Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Paragraphing Ephesians 5

Earlier this week there was an interesting post at CoffeeSwirls on problems with verse numbering in our Bibles. The ESV Bible blog picked up on the CoffeeSwirls post and advanced the discussion to include paragraphing of our Bibles, as well. I think you would find both posts worth reading.

Today I would like to discuss paragraphing of Ephesians 5 which has become one of the most divisive (pun intended) issues among those who take the Bible seriously today. The debate for Eph. 5 is over whether a paragraph break should be inserted before or after verse 21:
21. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. (ESV)
Egalitarians believe that we should paragraph before 21 to emphasize mutual submission not only within the body of believers but also within marriage. Complementarians do not believe in mutual submission in marriage, so they believe that the paragraph break should appear between verses 21 and 22. If anyone makes translation decisions, including paragraphing, based on such ideological or theological criteria we would be creating interpretive translations, in the pejorative sense of the term as it is used today.

Are there objective linguistic criteria to help us determine paragraphing of Eph. 5? I believe so and I'd like to present evidence for it. I assume that others will be able to suggest that the evidence is not fully determinative, but let's at least examine it.

First, paragraphs, if they are to have any meaning other than being an orthographic convention to make it easier on our eyes to read text, need to be based on discourse parameters which have been traditionally used, at least subconsciously, to paragraph. A paragraph break should occur where there is some kind of cognitive break in the discourse. That cognitive break can be based on a change of scene, time, participants, or topic. Paragraphing needs to pay attention to syntax. Both syntax and semantics, as well as discourse cohesion, reflect cognitive relationships including unity.

We cannot tell it from most Bible versions but Eph. 5:18-21 form a single sentence, and, therefore, likely a single cognitive/discourse unit, in Greek:
καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνω, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν Πνεύματι, λαλοῦντες ἑαυτοῖς ψαλμοῖς καὶ ὕμνοις καὶ ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς, ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ Κυρίω, εὐχαριστοῦντες πάντοτε ὑπὲρ πάντων ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ πατρί, ῾Υποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβω Χριστοῦ.
Your Greek text may have a period preceding ῾υποτασσόμενοι at the beginning of verse 21. Mine does, but we know that there were no punctuation marks, let alone word breaks, in the original Greek texts of the New Testament. So I changed that period to a comma, since ῾υποτασσόμενοι is a participle and it seems to me that that is good reason for believing that Paul continued his sentence to the end of verse 21.

Several English versions (including KJV, NKJV, NASB, NET, ESV, and HCSB) reflect the syntax of the finite and participial verbs of the Greek and have no sentence period until the end of verse 21. The ESV revises the finite English translation of RSV "Be subject to one another ..." at the beginning of verse 21 to "submitting to one another ..." which follows the Greek participial syntax precisely:
(18) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (19) addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, (20) giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Can we insert a paragraph break between verses 20 and 21? I don't think so. If verse 21 is a continuation of the sentence which begins in verse 18, we cannot insert a paragraph break before the cognitive unit (syntactically a sentence) is completed.

Long sentences like that of Eph. 5:18-11 are more difficult for English speakers to read and process than shorter ones, but the more literal translations do accurately reflect the syntax of the Greek verbs. Some Bible versions, for readability, which is important, break the long sentence up into shorter ones. (There are good reasons for breaking up the long sentence into shorter ones, for some audiences. But if that is done, such versions should include cohesion markers that make it clear that the cognitive flow in the translation continues, reflecting the entire Greek sentence.)

Now here is the Greek for verse 22:
Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὑποτάσσεσθε ὡς τῷ Κυρίω
A literal translation is:
Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
What's missing in both the Greek and literal English translation? Right, a verb. Greek, like English and many other languages, can omit some verbs when they are understood from context. Greek scholars often refer to this as ellipsis. The "missing" verb is there semantically in the Greek, just not expressed overtly. What verb has been ellipsized? Well, it's not too difficult to figure out from the context that it is a Greek verb for "submit" which appears overtly in the preceding verse. (Note that the Greek imperative verb, ὑποτάσσεσθε meaning 'Submit!' does appear in verse 22 in some Greek N.T. manuscripts, and the reconstructed text of Westcott-Hort as well as the Textus Receptus underlying the KJV and NKJV.)

The lack of an overt verb in verse 22, supplied according to standard rules of Greek ellipsis from verse 21, is a sign of cohesion. We don't "glue" utterances together with ellipsis which have cognitive divisions, reflected by paragraph breaks. I conclude that there should be no paragraph break between verses 21 and 22.

So, where then do we insert the paragraph break in this debated section of Eph. 5? I suggest, based on the Greek syntax which we have just examined, that there is no paragraph break between Eph. 5:15-33.

Little of what I have posted today is original with me. It was stimulated by my continued reading in the mind-opening book Men and Women In the Church, by Sarah Sumner, professor of theology at the Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University. Dr. Sumner points out the facts of Greek which resist either of the paragraph breaks which occur in English Bible versions either before or after verse 21.

