Yes, a “structure” for the home was intended, but it's a military metaphor, not a statement about dominance and submission or about gender.
The verb used in Ephesians 5:22 is also used in the preceding verse (5:21), which is not about husbands and wives or men and women but rather states a general rule for all Christians. He says either: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (NRSV) or “...submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of God”. (KJV).
I don’t think Paul means a “partnership”, like a business. What does he mean? It’s hard to say from any translation I have. King James Version (KJV) has “submit”. New International Version (NIV) has “submit”. No surprise there. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) has “be subject to”.
In Greek, however, the verb which appears in verse 21 and then is implied in verse 22:
(The first letter is supposed to have a diacritical mark indicating an aspirated u, "hu", as in hypo, hyper, etc. If anyone knows how to make that appear with HTML, do tell)
Now, I’m not fluent in ancient Greek, but I do have a dictionary
. Specifically, a Liddell & Scott
Intermediate Greek Lexicon (Oxford
, 1889, 1975 Ed.). Unlike “New Testament
” Greek dictionaries --which often give for a definition whatever word the Authorized Translation
(KJV) gives-- Liddell & Scott is a dictionary for classical Greek.
The Unabridged Liddell & Scott (amusingly referred to as the “Great Scott
” by students who have encountered the massive tome in person) is now available online. Ancient Greek
is a dead language. There are only so many texts left for us to read, and a finite number of words were used in those texts. The “Great Scott” has entries for all
of them. That’s right, every word ever used
(in the texts that have survived down to the present).
Here’s a c&p of the abridged Liddell & Scott entry, from the Perseus online edition at Tufts University (www.perseus.tufts.edu):
hupotassô attic -ttô fut. xô
- I. to place or arrange under, ti tini Plut.
- II. to post under, to subject, heauton tini id=Plut.; heautôi ta panta NTest.:--Pass. to be obedient, tini id=NTest.
The incomprehensible parts of these definitions are transliterations of Greek words, putting the words in the context of a phrase. Note that the KJV meaning of “submit” or “be obedient to” is listed as a special “New Testament” definition, implying that only the New Testament “koine” (pidgin) Greek used the term this way. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I usually consider this a sign that King James’ translators fudged the Greek.
To me, the most evocative classical use of this word, documented in the "Great Scott", is to “line up behind”, used to describe soldiers assuming formation behind a standard. Paul frequently uses a military metaphors. In this letter to the Ephesians, just a little after the verse in question, Paul exhorts the faithful to put on the "whole armor of God" (Eph 6:11 and 13), which he then describes in detail:
14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of Spirit, which is the word of God. (NRSV)
Here he is saying: wives line up behind your husbands, children behind your parents. Christians
are arrayed as an army against the forces of evil
, tallest to shortest. All the Christians, male and female, young and old, are to line up behind the banner of Christ
My conclusion: Paul was not as patriarchal as King James’ translators. Rather, he experienced Christian communities as a persecuted minority cult that had to stand together or be wiped out. Making mommie kow-tow to daddy wasn't the point. Building a united front with a militant, aggressive stance towards the World was Paul's objective, and history suggests he was extremely good at it.