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Friday, November 18, 2005

Heads, leaders, and submission in Ephesians 5

Much of the heated debate about gender and Bible translation these days hinges on how one interprets biblical source text words having to do with husbands, wives, and women in church. In today's email posting from Christianity Today, Sarah Sumner, a professor at at the Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University, writes on Bridging the Ephesians 5 Divide: A fresh look at what this controversial marriage passage says—and doesn't say. I find this to be a helpful article, one which can help us as we approach translation of debated biblical passages.

Here are some things to ponder from Sarah's article:
Does the Bible say that Christians are to submit to one another? (answer: yes)
Does the Bible say wives should submit to their husbands? (answer: yes)
Does the Bible say that husbands should submit to their wives? (answer: not explicitly)
Does the Bible say that a husband is the "head" of his home? (answer: no)
Does the Bible say that a husband is the "head" of his wife? (answer: yes)
Does the Bible say that husbands should "lead" their wives? (answer: no)
Has your interest been piqued yet? I hope so. It would be worth your while to read the rest of Sarah's article.

But I want to include Sarah's conclusion here. It expresses what I feel also:
In many ways, we in conservative churches stand at odds with one another not over a matter of orthodoxy or salvation, but rather because we sharply disagree on where a certain paragraph begins. Whereas egalitarians usually say the paragraph on marriage begins with Ephesians 5:21, complementarians usually say that it begins with Ephesians 5:22.

It's important to identify where the paragraph begins. But it's much more important for us as members of Christ to respect those who contend for an opposing position, especially since the answer is unknown. Rather than accusing one another or holding one another in suspicion for reading the same Bible slightly differently, we could be striving for unity. After all, it's not liberal to insist that Ephesians 5:21 informs Ephesians 5:22. Nor is it unscholarly to insist that the paragraph on marriage begins with verse 22. It's not heretical to begin with either verse.

It's important, even critical, to be accurate. We are held responsible to handle the Word accurately and to discern the proper meaning of every principle and practice the Bible teaches. But a minor discrepancy such as this one shouldn't be so divisive. We all agree that Christ belongs at the center of every marriage.
Is every word in the Bible important as we translate? Absolutely. But let's be sure we are translating what the Bible actually says and not what we think it says. The shoe should fit all the way around, no matter what side anyone is on in any debate about the Bible or translation of the Bible. If we translate the meaning of the original biblical texts, we will produce better Bibles.

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At Fri Nov 18, 04:23:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Two other new Christianity Today articles on the egalitarian or complementarian issue, although not directly related to Bible translation, written by Timothy George.

A Peace Plan for the Gender War - How to love your egalitarian or complementarian neighbor as yourself.

A Modest Proposal - Nine tasks egalitarians and complementarians can pursue.

In another comment on this blog I mentioned the danger of schism among evangelicals on gender-related issues. If more people on both sides would follow the approach suggested in these articles, that danger of schism would be avoided.

At Fri Nov 18, 06:48:00 PM, Blogger Chuck said...

Thank you for your post, Peter. I'm going to post these suggestions on my blog to help others.

It's the spirit of humility and charity on this site that makes it one of my favorites.

At Fri Nov 18, 09:40:00 PM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes Peter, thanks. I like the modest proposal by George. Thanks to Wayne too for bringing up Sarah's article. Ephesians 5 is a difficult one for me, in looking at the egalitarian position. Though I have tensions with the complementarian position Scripturally as well. Certainly there are equally competent scholars and good Christians on each side.

At Sat Nov 19, 08:54:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Regarding where the paragraph begins:

Eph. 4:17-5:17 form a section-level unit. It begins with an exhortation to not WALK as the Gentiles WALK and ends (starting with vs 5:15) with "Be careful how you WALK..." Vs 5:17 tells us to "understand what the will of the Lord is" which reiterates the middle of the entire section which is 5:1: "be imitators of God." If you read 4:17-5:17 as a single unit, it hangs together quite well (it's cohesive) except that 5:1-2 appears to jump out of the text. The rhetorical effect is to highlight it as the topic sentence of the entire section wrapped by the section-level comment (the rest of the text).

Now, that means that 5:18 is the start of a new section. Reading the Greek you will notice a main verb (two actually, juxtaposed in contrast) in vs 18. The verbals that follow are all anarthrous nominative participles expressing characteristics of what it means to be "filled with the Spirit." We don't encounter another non-participle verb until vs 23 and THAT verb is subordinated by a hOTI clause.

Here's what that means:

Paul is addressing to wives, husbands, children, et al, simply what it means to be spiritual. He specifically addresses specific classes of people in society (family, actually) and tells them what should characterize them and thereby signify spirituality.


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