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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 5

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Ephesians 5:0


Rules for the New LifeWalk in LoveAn Appeal to Renounce Pagan WaysLiving in the LightThe New Life in Christ
(Ephesians 4:17-20)(Ephesians 4:17-20)
Ephesians 4:25-5Ephesians 4:25-2Ephesians 4:25-20
Ephesians 5:1-7Ephesians 5:1-2
Ephesians 5:3-5Ephesians 5:3-5
Walk as Children of LightWalk in Light
Ephesians 5:6-14Ephesians 5:6-14Ephesians 5:6-14
Ephesians 5:8-14
Walk in Wisdom
Ephesians 5:15-20Ephesians 5:15-21Ephesians 5:15-20Ephesians 5:15-17
Ephesians 5:18-20
Wives and HusbandsMarriage and the ChurchThe Christian HouseholdWives and HusbandsThe Morals of the Home
Ephesians 5:21-32(Ephesians 5:21-9)Ephesians 5:21(Ephesians 5:21-9)
Ephesians 5:22-33Ephesians 5:22-24Ephesians 5:22-24Ephesians 5:21-4
Ephesians 5:25-3Ephesians 5:25-33

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Ephesians 5:1-14 is an extension of Ephesians 4:17-32. It deals with the Christian life and expresses what Christians should and should not do.

B. Ephesians 5:3-5 turns from the self-giving love of Christ in verse Ephesians 5:2 to the self-centered, worldly love of fallen mankind (cf. Ephesians 4:25-32).

C. Ephesians 5:8-18 contrasts the false teachers with the true believers

1. darkness, Ephesians 5:8 light, Ephesians 5:8

2. unfruitful deeds of darkness, Ephesians 5:11 the fruit of light, Ephesians 5:9

3. disgrace. . .in secret, Ephesians 5:12 expose them, Ephesians 5:11, Ephesians 5:13

4. unwise men, Ephesians 5:15 wise, Ephesians 5:15

5. foolish, Ephesians 5:17 understand God's will, Ephesians 5:17

6. filled with wine, Ephesians 5:18 filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:18

D. The present passive imperative of Ephesians 5:18, "ever be filled with the Spirit," is defined by five present participles (cf. Ephesians 5:19-21). This is the definitive passage on the filling of the Spirit in the NT.

E. Paul illustrates the Spirit-filled life by using the Christian home as an example. He writes of

1. husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:22-31

2. parents and children, Ephesians 6:1-4

3. masters and household slaves, Ephesians 6:5-9


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is it so important that believers live godly lives?

2. Why are sex sins emphasized in this context?

3. Can Christians fall from grace by their lifestyles? (cf. Ephesians 5:5)

4. What does being "filled with the Spirit" involve?

5. Why was Ephesians 5:22-9 seen as so radically positive in its day but so negative in our day?

6. Does Ephesians 5:22-33 teach that women are to be subject to men?

7. Why does Paul compare the Christian home to Christ and the church?

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ephesians 5:1-2 1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 5:1 "be imitators of God," This is a present middle (deponent) imperative. The English word "mimic" comes from this Greek root. In Ephesians 5:2 and 5:2 an imitator of God is defined as one who (1) forgives and (2) walks in love and selflessness like Jesus. These actions establish and maintain unity (cf. Ephesians 4:2-3). Believers must strive for the corporate good of the body, not individual rights, privileges, or freedoms (cf. Ephesians 4:3).

"as beloved children" Believers were called by the same theologically significant title as Jesus (cf. Ephesians 1:6). Believers are loved because He is loved. They are to reflect the family characteristics of the Father. Jesus and the Spirit restore the image of God in human beings marred in the fall of Genesis 3:0.

Ephesians 5:2 "walk" This is a present active imperative, which is a biblical metaphor of lifestyle (cf. Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2, Ephesians 5:15). Christianity is an initial decision followed by lifestyle discipleship. It is a point in time, a process through time, and a culmination beyond time! See Special Topic: Greek Verb Tenses for Salvation at Ephesians 1:7.

