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The Church: 13. Comparing Aristotle’s Politics and Paul

The Church: 13. Comparing Aristotle’s Politics[1] and Paul


Paul’s understanding of the church can be fruitfully compared to the wider, Greek philosophical discussion of the state in antiquity.  This is in part because the Church functions as an alternative ‘citizenship’: ‘But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Phl. 3.20).  It is also in part because politics involved an understanding of the family, just as, for Paul, the Church involved directives regarding the family (including slaves).  The present essay comes in the form of a table in which I offer suggestions regarding the similarities and differences between Paul’s writings and an important philosophical work, Aristotle’s Politics, written some 400 years before Paul.  If Paul did not for some reason know the text of this work, he most certainly would have been party to discussions related to its contents.  Through such a comparison, we are able to put Paul’s comments about the Church and about women and slaves in the context of the larger discussion of the organization of society –politics[2] and economics.[3]  In particular, Paul's words about household members--husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves, young and old--are in view here (Eph. 5.21-6.9; Col. 3.18-4.1; 1 Cor. 7; 1 Tim. 2.8-15 (cf. 1 Cor. 14.33b-36); 1 Cor. 11.2-16; and Titus).

Significance of This Study

One significance of this study is that it contributes to our questions about Paul’s views on slavery and women.  Comparisons to earlier, well-known pieces of literature or to contemporary literature typically shed more light on what a person has actually said.  Another significance is that such a comparison helps us see Paul’s concerns regarding the church—particularly the unity of Christian communities—not only as theological, as they are, but also as political.  Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reads as the apostle’s own ‘Politics.’

Also, our own context raises an additional significance of such a study.  The West typically lumps a variety of social and ethical topics into the same category, that of human rights and freedoms.  This is understandable only with respect to the West’s own intellectual history since the mid-1600s, the Enlightenment.  So, e.g., we hear that freedom for slaves, women, and homosexuals should be taken together as a single moral issue: extending freedom to the socially marginalized.  This is, however, an entirely anachronistic argument: Paul would have considered comments made about masters and slaves, husbands and wives, men and women, and parents and children in terms of ‘politics’—the organization of a community.  Morality certainly impinges on this discussion, but Paul would never have considered a discussion of the organization of community in the same light as a discussion of personal ethics.  For him, sexual morality was fixed in the commandments of God, and continuation in immoral behaviors meant exclusion from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6.9-11; Eph. 5.5).  The modern attempt to see homosexuality not in terms of ethics but in terms of politics—the roles and rights of persons in society—is an instance of miscategorization and anachronistic reading of texts.
Note that the following study is only partial—no grand conclusions should be drawn.  Many further sources and authors would need to be considered.  This study, however, does help to distinguish a discussion of households and the state from personal ethics.  Also, if it is insufficient for understanding Aristotle or antiquity fully on the issues raised, it does help us to read Paul with greater clarity.  Of course, these comparisons are only suggestive for reading Paul and not complete studies of the relevant texts.  The more general point being made here is that such a comparison helps us see how Paul understood the church as a community comprised in large part of households (even if some individuals were unmarried).

Finally, this study highlights the significance of considering the church as a community made up of households.  This places an emphasis on thinking through the importance of ministry that gives support and direction to families.  Also, the notion of the church as a larger social unit, a community, within society is important.  This is why 'Church' can be understood as universal--it is all of society in Christ--and as a much smaller unit, typically under 100 members in a given city (those who could fit into a larger home).  The mega-church in our day, on the other hand, is conceived of as a large gathering of individuals with different needs and interests.  We might find Paul concerned about the loss of the family unit in this modern-day social construction of the church.  While other concerns may also question the notion and practices of mega-churches, if we are to have them (and I do not recommend this), we may begin some improvement with a more robust focus on the family as building blocks of any larger community.

