In the June 2005 edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Timothy Gombis, assistant professor of Bible at Cederville University, Cedarville, OH, argues that the Haustafel (the injunctions for the household) of Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is actually a “manifesto for the New Humanity” (319) Gombis explains that “in the thought world of Ephesians, the eschatological new age has dawned with the death and resurrection of Christ (1:20-23) so that it exists in the midst of the old creation ruled by the evil powers. The term Paul uses for these two spheres are the ‘New Humanity’ and the ‘Old Humanity’.” (318) Ephesians is then a manifesto “painting in broad strokes a vision for how believers ought to conduct themselves in new creation communities, thus epitomizing the triumph of God in Christ.” (319)
And what has Christ triumphed over? Why the powers! Indeed, Gombis’ discussion of the powers in this article is fascinating given the vocabulary about them which I am discovering exists in the academic community. And how does Gombis define the powers?
These are evil powers “that rule the present evil age (Eph 1:20-23)” and which “formerly held people captive in death through transgressions and sins (Eph 2:2).
“The powers ruling the present age fulfill a God-given role in creation. They were created to be mediators of God’s rule over this world. According to Jewish thought, the nation of Israel was deemed to be the special inheritance of the God of Israel, but he appointed gods to rule over the nations (Deut 32:8-9; Sir 17:17) (Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians [Louisville: Abingdon, 1998] 51). They were given a stewardship to rule the nations and order their corporate life in such a way that the nations would fear the Most High God. However, these gods have rebelled against their God-given stewardship so that their rule is characterized by a perversion of their original commission. Instead of being faithful stewards of God’s rule, they have corrupted their cultures and have ordered their nations in such a way that those in positions of authority now exploit the weak and powerless, grasping after power, prestige, possessions, and sensual gratification (Ps 82:1-8; Jub. 15:31). What is important in this tradition is that the cultures and nations under the rule of these powers have come to resemble the powers themselves, along with their selfish and self-destructive behavior. Ephesians reflects this tradition in that the character of the Old Humanity is oriented according to that of its rulers. Just as the powers have incurred the judgment of God because they have become graspers after the cosmos (Eph 6:12) instead of faithful stewards of the rule of God (Longenecker, Triumph, 54), so the Old Humanity is characterized by the sins mentioned in the two triads of Eph 4:19 and 5:3. Those in the Old Humanity have been led astray into idolatry (Eph 5:5), having their lives ordered by the evil powers and reflecting their own selfish and self-destructive character.” (319 n12)
But, he continues, Christ is victorious over the powers. Now, “because of his victory in achieving peace (Eph. 2:17), Christ has the right to build his temple, which stands as a lasting monument to his triumph (Eph. 2:20-22). His temple consists of the people of God, the Church, the place where God in Christ dwells by his Spirit. [see Timothy G. Gombis “Ephesians 2 as a Narrative of Divine Warfare,” JSNT 26 (2004), 403-18 on Paul’s utilization of divine warfare ideology.] Indeed, “the Church participates in and epitomizes the triumph of God in Christ by effectively actualizing its identity as the New Humanity by the power of the Spirit in the midst of the enemy territory that is in the present evil age ruled by the rebellious powers.” (320)
As he says, the Haustafel is a manifesto for this new community, where the household (including, but not limited to what we think of as a nuclear family) stands for the city. He writes, “when ancient political theorists addressed the proper ordering of the politeia, they wrote about the ordering of the household”(Ibid.) the oikonomia. “The Haustafel in Ephesians, then, presents a comprehensive vision of the eschatological New Humanity—the new creation politeia—realized under the conditions of this present fallen age.” (322)
The Haustafel is also a community of protest. It is “elaborated against the chaotic, destructive, and divisive social patterns created and fostered by the evil powers who have perverted the created order in such a way that has affected every aspect and level of society” where “those in positions of power manipulate, dominate, and exploit those who are weaker in order to increase in social status and honor.” (Ibid.) Thus, says Gombis, the injunction to “be filled with the Spirit” is a call to “embody and actualize the identity of the New Humanity as the dwelling place of God in Christ.” (323) Paul’s exhortation to be “filled with the Spirit” is not an exhoration “to be controlled by the Spirit vis-à-vis intoxication with wine, but rather to actualize effectively their identity as the dwelling place of God in Christ by the Spirit (see Timothy G. Gombis, “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit: Ephesians 5:18 in its Epistolary Setting,” TynBul 53 (2002) 259-71).” (322n24) The church does this in several ways.
First, it does this by “counteracting the devestating effects of the powers upon human relationships and in transforming relationships within appropriate hierarchical structures.” (324) Gombis does not see Paul arguing for an overthrow of all hierarchy in favor of pure democracy. He doesn’t understand a paradigm of mutual submission. The problem isn’t authority but its abuse and misuse to dominate, exploit and oppress for the sake of power! “The Haustafel as it appears in Ephesians does not identify the corruption of the powers in patriarchy or hierarchicalism per se, but in the perversion of relationships by selfishness and greed, leading alternatively to domination and rebellion.” (324) The remedy is headship defined by sacrificial love and examplified in the self-giving Christ in his relationship to the Church.
The New Humanity, second, assembles itself under the banner of Christ. “This speaks to the chaotic and perverted situation as it exists because of the corruption of creation by the powers, which has its source in the powers’ rejection of their “modesty” and having “claimed for themselves an absolute value,” in the words of J. H. Yoder [The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994)].” The powers ”ceased to recognize the sovereign lordship of the Most High God” but “the New Humanity operates “in the fear of Christ” (5:21) … accountable to their Lord Christ (6:9)” and to God the Father as “the cosmic Paterfamilias (Eph 3:14-15) with “all things” in heaven and earth ordered under his ultimate authority.” (324-25)
Thirdly, and so on, Gombis details the ways in which the Haustafel of Ephesians differs from similar oikonomia injunctions found in contemporary political philosophies. The theme of these, as he visits each section of Paul’s argument, is an attitude of willing, even cruciform submission, just as the Son submits to the Father, not adopting “survival strategies of manipulation,” (325) and the manner in which Paul addresses each person involved, ascribing to each the dignity of the New Humanity, “each a valuable part of the new creation people of God.” (326)
In every case “Paul directly confronts the system of domination in the wider culture—fostered by the powers—where the great authority that is invested in patriarchs . . . was often exercised with conniving manipulation.” (327) The goal of the New Humanity, rather, is “to actualize effectively its identity as the household of God in Christ by the Spirit, reflecting the character of God in Christ in every way and at every level.” (326) Because the household of God is under the authority of Christ “authority over another person is not an opportunity for exploitation or manipulation, but rather a stewardship—a responsibility to protect, provide for, and treate with dignity another person who is also under the Lordship of Christ.” (330) “The aspect of God’s power that human beings should imitate must result in empowerment of others, which stands in striking contrast to the understanding of power on which every patriarchal system is based, namely, domination” (Scott Bartchy “Who Should Be Called Father? Paul of Tarsus between the Jesus Tradition and Patria Potestas,” BTB 33 (2003), 137).
Timothy G. Gombis, “A Radically New Humanity: The Function of the Haustafel in Ephesians” JETS 48/2 (June 2005), 317-30. See also the last post in this series Review of Max Stackhouse's Powers-taxonomy
haustafel; Ephesians; Timothy Gombis; theological anthropology; eschatology; Christus Victor; temple; ecclesiology; oikonomia; social justice; powers.