Monday, June 6, 2016

Craig Keener and the fallacy of mutual submission

 Craig Keener, who certainly knows a thing or two, has written a piece on Jesus Creed reaffirming the common egalitarian argument that Paul prefaces the instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 with an exhortation to mutual submission. I count myself as a dyed-in-the-wool egalitarian, but I am still not convinced that this interpretation is exegetically correct.

We get off to a rather disconcerting start with Keener’s argument that Paul expected masters to obey their servants. How does that work? Well, Paul tells slaves to obey their masters in Ephesians 6:5 and then in verse 9 says that masters should “do the same to them”. In Keener’s view Paul has “expressed one of the most radically antislavery sentiments of his day”.

I really don’t think that’s very likely.

Paul is not telling the masters to obey their slaves “with fear and trembling”. That is simply a social impossibility—and Keener has to admit that no one in the first century would have taken Paul literally. Christian slaves should act as slaves (douleuontes) with a good will, as to the Lord, “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free” (Eph. 6:8). The free master should act according to the same principle: knowing that he will receive back from the Lord whatever good he does. He should act towards his slaves, therefore, on the same basis: he should refrain from threatening, “knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him”. The specific requirement is that he should not threaten, and he does so for the same reasons that the slave renders service with a good will. . .

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