Wifely Submission within the Rhetorical Context of Ephesians

It is often stated that wives are to submit to their husbands. Appeals are made to Eph 5:22-24 to justify such a statement. This passage of Scripture is interpreted to mean that husbands lead and wives follow, and such is the biblical stance, the God-ordained structure for marriage; deviating from this structure is considered unbiblical and displeasing to the Lord. Although many people believe Eph 5:22-24 solidify the submissive role of wives in a God-ordained marriage relationship, the rhetorical context of Ephesians leads us to interpret this passage differently, so that husbands and wives are seen as equals, in which a power struggle is entirely absent, and together they are striving to fulfill the role of the church–to do good works and to show God’s diverse wisdom, the mystery that is the gospel. We will look at the rhetorical context and see both how Eph 5:22-24 fits and ought to be interpreted with respect to the letter’s rhetoric.

The Letter to the Ephesians is an epideictic piece of rhetoric. As such, it seeks not to deliberate or to prove, but, rather, it seeks to praise. In this case, it seeks to praise God for the deeds he has done through Jesus Christ on behalf of humanity, as explicitly demonstrated in the Church. The deeds are first mentioned in the exordium (Eph 1:3-23) and later expounded and amplified in more detail in the narratio (Eph 2:1-3:21). God has brought his children from death to life, saving them from their sins, seating them with Christ at his right hand in the heavenly places. The moral end of these deeds, established in the narratio, is twofold: for the Church both to do the good deeds God prepared for them to do and to proclaim God’s diverse wisdom to the world. This moral end is expounded and amplified in more detail in the exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9). The Church is to be unified, to live according to the new person, to imitate God, and to live wisely. The peroratio (Eph 6:10-20) summarizes the whole of the narratio and the exhortatio, just as the exordium does, but it does so in an eloquently concluding fashion: God continues to do good deeds by providing the armor necessary for overcoming the wiles of the devil, and the armor metaphorically depicted stems from God’s other deeds, the moral end of those deeds, and the exhortations comprising the moral end. Ephesians praises God for what he has done, tells of those deeds and their purpose, proclaims in more details their purpose, and ties it all together in the call to be strengthened by God, use His armor, and withstand the devil.

Wifely submission is part of the Ephesian haustafel (Eph 5:21-6:9), which is part of the fourth section of the exhortatio (Eph 5:15-6:9), which calls the audience to live wisely, making the most of the times, which are evil. Living wisely is stated as not getting drunk with wine but being filled by the Spirit, which entails speaking and singing in hymnody, giving thanks, and submitting to each other (Eph 5:15-21). The haustafel explains what it means to submit to each other. Within this haustafel, there are three pairings: wives-husbands (Eph 5:22-33); children-parents (Eph 6:1-4); and slaves-masters (Eph 6:5-9). The wifely submission is stated first in Eph 5:22-24 and reiterated, albeit with different terms, in Eph 5:33. Submission for the husbands to their wives is redefined as love, for parents to their children it is redefined as nourish and discipline, and for masters to their slaves it is redefined as not threatening. Children are instructed to submit by obeying their parents, and slaves are instructed to submit by obeying their masters. Wives are instructed to submit by fearing or respecting their husbands.

On the surface, the wifely submission appears to solidify the statement that the Lord wants wives to follow their husbands and not the other way around. Let it be known that Eph 5:22 does not explicitly state, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” The verb to submit is absent from Eph 5:22. Indeed, this verse has no verb; it is supplied from Eph 5:21 (middle voice of to submit). As a result, whatever meaning is evident in the preceding verse must be carried over into the next. Ephesians 5:21 calls all believers to submit to each other. Therefore, Eph 5:22-24, provides a mere example of what it means for all believers to submit to each other in the case of the marital relationship, specifically for wives. This submission is substantiated by an appeal to the Christ-Church relationship. Christ is the head of the Church, so the husband is the head of the wife; the Church submits to Christ, so the wife submits to the husband. But things are not always as they seem. The rhetorical composition leads us to a different conclusion than the prima facie interpretation. There are four contextual factors involved: the context of the haustafel; the context of the head analogy as found in both the exordium and the exhortatio; the context of the narratio’s moral goal and its amplification in the exhortatio; and the context of the peroratio.

