Ephesians 5:21-6:9 – The Household Code
SummaryThe relationship of Israel to the Gentiles has been transformed in Christ so that both groups are members of the household of God. Relationships between those sharing human households are also affected by Christ.
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.