Mutual Submission Frames the Household Codes

by Craig Keener | July 31, 2021

Half of a book I wrote in 1992 dealt with mutual submission in Ephesians’ household codes. More recently, a PhD student here at Asbury Theological Seminary, Murray Vasser, has defended an excellent dissertation arguing for mutual submission in Colossians,1 and I have discovered something related to the same mutuality pattern while writing a commentary on 1 Peter.2 Neither Colossians nor 1 Peter is as explicit as Eph 5:21–6:9, but the collocation of such passages, all among mid-first-century Christians (on my dating), suggests that early Christians were on the more progressive edge of gender relationships in their world. (My implied ethical subtext is that we should be also, within biblical constraints. But my focus in this article is the raw material that I believe leads to that conclusion.)

Scholars often note that Paul (or, on some other scholars’ view, one of Paul’s disciples) adapts the contemporary literary form of household codes, following even the overall structure in place since Aristotle.3 More surprising are the adaptations Paul makes. Such adaptations include addressing not only the male householder but also the wife, children, and slaves; instructions to the husband to love; and the grammatically clear linkage of submission with not only wives but all believers in 5:21–22. Paul also relativizes the slaveholder’s authority in 6:5–9.

Most significantly, Paul frames the household codes with mutual submission in 5:21 and 6:9. Although some ancient writers (such as Xenophon of Athens or Musonius Rufus, a first-century AD Stoic philosopher) were more “progressive” and interested in mutuality than were others, I know of no other household codes in antiquity that frame their discussion with mutual submission. This raises the questions of why Paul adopts the household-code framework to begin with, and why he adapts it in light of Christian teaching (stemming from Jesus) on servanthood. Similar adaptations appear in Colossians and 1 Peter, suggesting a dynamic in early Christianity that differs from most of its contemporaries.

Mutual Submission Frames Ephesians 5:21–6:94

The Slave Narratives are replete with sentiments from former slaves who loved Jesus but hated Paul, because slaveholders regularly quoted Eph 6:5: “Slaves, obey your masters.” What the slaveholders did not bother to quote was the context, which goes on to admonish, “Slaveholders, do the same things to slaves” (6:9). That is, if slaves have to obey their masters, masters also must obey their slaves.

Did anyone in the first century take Paul literally on that point? Probably not. But that does not change the fact that what he actually said expressed one of the most radically antislavery sentiments of his day. He was not talking about violently overthrowing the institution; even the failed slave revolts of his era had never attempted that. But he was talking ethics, and ethics that went beyond mere theory. Some early Stoic philosophers had advocated human equality, but Stoics had backed off from this and Stoics who could afford it held slaves. Paul and Stoics concurred in principle: Paul affirmed that slaves and slaveholders share the same master in heaven (Eph 6:9). But Paul’s instruction, “Do the same things to them,” goes beyond theory to practice.

This is not an accident, a slip of Paul’s tongue or his scribe’s pen. Paul frames his entire section of household codes with mutual submission. What are household codes, you ask? In his work on governance, the Greek thinker Aristotle had a large section on family roles. In it, Aristotle instructed the male head of the household how to rule his wife, children, and slaves. Subsequent thinkers adopted the same schema, often in the same sequence. Because Rome was suspicious that minority religious groups undermined these traditional values, such groups often labored to reaffirm their belief in such values.

Paul presents a series of household codes in the same sequence as Aristotle: the relation of the male head of the household (as it was assumed in his day) to wives, children, and slaves. Paul may be thinking like the member of a minority religious group—after all, he is writing from Roman custody, and probably in Rome (Eph 3:1, 4:1, 6:20).

Yet Paul changes the standard formula. Instead of addressing only slaveholding men, he also addresses the wives, children, and slaves, who probably comprised the majority of the church. (In Paul’s urban congregations, the slaves would have been household slaves, who had more freedom and, frequently, more opportunities for manumission than other slaves. Nevertheless, they were still slaves.) Moreover, he never instructs the male householder to rule; instead, he is to love his wife, serving her by offering his life for her (5:25), to avoid provoking his children (6:4), and to treat slaves as fellow servants of God (6:9).

Most importantly, Paul frames his entire set of instructions (5:21–6:9) by enjoining mutual submission: submitting to one another (5:21) and doing the same things to them (6:9). This sets submission in a new context: the example and teaching of our Lord, who invited us all to serve one another (Mark 10:42–45; cf. John 13:14–17, 34–35; Gal 5:13–14).

