The transformative ethos of Ephesians 5:21-33 and its implications for a contemporary South African context

Adams, David (2003-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The New Testament passage that treats the dynamics of the marriage relationship most extensively is Ephesians 5:21-33. This passage is embedded in the Ephesian domestic code, which employs a conventional form used widely in the first-century Mediterranean world and which consequently reflects a patriarchal hierarchy. Does this, however, imply that Ephesians is advocating a marriage relationship that is patriarchal and hierarchical, or does this passage point beyond the particular first-century cultural context to a loftier ideal? Scholars are today divided in their assessments of Ephesians 5:21-33. Some regard the passage as a reactionary accommodation to the status quo, while others excuse this social conformity as being necessitated by a struggle for survival in a hostile first-century world. This thesis seeks to re-read Ephesians 5:21-33 rhetorically against the background of the socio-historical context of the first-century Mediterranean world and prevailing perspectives on the status of women, domestic social structures, and marriage. It takes into consideration the general rhetorical thrust of Ephesians as a whole, the particular way in which Ephesians 5:21-33 is framed textually, as well as the structure, content and uniquely Christological context. Such a re-reading shows that the conventional household code of the first century is in fact infused with a radical transformative ethos which subtely, but significantly, challenges the patriarchal hierarchy. For, it invites readers to step into a new, alternative reality in Christ, thereby entering a place of ongoing reorientation in their marriage relationships, embracing an attitude of mutual submission and other-centred service towards each othera marriage relationship modeled on the relationship between Christ and the church. This points to the conclusion that it is this transformative ethos in Ephesians 5:21-33 that is transculturally normative rather than the first-century patriarchal hierarchy in which it is embedded. This has profound implications for pastoral ministry in present-day South Africa, for readers from more traditional backgrounds often read this passage as simply reinforcing the patriarch ally hierarchical status quo, while readers from less traditional backgrounds may tend merely to dismiss it as archaic and irrelevant. In reality, the transformative ethos of Ephesians 5:21-33 provides an ongoing challenge to both authoritarian hierarchical marriage structures on the one hand, and laissez faire egalitarian marriage relationships on the other, while holding out a compelling vision - a vision of a magnificent other-centred marriage partnership under the lordship of Christ.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Efesiërs 5:21-33 is by uitstek dié gedeelte in die Nuwe Testament wat die dinamika van die huweliksverhouding op die mees uitgebreide wyse behandel. Hierdie gedeelte is onlosmaaklik verbonde aan die Efesiese huisreëls, wat weer gebaseer is op die konvensionele vorm wydverspreid in die eerste-eeuse Mediterreense wêreld, en weerspieël gevolglik 'n patriargale hiërargie. Die vraag is egter of hierdeur geïmpliseer word dat Efesiërs 'n patriargale en hiërargiese huweliksverhouding verkondig, of wys hierdie gedeelte, verby die bepaalde eerste-eeuse kulturele konteks heen, na 'n hoër ideaal? Geleerdes is vandag verdeeld in hulle beoordeling van Efesiërs 5:21-33. Sommige beskou die gedeelte as 'n behoudende aanpassing van die status quo, terwyl ander hierdie sosiale behoudendheid verskoon as genoodsaak deur die stryd om oorlewing in 'n vyandige eersteeeuse wêreld. Hierdie tesis beoog om Efesiërs 5:21-33 retories te herlees teen die agtergrond van die sosio-historiese konteks van die eerste-eeuse Mediterreense wêreld en die heersende sienings van die status van vroue, huishoudelik-sosiale strukture en die huwelik. Dit neem in aanmerking die algemene retoriese strekking van Efesiërs as geheel, die bepaalde tekstuele omraming van Efesiërs 5:21-33, sowel as die struktuur, inhoud en unieke Christologiese konteks. So 'n herlees toon dat die konvensionele huishoudelike kode van die eerste eeu in werklikheid besiel was met 'n radikaal herskeppende etos wat op subtiele, maar betekenisvolle, wyse die patriargale hiërargie uitdaag. Want, dit nooi lesers om 'n nuwe, alternatiewe werklikheid in Christus te betree vanwaar hulle hulself voortdurend kan heroriënteer in hul huweliksverhouding, en 'n houding van wedersydse onderworpenheid en ander-gesentreerde diens aan mekaar aanvaar - 'n huweliksverhouding gemodelleer op die verhouding tussen Christus en die kerk. Só 'n herlees lei tot die gevolgtrekking dat dit hierdie herskeppende etos van Efesiërs 5:21- 33 is wat transkultureel normatief is, eerder as die eerste-eeuse patriargale hiërargie waaraan dit onlosmaaklik verbonde is. Dit bring diepgaande implikasies vir die pastorale bediening in die hedendaagse Suid-Afrika mee, want lesers met 'n meer tradisionele agtergrond lees dié gedeelte dikwels as 'n versterking van die patriargale, hiërargiese status quo, terwyl lesers met 'n minder tradisionele agtergrond mag neig om die gedeelte bloot af te maak as argaïes en irrelevant. In werklikheid voorsien die herskeppende etos van Efesiërs 5:21-33 'n volgehoue uitdaging aan beide outoritêr-hiërargiese huwelikstrukture aan die een kant, en laissez faire gelykmakende huweliksverhoudinge aan die ander kant, terwyl dit 'n dwingende visie voorhou - 'n visie van 'n heerlike ander-gesentreerde huweliksvennootskap onder die heerskappy van Christus.

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