Thomas McKenzie
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Colossians: Control vs. Community

These are the notes on the last in a five-part series I taught on the Book of Colossians. Check out the recording on my podcast, HajjPod.

Week Five: Control vs. Community

Roman power was secured by structures of socio-economic and military control.

Empire controls through the threat of violence.
Empire controls through economic policy.
Empire controls through social structures.

Pater Familias, Patria Potestas, and Manus


Pater familias is the “father of the family, and was the highest ranking male in a Roman household.

Patria potestas is the “power of a father,” and is the power a pater familias exercised over his wife, children, more remote descendants, and slaves.

Manus is the autocratic power of a husband over his wife, corresponding to the patria potestas.

Under the laws of the Twelve Tables, the pater familias had the "power of life and death” over his children, his wife (if she was not still under her father) and his slaves, all of whom were said to be sub manu, "under his hand." His word was absolute and final. He had the power to sell his children into slavery; and to kill unwanted infants. In private dealings, acquisitions of a child became the property of the father. The pater familias had the power to approve or reject marriages of his sons and daughters. Only a Roman citizen could enjoy the status of pater familias. There could only be one holder of the office within a household.

A daughter ceased to be under her father's potestas if she came under the manus of her husband. It was possible to be married without manus, so that the wife remained under her father's potestas if he was still alive. In marriage without manus, the property of the spouses remained distinct. Divorce, in marriage with manus, was always possible at the command of the husband; in marriage without manus, either party was able to put an end to the relationship.

From Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia



Aristotle
For the male is by nature better fitted to command than the female . . . And the older and fully developed person than the younger and immature . . . All human beings that differ as widely as the soul does from the body . . . Are by nature slaves for whom to be governed by this kind of authority is advantageous . . . For the free rule the slave, the male the female, the man the child in different ways; for the slave has not got the deliberative part at all, and the female has it but without full authority, while the child has it but in an undeveloped form.
From “Politics,” by Aristotle

Colossians 3:11-4:1

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Those who do wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

An Ethic of Community

Here there is no X., but Christ is all, and in all
1. Your identity is not X.
2. You are in Christ, Christ is in you.
3. You are God’s chosen person/people.
4. You are holy (you are different/set apart).
5. You are dearly loved (by God, each other).
6. You are one body.

You are called to live in a specific way
1. Be people of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
2. Bear with each other and forgive one another.
3. Make love the greatest of your virtues.
4. Be at peace with each other.
5. You are called to unity and peace.
6. Give thanks to God through Christ.
7. Teach and admonish each other in Christ.
8. Sing to God and to each other.
9. Be Jesus Christ to each other.

Uncomfortable question #1:
In this ethic of community, who has is called to serve? Who is called to teach? Who is called to be different from the world? Who is called to rule?

Uncomfortable question #2:
In this context, and in the context of the radical
nature of this letter, is St. Paul about to baptize the imperial pater familias?

Love vs. Pater Familias

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”

1. What kind of submission is in the way of Jesus? Why doesn’t the husband make the wife submit? Who is the master of the wife?
2. How can a husband both love his wife and hold her under his manus?

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”

1. What is the difference between obeying your “parents” and the pater familias? Why should children obey their parents? Who is the master of the children?
2. Why is the commandment to fathers? What should the primary concern of the father be?

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Those who do wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. “

1. Why should slaves obey their “earthly” masters? Who is the master of the slave? How is the inheritance spoken of here different than the pater familias?
2. Who is likely to do wrong and be repaid for it?
3. Who is the master’s master? How is this commandment different than pater familias?

Living out the Ethic of Community:
Paul’s Letter to Philemon of Colossae

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.
I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. . . . Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

1. Notice that Paul has the right to “order” but would rather live in ethic of community.
2. How is this ethic higher that pater familias?
3. Is this ethic higher than the companion letter to all the Colossians?
4. What might be the ultimate ethic for dealing with wives, children, and slaves?

Final Questions

1. Are you/we living in an empire, or perhaps more than one empire?
2. What story do you/we tell that is at odds with the empires’?
3. Can you/we imagine a life apart from the empire?
4. What would it take to secede from the empires and into Christ?
5. How can you/we live in community rather than control?