Ephesians 5:15–27 (ESV)
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives and Husbands
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
This passage may contain the worst paragraph break in the English Bible. In preparing messages on these passages, I noticed this: that the main verb in vs 18 “. . . but be filled with the Spirit” (present passive plural) is the last imperative until vs 25, “Husbands love your wives.”
The intervening verses may be diagrammed as below (I have oversimplified the diagram). The red-underlined word indicates the imperative, and the single underline indicates a participle.
Be filled with the Spirit
addressing one another
and spiritual songs
to the Lord with your heart
always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Note that there are five adverbial participles (each are present active participles, plural, nominative, masculine) which form a “list” which modifies “be filled.” In this case, the participles take on the character of the imperative, but more than that, they describe the Spirit-filled.
If we may allow that these five attributes describe the Spirit-filled, then I wish to draw attention to the last one, “submitting to one another . . .”
It is here that I find the pericope division unfortunate: the ESV, NASB95, NIV84, NKJV all start a new section here, which leads the read to think that this is the place to start reading about wives and husbands.
Verse 22, however, is dependent upon verse 21: the verb, submit (or, as in other translations, be subject to, or be in subjection to) is supplied as an English gloss to assist the reader. Literally, verses 21 and 22 read, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, to your own husbands etc.”
The doctrine of the Christian family is challenging here, as is the practical implications of submission. But before the text is explained to wives as their duty to submit, the connection to “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” must be kept in mind, as well as its connection to the main verb. The Nestle-Aland and UBS4 both correctly place the paragraph beginning at verse 21, keeping verse 21 and 22 together.
Being Spirit-filled (a command) has five evidences, or proofs: addressing one another outwardly, singing and making melody inwardly, thanksgiving, and mutual submission (ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις)
This demands at least, then, that the idea of the wives’ submission to their husbands is not separate from all Christians’ submission to one another, and this is an outcome of being Spirit filled. Furthermore, The next imperative is in verse 25, “husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her . . .”
So to simplify,
Be filled with the Spirit
→wives to husbands
→husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church
This understanding of the text may help to avoid some of the misuse of the concept of submission in the marriage relationship.. Submission and love are both necessary outcomes of being filled with the Holy Spirit, thus making the Spirit a requirement for submission and love.
If verse 21 modifies the wives’ submission, verses 25-30 modifies the husbands’ “submission,” in that the husbands’ love for their wives is to be marked by sacrifice, even submission to the wives’ best interests.
Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Eph 5:21.