In Pursuit of the Haustafel

Pin a pocket-protector on me and call me a geek (or creeper, if you prefer), but a while back I was reading through Hoehner’s commentary on Ephesians and came across a 5 page excursus on the Household Codes (German: Haustafel).

The story is this, many scholars have noticed the Household Codes in the epistles (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1; 1 Pet. 2:18-3:7; 1 Tim. 2:3-15; 6:1-10; and Titus 2:1-10) and wondered, Where did these instructions originate? Few Christians take the time ask such questions. They assume the Bible is the inspired word of God and simply read it and try to obey it.

But the question is this, since God did not sit down with these authors and dictate to them what they should say (He does that in other books, but not in the texts we’re looking at), is there some contributing influence (other than the Holy Spirit) that brought about these instructions?

Hoehner provides a brief review of the discussion up to this present day. He observes that the discussion began in the early 20th century when it was suggested that the household codes were “a lightly Christianized version of a stoic code” while another posited that they had their roots in “Pre-Christian Jewish code”(p. 721).

Hoehner writes,

In reaction to [these two views], two scholars in the 1950s argued that the household codes were uniquely Christian….The 1970s saw a resurgence of the study on the household codes. The new studies also thought that stoic influences was minimal because the Stoic codes addressed individuals rather than social classes (e.g., housbands, parents, masters, slaves) which were addressed in the NT. Rather, it was once again suggest that the origin of the NT household codes came from Hellenistic Judaism, a syncretism of Jewish injunctions to obey God’s will combined with Greek ethical codes employed by Hellenistic Judaism in their gentile missionary outreach.

Why is this so interesting…to me? Much of Family-Integration Church discussions (my area of interest) are taken from these household codes.

Think about it, if we limit your discussion to the New Testament, we find a Greek text written in the first century. To properly principalize that text, we must first understand the culture in which it was written. Hoehner writes:

The form of the Ephesian household code appears patriarchal or hierarchical in structure. In early Greek and Roman households the patriarchal structure, the male head, had extensive authority over the wife, children, and slaves (pater familias). However, by NT times most marriages took place sine manus (without power transferred from the wife’s father to the husband) so that women exercised a greater degree of independence from their husbands. to some degree even the Jewish household (especially in Hellenistic Judaism) followed suit. Paul’s injunctions reflect a hierarchical structure but still there is no suggestion of misogyny or the sweeping powers of the male head which were practiced in the early Greek household and even to a great degree in the early Roman household. (PP. 728=29

Of course, Hoehner also observers,

Since there is so little agreement on the source of the NT household codes, Hartman, among others, rightly cautions against identifying them with any particular source. It is natural that any given society would adhere to specific rules for the order of life, politically, domestically, socially, and religiously. It is also natural that since believers then and now are a part of society, they need a code of conduct. The household code of Ephesians addresses this by advancing a distinctly Christian ethic.

Hoehner’s footnote includes a citation from Halvor Moxnes’ “Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor
“. I could be mistaken, but this might be the source I’ve been trying to find for the past year or so. Very exciting.

Personally, I’m confident that better understanding the Household Codes will shine more light on the first century church than it will on the text itself. However, it might also steer us in a more thoughtful direction concerning application within our church structure. The whole business strikes me as a fascinating pursuit.

Of course, finding the time for that pursuit is a different discussion. Why is it that school always seems to get in the way of study?

David Knopp

David Knopp