In the haustafel, both the children and the slaves are instructed to obey. Wives, however, are not. Something is different. Submission is not synonymous with obedience. Furthermore, submission is not merely respecting leadership of a superior. Submission in this context is mutual for all parties, whether children or parents, slaves or masters, or wives or husbands. Within the context of the haustafel, we have to conclude that wifely submission is something different than we might expect. In fact, the terminology changes later. Ephesians 5:33 summarizes the wife-husband pairing within the haustafel. It instructs wives not to submit but to respect or fear their husbands while husbands are instructed to love their wives. This change in vocabulary forces us to interpret the wifely submission differently. Wifely submission entails not obedience, not inferiority, but respect.

It is noteworthy that in the wives-husbands pairing husbands are neither instructed to lead nor to rule, but, rather, they are told to love their wives. Their love is to be modeled after Christ’s love for the Church. Christ loved the Church sacrificially, seeking to cleanse the Church and present her to himself as a holy, blameless, spotless, and glorious being. Additionally, their love for their wives is to be just as it is for their neighbors: “Thusly, husbands ought to love their own wives as they love their own bodies. The one who loves his own wife loves himself” (cf. Eph 5:28; contra. Lev 19:18, “. . . but you will love your neighbor as yourself”). Christ has this very love for the Church. He nourishes and cherishes the Church (Eph 5:29). The author quotes Gen 2:24, which says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will be in one flesh” (Eph 5:31). This one flesh is a great mystery, the gospel, as far as the Christ-Church entity is concerned, but it is reflected in the marital relationship, since both the Church and the wives are reliant upon their heads for growth and nourishment, and Christ and the husbands sacrificially love their bodies. Therefore, wifely submission entails respect but also reliance.

In the exordium, all things are subordinated under Christ’s feet, and Christ is appointed as head over all things in the Church, which is His body (Eph 1:22). Two things are happening here: first, everything in this world is subordinated under Christ (the verb is the active voice for to subordinate, to submit); second, Christ is made the head, and the Church is His body. However, it is the Christ-Church entity that rules over everything in this world. At first glance, it appears that submission is indeed about superiority and it is linked to the head-body metaphor as such. This understanding misses the point. The Church has been caused to sit down with Christ in the heavenly places (cf. Eph 2:6) and therefore shares in the superiority over everything in the world. The metaphor of the head-body is kept separate from this discussion of superiority. Later, in the exhortatio, the Christ-Church relationship is mentioned again, well before the haustafel. Christ is stated to be the head of the Church (Eph 4:15). It is from the head, Christ, that the body, the Church, is fit and brought together in order to grow in love (Eph 5:16). The analogy of the head has nothing to do with superiority; it has everything to do with growth. The Church relies on Christ for growth. In the exordium, the analogy demonstrates that Christ and the Church are a connected entity. In the exhortatio, the analogy demonstrates the Church’s dependence upon Christ within the connected entity for growth. If wives are to model the Church, which depends on Christ for growth, then their submission is done for growth as well.

In the narratio, it is established that the Church is to do good works (Eph 2:10) and to make known God’s diverse wisdom (Eph 3:10). This twofold statement is the moral end of all of God’s deeds. Living wisely, being filled with the Spirit, i.e., submitting, is one of the good works believers within the Church are called to do, and it is one way that believers within the Church can participate in making known God’s diverse wisdom. However, this participation does not mean that it is God’s wisdom for wives to submit and for husbands to lead. On the contrary, wifely submission was one way for wives to participate in the proclaiming of the gospel, which is the mystery. God’s wisdom is not for wives to submit, but for the Church to spread the gospel. The author of Ephesians is giving wives a role in this evangelistic goal.

In the peroratio, the speech is brought to a close. The contents of the narratio and exhortatio are summarized in an elaborate and eloquent series of metaphors. This grand metaphor, the armor of God, is utilized for the purpose of making requests for the author to speak the mystery boldly. The author thus reiterates the twofold moral end of God’s deeds, which is in the background throughout the entire speech–good deeds and evangelism. The author of Ephesians wants to gain the ability to speak boldly and confidently when he attempt to make known the mystery, which is the gospel. This concern is evident in the instruction for wives to submit, for they are participating both in the good deed of submission and making known the mystery.

