The central social unit in Greco-Roman society was the household, which included immediate and extended family members as well as slaves, freed men and women, and other business associates of the male head of household, also known as the pater familias. Early Christian writing sometimes addressed relationships within this social unit. See, for example, 1 Peter 2:18--3:7 and Colossians 3:18-4:4, as well as this text from Ephesians.
At one point in Paul's letters, he implies that relationships within the household are transformed as a result of the new life offered to believers in Christ Jesus (see Galatians 3:27-28). Elsewhere, however, the apostle and others writing in his name leave intact much of the hierarchy in place in this element of their society. This section on relationships within the household begins with an exhortation meant to encompass all the relationships discussed in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." While equality between members of the household is nowhere implied in the household code, the call to mutual submission modifies all relationships of unequal parties within the household.
21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kindyes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body.* 31For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
6Children, obey your parents in the Lord,* for this is right. 2Honour your father and motherthis is the first commandment with a promise: 3so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.
4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.
9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org