A little dip of the toe into the deep waters of 'plain reading' of Scripture ...
I take the 'plain reading' of Scripture to be the reading which feels natural, obvious, and common sensical, one sign of which could be that, with nine others in the room, on most readings, 9/10 of the group understand the reading the same way as I do.
One feels bounds these days to state the obvious point prior to the obvious criticism being made: Yes, words such as 'natural', 'obvious', and 'common sense' are fraught with difficulty!
Applying this, I suggest that when we read Scripture today, some things about yesterday (i.e. the time when Scripture was written) yield a ready 'plain reading' for today. Thus when we read a passage such as Ephesians 6:5-9 we understand the passage to plainly speak to the situation of bosses and workers today (there being, at least in these parts and thereabouts, neither slaves nor masters). We certainly do not read the passage 'plainly' as either having no meaning for us in an era without slaves, and even less so, meaning there ought to be slaves and masters today.
But, if you run with my argument to this point, what might this mean for how we plainly read a Scripture close at hand, Ephesians 5:21-33. Do we, as we do with Ephesians 6:5-9, make any natural shifts in understanding because the social situation today for men and women is different to yesterday?
Of course there is an obvious difference between the two passages: we do not still have slaves and masters but we still have husbands and wives. Nevertheless, life has changed: even employees and employers in the post-slavery era applying Ephesians 6:5-9 will do so in a social environment which (say) gives workers more rights and employers more responsibilities than (say) pertained in 1859. In respect of marriage, men and women become husbands and wives in a different manner to (say) 1859. There is, for instance, a quite different set of understandings about the nature of 'property' in relation to the establishment of a marriage, including no remaining sense that a daughter is something to be 'given' away by her father. There are also differences in the way the law provides for husbands and wives to exert their respective wills in a marriage (e.g. wife-beating and forced sex is intolerable under the law today).
Is it then appropriate to understand the instruction "Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord" differently to former times, just as we now understand "Slaves, give single-minded obedience to your earthly masters with fear and trembling, as if to Christ"?
Will stop there for now!
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