As mentioned in my last post, Greek has been reviving my interest in the Biblical text. Learning all the different features of how the grammar works provides a whole new sense of understanding the text. And again during class on Monday, another passage came into a whole new light. But this time, it has left me carefully considering the kinds of study Bibles I spend my time reading.
Ephesians 5:22-24 is a controversial passage for it appears to be giving a complementarian view of marriage (where the husband is the head of the marriage while the wife submits to the husband). But this word “submit” is actually becomes a little more interesting when one takes a look at the Greek (with my literal translation after):
αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησίας ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.
“the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ (is) head of the church, he savior of the body but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and so the wives to husbands in all.”
What’s odd about this passage? If one takes a look at the beginning of the passage, it appears that there is something missing, no? Here is how the ESV Bible has translated it:
“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.”
Notice the difference? In my literal translation of the Greek, any form of the word “submit” only appears once, but yet, in the same amount of verses, the ESV has it listed three times. What is even more problematic is how the first usage of “submit” appears: “Wives, submit to your own husbands…” It is an imperative (a command). Yet if one looks in the Greek, one not only does not see the imperative form of “submit” (which would be ὑποτάγητε, for the second person, plural; Cf. James 4:7), but one does not see any form of “submit” anywhere, certainly not in v. 22. Where is it coming from then?
For our translation assignment last week, we were asked to translate Eph. 5:21-25 to get a full sense of what is going on here. Here is what the full passage looks like in Greek:
Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ, αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.
Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς…
“Submitting to one another in reverence of Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ head of the church, he savior of the body, but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and thus the wives to husbands in all.
Husbands, love the wives, even as Christ loved the church and delivered of himself over on behalf of her…”
What is particularly significant about this passage is that the “submit” command that the ESV implements in v. 22 (which is nowhere in the Greek v. 22), comes from a participle and not an imperative (Ὑποτασσόμενοι). Instead of suggesting a command, Paul is reshaping (though not dramatically) what is known as the “household code.” This is proven true by the only imperative in or near this particular passage: ἀγαπᾶτε, which is a direct command to the ἄνδρες, the “husbands.” In a culture where men mostly married to produce heirs rather than for love, this is a huge statement and not quite as demeaning to women as the ESV (NIV and NASB as well) has it. What is even more deceptive on the part of these popular translations is that little subheader placed in between v. 21 and v. 22; “Wives and Husbands” for both ESV and NIV and “Marriage Like Christ and the Church” in the NASB. With that direct (and theologically driven) break in the text, one would not at all see the discrepancy.
However, there are two translations I have recently picked up that actually give interesting renderings here – renderings that are much closer to the sense of the Greek. The first is the Common English Bible (CEB), which came out two years ago. Here is its rendering of the passage:
“… and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” – Eph. 5:21-25.
While it still inserts “wives should submit” (again, not quite present in the Greek), they have at least placed the header “Be filled with the Spirit” all the way back right before v. 15 and keep the entire passage as one paragraph (all the way to the end of the chapter). And when the Greek is considered, this is precisely the sense conveyed (note also the “For example”; this comes closer to presenting the “wives submitting to husbands” as an example of what reverence in Christ looks like, but still avoids the participial sense by inserting “should”).
The second translation is the Inclusive Bible, which is an explicitly egalitarian Bible:
“Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those of you who are in committed relationships should yield to each other as if to Christ, because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body – the church – as well as being its Savior. As the church yields to Christ, so you should yield to your partner in everything. Love one another as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for it…” – Eph. 5:21-25.
While they have steered slightly away from a literal translation of the Greek, it is crucial to note the language used in place of husbands being the heads of wives: “because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body.” Does this not convey the sense of Gal. 3:28 precisely: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (CEB, emphasis mine)? Of course, it is worth noting that Ephesians is a “partially disputed” letter of Paul (term Dr. Gupta introduced to us last night in our NT class); this means that it is possible that Paul did not actually write Ephesians. While I am on the fence about that, the Greek (at least to me, a novice) in this passage does not drift too far from Paul’s profound statement in Gal. 3:28.
As my Greek class plunges on through controversial passages of Paul’s letters, it is becoming overwhelmingly clearer and clearer that there is a massive amount of patriarchal language that must be unraveled – not necessarily patriarchal language from Paul himself, per se, but certainly from the more modern translations. The ESV and NASB footnotes pertaining this passage were terribly geared toward a patriarchal lens of the text, which, in my view, is exceedingly dangerous as it enables all sorts of manipulation and abuse of power and goes directly against Jesus’ teaching of not lording one’s power over another (cf. Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-44; Luke 22:24-27).
So, yes, studying Greek this year (although it may kill me), has proven to be one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.
 I cannot give the NRSV a full pass either, but the Catholic Edition I have at least places the header “The Christian Household” above v. 21.