we need to look at each text within its own context to ensure that we have understood it correctly before we set it in its wider context. Indeed, we must beware the risk of imposing questions onto a text which the original material was not intended to answer. For example:
- If Genesis 1-3 is primarily about origins and human rebellion setting up the question of how God will redeem and restore his creation, then to what extent should we expect it to answer questions about hierarchy?
- If Galatians 3 is primarily soteriological, then to what extent can sociological and ecclesiological implications be inferred from it?
1.2. Household codes
There are a number of New Testament texts which deal with the husband – wife question. Often, they form part of a structured approach to household relationships looking at husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters.
The temptation here is to assume that they all say essentially the same things and therefore the authors had the same purpose when dealing with then in each situation. So for example, in trying to understand why Paul tells wives to submit, we might turn to 1 Peter 3:1-2 and conclude that the purpose of submission is evangelistic within a culture that prizes a submissive attitude in women.
Once again, it is helpful to be aware of the wider context and to note the general agreement in structure and context between the household passages. Indeed, one would expect to see agreement rather than contradiction. However, we should be cautious about assuming a uniform purpose. To illustrate why, we should take a closer look at the New Testament Household codes.
There is such a strong similarity between the codes found in Ephesians, Colossians, Titus and 1 Peter that a number of commentators have suggested a common secular source drawn from the Aristotelian Household code. The argument runs that Peter and Paul were partially conforming to the hierarchical conventions of the period in order to appease more conservative elements within Roman society to gain a hearing for the Gospel. However, the instructions are modified by uniquely Christian teaching about mutual love and respect which both limit the force of the injunction at the time and provide the seed thoughts for future re-interpretation.
O’Brien provides a word of caution to this approach noting that,
“There is little agreement, then, on the source of the New Testament household codes. Even Andrew Lincoln admits that although discussions about household arrangement in the Greco-Roman world may have influenced Christians to take up this topic, there is no single model on which the Christian codes are directly dependent.”
Whether or not the authors were relying on a single written source, commentators have rightly drawn our attention to the structural similarities between the texts. However, these similarities also serve to highlight the differences. In particular, we note that Ephesians 5 provides the longest treatment on the subject, that it is significant in its special treatment of the husband’s responsibility to love, that it is unique in relating the marital relationship to Christ and the Church and that Ephesians places a special emphasis on the “One Flesh” nature of marriage in Genesis 2.
Therefore, our priority must be to understand Ephesians 5:22ff in its own context. This of course will limit our conclusions. What we say here can only be provisional outside of the context of a detailed study of all the texts. It means I will have to make some assumptions about what the other texts are saying. However, this is a reasonable approach within good hermeneutical practice and doesn’t exclude the possibility of reaching truthful conclusions.
So what is it that Ephesians 5 specifically has to say on marriage within its own immediate context? An important clue can be found within the syntax of the text.
1.3. Syntax and Context
Ephesians 5:22 does not contain the verb ‘submit’ except in one or two manuscripts. The verb is supplied in English from verse 21. Even in verse 21, we have a participle and not the finite form of the verb so that a literal translation of the two verses might be represented as
“…submitting to one another, wives to husbands as to the Lord.”
So in order to understand how verse 21 functions within the wider context, we need to identify the type of participle used here. It is sometimes the case that a participle can function as an independent verb but as Wallace says, “In general it may be said that no participle should be explained in this way that can properly be connected with a finite verb.” So this will be our last resort.
Alternatively, a participle can act as a finite verb through the rule of attendant circumstances. In that case, the participle might take on the imperatival force of the earlier instruction to “be filled…” However, attendant circumstance participles are usually found where both main verb and participle are in the aorist tense, whereas both are present tense here. The participle tends to precede the main verb and is more likely to be found in narrative text than other genres. So Wallace concludes, “attendant circumstance participles are rarely, if ever found in a construction such as the one in this text.”
This means that the participle is most likely dependent upon a main verb. It comes at the end of a list of participles, all of which appear dependent upon the injunction to “be filled with the Spirit.” Syntactically, two options are possible. The first is a participle of means. However, this is unlikely.
Means fits well with the grammar of the passage…But it may not fit well with the theology of the Pauline epistles –i.e., it would be almost inconceivable to see this text suggesting that the way in which one is to be Spirit filled is by a five-step, partially mechanical formula!
