First, Paul’s target audience in this letter was a community of people of Jewish origin living in Ephessus, a city in modern day Turkey. Ephessus boast a temple to the Greek Goddess Artemis, and the cult of Artemis promoted beliefs that where rather emasculating. According to some scholars, there were early Christian ascetic beliefs borrowed from Greek pagan mythology which attributed evil to male sexuality, and purity to women.
So Paul writes…
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
The greek word for subordinate is hypotassetoi
When I looked this up in Strong’s interlinear and went down the research rabbit hole, I arrived at another interpretation of this word…
I came up with words like subject, and even dependent.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
I had a little difficulty with this, so I did some more research….
The word for head is kephale, which also means origin. If you think about it, in the non-scientific context of the creation story, man is the kephale, or origin of woman.
It would make sense, therefore that if Paul was speaking to people who were of Jewish ancestry,
But what if this is more about Church administration than marital relations? What if Paul was appealing to emasculated men who were trying to stake their power in leadership of the early church? What if this was a clever way of appealing to the feelings of inadequacy that were influenced by local culture practices?
I know plenty of folks would love for things to go back to an era when marriage was symbiotic division of labor, when one spouse was responsible for earning a living wage, and the other spouse was entrusted to prudently spend what was earned on daily neccessities, and care for all that transpired within the home.
What if Paul is appealing to the people who longed for a return to a simpler time….by saying look…Christianity is to be like the nostalgic-leave it to beaver ideal of marriage. Christ is the husband, the kephale, the origin, and the institution of church on earth is the missing rib, the wife. Christ went to work, earned the graces, and now its your job, as church to spend those graces responsibly, in acts of charity.
What if this particularly tricky passage of Ephesisans is not about marriage, but a reminder to Christians about our origins as church? What if this is a reminder to say, hey, guys, Church is not about promoting your agenda. You rely on Christ. Listen to Christ. Stop bossing each other around. Order yourselves to the source and origin, Christ.
I would also say this. The majority of people I know who are offended by this passage of scripture are women who are married.
Note, that this passage does not say that women should be subordinate to men. It encourages brothers and sisters to be equally subordinate to one another, and then it continues to outline a specific hierarchy for marital living. Marriage is a compromise. While I would hope that all marriages are about love, I realistically surmise that there is an economic component to marriage as well. In a country where women still make 15% less than men in comparable position, marriage is financially advantageous to women. Sometimes I wonder if the wage gap somehow promotes an impediment to marital consent, but I digress. There is a degree of subordination in all relationships- even friendships. If a true friend asks for a reasonable favor, it’s not unusual to submit to their request out of love. People who love one another in marriage act unselfishly subordinate to one another all the time, they stick it out, they give up useless arguments, they make sacrifices for the sake of peace. If this concept of subordination or mutual dependency is that troubling, one could discern that they aren’t called to marriage. The challenge is that living as a single woman puts many of us at a financial disadvantage.