Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18-20 NET)

The Epistle to the Colossians is a magnificent theological letter not only because of its grand Christocentric themes and its cosmic depiction of the Gospel, but also because it applies these glorious truths in a way that includes the most fundamental relationships of human life – relationships in the home. In Colossians 3:18-21, Paul exhorts the various members of the household to orient their lives and behavior ἐν κυρίῳ, “in the Lord.” In so doing, Paul takes the truth of the universal supremacy of Christ and applies this “new” life in Christ not merely to the individual (3:5-11), nor simply to the church (3:12-17), but also to the close-knit relationships of the family (3:18-21).[1]

The general pattern of these exhortations is first an address (e.g. “you children”) then an imperative verb (e.g. “obey your parents…”) and then a motivation (e.g. “for this is pleasing in the Lord”).[2] Although other passages address specific groups in the house (Eph 5:22-6:9; 1 Pet 2:18-3:7),[3] Colossians 3:18-4:1 is distinct in that the respective duties given are tightly reciprocal;[4] the subordinate member is mentioned first (e.g. wife, child, slave)[5] and the leading member (e.g. husband, father, master) has reciprocal and complementary responsibilities.[6] These imperatives are all very practical and O’Brien is probably right to suggest that Paul gives these imperatives as a way of glorifying God in everyday activities (cf. Col 3:17) and in opposition to false teaching that probably prioritized “ascetic practices, heavenly worship and visions of divine mysteries” over “mundane and domestic affairs.”[7]

In Colossians 3:18-21, Paul adopts prevailing social norms and then transforms them by placing uniquely Christian elements in the household code. There is no debate among scholars that Paul has adopted prevailing social norms where household order is to be maintained by the subjection of subordinate members of the family – the debate is whether he has transformed those social norms to Christian standards or whether he has not “gone far enough.” While Dunn and Lohse maintain that Colossians 3:18-21 are “not timeless rules” that can be transferred to circumstances today,[8] Christians today should fully embrace and apply Paul’s teaching for it differs from the contemporaneous household instruction in three significant ways: first, unlike its Hellenistic Jewish (Philo, Hypothetica 7:1-9; Josephus, contra Apionem 2, 190-219) and pagan (Polybius, Hist. xvii. 41. 8, 9, of Attalus) counterparts, the household code in Colossians is characterized by a unique reciprocal construction in which all members of the household are given particular duties rather than rights – both wives and husbands, children and fathers, and slaves and masters have reciprocal duties.[9] Second, Paul’s emphasis on husbands loving their wives is distinctly Christian, and, as Moo says, “revolutionary.”[10] Third, and most significantly, the repeated use of the phrase “ἐν κυρίῳ” (“in the Lord”) adds a new motivation to these imperatives and establishes them in the person and work of Christ. These three distinctly Christian features transform and “Christianize” what would otherwise be very similar to a common Greco-Roman household code. Therefore these verses “must be ‘heard’ as an authentic New Testament voice….”[11] To that end the exegesis of Colossians 3:18-21 will be conducted.

Paul’s household imperatives are directly rooted in the theology he has already developed (since they are “ἐν κυρίῳ”). Instead of explicitly linking the household code to what came previously by the use of a conjunction, Paul abruptly begins verse eighteen by exhorting the wives, “submit yourselves to your husbands in such a way that is fitting of those who belong to the Lord. In this household code it is difficult to know why the wives are addressed first; Dunn posits that this order may suggest that “their relationship to their husbands was the linchpin of a stable and effective household.”[12] While Dunn rightly points to the Paul’s prioritization of the marriage relationship in this household code, his comment is not ultimately helpful;[13] since the subordinate member of these three parallel addresses always comes first (be they wives, children, or slaves), Paul’s consideration of the wives before the husbands is, in all likelihood, simply stylistic.

