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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Ephesians 5



Other Authors
Verses 22-33


Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. Because man is head of the woman, as also Christ is Head of the Church. He is Saviour of the Body. Nevertheless, as the Church submits to Christ, so also the wives to the husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, as also Christ loved the Church and gave up Himself on its behalf that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the bath of water, with the word, that He may Himself present to Himself the Church glorious not having spot or wrinkle or any of the suchlike things, but that it may be holy and blameless. So ought the men to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loves his own wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it as also Christ does the Church. Because we are members of His Body. “For this cause, a man will leave father and mother and will be joined to his wife; and the two will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24.) This mystery is great. But I speak in regard to Christ and in regard to the Church. Nevertheless, also ye severally, let each one thus love his own wife, as himself; and the wife that she fear the husband.

The implied general exhortation at the end of § 11, submitting yourselves one to another, is now specialised in reference to the three most conspicuous relations of social life; in § 12 to wives and husbands, in § 13 to children and parents, in § 14 to slaves and masters. The same three relations are discussed in the same order in Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1. But the discussion here is much more full and valuable; especially that of the first pair, which is developed under the influence of the dominant thought of this Epistle.

Ephesians 5:22-24. The wives to their own husbands: similar injunction to Colossians 3:18. Their own husbands: noting a peculiar and intimate relation. The words in italics, be subject are supplied from the close of the foregoing sentence.

As to the Lord: slightly different from as is fitting in the Lord in Colossians 3:18. The wife must recognise that her position of subordination is ordained by Christ and that in bowing to her husband she does but submit to her Master in heaven. Thus the Gospel lays upon her a new obligation. But, as we shall see, by laying upon the husband a like obligation it gives to the wife new rights.

Because man is etc.: a fact containing a reason for the foregoing injunction.

Head of the woman: as in 1 Corinthians 11:3, a close parallel. The head and body are vitally united, and share the same nature. But the one is placed above the other to direct its action. Paul asserts that this is the relation of man to the woman. To this metaphor is added another similar metaphor which still further expounds the subjection of the woman to the man: as also Christ is Head of the Church. Same favourite metaphor in Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16. Its frequency is explained by the ideal aspect of the Church which is the dominant thought of this Epistle.

He is Saviour of the Body: an important assertion thrown in, which practically limits the foregoing comparison. From the head of the woman the Head of the Church differs in that HE (very emphatic) is Saviour of the Body. This completes the foregoing metaphor by calling the Church the Body of Christ; and makes conspicuous a difference between the metaphors by an assertion about Christ and the Church quite inapplicable to the relation of man and woman. The Body of which Christ is Head, He has Himself rescued from bondage and death.

Nevertheless etc.; reasserts, in spite of the difference just mentioned, the primary injunction of Ephesians 5:22.

In everything: a subjection universal within the limit fixed by its aim, viz. as to the Lord. She must do nothing even in obedience to the husband which she cannot do for Christ.

Ephesians 5:25. Husbands, love the wives: word for word as in Colossians 3:19.

According as also etc.: ground of this exhortation. If the woman’s relation to the man resembles that of the Church to Christ, the love with which Christ loved the Church must be a model of man’s love to his wife. This comparison is the more natural in Greek because the word Church is feminine.

And gave-up Himself on its (or her) behalf: historic manifestation and proof of this pattern love.

Gave-up on-behalf of: same words in Ephesians 5:2; Galatians 2:20. It is Christ’s self-surrender to death.

In this verse and in John 3:16 we have two aspects, each supplementing the other, of the love which prompted the death of Christ. Since the purpose of salvation embraced the world, and since God brings to bear on every man an influence which unless resisted will lead him to salvation, Christ said to Nicodemus, in a general statement about the Gospel, that God so loved the world that He gave etc. But the eternal love of God foresaw all who would accept the Gospel and be finally saved. Consequently, this foreseen result of the gift of Christ may be spoken of as the aim of His self-surrender, and therefore as the object of the love which prompted it. Each of the saved can say He loved me and gave up Himself for me. And the lost will know that their destruction was due, not to a limitation of God’s love, but to their own rejection of His offered mercy.

