An article by Andrew Perriman recently came to my attention where – after affirming a total egalitarian worldview – he goes on to expose some common weak arguments egalitarians often make. In the process, however, he offers a particularly interesting interpretation of Ephesians 5:22 ff.:
Paul urges the Ephesians not to get drunk, to sing Christian songs, to give thanks for everything, and to submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ”. He then instructs wives to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (5:22), children to obey their parents (6:1), and servants to obey their earthly masters (6:5). Egalitarians would like to think that Paul is advocating mutual submission, but this seems unlikely. In the three categories of relationship that follow submission or obedience is in one direction only, which suggests that “to one another” means “according to the relationships of inequality that prevail amongst you”. However, I think Paul’s language does push us to ask why such submission is enjoined:
He goes on to source his own book, Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul:
The particular emphasis of verse 21 extends into verse 22, where the omission of the verb indicates quite strongly, I think, that subordination within the household is more an accepted fact than a deliberate objective, and that it is rather the indirect object (‘to their own husbands’) and in particular the manner of subordination (‘as to the Lord’) that are of primary concern to Paul. So his argument is not, ‘Be subordinate rather than equal or independent’ but ‘Be subordinateas to the Lord, rather than resentfully or from some less worthy motive’. He is not teaching them to be subordinate but how to deal with the subordination that society generally expected of them. Norbert Baumert… says, ‘The actual ethical-theological statement of the apostle is probably: “accept the position appropriate to you under the contemporary circumstances”.’
To repeat the imperative: He is not teaching them to be subordinate but how to deal with the subordination that society generally expected of them. It’s an interpretation worth pondering anyways.