The Religious A priori


Women And Christianity



Neither Male Nor Female:




Headship and Submission:


(Ephesians 5:22-28)
part II



21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.





The Household Code


Craig S. Keener explains:

Paul was following a set genre used by Greek philosophers for passing on ethical advice pertaining to social relations. This was a cultural and litterary convetion, to expound upon household duties and the obligations of relatioships in families.


“The section 5:21–6:9 addresses what we call “household codes.” In Paul's day, many Romans were troubled by the spread of “religions from the East” (e.g., Isis worship, Judaism and Christianity), which they thought would undermine traditional Roman family values. Members of these minority religions often tried to show their support for those values by using a standard form of exhortations developed by philosophers from Aristotle on. These exhortations about how the head of a household should deal with members of his family usually break down into discussions of husband-wife, father-child and master-slave relationships. Paul borrows this form of discussion straight from standard Greco-Roman moral writing. . But unlike most ancient writers, Paul undermines the basic premise of these codes: the absolute authority of the male head of the house.”(The Bible Background Commentary-NT. IVP, 1993).


Paul is making use of the house code because he wants to re-value the values of marriage and the family. The reason for this re-valuing is that Collasse and Ephesus were two of the cities infested with early gnosticizing tendencies (they are also the two cities to which he writes housecodes). Gnostics disvalued marriage and the family. Paul is re-affirming those institutions,but in such a way as to construct a new understanding fo them, one not dominated by a tyrannical father, but motivated by Christian love. For evidence of the gnosticizing influences see: Constance F. Parvey, "The Theology and Leadership of Women in the New Testament," in Reuther, Religion and Sexism, p. 121.13Ibid., pp. 121f.Walter Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth (New York: Abingdon, 1971), pp. 160f.Ernst Kasemann, New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), p. 71.
But Paul's household code is differnt. He turns the conventional social understanding of power relations on its head, underminging the accepted paterfamilias (or male domination of the household).


“The final expression of being filled with the Spirit is “submitting to one another” because Christ is one's Lord. All the household codes Paul proposes are based on this idea. But although it was customary to call on wives, children and slaves to submit in various ways, to call all members of a group (including the paterfamilias, the male head of the household) to submit to one another was unheard-of. (Ibid)



The Christian household is ran according to the priciples of love and mustual submission that Christ lays down. Here the leader is the servant, just as Jesus told his desciples when he washed their feet. The underlying ethic of he house is agope not domiance or power.




Paul never spells out the nature of submission, but the closest he comes to defining it is in v33 where it seems to be closer to "respect."

"Most ancient writers expected wives to obey their husbands, desiring in them a quiet and meek demeanor; some marriage contracts even stated a requirement for absolute obedience. This requirement made sense especially to Greek thinkers, who could not conceive of wives as equals. Age differences contributed to this disparity: husbands were normally older than their wives, often by over a decade in Greek culture (with men frequently marrying around age thirty and women in their teens, often early teens)...In this passage, however, the closest Paul comes to defining submission is “respect” (v. 33), and in the Greek text, wifely submission to a husband (v. 22) is only one example of general mutual submission of Christians (the verb of v. 22 is borrowed directly from v. 21 and thus cannot mean something different). [BBC: Eph.]


Kaiser/Davids/Bruce/Brauch, IVP:1996.
Hard Sayings of the Bible

“Third, Paul does not describe the duties that are attached to submission. An ancient reader could therefore have been tempted to read a wife's submission as meaning all that it could mean in that culture—which, as we have noted above, involves considerably more subordination than any modern Christian interpreters would apply to women today. (Applying the text in this way would return women to rarely being able to attend college, to disallowing them voting privileges, etc.) However, Paul does define the content of the wife's submission once, in quite a strategic place: at the concluding summary of his advice to married couples. The wife is to “respect” (phobeomai, Eph 5:33) her husband. Although the term usually translated “submission” (hypotasso) could be used in the weaker sense of “respect,” household codes demanded far more of wives than mere respect; Paul's view of women's subordination even in this social situation could not be much weaker than it is.” [NT:DictPL: s.v. “Man and Woman”]



The household code, because it is rooted in a literary convention of the day, is essentially a cultural gestue. It is not a metaphysical hierarchy rooted in the divine economy, but rather, a statment rooted in the cultural life of the day. It is directed toward the Greaco-Roman understanding of a household and how it should run; it undermines male dominance to that extent, because it turns the male dominated household of Roman society on its head. We can also see other motivations which deal more with the perception of Christians on the part of the Roman world.

