The Haustafeln (Household
Codes) in African American
‘Free Slaves” and
Clarice J. Martin
Few New Testament narratives have exerted as profoundly a malefic and far-reaching impact on the lives of African Americans as have the Haustafeln—the table of household codes or domestic duties found in Colossians 3:18—4:1; Ephesians 5:21—6:9; and 1 Peter 2:18—3:7. This essay assesses the varying hermeneutical approaches of African Americans toward the slave regulation enjoining “submission,” on the one hand, and toward the regulation enjoining submission of “wives” (and, by extension, women), on the other hand.
I begin with a brief assessment of the interpretation of the Haustafeln in recent decades. Second, I review interpretations of the slave regulation in the Haustafeln by proslavery apologists and those abolitionists who opposed them. African American hermeneutical approaches to the slave regulation are assessed within this context. Third, interpretations of the regulation regarding wives (and women) are examined. Fourth, the hermeneutical issues engendered by divergent approaches to the slave regulation and the regulation about women are explored.