Winger, Thomas M. "The Gospel in God's Order: The Bridegroom and the Bride: 5:21b-33." Ephesians. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014, 598-653.
Winger opens his comments on Ephesians 5:21b-33 by evaluating the participle normally translated as "being subordinate." The participle may depend on the verb in verse 18 or it may stand independently (Winger 2014, 598-599). Winger considers it important to understand the participle as dependent on a finite verb when possible, so he considers it here to belong to the verb in verse 18 (Winger 2014, 600). However, Winger does not consider the concept of mutual submission to be appropriately applied to the marital relationship outside of the greater context, extending through 6:9. The term ὑποτάσσω rightly describes our relation to God, but not an individual relationship (Winger 2014, 601). Being placed in an ordered relationship precludes mutual submission. The relationship cannot be reversed (Winger 2014, 602).
The subordination the Ephesians are called to is to be "in the fear of Christ" (Winger 2014, 603). Winger notes that "fear" of God is not simply reverential respect. It involves an element of terror due to God's holiness and ability to judge his people.
Ephesians 5:22 starts a series of three pairings which must be observed. Here, wives are to submit to their own husbands (Winger 2014, 604). Winger observes that the words "in the Lord" clarify that a wife's submission to her husband is tantamount to her submitting to the Lord (Winger 2014, 605). Verse 23 goes on with a justification for the submission. Here we see the husband as the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his Church (Winger 2014, 605). The husband's headship is therefore patterned on the headship of Christ. The distinction of roles based on that headship is important. "The wife cannot take on the role of head in the marriage because that would imply that the church can act as her own savior" (Winger 2014, 606). Verse 24 continues to describe this relationship in terms of the church, which is subordinate to Christ (Winger 2014, 607).
Ephesians 5:25 turns the relational coin to its other side. The husbands are to love their wives. Winger observes this would be counter-intuitive to the original readers, who would expect the husbands to be good rulers, who enforce submission (Winger 2014, 608). The instructions to husbands are significantly longer than those to wives, but actually focus on Christ, as Paul is intent on building a theological view of life and marriage. In verse 26 the husband works as a type of Christ, preparing the wife for holiness as God in Christ, the antitype, prepares the church (Winger 2014, 609-610). Winger takes the manner of cleansing "with the washing of water in the word" to be a clear reference to a sacramental view of baptism, which creates a unified and holy people in Ephesians (Winger 2014, 611). The washing is effectual and leads to the outcome described in verse 27. The bride/church is presented in purity, as Christ has accomplished atonement (Winger 2014, 612). The bride is presented to Christ in baptism, which makes her pure. As Christ gave himself to purify his people, in verse 28 the husband is to love his wife as he does his own body (Winger 2014, 614). Winger takes Paul's use of "as" (their own bodies) not to mean "like" but "since." The husbands love their wives because they are one flesh (Winger 2014, 615).
Winger sees the material in Ephesians 5:28 to serve as an introduction to verses 29-32. Because the husbands love their wives, who are part of themselves, they are motivated in the positive relationship (Winger 2014, 615). Verse 29, rather hyperbolically, describes the universal tendency to care about ourselves. Paul ties the idea to Christ's care for the church, which he protects no matter what (Winger 2014, 616). The church, drawn from Christ, consists of members of his body.
Ephesians 5:31 moves on to quote Genesis 2:24, indicating that the church came from Christ's side as the woman came from the man's side (Winger 2014, 617). The quotation is not introduced as we might expect, but Winger notes it refers directly back to Ephesians 5:30, thus speaking more to the nature of Christ and church than to the nature of marriage. Human marriage is intended to point to Christ (Winger 2014, 618). Winger describes Jesus' humiliation in some detail in terms of the man leaving his mother and father to be joined to his wife. According to verse 32, the mystery is great, that Jesus could do this (Winger 2014, 620). Marriage expresses the mystery of the Gospel. In verse 33, then, Paul draws back to the more specific implications to marriage. Husbands must love their wives and wives must honor/fear their husbands (Winger 2014, 625).
