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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


New Testament Protocols
Regarding Men and Women (Part 1)


The Importance of Family Part 1: Marriage
The Importance of Family Part 2: The Family
Divorce and Remarriage: Introduction and Basics
Separation and Divorce in the Law of Moses
Marital Separation in the Gospels
Marital Separation after the Gospels and Conclusions
Marital Separation: Objections 1-3
Marital Separation: Objections 4-6 and the Early Church
Remarriage Addendum: Exception Clause Comparison
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 1)
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 2)
Comparative Peer Dynamics Chart



It is with some hesitation that we engage in this study. In fact, we have set out upon this study only after having first addressed a great many other issues and doctrines, which in itself indicates that this is not a topic that we relish or were eager to assert.

The reasons for this are simple. Not that we shun away from speaking the truth even in difficult issues, but the issue of how men and women are to relate is a very sensitive one. In modern times, no topic will get a man dismissed or labeled more quickly than making comments that are considered derogatory or condescending toward women. This may be more the case now than ever given our current politically correct environment and in the wake of very successful advances in women's rights. With all this in mind, Biblical statements restricting the role of women in the church and asserting subordination of women, particularly to their husbands are not only unpopular, but in many cases have come to be reexamined and adjusted in order to favor a view that is more preferable to the views of modern society concerning women.

As we begin, we would like to state up from that the Bible does contain some very prominent roles for certain women in history. Deborah was a judge of Israel in the Old Testament (Judges 4-5). Under certain circumstances in the Old Testament, women were allowed to own property as far back as approximately the thirteenth-twelfth century AD (Numbers 36:1-10, Joshua 17:1-6). There are records of women prophetesses in the New Testament (Luke 2:36, Acts 21:8-9.). And, of course, it was women who were the first to witness and report the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:9-11, Luke 23:55-24:11, John 20:1, 10-18). Because of such things, a great deal of honor and respect is due to godly women in general. But none of these facts erase, change, or override the very straightforward instructions given in the New Testament concerning the role and restrictions for women in the Church as well as within a marriage.

In order to properly understand the role of women as defined by the Bible, rather than our modern societal ideals, we now turn our attention to examining these New Testament instructions regarding men and women in the Church and within a marriage.

In order to understand how the authors of the New Testament described the role of women in the Church and in their households, we have begun by taking a survey. Out of a possible 232 verses where the words "woman," "women," "wife," or "wives" are mentioned in the New Testament, 29 of those verses deal with issues of divorce and remarriage and 43 deal provide protocols the way women and wives relate to men and husbands in the Christian worldview.

Furthermore, some of these 45 verses occur in the same chapter as one another. And once we account for this factor, we find that we have 45 verses that occur within 11 chapters. Or in short, there are 11 chapters in the New Testament regarding the protocols for how women are to relate to men, how wives are to relate to their husbands, and the role of women in the Church. Those chapters are 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Timothy 5, 2 Timothy 3, Titus 2, and 1 Peter 3.

We will now take a look at these passages to develop an understanding of the Biblical role of women in the Church and in their households, beginning 1 Corinthians 7. Paul's discussion of marriage and marriage relationships in this chapter can be broken down into 4 sections. The first section includes verses 1-9 in which Paul addresses obligations of wives and husbands to one another. The second section includes verses 10-27 in which Paul gives instructions concerning divorce and remarriage and remaining single. The third section includes verses 28-35 in which Paul returns to discussing the obligations a wife and husband have to one another. And finally, the fourth section includes verses 36-40 in which Paul provides some closing comments regarding the protocols for getting married or remaining single.

Because the second and fourth sections do not directly deal with the roles of husbands and wives, they do not pertain directly to our study and so we will not be covering those portions of this chapter during this investigation. We will, however, be examining the first and third sections, beginning with verses 1-9.

1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. 6 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. 7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

There are two major points to this portion of 1 Corinthians 7. First, Paul begins in verse 1 by announcing his general topic, which is physical relations between a man and a woman. And moreover, Paul states in verse 2 that every man and woman is free to marry to avoid fornication. As the rest of the chapter demonstrates, Paul's comment in verse 6 that he "speaks this by permission, and not of commandment" is directed at this statement permitting marriage in verse 2. Thus, Paul's statement in verse 6 was meant to apply to marriage itself and not the immediately preceding remarks concerning intercourse in verses 3-5.

