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Saturday, May 19, 2007

The heading in Eph.5

Last week Anonymous pointed out an article by Diana Butler Bass about choosing a Bible translation. At the time I didn't accord it the attention it deserved. However, it raises some intriguing questions about how interpretive formatting can influence the reader.

Butler Bass recounts her reaction to the difference in formatting between the NIV and the NRSV in Eph. 5.

    When reading Ephesians, my friends thought it would be funny to have me -- the only woman with a theological degree -- lead the study on chapter 5: "Wives, submit to your husbands." Preparing for that night, I looked up Ephesians 5:21-33, a text that had long riled me, in my new Bible. What I saw stunned me: The version in the NIV was different from the NRSV!

    The editors of the NIV had separated Ephesians 5:21, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ," from the rest of the passage, disconnecting the call for mutual submission from the rest of the instructions. To further distance verses 21 and 22, the NIV inserted a heading, "Wives and Husbands," that breaks the flow of the text. Thus, the NIV makes it appear that the teaching begins with the line, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord."

    The NRSV surprised me because no division existed. The text moves smoothly from verse 21 to 22, reframing wifely submission as part of a whole teaching on servanthood as discipleship.
Wayne blogged about the paragraphing in Eph. 5 last year and remarked in conclusion,

    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.
Given the verb constructions in the Greek, it is indeed difficult to put in a paragraph break either before or after verse 21. The participle in verse 21, upotassomenoi, appears to fit well with the preceding participles. More perplexing, however, is verse 22, which lacks a verb altogether, although the verb from verse 21 is almost always reiterated in English translations. In spite of this complex and interconnected discourse structure, most Bibles do have a break and heading placed either before or after verse 21.

In defense of placing a break before verse 21 rather than after, I quote The Anchor Bible *,

    In Pauline teaching mutual subordination is neither self-contradictory nor a call to chaos, but a challenge to the conservative and patriarchal concepts of social order which have often been attributed to Paul or derived from his teaching. The unique message of Ephesians is silenced whenever the dominant position of vs. 21 over the Haustafeln and the peculiarly startling content of this verse are neglected. page 610
    How is marital love related to love of the neighbour? It is obvious that both are called for and held together (a) by the command of the same Lord, (b) by the employment of the same word "love"; and (c) by the specification "as yourself". page 718
Barth places the individual instructions for the wife and the husband within both the context of mutual subordination and the injunction on the people of Israel to love others as themselves, in this way reinforcing his assertion that verse 22 should be read within the context of verse 21.

Bibles today fall within one of two groups - those that place a heading before verse 21 and those that place the heading after verse 21. This is one of those many times when the difference between Bible versions cannot be measured on a spectrum of more to less literal. I am happy to blog about this because I often feel that discussing the degree to which a translation is, or is not, literal, can be a smoke screen for other issues.

With no further ado, here is how the more popular translations place the heading in Eph 5.

Heading before verse 21 - NRSV, NLT, TNIV, Message, CEV, GNB
Heading after verse 21 - NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NKJV, NET, UBS 1968

Frankly I am surprised at such a clear cut distinction between the two groups of translations in terms of how they treat gender issues. Each of these versions clearly influences the reader in favour of one interpretation or another, based on something that is not in the manuscripts. (I checked out P46 just to make sure of this. No paragraph breaks!)

There are a few questions which one can profitably ask about the translation of verses 21 and 22 in Eph. 5. First, is it legitimate for a literal translation to supply the verb in verse 22? Next, how do headings fit into a literal translation - aren't they interpretation? And doesn't this bring us to the understanding that every Bible translation is in some way shaped by the preconceptions of the translators, by the beliefs that the translators bring to the text, not the ones they gain from the text. How one interprets this passage can have a tremendous impact on one's life, and yet this may hang on a decision made by a team of translators.

One last note with regard to the King James Version - this is a situation where the lack of paragraphs and headings in the King James Version renders it a translation that offers less interpretation to the reader. It is simply more literal. The Geneva Bible, by contrast, marks the beginning of a new paragraph at verse 22 with a pilcrow, and the headings at the beginning of the chapter mark verse 22 as a new section.

Once again the value and durability of the King James version seems to me to be based not only on its literary excellence but also on its relative lack of an interpretive stance. It holds an unique place in Bible translation history and could still be the version most suited to studying the scripture as literature.

Thank you to Anonymous for suggesting I revisit this.

* Barth, Markus. The Anchor Bible: Ephesians 4 - 6. 1974. Doubleday. NY.


Update: There is an excellent follow-up post on εν εφέσω: Thoughts and Meditations which concludes with these thoughts.
    Simply put, Paul exhorts the husbands and wives of Ephesus to live humbly with equity in their culture, while continuing in the systems already set up. This is key to an accurate application for the twenty-first century. The question of application for Ephesians 5.21-33 for husbands and wives is not how to structure their relationship, but how to live in a Godly manner within their own culture, each submitting and loving the other.
The entire post is well worth reading and responds to comments brought up here. I think it can be argued that this post proposes a mediating position, as does the Barth commentary from which I quoted here.

Update #2 More comments and another good post by Mike here.


At Sun May 20, 03:31:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

The original KJV had paragraph marks, although they were inconsistently distributed, and disappeared after Acts 20:26. Thus, the famous Scrivener Cambridge Paragraph Bible

At Sun May 20, 05:36:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I just picked up Bass' new book, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith. Looks like interesting reading. Although she's coming from a tradition different than my own, we may share the same strong convictions about the importance of the neighborhood church.

