Ephesians 5 is a chapter with a very distinct outline, and knowing this outline helps us greatly in our interpretation of some of Paul’s more confusing teachings. Based on the grammar and wording Paul uses, here is the outline as I see it, beginning in verse 15
Title: Be very careful how you live (v.15)
I. Don’t be unwise but be wise (v.15)
II. Don’t be foolish but be understanding of God’s will (v.17)
III. Don’t get drunk but be filled with the Holy Spirit (v.18)
A. speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (v.19)
B. Sing and make music form your heart to the Lord (v.19)
C. Give thanks to God in everything (v.20)
D. Submit to each other out of love for Christ (v.21)
1. Wives, to your husbands (v. 22)
2. Husbands to your wives (v. 25)
3. Children to your parents (6:1)
4. Parents (fathers specifically) to your children (6:4)
5. Slaves to your masters (6:5)
6. Masters to your slaves (6:9)
The three main points are all written as parallels. The 4 subpoints are also written as parallels. And the 6 sub-subpoints are all written as parallels.
This particular look at this section reveals a few things. Paul’s seeming prohibition against drinking is not about teetotaling at all (elsewhere he suggests to Timothy to have a glass of wine before bed for his upset stomach) but is part of a long argument about ethics (be careful how you live) and specifically about who you allow to control your behavior. Similarly, Paul’s command that wives submit to their husbands is a sub point under his main point that as Christians we should all be submitting to each other: wives to husbands, but also husbands to wives. Children to parents but also parents to children. Slaves (employees in our current context) to the masters (bosses) but also bosses to their employees. Submission means to put the needs of another above your own, in essence to put them first, and this is the whole point of Christ’s love for us and His command that we love one another.
It’s amazing what a little grammar work can do for our historical misunderstandings!
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