"just as Christ also loved you" The ancient Greek manuscripts differ between "us" and "you." "Us" is in P46, א a, D, G, and K; "you" is in א, A, and B. "You" seems best in context. Jesus is our example (cf. 1 John 4:11).

"gave Himself up for us an offering and a sacrifice to God" This refers to the substitutionary, vicarious atonement of Christ (cf. Isaiah 53:0; Mark 10:45; Romans 5:8; Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). The Greek preposition huper with the genitive (ablative) is almost synonymous to the Greek preposition "anti" meaning "instead of." The Greek manuscript evidence for "you" instead of "us" in this phrase is overwhelming: "you" is in P46, P49, א, A, D; "us" is only in B.

"as a fragrant aroma" This was an OT sacrificial metaphor for God's acceptance of a sacrifice (cf. Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 1:9, Leviticus 1:13; Ezekiel 20:41; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Philippians 4:18). As the sacrifice burned it produced smoke which rose upward. It was removed from the visible realm to the invisible, from the physical realm to God's realm.

Verses 3-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ephesians 5:3-5 3But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Ephesians 5:3 "immorality" This is the Greek term (porneia), from which we get the English "pornography." In the NT it spoke of going beyond the accepted sexual guidelines. It could refer to

1. sexual immorality (cf. Matthew 21:31-32; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29)

2. adultery (cf. Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9

3. incest (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1)

4. lewdness (cf. Romans 1:29)

In the OT there was a marked difference between the terms "adultery," where one party was married, and "fornication" which referred to pre-marital sexual activity. This distinction is lost in NT Greek where it refers to inappropriate sexual activity of any kind (extra-marital, pre-marital, homosexual, or bestial).

"any impurity" This is the Greek term "clean" with the alpha privative which negates the word to which it is prefixed. These three terms in Ephesians 5:3, "immorality, impurity and greed," all relate to (1) the activities of the false teachers (cf. 2 Timothy 3:6), and/or (2) the pagan culture out of which these converts had come, where sexual activity was often associated with pagan worship.

"greed" This term conveys the idea of "more and more for me at any cost." Because it is in a list of sexual sins it probably relates to self-centered sexual exploitation (cf. Colossians 3:5).

"even be named among you" This is a present passive imperative with the negative particle which usually means to stop an act in process. These sins were occurring in the church. Believers must guard against sins, and rumors/suspicions of sins (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:22). We must model as well as speak the gospel.

"is proper among saints" This is parallel to "which is not fitting" in Ephesians 5:4. See Special Topic: Saints at Colossians 1:2.

Ephesians 5:4 Believers must be careful of their speech. It reveals who they truly are (cf. Mark 7:15, Mark 7:18-23; Colossians 3:18; Ephesians 4:19; James 3:1-12). See Special Topic at Colossians 3:8. This is the second group of sins mentioned in chapter 5. Both groups had three elements. This is similar to Ephesians 4:17-32.

"but rather giving of thanks" True believers are revealed by their thankful heart which is not related to circumstances (cf. Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). See Special Topic: Thanksgiving at Colossians 4:2.

Ephesians 5:5 "for this you know with certainty" This phrase is very emphatic. It has two forms of the two Greek verbs "to know": (1) the perfect active indicative or imperative form of oida and (2) the Present active participle form of gnôskô. The false teachers claimed to have full, secret knowledge about God, but believers must understand that a person's lifestyle reveals true knowledge and wisdom (cf. Matthew 7:0).

"that no immoral or impure person or covetous man," All these terms are repeated from Ephesians 5:3 "immoral" (porneia). This is the masculine form of the term in Ephesians 5:3, it is possibly a reference to male prostitutes, sodomites, or the sexual activities of the false teachers.