Some patriarchal husbands today quote Eph 5:22 (“Wives, submit to your husbands”) out of context, much the way slaveholders quoted Eph 6:5. But in Greek, there is no verb in 5:22; it simply says, “Wives, to your husbands. . . .” Of course, Paul is not saying, “Wives, just do to your husbands whatever you want.” Greek grammar presumes that we will carry over the verb from the preceding verse, and that verb is “submit.” But because the verb is carried over from 5:21, it cannot mean something different than it meant in 5:21. The wife’s submission is merely an example of mutual submission, as is the husband sacrificing his life for his wife.

Some object, “But submission is explicit only for the wife!” The command to love, however, is explicit only for the husband (5:25), yet we understand that all Christians should love each another (5:2). Likewise, all Christians should submit to one another (5:21). Although Paul is not trying to cover every circumstance, he offers us a general principle for how we should live: looking out for one another’s interests, listening to one another, loving others more than ourselves. Such advice is in keeping with his explicit teaching elsewhere (e.g., Rom 12:10, 13:8–10, 15:2–3; 1 Cor 13:4–7; Gal 5:14, 6:2), including in the preceding context (Eph 4:32).

A few other thinkers in antiquity taught some sort of mutual submission; like Paul, they were among antiquity’s most progressive thinkers. Four or five centuries before Paul, Xenophon argued in Oeconomicus for partnership (koinōnia) between spouses (7.18, 30). Still, Xenophon did not envision complete mutuality; he contended that nature has suited wives’ bodies better for indoor work and husbands’ for work outdoors (7.22–23, 30). The husband has more courage (7.25), but both are equals in memory and self-control (7.26–27). The first-century Stoic thinker Musonius Rufus viewed women as equal to men in nature and virtues.5 Although he distinguished their roles,6 he also often disagreed with the restrictive roles to which his society had limited women.7 Yet none of these writers thought to frame household codes with explicit mutual submission, including even slaves and slaveholders.

More common was the model originally promulgated by Aristotle himself, simply telling the male householder how to rule his household;8 the male was by nature superior to and ruling over the female.9 Against Socrates, he doubted the animal analogy in arguing for gender equality; lower animals, Aristotle insisted, do not have households requiring careful management!10 Others appealed to nature to show that males were superior to females.11 Physical differences were used to justify divergent social treatment.12

Despite women’s considerable progress in Roman society, older Greek ideologies continued to influence elite thinking and writing.13 On one view, women exist only to make men miserable (Eurip. Or. 605–6); a misogynist might wish that women did not exist, apart from bearing children (Ps.-Lucian Affairs 38). One example of tactlessness is a guest denouncing women when invited to speak at a wedding (Theophr. Char. 12.6). Juvenal longs for the old days of cave-women, before adultery had been invented (Sat. 6.7–8).14 Because of their supposed immaturity, women were often linked with minors, slaves, and the like,15 not least insofar as Socrates or Thales was said to have praised fortune for not making him a woman, beast, or barbarian,16 a saying eventually adapted into a Jewish benediction as well.17 I will not even repeat some of the harsher views about women’s character here.

And while the Stoic Musonius held friendlier views toward women, not all Stoics agreed. His predecessor Seneca, a Roman contemporary of Paul, while allowing that women were capable of the same virtues as men,18 often portrayed women as unstable and irrational,19 and a later Stoic emperor would regard a man’s soul as different from a woman’s.20 In contrast to Epicureans and Pythagoreans, Stoics had few if any women pupils.21 The Stoic egalitarian trend moving beyond Aristotle’s chauvinism was not meant to disrupt the hierarchical roles already existing in society.22 Thus “Roman Stoics were egalitarian in theory but Aristotelian in practice.”23

While later rabbis were more diverse and nuanced in their views, some first-century Jewish writers in Greek mirrored classical Athenian prejudices more directly: Philo always portrays male as superior to female;24 he contends that masculinity is closer to divinity than femininity is.25 When he praises the empress Livia, he claims that her training made her virtually male in her intellect.26 Josephus claims that courts should not accept the testimony of women because of their instability.27 Commenting on the death of the Levite’s concubine, who was gang-raped in Judg 19:24–28, Josephus claims that she died from shame, doubting that her husband would forgive her!28 Josephus believes that men who heed the folly of women merit judgment,29 and cites approvingly the Essene suspicion of women’s infidelity.30

