Chrysostom on Ephesians 5.21: Translation & Comment

I’ve spent the afternoon working on translating John Chrysostom’s discussion of Ephesians 5.21. Most of it is complete – there’s one paragraph left. Here’s what I have so far. I’ve put the Greek text in it to the right for Eric. Its literal in that it accurately conveys Chrysostom’s meaning (and hopefully some of his speaking skill too…):

“Submit to each other”, he declares, “in fear of God.” If you submit because of rulers, money or honor, how much more should you submit because you fear God? There should be an exchange between slavery and submission so that there is no true slavery. No one sits in the rank of the freeman while another sits in the rank of the slave. Instead, both the master and the slave become slaves to each other. It is so much better to be a slave like this than free any other way. Let me explain: Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις, φησὶν, ἐν φόβῳ Θεοῦ. Εἰ γὰρ δι’ ἄρχοντα ὑποτάττῃ, ἢ διὰ χρήματα, ἢ δι’ αἰδὼ, πολλῷ μᾶλλον διὰ τὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ φόβον. ἔστω δουλείας καὶ ὑποταγῆς ἀντίδοσις· οὕτω γὰρ οὐκ ἔσται δουλεία. Μὴ ὁ μὲν ἐν τάξει καθεζέσθω ἐλευθέρου, ὁ δὲ ἐν τάξει δούλου, ἀλλὰ καὶ δεσπότας καὶ δούλους ἀλλήλοις δουλεύειν βέλτιον· πολλῷ βέλτιον οὕτως εἶναι δοῦλον, ἢ ἑτέρως ἐλεύθερον. Καὶ δῆλον ἐκεῖθεν·
Suppose there is a person with a hundred slaves who would never serve any of them. But suppose there was also someone with a hundred friends, regularly serving each other. Which one would have the better life? Who lives more happily and comfortably. For one of them there is no anger, no irritation, no angst, or anything else of that kind, while for the other there is only anxiety and fear. In one case, they are forced, but in the other, all choose freely. In one case, they are constrained, but in the other, they serve and enjoy mutual benefaction and reciprocity. ἔστω τις οἰκέτας ἔχων ἑκατὸν, καὶ μηδεὶς ἐν αὐτοῖς διακονείτω· ἕτεροι δέ τινες ἔστωσαν ἑκατὸν φίλοι, ἀλλήλοις διακονούμενοι· τίνες ἄμεινον βιώσονται; τίνες μετὰ πλείονος ἡδονῆς, μετὰ πλείονος εὐφροσύνης; Οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκεῖ ὀργὴ, οὐδὲ παροξυσμὸς, οὐδὲ θυμὸς, οὐδὲ ἄλλο τῶν τοιούτων οὐδέν· ὧδε φόβος καὶ δειλία· κἀκεῖ μὲν ἀνάγκης, ἐνταῦθα δὲ προαιρέσεως τὸ πᾶν· κἀκεῖ μὲν βιαζόμενοι, ἐνταῦθα δὲ χάριν ἔχοντες ἀλλήλοις δουλεύουσιν.
And that’s God’s desire; that is why he washed the disciples’ feet. But there’s more! If anybody carefully studies this issue, they will find there is indeed an exchange between the slave and the master! Surely your pride won’t suffer by accepting such an exchange of service? When a person makes himself available for service, you must provide for him physically: food, clothing, and shoes. This, I tell you, is the way you should serve, because if you do not follow through on your end, the slave won’t either. He’ll be free and no law will constrain him nor will food convince him. And what’s more, if this is the case for slaves, what’s so unusual about it being the same with freemen? Οὕτω βούλεται ὁ Θεός· διὰ τοῦτο ἔνιψε τοὺς πόδας τῶν μαθητῶν, Μᾶλλον δὲ, εἰ θέλεις ἀκριβῶς ἐξετάσαι, καὶ ἐπὶ δεσποτῶν ἀντίδοσίς ἐστι δουλείας. Τί γὰρ, εἰ ὁ τῦφος οὐκ ἀφίησι φανῆναι τὴν ἀντίδοσιν; Ὅταν γὰρ οὗτος μὲν τὴν σωματικὴν διακονίαν παρέχῃ, σὺ δὲ τὸ σῶμα τρέφῃς, καὶ θεραπεύῃς καὶ τροφαῖς καὶ ἐνδύμασι καὶ ὑποδήμασι, καὶ οὗτος δουλείας ἐστὶ τρόπος· ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ παρέχῃς καὶ σὺ τὴν σὴν, διακονίαν, οὐδὲ ἐκεῖνος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ, ἀλλ’ ἔσται ἐλεύθερος, καὶ οὐδεὶς αὐτὸν ἀναγκάσει νόμος καὶ μὴ τρεφόμενον τοῦτο ποιεῖν. Εἰ τοίνυν καὶ ἐπὶ δούλων τοῦτό ἐστι, τί ἄτοπον, ἐὰν καὶ ἐπὶ ἐλευθέρων τοῦτο γίνηται;


