Re-writing “Household” in the Early Church -- By: David A. deSilva

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 36:0 (NA 2004)
Article: Re-writing “Household” in the Early Church
Author: David A. deSilva

Re-writing “Household” in the Early Church

David A. deSilva, Ph.D.

David deSilva (Ph.D., Emory University) is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary.

People will often come to a pastor for marital counseling because a crisis has arisen in their relationship or because the relationship has reached the breaking point. Very few pastors have the luxury of meeting with couples because the latter simply feel a desire for “marriage enrichment,” or want to explore ways in which they can strengthen their marriage and stave off trouble down the road. Because of the increasing fragility of marriage—as much among Christians as among the unchurched—it seems prudent to give a prominent place to the preventative work of forming a wholesome and life-giving understanding of marriage from the pulpit and within Christian education as well as the remedial work of bringing couples in crisis to a point where they can re-invent their relationship on the basis of God’s love for each of the pair. What heartache, what tension, what strife could be prevented by helping people form a solid, biblical understanding of their marriage covenant while the seas are calm and the horizons unclouded! So I would urge Christian leaders, in their work with married couples, to let that biblical understanding drive their ministry to them, and not to wait for crises to arise to begin to lay such a foundation.

Obviously, one important component of such a vision for marriage is the question of how husbands and wives are encouraged to relate to one another, and on what basis. Here, too many people—usually males—are already “experts” on the matter. “My wife is supposed to submit to me, not give me trouble! It says so in the Bible. Look at Ephesians 5:22!” Even Paul grounds the model of a hierarchical marriage in the creation account of Genesis 2, though the creation story itself gives no hint of moving in this direction. Nevertheless, many husbands come to the pastor’s office or to the pew harboring a basic idea that God wants his wife to do as he says, angered by her stubborn refusal to submit to him and to please him.

Now it is well known that ancient ethicists prized the model of the hierarchical household, with the husband/father/master exercising authority over the other members of the household.1 Aristotle held this to be inherent in the nature of the two genders, just as it was inherent in human nature to mate in the first place (Politics 1.2 1252a25-32). The male was “natural ruler” and the female “natural subject.” Greco-Roman authors especially were careful to qualify the nature...

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