The Apostle Paul Was Not A Patriarchalist: A Note On Ephesians 5:22

5:22 αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ (hai gynaikes tois idiois andrasin hōs tō kyriō), “Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord.” The elision of the verb ὑποτάσσω (hypotassō) links this verse closely with the general principle to “be subject to one another” in v. 21 and is made clear in the second half of the inclusio* in v. 24. Such elision of a noncopulative verb is unusual in Ephesians but serves here to make the connection between vv. 21 and 22 close. The imperative idea is stated directly in Colossians: αἱ γυναῖκες, ὑποτάσσεσθε τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν κυρίῳ (hai gynaikes, hypotassesthe tois andrasin hōs anēken en kyriō), “Wives, be subject to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord” (Col 3:18; cf. 1 Cor 14:34; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet 3:1–7). The imperative idea in Eph 5:22 is picked up from context (see above on the parallel ptcs. in vv. 19–21), including the following imperative “Husbands, love (ἀγαπᾶτε, agapate) your wives” (v. 25; cf. O’Brien, 411).

Note that Paul does not urge wives to obey their husbands as if they were children or slaves (see 6:1, 5) to their husbands—even if some of the wives may be young girls in their mid-teens with husbands quite a bit older than themselves. In all of life people are in submission to other people and have authority over others. Both women and men are to be in submission to the Lord and to show honor to those who are appointed to serve their needs in word and sacrament ministry (4:11–14; Phil 2:29; 1 Tim 5:17).

Neither does Paul tell women to be in submission to men—but wives to their own husbands only. Believers of both sexes are equally created in God’s image (Gen 1:26–28) and are heirs of eternal life together by faith in Christ (Gal 3:28–29) as “fellow heirs, fellow body members, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6). This comes out clearly from 5:18–19, where women are included in the new-covenant priesthood who also make up the NT choir for song and praise to God.

The submission Paul enjoins is a deference to the ultimate leadership of the woman’s own husband for the health and harmonious working of the marriage relationship. The incarnate Son himself was in submission (ἦν ὑποτασσόμενος, ēn hypotassomenos) to his human parents (Luke 2:51); all believers are to be in submission to various proper authorities (e.g., Rom 13:5; 1 Cor 16:16; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet 5:5). The focus of Ephesians is unity in the inaugurated new-creation community, which this submission is designed to facilitate. But even more pointedly this is an expression of the wife’s service to the Lord, who has subjected all things to himself (1:22) and to whom the church is in submission (v. 24a). So she voluntarily submits to her own husband as she does to the Lord Jesus (ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, hōs tō kyriō; cf. 6:7; Col 3:23), especially given that her husband is charged to love her self-sacrificially, as Christ loves the church (vv. 25–33; cf. 5:2).1128

The final clause “as to the Lord” introduces both the manner and motive of the main exhortation of vv. 22–24. The passage is then structured by three uses of ὡς (hōs) (“as”) with the lead (or main) exhortation as follows:

Lead exhortation #1: 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands

Manner and motive #1: as (ὡς) to the Lord

Rationale: 23 For a husband is the head of his wife

Analogy: as (ὡς) also Christ is the head of his church, he is the Savior of his body

Manner and motive #2: 23 Accordingly, as (ὡς) the church is subject to Christ,

Lead exhortation #2: so also wives (should be subject) in everything to their husbands

In this structure, there is repetition both of the main exhortation with the inclusio*: αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν … αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν (hai gynaikes tois idiois andrasin … hai gynaikes tois andrasin) (vv. 22, 24) and the repetition of ὡς (hōs) (“as”).1129

S. M. Baugh, Ephesians: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, ed. Wayne H. House, Hall W. Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 477–79.


1128. This latter point is rightly emphasized in Gibson, “Ephesians 5:21–33,” 176–77

1129. For rather involved discussion of the simple comparative ὡς (hōs) (“as”) see Hoehner, 737–38. Cf. ὡς … οὕτως καὶ (hōs … houtōs kai) (“as … so also”), which sets up an analogy and explains how and why one fulfills the duty; cf. 5:1, 8; 6:7.

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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. By a similar token, isn’t it only the women who are married to believing men that have to keep silence in the churches (Though most women will refrain from trying to teach, even if not married to believing men)? After all, why does the apostle write “your”, rather than just “the” or nothing at all? And if a woman is unmarried and orphaned or her parents are unbelievers, what man of hers will she ask at home if she wants to know something?
    Does a woman have to keep silence because she is a woman, when she knows that false doctrine is being taught from the pulpit? Surely Paul’s instructions along such lines are only for churches that are genuinely churches of Christ led by faithful servants of Christ?

