What does Paul mean when he commands masters to “do the same things” to their slaves? Richard Bauckham (Cambridge) argues, “This can only mean: to render service to them, to serve them as slaves, as they do you.” Likewise, the Church father John Chrysostom explained the verse as follows: “[Paul] does not actually say, ‘do service,’ though by saying, ‘the same things,’ he plainly shows this to be his meaning. For the maser himself is a servant.”Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
Most scholars, however, find this interpretation simply impossible. Surely Paul could not have been commanding something so radical and countercultural! However, there are at least 4 strong reasons to conclude that the interpretation given by Bauckham and Chrysostom is correct:
1) This interpretation accords with the literal meaning of Paul’s words. Scholars who reject this interpretation are forced to conclude that Paul did not mean exactly what he said.
2) This interpretation accords with the call for mutual submission with which Paul introduced the household code: “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (5:21).
3) This interpretation accords with the corresponding line of the parallel household code in Colossians: “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and equality” (Col 4:1). [As I argue in a forthcoming article for the Tyndale Bulletin, the common translation, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly,” is based on a misunderstanding of the Greek text.]
4) This interpretation accords with Paul’s teaching that Christians are to serve one another like slaves: “With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. ... Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave...” (Phi 2:3-7).
Notes: Bauckham, God and the Crisis of Freedom, 126; John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians 22.