Think Again About The Pattern Paul Uses In Ephesians 5


The passage in Ephesians 5:22-32 is built around two linchpin verbs. Now we can see it!

Here are the famous verses people tend to think are primarily about marriage. They are not that. They are part of a larger passage and may be turned on their head if they are taken out of the context of the passage that runs from Ephesians 5:15 to 6:9 and even beyond.

The verses in this part of the Bible are about Christ and the church. Paul leaves no wiggle room for people to miss his point. In verse 32 he writes, “… I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”

On either side of this momentous declaration Paul wove a tapestry of ideas using Hebrew word forms and patterns. All of this was to help believers live a Spirit-filled life applying his words that introduce this passage (Ephesians 5:15): “Therefore be careful how you walk…” Or, follow carefully these patterns to live united with each other in Christ.

There is a misunderstood series of word patterns here. These are difficult to spot for readers who use a modern language translation and not the original Greek. What points us to the underlying pattern of these verses is the interlocking linchpin that Paul lifts from Genesis 3:15-17. He uses it to build out his ideas in verses 22-32.

In verses 22-32, when Paul uses the linchpin pattern, he makes two central points. In each point we are to act “as Christ.” He presents these two ideas in a three-part linked pattern. The two main ideas are found together in the second part of 5:25, or 5:25b.

We are to act (1) “as Christ gave Himself” and (2) “as Christ loved.” These two “as Christ” ideas in the center of the linchpin are linked to the group of verses aboveand to the group of verses below the linchpin’s center section which is made up of verses 25-27.

Giving oneself and loving are two of five one another actions in the passage that runs from 5:18-6:18. The others are speaking (5:19),submitting (5:21) and praying (6:18).

Want to ask about submission? First we need to notice it is the last of four actions Spirit-filled Christians must practice. As the last in a series of four, Paul then enlarges on and explains how to be submitting to one another in the church. Those following verses in 22-32 are not about marriage. The are about submitting to one another in the church. No wonder the verses seem hard to understand. Paul is making one main point but people are deflecting his words trying to come up with a different main point. Reading plain Scripture doesn’t work that way.

Example. Early on in my ministry I had been introduced to five main lessons every Christian should know about. They included: how to become a Christian; how to be restored when we sin; how to know the will of God; and so on. I had developed a series of lively illustrations to go with each lesson point. I could take any Bible passage, any one at all, and I could lay over it one of these five lessons and come up with a wonderful message. It seemed to work well. But the Bible isn’t really made up of just five points. There is so much more that I was trampling over and muffling. I finally learned of my error and was helped to change it. I was carefully taught how to let the Bible speak for itself. And I learned how to teach that to others. That’s why I was able to spot this distortion of the primary meaning of Ephesians 5. But it took me thirty years of coming back to it again and again to finally spot what was happening.

I was laying on the floor of my home office, looking up at the ceiling, prayerfully mulling over this passage when it hit me. Paul was obviously familiar with Genesis 3 and had used a word pattern from there. My wife had unlocked the meaning of Genesis 3. I looked at how Paul used the linchpin pattern of Genesis 3:16 in Ephesians 5, and the light broke through!

Want more? It is found in Chapter 5 of our book, Familiar “Leadership” Heresies Uncovered by an inside look at the Bible, 2005 (available from the publisher Wipf and Stock, or Amazon).

(cc) Bruce C. E. Fleming (October 28, 2019)

Tru316 Logo

NEW! Key insights on 7 passages on women and men.

Free Download