"who is an idolater" The parallel is in Colossians 3:5. A similar statement is found in 1 John 5:21. When sex becomes the focal point of our lives, it becomes our god! When money becomes the focal point of our lives, it also becomes idolatrous (cf. Matthew 6:24). Some commentators see this phrase as referring to all of the sins mentioned in the context (Ephesians 5:3-5).

"has an inheritance" Believers' lifestyles show who their father is, God or the evil one (cf. Matthew 7:0; 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9).

"in the Kingdom of Christ and God" The grammatical structure and genitive article link Christ and God as one (cf. Luke 22:29; Colossians 1:13). This is one way NT authors assert Christ's Deity.

The "kingdom" was a recurrent and central topic in Jesus' preaching. It refers to the reign of God in human hearts now which will one day be consummated over all the earth (cf. Matthew 6:10). One day all humans and angels will acknowledge Christ as Lord (cf. Philippians 2:10-11), but only those humans who have repented and believed the gospel will be part of His eternal kingdom (Daniel 7:13; 1 Corinthians 15:27-28).


Verses 6-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ephesians 5:6-14 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9(for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you."

Ephesians 5:6 "Let no one deceive you" This is a present active imperative with the negative particle which usually means to stop an act in process. This referred to the message and lifestyle of the false teachers, who were a mixture of libertine Gnostics and Jewish legalists (which seem so incompatible). There is so much we moderns do not know about the heretics of the first century.

"with empty words" This may refer to the libertine or Gnostic teachings that sex sins do not affect the spiritual life. For them salvation was found in secret knowledge of the angelic levels. They totally separated justification from sanctification. This heresy is still alive and well!

"the wrath of God comes" This is a Present tense. It refers to either (1) temporal judgment (cf. John 3:36; Romans 1:18-32; Romans 2:8-9; Romans 9:22; Colossians 3:6 1 Thessalonians 2:16); and/or (2) future eschatological judgment (cf. Matthew 25:31ff; Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). God's wrath is as revelatory as God's love.

While on this subject of the wrath of God, let me be clear about my understanding of its implications. First it is a theological tragedy to over-emphasize or under-emphasize this truth. God is angry with the way mankind treats His word, His world, His will, and each other. This is not the world that God intended it to be! All human beings will give an account to God for how they lived their lives (cf. Galatians 6:7; 2 Corinthians 5:10). However, it is important to recognize the biblical perspective on this doctrine. Deuteronomy 5:9 compared with Ephesians 5:10 and 7:9 sets the pattern. As judgment runs to the third and fourth generations, God's love and faithfulness runs to a thousand generations. In Isaiah 28:21 judgment is called God's "strange" work (cf. Lamentations 3:32-33; Psalms 103:8-14). Judgment is necessary in a moral universe, but is unpleasant to God. Hell is an open bleeding sore in God's heart that will never be healed. He loves all humans made in His image (cf. Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 9:6). He wants to redeem all humans and He has promised to do so for all who will repent and believe in His Son (cf. Genesis 3:15; Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

"the sons of disobedience" This is a Hebraic idiom (cf. Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 3:6). Covenant obedience is a characteristic of God's children. Disobedience is a characteristic of Satan's followers.

Ephesians 5:7 "do not be partakers with them" This is literally "co-holders." It is a present imperative with the negative particle which usually means to stop an act already in process. Paul uses a compound with syn here as he did in Ephesians 2:5-6 and Ephesians 3:6. This same phrase is repeated in verse Ephesians 5:11. Not only must believers flee entanglement in sin or even the appearance of sin, they must also carefully choose their friends and associates. The close friends we choose, like the words we speak, reveal our hearts.

Ephesians 5:8-9 "darkness. . .light" This is very similar to John's dualism (cf. Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:7-8; Ephesians 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). These contrasting terms were universal symbols for good and evil which predate Greek thought and are common in the literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which was a Jewish separatist desert community.

The imperfect active verb in the first phrase describes their previous life as continuously sinning (cf. Genesis 6:5, 11-12: 8:21; Psalms 14:3; Psalms 58:3; Jeremiah 12:9).