Aristotle's, Politics Compared to Paul

Aristotle, Politics
1. State is made up of villages, then households/families, then individuals (I.2-3).[4]
Paul sees the Church as made up of two groups of humanity—Jews and Gentiles.  The world is now divided between those 'in Christ' and those who are not (but who are invited to receive Jesus as Lord).  The local church is made up of households and of individuals.  Paul's pastoral directives are not merely given to individuals in the church; they are also given to households as the state of the church depends on the state of both households and individuals.
2. Aristotle likens the relations of state, family, individuals to the body, with its parts (foot, hand) (I.2).
Paul also uses the metaphor of the body when discussing the church.  Like Aristotle, the image is used to show the synergy of the parts.
3. Master and slave have the same interest: the master can foresee by exercising the mind, and the slave or subject is able to effect such foresight with the use of his/her body (I.2).
Paul makes no distinction between masters and slaves in their natural abilities.  He does not ground the master-slave relationship in nature but sees it as a social arrangement. (1) Paul may either be encouraging slaves to disregard their social status or to accept freedom if possible.  In Philemon, he undermines the social relationships of the institution of slavery for Christians.  Also, it is possible to translate 1 Cor. 7.21 either as, ‘Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever’ (NRSV) or as ‘Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you-- although if you can gain your freedom, do so’ (NIV) (the ESV agrees: ‘Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity’). (2) Paul includes slave traders in a list of sinful persons (1 Tim. 1.10).  (3) Paul sees life in Christ to make everyone a slave of Christ and everyone free in Christ, thus relativizing human, social institutions.  Marriage, by contrast, is not a human social institution but is part of the natural order and God’s design.
4. ‘Seeing then that the state is made up of households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the management of the household. The parts of household management correspond to the persons who compose the household, and a complete household consists of slaves and freemen.  Now we should begin by examining everything in its fewest possible elements; and the first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children’ (I.3).
For Paul, the church is made up of households, and a household contains husband and wife, parents and children, masters and slaves.  Management of the households relates to the church (1 Cor, Eph, Col, 1 Tim, Titus).  Paul’s understanding of a ‘household’ is the same as Aristotle’s—and all in that day: he is not trying to suggest something different but is trying to show the difference Christ makes for the household of his day—masters and slaves included.
5. ‘The master is only the master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another's man who, being a human being, is also a possession’ (I.4).
The slave and master have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality (Eph. 6.9)
6. ‘People are by nature either masters or slaves: For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule’ (I.5).  ‘Slaves are inferior to masters, like bodies to souls, and they should be ruled, and their slavery is both expedient and right’ (I.5).
(1) Paul does not agree.  He places both masters and slaves on the same level.  Both have a Master in heaven.  The slave’s work is to be done not for the earthly but the heavenly master.  The master is to treat the slave justly and fairly because he knows he has a heavenly Master.
(2) For Paul, the master-slave relationship is purely conventional, not natural.  The slave, however, can reconfigure his or her role so that what he or she does is a testimony to God and a service to fellow-believers: ‘Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.  2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved’ (1 Tim. 6.1-2).
7. ‘The same holds good of animals in relation to men; for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are preserved. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind’ (I.5).
One cannot find Paul agreeing with this without qualification.  He might see the male as the head, but not because of natural superiority.  Indeed, he can even present two sides of an argument: while the wife was created for the husband and not vice-versa (1 Cor. 11.9), Paul can also speak of the inter-dependency of men and women: ‘Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.  12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God’ (1 Cor. 11.11-12).
8. ‘The rule of a household is a monarchy, for every house is under one head: whereas constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals’ (I.7).
In Eph 5.21-6.9 and Col. 3.18-4.1, Paul assumes the adult male as the head of the house.  His concern is not to reaffirm this but to show how Christ makes a radical difference in the relationships within the traditional home.  He does, however, engage Scripture in discussing the husband-wife and parents-child relationships.  Significantly, he does not invoke Old Testament texts in the master-slave relationship.
9. Aristotle sees the male-female relationship as based in nature (the male is naturally superior), constitutional (people agree to the relationship, and in this case, they agree that the male is more fit to command), and yet permanent (men and women do not take turns ruling).

(1) ‘Males rule females by nature:
‘Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind’ (I.5).
(2) ‘Of household management we have seen that there are three parts- one is the rule of a master over slaves, which has been discussed already, another of a father, and the third of a husband. A husband and father, we saw, rules over wife and children, both free, but the rule differs, the rule over his children being a royal, over his wife a constitutional rule. For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature. But in most constitutional states the citizens rule and are ruled by turns, for the idea of a constitutional state implies that the natures of the citizens are equal, and do not differ at all. Nevertheless, when one rules and the other is ruled we endeavor to create a difference of outward forms and names and titles of respect, which may be illustrated by the saying of Amasis about his foot-pan. The relation of the male to the female is of this kind, but there the inequality is permanent. The rule of a father over his children is royal, for he rules by virtue both of love and of the respect due to age, exercising a kind of royal power’ (I.12).
(1) Paul may have understood the husband-wife relationship (rather than male-female relationship?) to be based on natural differences.  He argues that women should not rule over their husbands (or should we see this as about women and men?) because Adam was created first (1 Tim. 2.12-13).  Also, women should not teach because, prototypically, Eve was the one deceived in the garden of Eden (1 Tim. 2.12-14).  (As Aristotle claims—without worrying about a need to prove the point—the man is understood to be more fit to rule.) Rather, the woman’s natural role (one not befitting a man) is in childbearing (1 Tim. 2.15).  [One needs to remember that women typically lacked an education at the time.]

