Ephesians 5:22-24: 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Christians are often good at interpreting scripture out of context; one example is Eph 5:24, which says, “wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
If we are to understand the true meaning of Eph 5:24, we have to read it in context with Eph 5:22-33:
Verse 22 says, “submit yourself to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” The beginning of verse 24 says: “Now as the church submits to Christ.”
What does it mean to submit to the Lord? Paul gives us the answer in his letters when he says he imitates Christ and encourages his readers to do likewise. He also says he is a slave of Christ, and he can only do what Christ tells him to do. If we submit to Christ, we become slaves of Christ, only able to do what Christ tells us to do. When a wife submits to her husband as they do to the Lord, submission means the same thing as if they submit to Christ: They can only do what their husband tells them to do, the same way a woman submitting to Christ can only do what Christ tells her to do.
Eph 5:25-34:25: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Torah, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and then the wife will respect her husband and submit to him.
Verse 33 says the wife’s submission depends on the husband’s willingness to submit himself to the Lordship of Christ. If he submits to Christ, then and only then are the wife to submit to him. Verse 33 even says it will be easy for a wife to submit to such a husband and respect him.
We see this in verses 25-28. Verse 28 begins like this: In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives. When Paul begins verse 28 by saying “in the same way,” we understand he refers to what he just said in the previous verses. If we go back to verses 25-27, we read this: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Torah, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
So, according to Paul, husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her (the congregation) by washing her with the Torah. How did Christ “wash the church with the Torah”? By teaching them to obey the Torah (Matt 23:2-4, 6.25-34.) When Christ taught the church to obey the Torah, the church became radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, holy and blameless.
Just as Christ washed His bride the church by teaching them to obey the Torah, so are husbands to “wash” their wives by teaching them to follow the Torah. If husbands teach their wives the Torah, they will have a radiant wife, holy and blameless without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.
How are we to love our wives? By teaching them to obey Torah. How can we teach them to obey the Torah if we dont obey the Torah ourselves? The simple answer is; that we cant. If we want to teach someone to follow the Torah, we have first to learn how to follow and obey the Torah for ourselves. Then and only then are we able to teach by example and by word; then and only then are we loving our wives the way we should.
But it is not enough to teach her the Torah; Paul also says Christ laid down His life for the congregation. If we are to love our wives, we have to be able and willing to lay down our lives for her figuratively and literally if required to do so. We figuratively lay down our lives for her by serving her and becoming her servant just as Christ served the church. We literally lay down our lives for her by giving up our physical lives if required to do so.
So a wife is only to submit to a husband who:
- Obeys the Torah and teaches her to obey the Torah.
- He is willing to lay down his life for her figuratively and literally if required.
Verse 33 says it would be easy for a wife to submit to such a husband, and it will be easy for her to respect him. It is easy for a husband to serve a wife who submits to her husband and respects him.