Ephesians 5:8 "but now you are light in the Lord" What a strong contrast (cf. Matthew 5:19; John 8:12).

"walk as children of light" This is another present active imperative (cf. John 3:19-21; 1 John 1:7). Believers' words, lifestyles, and priorities reveal who they are!

"children of" This is a Hebrew idiom for "characteristics," as is "sons of" in Ephesians 5:6. Conversion is evidenced by a changed life. This was spelled out in Ephesians 5:9. No fruit, no root (cf. Matt. 5-7; James, and 1 John).

Ephesians 5:9 "fruit of light" The KJV has "fruit of the Spirit," which is in the ancient Greek manuscripts P46, Dc, and I. However, P49, א, A, B, D, G, P and the immediate context (Ephesians 5:8), demand "fruit of light." Even the NKJV has this. The KJV follows the Western family of Greek manuscripts which assimilated the wording from Galatians 5:22.

"righteousness" See Special Topic at Ephesians 4:24.

Ephesians 5:10

NASB"trying to learn" NKJV"proving" NRSV"trying to find out" TEV"try to learn" NJB"try to discover"

This Greek term (dokimazô) "prove" (cf. Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 8:8, 2 Corinthians 8:22; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Ephesians 5:1 Tim. 8:10; Hebrews 3:9) or "try" (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 John 4:1) has the connotation of "to test with a view toward approval." This was a metallurgical term used of testing coins for genuineness. See Special Topic at Philippians 2:22.

Ephesians 5:11 "do not participate in" This is literally "co-fellowshippers." It is another syn compound. This is a present active imperative with the negative particle which usually means to stop an act already in process. This refers to

1. intimate social contact

2. pagan worship settings

3. false teachers' meetings (cf. Ephesians 5:12)

"expose them" This is another present active imperative. How do believers expose evil? Because of Ephesians 5:12 this phrase seems to mean "to expose by our own godly lifestyle" or by the proclamation of the gospel. Light cannot coexist in fellowship with darkness (cf. John 3:17-19).

Ephesians 5:14 "awake, sleeper. . .Christ will shine on you" This is either a loose quote from Isaiah 29:19 or possibly 51:17; 52:1; 60:1 or an early Christian hymn (cf. Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13). It is in metrical form. Paul used lyrical material from

1. the OT (from several translations)

2. Christian hymns

3. Christian creeds

4. even pagan writers

"sleeper. . .dead" This refers to the spiritual blindness, and the spiritual deadness of unbelievers (cf. Ephesians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

"Christ will shine on you" Jesus is depicted here as the glorified morning star (cf. Isaiah 9:1-2; Isaiah 59:8; Isaiah 60:1; Luke 1:78-79), the opposite of Lucifer, (cf. Isaiah 14:12). Light is an ancient symbol of healing, health, truth, knowledge, and goodness (cf. Malachi 4:2).

Verses 15-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ephesians 5:15-21 15Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

Ephesians 5:15 "be careful how you walk" This is a present active indicative, not another present active imperative. It is a statement of fact, not a command. "Walk" is a biblical metaphor for lifestyle (cf. Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2).

"not as unwise men, but as wise" Wisdom is revealed in godly living (cf. Colossians 4:5), not in the false teachers' knowledge or godless freedom.

Ephesians 5:16 "making the most of your time" This is a Present middle participle. It is a marketing term which meant "to buy out something completely" at a good time or price. Believers are to take advantage of every spiritual opportunity (cf. Colossians 4:2-6; 1 Peter 3:15) because we know that the night is coming when no one can work. There is an open window in time for the gospel. We must seize the moment!.

Ephesians 5:17 "do not be foolish" This is a present middle (deponent) imperative with the negative particle which usually means to stop an act in process. They were being foolish.