For me, the possibilities that flow from viewing the Greek of Eph. 5:15-33 as a cognitive/discourse unit are exciting. I personally believe that they can help both egalitarians and complementarians become even more biblical in their interpretation of the Bible's teachings on the roles of women and men in the church and home. But it is time for breakfast and further discussion must be left to another time and place!

Categories: , , , ,


At Fri Mar 10, 11:14:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

One small thing. In citing Eph. 5:22 in Greek, you supplied the verb: (ὑποτάσσεσθε), which IS actually missing in the original. This makes your (sub)point a little hard to get:

Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ Κυρίῳ,


Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὑποτάσσεσθε ὡς τῷ Κυρίῳ,

Otherwise, nice blog.

At Fri Mar 10, 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rich noted:

One small thing. In citing Eph. 5:22 in Greek, you supplied the verb: (ὑποτάσσεσθε), which IS actually missing in the original.

Aargh! I didn't intend that. It's what I get for copying and pasting Greek from the Westcott-Hort text instead of a newer eclectic text. I intended to use the UBS (or NA) text, but I don't have an easy way to copy-paste it right now. FWIW, there is a text critical issue here, but I would agree with those who would view ὑποτάσσεσθε as having been added by later scribes.

Thanks, Rich. I have repaired the blog text to what I intended.

At Fri Mar 10, 01:27:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...


Regarding the blog entry...exactly! <smile>

I still remember the time when I was carefully analyzing the sentences of Eph. 5 and discovered what you've posted here. At that time, however, what "hit me between the eyes with a 'duh'" was the fact that all of Eph. 5:18 to 6:9 is describing/defining/constraining what "filled with the Spirit" means. I recently read something by Gordon Fee that says esentially the same thing.

I'll mention, also, that Eph. 5:1-2 is the core statement of the previous section and that the text around it wraps around the middle (not necessarily chiastic). That previous section begins with 4:17 and ends with 5:17. Read those two verses back to back and note that "futility of their thinking" (ἐν ματαιότητι τοῦ νοὸς αὐτῶν) and "foolish" (ἄφρων) express a fair amount of synonymity (is that a word?). There's a type of inclusio going on here.

So, all that to say there's evidence that the paragraph begins with verse 5:18.

At Fri Mar 10, 02:18:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

In short, I think it means exactly what some fear it means. I don't believe there is a linguistic issue here. The real issue is one of canonicity and authorship. The conflicts sparked by these texts doesn't come out of a linguistic misunderstanding, but out of the need to give them apostolic authority without question (this goes for Colossians, 2 Thess, Ephesians, the Pastorals, and suspected interpolations in the Corinthian letters). That's admirable, I think, but God never told us that we can't examine things critically. And giving them that kind of authority is not thinking critically, but thinking superstitiously.

I'm not necessarily pointing this out because of specific egalatarian concerns either. That's just a small part of why many scholars hypothesize pseudo-Paulinism. The entire contents of these letters (both good and bad) pose many problems.

At Fri Mar 10, 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thanks, Wayne. Good posting.

I wonder if a good way to lay this out in English would be to terminat 5:21 with a colon and then set 5:22-24, 5:25-33, 6:1-4 and 6:5-9 as indented paragraphs (probably without first line indent). This would tend to indicate what the Greek text seems to: that these four subsections are all semantically (as the first is syntactically) dependent on 5:21, as four specific examples of the mutual submission required.

PS on pasting Greek text: Wayne, do you have Paratext? That has a good UBS Greek (and BHS Hebrew) text in Unicode which can be used for pasting into blog entries and comments.

At Fri Mar 10, 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Yes, Peter, I use Paratext all the time, but don't use its Greek and Hebrew databases. Thanks for the tip. For now, I've used Suzanne's tip, which I had forgotten, to get the Greek accenting to display properly. I should have checked the display in IE before assuming everything was OK, as it was, in Firefox.

At Fri Mar 10, 07:29:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Sorry, Peter, I didn't read this first before commenting on the later post. Where would I find Paratext? Does it use precomposed characters? That would be preferable.

At Fri Mar 10, 09:36:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I wouldn't mind if there weren't any paragraph breaks at all.

The NET Bible decided to insert a subject header at 5:22.

On the theological side, I don't think wives submitting to their husbands is a contengent command based on mutual submission...just as I don't think husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church is a contengent command based on wives submitting to them. However, that discussion is probably outside the subject matter of this blog.

I don't see the paragraph break making much of a difference really. It reads the same to me when it is all together or when it had a paragraph break.


At Fri Mar 10, 09:46:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

You wrote that before breakfast! Just imagine the brilliance if you had waited until after the ham and eggs!!!

Very succinct and stimulating post. I think the argument for cohesion based on ellipsis is very convincing.

It might be fair in the post to mention the differences in manuscripts because the argument falls apart if you are using the majority text.

