Ephesians 5:33 – Is it About "Deep Respect"?
Ephesians 5:33 says:
“Nevertheless, also, let each one of YOU individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” ―NWT
Rare is a wedding talk, or a public talk on
building a happy family life, that does not quote Ephesians 5:33. I once heard a
speaker dwell for twenty minutes on the part where a husband is to “love his
wife as he does himself” and all that it involves, and then another ten minutes
on how he has to “earn the respect of his wife” and how he can go about doing
Perhaps we are not aware to what extend this scripture has been used as an excuse in actually breaking up marriages. What does the Bible really say at Ephesians 5:33? Do husbands have to earn the respect of their wives from God’s standpoint?
Should the Wife "Fear" her Husband?
Many if not most of the marriages start out in all sincerity, with both partners being in love with each other. And I think we all agree that in most cases both have every intention of making it a happy marriage. But human relationships are not static. No matter how much married couples love their mate there will be times when something will be said or done that will hurt or offend the other person. (James 3:8) It has been noted that a successful marriage is made up of two good forgivers. (1Cor. 13:4-7) To make a marriage not only last but be a happy one, takes work! It is not a matter of "once in love always in love." It takes applying Bible principles, for Jehovah has told us how to benefit ourselves. (Isaiah 48:17,18)
If there is a problem between a husband and wife who belong to a congregation, the elders may be called upon to help resolve any points of contention in order to restore peace to the couple. Perhaps some of us have been in this situation. The husband and wife will air their complaints against each other and the elders try to mediate. Often the husband is told that he has not earned the respect of his wife and then is counseled on how he can merit that respect. Sometimes the wife will use that as an excuse to get out of an unhappy marriage, thinking that she has scriptural grounds in view of what the Society has to say on this.
The Society’s book “MAKING YOUR FAMILY LIFE HAPPY” (printed 1978) says on page 40, chapter 4, under the heading “A Husband Who Gains Deep Respect:”
“The wife should have deep respect for her husband,” is the instruction given at Ephesians 5:33. But the husband should be diligent to merit this respect; otherwise, it will be very difficult for his wife to comply with this instruction. How can a husband fulfill his role as outlined in the Bible so as to gain such respect?
It is true, of course, that one cannot demand respect. Respect is something a person merits over time by his positive actions. But that is NOT what the apostle Paul is talking about when he says at Ephesians 5:33, “…the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”
According to The Bible in Living English, published by the WTBS, that verse reads, “let each of you individually too, though, love his wife just as he does himself. And the wife should fear her husband.”
“Fear” is the proper translation of the Greek word Paul uses there, not deep respect. The literal translation is, “the but woman in order that she may be fearing the male person.” (see the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures) The word “fear” is translated from the Greek φόβος (pho' bos [pronounced pho'vos]), from which we get our English “phobia.”
Does it really matter if we translate the word for “fearing” (φοβήται, • pho bi' tai [he, she, it fears]) as deep respect, as also so many other translations do? By changing or mistranslating just one word we can change the meaning of a verse, and thus nullify God’s counsel. That is the case in this instance. Ephesians 5:33 is not about respect but rather about headship. Paul is not telling the wives that they should respect their husbands if he lives up to their expectations, but rather that they must be in fear of going against Jehovah’s arrangement of husbandly headship. The emphasis in this case is not on how a wife views her husband but rather on how she obeys Jehovah’s direction to the wives, “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of [this] body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)
This understanding is not new. The Watchtower of October 15, 1992 agrees with this. It says,
“Subjecting yourself to your husband may not always be easy, however. Not all men command respect. And you may well be quite capable when it comes to handling finances, planning, or organizing. You may have a secular job and make a substantial contribution to the family income. Or you may have suffered in some way from male domination in the past and may find it difficult to submit to a man. Nevertheless, showing “deep respect,” or “fear,” for your husband demonstrates your respect of God’s headship. (Ephesians 5:33, Kingdom Interlinear; 1 Corinthians 11:3)” -see page 11, Jehovah’s Loving Family Arrangement
Also, back in 1962 The Watchtower wrote,
“…A Christian husband gives honor to his wife as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one; but the wife is under apostolic command to give fear to her husband as to her head and lord. (1 Pet. 3:1, 5, 6; Eph. 5:33) - w62 12/1 - pp. 718-719 Conscience and Subjection to Authorities.
Having a correct understanding of this scripture at Ephesians 5:33 may help elders when counseling married couples, and it definitely involves a husband’s and wife’s relationship with Jehovah. I would like to reason further on what one of the apostles has to say in greater detail than what Paul wrote on this matter, and how it is important for married couples in order to have God’s blessing on their marriage.
What if the Husband is an Unbeliever?