At Sun May 20, 06:39:00 AM, Blogger missional girl said...

This is interesting. I stumbled upon the same issue accidently this past summer. I'm writing an essay on this very issue and have also consulted Gordon Fee's article regarding the cultural context of the passage. Fee uses the UK inclusive language edition of the NIV but he believes that the "swing verse" for the entire conversation on husbands and wives. He starts the passage, therefore, with Ephesians 5:18.


At Sun May 20, 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks for clearing that up for me. I thought there were paragraph marks, then I checked Ephesians and there weren't any.


There is a review of her book here, where she also participates in the comment thread.


Thanks for mentioning Fee's article.
The Cultural Context of Ephesians 5:18-6:9

The CBE offers some other good articles on similar subjects here.

Here is another way to post a link.Then it doesn't matter how long the link is.

At Sun May 20, 10:39:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I didn't realize that the Anchor Bible is a translation of its own. Is it published in one piece anywhere?

At Sun May 20, 11:40:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

The Anchor Bible is a commentary series. It is not complete -- some books have not been published. Since each translation is made by the individual commentators, there is no uniform translation and I think it would not make sense (even if it were complete) to publish it as an individual volume. In this way it is similar to some other major commentaries, including the International Critical Commentary or Hermeneia.

At Sun May 20, 11:53:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Okay, that makes sense. In any case I hadn't used it before, but I was very impressed to find Markus Barth's translation so literal but still very readable. I shall refer to this series again - when I can.

At Sun May 20, 12:09:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Here is the translation of verses 21 - 33 (without the indentations).

Because you fear Christ subordinate yourselves to one another - [e.g.] wives to husbands - as to the Lord. For [only] in the same way that the Messiah is the head of his church
-he, the savior of the body-
is the husband the head of his wife. The difference notwithstanding, just as the church subordinates herself [only] to the Messiah, so wives to your husbands-in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as [we confess]

The Messiah has loved the church
and has given himself for her
to make her holy by [his] word and clean by the bath of water,
to present to himself the church resplendent
free from spot or wrinkle or any such thing
so that she be holy and blameless.

In the same manner also husbands owe it [to God and man] to love their wives for they are their bodies. In loving his wife a man loves himself. "For no one ever hates his own flesh, but he provides and cares for it-just as the Messiah for the church because we are members of his body.

"For this reason
A man will leave his father and mother
And be joined to his wife,
And the two will become one flesh."

This [passage] has an eminent secret meaning: I, for one, interpret it [as relating] to Christ and the church. In any case, one by one, each one of you must love his wife as himself, and the wife ... may she fear her husband.

At Sun May 20, 12:24:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

I agree that there is no syntactical justification for a paragraph break between verses 21 and 22. My initial impression is that Wayne's earlier judgment is correct.

I would, however, take umbrage with your assumption that v. 21 is a call to mutual submission. That may be one way to read it. However, despite how well that interpretation may lend itself to a good homily, as the Anchor Bible quotation demonstrates, it is not a view that accords very well with the context.

Here, when it says "submitting one to another" it goes on to spell out exactly how certain Christians are to submit to certain other Christians according to the varying relationships of submission and authority that exist. The text would be undermining itself if it were saying that all Christians are to submit equally to all other Christians. In this context "one another" does not refer to something reciprocal. Rather it is a way of expressing that the obligations for submission exist in many different relationships between Christians, and wherever those relationships exist, the obligation to submit "one to another" must be carried out accordingly.

At Sun May 20, 12:36:00 PM, Blogger Tim Bulkeley said...

This is a fine example of ONE reason why "headings" ought to be banned from serious Bibles! The other is that by all our normal reading conventions headings determine how we read the body text - which has more authority the Bible publisher or the text of Scripture!?


At Sun May 20, 01:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have read that interpretaion, - I can't think off-hand where.

However, Barth comments,

If a bridegroom or husband loved his chosen one with only the love he has for all his neighbours, she would bitterly starve. If he showed her a minor or cheaper love than that for his neighbours ... she could not live in peace with him.

So Barth uses "love your neighbour as yourself" to guide his interpretaion of these verses.

Regarding the interpretation of αλληλων required by your suggestion, I can't think off-hand of any other place in the Bible where it does not mean reciprocal or mutual activity. I can't find any mention in the lexicons either of non-reciprocity.

It's an interesting point, however. I would certainly like to see any evidence that you have to support it.

At Sun May 20, 01:03:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

In my opinion, missionalgirl is exactly right...well, what she has cited is exactly right. Thank you for posting it.

To (hopefully) add to the discussion, not only is there no section break at Eph. 5:22, and, not only is there no paragraph break, but, in the original, there is no sentence break. The sentence begins at 5:18 and ends with 5:22 at the earliest. 5:23 is very likely a sub-clause though one could easily argue the next sentence starts there.

So, as I see it, Suzanne, many translations have injected an interpretation into the text that simply isn't there in the original. Sticking a section break at 5:22 is--in my opinion--completely contrary to the very structure of the original.

Now, I'm not going to argue that English sentences need to be literally fashioned the same as the original sentences were. However, the original sentences were constructed the way they were in order to send the reader down the pathway of a specific interpretation. Once having arrived at something close to that interpretation, then English sentences (and sections and paragraphs, etc.) need to be rendered so that something close to the same interpretation is arrived at in English. An English section break at 5:22 makes that impossible.

