Eph 5:21

Philip L. Graber (pgraber@emory.edu)
Wed, 1 May 1996 22:41:12 -0400 (EDT)

I've been puzzled for quite some time by how the participle in Eph 5:21 is
treated. I'm not real big on the label "imperatival participle," and, as
I recall, Brooks and Winbery express discomfort with it, saying that any
participle that can be explained otherwise should be. (I suspect that
they all can be, but that's another issue.) If a participle is dependent
on an imperative verb, that does not make it a special kind of participle,
does it? I've never heard anyone call a circumstantial participle a
"participle with indicative force." It seems clear to me that there are a
string of participles in Eph 5:19-21 that all follow from the imperative
EUXARISTOUNTES... hUPOTASSOMENOI.... The implication of the grammar seems
to me to be that an appropriate response to the imperative to be filled
with the Spirit (in spirit?) would include such things as speaking to one
another in psalms, etc., singing and making melody.., giving thanks
always..., and being subject to one another.... Why then do the
commentators and translators so consistently make a decisive structural
break here, as though the "submission" bit has nothing to do with being
careful how you walk and redeeming the time and understanding what the
Lord's will is and being filled with the Spirit?

The NRSV goes even further by putting 5:21 in a paragraph all by itself!
This seems especially difficult, considering that 5:22 is an elliptical
clause in which the verb (the process, I mean, not necessarily the form of
the verb) must be supplied from 5:21. It seems that the structure of the
passage is something like:

5:15 Watch therefore...
16 redeeming...
17 Do not be foolish...
but understand...
18 Do not get drunk...
but be filled...
19 speaking...
singing and making melody...
20 giving thanks...
21 being subject...
22 (wives to [their] own husbands...)

Then the hOTI clause breaks this string, and the gives rise to an
extended stretch of text concerning husbands and wives (or is it Christ
and the church?). The point is that there is certainly not a clear break
as though the writer has finished one topic and is now ready (in v. 21)
to move on to another. He slides into it seamlessly, like he does from
talking about husbands and wives to talking about Christ and the church
(where did he make THAT transition?).

This seems obvious to me, but I've never seen it treated this way. Am I
missing something? (Perhaps its a bad childhood experience with an
imperatival participle, or one that used too much force.)

Philip Graber Graduate Division of Religion
Graduate Student in New Testament 211 Bishops Hall, Emory University
pgraber@emory.edu Atlanta, GA 30322 USA