At Fri Mar 10, 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Brian noted:

On the theological side, I don't think wives submitting to their husbands is a contengent command based on mutual submission...just as I don't think husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church is a contengent command based on wives submitting to them. However, that discussion is probably outside the subject matter of this blog.

I agree with all the points you made, Brian. I see no contingency mentioned in that section of Eph. 5. The commands are simply given. The husband doesn't earn his headship, nor does his wife give it to him. Similarly, the husband doesn't earn the right to be submitted to. It's a clear, direct command for the husband to sacrifice himself for his wife. There is nothing said about him sacrificing himself if she proves worthy. And I'm so glad that I didn't have to prove myself worthy of Christ's sacrifice. I could never do so.

And I suppose you're right that what you and I have just said is outside the domain of discussion about Bible translation, but it's still a good thing to say. And it's related to the issues surrounding translation of this passage. So I'm glad you made your comment. We try not to be legalistic on this blog. Related comments are fine, when they seem important to us, as you have offered yours. Thanks.

At Fri Mar 10, 10:29:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

It might be fair in the post to mention the differences in manuscripts because the argument falls apart if you are using the majority text.

Good point, David. I'm glad you just mentioned it. I might add it to the post, but I need to wait until after I sleep. It's sleepy time now.

At Fri Mar 10, 10:55:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

David, I was able to make the comment on the text critical issue before too much of the night was gone. We still haven't unpacked all our boxes from our move last October and I can't locate my Majority Text right now. But I did locate a TR so I could vouch for its reading. If you are sure of the MT reading, I can add that as well (after I sleep!).

At Fri Mar 10, 11:16:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

It might be fair in the post to mention the differences in manuscripts because the argument falls apart if you are using the majority text.

David, the argument based on ellipsis falls apart if one is using the Majority Text. But an argument, somewhat weaker than that of ellipsis, could then be made on the grounds of contiguous clauses lexical cohesion.

At Fri Mar 10, 11:30:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

In short, the UBS text is from P46 and Vaticanus, and the Majority text is from Sinaiticus and the Byzantine mss, etc. So P46 is probably the deciding manuscript, along with Clement, Origin, Jerome and Theodore.

I am very much in favour of reading Ephesians in the light of Christ's command to "Love your neighbour as yourself."

At Sat Mar 11, 12:54:00 AM, Blogger David McKay said...

Paragraphing doesn't settle what Paul means by "submitting to one another." In my study for an exegetical paper on this topic I discovered that some commentators believe that "submitting to one another" is obviously reciprocal.

But others point out that ALLHLWN is not always used in a strictly reciprocal sense, such as in Luke 12:1 where a crowd is said to be trampling on one another, or in Revelation 6:4 where people are killing one another.

It is not likely that each person in the crowd trampled on each other person, nor that each person killed another person in the apocalyptic passage.

Some interpreters believe that it is more likely that Paul is commanding his readers to submit to those who have authority over them, such as slaves submitting to masters, children obeying parents and wives submitting to husbands.

But I agree that there should not be a cut off at verse 21.

At Sat Mar 11, 09:31:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...


It's amazing how chopped up this section of Ephesians is in the NIV. I know those section titles are supposed to help folks find things in their Bibles but sometimes they go too far.

At Sat Mar 11, 02:14:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Brian, I didn't mean to say that wives submitting to husbands, husbands loving wives etc are somehow contingent on the general command to submit to one another. No, they are simply examples of that command, with some further explanation of how mutual submission is to be worked out in practice in those situations.

David, I must say I am astonished at the the theologically tendentious misunderstanding of those who misinterpret ἀλλήλοις allēlois (sorry, Suzanne and others, but I can't specify a font in a comment, but I do always give a transliteration) in Ephesians 5:21 as meaning "one group to another group". This just cannot be the meaning of the Greek word. I accept that in Luke 12:1 and Revelation 6:4 not everyone trampled or killed every other person. (Two people can kill one another, but I don't think they can trample one another.) So there is probably an element of hyperbole here. But those texts cannot be understood as meaning that the crowd was divided into two separate groups one of which did the action to the other, such as "the men in the crowd trampled on the women" or "the people of the west killed the people of the east". No, it must mean that the perpetrators and the victims were scattered throughout the crowd, and very likely that nearly everyone was involved in the trampling or killing from both sides. It is also clearly the structure of the Ephesians passage that 5:25, 6:4,9 as well as 5:22, 6:1,5 are semantically dependent on "submit to one another" in 5:21, providing examples of mutual submission, not contrasts with it.

Earlier I suggested that publishers "set 5:22-24, 5:25-33, 6:1-4 and 6:5-9 as indented paragraphs" I should have made this six indented paragraphs: 5:22-24, 5:25-33, 6:1-3, 6:4, 6:5-8, 6:9. And these might be even better set as bullet points.

At Sat Mar 11, 03:28:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

There is not much to be done in the comment box. I usually input an unaccented Greek text with the keyboard. However, this is mainly because I didn't know where others were getting their Greek text from to cut and paste and I didn't want to ask. :-)


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home