Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Misunderstood Bible Passages, Part 43 of 47

TEXT: "Submitting to one another in the fear of God. Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5: 21-33).

IDEA: When we interpret a passage in the Bible, we must pay attention to grammatical structure.

PURPOSE: To help listeners think about the structure of biblical texts.

If I say, "Turning the corner, the Empire State Building came into view," what do you think is happening?

Did the Empire State Building turn the corner?

Or did a person turn the corner and then see the Empire State Building?

English teachers call that a "dangling participle" because the participle (turning) modifies the wrong subject.

Grammar matters if we want to be clear.

Grammar also matters when we read biblical texts.

I. We can misapply a biblical text when we put the wrong words together.

Sarah Sumner,  dealing with Ephesians 5:21-33, points out three couplets in that passage:

The wife is to submit herself to her own husband in everything and her husband is to sacrifice himself for her. So the first couplet is submission / sacrifice.

The wife is the body and the husband is the head; together they are one flesh.  So the second couplet is body / head.

The wife is commanded to respect her husband while the husband is commanded to love his wife.  So the third couplet is respect / love.

People tend to put submit with head, but grammatically we need to keep clear about the pairs of words in the passage. What can happen when we fail to do that?

When we do that, we miss the image of the wife as the husband's body and Paul's point that they are "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

II. We can't really comprehend the mystery of a husband and wife as head and body, but we can't miss the image of unity.

When the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking Him about divorce (Matthew 19), He quoted Genesis 2:24, then added, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

That was a strange answer: they asked Him about divorce and He answered them about creation—both the man and woman were created by God.

Marriage is not only a union, but also a reunion (Genesis 2:23-24).

Jesus' point was that a man and woman married are already one flesh, making divorce unthinkable.

The mystery of marriage is that two become one flesh as head and body.

When head is defined as "leader" and body is defined as "helper," the biblical mystery is lost.

What is mysterious about a leader coupled up with his helper?  Not very much.  Nor is it particularly inspiring.  But it is altogether breathtaking to see the biblical picture of body and head joined mysteriously as one.


The powerful image in Ephesians 5:21-33 isn't about a leader and a follower; it's about a head and body indissolubly joined as one.  We can miss that when we link the wrong words together as we apply the passage.