When we come across Bible passages that are difficult to understand, we recognize that we’re going to have to do some work to figure out they mean. But when a passage seems pretty straightforward, we often just take it at face value and don’t look to see if there’s more beneath the surface.
That can be a mistake. A “straightforward” reading may really be a superficial or even incorrect interpretation.
Is this such a passage?
“[Older women] can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4-5).
Older women should train younger women to be “busy at home.” This has been taken by many to command that married women, and certainly mothers, be housewives.
But does it? We need to look closer. Context, context, context.
One of the first things we should do when approaching any scripture is to look for parallel passages – i.e., those giving a different account of the same events or a different discussion on the same topic. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or a chain reference or study Bible will usually point you to verses that touch on similar ideas.
This passage is very similar to one that we find in 1Timothy. The verse that would catch our eye says:
“I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1Tim 5:14).
That sounds like it is saying basically the same thing as the Titus passage. But if we look at the whole paragraph, it might not.
“As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim 5:11-14).
When looked at in terms of the problem of young widows “being idle” and becoming roaming gossips, you might reasonably wonder whether this passage is a command that women be housewives or a command to stay busy about useful work.
What constitutes useful work? A survey of Bible Manners and Customs and a couple of similar works leaves me with the strong impression that women in that society rarely worked outside the home. So in that society, a woman generally had only one option – taking care of her household.
There were certainly exceptions – we know Priscilla worked making tents beside Paul and her husband Aquila (Acts 18:1-3). But women didn’t get a job at the corner bank in those days, which is why widows needed charity.
What’s the Conclusion?
So would Paul in 1Tim 5 or Titus 2 have been commanding women to be housewives when the vast majority of them already were? Or is it more likely that he was insisting that these women, who were already at home, stay busy and out of trouble?
What do you think?
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