The article (Αἱ) before γυναῖκες (“wives”) is in the nominative case yet it clearly conveys a vocative force (“you” wives, not “the” wives);[14] Paul is addressing wives, not speaking of wives in abstract. γυναῖκες can mean either wives or women, but since the following verses reference children (v.20) and fathers (v.21), household relationships are clearly in view. Taking γυναῖκες as wives is also supported by a few manuscripts (D* F G 075 it syp.h.**­­) where ὑμῶν (“your”) has been added following τοῖς ἀνδράσιν (“the husbands”); although ὑμῶν is not in the most reliable manuscripts, its addition in these few manuscripts was probably a scribal clarification to show that wives, not women, are to submit to their husbands.[15] Therefore γυναῖκες should be understood as wives, not women.[16]

The verb Paul uses to exhort the wives is ὑποτάσσεσθε. BDAG defines this verb as to “subject oneself” or “be subjected or subordinated, obey.”[17] This usage is fairly common in the New Testament, and it is regularly used in the context of submission that recognizes an ordered structure where respect is to be shown, such as toward church officials (1 Pet 5:5) or governors (Rom 13:1-13; Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18).[18] The verb is in the imperative mood; it is a command. Moreover, the verb can be either middle or passive,[19] and in either case it is clear that Paul is challenging the wives to pay attention to the posture of their hearts; they are to put themselves under their husband’s authority and display “an attitude that recognizes [his] rights of authority.”[20] The outcome of this willful posture of submission is that the wife chooses to defer to her husband’s leadership.[21]

Paul grounds his command to submit by asserting that it is fitting in the Lord (ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν κυρίῳ). [22] Some commentators believe that the conjunction ὡς (“as”) suggests the degree of submission that the wife is required to give, since the wife’s submission should always be conditioned by the higher submission she owes to God, but this is simply not the point Paul makes here.[23] Rather, Paul uses ὡς to explain either the cause of submission[24] or the manner of submission.[25] The more likely option is that Paul uses ὡς to indicate cause because of the important motivational force conveyed by ἐν κυρίῳ (“in the Lord”) in both verse 18 and verse 20; however, to distinguish sharply between cause and manner is somewhat artificial – the cause (ἐν κυρίῳ) has ramifications for the manner in which the wives express their submission.

As such, the submission of the wife is grounded in the prepositional phrase ἐν κυρίῳ (“in the Lord”). The preposition ἐν (“in”) is probably best understood as a locative preposition extended metaphorically; Paul is asserting that the submission of wives is fitting “within the new fellowship of those who own Christ as Lord.”[26] While this preposition should be taken as a metaphorical locative, the metaphor itself, of course, points to a literal standard or criterion of “what is fitting” for those who are in the sphere of the Lord – in Christ’s fellowship and under his reign. This is why some commentators are inclined to categorize this as a preposition of standard.[27] The metaphorical locative usage of ἐν κυρίῳ is fairly common for Paul, being found four other times in Colossians (3:18, 20; 4:7, 17) and forty times in the Pauline corpus, especially concerning familial relationships (1 Cor 7:22, 39; Eph 6:1; Phlm 16).[28] However, the use of ἐν κυρίῳ here in verse 18 and later in verse 20 probably recalls the repeated phrase ἐν αὐτῷ (“in him”) in Col 1:15-20 and 2:6-15; as Dunn masterfully develops, here in Colossians 3:18 there is probably an allusion back to the claim that “Christ is the fullest expression of creative wisdom within the cosmos” (1:15-20; 2:3) and therefore “life should be lived in accordance with the traditions received regarding Jesus as Christ and Lord.”[29]

By putting herself under her husband by her submission to him, the wife is also submitting to the Lord as she is “recognizing and living out an ‘order’ established by God himself within the marriage relationship.”[30] Therefore, in contrast to Lohse, who asserts that “the ‘subordination’ of wives was sanctioned at that time by custom and usage…[and] cannot be taken as expressions of timeless valid law,”[31] it should instead be maintained that in submitting to their husbands, wives fulfill God’s established pattern for marriage. As Bruce comments,

Paul does not suggest here or anywhere else that the woman is naturally or spiritually inferior to the man, or the wife to the husband. But he does hold that there is a divinely instituted hierarchy in the order of creation, and in this order the place of the wife comes next after that of her husband.[32]

It is also important now to note briefly that since multiple texts in Scripture declare that marriage is instituted by God “from the beginning” (Matt 19:4-5; Mk 10:6-8) in a way that slavery, as an institution, is not, one should be cautious about arguing against the submission of wives to husbands on the basis, that, like slavery, Paul is giving ad hoc instruction in this particular Greco-Roman context. Moreover, one should be careful of anachronism on this point – the overt racism and severe social oppression (where a slave could never increase in social standing or gain citizenship) that characterized the chattel slavery in the American South should not be read back into Paul’s teaching and worldview.[33] In any case, while a thorough analysis of slavery in historical context is outside the scope of this paper, the permanence of marriage as an institution points to the permanence of Paul’s marriage instruction in verses 18 and 19.[34]