(2) Paul also grounds the husband-wife relationship in a ‘constitutional’ arrangement that is permanent.  ‘But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11.3); ‘For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior’ (Eph. 5.23).
10. ‘A question may indeed be raised, whether there is any excellence at all in a slave beyond and higher than merely instrumental and ministerial qualities- whether he can have the virtues of temperance, courage, justice, and the like; or whether slaves possess only bodily and ministerial qualities’ (I.13).  ‘It is evident, therefore, that both of them must have a share of virtue, but varying as natural subjects also vary among themselves’ (I.13).  Virtues differ according to the kind of rule exercised: ‘But the kind of rule differs; the freeman rules over the slave after another manner from that in which the male rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in an of them, they are present in different degrees.  For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature. So it must necessarily be supposed to be with the moral virtues also; all should partake of them, but only in such manner and degree as is required by each for the fulfillment of his duty….  All classes must be deemed to have their special attributes; as the poet says of women,

11. "Silence is a woman's glory, "

but this is not equally the glory of man.’ (I.13).
(1) Paul does not worry about masters and slaves sharing in a need to develop the higher virtues.
(2) Paul does accept, though, that persons in different roles require different virtues.
(3) Aristotle’s distinctions between types of rule may help in reading Paul on the rule of a husband over his wife, of parents over their children, and masters over their slaves.  Aristotle accepts that the woman has mature, deliberative faculties—she just has no authority (in the ‘constitutional’ relationship of marriage), and her ‘glory’ is in exercising silence.  In 1 Tim. 2, Paul seems to allow a flaw to the woman’s deliberative faculties: she (Eve) was deceived in the garden.  The result of the reasoning is the same as Aristotle’s and society’s in general: the woman’s glory is in her silence.  (Cf. 1 Cor. 14.33-35.)  Yet Eph. 5.21-24, the wife’s subjection to her husband in all things is not said to be due to a flaw in her deliberative faculty but due to the constitutional relationship of husband and wife.  Note, however, that Aristotle accepted this relationship based on an assumption that the man was naturally more fit to rule—a position Paul may well have entertained as well, since he would surely see the man’s submission to Christ in this way (Eph. 5.23).
(4) In 1 Cor. 11.14-15, Paul also speaks of the differing ‘glory’ (or disgrace) of women and of men.
12. The management of a household also involves wealth, and Aristotle distinguishes the art of acquisition of wealth from the management of wealth (I.8-9). 
Wealth: ‘There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another. The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it’ (I.10).
Paul downplays the importance of the acquisition and management of wealth, replacing this with the pursuit of virtue: ‘Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.  11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses’ (1 Tim. 6.6-12).  Aristotle sees three different types of gaining of wealth, one more honorable than another (household management, retail trade, and usury).
13. Book II addresses the unity of a community.  Aristotle argues against Socrates, saying uniformity does not produce community, but unity involves diverse persons.
Paul is greatly concerned with this issue for the church.  Ephesians, in particular, is a work written about the peace and unity of the Church/church.  Like Aristotle, he argues not for uniformity but for unity among diverse members.  Yet this is a unity formed not around tolerance of opposing viewpoints and practices but unity formed under the Lordship of Christ, the truth of the Gospel, and confession of the one faith.
(1) For Paul, what provides unity for the church is Christ, who is head (Eph. 1.20-23).
(2) Also, one might say that unity is in the Gospel: ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’ (Eph. 3.5).
(3) Finally, one might say that the Church’s unity emerges from ‘making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.  7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift’ (Eph. 4.3-7).
14. Aristotle explores at some length different cultural practices and social constitutions regarding private and communal property.  E.g., he says: ‘Even supposing that the women and children belong to individuals, according to the custom which is at present universal….’ (II.5) [They are considered possessions].  Aristotle here discusses whether having possessions in common would be good, but this quote shows he considers a wife and children to be a man’s possession.  ‘And yet by reason of goodness, and in respect of use, 'Friends,' as the proverb says, 'will have all things common.' Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is not impracticable, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be carried further. For, although every man has his own property, some things he will place at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the use with them’ (II.5).
(1) Paul does not see wives and children as ‘possessions.’  He rather casts the relationship in terms of love and respect.
(2) The Jerusalem Church also experimented with a new social order regarding private and communal property: ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common’ (Acts 2.44).  Paul does not lay down any rule for his churches regarding property, although he does press his churches on financial matters as they pertain to their understanding of Christian community, support for the Jerusalem church, and support for his own ministry.
15. ‘Or, upon what principle would they submit, unless indeed the governing class adopt the ingenious policy of the Cretans, who give their slaves the same institutions as their own, but forbid them gymnastic exercises and the possession of arms’ (I.5).
With such a comment, it is helpful to be reminded that slavery in the 1st century was varied and quite different in many respects from slavery in more modern times.  Moreover, the church included everyone, including men and women, free persons and slaves, and different ethnic groups (Gal. 3.28; Col. 3.11).
16. Aristotle (like Socrates in Plato’s Republic and Laws) concerns himself at great length with rulers and subjects.  But he says that ‘there is another omission in Plato’s Laws: Socrates does not tell us how the rulers differ from their subjects’ (II.6).  Aristotle discusses varied practices by different states—oligarchies, democracies, tyrannies, etc.
Paul does not seem to consider 'leadership' a Christian way of thinking about ministry, as in our day.  After all, he sees Christ as the head of the community.  In Ephesians, he does not speak of ‘leaders’ but of persons who help the body, the Christian community, function.  The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in the community (Eph. 4.11) are not the ‘head.’  They do not rule over the members of the body.  Rather, they ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (4.12).
Similarly, where ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ and ‘deacons’ are mentioned (1 Timothy and Titus; Phil. 1.1), they are not persons who exercise authority out of some office they hold; rather, they exercise a function or role to help the community.  Their purpose is not to occupy an authoritative position but to exercise a responsibility.  Thus, even apostles and angels are to be ignored if they do not fulfill their responsibility to present the Gospel as it is (Gal. 1.8).
17. Aristotle discusses the merits of having all things in common, proposed first by Phaleas and also by Socrates (Plato, Republic).  The discussion has to do with trying to eliminate theft and to stop unqualified accumulation of wealth and honor.
Aristotle notes that want is not the only reason for crime; people also desire ‘superfluities so that they can enjoy pleasures without pain’ (II.7).  ‘For the nobles will be dissatisfied because they think themselves worthy of more than an equal share of honors; and this is often found to be a cause of sedition and revolution.  And the avarice of mankind is insatiable; at one time two obols was pay enough; but now, when this sum has become customary, men always want more and more without end; for it is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it. The beginning of reform is not so much to equalize property as to train the nobler sort of natures not to desire more, and to prevent the lower from getting more; that is to say, they must be kept down, but not ill-treated.’ (II.7).
Ephesians 4:28  Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

