What was Jesus household code? The gospel of Matthew contains five discourses. The fourth discourse (chapter 18) is concerning life in the Kingdom. Carolyn Osiek and David Balch (drawing on the work of Warren Carter) see the collection of stories immediately following the fourth discourse (chapters 19-20) functioning as a household code. Here is a breakdown of Jesus’ household code.
Husbands and Wives – Matt. – 19:3-12
The relationship of the paterfamilias to his wife was a central concern of the household codes. In this passage, the Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason he deems appropriate. Jesus makes two important responses. First:
4 He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
Jesus quotes directly from the Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24, highlighting the complementary nature of man and woman united as one body in marriage. A wife is not a thing or a piece of property for the man to dispose of at his pleasure but rather she is an integral part of his body. In the next verses, Jesus forbids divorce expect in cases of marital unfaithfulness. Jesus elevates the status of women to full partners with their husbands in marriage. There is nothing here to imply an egalitarian relationship in the modern sense that we might understand “egalitarian” but she is an integral part of her husband’s existence.
Secondly, Jesus’ disciples marvel at the restrictiveness of Jesus’ instruction.
11 But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." 19:11-12
What is significant is that Jesus affirms the idea of people remaining single for special service. Osiek and Balch point out that this was directly against Augustan legislation. (p. 132) Furthermore, it flies in the face of the idea that one must continue his family line and that a woman’s primary value is in birthing children. Paul expands on this counter-cultural perspective in 1 Corinthians 7 but it is clearly found in Jesus’ teaching as well. Life does not consist in the perpetuation of our earthly household.
Children - Matthew 19:13-15
A second common focus of the household codes was the management of children, with the emphasis usually placed on turning children into respectable citizens. In the next section we read:
13 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. 19:13-15.
Jesus has nothing to say about creating respectable citizens but instead instructs us to value the children for who they are. Not only are we to value them but unless we become like them we can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven and be a part of God’s household. (see also 18:3-5)
Wealth – Matthew 19:16-30
The appropriate management of wealth was yet another central them of the household codes. In this passage, Matthew presents us with the story of the rich young man. In answer to the man’s question about what he must do to get eternal life, Jesus lists commandments he must follow. Jesus list what are often called the “horizontal commandments” or those commandments that deal with our relationships with others as opposed to our relationship with God. However, if you look at the list closely you will see that Jesus has omitted one of the “horizontal commandments.” He does not mention covetousness. When the man says he has kept all these commandments, Jesus instructs him to do one more thing:
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (v. 21)
It is not the man’s wealth that is the problem but his covetous attachment to it. Jesus implores him to trade in his earthly household for a stake in the Household of heaven. The man cannot do it.
Jesus goes on to tell his disciples:
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (v. 28.)
Kenneth Bailey, among other scholars, has pointed out that Jesus' selection of twelve male disciples had little to do with their maleness except insofar as it allowed them to symbolically stand for the twelve male heads of the tribes of Israel. Jesus was flashing an image of a new Israel in microcosm. Jesus says the twelve, as symbolic of the new household constituted in Christ, will sit in judgment of the original twelve tribes. The new fictive tribal, clan, and household relationship becomes one family constituted in Christ.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. (v. 29)
Jesus calls on us to surrender our households for the eternal household of God.