What Paul is saying in verse 6 is that marriage is permitted, but is not commanded. Thus, when Paul says in verse 2 "let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband," by saying this he is giving permission to get married, not a commandment. Verse 7 demonstrates that this is Paul's meaning. For, in verse 6, Paul states that something is permitted, not commanded and then Paul begins verse 7 by stating what Paul would prefer in contrast to what he permits. And what Paul prefers is insightful to what it is that Paul is regarding as permissible in verse 6.

In verse 7-9, Paul states that his preference is for Christians to remain single. Paul states this plainly in verses 7-8 where he writes that he would prefer that the unmarried remain unmarried, even as he was at this time. (Paul will explain his reasons for this preference later in the chapter, which we will get to momentarily.) And in closing, Paul amplifies the sentiment of verse 6 by saying that while Paul prefers Christians to remain single, they are permitted to marry rather than burning with lust. So, marriage is certainly permitted. It is not commanded, nor even preferred.

And this is significant because it is necessary for us to know exactly what Paul is saying was permitted but not commanded in verse 6. As we have seen, Paul is talking about marriage itself that is permitted but not commanded. Therefore, we cannot and should not think that Paul's description of marital obligations in verses 3-5 is just a suggestion. Instead, Paul's instructions about marital obligations in verses 3-5 should be taken as absolutely binding for those who are married, while marriage itself is considered optional. And so in this passage it is the marriage, which is optional, and not the obligations within marriage as described by Paul.

Now that we know that the obligations described by Paul in verses 3-5 are not what is describing as optional in verse 6, we can very simply understand the first obligation Paul describes between a husband and wife.

1 Corinthians 7:3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

For those who do choose the option of marriage, Paul states that the husband and wife are obligated to render each other sexual intercourse. The reason for this obligation is simple. In this chapter Paul is regarding marriage as an optional means of combating fornication and lust. Since Paul depicts marriage as a remedy for fornication, a husband and wife are obligated to engage in sexual behavior with one another. Paul feels so strongly about this that in verse 4, Paul states that with regard to sexual intercourse, the husband does not have right or dominion over his own body. When it comes to engaging in sexual intercourse, whether or not a husband engages in sexual intercourse is not up to him, its up to his wife. Instead, his body is there to serve his wife's sexual needs.

And the exact same is true for the wife. Whether or not she engages in sexual intercourse is not up to her, its up to her husband. And this occurs because marriage is regarded in this passage as a remedy for both the male and the female desire for sex.

Moreover, Paul's strong feelings about this obligation are further established in verse 5. In verse 5, Paul says that the failure to submit one's body to a spouse's desire for intercourse is "defrauding" the spouse. The Greek word for "defraud" in verse 5 is "apostereo" (Strong's No. 650), which means simply to "defraud, rob, despoil." Interestingly, this word is the same Greek word used by Jesus for "steel" in Matthew 10:19 when he recites the 10 commandments. So, according to Paul, the failure to submit oneself to a spouse's desire for intercourse is a form of robbing them.

This is also why in verse 3 Paul stated that the husband and wife much each render to each other "due benevolence." The Greek word for "due" is "opheilo" (Strong's No. 3784), which means to "owe" in the sense of "to owe money, be in debt for." Consequently, according to Paul married couples "owe" it to each other to engage in intercourse according to the desires and needs of, not themselves, but the other party. So strong is this "owing" of intercourse to the other spouse that not to do so is equivalent to robbing them.

Paul is not afraid to be specific about this either, which is also evident from verse 5.

1 Corinthians 7:5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

According to Paul, the only way for a married couple to abstain from having intercourse is if both spouses agree to such a proposition. And even if they do agree, Paul states that this time of abstaining should be temporary and then the couple is to resume regular intercourse again. And furthermore, since the reason for this obligation is to avoid temptations of lust and since each spouse's body is under their spouse's will and not their own in this area, the frequency of intercourse should be determined according to what the other spouse needs in order to avoid periods without intercourse in which temptation lingers and grows. In other words, the frequency should be determined by the other persons needs.

That is the first obligation that Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 7. We will now move on the third section of this chapter in which Paul discusses some other obligations each married spouse has.

1 Corinthians 7:28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

Here Paul's words are more general. In verses 1-9, Paul was quite specific about how each spouse is obligated to the other. But here in verses 28-35, Paul simply states that each husband or wife has to give care to pleasing their spouse. This obligation to please the spouse is not expounded upon here with specifics. We might imagine, of course, that spouses have to work things out with each other, make decisions and schedules with each other, and function as partners. In these ways, each spouse has take be involved in the cares of running a household. And this provides an added, although acceptable, distraction to one's Christian walk.