Aside from such ideology, some men were simply brutal: for example, to obey the priests and not be defiled, Sulla divorced his sick and dying wife and had her carried away while she lived.31 Plutarch reports that when Alcibiades’ good wife asked for a divorce, in response to his behavior with courtesans, he dragged her home forcibly; she died soon after, while he was away (Alc. 8.3–4). This was not cruel, Plutarch explains, because the law requires the wife to go to court precisely so that, if the husband wants her, he may take her (8.5). Abuse was sometimes sanctioned,32 especially in earlier times,33 though even the “ancients” had their limits.34 Another man ordered his freedman to beat his eight-months pregnant wife; she died in childbirth, but he was not guilty because he grieved and was not seeking her death.35 A certain man who was found to have killed his wife by throwing her out the window after a struggle, however, did face death.36

Colossians

Colossians 3:18–4:1 also follows the traditional Aristotelian outline, addressing wives, children, and slaves, while emphasizing mutual responsibilities of both. (For that matter, 1 Cor 7:1–5 also emphasizes mutual, and in that case the same, responsibilities of both husbands and wives.)

The more concise passage in Colossians begins more abruptly than its parallel unit in Ephesians. Whereas Eph 5:21’s functional imperative is really a subordinate participle dependent on the imperative, “Be filled with the Spirit” in 5:18, Col 3:18 has a genuine imperative, the connection of which to the invitations in 3:16–17 is less grammatically explicit: “Wives, submit to your husbands.” Each of the admonitions in 3:18–21 is stated concisely, like simple parenesis. They address in immediate succession wives, then husbands; and children, then fathers. The difference in admonitions to wives in 3:18 and to children and slaves in 3:20, 22 is nevertheless evident in the different choice of verbs: whereas wives submit (hupotassō), children and slaves obey (hupakouō).

Only the slave section is expanded beyond brief comment, which in turn allows fuller observation of Paul’s intention. As in Ephesians, slaves are called to obey masters not with the masters themselves in mind, but for Christ (Col 3:22–25). More stark is the command to masters in Col 4:1, which, as in Eph 6:9, suggests mutual submission. Most translations say something like, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (NRSV). But that is because Paul’s instructions here, if taken literally, sound too radical for a first-century setting. Literally, Paul says, grant slaves justice (dikaion) and equality (isotēta). Through a thorough lexical search of this language, Vasser has recently shown that isotēs normally means “equality,” especially in slavery contexts where it typically contrasts with slavery.37 That is, Paul’s admonition to slaveholders is on the most radical edge of ancient thinkers on the subject.

1 Peter

In the context of his call for wives to submit (3:1), Peter explicitly addresses human institutions, such as kingship, slavery, and patriarchal marriage (2:13). Thus 1 Pet 2:13–14 states: “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right” (NRSV).

Peter then addresses slaves in 2:18: “Household slaves, submit to masters with all respect.” So also wives in 1 Pet 3:1, which he introduces with the Greek term homoiōs (“likewise,” “in the same way”). And consider 5:5: “Likewise, you who are younger, submit to the elders.” Indeed, 5:5 follows an admonition to the elders not to lord it over the flock but to be examples to them (5:3), treating their overseeing role as a role for service (5:2).

While supporting submission to governing authorities, Peter does not fix for all cultures what such institutions must be or look like. This observation is implicitly recognized by all interpreters today who do not mandate monarchical government or slavery, although some prove inconsistent regarding authority structures in marriage.

Given cultural expectations, it is not surprising that Peter does not feel a need to repeat the term for submission (2:13, 18; 3:1) here in the instructions to husbands that also begin with homoiōs; but he does speak of showing the wife honor, just as believers must show to rulers and everyone else (2:17). The husband must thus respect his wife,38 who shares with him the same standing before God as an heir of resurrection life.

I believe that by “weaker vessel” (3:7) Peter refers to showing considerateness for the person in the socially weaker position, hence my translation “the more vulnerable member” (husbands were often more than a decade their wives’ senior). The socially weaker member was in greater need of mercy or attention (cf. 1 Cor 12:22).39 Whatever sphere of weakness is specifically in view, part of the point is that the husband should be sensitive to his wife (cf. Eph 5:25). This would not exclude the wife seeking to protect her husband when necessary and possible, but the assumption is presumably that the wife, being weaker in the sphere(s) in view, has need for her husband’s considerate attention.