Paul gives another household code in colossians (3:18-25), and Peter gives one. Both can be seen as attempts to forstall persecution; not as divine comman hierarchies. The Colossian code is pretty much the same, husbands are counsaled not to embitter their children, which was unheard of advice for a Roman housecode and is indciative of the upside down nature of Christian order.

Peter has a housecode and his code reflects concern for the way Christians are perceived and for winning souls to Christ:


I Peter 3: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.


Peter is not laying down a metaphysical hierarchy, but pracitcle advice, the reason for submission is "so that some may be won over." Sir William Ramsy mantained a long and sustianed argument that Peter's real concern was forstalling persecution (in Christianity in the Roman Empire).


Headship and subjection


(21) and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (22)Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (23) For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. (24)But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.


Wives are told to submit to husband as Christ to the chruch, how can this not be a metaphysical hierarchy, are we not of inferior rank to Christ? Are we not to submitt totally to Christ? Yes, but Paul is setting up an analogy. The submission is not total between wife and husband; Paul is qualifiying that to the following analogy, which illustrates what he means. Note, the term "head" does not connote supirior rank. Rather, it connotes "source of life" a protector. The husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the chruch in this way, in the following example. That is not a supirior rank. Christ is Lord of he chruch, but that's not what Paul is talking about here. The wife is enjoined to submit "as unto the Lord." we do not obey Christ out of fear or compullsion, but out of love. This relates to the attitude of submission, not to supirior rank.



"A Challenge for Proponents of Female Subordination To Prove Their Case from The Bible."
By Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian
Professor Emeritus
Wheaton College
The New Testament defines the headship ministry of Christ to the church as a servant relation designed to provide the church with life and growth. This headship is never presented as an authority or lordship position.Eph. 1:22-23. Christ is supremely and universally sovereign, but as head for the church, it is not said that he rules over it. Instead, he provides his body with the fullness of him who fills all in all. He causes the church to grow and flourish.Eph. 4:15-16. Christ as head provides the body with oneness, cohesion and growth. This is a servant-provider role, not one of rulership.Eph. 5:23. Christ is head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. His headship to the church is defined as saviorhood which is biblically defined as a servant, self-sacrificing function, not a lordship role.Col. 1:18. Christ is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead. As its head, Christ is the source of the church’s life.Col. 2:19. Christ is the head from whom the whole body grows because it is nourished by him. He is servant-provider of life and growth to the church.Obviously, Christ is Lord of all and therefore Lord of the church. But never does the New Testament define Christ’s relation to the church as its head in terms of lordship, authority or rulership. As head to the church, Christ is always the servant who gives the church all she needs to become his radiant Bride. So is the husband to his wife (Eph. 5:25-30), within a relationship of mutual submission (v. 21).The word “head” used figuratively in the English language refers to boss, person in authority, leader. It never has that meaning in New Testament Greek. There are hundreds of references in the New Testament to religious, governmental, civic, familial and military authority figures. Not one of them is ever designated as “head.”Even Christ, as “head” of all rule and authority, remains their original giver of life and fullness (Col. 2:10; 1:16). Similarly, Christ was never called “head” of the church until after his crucifixion, the supreme expression of his servant ministry as the giver of new life.Whenever Christ is described as “head” to the church, his ministry is that of servant-provider. Similarly, as head to his wife, a husband is a servant-provider of life, of fullness and growth, not one who exercises authority over her.



Let us turn now to the analogy that Paul draws to illustrate this concept.(see part III.


Next:part III



The Religious A priori