Therefore, we are most likely dealing with a Participle of Result. In other words, submission along with thankfulness and singing is, “the way in which one measures his/her success in fulfilling the command of 5:18” (this is Wallace’s suggestion for all participles from v19-21.)
This has led commentators to describe Ephesians 5:21 as a “hinge verse.” It both completes the idea of being filled with the Spirit and introduces the new topic of submission. The syntax of verse 21 means that we must treat the instructions on submission as being intimately connected with what has gone on before.
Christians are to imitate God by living lives of love which will mean conduct associated with light, not darkness and with Spirit filled self controlled as opposed to drunken irresponsibility. And so loving lives are made possible by the Spirit’s enabling and lives of submission.
In other words, the household code in Ephesians is not some semi detached piece of advice. Rather, it belongs within the body of teaching found in the whole letter and so to understand what “wives submit to your husbands” and “husbands love your wives” means, we must understand the purpose and message of the whole letter.
1.4. Ephesians Themes
Identifying the purpose of the letter may itself prove difficult. Ephesians itself falls into the controversial category. It is one of those letters identified by many scholars as of doubtful authorship even though a number of conservative scholars are willing to recognise it as Pauline. Not only that, but just as 5:22 lacks a verb, so 1:1 lacks a destination. Therefore, whilst scholars such as Arnold have attempted to identify the message of Ephesians as relating to the problem of idol worship and fear of the spirit world, with particular reference to the cult of Diana, we should treat with caution any theories imposed from external assumptions about geography, history or the author’s theology.
However, it is possible to identify some key themes that dominate within the letter. In particular, we note the following:
- The reality of Spiritual Warfare (1:19-23; 3:10; 6:10-20).
- The headship and rule of Christ (1:19-23; 2:11-22; 4:8; 5:5; 5:23).
- Christian Unity in Christ (2:11-22; 4:3; 5:2; 5:23).
So we can best sum up Ephesians’ message as follows: because Christians await the eschatological hope that Christ will unite everything in him, triumphing over his enemies, therefore, they should live in the light of this hope as a new community, united in him and for him.
Whilst the letter does present Christ as triumphing and ruling so that the idea of authority is clearly present, he does this by way of grace and Love. These are the very things the Church is to imitate by showing unity within the body. So as saved and united in and for Christ, the Church is a witness both to human and spiritual authorities. This is all made possible by being filled with the Spirit.
Our conclusions about context will have some important implications for how we apply the text. Whilst it is too early to draw out firm conclusions, we may note the following implications which will guide our study.
Firstly, Paul has a greater eschatological context in mind than the immediate historical and geographical context of Greco-Roman culture. We see this in the way that the Household code is immediately followed by advice about engaging in Spiritual warfare. This is a battle “…not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness.” This, combined with 3:10 which tells us that “through the church, the wisdom of God…might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” suggests a wider audience than the pagan contemporaries of local Church members, wherever the letter was intended for. It is no wonder then that this “submission” requires the filling of the Spirit. This means that we cannot treat the text as simply being culture bound advice; it must have some trans-cultural force.
Secondly, we note that the Christ who is head (1:22; 5:21) is triumphant, exalted and reigning. All things are under his rule (1:22-23) and we the church exist for his glory (1:12). We will revisit this in greater detail in chapter 3, but the preliminary implication is that we cannot completely separate out the idea of headship from that of power, authority and rule. So within the context of Ephesians, we must face carefully but honestly the implications of Paul describing the husband as “head”.
Thirdly, because of the particular emphasis on the husband’s loving role in imitation of Christ in Ephesians 5 and the wider context with its emphasis on grace, (2:8) peace and reconciliation (2:13-16) and unity, (4:3) we should be careful about putting too much emphasis on the ideas of authority and (hierarchical) order. Whilst those themes are present within the letter, the applicatory emphasis is on love and unity. So that is where we might expect the emphasis to be with regards to marriage. Whatever our view might be about Complementarian or Egalitarian understandings of marriage, our focus when looking at a Christian marriage should not be on how order works in the marriage, but on how there is unity. Christian marriages should be “one flesh” marriages.
As Köstenburg says,
“Marriage is set within the larger context of God’s end time restoration of all things under the headship of Christ, which includes the bringing together of all things, including believing Jews and Gentiles, in the body of Christ, the church.”
 They might argue this via 1Timothy 2:12-14.