Titus 2:9-10   9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back,  10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

1 Timothy 6:6-10  6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
18. ‘The rule of a master, although the slave by nature and the master by nature have in reality the same interests, is nevertheless exercised primarily with a view to the interest of the master, but accidentally considers the slave, since, if the slave perish, the rule of the master perishes with him. On the other hand, the government of a wife and children and of a household, which we have called household management, is exercised in the first instance for the good of the governed or for the common good of both parties, but essentially for the good of the governed, as we see to be the case in medicine, gymnastic, and the arts in general, which are only accidentally concerned with the good of the artists themselves’ (III.6).
1. Paul sees treatment of slaves not in terms of the master’s self-interest but in terms of the master’s obedience to his own heavenly master (Col. 4.1).  Thus he is to be concerned with justice and fairness.
2. Paul does see a man’s treatment of his wife in terms of self-interest, but of the sort one has for one’s own body (Eph. 5.28-30)—nourishing and caring for it.  But he first casts the relationship in terms of love, just as Christ’s love for the Church in giving his life for it (Eph. 5.25-27).
19. ‘Of the above-mentioned forms, the perversions are as follows: of royalty, tyranny; of aristocracy, oligarchy; of constitutional government, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all’ (III.7).
For Paul, Christian community is self-giving in order to benefit not one group over another but all.  He begs the Ephesians ‘to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph. 4.1-3).

Further Study

1. Household Codes

Those wishing to pursue this line of enquiry further might find the following primary sources on household codes in ancient writings helpful.