Interestingly, at least for me, the larger implication is the phrase "filled with the Spirit" is also brought to the surface for thoughtful (and conversational) reflection on its meaning. That's the main clause in the sentence, and Paul develops the meaning of that phrase throughout Eph. 5:19-6:9. That is, being filled with the Spirit has a particular look to it when it is expressed through the day-to-day relationships we have in society.

BTW, missionalgirl, one good argument for the paragraph starting at 5:18 is that 5:17 restates the start of the previous section and incorporates the main point of that previous section. That is, 5:17 is a very clear end to the previous section which makes 5:18 some kind of starting point. It's like this: the previous section starts at 4:17 and the main point (which is in the center) is 5:1-2. In other words, 5:17 combines 4:17 and 5:1-2, so we have "Don't be foolish (or futile in your thinking), but understand what the Lord's will is (namely, follow God's example as seen in the person and work of Christ)." I would need to develop this far more than I have here in order to deal adequately with what I'm suggesting. Let me also encourage you, however, to notice how the section (4:17-5:17) folds around the middle (5:1-2). That's what makes that middle jump out like it doesn't belong. And why Paul talks about sinful talk before and after the middle. It's the hinge of the section.

5:18 has to be a starting point if 5:17 is an ending point. The grammatical structure of Greek sentences as well as the grammatical structure of its larger constructs require this. And, obviously, the next section starts at 6:10.

At Sun May 20, 01:04:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Great comment. A sad commentary on literacy, but realistic.

I'm glad to see that the UBS text has changed, but I can't understand at all why the Greek text would supply paragraph breaks and headings.

At Sun May 20, 01:07:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Mike for adding this. It certainly pays to look more closely than the headings in a Bible.

I would say that the big losers here would be teenagers who are trained in high school to use headings to shape their understanding of a passage.

At Sun May 20, 01:07:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Heading before verse 21 - NRSV, NLT, TNIV, Message, CEV, GNB

Heading after verse 21 - NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NKJV, NET, UBS 1968

The editors of the eclectic Greek text have followed syntactic, semantic, and discourse structure more closely in later editions. Both UBS4(1998) and NA27(1994) put the paragraph break before v. 21.

At Sun May 20, 01:19:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Suzanne wrote: I would say that the big losers here would be teenagers who are trained in high school to use headings to shape their understanding of a passage.

Good point! I'll go even further. The web, with its structured markup, greatly encourages and trains the mind to interpret a text within the constraints of highly structured text. As a corollary, the verse ordered nature of our Bibles douses the flame of Bible literacy when the people group being communicated with have minds trained by a highly structured hermeneutic. The mental processing effort probably rises exponentially for these people unless English Bibles translate appropriately.

At Sun May 20, 01:21:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Are headings actually considered part of the translations themselves? Or are they additional features included in the various editions of each translation?

I notice in my bare bones pocket edition of an HCSB it does have section headings. But the introduction doesn't mention that as a feature of the translation. I assume that the various study Bibles that are available in multiple translations use their own section headings and not headings that belong to the translations themselves. Am I right about that?

At Sun May 20, 01:28:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

"I can't think off-hand of any other place in the Bible where it does not mean reciprocal or mutual activity."

On the contrary. I would say that a great many of the times that αλληλων is used in the NT it does not refer to something reciprocal. This is an idea that we import inadvertently when we say "one another". Sometimes it may be reciprocal, particularly when it is part of a generic command, like "love one another". But that is not the case here, where it is explicitly a command that is particularized in various ways.

As for that line from M. Barth, that doesn't seem like much of an exegetically based argument. I agree that reading Eph 5:21 the way he does would make for all the great warm and fuzzy ideas he brings up. But that's just not what it says.

At Sun May 20, 01:44:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


You wrote,

This is an idea that we import inadvertently when we say "one another".

Did you mean that we import the meaning into the scriptures from our understanding of the English phrase "one another"? I'm not sure if htat is what you were saying.

Here is the LSJ.

of one another, to one another, one another; hence, mutually, reciprocally

There are times when not everyone is *at the same time* involved in the reciprocal activity, such as "bear one another's burdens." Gal.6.

Nonetheless, the command is reciprocal and mutual, there is no way to interpret that as one group of people bearing the burdens of another group.

You read Barth as a "warm fuzzy" - possibly. But what I see him doing is laying the groundwork for his hermeneutic - the law of Christ. Gal. 5:14 and 6:2.

"Love your neighbour as yourself" is one of the most stable teachings in the entire scripture along with loving God with all your heart.

Taking Eph. 5:21 - 33 as a unit, the law of Christ becomes a frame for the section.

At Sun May 20, 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

About section headings, I really don't know, but my guess is that they have to belong to the translation, although the translators might alter the headings in subsequent editions. I'd like to know the scoop on that.

At Sun May 20, 01:59:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Eric wrote: Are headings actually considered part of the translations themselves?

Good question. If I may reword your question: "Do headings translate anything in the original?"

I think that depends. With some translations (I think most) the intent is to help guide the reader's interpretation. That is, they're a help, much like maps, glossary, concordance, etc. Obviously, this is what you (and all of us, I think) have been taught.

And yet, the original authors did structure their text. The letters follow the epistolary structure; chiasm is evident in many, many places; different types of connecting patterns are used to connect paragraphs and sections; the book-ends structure appears frequently; etc. Shouldn't we translate those structures over into English in ways that convey the original intent of using those structures? I think so. One English way to do that is with headings. More modern translations, with different levels of quality as I see it, construct English paragraphs (that is, insert paragraph breaks) from what we see as paragraph boundaries in the original. They're not "adding" anything; they're translating. Why not section breaks? How does one do that in English?