Because of this, Paul's advice in verse 29 is that those with spouses should live as though they had no spouses. This doesn't mean divorce, of course, for Paul forbids divorce earlier in this same chapter. And this doesn't mean abstaining from intercourse either, for Paul specifically states not to do so earlier in this chapter as well. But, with regard to the other ways in which one provides extra distraction by attending to the multitude of personal and scheduling needs that arise in a household, Paul seems to prefer that Christians let these go by the wayside as much as possible while still maintaining order in the household, of course. Some of the next passages from Paul will further explain the obligations in the household that Paul considered necessary for maintaining basic order.

Consequently, beyond the obligations affirmed by Paul regarding intercourse in verses 3-5, it appears from verse 29 that Paul would prefer married couples try to live without putting to many other obligations on one another, since these things so easily distract the from pursuit of God. Of course, this will no doubt seem barbaric in modern times. But, as we will see in other passages to follow, in addition to the sexual obligations described in verses 3-5, Paul still upholds some spiritual obligations between the husband and wife for the purposes of their edification in the body of Christ through sound doctrine.

This leads us to the next passage in our investigation.

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth (2617) her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame (149) for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. 13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

In this passage, Paul discusses the relationship of women to men in a general way. Although this passage contains instructions regarding head coverings for women, the comments that are relevant to our current study are those, which pertain to subordination. In this regard, verse 3 is the most straightforward. In verse 3, Paul states that the relationship between man and woman is similar to the type of subordination that we see each man has to Christ Jesus. Even though in verses 11-12, Paul reminds men to remain humble in the knowledge that they, too, are all born from women, we can no more erase the subordination of the woman to the man than we can erase the subordination of every man to Christ.

We should also note that Paul's assertions here are couched between statements in verses 2 and 16 in which Paul appeals to the universal apostolic teaching of these things that is present in all the churches as further reason for the Corinthians to keep these things. Clearly, Paul associates this teaching as part of the apostolic doctrine that was handed down to the Churches. As such, we should not think that we can deviate from it. Paul will do this same thing in 1 Corinthians 14, as we will see momentarily.

And while this passage contains specific instructions regarding head coverings, it does not provide any specific protocols concerning how men and women should relate to one another beyond the general assertion that man is the head of woman and not the other way around. However, this assertion regarding man as the head of the woman will be repeated in further discussions from Paul concerning the relationship of the wife and husband. And, with this issue of headship and authority in mind, we turn to the next passage in our study, 1 Corinthians 14.

As we move into 1 Corinthians 14, we should note the related words for "dishonour" and "shame" in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 6. The Greek word for "dishonour" is "kataischuno" (Strong's No. 2617) and the Greek word for "shame" is "aischron" (Strong's No. 149.) As even the spelling of these words demonstrates, they are related. Both are derived from "aischuno" (Strong's No. 153), which means, "to disfigure, to dishonour." Paul's use of these two particular Greek words in his negative characterization of women acting against God's order of authority in 1 Corinthians 11 will become significant as we examine 1 Corinthians 14.

1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame (149) for women to speak in the church. 36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

Although 1 Corinthians 11 doesn't provide specifics about how women should relate to men (apart from wearing head coverings), there are striking similarities between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14.

First, in verse 35, Paul states that it is a shame for women to speak when the local church is gathered together for weekly meetings. The Greek word for shame here is "aischron" (Strong's No. 149.), which is one of the two related words that we saw Paul using with regard to women and authority in 1 Corinthians 11. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul states that any woman with long hair who doesn't take effort to cover her head is shaming her head. In 1 Corinthians 14, using similar Greek words, Paul similarly states that it is a shame for a woman to speak in church gatherings instead of asking her husband at home. Paul describes both cases as a shameful disregard of God's appointed order in which men are placed in authority over women in the Church, just as Christ is in position over men.

Second, in 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 16, Paul appeals to both the ordinances and teachings passed on by the apostles to the multitude of churches. He does the same thing here in 1 Corinthians 14:36, where he writes, "What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?" In doing so, Paul affirms that his teaching here was universally taught among the early churches and, therefore, that we should not deviate from it. This sentiment is further established by verses 37-38 where Paul states that anyone who is spiritual would acknowledge these things. By contrast, anyone who does not acknowledge Paul's teachings in chapter 14, including these protocols regarding women in the church, is ignorant and unspiritual.