Winger observes that the pericopes in the later part of Ephesians become longer than those at the start of the letter. 5:21-33 may be seen as a whole, but the topic might begin as early as 4:17 and run as far as 6:9 (Winger 2014, 627). He cautions against attempts to draw very small divisions. Winger then proposes that readers observe a shift at 5:21 "not from God's work to man's work, but from God's work in Baptism to God's work in worship, understood most broadly as embracing the entire Christian life" (Winger 2014, 628). The shift may have a parallel in Romans 12:1. Consistent with this view, Winger takes the participles in verses 19, 20, and 21 to be closely related to the verb "be filled" in verse 18. The thrust of the passage is a life rooted in the Holy Spirit (Winger 2014, 629).
Winger emphasizes that Ephesians 5:22 does not suggest a reciprocal sort of subordination. Rather, it indicates a need for a life which is appropriately ordered (Winger 2014, 629-630). Verse 21 then is not referring to husband and wife submitting to each other, but to all the relationships discussed through 6:9, with their own particular lines of authority and submission. All of the relationships can be seen to have a figure of Christ and a figure of the church. Our job is to discern our place and act accordingly (Winger 2014, 630).
Since Winger considers the overall structure of Ephesians 5:21b-33 as an explication of Christ and the church, he explores the countercultural nature of the teaching in terms of marriage (Winger 2014, 633). In particular, Paul's view that the husband should sacrifice himself for his wife would have seemed revolutionary to his earliest readers (Winger 2014, 634). Winger thinks we would look in vain for any statements of the period which followed the Pauline pattern. Though some elements may be discerned, the whole picture is absent (Winger 2014, 635). In contrast to the broader culture, it is the Gospel work of the husband, laying down his life for his bride, which dominates the passage. The leader exercises his authority for the good of the subordinate (Winger 2014, 636). The order is given by God, and is a good thing. Winger does observe that the passage doesn't address failures in these relationships (Winger 2014, 638). Authority and subordination in human relationships are not absolute. The disobedience of one member in a relationship does not grant license to the other to disobey God. Ephesians 5, however, only addresses those who are willing participants in Christ's kingdom.
In modern Western society, subordination is often seen as demeaning. Winger emphasizes that by being subordinate Paul in no way suggests inferiority (Winger 2014, 639). The person placed in authority is clearly there to care for the well being of the subordinate. In the Bible, the authority figure is uniformly seen as a servant of God, caring for subordinates (Winger 2014, 640). Winger therefore describes the subordinate as being in the position of advantage. Again, this is a commentary on the life of God's people, who are far better off as they submit to his leadership than if they don't (Winger 2014, 642).
Winger identifies five characteristics of subordination in Ephesians (Winger 2014, 642ff). It is a feature inherent in creation. It is part of the order shown in Christ's work of redemption, where there is a subordination and an exaltation involved. Because of Christ's work, it is more significant within Christianity than in the civil realm, since relationships serve as a picture of Christ and church. Subordination is thus seen as a gift of the Holy Spirit. In the end it becomes an act of worship. These characteristics set Paul apart from his greater cultural context, and from ours.
The marriage relationship is fundamentally ordered by the biblical pattern of subordination (Winger 2014, 646). Rather than being an attempt at dominance and oppression, marriage becomes an opportunity to live within the promised blessings of an ordered life. Winger notesthat, while the term ὑποτάσσω in the passive is often translated as "obey," the meaning is more broad, more akin to "be subordinate" (Winger 2014, 648). Paul uses other, more common, words for obedience. The greater thrust of Paul's argument is that the subordinate role is one which receives care from the superior. In this way it is a picture of the church receiving blessings from God, exactly the way the relationship with God was pictured throughout the Old Testament (Winger 2014, 650). Though Paul is teaching about marriage in Ephesians 5:21b-33, he is more importantly teaching about the relationship between Christ and the church (Winger 2014, 652). The marriage is about the gospel.