The Household Codes Of St. Paul's Epistles
Both books contain issues concerning the treatments of married couples, children, and slaves and their owners. The passage from Colossians 3:18-4:1 is short, sweet, and to the point. It begins by giving advice to wives by telling them that they must submit to their husbands. According to the passage, they must do so because it is "fitting to the Lord" (v. 18). It will please God if they succumb to their spouse. Next it goes on to tell husbands to love their wives and not be harsh with them (v. 19). Even though wives must submit to their husbands, a husband must still love and respect his wife and use his power over his wife in any negative manner.
The next verse in Colossians (v. 20) is in regards to children. They must "obey [their] parents in everything." Just as a wife submitting to her husband will please the Lord, so will a child obeying his parents. Verse 21 speaks of the opposite. Even though children must submit to their parents' word, parents must not "embitter" their children, because if the parents do so, the children will become disheartened. This passage basically parallels with the way husbands must not take advantage of their power over their wives.
Beginning in verse 22 of Colossians, the author (whoever it may be) speaks of the way slaves must obey their masters. They must not only do so when the masters are watching, but should do so all the time, "with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord" (v. 22). Slaves should work as if they are working not for another man, but for and in the name of the Lord. If a slave does so, he will be rewarded kindly with a one-way trip to heaven at the end of his life.
The final verse of the passage, 4:1, tells the opposite. Even though slaves must submit to their masters, masters must "provide [their] slaves with what is right and fair, because [they] know [they] also have a master in heaven." Take heed, because it is understood in the Church nowadays that all forms of slavery are wrong, so this type of code would not apply to Catholics today.
To sum it up, the whole Colossians passage basically speaks of one set of people, then speaks about their corresponding set and how even though the first set (wives, children, and slaves) must submit to them, the second set (husbands, parents, and slaveowners) must still treat those of the first set with love and respect, just as they would want to be treated.
The Ephesians passage, 5:21-6:9, parallels the Colossians passage in its structures and metaphors. It speaks of the ways husbands and wives, parents and children, and slaves and slaveowners must treat each other. It also speaks of the fact that even though one has power over the other, they must not take advantage of their power over them by treating them harshly.
I agree with many scholars in believing that the household codes in the book of Ephesians is slightly different than that in the book of Colossians in that it uses Christ in a more unyielding and intense position. All advice given is to be done out of reverence to Christ.
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (v. 22). The author of Ephesians (whoever that may be) compares the husband to Christ. "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (v. 23-24).
The same type of comparison is set in the code of "parents and children". Unlike Colossians, the author of Ephesians tells parents to "bring [their children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (6:4).
Again, the household code of Ephesians involving slaves and masters very much parallels that of the household code in Colossians in structure and metaphor. This section of this passage, though, contains many more references to "obey[ing] Christ" (v. 5), and " serving the Lord" (v. 7).
All in all, although the household codes in the letter to the Colossians and the household codes in the letter to the Ephesians were strikingly similar with their structures and metaphors (speaking of wives of obey husbands, followed by husbands treating wives with love; children to parents, then parents to children; and slave to owner, then owner to slave), Ephesians does indeed take a stronger position in the dissimilarities and disparities of the members of the pairs discussed.
by: Shirley Hendricks