Given the various literary contexts between the haustafel, exordium, narratio, exhortatio, and peroratio, we can conclude that wifely submission entails respect and reliance, not obedience and inferiority. In fact, wives are seen as equals. The author of Ephesians takes power out of the situation. There is no power struggle. Everyone submits to each other as equals, including wives to their husbands and husbands to their wives. This submission is part of a greater plan to do good and to proclaim the gospel. We have shown that Eph 5:22-33 does not mean husbands lead and wives follow, but instead the letter’s rhetoric disarms such a prima facie reading.

Peroratio: Eph 6:10-20

After having completed the exhortatio, Ephesians closes the epideictic speech with the formal peroratio. While the exordium begins and opens the speech, the peroratio closes it. Where the former discusses briefly what will be discussed, the latter briefly summarizes what has been discussed. Ephesians is coming to a close.

Ephesians 6:10-20, the peroratio, serves four functions. First, it disposes the audience favorably towards God and unfavorably towards the devil (Eph 6:11). Second, it amplifies by use of metaphor and ornate imagery (Eph 6:14-18). Third, it excites the emotions, appealing to terrifying imagery (Eph 6:16). Finally, it recapitulates both the narratio and exhortatio. The counsel to put on the armor of God in order to be able to stand in the wicked day (Eph 6:13) echoes the whole of Eph 4:1-6:9 (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, III.xix.1-6). Indeed, for there are many connections between the narratio and the exhortatio with the peroratio, as seen here:

  • 6:11 (“wiles”) – 4:14;
  • 6:12 (enemy is rulers, authorities, world powers, spiritual forces) – 2:2; 3:10;
  • 6:13 (evil day) – 5:16;
  • 6:14 (truth) – 4:15, 21, 25; 5:9;
  • 6:14 (righteousness) – 4:24; 5:9;
  • 6:15 (peace) – 2:14-15, 17; 4:3;
  • 6:16 (faith) – 2:8; 3:12, 17; 4:5;
  • 6:17 (Spirit) – 5:18;
  • 6:18 (pray in the Spirit) – 5:19-21;
  • 6:19-20 (pray also for me to speak boldly) – 1:15-23; 3:14-21.

Furthermore, the whole letter is concerned with praising God for what he has done in and through Christ on our behalf. The peroratio follows in that path, for it instructs the audience to put on the armor of God. Not only has God done all the things previously described in the letter, but he also provides the equipment necessary for withstanding the wiles of the devil.

The peroratio is to be free from restraint, unlike the exordium, and so while it is a summary conclusion, it was to open the flood gates to one’s emotions through the use of amplification (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, IV.i.28; VI.i.1-11, 51-52). Since amplification was done in part through the use of figures (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.iii.12), it is noteworthy that the Ephesian peroratio warns the audience to be on their guard and the author asks for prayer in order to speak boldly, thus also speaking on intimate terms; these features are all notable figures (cf. Cicero, Orator, 137-138).

The Ephesian peroratio does not fall short. It is a summary of the narratio and exhortatio in the most eloquent of metaphors. It exhorts the audience to be strong in the Lord, by utilizing the armor that God provides to withstand the wiles of the devil while struggling against the rules, powers, authorities, and world-rulers, and by watching in all perseverance and petition. The author seeks for the audience to pray on his behalf, in order that he might boldly speak the mystery of the gospel.

And what is the armor of God except truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, word, and prayer? In metaphorical fashion, this armor summarily depicts the exhortatio. This armor equips the audience for withstanding the wiles of the devil and for petitioning on the author’s behalf to be able to speak the mystery of the gospel boldly, which summarizes the moral end of the narratio’s statement of facts, which provided the basis for the eulogy found in the exordium. Therefore, the peroratio ties everything together in one eloquent package–the exordium, narratio, and exhortatio–and brings the speech to a close.