 So, for example, Bilezikien rejects this argument, insisting that to read hierarchy from order is to impose laws of primogeniture backwards onto a different historical context. He goes on to point out that God makes the animals before man. George Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles. What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place In Church and Family (2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker, 1985), 30. However, the Complementarian argument is perhaps a little more subtle than that. Firstly, because presumably any interest in chronological order would be species/class specific. Complementarians are clearly not arguing that plants and animals stand higher in status than humans. A helpful example would be the monarchy. I am older than Prince William but he will be King, not me. We are only interested in chronological order with regards to the Royal Family! Secondly, the Complementarian argument relies on the overall thrust of the narrative, bringing all aspects together, rather than treating each aspect in isolation. So, for example, Ortlund brings together the naming of the human race after Man, creation order and woman being made for man to suggest male headship. Raymond C Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1-3,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 1991), 98-102.
 “ ’ezer can refer to anyone who provides assistance, whatever their relationship to the one whom they aid.” Richard S Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (Ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Gordon D. Fee. Leicester: Apollos, 2004), 86. Thus, it is argued from the Egalitarian point of view that as God acted as the helper of his people, the help could equally come from one who is superior in ability, authority, etc. This is not to argue that woman is the superior, but rather to rule out implicit male superiority in the concept of woman as helper. Carol Meyers, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 85. Meyers goes on to argue that we must look at the context to determine who is designated superior in the relationship of helper to helped. In the case of Genesis 2, “the answer is neither of the possibilities.” Instead, we have someone “opposite to,” “corresponding to,” “parallel with…,” “on a par with….” Meyers, Discovering Eve, 85. Complementarians, maintaining a distinction between equality of nature and role, argue that helper does suggest some form of role subordination. Once again, this is about seeing all the factors coming together and reading Genesis 1-3 in the light of 1 Timothy 2. Furthermore, Ortlund argues that even in those cases where the stronger party acts as the helper, by putting themselves at the disposal of the other’s needs, they in fact subordinate themselves to the other. He comments, “So it is with God. When he helps His people, He retains His glorious deity but (amazingly!) steps into the servant role, under us, to lift us up.” Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” 104.
 There has been significant discussion on this point because on the one hand, the idea of “desire” or “urge” ] is portrayed as positive in Song of Songs 7:11, but has negative connotations in Genesis 4:16. Genesis 4:16 most closely parallels Genesis 3 in structure. There the parallel is between sin’s desire for Cain and his need to “rule” or “master”((lvm) it. Thus, rule in Genesis 4 has a positive connotation. Some commentators therefore see Genesis 3 as showing a struggle between men and women, with each attempting to control the other. In other words, God describes a negative consequence of The Fall (whether he is describing a consequence of prescribing a punishment is itself a moot point). Others consider this to be an act of grace. Even in the consequence of God’s punishment and the painful consequences of sin, God ensures that the creation order continues. See particularly, Susan T Foh, Women and the Word of God. A Response to Biblical Feminism (Phil.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), 67-69, Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984),182 and Gordon J Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC 1. Dallas, Tex.: Word, 1987), 82. I am inclined to agree with Wenham that, because the term is rare, “certainty is impossible.” Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 82. However, I would be reluctant to follow an interpretation that takes us down a “Battle of the Sexes” line. The idea of such a battle appears to be a particularly modern understanding of the male-female relationship. (Fraisse identifies “the idea of a battle of a conflict between the sexes as a problem to be solved” as a 19th Century idea linked to a growing focus on people as individuals. Geneviève Fraise, “A Philosophical History of Sexual Difference” in A History of Women in the West Volume IV Emerging Feminism from Revolution to World War (Ed. Geneviève Fraisse and Michelle Perrot. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 73.)
 This links closely to our discussion at n4. If Genesis 3:16 “describes rather than prescribes” the situation post Fall, then whilst the consequences of the Fall might continue as we live in the “Now-Not Yet” phase of history, this does not mean that we cannot work for the alleviation of those conditions, just as we seek to overcome thorns, thistles and pestilence with pesticides and so forth or just as we alleviate pain in child birth. Ruth A Tucker, Women in the Maze: Questions & Answers on Biblical Equality (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-varsity Press, 1992), 51. Tucker sees the rule or domination of women by men as a negative consequence of sin and goes on to comment on Watt’s Hymn, “Joy to the World.” “It occurred to me recently, while singing that lovely carol, that the verse would be just as appropriate – perhaps more so – if, instead of ‘Nor thorns infest the ground,’ the second line read, ‘Nor rule by man abound.” Tucker, Women in the Maze, 54. On this view, the soteriological implications of Galatians 3:28 must also have social consequences.
 Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 18.
 So Ortlund does well to use highly cautious language when he says, “God’s naming of the race ‘man’ whispers male headship.” (Italics mine) Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” 98. Some may see even the suggestion of a whisper on this specific point contentious and wish to debate the etymological questions further. At this point, I would simply suggest that his label of a whispering might be attached to his overall argument regarding what Genesis 1-3 says about male/female roles.
 So for example, Longenecker argues that, “Certainly the proclamation of the elimination of divisions in these three areas should be seen first of all in terms of spiritual relations: that before God whatever their different situations, all people are accepted on the basis of faith and together make up the one body of Christ. But these three couplets also cover in embryonic fashion all the essential relationships of humanity, and so need to be seen as having racial, cultural and sexual implications as well.” Richard N Longenecker, Galatians (WBC, 41. Dallas, Tx.: Word, 1990), 157. He believes that this “is how the earliest Christians saw them – admittedly not always as clearly as we might like, but still pointing the way toward a more Christian personal and social ethic.” Longenecker, Galatians, 157. The Complementarian approach tends to follow Luther in arguing that, “In the world, and according to the flesh, there is a great difference and inequality of persons, and the same must be observed, for if the woman would be the man, if the son would be the father, the servant would be the master etc., there would be nothing but confusion of all estates and all things. Contrariwise, in Christ there is no difference of persons, but all are one.” Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians: Modern English Edition (Abridged. Grand Rapids, MI.: Fleming H. Revell, 1998), 232. Thus from an Egalitarian perspective, Ephesians 5:21ff is framed and controlled hermeneutically by Galatians 3:28, whereas, the reverse appears true from a Complementarian perspective whereby we need to qualify our understanding of Galatians in the light of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. There is, of course, a wider discussion here: note the conditional nature of our comment in the main body of the text of “if Galatians 3 is primarily soteriological…” This assumption may be challenged from a New Perspective point of view so that Fee argues that, “The driving issue in Galatians is not first of all soteriology but ecclesiology: who constitute the people of God in the new creation brought about by the ‘scandal of the cross’ (Gal 6:11-16)?” Gordon D Fee, “Male and Female in the New Creation: Galatians 3:26-29,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (Ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Gordan D. Fee. Leicester: Apollos, 2004), 173. This further highlights the complexities of the hermeneutical as well as exegetical task in front of us. Personally, I am sceptical about how helpful this approach is. Indeed, I would argue that Fee is making too fine a distinction between the soteriological and ecclesiological question. After all, the answer to “Who is in” from an orthodox point of view would be “those who are saved.” Just as the traditional principle of extra ecclessiam nulla salus (outside the Church, no salvation) suggests the reverse is also true; “Who is saved” can to some extent be answered with “those who are in.”
 Commonly referred to under the German term haustafel. See e.g. Ernest Best, Ephesians (ICC. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 519.
 See Col 3: 18-4:1; Eph 5:22-6:9; 1 Pet 2:12-3:7; Tit 2:1-9.
 So, in personal correspondence, David Instone-Brewer argues on the basis of 1 Peter 3:2 , “I conclude that early Christian wives and slaves chose subjection in order to help evangelism. If they had rejected Aristotelian guidelines because of their theology of equality, this would have been regarded as being immoral and would have caused the gospel to be ‘scandelised’ (sic).” (Email, 22/10/09). I respect David’s careful scholarship. He has done a lot of work on the historical context of women in the New Testament. I also acknowledge that his suggestion is made tentatively as a hypothesis within the context of an academic discussion. However, I am concerned that such conclusions might be drawn lightly within the context of popular debate.
 See Craig S Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1992),185. See also Lincoln, Ephesians, 357. David Instone-Brewer goes so far as to suggest that we treat the common material as extra-biblical – quotes from sources (e.g. all Cretans are liars, 1 Cor arguments etc.) So, the unique thing is what Paul does with it. We learn about mutual submission and love (email correspondence, 22/10/09). David’s suggestion led to an interesting discussion about the nature of extra biblical material when used within the context of Scripture. David has published our discussions at http://ntbackground.blogspot.com/2009/10/re-fwd-husbands-and-wives-in-ephesians.html. (accessed 07/01/2010).
