The Household Codes, The Meaning Then and Now

Topics: New Testament, Slavery, Husband Pages: 13 (3867 words) Published: September 30, 2014


The Household Codes

The Meaning Then and Now

Kandi Caines

“The woman is ‘in all things inferior to the man’ said first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. It was in this oppressive context that Christianity was born.”1 When the Lord came to earth in the form of a man Jesus, the Lord chose to make a stand for women’s rights. These bold and liberal actions were embraced and repeated by his disciples; and are reflected in their writings. This lead to the new emerging Christian church having a reputation for its radical beliefs when it came to women. Yet many modern Christian churches continue to teach that God ordained a hierarchy relationship between the man and woman, husband and wife. Herein lies the irony; the very scriptures the modern church uses to teach that women are under the authority of men, are the very scriptures that (when studied in context) exposes the truth in this matter. Some of these scriptures include Col. 3:18-4:1 and Ephesians 5:2, bible scholars refer to these as the household codes (a cultural tradition in Greco-Roman times). In this paper I will be focusing on the Col household code (Col 3:18-4:1). I will explore what these household codes would have meant to the original hearers in light of our knowledge of the ancient household codes and how we are to implement them today. In Greco Roman culture (the time in which Jesus and Apostle Paul lived), the management of one’s household was considered of primary importance; it was thought to be the key to a healthy community. It became common practice for the wise men and philosophers to write on household management policies and procedures. These instructions are known as ancient household codes, amongst the most recognized and quoted household code is Aristotle’s Politics, written about 335 BC, Aristotle writes: Now that it is clear what are the component parts of the state, we have first of all to discuss household management (οικονομία); for every state is composed of households (εξ οικιών). Household management falls into departments corresponding to the parts of which the household in its turn is composed; and the household in its perfect form consists of slaves and freemen. The investigation of everything should begin with its smallest parts, and the primary and smallest parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children; we ought therefore to examine the proper constitution and character of each of these three relationships, I mean that of mastership, that of marriage and thirdly the progenitive relationship {Pol. I 1253b 1-1 2

The majority of Roman citizens were poor, with a minority of free citizens who were able to support themselves and the rest living on welfare. Most of the poor people lived in overcrowded blocks of flats without adequate plumbing or heating. 3 Only the wealthy citizens owned land and household structures were very different in ancient times. Most of these families made a living from the work done on their own land; they had slaves to carry out this work. Managing a household was similar to running a small business. The family’s size was bigger as people had more children and many men had children born to them from their slaves. Therefore, a household was a small community in and of itself. Being that the men took the dominant role in ancient days; the responsibility of keeping their small community in order became the responsibility of the man. In order to accomplish this, the man (leader) of the house took supreme authority over all members of the house. The man of the house had the ultimate authority to lay down the law, enforce all the rules and execute all punishments to those who break the rules; up to and including death of a household member. As would be expected, power was misused leading to many wife’s, children and countless slaves (women, men and...

Bibliography: Kruse, Michael. “Household: Jesus’ Household Codes Pt 2.’ Kruise Kronicle. Entry posted July 05, 2007. (Accessed February 2, 2012).
Gardner Jane F, Wiedmann Thomas E.J. The Roman Household: A Sourcebook, (Routledge Sourcebooks for the Ancient World). (London, simultaneously USA and Canada, Routledge, 12/04/1991) pg 65.
Yamauchi, Edwin. Harpers World of the New Testament. First edition, (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishing, 1981) pg 90.
David l. Balch, Household Codes, The Acchor Bible Dictionary Vol 3, (New York: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1992) pg 319.
Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical hand-book to the epistles to the Philippians and Colossians, and to Philemon. Myers Commentary on the New Testament. Fourth edition. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Publishers 1885) pg 193.
Schweizer, Eduard. The Letter to the Colossians. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1982). PAGE 213.
Boring, M. Eugene, Berger Klaus, and Colpe Carsten (editors), Hellenistic commentary to the New Testament. (Nashville Abingdon Press, 1995) pg
Alaska, Considering the Roman Household codes, Complegalitarian Blog (December 25, 2007) (accessed march 27/2012)
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8/1/1996) (Aristotle politics Bk 1 pt 5) pg 299
Jerry L
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