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The Colossian and Ephesian «Haustafeln» in Theological Context

An Analysis of Their Origins, Relationship, and Message


James P. Hering

In this groundbreaking study, James P. Hering investigates the theological and ethical motivation that informs the controversial New Testament household codes ( Haustafeln) found in the epistles to the Colossians (3:18-4:1) and Ephesians (5:22-6:9). Within most New Testament scholarship, the household code has been regarded as an imported element within its host letter, reflecting either pagan or embarrassingly sub-Christian values. Is the household code merely a nod to the pragmatic demands of culture, or can it be understood as a reflection of the author’s theological concerns? What can it teach us today? Hering provides a unique analysis of these passages, revealing the Haustafeln in their historical context and examining their theological roots. This book is of vital importance for courses on Christian ethics and New Testament backgrounds.


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Introduction 1


Introduction The New Testament Haustafeln: What’s in a Name? Long before Shakespeare passionately asked this question through the dis- traught Juliet, the nominal/phenomenal question had been debated by phi- losophers, employed by poets and exploited by worldly-wise politicians. A name can, when the object in question is not thoroughly familiar to the hearer, determine a great deal about the object’s perceived character. This is particularly true in the case of the New Testament Haustafeln. The German term Haustafel, frequently rendered in English as “household codes,” has, since the time of the reformer Martin Luther, referred to a rather broad num- ber of New Testament texts which feature admonition directed toward par- ticular social groupings within the church.1 More recently, it has become a literary terminus technicus indicating a far smaller grouping of parenetic texts. Possessing common and recognisable characteristics, these New Tes- tament passages evoke a sense that they stand, if nothing else, in relief to their broader letter-form contexts. This perception is not without substance; the letters of Colossians, Ephesians and 1 Peter all contain the distinctive Haustafel form2 in their extended parenesis, each of which is readily recog- nised by its direct form of address, consistent relational pairings and recipro- cal commands. In the case of the New Testament Haustafeln, then, the dis- tinctive name corresponds to an equally distinctive literary phenomenon. 1 Luther did not, however, attempt to locate particular NT texts in order to consign them to this modern NT category, as some maintain. His contribution...

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