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Ephesians 5:21 Ephesians 5:22

Ephesians 5:21-25a in Codex Alexandrinus (Fifth century)
There is a “submit” verb in Ephesians 5:22 in the codex.

« Part 1: The Grammar of Ephesians 5:21-22: Participles
« Part 2: The Grammar of Ephesians 5:21-22: A missing verb? 

Does Ephesians 5:22 begin a new sentence?

Some people believe Ephesians 5:22, a verse addressed to wives, begins a new sentence. Others believe Ephesians 5:21, with the “submit” participle, is the beginning of a new sentence which includes verse 22. In this article, I look more into the grammar of these verses and I discuss what I think is the best way to punctuate them.

Here again is an English translation of Ephesians 5:18-24.

18 And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled with/by the Spirit: 19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, to your own husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, he himself is the Saviour of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives to their husbands in everything.

One long sentence in Ephesians 5:18ff.

As mentioned in the previous article, there was typically no punctuation such as commas and full stops in ancient Greek texts. However, the grammar gives us clues about how we might punctuate sentences.

In the first article in this series, we saw that there are five participles in Ephesians 5:19-21 which elaborate on the verb that means “be filled [with the Spirit]” in verse 18. I think it’s unwise to separate the “submitting” participle in verse 21 from the verb and from the other four participles. So I take Ephesians 5:21 as being part of one long sentence that begins at verse 18.

Is verse 22, which presumably had no verb originally and is dependent on verse 21 for the sense of “submitting,” part of this long sentence?[1] Where does this sentence end?

The Pattern in Ephesians 5:22, 5:25, 6:1, and 6:5

After having addressed his whole audience in the first part of Ephesians chapter 5, Paul narrows his focus and gets specific. He begins verse 22 with “the wives …” (hai gynaikes). Many phrases and sentences in New Testament Greek begin with a connecting word, but not verse 22, and not verse 25 which begins similarly with “the husbands …” (hoi andres).[2] Paul may have employed asyndeton (no connective word) as a rhetorical device to focus his address.[3] This lack of a connective word seems to indicate that verse 22 begins a new sentence and is not a new phrase at the end of a sentence.

Furthermore, the similar beginnings of Ephesians 5:22 and 25―and of Ephesians 6:1 and 5, verses addressed to “the children” and to “the slaves” which also begin with a definite article, a plural vocative noun, and no connective word―indicate they are all the beginnings of sentences and even the beginnings of subsections.[4] There is a repeated pattern, a distinct structure, in the Greek of Ephesians 5:22-6:9. Verse 21 does not fit this pattern.

Where does a new paragraph begin?

The verbal idea of submission carries over from verse 21 into verse 22, but it makes good sense of the participles in verses 19-21 and of Paul’s repetitive pattern in the household code in 5:22-6:9 to begin a new sentence at verse 22.[5]

Furthermore, if we divide the text into sections or paragraphs, and not just sentences, it is logical to start a new section at verse 22. At this point, Paul is no longer giving general instructions.[6] Rather, he begins to address certain people and groups within larger Greco-Roman households. Verses 22-33 are about “Wives and Husbands” or “Marriage” as indicated in headings that some English Bibles add to their translations. (See headings on Bible Gateway here.)

If we start a new paragraph at verse 21, however, we separate the “submit” participle in verse 21 from Paul’s more general teaching on spirit-filled behaviour and it will sound as though Paul is not telling his whole audience to submit themselves to one another. Verse 21 is not just aimed at wives and it’s not just aimed at people in larger households. The first half of Ephesians 5, up to and including verse 21, is addressed to everyone in Paul’s audience.

Klyne Snodgrass briefly explains the difficulties in dividing Ephesians 5:15-6:9 into paragraphs: “The problem is that 5:15–33 contains both the culmination of one section and the beginning of another, and any division within this section tends to distort.”[7]

Punctuation in Modern Critical Texts of Eph. 5:18-24

Modern critical texts of Ephesians in Koine Greek use punctuation. Here is how three of the most widely used Greek New Testaments punctuate Ephesians 5:18-24.

The Society of Biblical Literature’s Greek New Testament

The SBLGNT punctuates Ephesians 5:18-21 as one sentence, 5:22-23 as one sentence, and then verse 24 as another sentence. It also marks verse 22 as the beginning of a new section. There is no “submit” word in verse 22 in this edition. (See the SBLGNT here.)