Exhortatio: Eph 4:1-6:9

Previously, we have discussed the exordium (Eph 1:3-23), in which we determined that Ephesians is set on praising God for the deeds he has done on behalf of humanity, specifically in reference to the Church, and the narratio (Eph 2:1-3:21), which picks up on the praise of the exordium and expounds upon and amplifies the praise by giving more details and providing the moral end of the facts. Herein we will look at the exhortatio (Eph 4:1-6:9), which is not a formal section of rhetoric per se. Instead, it is functioning in the stead of the proofs. Since Ephesians is epideictic rhetoric, no formal proofs are utilized, because the orator or author is not attempting to prove but to praise. However, the exhortatio, filled with paraenesis, an acceptable figure, functions as proof precisely because figures were associated with proof (Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, IX.ii.103; IX.i.19). Furthermore, what is praised in epideictic rhetoric can easily transform into hortatory material (Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.35-37). The exhortatio in Ephesians builds upon the facts in the narratio and expounds and amplifies their moral end, for the Church to live in good works prepared beforehand by God and to make known the mystery, the plan, God’s diverse wisdom. We will look at the different rhetorical units of the exhortatio and see how they correlate with these two moral ends. Established by the οὐν + περιπατέω construction, there are four main sections of the exhortatio in Ephesians, which are as follows: Eph 4:1-16, walking according to the calling; Eph 4:17-29, walking according to the new person; Eph 5:1-14, walking according to love, imitating God; Eph 5:15-6:9, walking according to wisdom.

Walking According to the Calling (Eph 4:1-16)

To start the exhortatio, the author instructs the audience to walk worthily of the calling, and to do so with humility, gentleness, and patience, and by patience the author means enduring with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In good rhetorical fashion, the author amplifies this instruction by appealing to two sources, first a hymn and second Ps 68:19 (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4). The author justifies the call to unity by quoting a hymn: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all things, through all things, and in all things” (vv. 5-6). Out of this unity, each member in the Church has been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift (v. 7), for it says, “After ascending on high he captured captives, he gave gifts to men” (v. 8, quoting Ps 68:19). The author infers that if Christ ascended he first descended to earth, and he gave some apostles, and others prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers, for the purpose that these gifts to men would completely furnish them for a work of service, into a building of Christ’s body, until all the people arrive at unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, into a complete man, into a measure of mature fullness of Christ. The purpose of these gifts was for the author and audience not to be like infants any longer, being blown and tossed by every wind of the teaching in the fraud of men, in adroitness towards erroneous trickery. but speaking the truth in love, the author and the audience are grown into Christ who is the head of the body, and it is out of him that the body is being fitted together and being brought together through every contributing ligament according to the divine power to make a building in love. This segment about Christ’s gifts and the building in love constitute one sentence and is 6 verses long (vv. 11-16). As such it is a long period, which is characteristic of epideictic rhetoric (cf. Cicero, Orator, 37-38) and also of figures, which bear an effect on proof (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, IX.i.19). Furthermore, this sentence builds up an idea–Christ’s gift-giving for the sake of the unity of the Church–throughout its manifold clauses (cf. Quntilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.iv.3-27).

The relationship in this section of the exhortatio with the moral end in the narratio explicitly pertains to the first point, that the Church is to walk in good works prepared beforehand by God (cf. Eph 2:10). To do good works is to walk worthily according to the calling of unity (4:1-3). To walk according to the calling of unity is to have humility, gentleness, and patience. To have patience is to bear with others in love and make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Furthermore, Christ has equipped the Church with gifts in order for it to do a work of service for all to arrive at unity of both faith and knowledge of the Son of God (4:11-16). To do good works is to serve, and this service is connected with unity of faith and knowledge just as much as the call to unity is bound to humility, gentleness, and patience. Implicitly this section of the exhortatio applies to the second point, that the Church is to reveal God’s diverse wisdom. When the Church lives according to its calling, it demonstrates and reveals itself to the world as a unified entity of love and respect, standing in contradistinction to the world’s behavior.