Obviously, our friend John had a very high Christology. Every time he mentions God in this passage, he is referring to Jesus.

But the other question is this: How does Chrysostom view slavery? The first two paragraphs are positively against slavery. But the third comes back to the more moderate, but traditional view of the issue. And so I ask, should we right the first two paragraphs in light of the more traditional third? Or the third paragraphs in light of the rather progressive sounding first two?

Let’s have a vote!

11 thoughts on “Chrysostom on Ephesians 5.21: Translation & Comment

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  1. The first sentence of paragraph three should end “washed the disciples’ feet”.

    I think even in paragraph three Chrysostom is undermining slavery by turning it into something rather like a contract of employment, with the slave free to leave if not provided with his wages in kind. In fact I don’t think you have adequately translated οὐδεὶς αὐτὸν ἀναγκάσει νόμος καὶ μὴ τρεφόμενον τοῦτο ποιεῖν as just “nothing will constrain to serve”. Surely this implies that there is no law compelling the slave to serve. So I suppose Chrysostom is implying that slavery should be replaced either by friendship or by waged employment.

  2. Thank you Peter, I really appreciate your comments. This is my first time delving into Byzantine Greek. It was significantly more work than anything else I’ve done. I might have to begin e-mailing all my Greek posts to you for corrections before I post them – I can’t believe that I missed the word ν́ομος!

    I’ve fixed it and made a couple other changes as well:
    What if your pride doesn’t suffer harm by accepting this exchange of service?
    changed to:
    Surely your pride won’t suffer by accepting such an exchange of service?

    He’ll be free and nothing will constrain to serve.
    He’ll be free and no law will constrain him nor will food convince him.

    In particular, on top of adding νόμος to the text, I also realize that I left out this entire clause: καὶ μὴ τρεφόμενον τοῦτο ποιεῖν (awkwardly: “and no nourishment to make him do this”).

  3. Mike, don’t take me as an expert on Byzantine Greek! My Greek knowledge is almost strictly NT only, sadly. I simply noticed that you had not rendered νόμος and wondered if that was because its meaning was much weakened by Chrysostom’s time. Then I noted the missing clause and was sure something was wrong.

  4. The 1840 translation is indeed very hard to read, but I think it does a better job of the sentence we were discussing, with “no law will compel him to do it if he is not supported” – in other words, if a master doesn’t feed his slave the law will not uphold his ownership. There is not a separate clause here introduced by “nor”, for καὶ probably means “even” or “also” here, and τρεφόμενον is not “food” but “being fed”.

  5. Sure! I’d like to do more eventually, but between studies, classes, TAing, and the other Greek projects I’ve given myself, I don’t know when that will be.

    1. This post was so long ago that I honestly can’t remember specifically where–if I remember right, whatever site it was doesn’t exist any more because the person who put them up stole them from the TLG without permission. The text, however, is Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, but you’d have to look up what volume has Chrysostom on Ephesians.

      Public domain pdf scans (and probably not OCR’d or unicode) versions are available here:

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