A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 5:22-24. 2). The duty of wives.

Two reasons are given, or at least implied, for the wife’s submission to her husband. The first is drawn from creation and concerns the husband’s ‘headship’ of his wife, while the second is drawn from redemption and concerns Christ’s ‘headship’ of the church.

*Wives be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife…* (verses 22-23a). The husband’s headship is both stated as a fact and made the ground of his wife’s submission. But its origin is not elaborated here. For a fuller understanding of Paul’s argument we need to turn elsewhere, especially to 1 Corinthians 11:3-12 and 1 Timothy 2:11-13. In both these passages he goes back to the narrative of Genesis 2 and points out that woman was made after man, out of man and for man. He adds that man is also born from woman, so that man and woman are dependent on one another. Nevertheless his emphasis is on the order, mode and purpose of the creation of Eve. And since it is mainly on these facts of creation that Paul bases his case for the husband’s headship, his argument has permanent and universal validity, and is not to be dismissed as culturally limited. The cultural elements of his teaching are to be found in the applications of the principle, in the requirement of ‘veiling’ certainly, and I think also in the requirement of ‘silence’. But the man’s (and especially the husband’s) ‘headship’ is not a cultural application of a principle; it is the foundation principle itself. This is not chauvinism, but creationism. The new creation in Christ frees us from the distortion of relations between the sexes caused by the fall (e.g. Gn.3:16), but it establishes the original intention of the creation. It was to this ‘beginning’ that Jesus himself went back (e.g. Mt.19:4-6). He confirmed the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2. So must we. What creation has established, no culture is able to destroy.

This is also why we should reject the facile argument that since slavery has been abolished, the wife’s submission should by analogy be abolished too. If this were the case, then why not complete the trio and abolish the child’s obedience as well? No, the parallels are inexact. Slavery is a dehumanizing institution, with no justification in any biblical doctrine. A husband’s headship, however, is rooted in creation.

Turning from biblical revelation to contemporary experience, Christians will agree that our human sexuality is part and parcel of our humanness. Masculinity and feminity represent a profound distinction which is psychological as well as physiological. Of course the sexes are equal before God, but this does not mean that they are identical. God himself created man male and female in his likeness. So both equally bear his image (Gn. 1:26-27), but each also complements the other (Gn.2:18-24). The biblical perspective is to hold simultaneously the equality and complementarity of the sexes. ‘Partnership’ is a good word too, so long as it is remembered that the contribution which each brings to it is not identical but distinctive. Hence a man finds himself by being a man, and a woman finds herself by being a woman. Genuine self-discovery and self-fulfillment do not come from striving to be somebody else or from imitating the opposite sex.

What then are the complementary distinctives of the two sexes? The biblical teaching is that God has given to man (and especially to the husband in the marriage relationship) a certain headship, and that his wife will find herself and her true God-given role not in rebellion against him or his headship, but in a voluntary and joyful submission.

The modern understanding of sexual differentiation tends to confirm this biblical teaching. This at least is the thesis of the American sociologist Professor Steven Goldberg in his book *The inevitability of Patriarchy*. Although it is a conscious response to the feminist movement, he claims that his approach is scientific and not ideological, in that he rests his case on empirical evidence. Nor is his viewpoint to be dismissed as masculine, for the distinguished American anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead is quoted on the book’s dustcover as supporting its thesis: ‘All the claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that they ever existed.’
Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:22-24 2) The duty of wives (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.