On a more practical level, it is very difficult for a reader to so ignore the headings that they do not influence one's interpretation. I usually use the itsey little curl on the end of a comma to illustrate how tuned our minds are to noticing (and be influenced by) what we see in the text. The only physical difference between a period and a comma is that little curl on the bottom of a comma. And, yet, when reading we interpret it with a different semantic force. I might suggest that if one consciously ignores the headings, it's already too late. The influence has arrived in the mind.

In my opinion, the versification does far, far more damage. But, I digress.

At Sun May 20, 02:00:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Suzanne, I just noticed your request for evidence.

Before I provide the evidence, allow me to clarify something. The word "reciprocal" might cause a problem here, because I am aware that the pronoun is called the "reciprocal pronoun" and that we would normally describe its usual English translation "one another" as reciprocal. I'm not trying to overturn that grammatical term. But, what I'm arguing against is Barth's view here that Eph 5:21 is somehow saying that all Christians are supposed to submit to all other Christians. It's not saying that, as the following verses make clear. Nor do most occurrences of αλληλων mean that in the NT.

I'll just list off a few examples from those that came up on a Bibleworks search.

Mat 24:10 is not saying that all disciples (or Jews or whatever group is included) are going to betray all others, only that some will betray some others, and
αλληλων allows this prediction to be made in a generic way.

Mark 4:41 does not mean that every disciple in the boat said to every other disciple in the boat, "Who is this man, that even the wind and the waves obey him." It only means that this was said by some of them to some others of them. Using αλληλων allows the narrator to describe the general conversation without specifying who said it to whom.

This same thing is true of the many other times that αλληλων is used about a group saying something αλληλων or reasoning something αλληλων. I see a number of such examples, probably making the majority of occurrences of αλληλων in the Gospels and Acts.

Romans 14:13 is not a prohibition against some massive church-wide judgment where every member judges every other member. It is a general prohibition against a sin that would occur at any time that one Christian wrongly judges some other Christian. This is also true of any other time αλληλων is used in a prohibition, such as 1 Cor 7:5.

Romans 16:16 is not a command for every Roman Christian to go around and greet every other one with a kiss. It is a general description of the kind of greeting that is to be given for all the specific greetings that were just enjoined in vv. 5-15. This allowed Paul to say the "holy kiss" part just once, in a non-specific way, rather than again and again for each greeting (note that every time "greet one another with a holy kiss" appears in the NT, either for Paul or Peter, it is only in the context of the salutations at the end of the epistle, never as part of the didactic portion of it).

1 Cor 11:33 does not mean that every person at the Lord's table must wait for every other person. If it meant that, then nobody would ever eat. The use of αλληλων simply allows Paul to issue the generic command without having to specify who is to wait for whom.

James 5:16 doesn't mean that every Christian has to confess sins to every other Christian. Nor does it mean that two Christians need to get together and mutually confess sins to one another. Any time one confesses sins to another this command is being obeyed. In fact, the context may indicate that it is specifically talking about confession to an elder. The word αλληλων allows this to be a generic command, but it does not establish some kind of two-way act of confession.

From the way Paul specifies the different kinds of submission in Ephesians 5, we must read αλληλων the same way there. Paul is saying that slaves must submit to masters, but not masters to slaves. Children must submit to parents, but not parents to children. Wives must submit to husbands, but not husbands to wives. The way of summarizing these various ways for some Christians to submit to some other Christians as appropriate is to use the Greek αλληλων.

At Sun May 20, 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Suzanne, you mention "bear one another's burdens". Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that commands using αλληλων never apply equally to everybody. Surely they do sometimes. But that's not due to something inherent in the word αλληλων. Ephesians 5:21 is one of many examples where the context makes it impossible to read it as requiring the same thing equally for everybody. To read this as claiming that parents are to submit to their children would go against what the passage actually says.

At Sun May 20, 02:14:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Regarding αλληλων, the intent is one of mutuality. The question is not whether it involves everyone without exception doing the activity to each and every other person. It's a question of whether or not the activity is mutually evident.

In the examples you cite, every one of them reflects on the mutual nature of the activity. That is, it's not that every Jew was going to betray every other Jew; it's as one observes the group of Jews, there was the obvious evidence of a mutual betrayal going on.

With the word ὑποτάσσω things get interesting when one tries to understand what mutual submission might look like. If one interprets in terms of obedience, that gets a bit awkard, to say the least. If one understands it more along the lines of deference and respect (my own view falls more along the lines of accountability and support), then one can envision a reality wherein it can be expressed. This is especially true when one assumes different roles performed by different groups of people within the larger group.

In any case, it would be odd to state that an activity has to be mutual and then go on to describe a kind of class system where certain classes are priviledged in distinction from the other. That's not mutuality. Nor is it the reciprocity indicated with the word αλληλων.

At Sun May 20, 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


The child/parent and slave/master relationships are not subsumed under υποτασσομενοι in this passage. They stand outside it and use the verb "obey".

However, I do believe nonetheless that the injunction "to love another as oneself" would cause a person to offer self-determination to a slave - to offer them freedom of their person, and in this way eventually work to abolish slavery altogether. .

At Sun May 20, 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

I disagree, Mike. In the examples I list, not only do they not all refer to an activity that is mutually evident. I think none of them refer to something that is mutually evident. When one of the disciples said to another, "Who is this man" do you really think that the second one replied back, also saying "Who is this man?" When one person betrays another, the use of αλληλων does not indicate that the other one also betrays him. Likewise in each case, αλληλων merely describes the activity that involved multiple people generically. But it does not mean that the same thing was done by the second person to the first as it was by the first to the second.

