This is the second in a series of posts on marriage and the family.
III. Paul’s Guidelines
After that introduction in the first post in this series, I want to take a look at the instructions God gives thru Paul to wives, husbands, children, parents, and servants. Even if you aren’t a wife, husband, child, parent or servant, many of the principles can be applied to your other relationships. I’ll put these instructions in the context of the culture of that day, will identify the underlying principles, and apply them to life today. In general, the principles behind this and similar passages about family ties are harmony, mutual love, mutual respect, and mutual submission.
Regarding wives, Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24, NRSV)
These instructions seem outdated and even harsh to modern-day Americans. So let’s look at the cultural context of these controversial passages about wives submitting to husbands. In Greek and Roman households of that day, the husband was the head of the household with absolute authority, and he was also a priest. Every house had a shrine to one or more of the gods, and the husband led various kinds of prayers and worship in the home. You can see those shrines or altars in the ruins of houses in Pompey.
In these roles, the man of the house was called the paterfamilias. I believe that Paul wrote what he did to wives to keep order in the family, and to not disrupt family life as it was in that culture. He may have also written these instructions to protect women who had converted to Christianity. If a woman rebelled against the absolute authority of the paterfamilias, it could be very difficult for her.
Placing this passage in an American context where there is no paterfamilias, I believe the principle is for wives to honor and respect their husbands. Again, the aims are for harmony, mutual love, mutual respect, and mutual submission within the Christian household.
More on this topic in a future post.