Tyndale House’s Greek New Testament

The THGNT punctuates Ephesians 5:18-21 as one sentence and Ephesians 5:22-24 as one sentence. It also marks 5:22 as the beginning of a new section. This edition includes a “submit” verb in verse 22.[8] (See the THGNT here.)

The Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament

The 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (NA28 GNT), however, punctuates Ephesians 5:21-24 as one sentence. It breaks verse 21 off from the previous long sentence and separates the “submit” participle from the other participles in verses 19-20. In the NA28 GNT, verse 21 is the beginning of a new sentence and the beginning of a new section. There is no “submit” word in verse 21 of these Greek texts. (See the NA28 GNT here.)

Objections to Starting a Paragraph at Ephesians 5:22

Some scholars see a problem with starting a sentence or section at verse 22. For example, Chadwick Thornhill, in his book Greek for Everyone, argues that starting a new section at verse 22 “ignores the grammar of the text” and “masks the structure of the Greek.”[9] Starting a new section at Ephesians 5:22 does mask one aspect of the Greek grammar, especially if we assume Paul’s original letter did not have a “submit” verb in verse 22. But if our New Testaments include a translation of the elided Greek word in verse 22, such as “submit yourselves,” it doesn’t mask the meaning. There are numerous instances where the Greek grammar doesn’t show through in some way in translations, including translations of the Bible. This is sometimes unavoidable because each language has its own ways of doing things.

Mike Aubrey believes that the original audience would have understood verse 22 as being part of verse 21 and they would not have immediately recognised that Paul was about to describe a Christianised household code. Aubrey notes that in the twenty-two other examples in Paul’s letters where there is an elided non-equative verb, none begins a sentence or paragraph. And he writes, “It seems unlikely that Eph. 5.22 is any different or even that the readers would recognize the so-called ‘Household Code’ only eight words into it considering what had gone before.”[10]

While I agree that Paul’s audience may not have realised from eight words that Paul was beginning to outline a household code, I think we can assume that the people assigned to read his letter aloud to the first audiences would have read verses 22-24 in a way that captured the attention of the wives. I imagine the sudden mention of “the wives” after Paul’s general teaching would have startled at least some of the women. And Paul does go on to present a Christianised household code.

Mike’s point that there is no other example in Paul’s letter of a phrase with a non-equative elided verb beginning a sentence or section is worth considering. Nevertheless, Ephesians 5:22 has a new focus even though it follows hard after Ephesians 5:21.

Divisions Between Eph. 5:21 and 22 in Ancient Greek Manuscripts

I thought it might be interesting to see how some of the oldest surviving manuscripts of Ephesians treat 5:21-22. There is no mark in Papyrus 46 that indicates new sentences or sections in Ephesians. (See the image here.) However, Codex Vaticanus (c. 300–325), Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330–360), Codex Alexandrinus (400s), and Codex Claromontanus (c. 550) are each marked to indicate that Ephesians 5:22 is the beginning of a new section. I’ve chosen these texts because they are early and because they can be easily viewed on the internet.

Codex Vaticanus

The scribe who copied Ephesians in Codex Vaticanus divided the letter into three chapters. The second chapter begins at Ephesians 4.1 and is marked by a small space separating it from the previous verse and by a large letter Β (beta) functioning as the number 2. The third chapter begins at 5:22, the verse addressed to wives, and is marked by a small space separating it from verse 21 and by a large letter Γ (gamma) functioning as the number 3. There is no “submit” word in Ephesians 5:22 in this codex. (See page 1497 here or the image in part 2 of my series here.)

Codex Sinaiticus

The scribe who copied out Ephesians in Codex Sinaiticus divided the work into numerous paragraphs or subsections with each new section beginning on a new line. Ephesians 5:18-21 is one section. Ephesians 5:22 begins on a new line, as does 5:25, 6:1, etc. This codex has a verb for “submit” in verse 22. (See quire 84, folio 6, here.)

Codex Alexandrinus

The scribe who copied Ephesians in this codex marked verse 22, which has a “submit” verb, as the beginning of a sentence and the beginning of a new section. There is a small space between verses 21 and 22 and a large letter T (tau) in the margin. [T is the first letter of the Greek article tois (“to the”) which is the first word in verse 22 that is located at the start of a new line in Codex Alexandrinus.] Ephesians 5:18-21 is presented as one section. (See the second column in folio 106r  here or the image above.)