Ephesians 5:26-27. A digression expounding the moral aim of Christ’s self-surrender. Cp. Titus 2:14. It is very appropriate in this exposition of Christian morality.

May-sanctify it: subjective holiness, i.e. the actual and unreserved devotion and loyalty of the Church to Christ. For this is clearly implied in the words following. So the word holy in Ephesians 5:27. This is here represented as an aim of the death of Christ. And rightly so: for without it there can be no full blessedness. And an intelligent purpose includes all means necessary to the end in view. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, the same word denotes the objective holiness of all the people of God, i.e. His claim that they live only for Him. In this sense even the carnal Corinthian Christians were already sanctified. Wherever sanctification means more than this, viz. the actual devotion which God claims, it is represented, not as attained, but as a divine purpose. So 1 Thessalonians 5:23; John 17:17; cp. 1 Corinthians 7:34; 2 Corinthians 7:1. Since loyalty to God is ever the work of the Holy Spirit, since the gift of the Spirit implies pardon of sin, and since Christ died in order to harmonize the justification of believers with the justice of God and thus make it possible, Paul here asserts that ‘Christ… gave up Himself in order that He may sanctify’ the Church. See a close and important parallel in 2 Corinthians 5:15, where we are taught that Christ died in order that we may live a life of devotion to Him.

Having-cleansed it by the bath of water: a necessary preliminary to the actual devotion to God which Christ purposes to work in His people. For all impurity is opposed to unreserved devotion to God, and must therefore be removed before subjective holiness can be realised. So Romans 6:11, dead to sin, but living for God. Similarly, in symbolic ritual, the priests in the Temple washed themselves at the brazen laver before they approached the altar: Exodus 30:18-21.

Cleanse: same word in 2 Corinthians 7:1; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9; Acts 15:9; important parallels. It denotes removal of the stain which mars the moral beauty of sinners.

Bath: same word in Titus 3:5, bath of the new birth; and Sirach xxxi. 30, one who is baptized from a dead body and again touches it, what has he been profited by his bath? in reference to ceremonial purification. It denotes, as does the English word bath, both the act of washing and the vessel in which we wash. In view of these two other passages and of Acts 22:16, we can hardly doubt that Paul refers here to Baptism. And such reference presents no difficulty. As commanded by Christ, Baptism was binding on all who had not received it and who sought deliverance from the stain of sin; and was therefore in this sense a condition and instrument of spiritual purification. This does not imply any magical efficacy in the outward rite, but only its divine obligation in all ordinary cases. In Paul’s day, the peril frequently involved in outwardly confessing Christ made this obligation a most serious element in the way of salvation. Hence the language of these three passages.

This reference to Baptism was probably suggested by the metaphor in Ephesians 5:27. Paul silently reminds his readers that Baptism, which to many of them had been so perilous, was but the bride’s bath on the eve of marriage, in their case a necessary precursor of the joy of eternal union with the great King.

With the word: joined most naturally to that He may sanctify it. For the intervening words give a complete sense, and describe a necessary preliminary to the sanctification which Christ designs. Having noted this preliminary, Paul adds the instrument of sanctification, viz. the word of the Gospel, God’s chosen instrument of salvation. Cp. John 17:17, sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth. Same word, in the singular number as here, and referring to the Gospel, in Ephesians 6:17; Romans 10:8; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 6:5; 1 Peter 1:25. In eternity the Son of God purposed to draw men, by a spoken word, viz. the Gospel, to bow to God with unreserved and joyous devotion. Similarly, by a ‘word of God’ the world was made: Hebrews 11:3.

Ephesians 5:27. Further and ultimate aim of the purpose described in Ephesians 5:26. It is clothed in a not unfrequent metaphor: 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:9; John 3:29; Matthew 25:1.

Present: same word in Colossians 1:22; Colossians 1:28; Romans 6:13; Romans 6:16; Romans 6:19; Romans 12:1; and, in the same connection as here, 2 Corinthians 11:2.

Himself to Himself: emphatic assertion that the Giver and Receiver are the same. For the Bride has been rescued and purified by the self-surrender of the Bridegroom.

Glorious: clothed in splendour exciting universal admiration; cp. Revelation 21:11, having the glory of God. Christ designs the Church to be glorious, and as such to be His own for ever.