But we should not forget the basic obligations specified by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14.

1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame (149) for women to speak in the church.

To say it simply, according Paul one additional obligation that women have to their husbands is to submit to their husbands when it comes to learning doctrine. Furthermore, women are also depicted here as required to be submissive to other men in church gatherings, at least to the extent that women do not have the right to contradict men or even ask questions of men in the regular weekly gathering of the church. For a woman to speak up during the weekly gathering is regarded, by Paul, as a shameful disregard for God's appointed order, including the woman's subordination to man in the Church and her husband in particular as asserted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.

And it is perfectly right for us to draw upon chapter 11 when reading chapter 14 since they are part of the same letter, since they are part of the same overall discussion from Paul, and since they were written in that order. Chapter 11 was no doubt meant to lead and build toward chapter 14.

Notice also that unlike the option of getting married, which Paul regards as permissive and not a command in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul regards this teaching concerning women being in silent as "not permitted" and a matter of "command." So, we know that Paul is absolutely unbending regarding this teaching.

Consequently, we can add two additional obligations to the protocols between men and woman. Women are obligated to be silent in churches. And women are obligated to learn from their husbands. Husbands, consequently, are required to teach their wives.

This leads us to Ephesians 5. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul describes the authority structure between a husband and a wife. But, what is most interesting is that Paul places these instructions immediately before he also discusses similar authority and behavior regarding parents and children as well as masters and slaves.

Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. 4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. 9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

Here in Ephesians 6:1-9, Paul describes the authority and obligations that exist between children and parents as well as slaves and masters. As we will see, Paul does the exact same thing with regard to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33, which immediately precedes this passage in Ephesians 6. This is very similar to what we have seen in 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul described how man is the head of woman in the same context where he states that Christ is the head of man. By tying those two together, Paul makes it impossible to erode the one without eroding the other. The same is true here in Ephesians 5 and 6. Paul's mention of the authority and obligation that exists with regard to husbands and wives, parents and children, and slaves and masters makes it difficult to erase or slight any one of these without doing the same to the others due to the parallel nature of Paul's comments.

But before we examine Ephesians 5, we must take note of one more item from Ephesians 6:1-9. Notice the pattern. In each case, Paul states that one party is in authority and one party is subordinate. The subordinate party is obligated to submit to the party in authority. But the party in authority is also given an obligation with regard to how they treat the subordinate party. Children are required to obey their parents, who have authority over them, but parents are commanded not to provoke their children to wrath and to train them in the Lord. Slaves are required to obey their masters, who have authority over them, but the masters are commanded not to use intimidation or threats toward the slaves.

So, one party is placed in submission and is obligated to obey. The other party is placed in authority but is obligated to rule correctly and mindfully of the Lord. This same pattern is also given by Paul in his comments regarding husbands and wives in the immediately preceding passage from Ephesians 5. We will list these parallels side by side below for easy comparison.

One party is obligated to submit.
1.) CHILDREN - Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
2.) SLAVES - Ephesians 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
3.) WIVES - Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
4.) THE CHURCH - Ephesians 5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

The party in authority is also given obligations.
1.) PARENTS - Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
2.) MASTERS - Ephesians 6:9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
3.) HUSBANDS - Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

4.) CHRIST - Ephesians 5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

As we can see, this part-counterpart relationship where the authoritative party has obligations and so does the subordinate party is consistent throughout Paul's message here. We will now look at Ephesians 5 to see more about how Paul describes the authority and what obligations exist between the wife and husband. Furthermore, this is what we meant earlier in the study when we referred to the obligations necessary to maintain God's appointed order in the household so that chaos and disharmony do not ensue. This is Paul's description of that proper order in a household between husbands and wives and parents and children.

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

First, notice that just like 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul ties a woman's submission to a man directly to a man's necessity to submit to Christ Jesus, Paul does the exact same thing here in verse 23. In fact, Paul even uses identical terminology, using the reference to headship in both passages. In this way, we must define a wife's submission to her husband as a parallel to the submission we are to have to Christ. If we say that a wife's submission here refers only to a very loose accommodation, then consequently our required submission to Christ would only need to be a very loose accommodation. However, if we are required to be in obedience to Christ, then we would have to interpret the wife's submission similarly in this passage. Ultimately, our submission to Christ provides the standard by which a wife's submission to her husband is defined.

But what is the husband's obligation to his wife?