New Testament Household Codes
            1. Colossians 3.18-4.1
            2. Ephesians 5.21-6.9
            3. Titus 2.1-10
            4. 1 Peter 2.17-3.7

Hellenistic Judaism
1.      Philo, Hypothetica 7.1-9 (cf. Decal 165-7)
2.      Josephus, Against Apion 2, 190-219
3.      Pseudo-Phocylides 175-227

Household Codes in Greek and Roman Literature

1.      Aristotle, Pol. 1.2 [as noted in the table, above]
2.      Seneca, Ep. 94; De Benef. 2.18.1ff
3.      Plutarch, LibEd 10
4.      Epictetus, Dissertationes 2, 10, 3, 7

Household Codes in the Early Church

1. 1 Clement 1.3; 21.6-9; 38.2
2. Ignatius, Polycarp 4.1-6.1  4—slaves; 5--marriage
3. Polycarp, Phil. 4.2-6.3  4—wives, widows; 5—deacons, young men; 6--elders
4. Didache, 4.9-11  parents, masters-slaves

2. Ethics and Roles in the Household

The ‘politics’ of the household gives way to a discussion of moral conduct for the different groups of the household and within the larger social group (church, state).  One can speak of the virtues relative to persons in different roles within a society (or, as our first example, different contexts).

New Testament Initial Moral Teaching for New Converts: Personal, Church, and Community Ethics

            1 Thessalonians 4.1-12 helps us see that from early on in his missionary work, Paul directed his churches about how to live in a way pleasing to God.  1 Th. 4.3-16 offers a threefold lecture on such living: sexual control, love within the church, and life in the world (live quietly, mind your own affairs, work, behave properly, be dependent on no one).  This has something of the form: self, church, world, and as such fits the most general form of early Christian moral codes.

New Testament Teaching for Different Groups on Marriage and Sexuality

1 Corinthians 7
7.2-5: Husbands and Wives
7.8-9: Widowers and widows
7.10-17: Divorce, Christian and Mixed Marriages
7.25-38: Unmarried and betrothed
7.39-40: Remarriage of widows

New Testament Moral Teaching for Various Groups in the Church

            1 Timothy
                        1 Tim. 1.8-11: Ethics for Different Groups in the Church
                        1 Tim. 2.1-7: The Christian and the World
                        1 Tim. 2.8-15: Men and Women in the Church
                        1 Tim. 3.1-13: Overseers and Deacons
                        1 Tim. 5.1-21: Old and Young Men, Old and Young Women, Old and Young                                            Widows, and Elders
                        1 Tim. 6.1-2: Slaves
                        1 Tim. 6.17-19: Rich

                    1.5-9: Elders or Overseers
                    2.1-10: Older Men and Older Women, Young Women and Young Men, Titus, and
                    3.1-11: The Christian and the World, the Christian within the Church

          1 Peter 2.17-3.7
                    1 Peter 2.12-17 Church and Larger Community
                    1 Peter 2.18-25 Slaves
                    1 Peter 3.1-6 Women
                    1 Peter 3.7 Men
                    1 Peter 3.8-12 Christian Community

3. Primary Source Quotations

Aristotle has further comments on the household.  All but one of the following quotations comes from his Economics (Greek: oikos, from which we get our English word, ‘Economics,’ means ‘house.’  In Economics, Aristotle compares Housecraft (the art of governing a house) to Statecraft (the art of governing a nation).)  It is interesting to read these excerpts in regard to the role and status of women in Aristotle's day--and this seems to be relevant to Paul's day as well.

Aristotle, Economics 1.1344b[5]
There are four qualities which the head of a household must possess in dealing with his property. Firstly, he must have the faculty of acquiring, and secondly that of preserving what he has acquired; otherwise there is no more benefit in acquiring than in baling with a colander, or in the proverbial wine-jar with a hole in the bottom. Thirdly and fourthly, he must know how to improve his property, and how to make use of it; since these are the ends for which the powers of acquisition and of preservation are sought.

Aristotle, Economics 3.1
A good wife should be the mistress of her home, having under her care all that is within it, according to the rules we have laid down. She should allow none to enter without her husband's knowledge, dreading above all things the gossip of gadding women, which tends to poison the soul. She alone should have knowledge of what happens within, whilst if any harm is wrought by those from without, her husband will bear the blame. She must exercise control of the money spent on such festivities as her husband has approved, keeping, moreover, within the limit set by law upon expenditure, dress, and ornament; [10] and remembering that beauty depends not on costliness of raiment, nor does abundance of gold so conduce to the praise of a woman as self-control in all that she does, and her inclination towards an honorable and well-ordered life. For such adornment of the soul as this is in truth ever a thing to be envied, and a far surer warrant for the payment, to the woman herself in her old age and to her children after her, of the due need of praise.

