This is my contribution to my friend Rachel Held Evans' One in Christ: A Week in Mutuality synchroblog.
I have to be honest: I have a love/hate relationship with Paul. I know it's cliched, but it's true. When he writes about how we are saved by grace and not be religious duties, I'm all gung-ho. Ditto on the whole "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female" thing. But when he gets to homosexuality and gender roles . . . well, you get the idea.
In chapter nine of The Politics of Jesus, however, John Howard Yoder explains how the biblical household precepts--or the Haustafeln--are actually pretty radical.
Many scholars believe that the Haustafeln in Colossians 3:18-4:10 and Ephesians 5:21-6:9 actually comes from Stoicism, a Hellenistic school of Greek philosophy. It was the early Church's way of determining how to apply Jesus' teachings to the home. That would explain why the New Testament suddenly goes from Jesus' radical teachings to a domesticated pro-status quo message.
Yoder, however, doesn't buy that theory, because there are several noticeable differences between Stoicism and the biblical text. I don't have time to go into all the differences, so for this blog entry I'll focus on the two main points (or at least what I believe are the two main points):
1). Stoicism's household rules are aimed at the dominant party alone, while the Bible addresses the subjects first before the dominant. Look at Ephesians again. Notice how it addresses wives before husbands, or slaves before masters?
2). Not only does it call the subjects to be subordinate, but also the dominant party. The Bible not only gives instructions to wives, slaves, and children, but also calls for husbands, slave masters, and parents to love their subjects.
So what does this mean? Well, as Yoder writes:
[Jesus'] motto of revolutionary subordination, of willing servanthood in the place of domination, enables the person in a subordinate position in society to accept and live within the status without resentment, at the same time that it calls upon the person in the superordinate position to forsake or renounce all domineering use of their status (186).
In other words, there is no longer a dominant partner and a subordinate subject in any human relationship. Both parties serve one another.
I know that I've written about this before countless times, so I'm sure I sound like a parrot. But I feel like a lot of Christians still just don't get it. The Christian life is about loving people the way Jesus loves us. And how does he loves us? He "gave himself up for us" (Ephesians 5:2). Therefore, all of us--men and women--are equally called to give ourselves up for others. Key word: equally.