Thursday, May 03, 2012


Ultimately, each one of us is responsible to find the meaning of the sacred text of scripture as best we can. This should be done while always bearing in mind a couple of important guidelines. One is that it takes the Holy Spirit to come to ANY true understanding of that text. The second is that, with all our study, prayer, and searching for real meaning, we are not infallible in EITHER our research OR our ability to hear clearly from the Spirit. That is not discounting His ability to show us, but it is recognizing our fallibility in being willing to always hear what the Spirit of God says to us about it.

History shows us the value of being willing to question and even say what our disagreement is with what has traditionally been held as truth on some issues. Luther and his disagreement with the Roman Church over the meaning of scripture, Wesley, with his disagreement with the Anglican Church, and finally Benjamin Keach, the Baptist pastor who appeared before Lord Chief Justice Hyde and defend his views against infant baptism which went against the Church of England, all attest to that fact.

Real openness takes a "The bible means what it means" mentality, instead of the far too easily said, "The bible means what it says," mentality. Since knowing only what has been taught us without examining it is never healthy, it is the search for the "meaning" of scripture that can drive us on to examine, study, interpret, and even change where we might need to in our understanding.

Notice I've made no mention of "culture" on either side. I'll grant that those who disagree with me believe they understand the bible and believe they are not following their culture. Although it would be impossible, perhaps, for anyone to be completely free from some kind of cultural influence when interpreting scripture, I would ask for the same respect from the other side about a sincere effort on my part regarding my conclusions. I try to deal with the text with as little bias as possible culturally also.

I am now going to deal with one of several things I believe the Spirit is showing me about certain texts teeming with truths [hence the title] that I had never troubled myself to re-examine___until the last few years. My subject is one of many I hope to eventually examine on this blog. But that will take any number of posts and some time. This first issue does, however, show why I fall closer to what we've looked at as the "Egalitarian" idea in theology. Our topic is.....

MUTUAL SUBMISSION______[Ephesians 5:17-22]

This is a biggy. I was told early on in my life and ministry that this Ephesians passage CLEARLY shows that the man is the "boss" over the wife like Jesus is the "boss" over the Church. That's clear [they said] because the woman is told to submit to him, but he is not told to do likewise. That idea was reinforced with the one other passage that mentioned the "head" thing as well. [1 Corinthians 11:3] It seemed to be the only way it could be taken. So I lived it and I preached it. The man is "head meaning boss" over the woman and family, Ephesians 5 says so! That's enough for me!

Then one day I began to search this text anew for myself. What was said wasn't as clear as I'd been told. In fact I've begun to think Paul would be a bit ticked at the words we put in his mouth instead of finding out what he really meant. I began to see he was talking about something other than "authority"ALTOGETHER. It was, in fact, MUTUAL SUBMISSION he was speaking of and without seeing this, the rest of the chapter will NEVER be correctly understood. I've come to now believe mutual serving/submission is the whole key to correctly understanding those very few passages that lend themselves to the "boss" idea. We'll look at them all eventually, as I said.

In this Ephesians text I found that there is only ONE imperative [command] in the whole passage. That is found in Ephesians 5:18. Don't be drunk but do be filled with the Spirit. [Paraphrased] OK! Then what are verses 19-21 saying if they are not commands? They are simply two present active participles and one present passive participle that all show the RESULTS of obeying the command to be filled with the Spirit. Verse 19 shows that a Spirit-filled person will be [notice 'be' not 'do'] joyful as evidenced by singing and making melody in their heart is how it's said. Verse 20 shows that a Spirit-filled person will be [there it is again..'be' not 'do'] grateful as evidenced by giving thanks in everything is how it is said. Verse 21 shows that a Spirit-filled person will be a servant. But here it changes to a present middle participle because it is showing it is a voluntary heart issue of serving or submission that is being described. [The middle voice means it comes from the heart [inside[ and not because it is commanded. [Outside]] Being joyful, grateful and a servant to one another. That's real Christianity produced by the Holy Spirit.

Whatever else a Christian looks like, they look like that. Paul is drawing on the truth spoken by Jesus that says "He that is greatest is servant of all" and while the Gentiles seek to "boss" others, it is not to be that way among Christians. This is the backdrop and context that all else is said here. This is what the language of Paul means here.

 It is only then that Paul begins to show how Spirit-filled living shows up in marriage and family life. Verse 21 has already shown it will be by being a servant "one to another." By the way, that 21st verse can't be restricted by making it refer JUST to the Church. The text doesn't say just the church is being talked about here at all. That's eisegesis, reading something into the text instead of exegesis, drawing something out of the text. Besides, the New Testament doesn't address the family with a clear cut separation from the local church anyway since they met in family units culturally. ALL of Ephesians is written to the Church and any "one another" statement in that passage applies to husbands and wives and the whole of the family. It is speaking of a "mutual submission/serving" that is supposed to show up in the marriage and family [as per the rest of the chapter] as it does in ALL believers.

So ...Paul begins by saying in verse 22 "Wives to your own husbands just as you do the Lord. Notice, the word 'Submit" doesn't appear in the verse as the KJV shows it to be. The better translations recognize this and don't have it there. In other words, Spirit-filled wives will have a heart for serving as indicated by verse 21 and it will be ESPECIALLY toward their own husbands in a Christ-like manner is what is meant in verse 22. [By the way, this word "submit" is totally different than the one about children which follows in 6:1.]

