Haustafel or Household Codes

09 Dec

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For the remainder of chapter two and the first few verses of chapter three of his first epistle, Peter offers a list of things one should expect of people who claim to be of the household of God. At the end of chapter two Peter offers the reason for such expected behavior, namely, Christ behaved this way, and so should we. There are several of these lists throughout the New Testament (cf. Romans 13:1-8; Ephesians 5:21 to 6:9; Colossians 3:18 to 4:1). Martin Luther described these lists as haustafel, meaning: household rules or codes. It is a term that has been adopted by scholars when referencing them. Although Peter’s list begins with how one should behave toward civil authorities, it should be remembered that these lists may direct our behavior toward anyone having authority over us or any human institution that has such authority, because it is expected of those of the household of God to behave in a certain manner.

The codes in the New Testament resemble Jewish and gentile household lists. Notice an example from the Greeks:

And now that it is clear what are the component parts of the state, we have first of all to discuss household management; for every state is composed of households. Household management falls into departments corresponding to the parts of which the household in its turn is composed …master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.[1]

The lists follow a pattern of naming two or three pairs in their codes. Paul’s lists follows that model,[2] but Peter deviates from it in several notable ways. For example, he omits the parent-child relationship and spends considerably more effort in dealing with women (1Peter 3:1-6) than their husbands (1Peter 3:7).

Another example from the gentile lists comes from the Roman or Latin culture:

Both the married women, as having no other refuge, to conform themselves entirely to the temper of their husbands, and the husbands to rule their wives as necessary and inseparable possessions. Accordingly, if a wife was virtuous and in all things obedient to her husband, she was mistress to the same degree as her husband was the master of it.[3]

We may find examples of Jewish listings in the Apocrypha and Philo (among others):

Have you children? instruct them, and bow down their necks from their youth. Have you daughters? have a care of their body, and show not yourself cheerful toward them. Marry your daughter, and so shall you have performed a weighty matter: but give her to a man of understanding. Have you a wife after your mind? forsake her not: but give not yourself over to a light woman. Honor your father with your whole heart, and forget not the sorrows of your mother. Remember that you were begotten of them; and how can you recompense them the things that they have done for you? (Sirach 7:23-28)

The women are best suited to the indoor life which never strays from the house… Organized communities are of two sorts, the greater which we call cities and the smaller which we call households. Both of these have their governors; the government of the greater is assigned to men under the name of statesmanship, that of the lesser, known as household management, to women. A woman, then, should not be a busybody, meddling with matters outside her household concerns, but should seek a life of seclusion.[4]

Wives must be in servitude to their husbands, a servitude not imposed by violent ill-treatment but promoting obedience in all things.[5]

christian-and-culture-1Understanding the similarity of Paul’s and Peter’s haustafel (household codes) with that of non-Biblical codes, puts the Scripture in perspective. It is not a matter of the lists being God’s word commanding wives to be in submission to their husbands in all things, anymore than it is God’s word that we obey the state in all things. Not only are there exceptions to the general rule, but these are traditions of men and the Gospel changes people, not traditions. People change their customs and traditions to suit what they perceive to be a greater truth. The point of the haustafel in the New Testament was to preserve order in an imperfect world so that the Gospel, which is God’s power to save the world (Romans 1:16), would not be blasphemed (1Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:5). The word of God speaks to a man’s heart. The fruit of a man’s heart is expressed in what he says and does, especially in matters affecting others. When a person receives Christ as Lord, it should be clear that he embarks on a life that not only seeks to image God, but also seeks to take the lower, more difficult path that almost always involves discomfort and at times pain (cf. Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). Suffering and trials have an end (1Peter 1:7, 13; 2:12). They may or may not last a long time. Some trials must be endured for life, some for generations, still others for centuries. We do this in an effort to reach the world for Christ with the Gospel, while behaving in such a way that what we say about God is not blasphemed because of what we do.


[1] Aristotle, Politics 1.2.1.

[2] See Ephesians 5:22-33 and 6:1-9; Colossians 3:18-25 and 4:1

[3] Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Roman Antiquities (XXV; 4-5).

[4] Philo, Special Laws, 3:169-171

[5] Philo; Hypothetica 7:3

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Posted by on December 9, 2016 in Epistles of Peter


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