Chapter 13: "A Place of Belonging: Perspectives on Children from Colossians and Ephesians"
by Margaret Y. MacDonald
Although scholars debate whether or not these letters were written by Paul, Ms MacDonald believes they were. She tells us "the household code" appears for the first time in the NT in these books. [TCITC p 278] She says, "At its most basic, the code comprises a series of commands aimed at different relationship pairs. . . with the intent of ensuring correct behavior and attitudes in all roles..." [TCITB p 279] Drawing on recent research about the Roman family she focuses on the audience for these letters, their understanding of "family" as members of Roman society and how this "household code"was the same and different.
She draws our attention to the fact that in Colossians and Ephesians "references to childhood move from the metaphorical and the indirect . . . to the concrete and direct." She believes that if children were specifically addressed in these letters ("the household codes address children as one of the groupings requiring exhortation for life in the Lord") this suggests that they are present in the assembly when letter was read. She says, "The references are short. . .But their significance far outweighs their length. She says it shows how important the parent child relationship was to the early church. [TCITB p 279]
The author points to Ephesians 6:4 as "the earliest expression in the New Testament of the education of children as a community priority." [TCITB p. 280] She tells us Aristotle's model and other influential cultural models for family at the time (including the OT) would give the models we find in the New Testament with their references to obedience and honor a familiar ring. [TCITB p 281-3] In some ancient cultural models parents stood only a little lower than God/gods. In others, parents stood alongside their children under God/gods. [TCITB 184-5]
Ms. MacDonald examines the "apologetic intent" of these household codes and their references to children. [TCITB p 285-6]
She puts Col 3:20-21 and Eph. 6:1-4 in the context of Josephus, Roman households, Jewish households, and the Law. [TCITB p 286-8] She notes the importance of "obedience in everything" for children in both Jewish and Roman families. Paul addresses comments directly to fathers. Josephus emphasizes the importance of educating children in the law but describes this ". . . concept of religious instruction being absorbed by young children (but here under the influence of mothers and grandmothers) . . . referenced in 2 Tim 1:5 ". She says the passage in Eph. 6:4 can refer not only to the upbringing of a child but also to the training or orientation of an adult-suggesting the life-course process that is also inherent in the teaching of the Law." [TCITB p 288] She sites other examples.
She discusses writings from the time the epistles were written that emphasize Jewish and early Christian care and respect for infants, widows, orphans, the unborn, and slaves. She discusses this in detail. [TCITB p. 289-291] She also poses the case against Christians of the time, claiming that they would draw children away from their families into prayer vigils and were accused of sexual improprieties during festivals. [TCITB p. 291-292]
Ms. MacDonald discusses family ideals, paternal authority, and Christian parenting practices. She notes the diverse and often complicated relationships that Paul calls to obedience noting that the author of these letters doesn't specify whether or not listeners are believers, unbelievers or some combination. (a believing slave father with an unbelieving master, an unbelieving husband or father, a slave father in another household are examples that she gives.) She notes the warning against extensive severity in verses like Col 3:21 and the need to monitor children. The penalties for rebellion in most of these cultures was severe.I think this means that knowing the penalty for children caught rebelling against their families would require the church to understand that and carefully monitor the children from families of non-believers that they cared for for their protection. She notes that the scriptures don't seem focus on severity of discipline the way other writings of the time do. [TCITB p 293-4]
". . . the emphasis on the authority of the paterfamilias that runs through the household code, spanning his role as father, master,and teacher, needs to be considered in relation to the real influence of mothers . . . Research on the Roman family has revealed that even very restrictive legal pronouncements upholding the formal authority of the fathers in the house need to be understood in conjunction with a multitude of conventions lacking formal authority but nevertheless constituting a coordinating sphere of maternal influence. . . those who heard the household codes of Colossians and Ephesians probably assumed that mothers were being granted informal authority in managing household affairs." She says, mothers "mapped out futures for their children, including education and marriage." [TCITB p 295] Mothers were known to take the role of advocate and protector in the courts. [TCITB p 296]
Paternal authority was to be both "recognized and tempered" The qualifications for church leadership required a man to "know how to manage his own household (NRSV)". [TCITB p 296]. MacDonald contrasts this with the "informal authority" given to women. "The Pastorals restrict women's formal leadership opportunities; but, at the same time, instructions such as we find in 1 Timothy 5:14, that young widows should marry, bear children, and manage their households, would have created opportunities for women to exercise influence in a house-based movement." Caring for children was part of this. [TCITB p 297]
Older women were to teach younger women. She says, "Although different roles for men and women are being articulated, the choice of terminology- the use of the recognized word for teacher. . .- implies that women's coordinating role is highly valued by the author . . . this recognition of women's authority should not be underestimated. " [TCITB p. 298] Women played a role instructing young women and also teaching boys. [TCITB p 298]
She talks about children in neighborhoods and the wide range of people who would be part of a child's daily life and the fluid physical space of neighborhoods. [TCITB p 298] She talks about affects of the early house churches and hospitality and learning experiences around the dinner table. Looking at a house-based church, children would be there.[TCITB p 300-1] She asks many questions related to slave and free, mingling and care. [TCITB p 298-303]
She reminds us that household codes were the ideal and believes relationships and groups at the time to be much less rigid than we might suppose. She also reminds us that children had many grown-ups they were required to listen to: parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, slaves, tutors, masters. She reminds us that some of these people would be believers, some not. But these letters offered listeners (even children both slave and free-born) a place to belong. [TCITB p 303-4]
Alot of really interesting cultural perspective. Lots to think about regarding family and women and authority. Lots to think about regarding the role of house-based churches.