Walking According to the New Person (Eph 4:17-32)

In the next section of the exhortatio, the author of Ephesians instructs the audience out of his own testimony in the Lord no longer to walk according to the new person instead of the old. The author is using the figure of reflection, speaking with a personal touch (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.v.1-7). The old person is characterized by the way the Gentiles live. The author first instructs his audience not to walk as the Gentiles walk (v. 17). The Gentiles walk in the futility of their mind, in blindness of thought, in alienation of life with God through being ignorant, according to the hardness of their heart, in apathy giving themselves over to the licentiousness in business of every impurity with greediness (vv. 17-19). No, the author’s audience, he states, did not learn Christ this way (v. 20). He instructs them to put away the former way of life of the old man that wasted away according to the desires of deceit. He instructs them to renew the spirit of their mind and put on the new man according to God who created him in righteousness and holiness of truth (vv. 22-24). Furthermore, he instructs them to put away falsehood, quoting Zechariah 8:16: “Speak truth, each one of you, with your neighbor.” He instructs them from the Psalms: “Be angry and do not sin” (Ps 4:5). He tells them not to let the sun go down on their anger. The author is following good rhetorical construction by providing proof for the exhortations (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4). Building on the old man and new man, the author states that those who steal must steal no longer. He adds that not even a single rotten word should come out from their mouths, but only words that build up those who hear should come out from their mouths. He instructs them not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Finally, the author instructs the audience to allow bitterness, rage, anger, grievous shouting, and blasphemous speech be taken up away from them with all evilness. Instead, he instructs them to become loving, tender-hearted, and forgiving, because God in Christ also forgave them. The author is portraying the ways of men, a notable rhetorical figure (cf. Cicero, Orator, 137-138), in order to instruct them in what not to do and conversely what to do.

Again, this section of the exhortatio pertains explicitly to the first moral goal identified in the narratio, that the Church is to walk in good works prepared beforehand by God (cf. Eph 2:10). To do good works is to live like the new man and not the old. To live like the old is to be ignorant, blind, futile, alienated, apathetic, callous, wasteful, deceitful, false, destructive, bitter, full of rage, angry, blasphemous, and evil. To live like the new is to renew the spirit of their mind, speak the truth, be angry but not sin–not even letting the sun go down on their anger–speaking constructively, be loving, be tender-hearted, and be forgiving. This last exhortation, to forgive each other because God forgave them, prepares the way for the next section of the exhortatio. Implicitly it pertains to the second moral goal of the narratio, for the Church to make known God’s diverse wisdom. When the Church lives according to the new person, it demonstrates and reveals God’s creation in contradistinction to the life of the world.

Walking According to Love, Imitating God (Eph 5:1-14)

The author of Ephesians wants his audience to live according to love, thus imitating God and Christ: “Therefore, become imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love, just as also Christ loved us and gave himself on our behalf as an offering and sacrifice for a sweet-smelling aroma to God” (vv. 1-2). Immediately, the author goes to the complete antithesis, stating that sexual immorality, impurity, and greediness must not even be named among them, and filthiness, foolish talk, and coarse jesting is not fitting (and must not occur). However, in their place ought to be thanksgiving. They are not fornicators, immoral people, or greedy people who have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. No, they are not among the sons of disobedience. Instead, formerly darkness, they are now light in the Lord, and they are to walk in the light–in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. They do not partake in the deeds of darkness; they expose them (vv. 3-13). For it says, “Wake up, oh sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (v. 14). This last quotation may be an allusion to Is 60:1-5, but it is uncertain. In any case, the author is making a justification for his ethical instruction, though we do not know from where he obtained this quotation. Therefore, it is in good rhetorical fashion, providing justification for the ethical instruction (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4).

Still, this section of the exhortatio concerns itself primarily with the first of the two moral ends of the narratio, that the Church is to walk in good works prepared beforehand by God (cf. Eph 2:10). To do good works is to imitate God and walk in love. Imitating God does not include sexual immorality, immoral behavior, or greediness. However, it does include goodness, righteousness, and truth. But, secondly, it amplifies the other moral end, to make known the mystery, the plan, God’s diverse wisdom. Since they are the light, they expose the darkness, thus making it light. Furthermore, like Christ, they shine on others, playing a revealing role as light.

