On Sacrifice and Sanctification

A man proposing marriage while kneeling.

This post is a response to the article “Brides are Subject to Vetting.” It is also a followup to the three-part series on the Roman Catholic sacraments and is part of the ongoing discussion on Headship Submission.

On the Sacrament of Marriage

In my three-part series on the sacraments—especially the sacrament of marriage—in the Roman Catholic Church, I explained the doctrinal development of the concept of sacraments. I showed how a series of errors and misunderstandings led to this:

“In conflating the sacred secret of the gospel of Christ with sacrament (“oath, vow, or pledge to God”), the idea of a sacrament took on a permanent ritualistic nature. The sacraments were made a type of vow to God. They were granted a physical manifestation of a spiritual mystery.”

The “sacred secret” is what Paul speaks of in Ephesians 5 regarding Christ and the Church. By accepting the latter doctrine of sacraments as oaths to a mystery of God, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox lose the ability to understand what Paul reveals in Ephesians 5 about Christ, the church, husbands, and wives.

I encourage you to read (or reread) the three-part series so you can see how the later corruption has hidden the sacrificial language of Ephesians 5, obscuring the meaning of mutual submission that would have been clearly evident to the original audience.

As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I’ve written at least eight articles on Ephesians 5, not counting this one and I have more planned. In this article we will finish the discussion started in “Jesus Sanctified Himself“, expanding on the theme of sacrifice and show that it is the foundation behind every other explanation given in those other articles.

Ephesians 5 has a structure that ties the whole thing together, but it all starts with the first two verses:

Ephesians 5:1-2 (REV)
“Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.”

This sets the stage for everything that follows. Every Christian is to imitate God and to love others as Christ loved us and offered—and sanctified—himself as a sacrifice. That theme is then put on full display in the “Patriarchal” section:

Ephesians 5:21-33 (REV)
Submit yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ, Wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, being himself the Savior of the body. But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he could make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he could present the church to himself as a glorious church, not having a spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands are obligated to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This sacred secret is great, but I speak in regard to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you also is to love his own wife as he loves himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.

In the Roman frame, the final bolded text is what ties this passage in with the concept of sacraments. Since the remainder of the bolded text is directly tied to this context, treating it as sacrificial language vs sacramental language completely alters how one interprets this passage. As we will see below, the sacrificial language is overwhelmingly prominent.

The Sacrifice of Christ

One Christian Patriarchal view is that husbands are to “wash” their wives in scripture: being their spiritual leader. This passage of Ephesians is cited as proof of that:

“But in context I cited it means Scripture. Including when Christ is “Washing her in the Water of the Word”. I don’t see how it isn’t talking about the Word of God in context.”

The Greek word for ‘writing’ is ‘graphē’, which is used 51 times throughout the NT and always refers to sacred writings: scripture. It is never used in any other way in the Bible, including by Paul who uses it when he wants to refer to Scripture.

By contrast, the Greek word used here is ‘rhēmati‘ which nominally and literally refers to the spoken word, not scripture. While it can be used figuratively and/or idiomatically, including of the Word of God, it naturally denotes any kind of spoken words.

John Chrysostom—a native Greek speaker—read “Washing her in the Water of the Word” not as scripture or even God’s Word, but as a direct reference to Matthew 28:19:

“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Chrysostom didn’t view “washing her with the Water of the Word” as referring to the literal Word of God, whether written or spoken, but rather the word was the name—idiomatically, authority—of God, and the water was the water of baptism. The church has long understood it to refer to baptism[1] (immersion in water and invoking the three names), the symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection—Christ’s sacrifice—by which our sins are cleansed.

The Language of Sacrifice

The act of sanctifying is the same as

the act of sacrifice

All are synonymous with “to make sacred” or “to bring closer [to God]”.

The word sacred is synonymous with

offered to God.

This is how Jesus could sanctify himself by sacrificing himself.

“…being himself the Savior of the body…. [..] …just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for it, so that he could make it holy, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, so that he could present it to himself in glory, not having a spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that it would be holy and without blemish.”

Re-read these words of Paul in light of the language of sacrifice.

Savior of the church? Accomplished through his sacrifice.

Gave himself up? To sacrifice, to sanctify, to save.

Making the church holy? To sacrifice, to sanctify, to save, to make righteous, to purify.

To cleanse and wash? To sacrifice, to sanctify, to save.

To present it to himself? To sacrifice, to offer, to bring closer to God.

Not having spot, wrinkle, or blemish? The OT requirements for the offering or sacrifice.

To be holy? To be sanctified, righteous, pure.

To be baptized? To be offered with Christ through his sacrifice, to sanctify us, make us righteous, bring us closer to God.

This is all utterly steeped in the shared language of sanctification, sacrifice, and salvation.

Paul describes Christ’s relationship to the church—which mirrors the relationship of the husband and wife—in sacrificial language. The love of a husband to his wife is explicitly within this sacrificial context. That is why most biblical commentators and theologians read Ephesians 5 and say that it is describing sacrificial love. Even the acts of loving one’s own body is recast in terms of loving one’s wife.

Those who interpret these verses as pertaining to sacraments—oaths and grace—or the application of authority have missed the emphasis of Paul’s words. Paul is not discussing these are not concepts. John Chrysostom—writing in the late 4th century—read Ephesians 5:25-27 as if saying that husbands are to imitate Christ through kindness, thoughtfulness, and affection, without menace.

In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave yourself toward your wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon you, and disdaining, and scorning you, yet by your great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, you will be able to lay her at your feet. For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife.


“A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though you should suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this.

Chrysostom concluded that husbands should not make demands that their wives be perfect and pure, without blemish, beautiful, and even wealthy, because they themselves were broken before Christ, and yet Christ loved them anyway. He even noted that men with poor, ugly, defective wives are often happier than those who have beautiful wives! That is the message of these verses: love your wife sacrificially, because that’s how much Christ loved you at your lowest.

Philippians 2:5-11 (REV)
Have this mindset in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, though being in the form of God, he considered equality with God not something to be grasped at, but instead he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, becoming like the rest of humankind. And being found as an ordinary human, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death—even death on a cross! And therefore God raised him to the highest place of honor and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

A husband must offer himsef to God and to his wife as a loving sacrifice. The path to sanctification, holiness, and honor, yes even authority, is humility and sacrifice.


[1] Baptism—in the context of a husband and wife and Christ and the church—alludes to the birth, washing, and adornment described in Ezekiel 16.

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