A Translation of Ephesians 5


“Submit voluntarily to each other out of sincere respect for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

I love how the apostle Paul approaches the topic of Christian relationships. He doesn’t make it about the other person, he makes it personal, focused, pointed at the one you see in the mirror. Often, when we see the word “submission,” there is something in us that objects. When we hear that wives are to submit to their husbands, employees to employers, or citizens to governments, there is something in the human psyche that protests, “You can’t make me!”

But that is what I love about Paul’s approach. He doesn’t imply, at least on the non-governmental level, that the other person is doing anything to make us submit. It is all about our choices, our understanding, our willingness to submit. In other words, it is about our frank understanding of what makes relationships work.

In any relationship, there is need for some level of submission. Two people can’t get through a one-person-wide door at the same time. One must give way. That works best when one politely allows another to go first. It doesn’t work as well when one beats the other senseless so that he or she might enter first. Submission works best when it is volitional, when it is agreed upon. Paul refers to it as voluntary submission (see note on 5:21 below for why the Greek verb must be translated in this fashon).

For Christians, this type of voluntary submission works best when it is done out of respect for Christ. It works best because, as a human being, I may have a major issue submitting voluntarily to someone for whom I have little regard or respect. However, I am inclined to do it anyway “out of respect for Christ.” I can overcome that not-so-submissive part of me by reminding myself that I am doing it for a higher purpose, and not because the person deserves it. The truth is that sometimes the person will deserve it, and sometimes the person will not. But when we do it out of respect for Christ, we do not need to make that determination. We only need to look in the mirror and realize that is is about the person staring back at us, and his or her relationship to the Lord. That truth makes voluntary submission much easier.

Now, on to the translation of Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5:1-33
A Translation by Randal Cutter

5:1  Therefore be imitators of God as dearly loved children;

5:2  and walk in love, just as also the Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a pleasing aroma.

5:3  Accordingly, let sexual immorality, impurity of every kind, and sexual exploitation not be named among you, as is fitting for those who are holy;

5:4  instead of shameful talk, foolish words, and vulgar speech that is not becoming, practice giving thanks.

5:5  For you can be certain of this, that no immoral, impure, or greedy person—especially since greed is a form of idolatry—you can be certain that those who practice these things do not have an inheritance in the Kingdom of the Christ and God.

5:6  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for on account of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience;

5:7  therefore do not be in league with them.

5:8  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

5:9  —for the fruit of the light is found in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—

5:10  learning what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11  Do not have fellowship with the fruitless works of darkness, but rather bring them into the light.

5:12  For it is embarrassing to mention the things done in secret by the children of darkness.

5:13  But everything brought into the light will be made visible by the light;

5:14  for anything that makes things visible is light.* Therefore it says, “Get up, you who are sleeping, and rise from the dead, and the Christ will shine on you.”

5:15  Therefore, watch carefully how you walk, not as fools, but as wise;

5:16  redeeming the time, since the days are harmful.*

5:17  On account of this, do not be unwise, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

5:18  Also, do not be intoxicated with wine, which destroys self-control;* instead be filled with the Spirit.

5:19  Speak to each other with psalms, songs of praise, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your heart to the Lord.

5:20  Give thanks at all times to our God and Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5:21  Submit voluntarily* to each other out of sincere respect for Christ;

5:22  wives, submit voluntarily* to your husbands as to the Lord,

5:23  because the husband is head of the wife as also the Christ is head of the church, himself Savior of the body.

5:24  As the Church voluntarily submits to Christ, so also wives should submit voluntarily to their husbands in everything.

5:25  Husbands, sacrificially love* your wives, just as also Christ sacrificially loved the church and gave himself on her behalf,

5:26   in order that he might purify her, having cleansed her with the washing of water by the word,

5:27  so that he might present her to himself a magnificent church, having no stain or wrinkle, or any other such thing, but that she be holy and blameless.

5:28  Thus husbands also ought to sacrificially love their wives as their own bodies. The one sacrificially loving his own wife loves himself.

5:29  For no one ever hates his own physical body,* but feeds it and takes care of it, just as also Christ the Church,

5:30  because we are members of his Body.

5:31  For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will be united to his wife, and the two will be one physical body.*

5:32  This is a great mystery; but I am speaking to Christ and to the Church.

5:33  However, I am also speaking to you as individuals. Let each husband sacrificially love his own wife, just as he loves himself, and his wife should respect her husband.


5:14  Anything that makes things visible is light: Bible versions differ on how to translate this difficult phrase because it could go in several directions. I have translated in a way that makes the most sense (to me) grammatically and contextually.

5:16  Since the days are harmful: Following the tradition of the KJV, most versions translate this phrase, “the days are evil.” However, the Greek word I have translated “harmful” is a moral/ethical word when applied to people, but simply describes harmful, rotten, or useless things when not applied to humans. A day does not have the capacity to have moral or ethical thought, but the laws of entropy demonstrate that the simple passage of a day can be extremely harmful. The days are not neutral. You cannot get through them unchanged. You can’t get through a day without losing ground, unless you are redeeming the time.

5:18  Which destroys self-control: While most versions translate the Greek word as “debauchery” or “dissipation,” the word itself also refers to the loss of self-control, a meaning that fits this context extremely well. Loss of self-control can certainly lead to debauchery and dissipation, however, they are not the only results of a loss of self-control, and I have translated in a way that leaves the other awful results open.

5:21  Submit voluntarily: The verb form is reflexive in nature and is more woodenly translated, “submit yourselves.” This, of course, means to do so by one’s own will and volition rather than through outside coercion. This is something Christians do voluntarily out of sincere respect for Christ.

5:22  Wives, submit voluntarily: There is no Greek verb in verse 22. The topic is still voluntarily submission, and Paul writes, “Wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.” In order for it to read better in English, versions (including mine) bring the verb down from verse 21, as Paul intended his readers to do.

5:25  Sacrifically love: The Greek verb translated “love” is agapaō. Most English readers will more readily recognize the noun form, agapē. This word for love is about the self-sacrificial nature of love. It is the John 3:16 love (God so loved that he gave . . .). When the apostle uses agapē, he most often is focused upon the self-sacrificial nature of love. It is important to bring this aspect out in this context because the English word “love” does not carry the same connotations as agapē. As the translation of 5:20-21 demonstrates, Christian wives submit voluntarily to other Christians “out of respect for Christ” by also submitting voluntarily to their husbands. And rather than the enforcer of submission, Christian husbands submit voluntarily to other Christians “out of respect for Christ” by sacrificing in love for their wives.

5:29  His own physical body: The Greek word here is the word often translated “flesh.” However, in this context it obviously means “body.”I have kept the emphasis of “flesh” by translating it “physical body.” Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24 which describes the institution of marriage. Then, in verse 30, he applies it to Christ and the Church. The great mystery is that Christ and the Church join together through their spiritual union to form a “body” in the same way that a man and woman join together through marriage to form a body.

5:31  One physical body: The Greek word, once again, is the word often translated “flesh.” However, in this context, it means “body.” I have kept the emphasis of “flesh” by translating it “physical body.”


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