This is just as clear in Ephesians 5 as it is in all of the other examples. The command to submit is specified for several specific relationships, slaves to masters, children to parents, wives to husbands, and Church to Christ. Those are the occasions in which one is to submit to another. The reciprocal relationships also have obligations in this passage, but submission is not among those obligations. The use of αλληλων in v. 21 does not in any way mitigate against this fact.

At Sun May 20, 02:31:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Suzanne, loving isn't the issue in Eph 5:21, submitting is. In Eph 5:21 this is expressed with υποτασσω. In 6:1, 5, it is expressed with the synonym υπακουω. But the description of relationships involving submission that began in 5:21 continues through 6:9.

At Sun May 20, 02:40:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Not everyone agrees that one is the synonym of the other although in certain contexts it may be used that way, but theyare not semantically equal.

I think we need to stay within the confines of this passage, and recognize the difference between "obey" and "submit". Barth compares the reciprocity to the situation where speakers in the assembly or politcal arena take turns speaking. They don't all speak at once but it is reciprocal, likewise in a republic people take turns ruling.

What is not true then, for Barth, is that the husband rule the wife.

Sun May 20, 02:37:00 PM

At Sun May 20, 02:47:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

This is an extremely interesting discussion but I feel that we may be straying a little from the theme of the post, which was about the use of headings - should they be part of the translation and how do they influence the reader.

I would be very interested in having it confirmed - or denied - that the headings are determined by the translators and are an integral part of the translation as a product. Whether they should be or not is the more serious question.

At Sun May 20, 02:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't mean to have the last word on the broader discussion but just signal that I would prefer overall to steer back in the general direction of the original post if possible.

At Sun May 20, 03:18:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Eric wrote: When one of the disciples said to another, "Who is this man" do you really think that the second one replied back, also saying "Who is this man?"

O! Certainly not. Let me clarify. Suzanne, I'll stick to clarification (I've deleted a bunch of stuff :-)

When one looks at the entire group, one sees person 'A' doing the activity to person 'B'. 'B' might do it to 'C' 'D' does it to 'E'. 'E' might do it in turn to 'A'. 'F' might not do it at all. It's a mutual activity as one looks at the group as a whole. All your citations work this way.

If I were to describe an activity within a group where one person was prohibited from doing the activity to another person, and yet the second person was commanded to do the activity to the first, I certainly would not use the word αλληλων.

Obviously, we agree on one thing: either our understanding of the meaning of αλληλων must change or our understanding of ὑποτάσσω. And that tension is what drove me to a different understanding of ὑποτάσσω. I tried going down the other path. To me, it has too many contradictions. So, I went with the other.

Maybe, to help get this back on topic, let me reiterate that the topic of the section, as I understand it, is what it means to be filled with the Spirit. In fact, the pariticple presents ὑποτάσσω as describing one aspect of what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

So, in that regard, I'm all for headings helping to communicate the original structure. I personally think the chapter and verse divisions have tripped up many people and we should allow the original to dictate where the breaks are and the nature of those breaks.

At Sun May 20, 03:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric Rowe's argument regarding αλληλων is flawed. The word was understood by natural Greek speakers as being reciprocal (see especially Chrysostom, who does not even recognize the possibility of this interpretation of αλληλων). Rowe's argument is that of Wayne Grudem (though perhaps mitigated through Peter O'Brien) Also check out the Ephesians discussion in Discovering Biblical Equality, where I. Howard Marshall response quite well to this sort of argument.

Suzanne, I'd be willing to e-mail you a paper I wrote for SBL if you're interested...

At Sun May 20, 03:31:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Suzanne, I'd be willing to e-mail you a paper I wrote for SBL if you're interested

That would be great. Reciprocal seems to be the plain Greek meaning to me.

I am also still trying to wrap my brain around how much influence headings have in modern Bible versions.

At Sun May 20, 03:37:00 PM, Blogger missional girl said...

Suzanne, first thanks for the tip on posting a link. Much appreciated!

I believe readers are at the mercy of a translation's editorial committee when it comes to paragraph headings. Even my UBS GNT (4th Rev.ed.) has paragraphs breaks but they too start with 5:21.

Mike, I think you're right on about 5:17-18. I'm going to study it further before I say another thing about it, lol.

Thanks for the lively discussion!

At Sun May 20, 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

So, in that regard, I'm all for headings helping to communicate the original structure.

So Mike, you would put headings in, but in a different place?

At Sun May 20, 03:50:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Eric wrote:

The command to submit is specified for several specific relationships, slaves to masters, children to parents, wives to husbands, and Church to Christ.


Those are the occasions in which one is to submit to another.

It would, IMO, be more accurate to delete the word "the". There is nothing in Eph. 5 that suggests that what follows 5:21 is an exhaustive list of the submission relationships. It is simply a list that Paul chose to address at that time.

At Sun May 20, 04:12:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne continued to wonder:

I am also still trying to wrap my brain around how much influence headings have in modern Bible versions.

I don't think there is any way we can know unless we have anecdotal evidence (which, of course, is limited in value) from observations of how people interact with subject headings, or unless we have decent field testing.

I, personally, seldom look at the content of section headings. I do, however, use them as a convenient visual aid for dividing up a text. So I'm at the mercy of those who make the section headings, unless I do further study on my own.

I find it easier to process written text when it has visual aids, including paragraphs, decent margins, illustrations, etc.

At Sun May 20, 05:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also still trying to wrap my brain around how much influence headings have in modern Bible versions.

