Adding parentheses! Here’s a powerful tip to understanding the structure of the passage in Ephesians 5:21-32, by Bruce C. E. Fleming, founder of the Tru316 Project.
Paul is continuing a pattern of fours he begins with verse 5:15. The last point of each group of four is the most important one and it becomes the subject of the next group of four.
– In 5:15-18 the last of the four verbs is the most important one. In 5:18b it is “Being filled with the Spirit.”
– In 5:19a, 19b, 20 and 21 the last of the four verbs is the most important one. In 5:21 it is “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.”
– In 5:22-32 the four points are composed of three “as Christ” examples capped by the fourth one in 5:32. It is the Great Mystery now revealed, that of the one-flesh unity of Christ and the church.
Now here’s the tip to help our understanding. Place a parenthesis around each place where Paul makes a parenthetical statement (see below).
– First, place one around 23a.
– Then, place one around 25a.
– Finally, place one around verses 28-29a.
Paul is building up to the imagery of the one-flesh unity revealed in the Great Mystery in verse 32 and he has in mind all along in these verses a secondary example. It is that of the one-flesh unity of a husband and wife. It is the occurrences of this secondary example that I recommend placing in parentheses.
The couple in the Garden of Eden were united as one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Taking his readers from the known to the unknown he refers them to the image of married Christian couples as he proceeds to verse 32 from verse 21 on. All of these verses have NOT primarily to do with marriage but with unity in the church.
As Paul makes his main points about the example of Christ he adds the parenthetical idea of marriage, of a wife and husband or of a husband and wife. Once we put his secondary idea visually into a parenthesis, the main thread of his ideas stands out more clearly to the linear-oriented Western mind.
Paul’s presentation in Greek follows a more ancient Hebrew way of presenting his ideas. He links together the other two “as Christ” examples from 23b and 29b in verse 25b. He is using a linchpin structure like the one used in Genesis 3:16 line 1.
His main flow of thought runs from the radically redefined, horizontally-oriented, reciprocal submission of verse 21. His redefinition changed vertical over/under submission to a Christian way of mutually submitting to the teaching and correction of other Christians.
Paul takes Christ’s sacrificial action in 23b and restates it in verse 25b. He talks of Christ’s love in 29b-30 and also in verses 25b-27.
This is like the linchpin in the flow of thought in Genesis 3:15-17 that connects God’s words to the woman in Line 1 of 3:16 with key words in verses 15 and 17: “sorrowful-toil” in verse 16 on to “sorrowful-toil because of the curse on the soil because of the man” in verse 17, and the woman’s “conception” in verse 16 which ultimately will lead to the “Seed” or “Offspring” introduced in verse 15 who will crush the serpent-tempter’s head (for more on Genesis 3:15-17 see chapter 6 in The Book of Eden, Genesis 2-3 by Bruce C. E. Fleming, based on the work of Dr. Joy Fleming).
Here is Ephesians 5:21-32 with the parenthetical marks added.
21 reciprocally submitting yourselves to one another, in the fear of Christ.
1) 22 Wives, be reciprocally submitting yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 (For the husband is united as head with the wife,) as Christ also is united as head with the church, he himself Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is also submitting to Christ, so wives to their husbands in everything.
2) 25 (Husbands, love your wives,) just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
3) 28 (Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,) just as Christ also loves the church, 30 because we are parts of his body. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.”
4) 32 This is a Great Mystery and I am speaking with reference to the one-flesh unity of Christ and the church.
This tip is an additional insight into the Ephesians 5-6 passage which is the subject of The Eden Podcast, Season Two.
I encourage you to listen to the six Episodes of Season Two dealing with Ephesians 5:15-6:9 on The Eden Podcast. It is fundamental to a true understanding of our relationship to Christ and to one another in the church.
Here’s a link to the podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-eden-podcast-with-bruce-c-e-fleming/id1536987547?i=1000502409505