Walking According to Wisdom (Eph 5:15-6:9)

In this final section of the exhortatio, the author instructs the audience to live according to wisdom–they are to be wise and not unwise, they are to make the most of the time. Furthermore, they are not to be foolish, but they are to understand the will of the Lord (to do good works and to reveal the diverse wisdom of God). According to wisdom, they are not to get drunk with wine, but, instead, they are to be filled with the Spirit–speaking to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in their heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father, and submitting to each other in fear of Christ (5:15-21). Wives are to submit to their husbands, to respect them. Husbands are to submit to their wives, to love them as their own body. These actions on the parts of the wives and the husbands in relation to each other are justified by analogy through the relationship between the Church and Christ, which is described as a great mystery (5:22-33). Children are to submit to their parents, to obey them. Parents are to submit to their children, to nourish them (6:1-4). Slaves are to submit to their masters, to obey them. Masters are to submit to their slaves, not to threaten them (6:5-9). In the section on wives and husbands, the author justifies his ethical instruction by quoting Gen 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” In the section on children and parents, the author in part quotes Ex 20:12 and Deut 5:16: “Honor your father and your mother”; “in order that it might be good for you and you might be long-lived on the earth” (Deut 5:16); Again, the author is following good rhetorical fashion, supplying justification for the ethical instruction (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.4).

This section of the exhortatio appeals to both moral ends of the narratio. God deserves praise for the work he has done, and the purpose of his work was for the Church to do good works and to reveal God’s diverse wisdom. In this section, to do good works is to be wise, to make the most of the time. To be wise and make the most of the time is to understand the will of the Lord, to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to speak with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, to sing and make music to the Lord, to give thanks for everything in the name of Christ to God the Father, and to submit to each other. To submit to each other is to respect, to love, to obey, and to nourish (build up, train up, or discipline). To be unwise is to be foolish and to get drunk with wine. The Church is to do good works, which means they are to live wisely and not unwisely. But the Church is also to reveal the diverse wisdom of God, the great mystery. The relationship between the Church and the Christ is a great mystery. There is a connection here with the relationship between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. Just as much as it is a great mystery for Gentiles to be joined with Israel in Christ (cf. Eph 3:8-11), so also for the Church to be joined with Christ (cf. Eph 5:31-33). Likewise, the same can be said between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The two parties are unified into one entity–marriage, family, and business, respectively. The mystery, God’s diverse wisdom, extends to all matters of life. As a result, the mystery of the Gospel, the summation of all things in Christ, the gift of God’s grace by the blood of Christ, this good news, is further evident in the marriage relationship when the wife respects her husband and when her husband loves her. This good news is demonstrated when the child obeys her parent and when her parent nourishes–builds up, trains, and disciplines–her. This good news is revealed when the slave obeys her master and when her master does not threaten her. It is a good work that has a redeeming value as it points to the gospel, which is God’s wisdom. In this way, marriage partners, family members, and business associates are able to have a role in the Church’s role as an evangelist, its role to reveal God’s diverse wisdom.

Conclusion

The exhortatio, though not a formal section of rhetoric, comes in after the narratio further to amplify the moral end of the facts presented in praise of God’s glory. Here’s a breakdown of the amplification:

  • do good works (2:10)
    1. walk worthily of the calling of unity (4:1-16)
      • be humble
      • be gentle
      • be patient
        1. bear with others in love
        2. make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
      • to serve and make known the unity of faith and knowledge
    2. walk according to the new man (4:17-32)
      • not be like the old
        1. be ignorant
        2. be blind
        3. be futile
        4. be alienated
        5. be apathetic
        6. be callous
        7. be wasteful
        8. be deceitful
        9. be false
        10. be destructive
        11. be bitter
        12. be full of rage
        13. be angry
        14. be blasphemous
        15. be evil
      • but be like the new
        1. renew the spirit of the mind
        2. speak the truth
        3. be angry but not sin
        4. speak constructively
        5. be loving
        6. be tender-hearted
        7. be forgiving
    3. walk according to love, imitating God (5:1-14)
      • imitating God does not include:
        1. sexual immorality
        2. immoral behavior
        3. greediness (idolatry)
      • imitating God does include:
        1. goodness
        2. righteousness
        3. truth
    4. walk according to wisdom (5:15-6:9)
      • not be unwise
        1. be foolish
        2. get drunk with wine
      • but be wise and make the most of the time
        1. understand the will of the Lord
        2. be filled with the Spirit
          • speak with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
          • sing and make music to the Lord
          • give thanks for everything in the name of Christ to God the Father
          • submit to each other
            1. wives respect their husbands
            2. husbands love their wives
            3. children obey their parents
            4. parents nourish their children
            5. slaves obey their masters
            6. masters do not threaten their slaves
  • reveal God’s diverse wisdom (3:10)
    1. Church as a unified entity of love (4:1-16)
    2. Church as God’s creation (4:17-32)
    3. Church as radiant light (5:1-14)
    4. Church as an evangelist (5:15-6:9)

