My nemesis emailed me the other day to ask me if I had any resources on women in leadership/ministry and the arguments surrounding the issue. He made the peculiar comment that he wish to see the hermeneutical problems surrounding this issue. Now, of course there are hermeneutical presuppositions that will guide this discussion...
But that got me thinking: What hermeneutic shall we embrace with regards to the household codes? These codes appear to enforce some form of male hierarchy. A straight exegesis of Ephesians may tend towards more of a complementarity, given Eph 5:21. But Colossians is pretty apt in stating: Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. [Colossians 3:18-19]
However, what most commentators forget, is that these codes also include categorical statements about slavery. For example, Colossians will go on to state that: Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven. The Colossian household code says more about the relationships between slave and master, than it does about wives submitting to their husbands. I know of no contemporary exegetes who advocate slavery, but many who still advocate women's submission. Which raises the hermeneutical question:
Is it valid to appropriate these codes into contemporary practice, and then blatantly ignore what they clearly say about slavery?
I am aware of the arguments that show that wherever these codes come from, they are already subverting their traditional interpretation by mentioning first those who have been dominated and are thus slightly liberated through this preference to speak to them first. But even this does not undermine what these texts clearly say.
So why do some just pick and choose which parts of the code are still valid for today? By what criteria do exegetes attempt this task? Is it just presuppositions which dictate these conclusions? As Gordon Fee notes:
To conclude otherwise forces one logically into the position of justifying slavery as a God-ordained structure for the present age, since the two household codes (Eph 5:21-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1) assume both realities in the same structure: the Greco-Roman household of the privileged. Those who advocate the continuation of male authority today have failed to address this problem adequately.
A n y c l u e s ?
 G. Fee "Male and Female in the New Creation" in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy eds. R. W. Pierce and R. M. Groothuis (IVP, 2004) pg. 184