It may not be so difficult for a wife to
subject herself to a husband who is a fellow believer and has the same goals and
values in life. But how can she subject herself to an unbelieving husband who
may even prevent her from worshiping her Creator? The apostle Peter has this
counsel for wives with unbelieving husbands:
“In like manner, YOU wives, be in subjection to YOUR own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of [their] wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of YOUR chaste conduct together with deep respect.” ―1 Peter 3:1,2
In saying “In like manner,” (Likewise, KJV; Again, TCNT) Peter is referring to something he had just discussed. So, I would like to briefly consider what Peter wrote at 1 Peter 2:18-25 that can help wives have Jehovah's view on their subjection to their husbands, even when that is not easy.
Peter writes: “Let house servants be in subjection to [their] owners with all [due] fear, not only to the good and reasonable, but also to those hard to please.” -verse18.
The word Peter uses here translated as “fear” is, of course, φόβος, phobos.
The King James Version also uses the word “fear,” while other translations read “respectful” (TCNT), “all reverence” (Mon), “utmost respect” (Wey), “all deference” (NRSV). And in this case our own NWT renders it also as “fear.”
Peter is writing house servants (slaves, NIV) to submit to their masters with fear, “not only to those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” (NRSV) What if a slave suffered unjustly under a harsh owner, one who was “hard to please?” Peter answers:
“For if someone, because of conscience toward God, bears up under grievous things and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing.”―verse 19.
If a servant suffered unjustly this was not an indication that he had merited God’s anger. Rather, God was aware of the slave’s unjust suffering and he would “win God’s approval.” (TCNT) But there would be no such approval if he suffered because of deserving it, such as rebelling against his master.
”For what merit is there in it if, when YOU are sinning and being slapped, YOU endure it? But if, when YOU are doing good and YOU suffer, YOU endure it, this is a thing agreeable with God.” ―verse 20.
Those who subject themselves to God can expect to suffer unjustly. It is the Christian course. (2 Timothy 3:12) It is in connection with this that Peter goes on to write:
“In fact, to this [course] YOU were called, because even Christ suffered for YOU, leaving YOU a model for YOU to follow his steps closely. He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth. When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.” ―verses 21-23.
We are encouraged to follow Jesus' example, his steps. He subjected himself to God and was perfect in his obedience. This brought suffering upon him, and although he suffered unjustly, he “kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”
It is in this context that Peter goes on to address the wives, especially those who have husbands who are not obedient to the word, when he says, "In like manner, YOU wives, be in subjection to YOUR own husbands . ." (3:1) It may be very difficult to submit to a harsh husband who does not share his wife’s love for her Creator. He may put restrictions on what she can do in the way of serving God. But should she revolt? Should she leave her husband? Peter says that by her humble submission and her chaste conduct her husband “may be won without a word.” By suffering unjustly she would win God’s approval and be following Jesus’ steps.
I would like to point out again that there is no such thing as ”marriage [being] second in importance only to his or her dedication to God,” as we have been told. (see "God's View on Dedication") Jehovah has given us his view on marriage. He has not done so on our teaching of dedication. If we love God then we will obey him. (1 John 5:3) We will view marriage as a permanent bond. Even if it should cause us suffering. A wife can win God’s praise by doing what Peter writes next,
“And do not let YOUR adornment be that of the external braiding of the hair and of the putting on of gold ornaments or the wearing of outer garments, but let it be the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible [apparel] of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God. For so, too, formerly the holy women who were hoping in God used to adorn themselves, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, as Sarah used to obey Abraham, calling him “lord.” And YOU have become her children, provided YOU keep on doing good and not fearing any cause for terror.” ―1 Peter 3:3-6.
This scriptural view is certainly not popular in the world we are living in today. Probably wasn’t very popular either when it was written. But God’s counsel is good for all times and for all people. If we see problems in marriages it is not because of doing things God’s way, but rather the very opposite. God's Word is a guide for us, to show us how to enjoy the best way of life. The psalmist wrote:
“Your word is a lamp to my foot,
And a light to my roadway.” ―Psalm 119:105
Jehovah’s laws are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). Obeying them will never cause us harm. They will never cause us to stumble. It is in this context that the Psalmist writes:
“Abundant peace belongs to those loving your law,
And for them there is no stumbling block.
I have hoped for your salvation, O Jehovah,
And I have done your own commandments.
My soul has kept your reminders,
And I love them exceedingly.
