This Tuesday we will be discussing Titus 2. This chapter contains advice to men, women, and slaves and is similar to the “Household Codes” found in Ephesians 5:21-6:3, Colossians 3:18-4:1, and 1 Peter 2:18-3:7. At first reading, to the ears of 21st century Westerners, the advice given sounds antiquated at best. These codes are one of the reasons that some scholars doubt that Paul wrote the Pastorals, Ephesians, or Colossians, because having wives submit to their husbands or slaves to their masters appears to contradict Paul’s statement that in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free (Galatians 3:28), his entrusting his letter to the Romans and the organization of his intended journey to Spain to the female deacon Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), or Paul’s requirement that Philemon free his Christian slave and treat him as a brother. Read within context, however, this advice shows us how the early church was in the world but not of it, and how the advice given does not contradict Paul’s other letters, but addresses different concerns.
In some ways, the given advice reflects the prevailing general societal norms. Under Roman law, particularly under the concept of pater familias, the oldest male household member was the absolute ruler of his family, and all other members of the household had the duty to willingly submit to him. For example, Aristotle begins his Politics with a discussion that the basis of society are these household rules that govern the relationship of master/slave, husband /wife, and father/children with the general rule being that the former rules over the later. This is the social context of our reading.
Paul’s advice is very practical. In some respects, the Church must always fit in with society so as to carry forth our primary teaching. Christianity was a new religion that sometimes had the effect of stirring up the local population towards persecution, such as when Paul’s teaching caused a local riot in Ephesus. Acts 19. Like their Jewish brethren, Christians would not offer sacrifices to the emperor nor engage in the public festivals honoring the local deity, and therefore Christians already placed themselves on the margins of society. A religion which radically overturned social norms would have a very short life-span. This is why Paul is concerned with how outsiders perceive church leadership (1 Tim 3:7), why he counsels the Romans to obey the governing authorities and to pay their taxes (Rom. 13:1-7), and why he wants to insure that no one speaks evil of the congregation (v.8). Particularly with regards to slavery, it had been less than one hundred years since the Third Servile War led by Spartacus, and no religion or person which encouraged slaves to rebel or sought to end the institution would last long.
On the other hand, the advice given subverts these same traditional household codes. First, Paul replaces the oldest male as the pater familias with Christ. It is Jesus who ultimately rules and to whom even the men must be subservient. The householder is no longer sovereign, but must live a sober, upright, and godly life just like everyone else in the household. Second, Paul’s household codes, unlike Aristotle’s and others, directly addresses the young men, women, and slaves. They are just as worthy of his attention as is the Householder because Christ makes no distinctions.
Most importantly, like all Scripture, these Household Codes point us towards the very nature of the Christian life which is founded in humility and service in imitation of Jesus. Jesus says “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Matt. 20:28. Or as Paul taught in an earlier letter: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 2:3-5. The reading for this week, simply takes these basic Christian teachings and applies them to the present social condition.
A good discussion of these Household Codes and their place in Scripture by Rachel Held Evans is HERE and HERE.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is lobster/crab macaroni-and-cheese. Discussion at 6:45. Compline at 8. Hope to see you here.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.Colossians 3:12