Monday, December 7, 2009

Ephesians 5:21–33 Part 3: Contemporary Application

Contemporary readers must not uncritically apply the domestic codes to our context because they live in such a different context. As Thompson points out, “No one seriously attempts to transfer the instructions to slaves to our own time.”[1] Hull also says, “How is it that most modern Christians seem to be able to ignore the dress code as culturally determined and not binding, even while many insist that the house code is transcultural and permanently binding?”[2] So, these domestic codes should not be used by contemporary readers to support male domination or to encourage women to stay in abusive relationships.

Mark Heim notes that feminist and womanist theologians have critiqued certain traditional atonement theologies by charging that they “glorify innocent suffering and encourage people to passively accept roles as surrogate suffers for others.”[3] These theologians argue that atonement theologians can thus be abused to justify women and children enduring abuse. Heim shares a story from Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker’s Proverbs of Ashes about a woman who went to her priest to ask advice about what she should do about her abusive husband. The priest to her to “rejoice in my sufferings because they bring me closer to Jesus. . . . He said, ‘If you love Jesus, accept the beatings and bear them gladly, as Jesus bore the cross.’”[4] Heim agrees with these feminist and womanist criticisms arguing, “Victims of domestic abuse don’t need advice to persevere in their suffering as a way of sharing in Christ’s redemptive work.”[5] The same must be said for these household codes. For as Thurston points out, these texts have been “misused to justify the subjugation of women, slaves, and those whose identities would parallel slaves.”[6]

At the same time, these texts should not be ignored by contemporary Christians. While some scholars might say these texts are not authoritative to them because “they’re not from the real Paul,” these texts are in the canon that the church has authorized. As Thompson also argues in his discussion of the domestic code in 1 Peter, “One can neither dismiss the ancient instructions as relics of cultural values of the past nor uncritically adopt them as commandments for our own time. While submission is not rooted in the order of nature, it is far more than an ancient cultural norm to be cast aside. As the instructions to slaves indicate, submission is rooted in the cross.[7]

If the Christian concept of submission is rooted in the cross, then husbands and wives, all family members, and all Christians should “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:3–5). Sampley also notes, “Eph. 5:21–33 is one of the contributing factors in the Christian tradition’s high regard for marriage.”[8]

So, as Neller points out, “The ideal relationship between a husband and wife is defined by the concept of a mutual submission patterned after and in deference to the example modeled by Christ.”[9] This connects with Mark Hamilton’s idea that verses 21–33 does not give a “comprehensive view of marriage,” but instead, “uses marriage as a metaphor for the Christian life in general. Such a life should be characterized by loyalty between Christ and the church, with a sacrificial attitude on the part of each.”[10] If all Christians would grow in their love for neighbor as themselves, learn to look out for the needs of others above themselves, and practice mutual submission that is rooted in the cross, then issues of authority and subordination in all Christian relationships, including marriage, will take care of themselves. That means that, as Hull says, wives should “love their husbands with the self-sacrificing love of Jesus” and husbands should “submit to their wives, even though the New Testament text supports a generally patriarchal model.”[11]

[1] Thompson, 391.

[2] Hull, 28.

[3] S. Mark Heim, Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 25.

[4] Ibid., 28.

[5] Ibid., 26.

[6] Thurston, Reading Colossians, Ephesians & 2 Thessalonians, 144.

[7] Thompson, 391.

[8] Sampley, 157.

[9] Neller, 259.

[10] Mark W. Hamilton, “Ephesians & Christian Moral Instruction,” in The Transforming Word: One Volume Commentary on the Bible, ed. Mark W. Hamilton (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2009), 961.

[11] Hull, 28.

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