We are studying Ephesians 5:21-33 for Sunday, August 25. [Study notes on this text are here.] This may mean we’ll have a lively discussion, or it may mean we’ll have no discussion at all, because no one will want to step on anyone else’s toes. Whatever happens, here are a few questions about the text we might want to ponder on before class, or even discuss in class:
What are our past experiences with this text? What have we learned this text means? Where have we learned it, and who taught us? What thoughts and feelings have we had about that? How do we suppose all of that affects our reading of this text this morning?
Are there things we feel or think we are “supposed to” say or think or feel about this text? What are those? Why are we “supposed to” say or think or feel those things, do we think? Who taught us that?
[Mainly: this is a text that many of us will have had prior experience with, and that experience may have been in some particularly high-stakes contexts, so we will need to be aware of that, and also to recognize how it influences our reading of the text this morning.]
The word translated “reverence” in v21 and “respect” in v33 is literally “fear” – that is, in other contexts it would most likely be translated using that word. How do we feel about the idea of “fear of Christ”? Why is that, do we think? Can we think of any reasons we might fear Christ? Would we call those “good reasons”? Why or why not?
How does thinking about the “fear of Christ” in v21 affect the way we understand the use of “fear” in v33? Does that make the idea any more or less acceptable to us? Why? Does it give us any different ideas about what it means? What are those?
If we read these verses in light of 1 John 4:18 – does it make a difference? What difference? Why is that?
What do we think the author of Ephesians means here with this word? What kind of behavior, what kind of motivation, and what kind of relationships, is the author trying to encourage the readers to cultivate?
The instruction in v21 comes in the context of a longer set of instructions; the sentence seems to begin with v18 (“Don’t be drunk with wine …,” which uses an imperative verb); the next imperative verb in the original occurs in v25. Should we pay attention to this grammar? Why or why not? Does it seem to make a difference in the way we read this text? What difference? Why is that, do we think?
The Greek verb which the NRSV translates as “be subject to” is apparently a term from the military realm of ancient Greece, which refers to the organization of military units in formation. [We might want to consider how we use terms and phrases from military life, e.g., “salute,” “you’ve got KP,” “I’m on point;” who does that, why we do that, what does it mean when we do that.]
How does knowing this affect the way we think about this term? Do different examples of “being subject to” come to mind? Which ones? Why is that, do we think?
Do different examples of “being subject to” seem to be excluded by that word history? Which ones? Why is that, do we think?
In v25, the author tells men/husbands to “love” their wives the way Christ loved the church, and goes on to describe Christ’s behavior, and its theological meaning. Would we expect a commanding officer to love his troops the way Christ loved the church? If he did, what would it mean, practically? Does that affect what we think the author is saying about marriage here? How? Why is that?
The author of Ephesians uses the familiar relationship of marriage to tell the readers something about the relationship of Christ and the Church. What does the author seem to be saying about that relationship? Why do we say this?
[More political: The use of marriage to make the relationship between God and God’s people more intelligible has a long history, because Hebrew prophets repeatedly present YHWH as the husband of Israel. Isaiah 54 might be the happiest reference here. People’s ideas about marriage – what it involves, requires, can include, etc. – change some over time. Do we think this affects the way people read the Bible? How? Do we think of that as a problem? Why – or why not? Should we insist on understanding marriage today the way people did in ancient times, so that we can understand the Bible better? Why – or why not? (Sorry, don’t mind me, I have too high a personal stake in this one.)]
[A lot more political:] What do we think “the Bible tells us to do” here? Why do we say that?
[That ought to give us plenty to talk about.]