Blogger and Pastor Scott Brown recently reported after preaching on Ephesians 5 at a wedding ceremony that this passage is the “most pro-female document ever drafted” and he cannot understand why “it has been so roundly criticized and rejected by feminist thinkers.”
While the first two responders to his post should help him understand the problem each pointing out he needed to provide more concrete evidence to support his position (the first person even sharing her troubling experience of an abusive marriage where her husband uses this passage to justify his behavior), I’ll also respond to Scott’s query.
A couple of general comments about interpreting New Testament letters might be a useful place to begin. First, these letters, gathered over the course of the developing church are what some call “conversations in context.” In other words, what we have is essentially half of a conversation. It is like we are listening in on a phone call where we hear part of the conversation and have to guess what the other part entailed. Since this is the case of these New Testament letters, we should provide interpretations that are always tempered; these are passing insights at best.
Second, since the writers of these letters (in this case, most likely NOT Paul) are responding to particular questions by a particular community, we should also be extraordinarily careful in extrapolating such instructions to communities in an entirely different time and place (read: here and now). Further, there are implications of these contextual communications for us as readers, listening in on someone else’s situation. First, we should never assume that what we learn in these letters is the most important thing to know or a summary of what the author thought was most important. Second, we should be wary of any teaching that claims whatever was said then was intended to be a guiding principle for all time.
With these caveats in mind, how can I help Pastor Scott Brown understand why some may, in fact, NOT see Ephesians 5.22-23 as a favor to feminists despite his claim that there most likely isn’t another document calling men to a higher level of sacrifice than this passage in Ephesians?
Let’s focus on just this one point, Scott, since so many overlook the problematic parallel. In suggesting relationships between women and men are to mirror that of Christ and the church, there is a glaring obstacle, one that your first responder pointed out because she experiences the results on a regular basis. Jesus actually did die. He willingly went to the cross. The Ephesians’ metaphor breaks down too readily because men in relationships with women are not actually dying and it is too easy to say men should love women as Christ loved the church.
Moreover, this metaphor suggests men are in closer proximity to Jesus than women are. While this may seem unimportant I imagine if you were on the other side, the one always furthest away from divinity, you would begin to feel and to understand the problem.
So, perhaps, Scott, this is a good place to start. Rather than tell women they should see this passage as affirming, listening to the scores of women who through the years have found it anything but helpful is a good first step.
Women: what say you?