Husbands and Wives

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the Church,
he himself the savior of the Body.
As the Church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the Church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the Church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the Church,
because we are members of his Body.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.

This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.
In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself,
and the wife should respect her husband.
(Ephesians 5:21-33)   

Scripture Study

5:22–33 Paul views Christian marriage through the lens of Christ’s covenant love for the Church. This analogy of faith highlights (1) the indissolubility of Christian marriage, since Christ will never withdraw from the Church or disown her, (2) the sacramentality of Christian marriage, since marital love is a living sign of Christ’s love for the Church, and (3) the reciprocity of Christian marriage, since the Church submits to Christ’s leadership even as Christ the bridegroom acquiesces to the prayers of his beloved bride.
5:22 Wives, be subject: The Greek implies her submission is free and voluntary, not degrading, servile, or coercive (Col 3:18; Tit 2:5; 1 Pet 3:1). Since a wife entrusts herself to her husband as part of her devotion to the Lord, her submission cannot be unconditional, especially if her husband commands what God expressly forbids (Acts 5:29).
5:25 Husbands, love: The husband’s mission is to build up his marriage and family, not to dominate or demean them for selfish ends. His model is Christ, whose love was put into action by sacrifice.
5:26 washing of water: A reference to Baptism, which cleanses the soul of sin and beautifies it with grace (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:5). Paul’s comments recall the symbolic imagery of Ezek 16:8–14, where Yahweh entered a covenant of marriage with Jerusalem after bathing her in water and clothing her with beautiful garments.
5:27 without spot or wrinkle: Evokes the image of a garment that is clean and pressed.
5:29 nourishes: The concern of a husband to meet his physical needs should likewise bring him to cherish his wife.
5:31 two shall become one: A citation from Gen 2:24.
5:32 mystery: Marriage is an earthly image of the heavenly union between Christ and the Church. This spiritual symbolism was hidden from the beginning in the marital covenant and is now manifest in the New Covenant.[1]



In any case, each one of you should love

Most husbands and wives can recall the first time they heard this passage and that interesting quiet that suddenly came upon them. As they mulled over the meaning of this passage, the husband could easily fall into the all too human understanding that God was merely stating the hierarchal relationship of marriage. The wife could also be wrapped in a very human understanding that the message “you should love me like Christ” was clearly meant for her husband.

St Paul reminds us that our relationship as husband and wife should mirror the relationship of all members of the Church in our subordination to Christ. We are in a shared love relationship, living in mutual respect, submitting to each other as we are to submit to Christ – our true judge. The basis of the supernatural grandeur and dignity of marriage lies in the fact that it is an extension of the union between Christ and his Church whereby the husband represents Christ and the wife the Church.

Saint Pope John Paul II noted that “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children as witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament of marriage makes them sharers” (Familiaris consortio, 13).[2]


May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.



[1] The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 353.
[2] Saint Paul’s Captivity Letters, The Navarre Bible (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 2005), 74.