This is what Theodore of Moseuestia writes about 3:18 in his commentary
3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
He orders wives to be subject to husbands.
[yeah, that's it]
To the question, “How would you preach on the household code?” one answer would be, ‘Follow the lectionary readings, and you will not have to do so!” The Revised Common Lectionary omits Col 3:18-4:1; Eph 5:21-6:9… (Andrew Lincoln, NIB Colossians, 658).
Gordon Fee, pushing back against views that try to universalize the Household Codes for all families of all times, makes some fascinating points about how Paul refers to house churches and what implications that might have for how we understand the Household Codes.
Is it possible, Fee wonders, that the Household Codes (Ephesians/Colossians) are written to house churches of elite families that may have required (or expected) more strict regulations regarding authority? It could be that the house churches of Colossae were Roman villas of the wealthy. Would Paul’s advice be different if the house church met in an insula?
…it is of interest to note the differences between how Paul speaks of Philemon’s household and the church that met there and how he speaks of that of Priscilla and Aquila in Romans 16:3-5. In the former case Paul greets both Philemon and his wife Apphia; but when greeting the church he uses the singular pronoun (“and the church that meets in your home”). Priscilla and Aquila, on the other hand, were artisans (tentmakers), who would not have lived in a villa but (most likely) an insula, where the house church would have met in a large room upstairs. In their case, and in contrast to Philemon, not only is Priscilla mentioned first, but Paul sends greetings to the church that meets “at their house” (cf. 1 Cor 16:19). (p. 375).
Fee accepts that Col 3:18-4:1 is patriarchal, but these texts “do not bless that worldview theologically” (375). Paul gives advice as to how to live Christian lives in that cultural setting.
Christian theology that requires adherence from all believers in all times and places need to be made of sterner stuff–derived from clear, explicit texts whose intent is specifically to instruct regarding what Christians are to believe (375).
Thank you Dr. Fee! Well said!
I have been rather intensely studying the Colossian Household Code as of late in view of my commentary research and in conjunction with the grad class I am teaching on Paul’s prison letters. Recently I stumbled across the FS for David Balch called Text, Image, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World (PTMS; W&S, 2012). One essay, by Dennis Smith, is called “The House Church as Social Environment” and I found it fascinating. In particular, Smith argues that since the house church was the foundational social context for Christian communal worship, one is obligated to study how such a physical environment would have shaped social dynamics and worship practices. I will underscore several points he makes in the essay.
1. We need to stop using archaeological remains of elite houses as models for early Christian worship settings. It is unlikely they had such elites among their ranks, so we must work with houses representative of a “much more modest social level” (7)
2. “Whatever christian gatherings consisted of, whatever form of worship or ritual was practiced, it would have been fully adapted to and integrated into the house environment” (p. 8) For example, by necessity, it is likely that the dining room was the place of assembly, because it was a “default” room for social gatherings.
3. “The house was already established culturally as a worship/ritual space” (p. 9) – he makes the point that it would have been strange for young Christian patrons to immediately remove shrines to “household deities” from their houses during worship. Implicitly, Smith seems to be presuming a natural kind of syncretism. I am not sure this is quite so “natural” of a presumption, especially if Paul popped in once in a while or made such teaching about removing shrines/idols explicit in his preaching.
4. “We should estimate the size of [a Christian] gathering based on the probable size of the default meeting space and, if the group grew larger, then we should assume that another house church would be organized to accommodate the overflow” (p. 11). Smith thinks guesses of 40 people for a house church is way too high, especially if the group remained primarily in a dining room (the “default space”) and not the atrium. Though he doesn’t say explicitly, he seems to hint at the more probable size for a house church being 8-15.
5. “Access to the house church gathering would take place by means of the cultural process of hospitality; one had to be an invited guest or member of the household” (p. 14) One implication, if Smith is correct, is that the church meeting would not have “walk-ins.”
6. “The house setting would necessitate addressing social and gender stratification” (p. 16) – this is where the Household Codes would come in… Smith hypothesizes that questions pertaining to household members’ relationships may have even became an issue precisely because of conflict and confusion in the dining hall and meal practices during the worship meeting.
The June 2012 Expository Times features the second part of a series by Moloney on “Recent Johannine Studies” with a special interest this time in monographs. I love this kind of “state of the discipline” article and Moloney gives clear and fair commentary on trends in recent research (John and history, empire, theology, eye-witness testimony, etc…).