Codex Claromontanus

In this codex, Ephesians 5:22 begins on a new line and is marked as a new section, as is 5:25, 6:1, etc.  (There is an error with the way this codex has been uploaded on the Gallica website and I can’t see most of the first half of Ephesians 5.) The first word in each subsection is outdented slightly and the first letter of the first word is slightly enlarged. This codex has a verb for “submit” in verse 22. (See folio 318v here.)


Is Ephesians 5:21-22 one sentence or two? Despite the consistent witness of ancient (and Byzantine) texts that divide chapter 5 between verse 21 and verse 22, there no firm scholarly consensus today. However, I believe the best way to punctuate Ephesians 5:21-22 in English is to treat verses 18-21 as one sentence, put a full stop at the end of verse 21, and start a new sentence and a new section at verse 22.

It is not always possible to convey a sense of the Greek grammar into English translations. Greek has many grammar rules and conventions that English does not have. Compromises have to be made in translations.[11] For example, while the sense of elided (“missing”) words are implicitly understood by Greek readers, such as the elided “submit” in Ephesians 5:22, the “missing” words usually have to be supplied, explicitly stated, in English translations. Because that’s how English works.

I believe the first priority of translators is to convey the meaning rather than reflect the grammar in the source text. And logically, Paul’s address to specific groups within larger Greco-Roman households is a subsection of his letter to the Ephesians. That doesn’t mean, however, that we suddenly ignore or forget the words that preface the household code: “submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord.” This instruction is for everyone, husbands, parents, and slave masters included.


[1] I discuss the elided (“missing”) verb in my previous article here.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, who takes verses 22 as the beginning of a new sentence and a new paragraph, notes that “no other paragraph after [Ephesians] 1:3 in the body of this letter begins without a conjunction.” He sees verse 21 as a “hinge statement” between the evidence of being Spirit-filled and the household code. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 659.

[3] In his book Discourse Features of the New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on The Information (Dallas: SIL International, 2000), 119, Stephen Levinson notes that asyndeton may be used in Greek as the text moves from generic to specific.
Paul also uses asyndeton in 1 Timothy 2:11 which begins with the word gynē (“woman, wife”). This has the effect of narrowing and focussing his instruction concerning a woman in the Ephesian church who needed to learn and not teach, etc. By way of contrast, a conjunction is used in 1 Timothy 2:8 (about men) and in 1 Timothy 2:9 (about women). More on this here.
Daniel Wallace writes that “Asyndeton is a vivid stylistic feature that often occurs for emphasis, solemnity, or rhetorical value (staccato effect), or when there is an abrupt change in topic.” Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 658.

[4] Unlike the sentences addressed to wives, husbands, children and slaves, the sentences where Paul addresses fathers and (male and female) slave masters begin with the conjunction kai (“and”) + the definite article + the plural vocative noun for “fathers” (Eph. 6:4) and “masters” (Eph. 6:9). This connects Paul’s instructions to fathers with his words to children, and his instructions to masters with his words to slaves.
In Colossians 3, Paul addresses the wives (Col. 3:18), the husbands (Col. 3:19), the children (Col. 3:20), the fathers (Col. 3:21), the slaves (Col. 3:22ff), and the masters (Col. 4:1) directly with the definite article and the vocative plural noun, but with no connective words.

[5] The general rule is that a sentence needs at least one finite verb. Estin (“is”) which occurs in verse 23 is a finite verb and is part of the sentence that I believe begins at verse 22.

[6] Paul resumes addressing the whole church in Ephesians 6:10. This verse is clearly the beginning of a new section. It begins with the expression tou lopou, often translated in English Bibles as “finally.”

[7] Snodgrass, Ephesians (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 1996), 286. (Google Books)

[8] The THGNT has hypotassesthōsan, a third person plural verb for “submit,” in their edition. I think it’s unlikely Paul used a third-person verb in Ephesians 5:22 in his original letter. I’ve written about this in part 2.

[9] Chadwick Thornhill, Greek for Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016) (Google Books)

[10] Mike Aubrey, ὑποτάσσω in Ephesians 5.21Koine-Greek.

[11] Note the different ways the NIV, NRSV, and CSB divide the second half of chapter 5, here. All three ways involve some kind of compromise.

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A Note on Parents, Fathers, and Children in Paul’s Household Codes

In both Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3, Paul uses the word goneis (“parents”) when addressing the children in Eph. 6:1 and Col. 3:20. He then uses a different word pateres in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21; this word can mean fathers, parents, or ancestors depending on context. I believe Paul was addressing fathers (not mothers) in Eph. 6:4 and Col. 3:21 because some of the fathers were too harsh with their children.