Peter T O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester: Apollos: 1999), 407. Cf. Andrew T Lincoln, Ephesians (WBC42. Dallas, Texas: Word, 1990), 358-9.
 Cf. Lincoln, Ephesians 353.
 I would ask readers to appreciate that I have spent some time with the other texts and will try to show why I think something in the footnotes if particularly pertinent, but bear with my assumptions for the time being. I will also try not to pin too much on an interpretation that rests too heavily on controversial assumptions relating to other passages.
 On both the problem and the possibility of reaching truthful conclusions, see D.A Cason, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Leicester: Apollos, 1996), 121. See also Grant R Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1992).
 “On the one hand, several early witnesses (P46 B Clement1/2 Origen Greek mssacc. To Jerome Jerome Theodore) begin the new sentence without a main verb, thus requiring that the force of the preceding u`potasso,menoi be carried over. On the other hand, the other witnesses read either u`pota,ssesqe or u`potasse,sqwsan after either gunaike. or avndra.sin. A majority of the committee preferred the shorter reading, which occurs with the succinct style of the author’s admonitions and explained the other readings as expansions introduced for the sake of clarity, the main verb being required especially when the words Ai` gunaike, stood at the beginning of a scripture lesson.” Bruce M Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Repr. 2ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2000), 541.
 Zerwick, Biblibal Greek, 127. Cited in Daniel B Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 650.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 644.
 O’Brien, Ephesians, 399.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 629.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 639.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 639.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 639.
 O’Brien. Ephesians, 399. Lincoln, Ephesians, 365.
 O’Brien, Ephesians, 399.
 Andreas Köstenburg and David Wayne Jones, God marriage and family: Rebuilding the biblical foundation (Wheaton Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 66.
 In the sense that Paul himself is the actual author, not just that it is Pauline in tone. Personally, I am happy with Pauline authorship and do not think that this will affect our outcome one way or the other. Therefore, rather than the rather clumsy form “The Author,” I will refer throughout to “Paul” as the author. For Paul as author, see O’Brien, Ephesians, 57. For pseudographical although “Pauline” authorship, see Schnackenburg, Ephesians, 33. See also Best, who argues that Paul is probably not the author, particularly on the basis of his exposition of Ephesians 5 and 6. As we shall see later on, Best is of the opinion that the Haustafel “does not display Paul’s awareness of the real situation of believers.” Ernest Best, Ephesians, 98.
 Best, Ephesians, 36.
 See generally, Clinton E Arnold, Ephesians: Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians in Light of its Historical Setting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). O’Brien recognises that spiritual warfare is an important theme within Ephesians, but not the theme that best explains the purpose of the letter. O’Brien, Ephesians, 54. Lincoln thinks that Arnold’s theory requires too great a dependency upon Ephesians itself being the primary destination of the letter. Lincoln, Ephesians, lxxxi.
 O’Brien comments, “Cosmic reconciliation and unity in Christ are the central message of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.” O’Brien, Ephesians, 58. “Christ is the one in whom God chooses to sum up the cosmos, the one in whom he restores harmony to the universe.” O’Brien, Ephesians, 59. “In Ephesians, God is shown to be in controversy with the powers which represent ‘the things in heaven’. They are presented as rebellious towards him, but also as influencing humanity in the same direction. (2:2-3). He has, however, won the decisive victory over the powers by raising Christ from the dead and exalting him to a position of unparalleled honour and universal authority (1:19-22).” O’Brien, Ephesians, 61. Lincoln says, “Broadly speaking, the letter was intended to reinforce its readers’ identity as participants in the Church and to underline their distinctive role and conduct in the world. In reminding the readers of their identity and roots, the writer tells them that they are part of a universal Church, one new humanity out of Jew and Gentile…the movement they are part of is not just another cult. It is linked with God’s previous working within Israel and is a decisive stage in the completion of his work in Christ. Indeed, ultimately it is rooted in his electing purposes from before the formation of the world…The readers are to be proud of such an identity and such a calling and are to live them out. They are to have an awareness of God’s global or cosmic purposes, but are then to act locally in a way that is appropriate to this community’s unique role in the world. They should not, therefore, simply accommodate themselves to surrounding values.” Lincoln, Ephesians, lxxxvi.
 We will develop this point later.
 Eph 6:12 (NRSV).
 Andreas Köstenburg, and David Wayne Jones. God, Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Wheaton Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 66.