Paragraphing Ephesians 5
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.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.
22. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. (ESV)
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 ΚυρίωA 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: Bible translation, paragraph, egalitarian, complementarian, Eph. 5