This, then, is the province over which a woman should be minded to bear an orderly rule; for it seems not fitting that a man should know all that passes within the house. But in all other matters, let it be her aim to obey her husband; giving no heed to public affairs, nor desiring any part in arranging the marriages of her children. [20] Rather, when the time shall come to give or receive in marriage sons or daughters, let her even then hearken to her husband in all respects, and agreeing with him obey his behest; considering that it is less unseemly for him to deal with a matter within the house than it is for her to pry into those outside its walls. Nay, it is fitting that a woman of well-ordered life should consider that her husband's uses are as laws appointed for her own life by divine will, along with the marriage state and the fortune she shares. If she endures them with patience and gentleness, she will rule her home with ease; otherwise, not so easily. Wherefore not only when her husband is in prosperity [30] and good report does it beseem her to be in modest agreement with him, and to render him the service he wills, but also in times of adversity. If, through sickness or fault of judgement, his good fortune fails, then must she show her quality, encouraging him ever with words of cheer and yielding him obedience in all fitting ways; only let her do nothing base or unworthy of herself, or remember any wrong her husband may have done her through distress of mind. Let her refrain from all complaint, nor charge him with the wrong, but rather attribute everything of this kind to sickness or ignorance or accidental errors. For the more sedulous her service herein, the fuller will be his gratitude [40] when he is restored, and freed from his trouble; and if she has failed to obey him when he commanded aught that is amiss, the deeper will be his recognition ‘of her loyalty’ when health returns. Wherefore, whilst careful to avoid such ‘misplaced obedience’, in other respects she will serve him more assiduously than if she had been a bondwoman bought and taken home. For he has indeed bought her with a great price—with partnership in his life and in the procreation of children; than which things nought could be greater or more divine. And besides all this, the wife who had only lived in company with a fortunate husband would not have had the like opportunity to show her true quality. For though there be no small merit in a right and noble use of prosperity, still the right endurance of adversity justly receives an honor greater by far. [50] For only a great soul can live in the midst of trouble and wrong without itself committing any base act. And so, while praying that her husband may be spared adversity, if trouble should come it beseems the wife to consider that here a good woman wins her highest praise. Let her bethink herself how Alcestis would never have attained such renown nor Penelope have deserved all the high praises bestowed on her had not their husbands known adversity; whereas the troubles of Admetus and Ulysses have obtained for their wives a reputation that shall never die. For because in time of distress they proved themselves faithful and dutiful to their husbands, the gods have bestowed on them the honor they deserved. To find partners in prosperity is easy enough; [60] but only the best women are ready to share in adversity. For all these reasons it is fitting that a woman should ‘in time of adversity’ pay her husband an honor greater by far, nor feel shame on his account even when, as Orpheus says, “Holy health of soul, and wealth, the child of a brave spirit, companion him no more.”

Aristotle, Economics 3.2
Such then is the pattern of the rules and ways of living which a good wife will observe. And the rules which a good husband will follow in treatment of his wife will be similar; seeing that she has entered his home like a suppliant from without, and is pledged to be the partner of his life and parenthood; and that the offspring she leaves behind her will bear the names of their parents, her name as well as his. And what could be more divine than this, or more desired by a man of sound mind, [70] than to beget by a noble and honored wife children who shall be the most loyal supporters and discreet guardians of their parents in old age, and the preservers of the whole house? Rightly reared by father and mother, children will grow up virtuous, as those who have treated them piously and righteously deserve that they should; but ‘parents’ who observe not these precepts will be losers thereby. For unless parents have given their children an example how to live, the children in their turn will be able to offer a fair and specious excuse ‘for undutifulness’. Such parents will risk being rejected by their offspring for their evil lives, and thus bringing destruction upon their own heads.
Wherefore his wife's training should be the object of a man's unstinting care; [80] that so far as is possible their children may spring from the noblest of stock. For the tiller of the soil spares no pains to sow his seed in the most fertile and best cultivated land, looking thus to obtain the fairest fruits; and to save it from devastation is ready, if such be his lot, to fall in conflict with his foes; a death which men crown with the highest of praise. Seeing, then, that such care is lavished on the body's food, surely every care should be taken on behalf of our own children's mother and nurse, in whom is implanted the seed from which there springs a living soul. For it is only by this means that each mortal, successively produced, participates in immortality; and that petitions and prayers continue to be offered to ancestral gods. [90] So that he who thinks lightly of this1 would seem also to be slighting the gods. For their sake then, in whose presence he offered sacrifice and led his wife home, promising to honor her far above all others saving his parents, ‘a man must have care for wife and children’.

