The Mystery In Ephesians: Part 2, The Egalitarian Mystery

Part 1Part 3

This post outlines egalitarian movement in the first half of Ephesians and addresses the contradiction between such a movement and the patriarchal emphasis in the household code at the end of the epistle. Three observations are made which help explain this difficulty. First, Paul’s sees it has his mission to reveal the consequences of what he identifies as “the mystery.” The consequences of this mystery relativize modes of identity formation. Second, this mystery serve as a temptation to undermine oppressive systems by empowering the disenfranchised. Finally, it is argued that the household codes are an attempt, by Paul, to walk a fine line between holding identities open to critique, while at the same time encouraging unity.

In an effort to support the claim that the mystery revealed by Christ possesses the power to relativize fixed identity structures, we will begin in Chapter one, with Paul’s complex doxology. For exegetical purposes, I have divided the doxology into five sections:

(a) 1.4-5: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–
(b) 1.6-7: To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,
(c) 1.8: in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
(d) 1.9: And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
(e) 1.10: to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
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The Mystery In Ephesians: Part 1, in Conversation with Yoder

On March 14th I’ll be presenting a paper titled, “Ephesians and the Household Code: a Conversation with John H. Yoder” at TST’s Advanced Degree Students’ Association Theology Conference. I plan on posting a version of this paper here in four parts.

As a preface, in addition to the influence of Yoder, my treatment of both the household codes and the mystery found in Ephesians, is informed by a tension schematized by Derrida in many different ways throughout his work. In both Ephesians and Yoder’s treatment of household codes, this tension is revealed between the need for a determinate identity and the need to hold identities open to reevaluation and change. In Ephesians, Paul encourages a mode of negotiating or living in this tension that fosters health rather than death.

“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5.23-24

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I have attended a number of weddings where couples include a reference to this verse in their vows, stressing that the woman shall submit to her husband. Ironically, more times than not, if my newly-wed friends were honest with each other, they would admit the inverse is true of the power dynamics in their relationship. Yet, I still find the inclusion of such a misogynistic sentiment a tad disturbing. These verses are associated with what biblical scholars call Haustafeln, that is, the New Testament (NT) household codes; and they have been an enduring conflict for biblical interpreters throughout the modern era. From abolitionism to women suffrage, household codes have garnered a variety of (sometimes contradictory) interpretations, having been read as oppressive and liberating. Since these verses continue to impact Christian communities, they require repeated readings that consider their past, present, and future relevance.

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