The Master of the House

This is part of a series on patriarchy, headship, and submission. See this index.

There is a word in the New Testament that refers to the master, ruler, or owner of the house, household, or land: oikodespotés (a noun) and oikodespoteó (a verb). It is a compound word made up of oikos (meaning ‘house’ or ‘dwelling’) and despotés (meaning ‘lord’ or ‘master’). Here are all thirteen instances:

Matthew 10:25 (NIV)
It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!


Matthew 13:27 (NIV)
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’


Matthew 13:52 (NIV)
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”


Matthew 20:1 (NIV)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.


Matthew 20:11 (NIV)
When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.


Matthew 21:33 (NIV)
“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.


Matthew 24:43 (NIV)
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.


Mark 14:14 (NIV)
Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’


Luke 12:39 (NIV)
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.


Luke 13:25 (NIV)
Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’


Luke 14:21 (NIV)
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’


Luke 22:11 (NIV)
and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’


1 Timothy 5:14 (NIV)
So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.

All of these are nouns except for the last one, which is a verb addressed to (re)married women who are to rule their homes.

There is a related word proistemi (verb: preside; rule over; direct) that is used 8 times and the related word prostatis (feminine noun: female guardian; patroness; protectress; a woman set over others) that is used once of Phoebe in relation to Paul. I will highlight three relevant instances in particular:

1 Timothy 3:4-5 (NIV)
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)


1 Timothy 3:12 (NIV)
A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.


1 Timothy 5:17 (NIV)
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.


There are difference between proistemi and oikodespotés. The former applies to managing or directing people, while the latter applies more widely (e.g. managing both property and people). The former can apply in any context (e.g. the church), while the latter is restricted specifically to managing the household environment. Thus, the latter can include ownership of property in addition to rulership of people. While the context that each applies to is different, the NIV (and other translations and lexicons) do not strongly distinguish between both words regarding their action of the ruling/managing itself. Both words seem to carry a similar kind of authority. For example, both words are applied to the household setting.

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