"the will of the Lord" There is no article with "will." Therefore, this is a will of God. The will of God is that we trust in Christ (cf. John 6:29, John 6:40), then there are several "wills" for believers. See Special Topic: The Will of God at Ephesians 1:9.

Ephesians 5:18 "do not get drunk" This is a present passive imperative with the negative particle which usually means to stop an act in process (cf. Proverbs 23:30-31). Alcohol and drugs are often used to promote religious experiences. They are also an example of something that controls and characterizes one's life but must be intentionally repeated for effect (addiction). Just as alcohol must be repeated for effect, so too, "the filling" of the Spirit is repeated for effect. As believers volitionally receive Christ for salvation, they must volitionally and repeatedly (present passive) open themselves to the Spirit's ongoing (daily) guidance and control.

"but be filled with the Spirit" This is a present passive imperative meaning "you must continue to be filled with the Spirit" or "ever be filled with the Spirit." This is a command, not an option! It is the normal state for all believers, not the exception. This phrase implies that believers are to be available, sensitive, and obedient to the Spirit's forming of Christ in their daily lives (cf. Romans 8:28-29; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:28). Believers cannot fill themselves, but must allow the Spirit to have freedom and influence. Human performance is not the key to effective living but the Spirit (cf. Galatians 3:1-3). However, believers must volitionally open themselves to the Spirit's leadership and control on a recurrent basis.

The term "filled" is used often in the NT for that which motivates and characterizes one's life. Believers have a choice in what fills their lives. In Acts being "filled" with the Spirit is associated with evangelism. Peter was "filled" several times in Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8, Acts 4:31. Filling was an ongoing need and experience.

The structural parallel (Colossians & Ephesians are based on almost the same outline) in Colossians 3:16 changed the "ever be filled with the Spirit" to "let the word of Christ richly dwell within you." They both refer to daily intentional submission to the Spirit's producing Christlikeness, particularly as it relates to dealing with people. Jesus died for people. People are priority; people are eternal.

Ephesians 5:19 "speaking. . .singing. . .making melody" These are the first three of four present active participles which describe the Spirit-filled life. The first three have to do with singing or quoting Psalms. The Spirit has put a song in the hearts of believers for God (cf. Colossians 3:16). Praises to God break forth!

This verse is helpful in dealing with the different musical preferences in the church. Notice the variety of musical categories named. Music in worship is a matter of personal taste, not one correct form versus an improper form. It is the attitude of the heart, not the ear. The theology expressed is a concern, but the form of the music is always secondary. Dare we disrupt the church of God over personal preferences! Worship is a matter of the heart, not the beat! Please read Romans 14:1-13 again and again.

"heart" See Special Topic at Colossians 2:2.

Ephesians 5:20 "always giving thanks" This is the fourth present active participle. Thanksgiving is another evidence of the Spirit-filled life (cf. Ephesians 5:4; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is the biblical worldview by which believers can give thanks in "all things" (cf. Romans 8:29-30). The Spirit-filled believers know that God is for them and that circumstances are not the source of joy and peace. A book that has been so helpful to my life in this area is Hannah Whithall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life! See Special Topic: Paul's Praise, Prayer, and Thanksgiving at Ephesians 3:20.

Ephesians 5:21

NASB, NRSV"be subject" NKJV"submitting" TEV"submit yourselves" NJB"give way"

This is a present middle or passive participle (see Ephesians 5:22). It forms a transition from Ephesians 5:1-20 to 22-31 and the context continues through Ephesians 6:9. These five participles define what it means to be Spirit-filled. The parallel passage in Colossians 3:16 shows that it refers to daily Christlikeness.

In our day "submission" is a negative, sexist term. Originally it was a military term which related to obedience based on the chain of command. But in the NT it is often used of Jesus' attitude toward His earthly parents (Luke 2:51) and His heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 15:28). Paul was fond of this term and used it 23 times. Verse Ephesians 5:21 is a universal spiritual principle of mutual submission between believers connected to the Spirit-filled life. Submission goes against our cultural, western, individual focused mind-set. Selfishness and dominance are so culturally ingrained, but biblically inappropriate (cf. Romans 12:10; Galatians 5:13; Philippians 2:3; 1 John 4:11)!