Philosophers often affirmed women’s equality in principle, though apparently only Epicureans achieved this ideal in practice.40 Socrates claimed that a woman’s nature was not inferior to a man’s (except in strength and intellect!);41 one Cynic writer more generally denied that women are worse by nature than men.42 Such “weakness” could mean vulnerability and might merit protection or invite sympathy.43

Conclusion

The qualifications of ordinary household codes that appear in Colossians and 1 Peter make all the more likely that Paul did indeed want his hearers to take seriously his framing the Ephesian codes with mutual submission. Indeed, even as late as the letter of Clement of Rome to the Christians of Corinth (written toward the end of the first century), more than the usual emphasis on mutuality appears in such discussions.44

Yet applying Paul’s teaching on mutual submission literally would have been unheard of. That it was rarely attempted, however, does not make it any less significant. Even today, husbands and wives and people in other kinds of relationships often seek our own interests more than those of others (cf. Phil 2:4, 21). What would happen if we took Paul at his word? What may happen if we actually begin to put mutual submission into practice?45 Let’s try it and find out.


This article appears in “Challenges of Marriage and Singleness,” the Summer 2021 issue of CBE’s academic journal, Priscilla Papers. Read the full issue here.
 

Notes

I adapted this article from a paper I presented at the Society for Pentecostal Studies conference, March 19, 2021.

1. Murray Vasser, “Slaves in the Christian Household: The Colossian and Ephesian Haustafeln in Context” (PhD diss., Asbury Theological Seminary, 2021).

2. Craig S. Keener, 1 Peter: A Commentary (Baker Academic, 2021).

3. See Arist. Pol. 1.2.1, 1253b; David L. Balch, “Household Codes,” in Greco-Roman Literature and the New Testament (Scholars, 1988) 27. For Greek-speaking Jewish circles, see Josephus Apion 2.201–17; see esp. Balch, “Household Codes,” 28–29; see also discussion in Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage & Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Baker Academic, 1992; new preface, 2004) ch. 4, where I include fuller documentation for this section.

4. Here I adapt my blog post from May 2016, “The Case for Mutual Submission in Ephesians 5,” emphasizing how 5:21 and 6:9 frame the Ephesian Haustafeln, while filling in information from my earlier book, Paul, Women & Wives, and some material from ch. 18 of my commentary, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, vol. 1 of 4 (Baker Academic, 2012).

5. On virtues being the same for both, see, e.g., “Musonius Rufus: The Roman Socrates,” trans. Cora E. Lutz, YCS 10 (1947) 4, p. 44.10–35; 4, p. 46.31–37; p. 48.1–26; see also Antisthenes (in Diogenes Laertius Lives 6.1.12); Pseudo-Crates Ep. 28; Seneca Y. Dial. 6.17.1; Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of Paul the Apostle, 2nd ed. (Yale University Press, 2003) 23 (noting also a book by Cleanthes in Diogenes Laertius, Lives 7.175).

6. For role distinctions in expressing virtue, see, e.g., Lutz, “Musonius Rufus,” 3, p. 40.25–28; cf. Seneca Y. Dial. 6.7.3.

7. He was not egalitarian by modern standards, but in another setting his understanding might have supported a more fully egalitarian direction.

8. See Beate Wagner-Hasel, BNP, “Roles: Greece,” 5:742 on Aristotle. He denied that virtues were the same for both genders, though commanding, and a woman by obeying (Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation, 4th ed. [Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016] 64, §86). Stoics would agree in principle with assigning virtue according to each entity’s appropriate nature (Lutz, “Musonius Rufus,” 4, p. 46, lines 3–4), though their conclusions differed from Aristotle’s.

9. Arist. Pol. 1.2.12, 1254b.

10. Arist. Pol. 2.2.15, 1264b. Aristotle did derive the husband-wife relationship from nature and instinct (Arist. N.E. 8.12.7, 1162a); virtues differed by gender (Arist. Pol. 3.2.10, 1277b). Some advocated marrying equals but intended this in terms of the same social class (Aesch. Prom. 901–2).

11. Aelian Nat. an. 11.26 (among his analogies is the dragon, fortunately not ants or bees). Xen. Oec. 7.33 uses the queen bee analogy for wives staying inside.

12. In Hippocratic writers, see Helen King, BNP, “Gender Roles: Medicine,” 5:745. Soranus, by contrast, avers that both have analogous characteristics despite differences in particulars (Gynec. 3. prol. 1–5; 3.12.45). For a survey of medical writers on women, see e.g., Lefkowitz and Fant, Life, 85–97, 215–34.