I think that they tend to be viewed as breaks of greater significance than paragraph breaks...which is why on this passage in Ephesians, I like the ISV, even though there is a paragraph break in the sentence beginning at 18 and ending at 24.

Suzanne...where can I e-mail you that paper?

At Sun May 20, 06:12:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I didn't realize that my email doesn't show up in my blogger profile any more.

No wonder I haven't been getting the usual barrage of messages lately! ;-)

I'll get your email somehow - from Wayne, I guess, and email you.

At Sun May 20, 06:17:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Okay, I've updated my profile.

At Sun May 20, 06:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds good. Wayne has my e-mail address so that works fine!

At Sun May 20, 06:55:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Suzanne wrote: "So Mike, you would put headings in, but in a different place?"


Also, what I've always wanted to do was construct the headings such that when they were lined up one right after the other, they would read like a summary of the entire letter. So, I think of the headings more as summary statements than something like a set of sub-titles.

At Sun May 20, 08:47:00 PM, Blogger Kevin A. Sam said...

I find it easier to process written text when it has visual aids, including paragraphs, decent margins, illustrations, etc.

I feel that it definitely does help to process the information when it's broken up into smaller visual bites. It just seems easier to differentiate the sections of text. So I would also vote for headings but make sure that they are in the right place, otherwise, remove it if the proper spot is ambiguous.

Great post Suzanne. It sure enlightened me on something I never would have noticed.

At Sun May 20, 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks to Anonymous because I have never focused on headings before. This has been brought up before and I just let it pass right by.

At Mon May 21, 06:44:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Sorry to join the discussion late...

As I understand it most modern translations include section headings, which are always printed with the edition; but some, e.g. NRSV, do not, and as a result some printed editions have no section headings, and others have headings provided by the publisher.

At Mon May 21, 06:57:00 AM, Blogger opinion-minion said...

Headngs can be irritating. I'm always sticking in my own, because it's easier for me to find a passage if I've read it and put something there. Sometimes, they're short-HUMAN SACRIFICE--or a bit longer--DAUGHTERS HELP REBUILD THE WALL---in Nehemiah, but I like to make my own.

I have a wide margin NIV that I picked up awhile back, and I still use, and when I reached that paticular heading in Ephesians, I felt indignant, and used a pen to strike it out. I felt no hesistation, since they are, after all, only interpretive headings done by a human.

Even if you were arguing that only wives are submit to their husbands, verse 21 is obviously part of that passage. The heading cuts it off (unnaturally-and I would argue, very intentionally) from the following verses.

But, I gotta tell you, even people using the KJV can skip right over verse 21, and I don't even think that they realize what they are doing.

At Mon May 21, 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

I think some people are misunderstanding the practical impact of separating v. 21 from what follows. Separating those verses does not help the traditional patriarchal interpretation, rather it helps the feminist interpretation. When you connect v. 21 to v. 22 the way the Greek syntax does naturally, then you only make it clear that v. 21 is explained by what follows, namely that Christian submission is to be carried out in the various relationships that are specified. It is only by separating v. 21 from what follows that anybody could come to the interpretation that v. 21 requires "mutual submission" as though husbands are to submit to their wives as much as vice versa. See, for example, Best's commentary from the ICC series for more discussion of that point. He opts for putting a break after v. 21 precisely because he wants to maintain the ideal of mutual submission.

Now I'll just try clean up some of the loose ends from the earlier state of this discussion as briefly as possible.

Mike Sangrey, now that you have clarified your understanding of αλληλων, where you use the letters, I think that your view of its meaning is the same as mine. As you explain, αλληλων is often used to refer to something that involves various people among a group doing something to various others in the group without any connotation of reciprocation. That is precisely how it is being used in Eph 5:21.

The other Mike tried to avoid this by saying that native Greek speakers wouldn't have understood it this way, referenceing Chrysostom. This is just not true, as the evidence from the NT proves conclusively. Chrysostom was not a modern commentator who felt obliged to engage every exegetical option available. He frequently addressed passages atomistically, as he apparently did in the example Mike has in mind.

Wayne pointed out that I was too limiting when I implied that the only relationships that involve submission are wives, children, and slaves. He's right. The passage does not limit submission to these relationships only. It merely addresses these specifically.

At Mon May 21, 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


That is important technical information which would be worth confirming. I am surprised that the publisher would be allowed to supply section headings, but maybe the breaks themselves are still decided by the translation team.


The discussion on αλληλων is very interesting but a slightly different topic. It might be interesting to make that the focus of a thread some day. However, it does tend to be more an issue of interpretation than translation, as people from many different interpretations would all support the same translation "one another".

Your counter example from Best is fascinating and worth revisiting. I haven't read this commentary.

At Mon May 21, 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

OK, Suzanne. Understood. I tried to to stay on topic, though. My mention of Best was to show that the connection of v. 21 to what follows is directly related to the meaning of αλληλων. But I realize, and agree, that the basic issue of application of the passage apart from how it relates to that translational detail is separate.

At Mon May 21, 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Eric,

I do understand how αλληλων is related. I didn't mean that it was off topic. But if we were to revisit this we would need to start off with the focus on that lexical item and lay some new groundwork. However, then I wonder if we haven't drifted from translation into intepretation.

I feel at this point we all have avenues of further research to explore.

I appreciate your mention of Best and would be interested in hearing more about how he supports his thesis.