Spot: any blemish.

Wrinkle: a mark of decay. Maintaining his metaphor, Paul describes moral imperfections as bodily blemishes.

But that it may be etc.; completes the description of the glorious Church.

Holy: subjectively: for, objectively, as claimed by God, Paul’s readers were (Ephesians 1:1) already holy. This word keeps before us the subjective sanctification of Ephesians 5:26. Instead of having spot or wrinkle, Christ designs the Church to be holy and blameless: same words together in the same connection in Ephesians 1:4. They are added in the form of a purpose in order to throw emphasis on the holiness and blamelessness of the Church as specially designed by Christ.

Notice that present to Himself corresponds to sanctify and holy: for that is holy which is devoted to God. Not having spot or wrinkle corresponds, as a negative element implied in holiness, to cleanse and blameless.

Ephesians 5:28 a. Application of the foregoing metaphor to the matter in hand, viz. the duty of husbands to love their wives.

In this way: according as Christ loved the Church.

As their own bodies: i.e. looking upon their wives as being their own flesh and blood. These words link together two closely related metaphors, viz. the Church as the Body (Ephesians 5:23) and as the Bride (Ephesians 5:27) of Christ; and brings them to bear, thus linked together, upon the relation of husband and wife.

Verse. 28-30. These verses develop an argument lying in as their own bodies. Husband and wife have one interest. Therefore, affection towards the wife brings proportionate gain to the husband. In this sense, he that loves his own wife, loves himself. This argument, Ephesians 5:29 further supports. Paul asserted in Ephesians 5:25 that a man’s relation to his wife is like that of Christ to the Church. And he has frequently taught that the Church is the Body of Christ. If so, Christ’s love to the Church is like a man’s love to his own body. This latter love Paul declares to be universal, and further describes.

His own flesh: his body, in view of its material constitution, which has special needs and demands special care.

Nourishes: finds the food needful for its health and development.

Cherishes: 1 Thessalonians 2:8 : keeps warm, as a hen her chickens. Every one feeds his own body and protects it from cold. And as every one acts towards his own body so Christ acts towards the Church. This treatment of us by Christ is illustrated by a restatement of the fact that we are members of His Body.

Ephesians 5:31-32. The words of Genesis 2:24 (almost word for word from the LXX.) taken up by Paul and woven into his argument about the relation of Christ to the Church as a pattern to husbands and wives. Same quotation in Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7-8. Adam asserts that because woman is derived from man the relation of husband and wife is the closest of human relationships. By appropriating these words, Paul brings them to bear on the argument before him. And they prove clearly that (Ephesians 5:28) to love one’s wife is to love oneself. For they assert that husband and wife are one flesh. This plain reference of the quotation makes it needless to seek in it an assertion about Christ. And certainly the Son of Mary did not leave His mother in order to be united to the Church.

Because of this: because woman was taken out of man, as stated in Genesis 2:23. It is a part of the quotation. We therefore need not assume a special reference to Ephesians 5:30.

A man will leave: whenever in all generations a man marries.

The two shall become one flesh: the chief point in the quotation. So close is the marriage relation that it seems in some sense to suspend the distinction of personality. Now, whatever is done to one part of a living body affects the whole. Consequently, kindness to one’s wife is kindness to oneself.

This quotation casts light upon the assertion in Ephesians 5:23 that man is head of the woman. The head and body are one flesh, so closely and vitally united that injury or benefit done to one is done to the other. Yet the head directs and the body obeys. All this is true both of man and woman and of Christ and the Church. Of each of these relationships the human body is a metaphor. Even Christ and the Church are one flesh: for both are human. But Christ directs; and the Church obeys. The human body is thus a pattern of two important relations, viz. of husband and wife and of Christ and the Church. It is therefore a link uniting these relations, and making each a pattern of the other. This double metaphor is not found elsewhere. And it greatly strengthens the obligations here enforced. The wife is bound to obey her husband, as the Church, of which she is a member, obeys Christ. The husband is bound to love his wife, as Christ loved the Church. To fail in this is, as this quotation proves, to act as a man would who did not care for his own body. We have thus a double motive for marital love, the example of Christ and the instinct of self-preservation.

