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Do the household codes break the structure of Ephesians 5:18ff?

Posted by on Dec 5, 2012 in scripture | 3 comments

Do the household codes break the structure of Ephesians 5:18ff?

In my last post, “In Scripture, are grammar and structure important?“, I explained how several of us had a very encouraging discussion of the grammar and sentence structure of Ephesians 5:18-22. That’s the sentence that begins with “Do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and ends with “… submitting to one another…, wives [submit] to your own husbands…” (Ephesians 5:21-22).

But, if you’re familiar with this section of Ephesians, you know that following Ephesians 5:21 is a section of Scripture often referred to as the “household codes.” In Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Paul discusses three pairs of relationships: husband/wife, children/parents (fathers), and slaves/masters. These pairs of relationships are often discussed in ancient literature (both Scripture and nonScripture) as the makeup of the family or household.

This section of Scripture surely belongs together, with Paul describing how our new relationship with God affects all of our family relationships as well. (For, even though many ancient authors discuss these three pairs of relationships, Paul modifies the interactions for those who are now in Christ.) But, if this section should be held together as a unit, how does this affect my previous suggestion that Ephesians 5:22 (the instructions for wives) follows from Ephesians 5:21 (“submitting to one another…”) which further follows from Ephesians 5:18 (“be filled with the Spirit”)?

As I see it, there are three options:

1) Ephesians 5:22 is NOT part of the previous structure (i.e., from Ephesians 5:18), but instead begins a new, separate unit.

2) Ephesians 5:22-6:9 (the “household codes”) are NOT a unit and should instead be divided, with the first part (about wives) going with the previous section, while the following parts (husbands, children, parents, slaves, masters) being unrelated.

3) Ephesians 5:22-6:9 (the “household codes”) ARE a unit and, therefore, also fall under (within) the structure of Ephesians 5:18 and following.

For now, I think the grammar and structure of the passage are best understood in option 3 above. That is, the “household codes” continue the thought that Paul started in Ephesians 5:18, and thus are results of being filled with the Spirit. Furthermore, the “household codes” are all illustrations of “submitting to one another…” (from Ephesians 5:21).

Once again, our discussion of grammatical analysis and structural analysis lead to a discussion of being filled with the Spirit and how that should look in our lives. This time, the focus turns away from only how wives interact with their husbands and turns to the interactions within any family relationship.

Of course, this discussion pointed out something else important. If we miss the importance of being filled with the Spirit (which results in certain types of interactions among family members), and if we instead focus only on the relationships themselves, then we may begin relying on our own abilities to interact with one another in ways that can only happen in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

So, again, grammar and structure are important, and studying grammar and structure of Scripture lead directly to both understanding Scripture better and to exhortations to being filled with the Spirit.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-5-2012

    Excellent point Allan!
    Your point reminds me of how simple Jesus made it for us, as he demonstrated and told us to be child like, simple concerning evil, trusting and surrendered to God.
    Our Adamic impulse is to control but surrender and obedience without fear is the hallmark of maturity.
    I think the church has confused the mind and the spirit of man, and been duped into works for righteousness rather than works of righteousness.
    So much trouble and conflict might be avoided, and so many more souls delivered from the power of the devil if we do what He says.

  2. 12-5-2012

    This whole paragraph is a chiasm, starting with ‘submit to one another’. Marg Mowczko at does a marvelous job of illustrating this grammatical structure. There are several other chiasms in Paul’s writing. Go to Marg’s website and take a look!

  3. 12-7-2012

    Greg and Susan,

    Thanks for the comments. I love when we talk about grammar and it leads to a discussion of walking in the Spirit.



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