- How does the Ephesian church get from the condition it is in when Paul writes the epistle to being part of the church in all her glory?
27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory
First of all let’s have a look at what the culture was like in the city of Ephesus during the 1st Century. This is important as we cannot separate the interpretation of scripture from its historical context.
City of Ephesus Culture
Converts from the Cult of Artemis
The church in Ephesus comprised of many converts to Christianity from the Cult of Artemis – the goddess of fertility and protector during pregnancy and childbirth. Only virgin women could become priestesses and leaders in the cult. While men could become priests if they were castrated.
Some of the new converts coming into the church at Ephesus would have been former priestesses, prophetesses and teachers from the temple of Artemis. It appears that many of them were trying to maintain their position of authority over men in the church. Therefore Paul had to be careful that their former cult teachings about female domination, virgins refusing to marry, celibacy and that women were born first etc didn’t permeate into the newly established church.
Converts from the Cult of Dionysus/Bacchus
The Dionysus cult, worshipped the god of wine and madness. They had noisy frenzied worship habits which were led by female maenads (mad women) where the worshippers went into a drunken ecstatic state, singing and shouting the praises of Dionysus. That was the cultural norm, as the Greeks believed that worship should be a mad frenzy of activity.
”him of the orgiastic cry, exciter of women, Dionysus, glorified with mad honors” ~ Plutarch, Moralia 671c
They represent them, one and all, as a kind of inspired people and as subject to Bacchic frenzy, and, in the guise of minister, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and also by flute and outcry. ~ Georg. X.3:7
“We were offering sacrifice five times a day, and seven serving women were beating cymbals around us while the rest of the women pitched high the chant (olulugia).” ~ Fragment 326
This also seems to be the reason why Paul spoke of being filled with the spirit rather than being filled with wine in Ephesians 5.
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; ~ Ephesians 5: 15-18
These new converts needed to be in mutual submission under the authority of Paul’s teaching. They had to learn how to treat each other in a biblical way, learn what was correct doctrine, and how to worship. As a result of this learning they could then be mature enough to witness, train and instruct other men and women about the bible.
Now that the historical background has been covered we can delve deeper into Ephesians 5. Firstly I would define mutual submission as having a teachable spirit, willing to listen to the other person and assess what they say. Then as Paul says, be like a Berean and not take him just at his word. But to search the scriptures to verify the truth of the things he spoke about. Then we decide whether to take it on board or not.
…examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. ~ Acts 17:11
always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord. ~ Ephesians 5:19-22
So what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5 is that all Christians are to submit to each other in humility, being led by Paul’s teaching concerning how they should act and behave around each other. Because of the cult of Artemis, those former female cult members would have been exercising authority over men in the church.
Then in Ephesians 5:22 Paul adds to this command “wives to your own husbands”. This was an example of unity and equality between a husband and wife as each of them would mutually submit and love sacrificially, one to the other. There is no mention about leadership and authority in marriage and that was such a radical difference between Christianity and the hierarchy in the Greco-Roman world.
Patriarchal Bias Creeps Into the Text
Sadly one of the issues I see in the church of today is the continuation of the patriarchal mindset that the woman does not have the ability to function in society without a man ruling over her and protecting her for her own sake. In order to justify this position the focus is kept on verse 22 while completely ignoring verse 21. Many of the bible translators added the word submit/subject into verse 22 to defend and legitimize their patriarchal stance.
If you have a look in your bible you’ll also see that there is a man-made heading that separates verse 21 from verse 22. It’s as if there are two trains of thought going through Paul’s mind. But that heading is divisive and shouldn’t be there as it separates the two verses. Verses 19-22 do not contain two separate commands – one to everyone and then a different one just for wives. It’s only 1 command – mutual submission and it’s the same submission in verse 22 as verse 21 sets the precedent.
- So why do we always focus on these few verses when they are not even the main point of the chapter?
Be Filled With The Spirit
Verse 22 can’t be separated from the overall context of Ephesians 5 as Paul gives a list of Kingdom living principles to enable the church to become spotless and unblemished. Then he says be “filled with the Spirit”.
- But why did Paul tie in being filled with the spirit with mutual submission?
- What does being filled with the Spirit enable a believer to do?
The answer is to gain discernment and wisdom through the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. ~ Isaiah 11:1-2
Parts of the bible were written as chiasmus which was also a common style of writing in the Greek culture. Basically it’s a repetition of similar ideas placed in reverse sequence.
So as you can see from Ephesians 5 21- 32 (common English translation) below A goes with a’, B goes with b’ and so on with the centre being ‘the treasure’, x marks the spot and that treasure is the main emphasis of the whole block of text. The original 1st century audience would have known that, but we’ve lost that understanding today.
A 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 for example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord.
B 23 A husband is the head of his wife
C like Christ is head of the church, that is, the saviour of the body.
D 24 So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ.
E 25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.
F 26 He did this to make her holy by washing her in a bath of water with the word.
X / Treasure 27 He did this to present himself with a splendid church,
f’ one without any sort of stain or wrinkle on her clothes, but rather one that is holy and blameless.
e’28 That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself.
d’ 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church
c’ 30 because we are parts of his body.
b’ 31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body.
a’ 32 Marriage is a significant allegory, and I’m applying it to Christ and the church. 33 In any case, as for you individually, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands.
So What’s The Treasure?
This is …
“He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, “
To get to this point in verse 27 – the church in all her glory, Paul wanted the Ephesus converts to be willing to be taught/submit to his teaching and leadership in the church. The members of the church had to discern what Paul was teaching, checking the scriptures for themselves and then mutually submitting to it. However as Paul said they couldn’t do this unless they were spirit filled – and neither can we in this day and age!
Paul’s focus in Ephesians 5 is about being filled with the spirit so that the church will become splendid in all its glory. While the patriarchal mindset gets Ephesians 5 all wrong and focuses just on wives submitting to their husbands!
Sadly we’ve still a long way to go until we reach the treasure!