With the exhortatio complete, the peroratio can come and sum up the entire speech.

Narratio: Eph 2:1-3:21

Following the exordium, the narratio enters into Ephesians, picking up on the praise of God’s works by expounding upon the facts previously presented. It is the narratio’s job to amplify and provide the moral end of those deeds (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.38; III.xvi.1-10).

Ephesians 2:1-3:21 provides breaks down into three sections. First, Eph 2:1-10. This section talks about how the audience was dead in their sins, yet God, rich in mercy and love, made them alive with Christ, raised them up and caused them to sit down in the heavenly places with Christ, to show his surpassing abundance of his grace. What we have here is good epideictic rhetoric, for God’s abundant grace for humanity is praised (cf.Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.ix.38; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.6-8). But it doesn’t stop with praise; it identifies the moral end of God’s actions. It is by grace that the audience is being saved, which is God’s gift, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, in order that we might walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10). The purpose of God’s grace, his raising them to life and causing them to sit down in the heavenly places with Christ, is to have them do good deeds that he prepared beforehand. This purpose follows good epideictic style for the narratio (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, III.xvi.1-10).

Second, Eph 2:11-22. While the first section concerned the audience’s former condition of being in death (dead in their sins), this section concerns their former condition of being in flesh (uncircumcision). The audience was called “the uncircumcision” by Israel, “the circumcision.” They were separate from Christ and alienated from Israel. Christ, acting as God’s agent, as destroyed the dividing wall between the uncircumcision and the circumcision, joining the two into one new being, thus bringing the audience near though they were once far away. As a result, those who are in this new person have access in one spirit to the Father. He took strangers and aliens and made them members of God’s household. Furthermore, they are being built up into a dwelling of God. Again, we are seeing good epideictic rhetorical fashion, for this narratio is continuing to expound upon the deeds mentioned in the exordium by praising God for his works. In this case, Christ is the active agent of God. Where Christ works, God is working, for it is God’s power at work in Christ (cf. Eph 1:20). The moral end of these deeds is revealed in the next section.

Third, Eph 3:1-21. The author first gives an aside about the mystery of Christ for Gentiles to be co-heirs belonging to the same body and sharing in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Now, the audience, the Gentiles, are built up into a dwelling place for God, and to what end? The author identifies the purpose of these deeds, which is for them to make known the diverse wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The diverse wisdom of God is the administration of his grace, the mysterious plan. This third section is entirely independent, but it does shed light on the purpose of the previous section. It is independent in that it gives its own deeds–God’s making the Gentiles co-heirs, members of the same body, sharers of the promise–while also giving the moral purpose–for the Gentiles to make known the diverse wisdom of God. But this role of the Church to make known God’s wisdom is bound to the preceding section. The Church is the dwelling place of God, the holy temple. The rulers and authorities look upon this building, the Church, and see God’s wisdom. Because the Church bears this purpose, the author gives a prayer for them, following good epideictic style (cf. Cicero, Orator, 137-138; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, VIII.v.1-7). In this prayer, he seeks for God to give them strength, to cause Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, to root and perfect them in love, to cause them to know fully the width, length, height, and depth, to cause them to know the surpassing love of knowledge of Christ, and for them to be filled. In closing, the prayer is extended into a closing eulogy that parallels the exordium when it speaks of God as the one who is able to exceed anything that the author and his audience could possibly imagine, and he seeks glory for God in the church and in Christ for all generations forever and ever.