This verse emphasizes reciprocal submission on the part of all believers. This was not directed toward one group. It needs to be reaffirmed that this context (Ephesians 5:22-31) deals with the domestic relationship between Christian husbands and Christian wives, not men and women in general. Women are not spiritually inferior in any sense (cf. Acts 2:16-21; Galatians 3:28).



Ephesians 5:21 "to one another " Mutual submission is a universal principle which relates to all believers, but which can only be accomplished through yieldedness to the Spirit (i.e., death to the self-life). It is an evidence of the reversal of the Fall.

NASB, NKJV"in the fear of Christ" NRSV"out of reverence for Christ" TEV"because of your reverence for Christ" NJB"in obedience to Christ"

"Fear" is an OT concept of reverential awe. The holiness and uniqueness of YHWH, or even the presence of the spiritual realm (angels), causes a strong reaction in fallen humanity!

Believers' interpersonal relationships are affected by their faith commitment to Christ. Respect for Him gives respect to all humans for whom He gave His life (cf. Romans 14:1; Romans 15:13). Believers show their love for Christ by how they love others (cf. 1 John 4:20).

Verses 22-24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ephesians 5:22-24 22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Ephesians 5:22 "wives, be subject" There is no verb in the Greek text of Ephesians 5:22. It is supplied from Ephesians 5:21 (which is one of five present participles describing the spirit-filled life). In this context it is not a command, but a present middle or passive participle. The only command was directed toward husbands in Ephesians 5:25 (present active imperative)! Husbands are to act in sacrificial, self-giving love toward their wives, who then voluntarily submit.

However there are several parallel passages which urge the submission of wives to husbands:

1. a Present passive imperative in Colossians 3:18

2. a present passive participle in Titus 2:5 used as an imperative

3. another present passive participle in 1 Peter 3:5 used as an imperative

These parallel passages force interpreters to take the participle in Ephesians 5:21 as a present passive participle used as an imperative (cf. 1 Peter 3:1). It is still significant that the voice is passive. Wives must allow the Spirit to perform this task in their lives.

Both the Analytical Greek New Testament by Barbara and Timothy Friberg and An Analysis of the Greek New Testament by Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor call this verb a passive voice, but The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, edited by Harold K. Moulton; Word Pictures In the New Testament by A. T. Robertson; and "Ephesians" in The Anchor Bible Commentary by Markus Barth call it a middle voice. Koine Greek was in the process of merging these two voices into one.

Paul illustrates the Spirit-filled life by using the three members of the Greco-Roman domestic scene who had no rights-wives, children, and slaves. He showed how the Spirit changes cultural relationships into spiritual relationships, rights into responsibilities.

If the participle is middle it emphasizes the wife's voluntary participation in marital submission for the benefit which comes from a peaceful, loving marriage with a believing spouse. If the participle is passive it denotes the wife's need to allow the Spirit to do His work in her heart (cf. Ephesians 5:18) which affects both the husband and the children, as well as the domestic slaves.

"as to the Lord" One should compare Colossians 3:18, "in the Lord." It is not that the husband is the ultimate authority, but that wives are to respect their husbands because of their own relationship to Christ. Jesus sets the pattern for both submission to authority (i.e., always the Father's will) and the exercise of authority (i.e., over the church, cf. Ephesians 5:25).

Ephesians 5:23 "the husband is the head. . .as Christ is the Head" Christ is depicted as the husband and the church as the bride (cf. Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:9). Husbands need to act in their God-given leadership position just as Christ did. He gave Himself for the church. It is not a control issue, but a giving-of-self issue.

