December 15, 2017

Gordon Fee on Ephesians 5.18-33

I hope you will take the time to view this excellent study by Gordon Fee about the cultural background and context of the “household” teachings of Ephesians 5:18-33.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. No headphones where I am today, but I heard his speak on this topic in 1992 or 1993, when he was a guest speaker at the seminary I was going to. It helped solidify my understanding at the time. Hard to believe that that was 20 years ago!

    • ichabod says:

      Hard to believe it is already 40 years ago I was sitting in his class .

      • I sat in on his lectures 32 years ago, every week for a semester, in his Life of Jesus class. Electrifying. I wasn’t a student there, but crashed the party by going with a friend who was. Truly great lecturer.

  2. Here is an excellent analysis of 1 Timothy 2, which is also directed to the Ephesians and covers a similar passage.

    It is written by Franklin Pyles the President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.

  3. Thanks for the link. I found it very enlightening with regard to how households were organized in the ancient world. If Paul were around today, he’d probably say, “Employees, submit to your managers in the Lord.” He might speak of students submitting to professors, or of the police, much like Martin Luther’s Table of Duties.

    “The structures are irrelevant.” I can agree with this to an extent. Each society has its own way of organizing families, yes. Those ways of organizing families are flawed, I can agree, in that many times the rights of women are either trampled on or ignored. This often seems to be true in the Muslim world, for example (though I don’t wish to offend Muslims through my own cultural ignorance).

    It is also possible, would you grant, that our cultural model, increasingly defined by a fear of/opposition to masculinity, is also flawed? Also biased? And wouldn’t that “form” also be “irrelevant” as well?

    “The structures are irrelevant.” True, but in the end what are people? Are we not God’s creatures? And when as human creatures we are left in nature what do we tend to do? We as a society of creatures undertake to do tasks, and these tasks are frequently divided on the basis of gender. The tasks that require assertiveness, aggression, initiation and greater strength tend to be those done by men; for that reason men tend to rise to leadership. Women, by nature, tend to prefer men who are initiators, who are assertive and who are aggressive when they need to be. If you ever went to high school or spent time on the dating scene, you know this well.

    Also think about how sex works. One initiates. One receives. To an extent, both can alternately do both things, true, but no human culture that I know of has treated sex as a purely egalitarian act. Clearly there is an initiator and a receiver who, by virtue of what is going on, is in a much more vulnerable state than is the initiator. So human cultures have established flawed “structures” that reflect this initiator/receiver relationship.

    Is Paul saying that our creaturely needs/wants are also irrelevant? Wendell Berry, a writer I admire, has often accused Paul of fostering dualism among Christians, the notion that our creatureliness is somehow inferior to our “spiritual” nature. Other nature writers have made the same accusation. I think it’s true often that the Church has tended to hold nature in low regard, preferring to think of the spiritual or the heavenly. I don’t think that this was Paul’s intention. He’s confronting, as Dr. Fee says, “structures” which are man-made, not nature, which is God-made.

    Structures should be designed with nature in mind but no structure will be perfectly faithful to nature.

    If you take the position, which I have seen articulated here by Chaplain Mike, that the creaturely need of women for strong men is a product of the Fall, I would be willing to agree to an extent, but not all the way, for the reason that, in my view, going all the way constructs an unhealthy dualism between nature/spirit that I don’t think the Biblical writers intended. I think the key is the distinction between man made “structures” designed to imitate nature, and nature itself (or, herself).

    • For me it comes down to are structures descriptive or prescriptive. The danger I think is to take descriptive structures and make them prescriptive. As an egalitarian I have no problem with your statement that “The tasks that require assertiveness, aggression, initiation and greater strength tend to be those done by men; for that reason men tend to rise to leadership” Where I do have a problem is when complementarians say that men have these traits and therefore leaders must be men.

      One thing I did not get in your comment was “Also think about how sex works. One initiates. One receives. To an extent, both can alternately do both things, true, but no human culture that I know of has treated sex as a purely egalitarian act. Clearly there is an initiator and a receiver who, by virtue of what is going on, is in a much more vulnerable state than is the initiator. So human cultures have established flawed “structures” that reflect this initiator/receiver relationship.”

      Really? One initiates more than the other? Other than the case of rape, which is much more initiated by men, I do not know if this holds true at all. Got any stats to back this up?

      • I’m not sure, but my guess is that he’s referring to the basic mechanics of intercourse.

        • Might you elaborate? Or maybe not.

        • OK, but still don’t follow. Especially when he says “To an extent, both can alternately do both things,”

          • A woman can certainly be the initiator in bed if she wants and take control of everything but from a physical standpoint she is fundamentally receptive (vagina) and he penetrative. Regardless of any antics we may devise for fun, that’s how we are formed and that is not an incidental point. Christ and the church are fundamentally the same. I once had a telling vision of myself standing with arms stretched upward and an open vagina centered in my chest. In much the same way as wierd dreams are only wierd in retrospect, this vision was very plain and natural at the time. Christ is the male aspect of the spiritual union and we the female. The last few days posts notwithstanding, this is the call to growth for the church; to emrace our receptiveness to Christ. To open our spiritual senses and let Him in. Wherever we may go with the difficult questions regarding homosexuality, the male/female bond is constitutional to our understanding of Christ and the Church.

          • To quote Monty Python, “Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government.:”

            Or to paraphrase, “Listen, anatomically, whether a man fits into a woman, or a woman fits into a man is no basis for a system of theology.”

          • “Listen, anatomically, whether a man fits into a woman, or a woman fits into a man is no basis for a system of theology.”

            Really? It seem to me that since God designed it that way and we know that creation reflects Him, declares His glory, and reveals His attributes we can certainly draw some conclusions based on that design.

    • Just want to point out that in the Roman culture the use of the penis relative to the vagina and/or the anus wasn’t so much about initator/receiver, but more about penetrator/penetrated. Power.

      T

  4. Wow, powerful stuff, there is indeed a very real historical context that we must understand when reading scripture, especially scriptures like these which directly affect our day to day lives.

    However, I think Gordon took it overboard, God does still intent for the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us through scripture, even in today’s culture!

  5. WOW!!!!!!! I love the gospel.

  6. Wow. This clip totally answered all my questions about the text. It makes sense now! I can see that how I approached the text prior to this explanation was from such a literal, face value perspective. I feel like I have been liberated from the complementarian spin on this passage. Not bad for a Canadian Pentecostal! 😛 Perhaps I will look into a bit more of his stuff, but I’m still a bit leery from a few Pentecostal experiences I tried back in college. Thanks for sharing this one!

  7. Fee neglects Paul’s point about the family structure that is rooted in Creation.

    • Paul Timo says:

      Yes!

      And can not culture and historical context be used to explain away all sorts of things?

      How does a person know when a teaching, principle or practice is important or just “cultural”? How do you decide what to hold on to and what to dismiss? I am particularly thinking of 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 – “So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours.”

      I find this confusing.

      ?

    • @ M. Snow;

      Paul wasn’t adressing that in Eph. 5

      T