Wives and Husbands, Children and Fathers, Servants and Masters –
What can we do about these passages?
Hi Friends —
My hunch is that the most hated passages in New Testament scripture are what is known as the “household code” passages. These are the ones telling wives to subject themselves to husbands, telling children to obey fathers and telling servants to not only to obey masters, but to do so with fear and trembling.
These passages are a real problem, for a lot of people, particularly today. You don’t need me to explain why. They are especially difficult for we who profess a form of religion that is extremely idealistic. For us, ideas matter. Explanations based on human depravity and original sin just won’t do in today’s world.
However you might want to know what we can do about them. I am about to share what works for me.
About the best thing that can be said about them is that they were not included in the authentic letters of Paul. Paul never wrote such inflammatory things, neither did Peter. These passages are found in letters attributed to Paul, Peter and others, written about 50 years after these early writers were long gone. They are, however, included in the New Testament. So they still rattle anyone who reads Scripture.
The next best thing that can be said is that Paul and Peter believed that for those baptized into Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female. Radical egalitarian notions like that got out hand in patriarchal society and the church needed a way to defend itself from pagan criticism. It just so happens that there was a social media meme floating around known as the “household code”. The code laid out social norms for maintaining peace and harmony in Roman and Greek family settings.
So the church defended itself from pagan criticism by coming out with new letters, attributed to Peter and Paul, which include the household code. It was a whitewash of the early church. But it is not, as we know, a whitewash of Christian history. The passages and their effect on church history still rattle anyone who claims to be Christian.
The problem that you know, and that I don’t need to explain, is hypocrisy. The church has not lived up to its radical claim of equality.
Nor has our country. Hypocrisy also exists in our American society, its government and the government’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Our country was founded by men who declared that all men are created equal but the same men went on to create a form of government which ignored what is obvious to us today. Again, you don’t need me to explain how.
So what do we do with facts of inequality in contrast to the ideals of Scripture and democratic government?
My answer came a few months ago when I read a short passage in a long-since-forgotten magazine named Clear Horizons, published by Glenn Clark’s Macalester Publishing company from 1940 to 1962. At some point I will publish the full article, named The Prayer that is Always Answered (Winter, 1953-1954). But let me quote the first five paragraphs:
WE SEE facts with our eyes; we see ideas with our minds; we see ideals with our souls. Whatever we see with our souls is real and permanent and cannot be destroyed.
An idea is a mere figment of the brain, something that today is and tomorrow has passed away. It has no roots, no reality. But see an idea in all its entirety, in all its interrelations with all other ideas, then breathe into it the life of love, and behold, it ceases to be an idea and it becomes an ideal.
The only apparent difference, as far as looking at the two words is concerned, rests in the fact that one word has the letter “l” and the other does not. The letter “l” is a simple letter, the twelfth in the alphabet, and by its addition to the word “idea” it changes it to a five letter word. It seems a very insignificant change, but if I were a believer in the meaning of numbers I would be inclined to say that four is symbolical of the beginning of a new thing, a new idea, a new era, but that five is symbolical of its fulfillment.
But whatever way we try to explain it, this is a fact: that a man will not spend two minutes over an idea, while he will fight for an ideal, will let his life be governed by it, and if need be, will die for it. Ideas do not often come into manifestation, while ideals always do. We see facts with our eyes, ideas with our minds, and ideals with our souls.
By the mere act of converting an idea into an ideal by seeing it whole, and in its proper relationship with all other ideas, and by breathing love into it, we have lifted it into a place where God can take it and grasp it and bring it to pass. That is prayer in its highest sense. That is the kind of prayer that is always answered.
That there is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free man, is an idea. That all men are created equal is also an idea. As Glenn Clark asserts, few people will fight for an idea and most ideas never become manifest.
But with the addition of Love, an idea becomes an ideal, something that is not only manifest but something which governs our life. With love we may be able to not only proclaim but also to express in our life that all people are created equal.
We are left, however, with the these sticky passages in the New Testament. The difficult thing, as I am sure many are asking, is How might that be expressed in our life?
I invite you to click through to four passages of Christian scripture where we find the household codes. There you will find something never before published in Unity writings: commentary which considers the household code not as theological ideas but rather as metaphysical ideals.
These links are from the Fillmore Study Bible New Testament, which is likely to be coming out in time for Advent 2022. You will see each passage has a header which indicates something of how the idea has become an ideal:
- A Household Code for Harmonious Families, Churches and Businesses (Ephesians 5:22)
- A Household Code To Get In the Flow of Life (Colossians 3:18)
- A Household Code for Mentoring Others (Titus 2:1)
- A Household Code for Attaining Glory and Patience (I Peter 2:18)
These annotations and commentary are not perfect. The Fillmore Bible Society contributors are a few people who have devoted enormous time to taking the Bible back from literal interpretations that lead to abusive behavior. Regardless, the annotations and commentary are a start, not only for metaphysical bible interpretation but perhaps also a start for what just might be the new era in Christian history: the Metaphysical Era.
I am aware that many throw rocks at Paul for the inflammatory writings that have been attributed to him. He was not perfect and his writings on homosexuality are clearly mistaken. And we see today tremendous anger toward Thomas Jefferson and other founders who declared all people equal while owning slaves.
What I learned from Glenn Clark is that the best we can inherit from any person, any writing, any church or any government are good ideas. It is the task of each new generation to apply the love necessary to bring the idea of mind up to the ideal of soul, and thereby bring facts into alignment with our highest aspirations.
We cannot place blame on Paul, nor Jefferson, for the state of our current life. I hope you will click through to each passage and read the annotations and commentary. I hope they help heal some of the wounds these passages have caused in ancient and contemporary history and in our individual lives. Most important, I hope you are able to pour love into the ideas they present and thereby bring into manifestation the Truth Ideal that all people are created equal.
Sunday, July 10, 2022