When Ephesians 5 24 Is Taken Out Of Context It Can Be Toxic!


“Verses taken out of context can teach the wrong things!” A blogpost by Bruce C. E. Fleming, Founder of the Tru316 Project (Tru316.com)

I came across an old booklet of Bible verses that was designed for newlyweds. I assume the people who assembled it had the best of intentions. The way they went about producing their work seemed to them to be the best way to go. But sadly their product was so very flawed it likely harmed those it was meant to help.

It was laid out as a collection of Bible verses that were supposed to be relevant to married couples. Nice idea I thought. This should be helpful to Christian spouses, whether husbands or wives.

Then I opened to the first page. I couldn’t read any further. I didn’t trust the compilers any more.

The booklet had some words dramatically spread across several lines. They had been taken out of context and gave a totally incorrect impression to unsuspecting readers.

Were they words from Genesis 2:24 about the first marriage in the Garden of Eden? Were they words from the Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13?

No. They were from Ephesians 5:24-25. And these verse should NEVER be presented back to back the way they were in that booklet.

These words were presented as the first verses on marriage Christian couples should consider. The problem? These verses don’t go together the way the Greek Bible is written out.

In Greek, these verses may bump up against one another, but they are from two different paragraphs and are about two different issues. In English, we usually write and read in a linear line-by-line manner. But many thoughts in the Bible are not written in that way. And that is the case with these two verses.

There are many poetic ways of writing in Hebrew and in Greek that involve parallel and even contrasting ideas. Translators should lay out their versions for us in such a way that we can understand the train of thought they are translating for us.

We should NEVER treat verses 24 and 25 as if they are part of one idea. They are not!

Verses 24 and 25 should never be presented together as a two-part idea. They do not go together!

The context of verse 24. Verse 24 is the last part of one long Greek sentence that runs from 5:19 all the way down to verse 24. The main idea of this long sentence is found in verse 21.

In verse 21, the Apostle Paul redefines the common worldly concept of vertical submission and transforms it. Christian submission is demonstrated by a reciprocating horizontal submission between Spirit-filed believers in Christ.

Then, in the last part of this long sentence, verses 22-24 are structured as an ABB’A’ parallelism. In the center, in verse 23b is the main idea, which is Christ’s example. It is paired with verse 23a in which husbands are pictured as joined with their wives in a united body, just as Christ is joined with the church in a united joint-body. This is the B and B prime (B, B’) center of this parallelism.

Verses 22 and 24 (A, A’) are parallel to one another and present basically the same idea. We find parallel ideas presented like this many times over in the book of Proverbs.

Verse 22, the first of these linked lines, gets its verb from the dramatically redefined horizontal reciprocity presented in verse 21: be submitting yourselves reciprocally one to another. Thus, verses 22 and 24 are about Christian wives and Christian husbands reciprocally submitting themselves to one another as they each build up one another. But when verse 24 is taken out of context and linked with verse 25 it looks like it is a teaching about worldly vertical suppression and submission between husbands and wives.

Verse 24 is the end of the long sentence on Spirit-filled actions that include speaking, or teaching and admonishing, one another (5:19a, see also Colossians 3:16) and then (verse 21) submitting reciprocally to that teaching and admonition. Verses 22-24 present two wonderful examples of this kind of interaction: that of Christian spouses and that of Christ and the church.

Verse 24 is the end of the long teaching sentence that runs from verse 19a to 24.

This sentence in verses 19a-24 is all about mutual teaching and horizontal submission.

The context of verse 25. The first words in verse 25 are only a subpoint that points to the important second half of the verse. The words in the second half of verse 25, or 25b, that begin with “just as Christ” are the center of a linchpin construction that links Christ’s actions to the verses that follow it (in 28-31) and the verses that precede it (in 22-24).

The two actions involve Christ’s love for the church which is the body to which Christ is joined and Christ’s sacrifice as he gave himself to doing what was best for the church.

Am I right about this emphasis? Just check what Paul says in verse 32: “I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

These verses are part of the passage that runs from Ephesians 5:15-6:9. It is presented in full in my book, Beyond Eden, Ephesians 5-15-6:9. We also discuss it using the Study Guide questions from the book in Season 7 of The Eden Podcast. I invite you to study this passage using one or both of these tools. It may save us from taking verses out of context and teaching the wrong things about marriage.

Bruce C. E. Fleming, Tru316.com/blog


Tru316 Logo

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

Free Download