The Context for Bondage and Freedom:
Household ("oikos") and Church ("ekklesia")
Group II Presentation - Feb. 26, 1999
Back to Philemon Home
I. Overriding Questions:
- How does "oikos" (household) frame our discussion of relationships in the family, in the church, and in the world of work?
II. Household Codes in the New Testament
- How does "doulos" interface with the discussion of relationships?
- Martin Luther used the word Haustafel to indicate the texts which
describe the organization of the household in the early Christianity and in the Greco-Roman world.
- We used the following epistles to relate to Philemon, which include a household code in the pauline tradition. (These are traditional dates accepted for the time of the writing of the texts according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary.)
|1 Thess 4:1-5||49|
|1 Pet 2:18-3:7||ca. 85|
III. Discussion of Texts
Background: Greco-Roman households were patriarchial. Both manumission papyri and the article, entitled “Women in House Churches,” written by Carolyn Osiek, indicate the following hierarchy for the household: men first, then wives, then slaves. Slaves were deeded property, owned by the men, yet instructed by and commanded by the wives. Slaves became slaves in three ways: 1) being taken in war, 2) being born a slave, and 3) being sold into slavery by creditors or self.
Textual information: In Ephesians, Paul exhorts the household to “be subjecting yourselves (“hupotassomai”) to one another.”
"Hupotassomai" has additional meanings: 1) to give allegiance to, to tend to the needs of, be supportive of, or be responsive to (Bristow, John Temple, What Paul Really Said About Women, 41). 2) It also served as a military term, referring to taking a position in a phalanx of soldiers. 3) The best meaning may be found in the German translation of the word: to place oneself at the disposition of. (Baltensweiler, H., Die Ehe im Neuen Testament, p. 219, n. 4)
Therefore, "hupotassomai" can be viewed as that position which is in support of another (person, thing, etc.). Mutual submission/subjection would have been a radical idea in this patriarchial society. Wives would submit to their husbands, not vice-versa. Yet, here the context is even larger—it appears that the entire household is to be submitting to one another!
In Ephesians 6:1, 5 Paul speaks to children and slaves, respectively, and interestingly, here the command is for them to “obey!” (“hupakuo”), an imperative, not a request. So, even though, we have an admonition to submit to each other, the household structure (hierarchy) is still intact.
In the Christian Gospel, the new economy has been ushered in. There is a new "kurios" who is above all in the "oikos", including the "kurios" of the household. All relationships in and outside of the household are ordered under this One Kurios.
"Hupotassomai": In this new ordering of relationships, the wives are asked to "hupotassesthe" themselves to their husbands while children and slaves are asked to "hupakuoete" their parents and masters respectively. Which of these two injunctions could be more honorable? Since the wife has far more honor than the children and slaves, it would seem that "hupotassomai" is the more honorable.
These two texts view the household as a pyramid, with the master/
owner at the apex of the pyramid.
The writer of this epistle in the petrine tradition inverts the pyramid with the slaves now at the top. The master/slave formerly at the apex is at the bottom holding up the pyramid.
The writer also uses "ekklesia", which in Greek is “the called-out ones”. Therefore, the new pyramid arrangement signifies the new social arrangement for the Christian community, the called-out ones, who will be equal within the body.
Therefore, the question becomes: what is the significance of this new arrangement? How does it impact the current societal arrangement of the Greco-Roman world? How can the Christian lives in two different social paradigm at the same time?
In this epistle, Paul has to charge the Thessalonians that his letter be read to all the brothers (I Thess 5:27); one group must not monopolize it (the letter). Apparently, this is an attempt by Paul to ensure that all members of the household of God hear his words.
Another view of the word can be viewed in a building or architectural form when viewing a Greek Barrel Arch. This type of arch uses neither concrete nor a keystone to regulate the arch. Instead all stones are of the same size which reinforce (mutually pressure with tension/compression/friction) each other. Therefore, there is not any one stone that is greater than the others or more important than the others. Each stone plays it part in the whole structure. Therefore, "hupotassomai" comes to mean “to assume a supportive position” (JEA's definition). Thus we are not to be subject to or over another but to be in support of one another.
Therefore, the master is the slave who assumes a supportive position for the remainder of the household.
- House-churchs are achieving a new importance today, in particular,
with the mega-church explosion. Willow Creek Community Church is a mega-church that meets in small groups that function much the same as these early house-churches. These groups are the heartbeat of the church that keeps people connected to each other. (Hybels, Bill and Lynne. Rediscovering Church.)
- Early Christians were living in two worlds: one in which the traditional patriarchial order prevailed and one in which all were equal within the household of God. A totally new concept faced these people as they moved between these two households. They faced difficulties as the Greco-Roman world was suspicious that they were trying to change the social order. For this and other reasons, they faced persecutions, either overt or subtle.
If you'd like to respond to this summary or ask questions about it, please use the User Response form below.
- Questions: What is this house-church or household church? Which is it? And why should it matter to us?
User Response form
Top of Page
Back to Philemon Home
© 1998- Dr. John E. Alsup - all rights reserved