    • I think all Christians are to contend earnestly for the faith. It is not appropriate for women that they interrupt the worship service or assume preaching office but there are ways they can stand up for the truth. They can admonish in private, in writing and they can even address their consistory and if that doesn’t address the problem they can appeal to classis and synod. If the ‘church’ doesn’t have the marks of the true church, it does not have any authority over anyone, women included. To disobey Christ by staying in a false church that does not preach the true gospel, under the pretext of keeping silent, would be a sinful disloyalty to Christ.

  2. Scott, are three of the paragraphs inadvertently repeated?

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been looking to purchase this commentary.


  3. A great commentary by Dr. Baugh. I will be sending my paper soon. Much needed in today’s misunderstanding of marriage.

  4. I get what you’re trying to say and agree. But why allow the radical feminists to abuse and vilify patriarchy? Abraham, Isaac, and Israel were patriarchs in that they were men who fathered, cared for, and protected large households. They were also men of faith. Abraham risked his life to rescue Lot, his nephew, in fighting the invading kings; Jacob went ahead to meet Esau lest his wives, concubines, and children be hurt or attacked.

    Maybe a big part of our social problem is a bunch of tenured radical feminists who knew chiefly the miserable “liberated” men of the SIlly ‘Sixties and Sillier ‘Seventies who were unreliable, and ran off as soon as a baby or other responsibilities became real possibilities. Hence, men are demonized, children are a burden, and the massacre of innocents via abortion becomes the sacrament of “authentic” womanhood. We need a serious return to the things which Paul admonishes Timothy to teach to other men, and what both he and Peter write in their epistles.

    • Peter,

      The biblical patriarchies are in view here. What is in view in my headline is the theonomic, Patriarchalist view that makes females ontologically subordinate to males. That isn’t in Paul’s mind at all in this passage.

    • David,

      The [Christian] Patriarchalists (e.g., typically theonomists) see an ontological hierarchy. As I read Steve’s comments on this passage I was struck by the way the Paul speaks here, by the flow of the thought, by the categories in which Paul thinks, by how it is antithetical to Patriarchalism.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks. I was under the impression that Christian patriarchalists are simply arguing that patriarchy is the Biblical model. For example, when the apostle Peter commends Sarah for calling Abraham “Lord” (1 Peter 3:6) I don’t know whether or not he is having recourse to ontological categories. Likewise with Gouge’s Domestical Duties, which appears to me to come from a basically patriarchal standpoint. I don’t think I see anything in Dr. Baugh’s notes above that would contradict either the apostle or the Puritan author, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • David,

      I think the theonomic Patriarchalists are saying rather more than that. That there were “patriarchies” in the OT is not in question nor is their justice in question. This is about a hierarchy of being.

    • Christ is the head of the Church. All Christians are to be in submission to Christ. We submit to Christ through our roles of submission to others. The wife is submitting to Christ through her submission to her husband. But if submission to her husband requires her to do what is contrary to the headship of Christ, she must submit to Christ rather than her husband. The Nazis tried to say they were only submitting to their leaders when they committed genocide, but that didn’t wash because they were first to obey the moral law. Moses wife, Zipporah saved Moses’ life by disobeying Moses and giving the sign of the covenant to her son, when Moses was negligent. If your boss tells you murder, clearly you are to disobey him. Our obedience and submission to those who have authority over us, always has to be a way of submitting to God first.

  6. Serious question – is this type of theonomy common still? From my perspective, it died out in SoCal 20 years ago and SoCal was the hotbed. Is this still a danger to the churches or an academic trend?

    The FV guys can be somewhat theonomic, but I dont’ think they refer to Bahnsen/Rushdoony/North or trace their ideas to them. Wilson, of course, denies he’s a theonomist.

    • Walt,

      Serious reply:

      1. Yes, Wilson is a theonomist and has been for decades.
      2. To my knowledge, no version of theonomy has died out.
      3. If you read the history of Theonomy, it’s remarkable how many FV figures originally became known as theonomists.

      See this.

      Yes, the the Theonomy-influenced FVists (most of them) do trace their ideas to The Godfather’s of the TheoRecon movement.

  7. Dr Clark,

    Thank you for this post (and the Heidelblog in general) (I’ve been a fan for years but not sure I’ve ever actually commented before.)

    Could I ask for a bit more explanation about ontology? Would it be accurate to say that the patriarchal take on ontology contradicts the principle that we are all made in the image of God?

    • Cath,

      Thanks for commenting!

