Posted by: irreparabiletempus | April 9, 2009

Having some Word(s)

The other day in my small group, we were going over Ephesians 5:22 (wives, submit to your husbands) and the surrounding verses. As you can imagine, this was a bit of a touchy subject, so I will try to tell enough facts of what transpired for the purpose of this post without infringing on family group confidentiality (yes, I am a dorky law student). I was interested in diving pretty deep into the words of the text, since as a believer in the inerrancy of Scripture, it has always been hard for me to accept the patriarchal norms that come along with a literal interpretation of this passage (well, it wasn’t as hard for me back when I was attending a single-sex high school, but it’s gotten progressively harder since then).

One phrase I was particularly interested in was the command in verse 33 that men must love their wives, and women must respect their husbands. I am not married nor particularly wise in the way of relationships, but I have always thought that love and respect must be present on both sides of any successful romantic relationship. Why did Paul think women needed to be urged to give respect, and men to give love? However, no one else in my small group seemed to think that there was a difference between ‘love’ and ‘respect.’

Just as a question of textual interpretation, the existence of a normative difference between love and respect is a no-brainer. If the words meant the same thing, then why would Paul have used different Greek phrases to begin with? I can’t even begin to imagine a grammatical argument that could treat love and respect as synonyms.

I did not really press the issue at the small group and after a little bit of thought, I decided that we were approaching the issue from two different angles. My small group was looking to extract the general message from the passage that would supplement their current understanding of Scripture, and I was looking to discover the meaning of contrary passages, that seemed to urge a regressive understanding of gender norms, that seemed to indicate that wives really were subordinate to their husbands. I was honestly interested in seeing if a close reading of Ephesians 5 would subvert the traditionalist understanding of the passage.

In other words, I was thinking like a law student analyzing a statute or a case. It is practically unthinkable that any attorney or judge would ignore the difference in meaning between two words like ‘respect’ and ‘love’ while analyzing a statute. Whole forests have been sacrificed to the cause of analyzing statutory construction. And given that these passages were inspired by a divine, infallible God, shouldn’t every word be given a far closer reading than legislation that is often the product of a faulty compromise between all-too-fallible legislators? After three years of law school, it’s really impossible for me to read the Bible the same way again. Little seeming contradictions in the passages like the difference between love and respect pop up at me nearly every time I read extended passages of scripture, especially in Paul’s works.

I’m not ready to go the whole jadanzzy ‘everything I don’t like in the Bible is just cultural’ route yet (and that’s a discussion for a whole ‘nother day), but I would like to go over a number of passages with a serious inerrancy scholar to determine if a literal interpretation of the Scripture that takes it seriously as being inerrant can still salvage a progressive interpretation of many seemingly-regressive passages of scripture.



  1. Have you checked this out?

    That’s one source I looked to when I had the same questions several years ago.

  2. I’m not ready to go the whole jadanzzy ‘everything I don’t like in the Bible is just cultural’ route yet (and that’s a discussion for a whole ‘nother day)

    oh snap! look forward to that discussion 🙂

  3. I didn’t take that personally. Mr tempus is a joker. And no, I’m not an opportunist when it comes to the Bible. 🙂

  4. Have you ever read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism By John Piper & Wayne Grudem?

    I believe I started the book with a non-gender role assignment and particularly feminist, possibly even asexual mindset. After I finished reading it, I’ve come to a perspective that has elements of progressive and chauvinistic-like nuances.

    To sum up the book, I would say that it mostly says that feminism has had very good results, but has also given rise to some very un-biblical thinking. The problem it tries to come to terms with is how NOT to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We have been so busy tearing down walls and barriers, we have forgotten to ask ourselves who set them up and why…

    Being progressive just for the sake of it is not enough. Just like being purely traditionalist runs into similar pitfalls.

  5. @documentia and ha256-thanks for the suggestions, I have not visited that site nor read that book, but they are both going on my summer reading list. I agree that unthinking progressivism is just as dangerous as unthinking traditionalism, and I look forward to learning more about this issue.

    @jadanzzy, your day is coming.

  6. Honestly, I think “complementarianism” (the viewpoint espoused by Mssrs. Piper and Grudem) is just a sugar-coated way of telling women to go sit at the back of the bus.

    I would recommend Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy from IVP:

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