by Robert Brow ( Kingston, Ontario February 2008

 John Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, 1992 was an
 instant bestseller. Fifty million copies were sold in 45 languages.
 Now sixteen years, after three other books with similar titles, John
 Gray has published Why Mars and Venus Collide. This book covers more
 or less the same areas of difference but includes recent research on
 the hormones involved in stress.

 Paul's account of the different roles of men and women was published
 just under 2000 years ago. As part of the New Testament it is still
 a best seller every year in a thousand languages :

 "Be subject to one another out of reverence for the Messiah. Wives, be
 subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord . . . Husbands, love
 your wives, just as the Messiah loved the church and gave himself up
 for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing
 of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in
 splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind - yes, so
 that she may holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands
 should love their wives as their own. He who loves his wife loves
 himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but nourishes and
 tenderly cares for it, just as the Messiah does for the church,
 because we are members of his body . . . This is a great mystery, and
 I am applying it to the Messiah and the church. Each of you, however,
 should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her
 husband" (Ephesians 5:21-33).

 This is what I wrote in the Commentary on Ephesians

 Many women read "Wives be subject to your husbands" and immediately
 write Paul off as the worst kind of male chauvinist. But it is
 important to begin with the context of the mutual submission of all
 members of a Christian community to one another. "Be subject to one
 another out of reverence to the Messiah" (5:21). No football team
 could make it without a huge amount of mutual submission. And Paul
 uses the human body as an example of all parts (members) listening and
 submitting to one another (see notes on 4:1-13). Here "be subject to
 one another" (5:21) introduces and governs the three mutual
 submissions of husbands and wives (5:25-33), children and parents
 (6:1-4), slaves (servants, employees) and slave owners (employers,
 6:5-9). He had previously referred to the huge mutual submission of
 Jews and Greeks from radically different backgrounds (2:11-18, 3:6,

 As a proof that Paul had moved from the patriarchal submission of
 women that he had learned as a Rabbi, he has already defined marriage
 as a tenfold mutual submission of husbands and wives. "The husband
 should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to
 her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body,
 but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority
 over his own body but the wife does" (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). "For the
 unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving
 wife is made holy through her husband" (1 Corinthians 7:14).

 This means that the submissions in a Christian community are not
 hierarchical in the sense of superiors having authority over
 inferiors. There are no superiors and inferiors in the church. In each
 case we have to ask what the members are engaged in doing, and that
 will explain the kind of submission that is needed. In our day a man
 might usually put out the garbage and keep the car serviced, but if he
 is away on a business trip or in hospital she does what is needed. The
 emphasis on equality is often taken to mean that all the chores of a
 home must be divided equally. That is as mindless as suggesting that a
 football team must give equal time for every player to be quarter
 back, receiver, kicker, manager and coach.

 5:21 The Greek present participle upotassomenoi means "continually
 being placed under." It is not an imperative. So we might translate
 "In our concern for the body of the Messiah we Christians are
 continually placing ourselves under each other in different
 situations." In raising children a mother places herself under her
 baby's need for milk, diaper change, play and protection. In a Sunday
 morning service we place ourselves in turn under the organist, the
 readers, the preacher, the ushers, the treasurer, the Sunday School
 teachers, and those who prepared the lunch. In a good choir the
 singers are not soloists, but they place themselves under the tempo
 and voice level of each other for a perfect harmony. A square dance is
 impossible without submission to the caller and to others in the

 5:22 When we apply this principle in marriage a wife places herself
 under her husband for certain functions, and he places himself under
 his wife in other situations (5:28). Which means that headship is not
 hierarchical from the top down, but it depends on the situation. She
 may help him by passing the tools when he is under the car, but he
 "submits" to her when she is cooking. Either might write the checks
and keep the accounts. It is not  equality but mutuality that is needed.

 5:23-24 In the ancient world where the man was usually the bread
 earner, headship meant that his wife had to submit to the requirements
 and location of his work. In our world when a woman is the prime bread
 earner, her husband needs to submit to her headship. Paul knows that,
 as head of the body, our Lord submits to the needs of every member (as
 in 4:13-16). Similarly a wife's "putting herself under" her husband is
 set in the context of a lover and loved-one relationship. "Husbands
 should love their own wives as they do their own bodies . . . just as
 the Messiah does for the church" (5:28-29). This shows that harsh male
 chauvinistic demands for submission are not at all what Paul had in
 mind. The words "in everything" do not mean a one-sided submission,
 but the loving mutuality of each with the other (as in 1 Corinthians

 5:25 Women who enjoy ballroom dancing delight in the headship of a
 good dancer. And most women would settle for a husband's headship if
 they felt he loved them (in sickness and in health) the way the
 Messiah loves his church. What women find intolerable is male demands for
 submission without the assurance of nourishing and tender love (as
 defined in 5:28-29).

  5:26-27 In the ancient world women were often married as chattel for
 the man's pleasure and desire for children. Their mental development
 and creativity was of no concern. Jesus treated women seriously and
 welcomed them to discipleship on the same basis as men (John 4:1,
 5-27, as the disciples continued to do after the Day of Pentecost,
 Acts 5:14, 9:1-2, 16:13-15). Paul wanted men to encourage their wives
 to enjoy the Word of God, and give them the opportunity to develop all
 their gifts and creativity. This is the way the Lord wants his church
 to grow in perfection. Women are certainly included in the words
 "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever
 is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is
 any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about
 these things" (Philippians 4:8). And wherever churches of the Spirit
 have been planted in any culture women have been freed to grow in
 every area of the arts, literature, and the sciences.

 5:28-31 If I feel a tiny rock in my shoe, I stop and deal with the
 problem. Similarly Paul wants me to feel, and be concerned about,
 every ache and discomfort that bothers my wife. And the reason is that
 this is the way the Messiah who is head of the church in each place
 "nourishes and tenderly cares for"every member of his church. Paul
 takes this principle back to the intended oneness of sexual union.
 "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his
 wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). As we have noted
 earlier in this chapter (5:3) what is wrong with sleeping around,
 prostitution, and sex without commitment, is that the oneness of
 marriage is immediately terminated by divorce (as argued in 1
 Corinthians 6:16). This tearing apart for sexual pleasure is to be
 replaced by the loving commitment that Paul commends.

 5:32-33 Paul admits that the mystery (see 3:3, 4, 5, 9) of the
 Messiah's relationship and love for the church gathered in each place
 is hard to fathom. It can only be hinted at and pictured by the image
 of a human body and marriage as it was intended to be. But at least
 men can begin by learning to love as they "nourish and tenderly" care
 for their wives (5:29). Paul does not ask women to love in exactly the
 same way, but they can respect the attempts of their Christian
 husbands as they try to do this.


Robert Brow


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