I’ve been writing a series on how scripture can be misinterpreted by neglecting or omitting the context around it. As I have mentioned before, we can’t selectively lift one part of a passage out and impose our own meaning upon it. To never consider any passage in light of the theme of the immediate text, chapter, and book from which we read it is not only poor hermeneutics, but often perpetuates confusion and a false understanding of God and human relationships.
Here’s one that tends to bring up a lot of controversy:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior (Eph. 5:22-23).
Before we get to the part that I think is often left out, and before there is a small uproar from the word “submissive”, let’s clarify what is meant by that word. It is inferred from the preceding verse whereby the Apostle Paul tells all believers to be subject to one another: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). The entire passage of Ephesians 5:22-33 is about mutual respect and submission, first as the body of Christ as a whole, and then to marriage and family relationships.
Having mentioned that, let’s point to the part that is often overlooked: The description of a godly husband, as noted in Ephesians 5:25-27, later in the same chapter.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5: 25-27).
This passage describes a type of man who is the polar opposite of controlling or domineering. In fact, he is a picture of sacrificial love, and models himself after no one less than Christ Himself. He’s the type of man that does not provoke his wife to anger by flaunting or abusing his leadership. In fact, he shows a sacrificial, dedicated love for her and her well-being.
So here’s the thing: What woman would not want to respect a man that loves her? In the same way, what man would not want to love a woman that respects him? If we take the full chapter in context, we can see how they come together to not only fit into the broader picture of how Christians should treat each other, but also give a complete picture of the roles of men and women in a Christ-centered marriage relationship.
When we understand that the context of this passage does not in any way imply positions of “inferiority” or “superiority” within a marriage, but rather a blueprint of design and function, we can see the intent of the writing. When we look at the Bible as a whole, we can see that Christ honored women. For example, it was evident in the way he treated the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-42, and chose a woman (Mary Magdalene) to be one of the first to witness the resurrection. (John 20:11-18). These are just two examples of many, and this all within a culture that placed women of little to no value, until Christ, that is.
What do you think can happen to our society when a passage on women being submissive to their husbands is taken out of context?
How do you think that the blueprint of leadership and mutual love and respect looks like in a Christ-centered marriage?