I'm trying to understand Ephesians 5:25-6 and here is my rough translation below.

25 Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς,

Husbands, love your wives, just as the Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it,

26 ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι,

so that he might sanctify her having cleansed her with the washing of water in the word

One thing I don't understand is the phrase at the end of 5:26, i.e. τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι. The ESV translates 5:26 in this way.

26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,


But this is a loose translation, as it translates the prepositional phrase ἐν ῥήματι as "with the word" instead of "in the word".

I also checked Young's Literal Translation, which translates 5:26 thus:

26 that he might sanctify it, having cleansed [it] with the bathing of the water in the saying,

27 that he might present it to himself the assembly in glory, not having spot or wrinkle, or any of such things, but that it may be holy and unblemished;


But while this makes sense grammatically, it doesn't make sense semantically. What "saying" does ῥήματι refer to? Wouldn't "by the bathing of water in the Word" make more sense as a literal translation? Even then, it's a little difficult to understand what the phrase means.

Can anyone enlighten me on what the final phrase of Ephesians 5:26 means? Also, could you explain what logic the ESV and YLT use in their translation?

  • The Englishman's Greek New Testament agrees with you on ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν in v.25. and himself gave up is their rendering.Noted and appreciated (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Jun 23, 2018 at 13:27
  • Have you ever read through a basic Koine grammar? If not, it might be useful to do so before attempting to translate. The Koine Greek word "en" is not the same as the English word "in". Rendering "en" with "with" is not a "loose translation" but rather a translation based on the semantic domain of "en" and represents a different understanding of the context.
    – Ruminator
    Jun 23, 2018 at 14:36
  • @Ruminator, "with" is indeed a valid translation of εν. See e.g. 1 Thess 4:16. Also, it makes no sense for the Word to wash people in the Word. The word is the baptismal formula or ῥῆμα. Jun 25, 2018 at 15:19
  • @SolaGratia So in your view men are to baptize their wives?
    – Ruminator
    Jun 25, 2018 at 15:27
  • Husbands aren't to love their wives in the same precise way Christ did given here, since they can't sanctify them by the washing of regeneration so that they can be presented to God without blame. Jun 25, 2018 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


Ephesians 5:26 - εν ρηματι

Of the over 10,000 uses of prepositions in the Greek scriptures, 2,752 are the occurrence of εν. It is by far the most common preposition followed by εις (1,767) and εκ (914) - see Daniel B. Wallace, Beyond the Basics.

Daniel Wallace, again in Beyond the Basics, gives ten categories for the usages of εν + dative :

  1. Spatial : in
  2. Temporal : in, within, when, while, during
  3. Association : with
  4. Cause : because of
  5. Instrumental : by, with
  6. Reference : with respect to, with reference to
  7. Manner : with
  8. Possession : with
  9. Standard : according to the standard of
  10. As an equivalent for εις (with verbs of motion)

He also says of translations which attempt to imply the meaning of content with εν + dative :

We know of no clear examples in biblical Greek in which εν + dative indicates content. [1996 p. 375]

And he also says :

Rare is the usage of the simple dative to denote the content that is used by a verb of filling. For εν + dative, the usage is debatable. Normally, a verb of filling takes the genitive of content. [1996 p. 374]

Bearing in mind all of the above, it seems to me that the expression 'washing of water xxxx word' (there is no article in the original and I do not see a necessity to provide one in English) would best be translated as :

washing of water by word.

A. 'In word' is impersonal, as though 'word' is a river or sea of indiscriminate sayings, some of which are, or are not, applicable to the individual.

B. 'Saying' or 'sayings' (the dative, here, could be a plural) is not, in my own view, semantic in English usage and would have to be defined by usage (a matter of educating people, which is quite possible in a closed society but not in general society).

My own understanding of 'washing of water by word' is that it is an Instrumental use of εν + dative and that, as such, it implies the existence of an Agent in the doing of it.

Christ, by the Spirit, washes by word.

It is His Word - it is the sayings of his own mouth. It is not indiscriminate, it is personal. He speaks the words, He applies them, by means of the Spirit who is Holy. And it is effective.

He speaks and, by the Spirit, is the body cleansed (by catharsis).

The fact that the Agent is not stated leaves it open to further Agency. That is to say, it leaves the whole matter of Agency open to the understanding of other scriptures which make clear that the word is administered by others. Those others are moved by the Spirit of Christ, we know from a multitude of other verses.

And thus the word of Christ is ministered by the servants of Christ, moved by the Spirit of Christ. Thus it is an efficient and an effective process.

Note on the second question : To try to determine why other translators have done what they have done means wandering into the realms of supposition and opinion which, I would suggest, is an off-topic activity.


Can't do much by way of the literal Greek, but have noticed that the word/saying phrase is elsewhere used in the gospels referring to the old testament/law (Ie written word) - Matthew 4 and Luke 4 - referring to Jesus' response to Satan emploring him to break his fast by making bread, '...every word of God's. So in a final semantic understand of Eph 5 here I would say that the husband is to regularly teach, admonish, encourage (read speak) the word (biblical/bible truths) to her. This would follow the pattern started in chapter 4 of Ephesians with the church being told to 'speak the truth in love to one another' in order that the may grow and be mature not being 'tossed by every wave of doctrine'. In short, encourage her with the Bible so she perserverance in faith against the enemy.

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