Paul’s exhortation to the wives is then balanced by his reciprocal exhortation to the husbands, “love your wives and do not let yourselves become bitter against them.”[35] To point out the obvious, unlike the verb ὑποτάσσεσθε (“submit”) which was in the middle voice (subject focused), the imperative verb here for “love” (ἀγαπᾶτε) is in the active voice – the wives are to be the recipients of the husband’s love; there is no indication of any reflexive (subject focused) element in this love (even though this is Paul’s point in Ephesians 5:28). The aspect of the verb suggests that this love is to be the husband’s pattern of life. Although the household code in Colossians does not explicitly compare the love of husbands to the love of Christ for his church (cf. Eph 5:25-33), the many parallels between the household instruction in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 suggests that the sense in which” love” is used here is, as O’Brien writes, love that shows “his unceasing care and loving service for her entire well-being.”[36]

Yet to understand most fully the nature of this love it is important to recognize that the next clause, “and do not let yourselves become harsh or bitter against them” (καὶ μὴ πικραίνεσθε πρὸς αὐτάς), is the negative counterpart to the previous positive command to love.[37] Thus, the second clause both explains and nuances the first.[38] As a passive verb it is subject focused and therefore suggests that the husbands must not let themselves become bitter in attitude.[39] Although the verb is subject-focused, the prepositional phrase following it, “against them” (πρὸς αὐτάς), makes it clear that this inward bitterness disadvantages the wife; what may be in view is bitterness vented on the wife in some form or fashion.

Unlike the wife’s submission that is motivated in the way it is fitting in the Lord, Paul gives no explicit motivation for the husbands to love their wives and not to become bitter against them.[40] There may be a few reasons for this. Perhaps, as Lohse observes, this command from Paul has no corresponding motivation because the command to love never needs justification.[41] Nevertheless, there is likely a thematic link between the bitterness here in 3:19 and the “putting off” of anger in 3:8;[42] as such, Paul may have in mind another application of how the “new self” in Christ is to be characterized. It is also worth noting that this charge to husbands to love their wives is different from other Greco-Roman household codes (such as Polybius, Hist. xvii. 41. 8, 9, of Attalus) and, in Moule’s words, this command opens a “new chapter in social history.”[43]

Paul does not explain, perhaps intentionally, the circumstances that give rise to this bitterness. It may or may not be caused by the wife.[44] Wright places a slightly psychological twist on this verse and suggests that this bitterness may be caused by a situation where the wife “turns out to be, like him, a real human being, and not merely the projection of his own hopes or fantasies.”[45] Whatever the cause of this bitterness, rather than having a surly, irritable attitude, they must exercise their leadership of the home with love; as Moo notes, “the leadership that husbands rightly exhibit in marriage is not to be carried out harshly or selfishly, but lovingly.”[46]

On a point of application, it may be very beneficial to many marriages (and potential marriages) to notice that Paul has separate charges for husbands and for wives. Husbands are charged to love and wives are charged to submit. Husbands are not encouraged to force their wives to submit to them and neither are wives encouraged to force their husbands to love them. Much marital strife would be prevented if husbands and wives were to concern themselves first and foremost with their own duties.

The next pair of reciprocal commands is to children (in the subordinate position) and then to fathers (in the leadership position). Paul commands the children, “obey your parents with respect to everything they wish, for this obedience is pleasing and befitting of those who belong to the Lord.” Children are to obey (ὑπακούετε) their parents in an ongoing and habitual way. This verb is frequently used in the New Testament and it simply means “to follow instructions” or “be subject to.”[47] This obedience presupposes that the parents are issuing orders to their children;[48] it also presupposes that the children are still subject to their parents’ authority.[49] Furthermore, this command to obey is a sweeping statement, for it is κατὰ πάντα (with respect to everything).[50] Of course, what is pictured here is ideal Christian parenting; these verses do not consider situations where the parent’s orders may run contrary to Christ’s, in which case the children would be compelled to disobey respectfully in submission to Christ (cf. Acts 5:29).[51] Nevertheless, the emphasis is clearly on obedience to parents, not exceptions to obedience.