13. Although I have drawn my examples from various periods, this remained true in much Roman literature of the early Empire, such as the portrayal of mothers (perhaps reacting against new freedoms); e.g., in Propertius, Ovid, and Statius. See Barbara K. Gold, “How Women (Re)Act in Roman Love Poetry: Inhuman She-Wolves and Unhelpful Mothers in Propertius’ Elegies,” Helios 33/2 (2006) 165–87; Donald Lateiner, “Procul este parentes: Mothers in Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” Helios 33/2 (2006) 189–201; Carole Newlands, “Mothers in Statius’s Poetry: Sorrows and Surrogates,” Helios 33/2 (2006) 203–26.

14. See Catherine Keane, “Juvenal’s Cave-Woman and the Programmatics of Satire,” Classical Bulletin 78/1 (2002) 5–20.

15. E.g., Cic. Off. 2.16.55–57; Ael. Arist. Def. Orat. 130, §41D; with barbarians and uneducated persons in Sen. Dial. 6.7.3; cf. Jewish laws in m. Suk. 2:8; Hag. 1:1; cf. especially Sipre Num. 39.6.1 (where women, proselytes and slaves do not belong to Israel proper).

16. Diog. Laert. 1.33. In Plato, see Michael Avi-Yonah, Hellenism and the East: Contacts and Interrelations from Alexander to the Roman Conquest (Hebrew University, 1978) 136; Richard N. Longenecker, New Testament Social Ethics for Today (Eerdmans, 1984) 70.

17. E.g., tos. Ber. 6:18; b. Men. 43b–44a, bar. “Gentile” naturally replaced “barbarian.” The saying is often noted (e.g., Wayne A. Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” HR 13/3 [Feb 1974] 167–68; Joseph Bonsirven, Palestinian Judaism in the Time of Jesus Christ [Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1964] 134; Eduard Lohse, The New Testament Environment, trans. John E. Steely [Abingdon, 1976] 150; Marcus Barth, Ephesians, AB 34 [Doubleday, 1974] 2:655–56), although the sentiment is gratitude for the privilege of observing more commandments, with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Crossroad, 1983) 217.

18. Sen. Dial. 6.16.1. Some of his portrayals of women’s virtue may be designed to support male virtues or challenge male vice (cf. Amanda Wilcox, “Exemplary Grief: Gender and Virtue in Seneca’s Consolations to Women,” Helios 33/1 [2006] 73–100).

19. See Gerald B. Lavery, “Never Seen in Public: Seneca and the Limits of Cosmopolitanism,” Latomus 56/1 (1997) 3–13; cf. J. N. Sevenster, Paul and Seneca, NovTSup 4 (Brill, 1961) 192–96; Sen. Dial. 6.7.3.

20. As that of children, tyrants, or animals also is (Marc. Aur. 5.11). The image need not imply a universal; Xenophon thought that Greeks had better “souls,” i.e., were better equipped for battle, than Persians (Xen. Anab. 3.1.23). In the mid-second century BCE, Stoics had begun moving away from their earlier political egalitarianism (Andrew Erskine, The Hellenistic Stoa: Political Thought and Action [Cornell University Press, 1990] 181).

21. Meeks, Urban Christians, 23. (This claim involves disciples, not aristocratic girls in households where Stoics could be hired to teach.)

22. Wayne A. Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians, LEC 6 (Westminster, 1986) 60–61 (also noting that the Stoic emphasis on Stoic wisdom—which only the elite could afford to pay for—supported hierarchy of a different sort).

23. Balch, “Household Codes,” 31; see further David L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in I Peter, SBLMS 26 (SBL, 1981) 143–49.

24. Sharon Lea Mattila, “Wisdom, Sense Perception, Nature, and Philo’s Gender Gradient,” HTR 89/2 (1996) 103–29. Philo may even adapt grammatical gender to raise male over female (Leslie Baynes, “Philo, Personification, and the Transformation of Grammatical Gender,” SPhiloA 14 [2002] 31–47); on his negative use of female terminology, see also Richard A. Baer Jr., Paul’s Use of the Categories Male and Female, ALGHJ 3 (Brill, 1970) 65–66. Male is more complete than and superior to female (Baer, Categories, 41, citing Spec. Laws 1.200–1); female is “an imperfect male” (Baer, Categories, 41, citing QE 1:7; QG 1:25); and nature places men before women (Spec. Laws 2.124).

25. Cf. Colleen Conway, “Gender and Divine Relativity in Philo of Alexandria,” JSJ 34/4 (2003) 471–91; Baer, Categories, 55–64.