I have kept your orders and your reminders,
For all my ways are in front of you.” ―Psalm 119:165-168
A husband who obeys Jehovah by loving his wife as his own body, “assigning [her] honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one,” and a wife who "fears" rebelling against Jehovah’s arrangement of headship in the marriage, by subjecting herself to her husband, will certainly enjoy the blessings from Jehovah upon their marriage. (1 Peter 3:7)
They will do better than other marriages for two reasons:
1. Doing things Jehovah’s way is always the best way. (Isaiah 48:17,18)
2. Because Jehovah’s name is involved it is another incentive for him to bless that marriage, because it reflects on his own name, bringing honor to him personally. (Psalms 143:10,11)
On the other hand, if they rebel against his counsel he will eventually clear his name of any reproach brought upon it. (Jeremiah 9:4-9; Ezekiel 20:43,44)
The apostle Peter wrote servants “to submit to their masters with fear, ‘not only to those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.’” Even if they were to suffer unjustly because of the harshness and unreasonableness of their owners, they were counseled not to rebel. He tells them they would thus be following Jesus’ example, in his steps, and this would result in God’s approval. And he counsels wives “in like manner” to subject themselves to their husbands, even if they are “not obedient to the word.”
What if a Husband is Infirm?
One reader asked the following:
“…please also consider situations which include an elderly husband who may be no longer actively taking the lead because of forgetfulness or confusion or physical shortcomings due to advanced years...
Or younger husbands who may be ill or have suffered some sort of mental or emotional trauma.
In such situations, Christian wives are put in the delicate position of "running the show", so to speak, while still maintaining a submissive and non-leadership role.
There may be situations where an elderly husband is suffering from senility or Alzheimer's disease. It often takes time for these conditions to be diagnosed. Meanwhile, the husband's decisions could be quite flawed... Perhaps squandering retirement savings, etc.”
It might be good to examine an extreme Bible example concerning wifely subjection; that of Abigail and her “good-for-nothing" husband, Nabal. According to the account in 1 Samuel chapter 25:
David and his men had moved into the area where the flocks of Abigail’s husband were pastured. David’s men thereafter were like a protective “wall” around Nabal’s shepherds and flocks, night and day. So, when shearing time came, David sent some young men up to Carmel to call Nabal’s attention to the good service rendered him and to request an offering of food from him. But miserly Nabal screamed rebukes at them and insulted David as if he were an inconsequential person, and all of them as if they were possibly runaway slaves. This so angered David that he girded on his sword and led about 400 men toward Carmel to wipe out Nabal and the men of his household.
Abigail, hearing of the incident through a disturbed servant, showed her wise perception by immediately rounding up an ample supply of food and grain and then sent these ahead of her in care of her servants. Without saying anything to her husband, she rode to meet David, and in a long and fervent plea, which manifested wisdom and logic as well as respect and humility, she convinced David that her husband’s senseless words did not justify the unrighteous shedding of blood or the failure to trust in Jehovah to settle the matter in a right way himself. David thanked God for the woman’s good sense and quick action.
Returning home, Abigail waited for her husband to sober up from a drunken feast and then informed him of her actions. Now “his heart came to be dead inside him, and he himself became as a stone,” and after ten days Jehovah caused him to expire. (it-1 pp. 20-21 Abigail)
Does this account show that it is wise sometimes for a wife to go against her “good-for-nothing” husband, and take matters into her own hands?
When Jehovah gave Adam a wife he stated his reason for doing so.
”And Jehovah God went on to say: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.” ―Genesis 2:18
God’s purpose in providing the man with a wife was to give him a helper as a complement. And he was to love his wife “as his own body,” “assigning [her] honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” This is a command for the husband from God. It is not optional. As the apostle Peter says “in order for [his] prayers not to be hindered.” A husband’s relationship with God is involved. (Ephesians 5:2829; 1 Peter 3:7)
But for a wife to be a “helper” and a “complement” would mean that she would co-operate with her husband. Her relationship with God is also involved.
“The truly wise woman has built up her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.” ―Proverbs 14:1
Abigail was acting for the good of her husband and the family. She saved her household from the consequences of his foolish actions. David was going to wipe out Nabal and the men of his household. Nabal owed his life to his wife’s decisive action. She did not rebel because of having no respect for her husband's headship. She proved to be a helper and a complement to him. And Jehovah blessed her for this.
It may happen today that a wife might similarly have to take action for the good of the family. For example, the husband may ignore to have the brakes on the family Van serviced. She would not rebel against Jehovah’s arrangement of headship if she took it upon herself to have the brakes taken care of. The lives of her husband and family could be at stake. A capable wife looks after the welfare of her household.
In the case of “an elderly husband who may be no longer actively taking the lead because of forgetfulness or confusion or physical shortcomings due to advanced years...” a loving wife would do everything she could to support him, to help him, even if he was no longer capable of making any decisions of his own. She would be “a crown” to her husband if she were to help her disabled husband in this way. In this way, ”christian wives are put in the delicate position of "running the show", so to speak, while still maintaining a submissive and non-leadership role.”