Male headship is a very controversial issue in our modern western society. This is for several reasons:

1. we do not understand servant leadership

2. we do not like patriarchal societies because of our modern egalitarian emphasis on the worth of the individual

3. we are confused by the Bible's paradoxical way of asserting male headship in some passages and equality in others

In my opinion the answer lies in the example set by Jesus of true headship in relationship to the church and true servanthood (submission) to God the Father. This submission in no way expresses inequality, but administrative functional design. Male headship addresses a kind of leadership which serves the needs of others in a self-giving way. Our modern society rejects authority, yet seeks power!

I can personally accept male headship as a result of the fall (cf. Genesis 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:12-14). I can also affirm it as a biblical concept in light of Jesus' leadership of the church (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33). But what I find difficult to accept is a patriarchal mandate (i.e., male dominated societies) as God's revealed plan for every age and society (cf. Romans 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28-29; Colossians 3:11). Does the mutuality so obvious in Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:18 which was lost in Adam and Eve's rebellion (cf. Genesis 3:16), return in salvation? Is the curse of sin and subservience both dealt within Jesus' redemption? As the new age breaks into the lives of believers now, does also the restoration of complete fellowship with God as in Eden also begin now?

I would also like to make a hermeneutical point. As an interpreter of what I believe to be the self-revelation of the one true God and His Christ, I am surprised by the cultural aspect of Scripture. We see it obviously in the OT (circumcision, food laws, leprosy laws, etc.) But it is much more difficult for us as modern Christians to see it in the NT. I am sure this is (1) because of our love and respect for the Bible and (2) our tendency toward propositional literalism.

The two issues which stand out to me to have obvious cultural aspects (1) male dominated societies (patriarchy) and (2) slavery. The NT never attempts to address the unfairness of these cultural pillars of the ancient world. Possibly because to do so would have meant the destruction of Christianity. Yet the gospel through time is abolishing both! God's truth never changes but societies do change. It is a grave mistake for us to attempt to turn first century Greco-Roman culture into God's will for all people in all places and of course the same is true for Israelite culture. Into each of them God revealed Himself in powerful and permanent ways. The real task is how to get the eternal absolutes out of its cultural husk. A good book which discusses this very issue is Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth.

One way to try to determine what is eternal and, therefore, binding on all believers in all periods and what is cultural or personal preference it is to see if the Bible (OT & NT) gives a uniform message or does it record a variety of opinions (cf. Fee and Stuart's How to read The Bible for All Its Worth).

My fear is that I might let my denominational training, personality, culture and personal preferences silence or diminish a revealed truth! My ultimate authority is God and His revelation (i.e., in His Son and in a written record, the Bible). But I realize He revealed Himself to a specific period of history, to a particular culture and everything in that culture was not His will. Yet, God had to speak to people of that culture in terms and categories they could understand. The Bible then is a historical document. I dare not ignore its supernatural aspect or its cultural aspect.


Ephesians 5:24 "but as the church is subject" The form of this verb is either present passive or Present middle indicative (see note at paragraph four at Ephesians 5:22). As the wife submits to her husband for (1) her own best interest (middle voice) or (2) because she is enabled by God's Spirit (passive voice), so too, the church must submit to Christ.

"church" See notes at Ephesians 3:10 and Special Topic at Colossians 1:18.

"in everything" Christ, not husbands, must be the ultimate authority (cf. Matthew 10:34-39). This verse does not chain a believing wife to an abusive husband nor does it condone evil actions or deeds demanded by an authoritarian husband.

Verses 25-33

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ephesians 5:25-3 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30because we are members of His body. 31For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. 6:1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives" This is a present active imperative which is the only imperative in the paragraph. The husband should set the spiritual atmosphere in the home by continuing to love his wife as Christ loved the church. This was a radically positive statement in its day, but in our day the whole passage seems negative because it reflects the theological concept of male headship in the home (cf. Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Timothy 2:13). However, Christian husbands are servant leaders, not bosses.

