Pater familias

This is the second in a series that started here.

When it comes to marriage roles, our minds naturally go to Ephesians 5.  Unfortunately, because of the way translators have separated paragraphs and sections, most of us begin our reading with v. 22.  But if we were to consider the original language of the Scriptures and its sentence structure, we must start with v. 21, which calls for all believers to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Well, actually, we would have to go all the way to v.18, which is where we will find the true verb and command, “Be filled with the Spirit.”  This is Paul’s main point, his main thesis, and then he goes on to explain how and in what areas.

Be filled with the Spirit.
by submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
what does that look like specifically?
wives – to your husbands
husbands – to your wives
children – to
your parents
fathers – to
your children
slaves – to
your masters
masters – to
your slaves

Here Paul addresses three different kinds of significant relationships during his day.  He does this by first addressing the one who was traditionally in the inferior position in the ancient Roman world and then to the one who was in the dominant position.  One should note that the husband, father and master were all the same person (a man held all three positions).   The man was the pater familias, a Latin term meaning ‘father of the family’, and this meant he was the lord of the estate and had authority over everyone under him within his estate.  This included his wife and children, servants and slaves.  The extent of his authority went as far as being able to deal out the death sentence for all those under him — even to his children.   Thus, this system was based on fear and was easily abused with tyranny.  And since hierarchy was the bedrock of that society, we can understand how earth-shattering it was for Paul to call everyone to submit to one another.

But Paul was trying to drive this point home:  With Christ, there shall be no more oppression, no more tyranny, no more fear, and no more hate in our significant relationships.  For when Christ breaks into our lives, we will have freedom in the place of oppression and love in the place of fear and hate.  What good news was this news indeed!


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