Ephesians Got Slavery and Women Wrong

Ephesians is only six chapters long. The author of the 2023 Third Quarter Adult Sabbath School Guide had 14 weeks to engage the church in a fair study of this book, which includes portions long criticized for promoting regressive ideas. Regrettably, the author’s conclusion that Ephesians “is not focused with issues of local concern” (as though there was a clean delineation between local/global/cosmic issues) seems to have entirely guided their topic selection and treatment. Consequently, too much space was used to shore up our existing set of beliefs instead of addressing the relevant and pressing issues raised by the book.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/views/2023/ephesians-got-slavery-and-women-wrong

servant. διάκονος (diakonos)

servant, slave δοῦλος (doulos)

Kudos on the delightful and delicious swipe at a book that probably should have never made it into the Canon or should be removed. How long until we abandon “sola scriptura” and “biblical authority” once and for all and defer to contemporary scholars who know better? Genesis 1 is not accurate and neither is Ephesians. Most of what is in between falls into archaic law or improbable supernatural intervention. I think the author of this piece would agree that the time has come to take a scalpel to the Bible and find the truth in the windows the process creates in the form of personal divinity.


The Haustafeln of Ephesians, Colossians and 1 Peter are valuable so longer as they are read as agents of change rather than reinforcing the status quo.

The Christian House Rules align with the summary statement to, “Be subject to one another”, and with other passages that declare that differentiation by gender, race and status are obsolete in Christianity. They extrapolate the impact of Jesus’ teaching on being born again, where both past advantage and disadvantage are dissolved in the way God relates to us and as Christians relate to each other.

So, there are two possible errors, may I suggest, in how we react to these passages. It is a mistake, as Mr Quartey argues, to use them to rationalise slavery, gender inequality, or for that matter, authoritative parenting. That would violate their intent of undermining the power dynamics they addressed.

But it would also be a mistake to discard these passages. Then we would miss the point of mutual subordination, which is as important now as ever, in whatever power dynamics we find ourselves.

At what point is it reasonable to ask WCWEOJC?

(What can we expect of Jesus Christ?)

Or is that just The Even Greater Disappointment still to come when after another dozen millennia, and who knows how many world Wars from now, we finally accept that waiting expectantly for Jesus’ physical return was always like standing in line at the grocery hoping the cashier would accept Monopoly Money in exchange for real food?

To my mind this an inversion of the idea that one should love others as he loves himself as Paul’s (or whose every) theory makes every person a slave to the whims of anyone who claims to be a Christian.

So I agree with Jefferson, cut and paste-but mostly cut-until you have a version of the gospel that isn’t a recipe for psychotic codependency.



Ephesians Got Slavery and Women Wrong is like saying, the book of Ester got polygamy wrong.

You have to be at a certain level of maturity, and educated to read the Bible. No wonder some were upset when the Gutenberg Bible came out.


Thank you, Matthew Quartey for another refreshingly open essay. If you have any aspirations to teach at the seminary, you can set them aside for as long as the current chilly church climate remains as it is. Many thanks for sharing your expertise with the Spectrum community.


This article is exactly what is the biggest attack and danger to Christianity today. The author has completely eliminated God from the inspiration of the Bible writers. How exactly does he know what parts were inspired by God and which parts were merely human opinion and a product of their time and culture I would love to know. And then how exactly will he prove which parts we should condemn and which parts we should uphold and find have any hope of having a unified church is a mystery to me.

He uses the example of women and submission which I honestly thing is a very ignorant and superficial example. Paul writes that husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loved the church. God fully expects men to have the same self sacrificing love and care for their wives that Jesus has for us…and this is oppressive somehow?

And the author should know that submission is not a blind and absolute surrender to the husband. He presents it as such which is dishonest and if he is a student of the Bible he should be embarrassed to make that argument.

Jesus submits to the father according to the NT, and just as that is not a oppressive relationship, neither is marriage. Role differentiation is biblical.

And what we consider wrong today (women submitting to husbands) could be viewed as good by a future generation. The author presents a constantly changing ethical standard fully dependent by the time in which we live. This illuminates the underlying principles, the Bible presents that are relevant in all ages.

If women have been oppressed, then the answer is to correctly teach men how to be husbands not to eliminate Ephesians from the Bible.