Ephesians 5:32. This mystery: (same word in Romans 11:25 :) the marriage relation described in the foregoing quotation. See note under 1 Corinthians 3:4. Under the marriage relation lies secret teaching known only to those taught by God.

But I speak: Paul’s own use here of this quotation as distinguished from the hidden truth underlying marriage.

With reference to Christ and with reference to the Church: these represented as distinct objects of thought. While quoting Genesis, Paul is thinking not so much of man and woman as of Christ and the Church. In other words, under the specific matter in hand lie broader truths. Even marriage, so important in itself, receives greater importance from being a visible setting forth of the relation of Christ to the Church.

It is needless to discuss here whether marriage is a sacrament: for this would involve a definition of the term. Certainly, marriage cannot be put on a level with the two rites ordained by Christ for all His servants. But Paul’s teaching here implies clearly its unchangeable sacredness. And this felt sacredness has ever found expression in acts of worship accompanying the marriage ceremony. Callous must they be who can enter the solemn obligations of wedlock without recognising its divine sanction and sacred duties.

Ephesians 5:33. Nevertheless: or, more fully, ‘I say nothing except this one thing.’ It breaks off the discourse to insist on the one thing needful.

Ye severally: transition from a mystery touching Christ and the Church to readers of this Epistle, taken one by one.

Thus love: i.e. in the manner, and for the reasons, just expounded.

As himself: as their own bodies in Ephesians 5:28. And the wife must remember that the husband has been set over her by Christ, and that therefore insubordination to him is disobedience to Christ. An obligation so solemn may well evoke her fear. So careful is Paul to balance the duty of the husband by that of the wife.

REVIEW. At the close of § 11 Paul bids his readers to submit one to another. He then discusses in order three very special kinds of submission. Of these, the first and noblest and most significant is that of the wife to her husband. The Apostle bids her render to him a reverence similar to that which she pays to her Master in heaven; and supports this by asserting a similarity between the marriage relation and that of the Church to Christ. This similarity he describes by comparing each of these relations to that of the head and members of a human body; but points out the limits of his comparison by reminding us that the Head of the Church is also its Saviour. He concludes his injunction to the wife by urging her to take as her pattern the submission of the Church to Christ.

If Paul speaks first of the duties of the wife, he finds it needful to linger longer over those of the husband. Just as the wife must look on the Church’s submission to Christ as a pattern of her own submission to her husband, so the husband is bound to take Christ’s love to the Church, manifested in His death, as a pattern for his own love to his wife. Paul then leaves for a moment the duty of husbands to describe, in language borrowed from the metaphor he is here using, the purpose of Christ is self-sacrifice for the Church, viz. to present to Himself the Church as His loyal and spotless bride. The purity needed in the bride of Christ recalls the baptismal water through which these Asiatic Christians had passed, and which was designed to be the entrance into a spotless life. Going back to the subject specially in hand, Paul bids husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, to love them even as they love their own bodies. These last words introduce another motive for love to the wife, a motive which is at once more fully developed. To love one’s wife, is to love himself: and all are careful to feed and protect their own bodies. Since we are members of the Body of Christ, this care for our own body has a divine counterpart in Christ’s kindness to the Church. The double analogy involved in this argument, viz. that the human body consisting of head and members has one counterpart in the relation of husband and wife and another spiritual counterpart in the relation of Christ to the Church, Paul supports by a quotation from Genesis which asserts that husband and wife are one flesh as though parts of one living body. He adds that in this quotation he is referring to Christ and the Church. He thus finds in the Bible strong support for his second motive for love to the wife, viz. that in loving her the husband is loving himself. The Apostle concludes by repeating, and placing side by side, the mutual duties of husband and wife.

This section is throughout characteristic of Paul. As in his earlier Epistles the duties of to-day are enforced by reference to broad and abiding principles. Thus, as ever with him, little details of common life are raised into dignity. And these details are made an occasion of expounding broad principles, which thus receive important practical illustration. The O.T. quotation finds for the relation of the Church to Christ an important and most instructive counterpart in the original constitution of our race. We notice also, as before, Paul’s fairness. While defending the rights of the weaker, he does not forget the obligations involved in those rights.


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Ephesians 5:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. 1877-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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