      The TheoRecon Patriarchalist view of male/female relations is that females are, in their being, subordinate to males. Yes, they tend to diminish the image-status of females by making it derivative. In their view, females are not, of themselves, image bearers. Rather, they are said to be image bearers derivatively.

    • Cath, thanks for bringing this up. Outrageous, that these TheoRecon Patriarchalists would consider women, in their being, as subordinate to males because they are only derivative image bearers, when Paul declares there is now, in the new covenant, no more Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, we are all one in Christ. Gal. 3:28

    • Angela, it is outrageous – there is no better word for it. Dr Clark’s reply was both very helpful and not very reassuring!

      Could I ask a little bit further – if someone appealed to 1 Corinthians 11:3 to demonstrate ontological subordination of women to men, how could you respond?

      If some background would help, I have been interested in some of the reactions to Rachel Green Miller’s book, Beyond Authority and Submission. Well, when I say interested, I mean surprised and disappointed, as it struck me as a sane and helpful contribution. The shouts of “Ontology!” took me by surprise and I’m still trying to work out what’s going on here.

    • Of course there is no denying that certain men have a real problem with this and see it as a threat to their manhood that women are equal to them in Christ, and I think they are attracted to the TheoRecon movement for this reason. That is not according to the equality we have in Christ and it’s too bad. We have been set free from bondage to the old covenant’s 613 or so ceremonial and civil laws so that if you want to appeal to one of those as necessary, you become obligated to observe them all. The strident, disrespect toward men and advocacy for abortion has given neofeminism a bad name. Maybe that accounts for the angry attitude of some men. Under the new covenant we are all equal before God and voluntarily submit for our mutual benefit, and not under compulsion because we are ontologically inferior.

    • Oh yes! My response to those who use 1Cor. 11:13 to support the idea of the ontological inferiority of women, is to quote Gal. 3: 28 and Col. 3: 11. Also Gen. 1: 27 God made man in his image, in the image of God he created he him, male and female created he him. Even though Eve was created from Adam’s rib, she is still created by God in God’s image and not as a secondary or inferior image bearer. I tell those who try to use 1 Cor. 11:13 to prove ontological inferiority as the reason for women to submit to men, that they are taking Paul’s words out of context. Paul is not saying women must submit to all men, but only to their husbands as it is consistent with voluntary submission to Christ, for the benefit of the marriage union and family. Scripture does not contradict Scripture, you have to take any passage that seems unclear in the context of all of Scripture.

  8. It’s OK, send these intrinsically subordinate anarchal women to risk their lives on the overseas mission field teaching and having authority over the men they win to Christ there – They’re good enough for THAT. We brave, heroic, patriarchal men will stay at home and rule over the only REALLY important church!

  9. Cath, I just listened to an interview on Theology Gals where Rachel Green Miller talks about her book. I need to read that book. Will be ordering it ASAP.
    Dr. Clark was brief in his comment. I know from previous blogs, that he defends the view that women are not ontologically inferior to men and that women’s submission, in the new covenant, as equals who submit to their husbands voluntarily for the good of the family, as it is consistent with submission to Christ, and that men submit to Christ by sacrificially giving themselves to their wives and family as Christ gave himself for the Church. I think his point is that TheoRecon Patriarchalism considering women inferior is a criticism of this movement, as not consistent with the equality we all have in the new covenant. Under the new covenant we have roles, based on our talents and abilities, that require voluntary submission for the good of the church and society. The one exception would that in the church where certain offices are limited to qualified men. What is exactly wrong with a TheoRecon Patriarchalism is that it wants to bring in judicial and ceremonial elements of the old covenant which has passed away, which is wrong, because it became obsolete with the coming of Christ.

    • Angela, I’d recommend it! I’ve already gifted/loaned a couple of copies away.

      Yes, likewise, from previous blogs I trusted Dr Clark to be reliable on this. I guess what was not reassuring was having my suspicions confirmed! It concerns me too that ministers/pundits from within conservative circles who are not theonomists are also arguing that there is ontological subordination.

    • Cath, Paul commended the Bereans in Acts 17 for examining the Scripture to see if even what he was preaching was really true. We always have to accept any teaching only on the basis of how it agrees with the Word of God, no matter how attractive or authoritative the person who brings it seems.
      I don’t think Dr. Clark was agreeing with those who argue that women are ontologically inferior. He was using this example as a criticism, of TheoRecon Patriarchalism which appeals to the civil and judicial laws of the old covenant to suggest that women should be subordinate by force of law, and that it is because men are superior. That this is evidence of how wrong headed this movement is, because those laws have expired, and they never were premised on the idea that women are inferior.
      Rachel Miller’s book is on its way from Amazon!

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