At Mon May 21, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Best's arguments in favor of putting a paragraph division after v. 21 are as follows:
"1) The participle in v. 21 continues the sequence of participles in vv. 19, 20, all dependent on the imperative of v. 18b." [This is all correct, and I think a good point. But this really is only an argument against putting a break immediately before v. 21. It is not an argument for putting one after v. 21.]
"2) 5.21 deals with the relationship of all believers to one another whereas 5.22-6.9 treats only the relationships to one another of those who live in wholly Christian households."
"3) The theme of v. 21 is mutual subordination whereas that of 5.22-6.9 is the subordination of individuals (wives, children, slaves) to other individuals (husbands, fathers, masters)." [Per our discussion of aλληλων, I object to the distinctions he makes between the kinds of submission addressed in v. 21 and those that follow in his points 2 and 3 here.]
"4) Mutual subordination fits well with 5.19 where all believers mutually address one another and there are no hierarchical distinctions (e.g. 'listen to what the prophets say'). It must be allowed however that between v. 19a and v. 21 the material relates not to speaking to one another but to God." [His own caveat is important. But just as important is that his claim that in v. 19 believers mutually address one another is mere assertion. The text doesn't actually specify that such a thing is required by v. 19. Any situation where a sub-group of the assembly sings a hymn to the rest of the assembly would fulfill this command just as much as something going on mutually between all members.]
"5) Mutual subordination picks up the theme of the introductory verses to paraenesis, in particular 4.2, and rounds it off before moving to a new area." [Yes. But particularized roles of submission would also accomplish this.]
"6) Vv. 19-21 may form a chiasmus (cf. T. G. Allen, 260); v. 19a and v. 21 treat the relation of believers to other believers; v. 19b and v. 20 their relations to God." [This is just as true if the submission in v. 21 is particularized in the following verses as it would be if it were "mutual submission."]

Best goes on to list 5 points in favor of putting the break before v. 21. All of them are basically variations on the observation that 5:22-6:9 are connected to 5:21 syntactically and address a common theme. I can provide them as he gives them if others so desire.

Interestingly, Best does not entertain the idea of connecting all of 5:15-33 as a single paragraph. In truth, the reason both options (break before v. 21 and break after v. 21) are so riddled with problems is that the Greek syntax does not allow a break in either place.

If I were working on a translation and the English style people at the publisher demanded that I put a paragraph break somewhere in this section, I would end verse 21 with the supplied italicized words " follows:". Then I would Put a paragraph break after v. 21. Then I would supply the italicized word "First,..." at the beginning of 5:22, the word "Second,..." at the beginning of 6:1, and "Third,..." at the beginning of 6:5. These supplied words would allow the paragraph breaks at the best points thematically, but would also provide the natural connections that are demanded by the Greek syntax.

At Mon May 21, 03:28:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Eric wrote:

The theme of v. 21 is mutual subordination

mutual submission?

Doesn't hupotassw refer to submission rather than subordination?

At Mon May 21, 03:44:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


In general my position is that it is better to allow a certain ambiguity - that is provide the English reader with a translation which can be read fairly in the two different traditions, that of mutual submission or particularized roles of submission.

So I think that being careful not to put a sentence or paragraph break in at all, before or after verse 21, and even leaving out the implied verb if possible, would be prefered.

What I do not like to see is a translation that presumes to provide one single answer as the only interpretation.

It would be nice to have people of the varying traditions comfortable with the same version. However, I was surprised to see that all the bibles which support a more patriarchal (as you would say) interpretaion divide the passage after verse 21 and the others before, in spite of Best's interpretation.

I really think that the ultimate answer as to whether you believe in mutual submission or particularized submission is grounded in one's interpretaion of the scriptures and where one places the code to "love one's neighbour as oneself". It comes back to whether your wife is your neighbour. But that is interpretaion - not something that we can solve with a grammar book.

At Mon May 21, 03:47:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Wayne, "mutual subordination" was not my term. It was part of what I quoted from Best.

At Mon May 21, 04:12:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Eric clarified:

Wayne, "mutual subordination" was not my term. It was part of what I quoted from Best.

OK, I understand now. Thanks, Eric. I missed that. Sorry.

At Mon May 21, 05:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other Mike tried to avoid this by saying that native Greek speakers wouldn't have understood it this way, referenceing Chrysostom. This is just not true, as the evidence from the NT proves conclusively. Chrysostom was not a modern commentator who felt obliged to engage every exegetical option available. He frequently addressed passages atomistically, as he apparently did in the example Mike has in mind.

I lost all of this comment once, but its worth rewriting.

Appealing to Chrysostom is valid here.

Moises Silva writes, “If … [Chrysostom] fails to address a linguistic problem because he does not appear to perceive a possible ambiguity, his silence is of the greatest value in helping us determine how Paul’s first readers were likely to have interpreted the text" (Moisés Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005): 27).

He repeats and expands this same point in his book on exegesis, Explorations in Exegetical Method

And while Chrysostom does not discuss every detail of a passage, he gives a length exposition of this verse and clearly does not find any ambiguity in the text regarding whether αλλήλων is mutual or not.

But the point of this post was the divisions:

There are 222 occurrences of finite verbal ellipsis with a similar subject/compliment construction to Ephesians 5.22 in Paul’s letters. Of these occurrences, 202 are filled in by a copula, leaving 22 non-equative verbs none of which begin a new paragraph or thought (Rom. 5.4; 8.5; 11.18; 1 Cor. 6.8;7.3; 9.25; 12.8; 12.9; 12.10; 12.21; 2 Cor. 12.14; Gal. 6.14; Eph. 5.24, 29; 1 Thess. 3.6). I find it highly unlikely that this passage is any different, and thus it is best to translate verses 21-22 as a single sentence. To do otherwise, violates the text, and definitely eisegesis and theologically skewed reading...

