3 Feb 2023

The Boss? Song of Songs and Ephesians 5

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Ephesians, Exegesis, Family, Love, Marriage, Salvation, Song of Songs
Marriage is not about being “The Boss”

Can you imagine how different sermons on Ephesians 5 (husbands and wives) would be if the preacher had spent the previous month preaching the Song of Songs?

“Traditionally,” preachers begin with the “prescription” for a successful marriage by quoting 5.22,

wives, submit yourselves to your husbands …”

This is then “married” to Genesis 3.16,

Your desire [tesugah] will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

In my own wedding, many years ago, these texts were read. Some (not all) when preaching on these texts then define submission in terms of subjugation. Indeed it is not really uncommon to hear terminology like “women/wives are to be in subjection to men/husbands.” This is her “place.” I am sure you have heard it.

There are multiple problems with this.

First. Ephesians 5 is quite literally not even about marriage in the first place. Paul is not presenting a doctrine of marriage in Ephesians 5, that is not the point by any means. Paul’s only comment on marriage is actually in v.33, is an aside, when we have something like a “nevertheless.” Paul, after saying “ok I am talking about Christ and the gathered people” (v.32) he gives his “nevertheless” directive which is husbands love your wife and the wife should respect her husband.

Second. The kind of love that characterizes marriage is not rooted in who is the boss. Paul actually says, “submit to one another” v.21. We begin reading to late.

See marriage, like all Christian relationships, are rooted in mutuality not subjugation. “Submission” and “Subjugation” are not the same thing. Submission is voluntarily done from a place of strength. Subjugation is the use of physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual force upon another. Subjugate is what the US Army does to enemies.

But Paul looks at the female/male relationship through a book he was nourished on from childhood, Song of Songs. Song of Songs is Ephesians 5.21, not 5.22 (which we use out of context and redefined!). The Song is not only mutuality but egalitarian. The man is not the woman’s “boss.” If anything she commands him.

The relationship as envisioned in Song of Songs is playful. It is exclusive. It is focused upon the other. It is egalitarian as the woman states, reversing Genesis 3.16,

I am my beloved’s
and his DESIRE
[tesugah] is for ME” (7.10, the Hebrew is the exact same).

She speaks out of a place of full equality and literally turns Genesis 3.16 on its head. Genesis 3.16 is a text that speaks of a relationship grounded in the Fall. Song of Songs as a whole and 7.10 specifically envisions the world of Eden before the Fall. She sees herself as an equal partner in the relationship. Thus in the Song she is a bold, powerful, personality in the Song. The “submission” goes both ways. There is no subjugation in the Song of the woman to the man.

Most of the time we do not read Song of Songs at all, much less as the lens through which to read Paul. Paul actually, in context, uses this tidbit from marriage to teach God has healed the world and brought it back to a state better than creation. That is the argument.

In Ephesians 1.10, God “unites” in the Messiah “heaven and earth.” God has made them “one” in Messiah.

In Ephesians 2.11-22 (actually through 3.11), the ethnic division of the fallen world is overcome. Jews and Gentiles are now “one” as in “one new humanity.” Again harking back to the Edenic oneness of humanity. The division has been overcome. The whole human race is one again when male and female are now one in Christ, just as in the beginning.

In Ephesians 5 the division between male and female is healed in the Messiah. Man and Woman are made “one” once again through the Messiah Jesus. King Jesus has removed the division between creation and Creator; he has removed the division and animosity between the nations by making them one; he has removed the war of the sexes by restoring the image of God in men in women.

Heaven/Earth = united (One).
Jew/Gentile = united (One).
Male/female = united (One).

The world is “healed.” Creation is “saved” through the blood of Jesus, the King of the Jews. The church is the place on earth where that new/renewed creation thrives. The church is the temple filled with the glorious Presence of God. The church is where humanity in all its creational diversity stands in its oneness as the the occasion of praise rather than hatred and division. The church is the place on earth where God original creational oneness of male and female as equal imagers of God has been restored and glorified in work of King Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Song of Songs helps us hear these gospel truths.

Heaven and earth were one in creation. The human race was one in creation. Male and female were one in creation. And in the Messiah God has healed all creation. So Paul’s real point in this aside is in fact that women are once again, in the messianic community EQUAL, they are one. There is no superior. No boss. Except “Christ/Messiah.” The Song of Songs had already passionately proclaimed this gospel truth.

So again, what if we read Paul’s oblique comment on marriage (recognizing he was not in fact talking about marriage as the topic under consideration), through the lens of the Song of Songs …

I suspect some sermons would be changed drastically.

Further Reading

Returning to Eden: The Song of Songs, Sexuality & Spirituality

Worshiping Through Ephesians: Dwelling in God’s Temple

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