Let’s take a quick look at the deeds set forth in the exordium and see how they are amplified in the narratio.

  • God predestined them to be children (1:5) = Christ’s work on the cross has made them members of God’s household (2:19)
  • God freely gave them grace (1:6) = God gives grace and is saving the audience by grace (2:5, 8)
  • God provided a ransom, his Son, for them (1:7) = Christ used the cross to reconcile them (2:1-22)
  • God revealed the mystery of his will to them (1:9) = God revealed the mystery to the author who revealed it to the audience (3:2-7)
  • God sealed them with the Holy Spirit (1:13) = God built them up in the Spirit (2:22)
  • God raised Christ from the dead (1:20) = God raised them with Christ (2:5)
  • God placed Christ at his right hand in heaven (1:20) = God placed them with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6)
Let’s also look at the moral ends of the deeds established in the narratio:
  • to live in good works prepared beforehand by God (2:10)
  • to make known the mystery, the plan, God’s diverse wisdom (3:10)

In the narratio, the author of Ephesians further explains in more detail God’s deeds, thus providing more praise for God. He is worthy of praise because he has raised up the audience from death to life with Christ, he sat them down with Christ in the heavens, he has made them co-heirs with Israel, making one new being rather than two hostile entities. God has revealed his mystery, and it is the new being. His grace and mercy are indeed worthy of praise. And these deeds call the audience to do good deeds and make known God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Now that the narratio has come to a close, the next section, the exhortatio, is able to come in and expound upon the moral end.

Exordium: Eph 1:3-23

As indicated before, Ephesians is an epideictic piece of rhetoric. We will here discuss the exordium in Ephesians.

In the letter, Eph 1:3-23 functions as the exordium. It is the prelude for the entire letter; it sets the tone. The author wrote it in such a way that the audience shares in the author’s activity of praising God for the work he has done in the church through Christ. Christ, who is prominent in the Ephesian eulogy, is prominent throughout the rest of the letter, and is the link that binds the exordium to all else that follows (cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, III.xiv.1-11). Both the eulogy and the prayer function together to refresh the audience’s minds about God’s deeds, which prepares the way for the narratio (cf. Ad Herennium, III.vi.12; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.24). And what deeds are these?

  • God has blessed them with every spiritual blessing (v 3)
  • God called them to be holy and blameless (v 4)
  • God predestined them to be children (v 5)
  • God freely gave them grace (v 6)
  • God provided a ransom, his Son, for them (v 7)
  • God revealed the mystery of his will to them (v 9)
  • God appointed them in Christ to praise him (v 11)
  • God sealed them with the Holy Spirit (v 13)
  • God raised Christ from the dead (v 20)
  • God placed Christ at his right hand in heaven (v 20)
  • God placed all things under Christ’s feet (v 22)
  • God appointed Christ over all things in the church (v 22)

Indeed, the author of Ephesians was praising God for the noble deeds he did to benefit the church (cf. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, III.vii.6-8).

And so, like a good exordium should do, this one is a prelude with a key note, it gets the audience to feel like they are sharing in the praise, and recalls to their minds what God has done for them. Now, the narratio can come and describe in more detail God’s deeds on their behalf.

New Books Concerning Ephesians

The pages (and posts) written on this blog as a source for books concerning Ephesians need to be updated, since several texts have been published in the past 2-3 years. Here are some of them.

In the Baylor Handbook on the New Testament, William Larkin has written Ephesians: A Handbook on the Greek Text.

Frank Thielman has completed the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament volume on Ephesians.

The Ephesians volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, by Clinton Arnold, is now available.

A commentary concerning what is called the “drama of Ephesians” has been published, being written by Timothy Gombis. It is called, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series volume for Ephesians, written by Walter Liefeld, is also available.

Lynn Cohick has produced the Ephesians commentary for the New Covenant Commentary series.

In the Semantic and Structural Analysis Series, Edna Johnson has written A Semantic and Structural Analysis of Ephesians.

Finally, No Longer Living as the Gentiles: Differentiation And Shared Ethical Values In Ephesians 4:17? 6:9 (Library of New Testament Studies), by Daniel Darko, is a recent monograph.