Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (Ephesians 5: 25 – 26, ESV).
It is astounding what someone will read into a biblical text. When someone wants to make a case for baptismal regeneration, they will look for any verse which mentions baptism, water, and washing. Yet, Norman Fields takes the cake when it comes to fishing for verses to support his unbiblical teaching of baptismal regeneration. In an email to Andrew Rappaport, one of the verses he uses is obviously talking about the husband’s duty to his wife to be the spiritual leader of her by Word, referring to the Word of God. The scriptures are what cleanse the soul from defilements, not baptism. Yet, we will see if this passage is really referring to the Word of God which washes the wife, or baptism.
What the Passage Says
As shown above the passage mentions nothing about baptism. Here it is again, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (Ephesians 5: 25 – 26, ESV). Even if one wanted to extend the passage further, which we will do in the context, we do not see the word “baptism”.
While the word “baptism,” “βαπτιζω” can be translated as “washing,” the Greek word for “washing” is “λουτρόν.” This word is typically used to refer to washing or bathing (Ephesians 5:26, Titus 3:5). In fact, this is referring to a cultural context of a pagan ritual bridal bath to prepare a bride for marriage. John MacArthur explains,
You as a husband have the responsibility to wash your wife with the Word of God; to provide continual washing with the truth of holy Scripture, so that all the stains are taken away. That’s what it says in verse 27: He wants to present to Himself “a church in all her glory, with no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and blameless.” Paul may have been thinking about a custom that was actually popular in the ancient Mediterranean world, the custom of bathing the bride in holy water… a bath was prepared with supposed holy water that had been sanctified by some ritual, and the bride would be bathed in that holy water before the wedding as a symbol of purification before her husband accepted her. In Athens, the bride was bathed in the waters of the Callirrhoe, which was deemed sacred, and symbolized cleansing from all previous relationships, any previous defilement, before entrance and entre into marital life.
Obviously, this is not referring to the ordinance of Baptism. Even if one were to take λουτρος to hint at baptism, this would refer to the sanctification process of a believer, not justification. The truth of the Word of God behind the baptism would be the instrument behind the sanctification.
The immediate context does not make the case for the baptismal regenerationist either. The section in its entirety says,
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be 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 might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also 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 cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV).
The responsibility of the wife in response to the gospel is to respect and submit to her husband (vv. 22-24). The responsibility of the husband is to love the wife self-sacrificially and be the spiritual leader of the home (vv. 25-27). The man who loves his wife loves his own body because they are “one flesh” (vv. 28-31). Marriage also points to the relationship between Christ and his church (vv. 32-33).
Greater Context of Ephesians
Paul starts with the fact that believers are predestined for salvation before the foundation of the world by God’s grace and are sealed with the Holy Spirit at belief (Ephesians 1). Paul continues that Christians were once dead in their sins like the rest of the world but were saved by grace through faith and not by works (2: 1-10). Christians who were Jew and Gentile are made one under the new covenant of Christ (vv. 11-22). Paul says he is a prisoner of Christ for the Gentiles sake so that all the families of the earth would know the riches of Christ (3:1-21). After Paul gives his theological training, he gives practical advice in light of the gospel to be unified and walk in a holy life (4:1-32). Paul shows believers how to imitate Christ in the realms of the church, husband and wife, parents and children, and Master and slave relationships (5:1-6:9). He ends with a call to rely of the spiritual armor to fight spiritual battles and wishing them grace and peace (6:10-24).
There is no evidence whatsoever for baptismal regeneration. People are not saved by faith plus water. We are saved by, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This was a man grasping at straws to prove his theology. He was committing a gross form of eisegesis.
This passage teaches that husbands are to wash their wives with the Word of God. Christian men are to teach their wives the scriptures. Marriages flourish when men lead their wives in understanding the Word of God. It resembles the way Christ sanctifies his church through His Word. As one meditates on God’s Word, the one more conforms to it. The more one conforms to God’s Word, the less one sins. This is the washing of the water of the word Paul was talking about.
If you want to dive deeper in your understanding in biblical interpretation, check out the resources section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of biblical resources to help you grow in your faith. Lord bless you.
 John MacArthur, “Husbands, Love Your Wives,” Grace To You, February 26, 2012, Accessed April 5, 2022, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-383/husbands-love-your-wives