I was a reader at my sister’s wedding this week. The passages chosen were safe: 1 Corinthians 13 (the Love Chapter) and John 2:1-11 (the wedding at Cana). I am reminded of the less safe passage chosen at my own wedding: Ephesians 5:22-25 ff. Reportedly, the reader almost choked on the words:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. (ESV)
It’s easy to see how this passage is the root of all patriarchy in our society, leading to subjugation of women, blah, blah, blah. With a little bit of investigation, it can been seen as otherwise.
First off, Ephesians was a work of Jewish literature long before it became part of the canon of Christian Scripture. Essential to the Jewish wedding is the Ketubah, or marriage contract, whereby the husband obligates himself to his wife (“Husbands love your wives….”) and the wife submits herself (places herself under) the contract. She is not obligated to love her husband. The Ketubah places all of the obligation on the husband. It’s his promise to her.
Of course, anyone who is committed to 21st Century North American egalitarianism is bound to be offended by the gender distinction, no matter how the roles are defined. However, it’s fun to imagine how this passage might be read in a society where the gender roles are reversed. The husband has to love his wife (no similar obligation on the part of the wife), he has to be willing to lay down his life for her, and she has to do what? Just accept that?
Okay, there’s that headship business, but otherwise, it’s easy to see how this passage is the root of all matriarchy in our society….