For a more length discussion of Chrysostom on this passage, I've linked a blog post to this one:

υποτάσσω in Ephesians 5.21 - at

At Mon May 21, 07:28:00 PM, Blogger missional girl said...

from what i can tell even from a good english translation, 5:18-5:22 are one long sentence so it makes no sense to separate them...fee points out p.3):

In Greek the sentence has a single subject and verb, which comes in the form of an imperative: “You [the readers] be filled with the Spirit”; this is then followed by a string of modifying participles:
speaking to each other in psalms, hymns, and so on;
singing and hymning the Lord(Christ) from the heart;
thanking our God and Father always for all things
through Jesus Christ;
submitting to one another in the fear of Christ, followed
by words to the wives with respect to their husbands.

some english translation do better than others in conveying this...the NRSV mixes imperatives and participles, the ESV does much better here (cf. 5:19-21), and the TNIV translates 5:21 as an imperative but still includes the verse as the beginning of the discourse on marriage...

At Mon May 21, 08:23:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The ESV is literal only so far, then it puts in an imperative in verse 22.

It seems to me that few Bibles really work at being literal or transparent here. I didn't realize this was going to be such a complex issue.

At Mon May 21, 08:57:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Don't forget, there is a textual variant in v. 22 (as Mike points out in the blog he linked). So the imperative many translations put in v. 22 may be the result of a text-critical decision, not a translational one.

Most MSS read υποτασσεσθε or υποτασσεσθωσαν in v. 22, including a number of very old and good witnesses. NA27 opts for the shorter reading, as they usually do. But the case for one of the longer ones it is strong enough based on the external evidence that I can't really blame the translators if they decided to go with it.

At Mon May 21, 09:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The imperative is literal depending on how the translator views the passage. Historically, the ellipsis (O'Brien's commentary is a good example or Harold Hoehner's) is described as requiring an imperatival participle to be read in.

I personally find such an understanding unfounded, buts its defended by appealing to 1 Peter - see especially J. H. Moulton's grammar, volume one, page 181.

At Tue May 22, 07:22:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Yes, that is true too. If a translator is to supply a verb in v. 22, an imperative is appropriate. After all, who would know this better than all the ancient scribes who put an imperative at precisely the same point? Since the 4 participles are all dependent on an imperative, the imperatival force is never lost throughout the section.

If a translator does feel compelled to provide a finite verb to break up this long Greek sentence, then an imperative is the only way to go.

The text-critical point is in effect too. I just noticed that HCSB includes the imperative, not because they supply it, but because they accept it as the original reading. Of course, the KJV and NKJV are also translated from exemplars that had the imperative in the Greek. I don't know what the text-critical position of the ESV translators would be here. But it's possible that they are in the same camp. The external support for including the imperative is strong enough that a translator may well want to go with it no matter which school of thought they belong to for the text of the NT. The internal evidence definitely supports the shorter reading.

At Tue May 22, 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Here are the NET Bible notes.

The witnesses for the shorter reading (in which the verb “submit” is only implied) are minimal (Ì46 B Cl Hiermss), but significant and early. The rest of the witnesses add one of two verb forms as required by the sense of the passage (picking up the verb from v. 21). Several of these witnesses have ὑποτασσέσθωσαν (Jupotassesqwsan), the third person imperative (so א A I P Ψ 0278 33 81 1175 1739 1881 al lat co), while other witnesses, especially the later Byzantine cursives, read ὑποτάσσεσθε (Jupotassesqe), the second person imperative (D F G Ï sy). The text virtually begs for one of these two verb forms, but the often cryptic style of Paul’s letters argues for the shorter reading. The chronology of development seems to have been no verb – third person imperative – second person imperative. It is not insignificant that early lectionaries began a new day’s reading with v. 22; these most likely caused copyists to add the verb at this juncture.

This certainly implies that the verb was supplied later. The ellipsis is after all the more difficult reading.

At Tue May 22, 11:15:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Yes, that NET note is good. I wasn't trying to argue for the originality of one of the longer readings. I was only saying that the evidence in favor of both of them is too significant to ignore. My point is that what we are seeing in some of these English translations is not something related to a translational decision, but something related to the Greek text being translated. Some text-critics will give greater weight to the external evidence than they will to the internal evidence. Such people will go with one of the longer readings. The NET folks, along with most scholars, think the internal evidence is too strong here to go against.

At Tue May 22, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't know if there is any way to tell in the case of each translation whether it is a textual decision or a translation decision other than the NET bible. If there is no footnote then really one can't tell, but it could be either.

This certainly speaks to our desire for more footnotes.

At Tue May 22, 02:40:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

The HCSB has a footnote. The NKJV has a footnote, as it always does any time its readings differ from either the standard critical text or the Majority Text. The KJV, we already know comes from essentially the TR, so it is a given that it translated the imperative from its exemplar. The NIV almost always follows the standard critical text. One can find the few places it differs the difference in the Reader's Greek NT, published by Zondervan, this probably applies equally to the text behind the TNIV. Most modern translations do stick to the critical text pretty faithfully, it seems, such as the NASB and the NRSV, and say so in their introductions. But I have heard that the ESV does go against the critical text sometimes in favor of certain Majority Text readings. But I'm not sure if they actually say what their textual base is in their introduction.
But, yes, more translations should follow the example of the NKJV in its textual footnotes.


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