Study Guide

Ephesians and Colossians Society and Class

Society and Class

Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision"—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12, NRSV)

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12, KJV)

In Jewish society, there are groups that are in and groups that are out. The Gentiles? They're definitely out. Paul believed that God would be on their side and that the Gentiles would be left out in the cold. Well, until Jesus came, that is…

You must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! (Ephesians 4:17-20, NRSV)

Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ. (Ephesians 4:17-20, KJV)

Again with the Gentile-bashing. Sure, non-Jews held most of the actual power in Roman society, but they didn't have spiritual power according to Paul.

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. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, NRSV)

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, KJV)

This passage totally upholds social norms…until you get to the end. In Roman society, the wife was supposed to obey her husband. Period. But Paul envisions a world where different classes of people serve each other. Husbands have an obligation to their wives and wives an obligation to their gents.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"—this is the first commandment with a promise: "so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4, NRSV)

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4, KJV)

Another one that sees equality in two unequal groups. The Ten Commandments don't have a sub-rule for fathers—they just say that kids should obey. But Paul tacks this on to curb fatherly abuse of power.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ[…] And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality. (Ephesians 6:5, 9, NRSV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ[…] And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. (Ephesians 6:5, 9, KJV)

More clashes between the classes. This one's pretty radical. Sure, slaves should obey and submit, but their owners also have to show a little restraint. Roman slave-owners didn't really have any restrictions on what they could do to their human property. Paul seems to think that they could catch more flies with honey than with the flyswatter.

In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! (Colossians 3:11, NRSV)

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11, KJV)

This is actually pretty crazy when you think about it. Social distinctions and classes have ceased to exist because of Jesus! God isn't gonna play favorites once you set foot in Heaven. On Earth, it's a different story though…

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. (Colossians 3:18-19, NRSV)

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. (Colossians 3:18-19, KJV)

Sure, Paul thinks that different social groups should treat each other kindly, but that doesn't mean he's quite ready to tear down the entire patriarchal system just yet. P.S. We've heard this one at weddings before. How romantic?

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything […] Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:22, 4:1, NRSV)

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh […] Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:22, 4:1, KJV)

Or free the slaves. It would take about 1,500 more years before people started feeling bad about that.

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6, NRSV)

Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. (Colossians 4:5-6, KJV)

Social norms are out…but also kind of in. Notice that Paul's walking a fine line here. He wants everyone to know they're equal in God's eyes, but he can't risk making trouble with outsiders. Here, he even tells Christians to be careful what they say. Society is a dangerous thing.

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