Now here is what I found NEW and textually TRUE in a way I'd not before seen. This is critical. See this and the rest of what is meant will come through. There is nothing about AUTHORITY here at all. Serving isn't COMMANDED in the text BECAUSE she's a woman. It's because the Spirit always brings about a servant's heart that serves others and THAT'S what is being addressed here. Whether it's a wife or, as we'll see later, a husband or any Christian.

Paul doesn't use either of two perfectly good and understood Greek words for "authority" here. He's not talking about authority! Why should he! In fact, his use of "Head," as a metaphor, doesn't mean "authority" either as I'll eventually show. If "head" is understood correctly in this passage it WON'T BE SEEN as referencing authority at all. In fact, Paul had already shown the "authority" of Christ in Ephesians 1:22 where he says, because of the resurrection, Christ has had, metaphorically speaking, all THINGS PUT UNDER HIS FEET." That speaks of His authority. It is also said of Him in 1:22 that He has become the "Head" of the Church. But that's not speaking of His authority. Being under His feet speaks of that. Being the "Head" of the Church is referencing something else entirely as we will see later. I can't say it too strongly. AUTHORITY is NOT the reason serving or submitting is spoken of here. It is the result of being Spirit-filled that men AND women mutually serve one another. Later [v25] a man's serving is called "love your wives as Christ loved the Church." But love is not less serving than submission. It is simply a description of the man's way of serving his wife. it's all about serving and NONE about AUTHORITY.

In fact, the ONLY place in the New Testament where the Greek word for "authority" is used in reference to marriage and as something between a husband and wife is in 1 Corinthians 7 where it says a woman DOES NOT have "authority" over her own body in regards to sex in marriage [mutually abstaining] and a man DOES NOT have "authority" over his own body in regards to sex [mutually abstaining] in marriage. So the ONLY place where "authority" is actually mentioned between a husband and wife in the entire bible is a place where it says the other has it. So much for the man being "boss" over everything. He's not even "boss" over his own body in a marriage. But the woman isn't "boss" either.

The point is both are to be serving "one another" [mutual serving/submission] as stated in Eph. 5:21, because Jesus is "Boss"." [Lord] Fortunately, for both men and women, there is neither a command for the wife to unilaterally submit nor a command for the husband to make certain she does submit to him or anyone else for that matter. It's a heart issue for both. Let's get off this "boss" thing. There is only one "boss" for any Christian and his name isn't________. It's Jesus! But, someone says, there HAS to be SOMEONE in charge in a marriage. There is. "Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess, but do be filled-with the Spirit." In joy and gratitude we will serve one another in the power of the Spirit and things will happen relationally as they should. Try it and see.

Well, then what does "head" mean if it doesn't mean "boss?" Next time we'll see.

Paul B.


Off The Cuff said...

Bro. Paul,

I appreciate your healthy approach to bible study. I believe that this is where many make their first mistake.

(Story) Years ago, I was visiting a friend. As I approached the house, his dog was viciously barking. “Don’t worry”, my friend said, “he doesn’t bite.” Moments later the dog was firmly attached to my leg. Since then, I have learned to be something of a skeptic.

It was in the late 70’s that I first began to hear the phrase “Inherent, infallible word of God.” Being the skeptic that I am, I began to question those who made that statement. The few who I managed to corner would sheepishly confess that inherency existed only in the original autographs, which of course, negates the statement. Nevertheless, we have now, a generation of men and women who have grown up with that phrase firmly implanted in their psyche and thus they choose not to question what seems to be so clearly stated, such as “the husband is the head of the wife”. Personally, I do not believe that the Bible is infallible in every jot and tittle, nor in every word or phrase. I do believe that it is infallible in the way that it points us. .” The Bible is best understood from the outside in, rather than the inside out. The beauty of a mosaic can never be appreciated if one constantly views it under a microscope. Only from a distance does the picture become clear and in focus. After we see, and fully understand, the big picture we can then move in for a closer look. The Bible is a picture of God’s love, forgiveness and redemption offered to a people who were created to reflect His image. Only when that picture is clearly in focus can we move in and inspect the sharp, jagged and often misfited pieces that go together to create the picture.

Again, I am inspired by your writings. I appreciate the honesty and openness with which you approach scripture. I am of the opinion that no one has the right to speak authoritatively on any scripture until he/she has wrestled with it for a while. Knowing that you continue to wrestle makes your blog worth reading.
Have a Great Day!
God Bless!

Paul Burleson said...

Off the C,

Your "big picture" and then the, "sharp, jagged and often misfited pieces" analogy is wonderful. Thank you for the snapshot of your past also.

I REALLY appreciate it when you join in both here and a number of other blogs as well.

Aussie John said...


I would echo Off the C's comments regarding your approach to study, and hisbeing skeptical. I would think the latter is about Acts 17:11.

You said,"I began to see he was talking about something other than "authority"ALTOGETHER. It was, in fact, MUTUAL SUBMISSION he was speaking of and without seeing this, the rest of the chapter will NEVER be correctly understood."

Some years ago,it was the understanding of this which jolted me into a search to find the truth about how we had traditionally been guided.

Was I in for a surprise!

"In joy and gratitude we will serve one another in the power of the Spirit and things will happen relationally as they should. Try it and see".

Those last four words cause me to think of 1 Corinthians 2, especially 2:14.

Bissy said...

amazing detailed blog:)
im a new blogger, my blog is based on books

dont forget to leave the link to your blog so i can follow you! hope you will do the same!:)

Kristen said...

I really like the way you have followed the thread of the message to find mutual submission's root in being filled with the Spirit. Very insightful.

Jennifer said...

Good stuff; I'm looking forward to hearing more...