In a similar way to verse 18 where the wives’ submission was grounded theologically in the way it was fitting in the Lord, the children’s obedience is now grounded theologically in the way it is pleasing in the Lord (τοῦτο γὰρ εὐάρεστόν ἐστιν ἐν κυρίῳ). The antecedent of the pronoun τοῦτο is the children’s obedience to their parents.[52] Interestingly, the obedience of the children is not pleasing to the Lord (τῷ κυρίῳ) but rather pleasing in the Lord (ἐν κυρίῳ).[53] Indeed, there is no reason to think that τῷ κυρίῳ is suggested in the sentence (i.e., pleasing “to the Lord”) for the adjective “pleasing” (εὐάρεστόν) should be taken absolutely; obedience to parents is inherently pleasing in general.[54] As such, the locative preposition ἐν (which is extended metaphorically) at the end of the phrase implies that this behaviour is appropriate for those who acknowledge Christ as Lord and who live within the sphere of the Lord (cf. ESV, RSV, TNIV, NET).[55] Moule thinks that since τῷ κυρίῳ (dative) is not used here, but ἐν κυρίῳ (prepositional phrase) is, this phrase should be read as a conditional clause – the obedience of the children is only pleasing when they are (conditionally) behaving “on a truly Christian level of motive.”[56] But most scholars reject this claim preferring rather to understand ἐν κυρίῳ as a “Christian transformation of a generally used phrase [viz. ‘this is pleasing.’]”[57] Furthermore, understanding ἐν κυρίῳ as a “Christian transformation” is supported by the context of Colossians, where, in 2:16-17, the false teaching was particularly Jewish in nature (although it likely contained syncretistic elements with Greek thought); by taking up a theme of the Decalogue and adding a distinct Christocentric element to it, Paul both affirms the Jewish heritage of the Christian faith and highlights the newness that is “in Christ.”[58]

Finally, Paul addresses the fathers, do not irritate your children, in order that they might not become disheartened and timid in spirit.” This reciprocal command suggests that if children are to render comprehensive obedience, fathers must be careful not to discourage their children by unreasonable demands or any failure to treat the child with understanding.[59] Although in Hebrews 11:23 the word fathers (πατέρες) can be taken as “parents,” it is likely referring here to fathers, not only because of their primary authority in the home, but especially because the word parents (γονεύς) has already been used in the previous verse.[60]

Paul is especially concerned that the fathers do not irritate their children. The word here for irritate is ἐρεθίζετε which can occasionally convey a positive sense of encouraging or “stirring up” as in 2 Corinthians 9:2; however, the more common usage of this word, as here, is in the negative sense of provoking or embittering (1 Macc 15:40; Philo, Ebr. 16; Jos., Bell. 2, 414, Ant. 4, 169).[61] Although some manuscripts have παροργίζετε (A C D* F G L 075 0198 33 81) rather than ἐρεθίζετε (א B D2 Ψ 051 6 424), since παροργίζετε (“make angry/resentful”) is used in Ephesians 6:4 the more ambiguous ἐρεθίζετε (“stir up”) was likely in the autograph and παροργίζετε was simply a scribal clarification. By his use of ἐρεθίζετε, Paul likely has in mind a discouragement that is caused either by nagging at children, deriding their efforts, or constantly belittling them.[62]

Rather than grounding the motivation for this action ἐν κυρίῳ, Paul explains that if the fathers provoke their children this way they run the risk of disheartening (ἀθυμῶσιν) them and causing them to become timid or broken in spirit. The ἵνα conjunction (“so that”) works alongside the subjunctive verb ἀθυμῶσιν (“become disheatened”)[63] to suggest that this is a purpose clause.[64] Paul does not want the children of Christian families disciplined to the extent that they stop trying to do what is pleasing in the Lord.[65] While Dunn suggests that Paul may have in mind particular circumstances that may cause a Christian child to despair in Colossae (such as false teaching),[66] the parallel passage in Ephesians 6:4 suggests that Paul’s command to the fathers is a much more general assertion.[67] Paul’s point is that the father’s duty is to “assure their children that they are loved and accepted and valued for who they are, not for who they ought to be, should have been, or might (if only they would try a little harder) become.”[68]

Relationships in the family are unique in the way they present the opportunity to express deep love and the opportunity to cause deep pain. As Hinson comments, “Ironically, it is probably in our most intimate relationships, the family, that we most readily vent our wrath, our bitter feelings, our harsh side. The family gives a freedom which we do not experience anywhere else.”[69] It is directly into the context of these relationships that Paul applies the cosmically transformational truths of the gospel that he has already been developing in his letter. In so doing, he presents the church with the exciting prospect of living transformed lives in the home and behaving in a manner befitting of those who own Christ as Lord.

