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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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Chapter Two: The Colossian Haustafel in Theological Context 61


Chapter Two The Colossian Haustafel in Theological Context Introduction In the preceding chapter we found that the New Testament HT has not been conclusively assigned to traditional material, be it Hellenistic, Jewish or early Christian. HT scholarship has been principally devoted to ascertaining potential Vorlagen, a largely form-critical question, or, alternatively, con- cerned with social and religious aspects such as the occasion and function of the HT in the early church setting. The former approach has determined some similarities in a number of ancient texts; the similarities, however, can- not altogether account for the HT form. The HT contains unique characteris- tics which define it in contrast to the various proposed literary evidences, and tie it, we hope to demonstrate, to the theology of the letter. Presupposing a genetic literary link has not succeeded in demonstrating a clear traditional genre from which the HT has emerged, but has had the unfortunate effect of isolating it from the theological context of the larger letter, making the HT little more than an isolated (and sub-Christian) parenetic stratum within the letter. This, isolation, we believe, hinders the full understanding of this ad- mittedly controversial parenesis, and thereby its potential theological rele- vance. The sociological investigations of the HT in terms of its occasion and function, though varied in their conclusions, approach the HT as an expres- sion of pragmatic expediency. Here the theological impulses contained in the larger text, as well as those found in the form of the HT, have been largely...

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