21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body.* 31‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
This is a form of writing called a “household code”. These were common in Greek and Roman writing, generally outlining the duties of the household towards the patriarch, or father, of the household. Paul’s household codes are different, in that they also give duties of the husband and father of the household. Remember, however, that in a household code the author is writing within a particular culture – how can Christians live in the time in which they find themselves? In the first century cultures, both Greek and Hebrew, the father, or patriarch, had absolute control. Jews could divorce a wife by simply saying, “I divorce you.” Roman heads of a household could put a family member to death. We must take the household codes in light of the culture in which they were written.
First of all, this author says “Be subject to one another.” Consider one another’s feelings; don’t always be the one who has to be right. And then, he goes on to admonish wives to be subject to their husbands. Remember the culture; remember that wives were considered the property of their husbands. But even then, there is also an admonition to the husband – “Love your wives” – as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The author then gets distracted by the thought of Christ’s sacrifice for the church and goes on for a sentence or two about that. The point, however, is that the husband should love the wife enough to die for her, as Christ died for the church. Here again, some who quote this particular scripture, claiming that wives should be subservient, miss that part!
There is more rambling here, as the author tries to explain that the husband should love the wife as his own body. Finally, he says, this is all a great mystery – in other words, I don’t understand it! But the husband should love his wife, and the wife should respect her husband. The last sentence is the bottom line for this part of the household code.
The picture is the great theater at Ephesus, which could be seen from the harbor up the straight street lined with pillars. It was to this theater the Ephesians, led by the silversmith, ran to protest against Paul.