IT WAS WITH great interest that I read Judith Gundry-Volf's response to the Southern Baptist Convention's statement regarding the duty of wives to submit to their husbands ("Neither Biblical Nor Just," September-October 1998). Only days before I had read the passage in Ephesians on which this statement may in part be based. I appreciate Gundry-Volf's discussion of this passage in its context at the time of its writing. Might I however suggest that there may be another problem in our traditional reading of this passage?
Ephesians 5:22f has often been put forward as a "blueprint" for the relationship that ought to take place between a Christian couple. While I am no theologian, it seems to me that at the time of the writing of Ephesians it would be very likely that a believer would be in the minority in his or her household. A wife or husband would likely not have a believing spouse; a son or daughter (see Ephesians 6) would likely not have parents who were also believers; nor would a slave be likely to have a Christian owner. The call to "submit" would then not be a matter of "knowing one's place." Rather, it would be a call to demonstrate a faith that is, first and foremost, a relationship with God and thus a renewal of one's relationships with those around one. Social transformation is not negated by this passage (as some have suggested that Ephesians 6 justifies slavery) but, rather, it grows out of that relationship with God.
In Ephesians 5:22-24, is it possible that wives are called to submit not to Christian husbands but to non-believing ones, in order to win them over to faith in Christ? The model for Christian relationships, including the marriage relationship, may more aptly be found in Ephesians 4:25-5:20 and summed up in verse 21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."