"gave Himself up for her" The Greek preposition huper means "on behalf of." This refers to the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of Christ. It is also the kind of self-giving love required of husbands.

Ephesians 5:26 "He might sanctify her" The main verbs in Ephesians 5:26, Ephesians 5:27 are both aorist active subjunctives (cf. John 17:17-19; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 10:10, Hebrews 10:14, Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:12). The word sanctify is from the root "holy." The purpose of justification is sanctification (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:29). The subjunctive mood adds a note of contingency. As the church must cooperate, so too, the wife.

NASB"having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." NKJV"cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" NRSV"by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word" TEV"by his word, after making it clean by the washing in water" NJB"He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words"

This is possibly an OT metaphor for cleansing (cf. John 15:3; Titus 3:5). It may refer to

1. the liturgy of baptism (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5)

2. the public confession of faith at baptism (cf. Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11)

3. a continuation of the marital imagery, a ritual bath of the bride before the ceremony, as a cultural symbol of purity

"The word" probably does not refer to the Bible, but to the words of the administrator of the baptism or of the profession of faith of the candidate.

Ephesians 5:27 "He might present to Himself the Church" This is another aorist active subjunctive, which presents an element of contingency. This seems to refer to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (cf. Revelation 19:6-9). Just as Jesus' love for the church revolutionized the church, so too, a husband's love for his wife should stabilize and bless the Christian home.

"spot" This is literally "no impurity."

"wrinkle" Literally this means "no sign of age."

"holy" This is from the same root as "sanctify" in Ephesians 5:26 (cf. Ephesians 1:4). See Special Topic: Holy at Ephesians 1:4.

"blameless" This is an Old Testament sacrificial term (cf. 1 Peter 1:19). This same concept is mentioned as God's will for the church in Ephesians 1:4. See Special Topic: Blameless at Colossians 1:22.

The cumulative weight of all of these terms is that God desires the complete holiness of His people (Ephesians 1:4). The goal of Christianity is Christlikeness (cf. Romans 8:28-29; Galatians 4:14). The image of God in man will be restored!

Ephesians 5:28 "as their own bodies" When Christian husbands love their Christian wives, they love themselves because in Christ they are "one flesh" (cf. Genesis 2:24). As the Church is the extension of Christ, husbands and wives are an extension of each other.

Ephesians 5:29 "nourishes" This is a bird metaphor that means "to feed to maturity." It is used of the rearing of children in Ephesians 6:4.

"cherishes" This is another bird metaphor, "to warm." These two terms should motivate every mature Christian husband's actions toward his wife. Husbands are stewards of their wives' (and children's) gifts as well as their own! The spiritual leader of the home must seek the maturity of each member of the family in Christ.

Ephesians 5:30 "we are members of His body" The church as a physical body is one of Paul's corporate metaphors which stresses unity amidst diversity (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Ephesians 5:31 This is a quote from the Septuagint (LXX ) of Genesis 2:24. As the Christian family is an organic unit, so is the church and Christ. The family is to be one inseparable unit, just as the church and her Lord are (cf. John 17:11, John 17:21-22) one body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:0). This truth rejects the exclusivism of the false teachers of that day and every day.

Ephesians 5:32 "mystery" The Latin Vulgate has "sacrament," but this is a textual insertion following Roman Catholic sacramentalism. Paul uses the term "mystery" several times probably because it was a favorite term of the Gnostic false teachers. Paul uses it in several ways. Here it relates to the metaphorical comparison between husbands and wives/Christ and the church. For a full discussion see Ephesians 1:9 and Ephesians 3:3.

Ephesians 5:33 "love. . .respect" This is a present active imperative and present middle (deponent) subjunctive. The husband is commanded to continue to love his wife as himself (one flesh, Ephesians 5:31) and wives are called on to yield to and respect their husbands, which would enhance and strengthen the bonds of love between them. This is the summary statement of the entire passage (Ephesians 5:21-33).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ephesians 5". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/ephesians-5.html. 2021.
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