Now a virtuous wife is best honored when she sees that her husband is faithful to her, and has no preference for another woman; but before all others loves and trusts her and holds her as his own. And so much the more will the woman seek to be what he accounts her. If she perceives that her husband's affection for her is faithful and righteous, she too will be faithful and righteous towards him. [100] Wherefore a man of sound mind ought not to forget what honors are proper to his parents or what fittingly belong to his wife and children; so that rendering to each and all their own, he may obey the law of men and of gods. For the deprivation we feel most of all is that of the special honor which is our due; nor will abundant gifts of what belongs to others be welcome to him who is dispossessed of his own. Now to a wife nothing is of more value, nothing more rightfully her own, than honored and faithful partnership with her husband. Wherefore it befits not a man of sound mind to bestow his person promiscuously, or have random intercourse with women; for otherwise the base-born will share in the rights of his lawful children, [110] and his wife will be robbed of her honor due, and shame be attached to his sons.

Aristotle, Economics 3.3
To all these matters, therefore, a man should give heed. And it is fitting that he should approach his wife in honorable wise, full of self-restraint and awe; and in his conversation with her, should use only the words of a right-minded man, suggesting only such acts as are themselves lawful and honorable; treating her with much self-restraint and trust,1 and passing over any trivial or unintentional errors she has committed. And if through ignorance she has done wrong, he should advise her of it without threatening, in a courteous and modest manner. Indifference ‘to her faults’ and harsh reproof ‘of them’, he must alike avoid. Between a courtesan and her lover, such tempers are allowed their course; [120] between a free woman and her lawful spouse there should be a reverent and modest mingling of love and fear. For of fear there are two kinds. The fear which virtuous and honorable sons feel towards their fathers, and loyal citizens towards right-minded rulers, has for its companions reverence and modesty; but the other kind, felt by slaves for masters and by subjects for despots who treat them with injustice and wrong, is associated with hostility and hatred.

By choosing the better of all these alternatives a husband should secure the agreement, loyalty, and devotion of his wife, so that whether he himself is present or not, there may be no difference in her attitude towards him, since she realizes that they are alike guardians of the common interests; and so when he is away she may feel that to her no man is kinder [130] or more virtuous or more truly hers than her own husband.  And ‘a good wife’ will make this manifest from the beginning by her unfailing regard for the common welfare, novice though she be in such matters. And if the husband learns first to master himself, he will thereby become his wife's best guide in all the affairs of life, and will teach her to follow his example. For Homer pays no honor either to affection or to fear apart from the shame or modesty that shrinks from evil. Everywhere he bids affection be coupled with self-control and shame; whilst the fear he commends is such as Helen owns when she thus addresses Priam: "Beloved sire of my lord, it is fitting that I fear thee and dread thee and revere"2; meaning that her love for him is mingled with fear and modest shame. And again, Ulysses speaks to Nausicaa in this manner: [140] "Thou, lady, dost fill me with wonder and with fear."3 For Homer believes that this is the feeling of a ‘good’ husband and wife for one another, and that if they so feel, it will be well with them both. For none ever loves or admires or fears in this shamefaced way one of baser character; but such are the feelings towards one another of nobler souls and those by nature good; or of the inferior toward those they know to be their betters. Feeling thus toward Penelope, Ulysses remained faithful to her in his wanderings; whereas Agamemnon did wrong to his wife for the sake of Chryseis, declaring in open assembly that a base captive woman, and of alien race besides, was in no wise inferior to Clytemnestra in womanly excellence.4 [150] This was ill spoken of the mother of his children; nor was his connection with the other a righteous one. How could it be, when he had but recently compelled her to be his concubine, and before he had any experience of her behavior to him? Ulysses on the other hand, when the daughter of Atlas5 besought him to share her bed and board, and promised him immortality and everlasting happiness, could not bring himself even for the sake of immortality to betray the kindness and love and loyalty of his wife, deeming immortality purchased by unrighteousness to be the worst of all punishments.6 For it was only to save his comrades that he yielded his person to Circe; and in answer to her he even declared that in his eyes nothing could be more lovely than his native isle, rugged though it were; [160] and prayed that he might die, if only he might look upon his mortal wife and son.7 So firmly did he keep troth with his wife; and received in return from her the like loyalty.8