Furthermore, I believe the children Paul was addressing were grown children (not young children) who were required to obey both goneis (“parents”) (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20) and required to honour their father and mother (Eph. 6:2-3). Even pagan writers urged adult men to obey and honour both parents. This is still required in some cultures today. More on this here.

« Part 1: The Grammar of Ephesians 5:21-22: Participles
« Part 2: The Grammar of Ephesians 5:21-22: A missing verb? 

Explore more

The Household Codes are about Power, not Gender
Ephesians 5:22-33 in a Nutshell
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33
Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters
Mutual Submission is not a Myth
Mutual Submission in Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Peter 5:5

5 thoughts on “3. The Grammar of Ephesians 5:21-22: 1 Sentence or 2?

  1. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310228034/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1#customerReviews (NT Transline by Magill) tries to put the books of the NT into outline fashion, to show subordinate clauses for example. He thinks Eph 5:22-6:9 are 6 subordinate clauses (6 examples) of the principle stated in Eph 5:21 (and I agree).

    Based on that and your arguments, I now think the best choice is a colon for the end of Eph 5:21, as that seems better to me than either a semicolon (my original choice I gave earlier in this discussion) or a period (full stop) in showing the connections both before and after that verse.

    1. Hi Don,

      I had a look at the transline and I’m not sure that Magill does indicate that Ephesians 5:22-6-9 is subordinate to, or subordinate only to, Ephesians 5:21; he has verses 19, 20 and 21 level-pegging. I think the way he lays out verses does help to illustrate Paul’s train of thought, but not the grammar.

      Also, if we are meant to mentally supply the submit participle in verse 22, then verse 22 is not grammatically subordinate in the usual sense. Rather, verses 21 and 22 are grammatically equivalent as they both have a participle. If we are meant to mentally supply a finite verb in verse 22, then this verse is not in anyway grammatically subordinate to verse 21.

      Magill indicates that verse 22 is a new section and not a continuation of verse 21. And he has all the verses that begin with the wives, the husbands, the children, and the fathers, the slaves, and the masters as level pegging.

      Anyway, I honestly can’t see how the statements with finite verbs in Ephesians 5:24-6:9 can be grammatically dependent on the participle in verse 21. In Greek, participles are usually dependent on, and subordinate to, a finite verb, not the other way around.

      5:25 The husbands, love (agapate) your wives …
      6:1 The children, obey (hypakouete) your parents in the Lord …
      6:4 And the fathers, don’t provoke (parorgizete) your children …
      6:5 The slaves, obey (hypakouete) your masters according to the flesh …”
      6:9 And the masters, do (poieite) the same things towards them [your slaves] …”

      These verbs are all second-person plural present active imperatives spoken directly to the various groups. And these verses make perfect sense, grammatically and logically, as stand-alone sentences.

  2. Peter Gurry has recently argued that the original included the verb at Eph 5:22. “The Text of Eph 5.22 and the Start of the Ephesian Household Code” NTS (2021). However, I argue against him in my CBQ article (2022). “Clement of Alexandria lacks the verb at Strom. 4.64.1. At Paed. 94.5 Clement quoted Eph 5:22 without 5:21, so was forced to add a verb. He added the third person imperative, υποτασσεσθωσαν, presumably because he imagined Paul instructing women via a male audience, rather than addressing the women directly. These points seem to have been missed by Gurry, who believes that υποτασσεσθωσαν would be an unlikely verb for scribes to add and that it was therefore original.”

    The long sentences in Ephesians are evidence that the letter was not written by Paul.

    1. I’ve read some of Peter’s work and seen his tables, but I didn’t know about your response. I’ll have to read it. Peter and I have had a couple of short online conversations about 1 Peter 5:5 and about Eph 5:22 in early manuscripts.

      I think it’s possible, even likely, there was originally a second-person imperative verb in Ephesians 5:22 that was accidentally omitted early on. However, I strongly doubt there was originally a third-person imperative. That doesn’t make any sense to me. It breaks the consistent pattern throughout the Ephesian and Colossian household codes.

      1. If the second-person imperative verb was in the original, why is it omitted by P46 and B? There would be no repeated letters that might have induced an eye skip. P46 and B are strong witnesses in combination. And why would the second-person imperative be replaced by the third-person imperative in many manuscripts? The fact that the verb has different forms and different locations is evidence that it was not original.

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