This would also be true where ”an elderly husband is suffering from senility or Alzheimer's disease. It often takes time for these conditions to be diagnosed. Meanwhile, the husband's decisions could be quite flawed... Perhaps squandering retirement savings, etc…”
Jehovah’s view of a capable wife is expressed at Proverbs 31:11-31. There she is described as one who proves to be a helper and complement in taking care of her household.
"A capable wife who can find? Her value is far more than that of corals.
In her the heart of her owner has put trust, and there is no gain lacking. . .
She is watching over the goings-on of her household, and the bread of laziness she does not eat.
Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner [rises up], and he praises her.
Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain; [but] the woman that fears Jehovah is the one that procures praise for herself."
A wife who is blessed by Jehovah builds up her household, she supports her husband, and if he is no longer capable of looking after his responsibilities due to sickness, disability or old age, she will not leave him but continue to be a supportive wife, making decisions that will benefit the family.
We are on our way to God's promised new system (2 Peter 3:13). Imagine for a moment that we are traveling by airplane. The husband is the pilot, the wife the co-pilot, and the children are the passengers. Now, should the pilot for some reason become disabled the co-pilot will take over and the plane can still safely reach its destination, for the blessing to all those on board. Blessed is the household who has such a capable co-pilot.
How are We Doing in Applying God’s Counsel?
In the three congregations in our area there have been eight weddings in the last five years, that I am aware of. Three of them are still intact. In three cases the wives left their husbands. In one case, within a year of his wedding, the husband ran off with another woman, and in the other case the wife ran off with another man. Not a good ratio of success. In all four cases where the wives left their marriage mates, the husbands’ not having “earned the deep respect” of his wife had become an issue or an excuse. As one elder put it concerning a brother whose wife had left him for another man, “Not only did he not earn the deep respect of his wife, he also had not earned his headship.” Is headship also something that a husband has to earn? Is that arrangement not from Jehovah, even if a husband shirks his God-given responsibility? With counsel like that no wonder we have the same problems we find in the world.
Are we to imagine that Jehovah will judge the world and Christendom adversely for their lawlessness while he turns a blind eye to the wickedness of his own people, who bear his name?
This is what one Watchtower article said about the situation in Christendom:
*** w83 3/15 p. 19 Jerusalem—“A Cause for Exultation” ***
11 It is in Christendom today that we find a bumper crop of immorality, divorce, broken families, drug abuse and crime of every kind. Christendom’s religion has proved powerless to stay the growth of lawlessness. (Matthew 24:11, 12) How well Jesus’ words apply to its religious clergy! He declared: “Isaiah aptly prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach as doctrines commands of men.’ Letting go the commandment of God, you hold fast the tradition of men.” Thus Christendom, the modern-day apostate “Jerusalem,” together with all other “antichrists,” faces “tribulation” from God when the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven to bring vengeance upon disobedient ones.—Mark 7:6-8; 1 John 2:18, 19; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
Is the situation in Christendom really worse than among God's name people? Instead of pointing the finger at others, should we not look at ourselves and apply the words of Jesus to us? Are we not the hypocrites “Isaiah aptly prophesied about?” We honor Jehovah with our lips but our hearts are far removed from him. (See also the article on "God's View On Dedication.") By changing the one word “fear” in the various texts to “deep respect,” teaching that a husband has to earn his wife's "respect," thus unwittingly giving wives the excuse they are looking for to get out of an unhappy marriage, we have made God's word invalid. And we see the fruitage of that teaching. (see Jeremiah 8:8-11)
The New World Translation is considered superior to many other modern translations in many ways. One of the reasons given is that it is consistent in rendering words uniformly. This is what is said about it in “ALL SCRIPTURE IS INSPIRED OF GOD AND BENEFICIAL” - p. 328 Study Number 8—Advantages of the “New World Translation”:
7 The New World Translation makes every effort to be consistent in its renderings. For a given Hebrew or Greek word, there has been assigned one English word, and this has been used as uniformly as the idiom or context permits in giving the full English understanding.
9 As to this feature of uniformity, note what Hebrew and Greek commentator Alexander Thomson had to say in his review on the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures: “The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing. The version aims to keep to one English meaning for each major Greek word, and to be as literal as possible. . . .
Unfortunately, that uniformity is not the case with the Greek word φόβος, phobos. And, shockingly, the NWT in the Greek language (now available) has changed Ephesians 5:33 to read "deep respect." (see box below)
Jehovah will hold all teachers of his people accountable, as James writes at James 3:1, “Not many of YOU should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.”
Elders who teach our own traditions and thus have a share in breaking up marriages by their counsel will be called to account by Jehovah. Of course, so will those who have used this counsel as an excuse to get out of an unhappy marriage. (Jeremiah 5:29-31; Romans 2:6-8)