[1] Marrianne Thompson, Colossians & Philemon, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 92.

[2] Murray J. Harris, An Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon (Nashville, TN: B & H, 2010), 153; Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, (WBC 44; Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 215.

[3] Moule also adds that these household rules are found in other writings such as Didache iv. 9-11, Barnabas xix. 5 and 7, I Clem. i. 3, xxi. 6-9, and Polycarp, Phil. iv, v. Please see The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (CGTC; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1962), 127.

[4] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 215.

[5] It is important to notice that this parallelism of subordination does not imply equal standing – wives are not told to “obey” in the sense that children are told to. See Thompson, Colossians & Philemon, 93.

[6] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 220.

[7] Ibid., 219.

[8] Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 246; Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon: A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (trans. William R. Rehlmann and Robert J. Karris; ed. Helmut Koster: Herm; Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1971), 156.

[9] See Moule, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 127 and O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 215-17. See also Suzanne W. Henderson, “Taking Liberties with the Text: The Colossians Household Code As Hermeneutical Paradigm,” Interpretation 60 (2006): 422.

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 303.

[11] Ibid., 295.

[12] Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 246-47.

[13] Jerry L. Sumney also highlights the primacy of the marriage relationship in Colossians (NTL; Louisville, KY: John Knox, 2008), 241.

[14] C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek. (2 ed.; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 117. Cf. O’Brien Colossians, Philemon, 220; Harris Exegetical guide to the Greek New Testament, 154; and Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 299.

[15] Nestle-Aland does not say which MSS omitted ὑμῶν; nevertheless, since it is not mentioned in UBS there is likely sufficient manuscript evidence to conclude that it was omitted from the autographs.

[16] See also Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 299. and Dunn The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 246.

[17] BDAG, 1042.

[18] Ibid.

[19] While most scholars believe that the form is middle (“submit yourselves”), the passive form (“be subject”) could have much the same sense. See Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon, 299.

[20] Curtis Vaughan, “Colossians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 218.

[21] In N.T. Wright’s words, “The wife must forgo the temptation to rule her husband’s life, using perhaps one of the many varieties of domestic blackmail….” Colossians and Philemon (TNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1986), 148.

[22] Many commentators (cf. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 222; Moule, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 129) highlight that this verb ἀνῆκεν has a Stoic ring to it. However, Moo objects and says that this one verb alone is “insufficient basis to hold that Paul has derived the household code from Soicism.” See Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 302.

[23] Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 302.

[24] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 222-23 and Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 301-302.

[25] Harris, An Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, 154.

[26] F.F. Bruce, Colossians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 289; O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 222; Harris, An Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, 155.

[27] Lightfoot, The Epistles of St Paul: Colossians and Philemon, 225.

[28] Bruce, Colossians, 290.

[29] Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 248.

[30] Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 300.

[31] Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 158.

[32] Bruce, Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians, 289.

[33] James Tunstead Burtchaell, Philemon’s Problem: A Theology of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 9.

[34] Moo helpfully deals with the issue of slavery in relation to the continuance of the ethics of Colossians 3:18-21 in The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 292-98.

[35] As we saw before where ὑμῶν was added by MSS (D* F G it syp.h.**­­) so also here ὑμῶν is added following τὰς γυναῖκας in MSS C2 D* F G it vgcl and sy.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Harris, An Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, 155.

[38] Bruce, Colossians, 290; O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 224; Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 158.

[39] See also Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 249.

[40] The motivational phrase ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν κυρίῳ “as is fitting in the Lord” should be taken as referring to the wives, not the husbands, first, because of the general pattern of address, imperative, motivation that runs through the household code, and second, because the children, who are also in the subordinate position are motivated in a very similar fashion.

[41] Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 158.

[42] This thematic connection was found by Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, Colossians, in The Anchor Bible, Trans. Astrid B. Beck, (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1994), 439.

[43] Moule, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 129.

[44] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 224.

[45] Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 148.

[46] Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 304.

[47] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 1028-29.

