Colossians 3: Household Codes


Below is my own Greek translation.

I translated it to give a better idea of the nuances of some of the words in Koine Greek, and to point out a number of things translators have chosen not to address.

I bolded three separate verses—these are the instructions to those who, in imperial Rome, enjoyed a rather wide array of privileges as men, masters, and heads of household. They were truly little kings within their domain.

What Paul had to say to them was so radical, so counter-cultural, such a HUGE pill to swallow, Christendom seems to have been choking on it ever since.

Consider that it took the Christianized western world 180 centuries to finally, finally do away with slavery, and it took another century or so before the subjugation of women and children began to be addressed. Giving full citizenship privileges and rights to children born out of wedlock, for instance, did not happen until the mid 1970’s. Just think about that. Women were not permitted to even vote, let alone anything else, until literally 100 years ago.

So, these are blockbuster verses, and they’re not just here, either. They are also in Ephesians 5.


Colossians

3:18. Αἱ γυναῖκες, ὑποτάσσεσθε* ⸀τοῖς ἀνδράσιν, ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν κυρίῳ.

To the wives, place yourselves within the shelter of, arrange yourselves under, and voluntarily yield in love to the husbands, as an offering to the Lord.

* This Greek verb has a sense of willingness to it, particularly in the case of relationships. Paul could have used the word ὑπακούετε, which he did do for children and enslaved people. Because he didn’t, we need to pay attention to the nuance.

When you combine his instructions for husbands and for wives, you find an exquisite balance of equality in personhood, the understanding of selflessness as believers, while acknowledging the patriarchal system of the 1st century.

3:19. οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας καὶ μὴ πικραίνεσθε πρὸς αὐτάς.

To the husbands, sacrificially love, prize, desire, and be contented with the wives and do not embitter, irritate, exasperate, be harsh towards them.

3:20. Τὰ τέκνα, ὑπακούετε τοῖς γονεῦσιν κατὰ πάντα, τοῦτο γὰρ ⸂εὐάρεστόν ἐστιν⸃ ἐν κυρίῳ.

To the children, listen to, respond to, yield to, comply with, and rise to the expectations of the parents according to everything, for this is well-pleasing and acceptable to the Lord.

3:21. οἱ πατέρες, μὴ ἐρεθίζετε τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν, ἵνα μὴ ἀθυμῶσιν.

To the fathers [assumed as heads of household in that day], do not be quarrelsome or perverse, incite rivalry, or rouse to anger your children, in order that they not be disheartened or despondent, or terrified.

3:22. οἱ δοῦλοι, ὑπακούετε κατὰ πάντα τοῖς κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις, μὴ ἐν ⸀ὀφθαλμοδουλίαις, ὡς ἀνθρωπάρεσκοι, ἀλλ’ ἐν ἁπλότητι καρδίας, φοβούμενοι τὸν ⸀κύριον.

To the servants/slaves, listen, respond, yield, comply, and rise to expectations according to all things to human masters, not in “eye-service”, as human-pleasers, but rather in simplicity, frankness, sincerity, liberality and open-heartedness, from the heart, fearing the Lord.

3:23. ⸀ὃ ἐὰν ποιῆτε, ἐκ ψυχῆς ἐργάζεσθε, ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις,

Whatever your task, labor [at it] from your soul, as to the Lord and not to people,

3:24. εἰδότες ὅτι ἀπὸ κυρίου ⸀ἀπολήμψεσθε τὴν ἀνταπόδοσιν τῆς κληρονομίας· ⸀τῷ κυρίῳ Χριστῷ δουλεύετε·

knowing that from the Lord you have reserved the rendering* of the inheritance—to the Lord Christ let you be enslaved.

*This noun has the sense of giving back to, in this case, the giving back to of the dignity and honor the enslaved person currently did not have as a slave under Roman imperial law. Slaves were not considered persons, and therefore had no rights whatsoever, though masters who showed excessive cruelty could be, on occasion, called to account.

3:25. ὁ ⸀γὰρ ἀδικῶν κομίσεται ὃ ἠδίκησεν, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν προσωπολημψία.

For the one doing wrong, harm, injury, and unrighteousness to him harm will be brought, and there is no partiality. 

4:1. οἱ κύριοι, τὸ δίκαιον καὶ τὴν ἰσότητα τοῖς* δούλοις παρέχεσθε, εἰδότες ὅτι καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔχετε κύριον ἐν ⸀οὐρανῷ.

To the masters, supply from your own means, produce on demand, offer, and yield righteousness, and political equality, fair dealing, impartiality, and justice to the servants/slaves, knowing that you also have the Lord [as master] in heaven.

* This word, τοῖς, means “to the,” not “to your.” I think Paul on purpose did not use a possessive pronoun because—in fact—no human belongs to another. You notice, all throughout this text, there are no possessive pronouns. No one owns anyone because all belong to God—even those who, under imperial patriarchal Rome’s law, could lay earthly claim on others.

It is important to remember in reading this text that Paul worked from the teachings of Jesus. Everything Paul wrote must be sifted through the Gospels, or it won’t read right. Jesus was very clear—a point we have tragically ignored for most of Christendom’s existence—that we are not to rule over anyone within the kingdom. We have a king, and He has shown us how His sovereignty operates.


Jesus called them to him and said,

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  

It will not be so among you;

but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave

just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

And

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John 13:3-5 (NRSV)

For those of us who find ourselves at the bottom of the flowchart, remember that you and I have dignity, honor, equality, and a full inheritance from Jesus Himself. We have a gift and a privilege to be in the position of our Lord, that we may serve.

For those of us who find ourselves in the top part of the flowchart, our work is clear: just go back and read the bolded verses from Colossians, and make it our daily, hourly ambition to wash the feet of those farther down the chart, for we can never do better than our own master and Lord in heaven.


[Jesus washes the feet of HIs disciples | Ford Madox Brown / Public domain]

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