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Making a pagan “household code” reflect Jesus

March 14, 2024

Daily Scripture

Ephesians 5:18-31, 1 Timothy 2:8-12, 3:11-12

Ephesians 5
18 Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: 19 speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; 20 always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. 24 So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. 25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. 26 He did this to make her holy by washing her in a bath of water with the word. 27 He did this to present himself with a splendid church, one without any sort of stain or wrinkle on her clothes, but rather one that is holy and blameless. 28 That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church 30 because we are parts of his body. 31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body [Genesis 2:24].

1 Timothy 2
8 Therefore, I want men to pray everywhere by lifting up hands that are holy, without anger or argument. 9 In the same way, I want women to enhance their appearance with clothing that is modest and sensible, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. 10 They should make themselves attractive by doing good, which is appropriate for women who claim to honor God.
11 A wife [or a woman] should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife [or a woman] to teach or to control her husband [or a man]. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

1 Timothy 3
11 In the same way, women who are servants [or deacons] in the church should be dignified and not gossip. They should be sober and faithful in everything they do. 12 Servants [or deacons] must be faithful to their spouse and manage their children and their own households well.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

People too often read Ephesians 5:22 or 1 Timothy 2:11-2 in isolation, missing the verses’ larger context. Paul used a common Greco/Roman way of writing about family relations called a “Household Code.” But he adapted it in ways that strikingly shifted its message. Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “Paul…insists that the husband should take as his role model, not the typical bossy or bullying male of the modern, or indeed the ancient, stereotype, but Jesus himself.” *

  • Ephesians 5:21, just before verse 22, said, “Submit to each other out of respect for Christ.” “This places Paul among the small proportion of ancient thinkers who valued mutual concern and sensitivity…. Traditional household codes instructed male heads of households how to rule; Paul instructs husbands here only how to love self-sacrificially.” ** Paul infused one of his culture’s familiar forms with Jesus’ values. How can you do the same as you live in our culture today?
  • Professor Scot McKnight noted that many who use 1 Timothy 2:11-12 to say women can never be church leaders don’t ever try to enforce verses 9-10 ***! Scholar Craig Keener wrote, “In a first-century setting, what might stand out as more unusual here was that… Paul expressly encourages women to learn.” **** In chapter 3, the letter likely said women served as deacons in the church. ***** Jesus welcomed and uplifted women. Would Paul, devoted to Jesus, have systematically tried to suppress them?

Lord Jesus, you walked among us as genuine love incarnate. Let your love be a robust force making every person I affect better, regardless of gender or other barriers. Amen.

GPS Insights

Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory serves on the Resurrection staff as Human Resources Lead Director. Janelle finds that her heart is constantly wrestling with the truth that she needs a Savior, and the times when she's at her very best are when she's just too tired to put up a fight.

Imagine that you want to play the board game Clue for the very first time. You open the elaborate board showing each room in the mysterious mansion. You then set out the dice, the player pieces, the cards, and each of the weapons. But when you go to read the instructions on how to play, you’re given the instructions to Monopoly. As you read through the instructions, you’re trying to determine how to purchase properties and which of these rooms is jail. You might even be asking why the thimble or dog look like a candlestick or lead pipe. It just wouldn’t make any sense!

I see this in much the same way we read certain Scripture that is meant to be taken in the context of the time and place. There are certain instructions in the Bible that make perfect sense given the context in which they are written, but they don’t translate as well to where we are today. I’d put some of today’s passages in that category. I’d imagine that 1 Timothy 2:11-12–“A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener”–made sense in the time in which it was written. But we’re playing a different game today. We’ve seen how these instructions have oppressed women for centuries. I don’t believe that was Paul’s intention. Paul was just playing the game of the time. I’d imagine that if Paul was playing today’s game, he’d use different instructions. I would think he’d see the value that women can bring to a family, a community, a church, or even a country. I don’t think we’re to hold some of Paul’s words to an eternal context, just like I wouldn’t use instructions for Monopoly to play the game of Clue.

If anything, we’re to take step back and look at the game Paul was playing and try to understand the message that he was sending beyond just the exact words. The overall message that he shares in these passages places a higher value on women than what would have been normal for that place and time. I actually imagine that those who were reading Paul’s instructions were taken aback at how progressive Paul was. There were multiple times when Paul specifically addressed women when writing his letters. If Paul truly didn’t think that women could be leaders in ministry, I doubt that he would have included names like Chloe, Phoebe, or Priscilla. When we read passages that have contextual understanding, we need to remember the game Paul was playing to understand what he was ultimately trying to say to those in his time as well as today.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

*  N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, pp. 67-68.
** NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook. (Kindle Locations 268545-268548, 268561-268562). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
*** Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, pp. 186-188.
**** NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook. (p. 10551). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
***** “Scholars debate whether ‘the women’ here refers to female deacons or to male deacons’ wives…. By the early second century, a Roman governor in Asia Minor is apparently familiar with female deacons.” (From NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, p. 10557). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.) And click here to review Paul’s positive mentions of women as ministry partners in Romans 16.