TRANSLATIONS OF THE LETTER TO EPHESIANS WITH COMMENT
Children, obey your parents because this is just. “Honour your father and mother” – which is the first command with a promise- “so that you may prosper and live long in the land.” Fathers, do not enrage your children but nourish them with the education and guidance of the master.
Slaves, obey those who are your flesh and blood masters with fear and trepidation, in honesty of heart, as if to Messiah, not by grovelling under peoples’ eyes in order to flatter human beings, but as slaves of Messiah doing God’s will from your soul. You give service with a goodwill to the master and not to human beings. Understand that whatever good you do, you will get back from the master, whether you are a slave or free. And you masters do the same for them; give up threats, in the knowledge that you both have a master in heaven, who has no favourite faces.
Roman Paterfamilias with ancestors
This continues the author’s revision of the social morality of Greek society. He retains the common ethic that children must be simply obedient, but quotes from the ten commandments to show that this obedience leads to human welfare and longevity. Because children are utterly dependent on parents their absolute obedience is called “just.” Fathers however, as the heads of families are warned not so enrage their children by arbitrary discipline, but to inculcate the values and ways of Jesus. The absolute authority of fathers -note that mothers are not thought to need this – is limited by the authority of Jesus Messiah.
The author then turns to slaves. These are persons who because of war or poverty have become the property of others. Their humanity was not recognised in Roman law. Like children they are commanded to obey their flesh and blood masters. The Greek word for master, “kurios” was of course also used to describe Jesus. Again the absolute legal authority of the human master/ mistress is limited by their accountability to the same master as the slave.
The slave is urged to obey and serve Jesus rather than a human master. There is here an implicit recognition that the condition of slavery is unjust, but for the moment unalterable. Within the assembly of Jesus all will be treated equally, but in society, the social rules will be followed, but slaves will have the dignity of knowing that they serve God by serving their owners.
It is hard to know exactly what this author knew of the writings of the man whose name he was using. Did he know the Letter to Galatians? Or had he some knowledge of it through the practice of the Pauline assemblies? My guess is that in his concern to promote the assemblies as the cosmic fact par excellence, he lost touch with the Pauline teaching of the nature of the assemblies, and especially with the declaration of the equality of its members. Paul himself found this equality dangerous, and even denied it in some particulars, but he could never have written the verses under consideration here, which admit no fundamental difference between the morality of the society and that of the assembly. This teaching is generally admitted by most scholars as the weakest part of the letter; I see it as evidence of a departure from Paul’s doctrine of the assemblies of Jesus.