[48] Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 304.

[49] Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 159; cf. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 305.

[50] Harris, An Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, 155.

[51] Bruce, Colossians, 291.

[52] Harris, An Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, 156.

[53] Some MSS have τῷ κυρίῳ (0198. 81. 326. 629. 630. 945. 1241s. 1739mg/ 2495 al vgmss.)

[54] T.K. Abbot, The Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians. ICC. (Edinburgh, UK: T & T Clark, 1964), 293.

[55] Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 305. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 225.

[56] Moule, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 130.

[57] Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 159. Cf. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 250-51.

[58] Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 251.

[59] H.M. Carson, Colossians and Philemon, TNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 92-93.

[60] Ibid. Cf. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 148. Contra Barth and Blanke, Colossians, 443 who suggest πατέρες here refers to parents.

[61] BDAG, 391.

[62] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 225-26; cf. Lohse, Colossians and Philemon 159; Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 148.

[63] This New Testament hapax legomenon occurs frequently in the LXX (Dt. 28:65; 1 Kgs 1:6; 15:11; 2 Kgs 6:8). Cf. Bauer, BDAG, 25.

[64] This particular purpose clause focuses on the intention of the verb without speaking of its accomplishment. Cf. Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 472.

[65] See also Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 307 and O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 226.

[66] Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, 252.

[67] See also Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, 307 and Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 159.

[68] Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 149.

[69] E. Glenn Hinson, “The Christian Household in Colossians 3:18-4:1,” in Review & Expositor, 70 (1973): 498.



  1. The spirit of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to relate to one another in a Christ-like way, appreciative of our different abilities. That I can get behind.

    However, I’d like to point out that relationships within the home are not a universal fundamental. That is, the structuring of families and how they dwell together is not the same (even basically) everywhere among humans. I don’t think that this husband/wife master/slave father/child authority/responsibility structure would glorify God in every context because not every kind of family is based upon the same initial division of power that those in Roman occupied Israel were. Paul has divulged a way to redeem something akin to the Pater Familias, which starts out with a male leader who has been given too much authority and too little responsibility over his “subordinates”. He probably didn’t even dream of a people like the Iroquois, whom the church has injured deeply in their attempt to impose a Victorian/Christian/Patriarchal variety of family patterns and culture.


  2. Oh after a few months I guess I should respond 🙂 Sorry…

    Well yes many “Victorian” values are out of place when it comes to taking the gospel into new cultures.

    Anyway, on one hand I don’t think this more communal structure matters at all to Christian obedience – who cares if multiple kids are raised by multiple “moms”? In fact that might be a very healthy thing – and indeed a very Old Testament thing – that our individualistic society would benefit from greatly.

    But on the other hand I want to quote these articles on two occasions:

    The first article: “All female descendents [sic] including her sisters, her sisters’ daughters, and their daughters would live in the long house their entire lives bringing their husbands to live with them.”

    Notice that here the husband-wife relationship is assumed. That is worth noting. Marriage is the natural consequence of biology and marriage as an institution is trans-cultural reality that should be honored and protected (no sleeping around in that “long house.”) Adultery is adultery in whatever cultural setting you find yourself in.

    And the second article says: “If a man has more than one wife, then each woman will have her own house to live in with her children and the man will alternate houses. ”

    Here is where there is need of reform in the cultural practices of those in Papua New Guinea etc. When you run up against polygamy you are entering a new cultural issue that I think the New Testament addresses quite clearly. Marriage is between one man and one woman as a reflection of the gospel – Christ and the church. So when the gospel enters into a polygamous community, then the polygamous marriages should not split up – but the children should change their “cultural custom” as an expression of obedience, recognizing, what I think you can pretty clearly recognize (and which our Canadian government increasingly recognizes) that polygamy is a destructive practice. Again, the Old Testament bears witness to the havoc polygamy creates (and the lack of equality for women.)

    Anyway – what I’m trying to say is that there are cultural practices in aboriginal culture that the “Victorian nuclear family” culture would do well to emulate, and which Paul and the New Testament would not object to. Why not have a big group of ladies team up to raise a big group of kids while the men are out hunting? And then there are cultural practices (ie, polygamy/polyandry) that ought to be rejected on principle without the charge of cultural superiority. All cultures have problems that the gospel addresses and the way we avoid “colonial superiority” is by practicing repentance of our own cultural idols.

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