“Texts of Terror” or “Texts of Honor?” Re-reading the “Household Codes” in Titus Virtue-ethically as an Interpretive and Appropriative Paradigm

Feminist readings of Scripture have indicted the “household codes” in the Pastoral Epistles of promoting patriarchalism, injustice, and oppression. For example, Frances Young accuses them of being “texts of terror.” Lilian Portefaix indicts them of “causing oppression inside and outside the church from late antiquity up to the present time.” Similarly, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza indicts the Pastorals of advocating the patriarchal order of submission and subordination. Linda M. Maloney argues that from a feminist point of view, the Pastorals are “the most revealing part of Christian Testament…and the most frustrating.” She, therefore, indicts them of “heavy and unmistakable misogyny.” Such indictments, however, have been (in)formed and influenced by four methodological (exegetical and hermeneutical) factors, namely: First, reading the Pastoral Epistles as a corpus. Second, reading the household codes against the background of Greco-Roman philosophical ethics. Third, reading them against the background of Paul’s authentic letters. Fourth, approaching the “codes” as rules for action instead of virtues to be acquired and creatively applied by moral agents. Therefore, a different methodological approach may open a new perspective to understanding the “household ethics” in the Pastoral Epistles. Anchored on the argument that it is time for feminist readers of the “household codes” to move beyond indicting the texts to re-interpreting them positively, this paper engages the “exegethics” methodology, and argues that, approached as individual texts and from a virtue-ethical perspective, the Titus account of the “household codes” could provide an interpretive and appropriative paradigm, which could “liberate” other household codes in the Pastoral Epistles and the New Testament at large, from the “texts of terror” to “texts of honor.”