Well done Mathew. Editing with a penknife has long been a tradition among some religious leaders. Jehoiakim cut Jeremiah’s letter up and burned it, where upon Jeremiah rewrote it and added to it. Marcion, the Gnostic kept Paul’s letters, and Luke, but threw out texts that he didn’t agree with. Somewhere is was written of him that he edited the text with a penknife. What you article evokes is ethical top-down causation which makes changes in the bottom-up ethical positions.

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As a literalist, you must believe that we are judged according to how we judge others.

In which case, your comment can be seen as the most dangerous attack on modern Christianity as this is what you’ve accused the article’s author of doing

IOW, your insistence that every word in the Bible was inspired by god serves to undermine a true understanding of the texts and erodes away whatever benefits might be achieved using a more nuanced, and less binary, interpretation of its passages.


i think the reason why slavery and women are “unresolved” in Ephesians is because these issues are not what Ephesians is about…while they are mentioned, they are mentioned in passing, and as a reflection of Paul’s culture, which Paul isn’t discussing…had Paul discussed these issues in detail, as he discusses and obviously prioritizes the riches of the blessings we’ve been blessed with in Christ by God the father - that we’ve been chosen through adoption before the creation of Earth, and that the purpose of God is the unification of all intelligent life forms in Christ through the agency of his will - and had he concluded, after such a detailed, prioritized treatment, that slavery is good and God-ordained and that the subjugation of women is part of God’s eternal plan, then the charge that Ephesians, and therefore Paul, got slavery and women wrong, would have some element of merit…but since Paul doesn’t discuss these issues as issues, the charge that he got something wrong seems a bit manufactured, as if it has the purpose of creating an opportunity to articulate a remedy that no-one’s asked for…

it may be that slavery and the treatment of women are germane subjects in our world, given Ron DeSantis and San Antonio…but Paul wasn’t writing Ephesians for us, or our concerns…Ephesians needs to be valued and relied on for what it emphasizes, particularly where such an emphasis rises above the limitations of its culture, and not for what it assumes as a background understanding that isn’t being assigned thematic weight…the most we can say about Paul’s apparent views on slavery and women, in Ephesians and elsewhere, is that he seems to reflect his time and place, possibly for the purpose of identifying with his audience…we have no idea whether he had views that veered from what he expressed, but thought it best to repress…and we certainly can have no idea what he would say or reflect had he been living in our world…

i think this entire article is an unfortunate miscalculation…


For the same reason that @Yoyito ‘s comment can be seen as an attack on Christianity, your entire comment can be deemed to be an unfortunate miscalculation.

Further, if whomever wrote Ephesians wasn’t writing for a 21st century audience, there is obviously no reason other than egotistical eisegesis to try and read into it any significance at this late date.


Yes, I’m disappointed in this article. We keep wanting the Bible to be a Social Contract. It was written when slavery was a norm, from the beginning of human conflicts; and women have been second class citizens, at best, and possessions at worst.

When the context lends itself to set the standard, the Bible is clear:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:28, followed by 1Cor. 12:13; Col.3:11.


Adding this phrase negates everything said previously in the sentence.

No matter what anyone thinks about Jesus, humanity is one thing just as all of the cosmos is one entity.

To throw the nebulous term “Jesus Christ” into the equation is exclusionary and sets the tone for two thousand years of more divisiveness and claims of superiority.

IOW, I greatly appreciate the article and admire all of Mr. Quartey’s attempts to move beyond literalism and proof texting.

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I do too. That’s why this one disappoints.

And then you go back to proof texting.


But not surprising.

That’s right. The Hindus have a caste system; and most belief systems, as well as civil systems, have an hierarchy. “In Christ” simply means all mankind is equal under one God as represented by Christ.

It’s not “proof texting” chasing a concept through the Bible. If men and women, as well as nationalities and races are represented as being equal in God’s sight it should be substantiated in multiple places. With all these other instances where that is made clear, we would have to question the assertions made in this article. In this one case, Jeremy is spot on.

…is meaningless as Jesus-the purported “Christ”-never used the term and wouldn’t have understood its implications.

(Assuming that Jesus actually existed….)

Like following William Miller and EGW down their eschatological rabbit hole?!?!

Good luck with that!!!


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You’re playing word games again. All these discussions assume Jesus existed. You’re out of cinque. All this is meaningless unless we assume the same premise; and Jesus did exist. Jesus’ existence is a different discussion - and we’ve had that one numerous times.