26. Meeks, Urban Christians, 24, citing Philo Embassy 319–20; on females becoming more male, see Baer, Categories, 45–49, 69 (esp. 45). Similarly, Seneca praises his mother for her manliness (Michael Grant, A Social History of Greece and Rome [Scribner’s, 1992] 34, citing Sen. Consol. 16), and Porphyry encourages his wife that she can be virtually male (Porph. Marc. 33.511–16). It is this line of tradition, rather than a Galilean Jesus, that is echoed in G. Thom. 114.

27. Jos. Ant. 4.219; in later rabbis, see Sipra VDDeho. pq. 7.45.1.1; Judith Romney Wegner, Chattel or Person?: The Status of Women in the Mishnah (Oxford University Press, 1992) 120–23 (esp. 122). Elsewhere in antiquity, see Justinian Inst. 2.10.6 (though contrast Gaius Inst. 2.105); Gottfried Schiemann, “Intestabilis,” BNP 6:875.

28. Jos. Ant. 5.146–47.

29. E.g., Jos. Ant. 18.252–55.

30. War 2.121.

31. Sulla 35.2; likewise, in 33.3, he ordered Pompey to divorce his wife and then gave him his daughter, already pregnant by another husband; she died in childbirth. In a fictitious work, one man, unwilling to accept the widow’s refusal of his pursuit, raped her (Alciph. Farm. 35 [Epiphyllis to Amaracinē], 3.37).

32. Not least by Zeus’ example with Hera, hanging her from Olympus (Apollod. Bib. 2.7.1). Augustine’s mother Monica told wives to endure such beatings with servility (Aug. Conf. 9.9); Quint. Curt. 8.8.3 portrays wives having to endure husbands’ beatings as a matter of course (set in Alexander’s day).

33. E.g., Val. Max. 6.3.9 (where a man cudgeled his wife to death for drinking wine). A tyrant like Periander (who allegedly killed his pregnant wife in anger, then slew his concubines for goading him on, Diog. Laert. 1.94) is exceptional, however; the context shows Periander ready to kill men no less cheaply. They also knew of the Indian custom of widow burning (Diod. Sic. 17.91.3; Cic. Tusc. 5.27.78).

34. In the myth in Apollod. Bib. 3.15.1, the Areopagus banished a man who accidentally killed his wife.

35. Philost. Vit. soph. 2.1.555–56.

36. Tac. Ann. 4.22.

37. Vasser, “Slaves in the Christian Household.”

38. Here mutuality goes beyond even Eph 5:33. Kurt C. Schaefer, Husband, Wife, Father, Child, Master, Slave: Peter through Roman Eyes (Wipf & Stock, 2018) 125, views this instruction as reversing the expectations of Aristotelian codes. At the very least, it suggests mutuality (see Shively T. J. Smith, Strangers to Family: Diaspora and 1 Peter’s Invention of God’s Households [Baylor University Press, 2016] 79).

39. Ancient political theory often emphasized guarding “the interests of the weak” (Margaret M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians, HUT [J. C. B. Mohr, 1991] 126–27); some other societies share this principle (John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, 2nd ed. [Heinemann, 1990] 277), though in practice power often grows selfish.

40. Meeks, “Image of the Androgyne,” 170–73 (esp. 170).

41. Xenophon Symp. 2.9, reporting Socrates’s view (if, as is likely, gnōmē involves intellect and not simply decisiveness).

42. Pseudo-Crates Ep. 28. Diogenes, though, treats women’s nature as inferior in some sense in the tradition in Diogenes Laertius Lives 6.2.65.

43. E.g., Dionysius of Halicarnassus Rom. Ant. 8.24.4–5; Livy Hist. 34.7.14; Plutarch Rom. Q. 108, Mor. 289E; Quintilian Decl. 272.3–5, 9; 338.8; see note on court petitions above. In Greek mythology, cf. Cornutus Greek Theology 32, §66.12–15; Mary R. Lefkowitz, Women in Greek Myth, 2nd ed. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) 134–35.

44. As I suggested in 1997: see Craig Keener, “Woman and Man,” 1205–15 in Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, ed. R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids (InterVarsity, 1997).

45. I am not referring to abusive relationships here. Also, there is much less mutual submission in the instruction to fathers: children do need guidance.


Related Reading:
The Case for Mutual Submission in Ephesians 5 by Craig Keener
More on the Roles of Women in Antiquity by Craig Keener
The Cultural Context of Ephesians 5:18–6:9 by Gordon D. Fee
Woman’s Role in New Testament Household Codes: Transforming First-Century Roman Culture by Shi-Min Lu