Aristotle, Economics 3.4
Once again, in the words addressed by Ulysses to Nausicaa1 the poet makes clear the great honor in which he holds the virtuous companionship of man and wife in marriage. There he prays the gods to grant her a husband and a home; and between herself and her husband, precious unity of mind; provided that such unity be for righteous ends. For, says he, there is no greater blessing on earth than when husband and wife rule their home in harmony of mind and will. Moreover it is evident from this that the unity which the poet commends [170] is no mutual subservience in each other's vices, but one that is rightfully allied with wisdom and understanding; for this is the meaning of the words "rule the house in ‘harmony of’ mind." And he goes on to say that wherever such a love is found between man and wife, it is a cause of sore distress to those who hate them and of delight to those that love them; while the truth of his words is most of all acknowledged by the happy pair.2 For when wife and husband are agreed about the best things in life, of necessity the friends of each will also be mutually agreed; and the strength which the pair gain from their unity will make them formidable to their enemies and helpful to their own. But when discord reigns between them, their friends too will disagree and become in consequence enfeebled, while the pair themselves will suffer most of all. [180]

In all these precepts it is clear that the poet is teaching husband and wife to dissuade one another from whatever is evil and dishonorable, while unselfishly furthering to the best of their power one another's honorable and righteous aims. In the first place they will strive to perform all duty towards their parents, the husband towards those of his wife no less than towards his own, and she in her turn towards his. Their next duties are towards their children, their friends, their estate, and their entire household which they will treat as a common possession; each vying with the other in the effort to contribute most to the common welfare, and to excel in virtue and righteousness; laying aside arrogance, and ruling with justice in a kindly and unassuming spirit. [190] And so at length, when they reach old age, and are freed from the duty of providing for others and from preoccupation with the pleasures and desires of youth, they will be able to give answer also to their children, if question arise whether child or parent3 has contributed more good things to the common household store; and will be well assured that whatsoever of evil has befallen them is due to fortune, and whatsoever of good, to their own virtue. One who comes victorious through such question wins from heaven, as Pindar says,4 his chiefest reward; for "hope, and a soul filled with fair thoughts are supreme in the manifold mind of mortals" ; and next, from his children the good fortune of being sustained by them in his old age. And therefore it behoves us to preserve throughout our lives a righteous attitude towards all gods and mortal men, to each individually, and to all in common5; [200] and not least towards our own wives and children and parents.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1160b[6]
One may find likenesses and so to speak models of these various forms of constitution in the household. The relationship of father to sons is regal in type, since a father's first care is for his children's welfare. This is why Homer styles Zeus ‘father,’ for the ideal of kingship is paternal government. Among the Persians paternal rule is tyrannical, for the Persians use their sons as slaves. The relation of master to slaves is also tyrannic, since in it the master's interest is aimed at. The autocracy of a master appears to be right, that of the Persian father wrong; for different subjects should be under different forms of rule. [5] The relation of husband to wife seems to be in the nature of an aristocracy: the husband rules in virtue of fitness, and in matters that belong to a man's sphere; matters suited to a woman he hands over to his wife. When the husband controls everything, he transforms the relationship into an oligarchy, for he governs in violation of fitness, and not in virtue of superiority.

[1] Aristotle, Politics, trans. Benjamin Jowett (available online:
[2] Scholarship has David Balch to thank for suggesting the political context of household codes in antiquity already in 1981 for the 1 Peter: Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter, ed. James Crenshaw, SBL Monograph Series, Vol. 26 (Chico, TX: Scholars Press, 1981).
[3] For a discussion of various approaches to the form and context of household codes, see James P. Hering, The Colossian and Ephesian Haustafeln in Theological Context: An Analysis of their Origin, Relationship, and Message (New York: Peter Lang, 2007).
[4] Cicero, De Officiis 54: ‘For since the reproductive instinct is by Nature's gift the common possession of all living creatures, the first bond of union is that between husband and wife; the next, that between parents and children; then we find one home, with everything in common. And this is the foundation of civil government, the nursery, as it were, of the state. Then follow the bonds between brothers and sisters, and next those of first and then of second cousins; and when they can no longer be sheltered under one roof, they go out into other homes, as into colonies. Then follow between these, in turn, marriages and connections by marriage, and from these again a new stock of relations; and from this propagation and after-growth states have their beginnings. The bonds of common blood hold men fast through good-will and affection; for it means much to share in common the same family traditions, the same forms of domestic worship, and the same ancestral tombs.’ (M. Tullius Cicero. De Officiis. With An English Translation. Walter Miller. Cambridge. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass., London, England. 1913.)
[5] Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 18, trans. by G.C. Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1935).
[6] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1160b. Vol. 19, translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934.