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Well, the husband is to love his wife. But what is meant by love in this passage? The first way that Paul defines love is by comparison to how Jesus Christ loved the church by cleansing it with the washing of the word. In verse 28, Paul reiterates that in this same way the husband is to love his wife. So, what does it mean when Paul refers to Christ cleansing the Church through the washing of the word?

This phrase is a reference back to the teaching of Christ found in John 15.

John 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you…9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love…13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

In this passage in John we see 2 phrases that are used by Paul in Ephesians 5 regarding the relationship of the husband and wife. First, in Ephesians 5:25, Paul says that men ought to love their wives "even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." In saying this, Paul is referring to Christ laying his life down for the Church, which Christ himself states in this very same passage from John 15. Second, in Ephesians 5:26, Paul refers to how Christ, "cleansed the Church with the washing of water by the word." This same statement was made by Jesus in John 15:3 where Jesus tells his followers that he has made them, "clean through the word which I have spoken unto you."

In John 15, Jesus' followers were made clean by the words of Christ, which is why in John 15:9-10 Jesus also tells them that they remain in his love by remaining in his teachings. So, because Paul is referring back to this teaching from Christ Jesus, by saying in Ephesians 5:26-28 that men are to clean their wives with the washing of the word, Paul is clearly asserting that men are to love their wives by passing on the teachings of Christ to their wives in the same way that Christ did with the Church in John 15:3.

What is in view here is a man teaching his wife the sound doctrine of Jesus Christ and her abiding in it and submitting to it just as Jesus Christ passed on that doctrine to the Church and we are required to submit to him in all those things that he taught. That is the way Paul says a husband loves his wife in this passage, by teaching her the sound doctrine of Jesus Christ. This is further evidenced by Paul in verse 29, where Paul writes that a man should, "nourish and cherish" his wife, "even as the Lord the church."

The word for nourish in verse 29 is "ektrepho" (Strong's No. 1625), which means, "to nourish up to maturity." This one Greek word brings together two very common New Testament metaphors regarding training in sound doctrine: feeding and maturing. The New Testament word for "mature" (often translated "perfect") is the Greek word "teleios" (Strongs' No. 5046), which uses "full grown, adult, of full age, mature" as an allusion to complete and correct understanding in such passages as 1 Corinthians 13:10, 1 Corinthians 14:20, Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28, and Hebrews 5:14. Similarly, the New Testament uses the idea of "feeding" as an allusion to teaching sound doctrine in such passages as John 21:15-17, Acts 20:28, and 1 Peter 5:2.

So, as Christ loved the Church by teaching us the true words of God, the husband is also to love his wife by teaching her the true words of God. That is the obligation that Paul gives to the husband in Ephesians 5. Men are to submit to Christ in all the things that Christ taught us. And wives are submit to their husband as the husbands teach them all the things that Christ taught the Church.

Lastly, of course, we must also note that Paul commands husbands to be willing to lay their lives down for their wives just as Christ did for the Church.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.

Perhaps it is not necessary to say more than a few words on this point. Some might argue that this phrase from Paul indicates that men ought to sacrifice their own desires in order to give their wives what their wives want or prefer. But, this is not the case. For, Paul's model for how men are to lay down their lives for their wives is Christ. And Christ did not sacrifice his own desires in order to give us what we want.

Instead, Christ spent all of his life and his energy, his time and his strength as ultimately expressed in his death on the cross in order to give us what we needed most. Despite the fact that Jesus had taught his disciples that he would suffer and die, at the time when Christ Jesus laid down his life, his disciples did not fully understand that they were in need of what Christ was doing. (Luke 18:33-34, Luke 24:3-8, 25-27, 44-47) Peter even tried to persuade Jesus not to do it. (Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 8:31-33.)

So, by applying Christ's example as the model for how a man is to lay down his life for his wife, Paul is saying that a man is to spend his time and his life to give his wife what she needs spiritually, whether she knows it or understands it herself at the time. Paul is not saying that a man should sacrifice his own wants in this life in order to give his wife what she wants and would prefer instead.

Consequently, to our list of obligations within a marriage, from Ephesians 5 we add further understanding that the wife is obligated to submit to the husband, particularly in terms of doctrine, and conversely the husband is required to prepare his wife to enter the kingdom by teaching to her the sound teaching of Jesus Christ by which we all become clean if we obey it, just as Jesus said in John 15:3, 9-10.

This leads us to our next passage, Colossians 3:18-19.


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