Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

“Busy at Home”: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today?

"Busy at Home": How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today?

Some Christians in westernised countries seem to long for an earlier time when many middle-class women stayed out of the workforce and stayed at home.[1] Some of these Christians even believe that the Bible teaches that the woman’s primary domain is private, in the home, where her primary responsibility is to care for her husband and children – the presumption being that most women will marry and have children. They also believe that the man’s primary domain is public, outside of the home, where he has various responsibilities including working for money.[2] The only time the Bible mentions that women should stay at home, however, is in two instructions regarding young women.[3]  In this article I look especially at Paul’s instructions in Titus 2:4-5.

The Basics of Titus 2:4-5

In his letter to Titus (who was temporarily stationed in Crete), Paul wrote that the older women should “. . . train younger women to love their husbands and love their children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home [or workers at home], to be kind [or good], and to be submissive to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Tit. 2:4b-5).

Most of the content of this teaching to young women is very basic indeed, and so it could be inferred that some of the young wives of Crete were negligent wives, mothers and household managers, and in need of basic training. Nevertheless, while the teaching might be basic, it is also important.

~ It is important for wives to love their husbands; it is also important for husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:25).
~ It is important for mothers to love their children; it is also important for fathers to love their children.
~ It is important for young women to be self-controlled and pure; it is also important for young men to be self-controlled and pure (2 Tim. 2:22).
~ It is important for women to be kind; it is important for everyone to be kind (Col. 3:12).
~ It is important for wives to be submissive – deferential, cooperative, supportive and loyal – to their own husbands; it is also important for husbands to be submissive – deferential, cooperative, supportive and loyal – to their wives (1 Pet. 3:7 cf Eph. 5:21). It is important to note that the word “obedient” in the King James Version is not the most precise or accurate translation of hupotassō in Titus 2:5.

Was it important that the young women of Crete be busy at home?[4a] If the alternative was being lazy and idle, which may well have been the case, then ‘yes’ they should be busy at home (cf Titus 1:12-13).

Being housebound and involved with domestic work was the only socially acceptable situation for respectable Roman matrons in some parts of the Greco-Roman world.[4b] In western society today, however, young women and wives have many freedoms, and they can choose to use their talents and gifts to be useful and productive outside their homes without causing a scandal. (See Matthew 25:14-30 NRSV.)

Does Titus 2:4-5 Prescribe and Define Womanhood?

Unlike what some Christians suggest, Titus 2:4-5 does not equate womanhood with being homemakers. I like what my internet friend Retha has said on this.

Some read Titus 2:3-5 as if it says: “Women should dedicate their whole lives to xyz.”
But it actually says: “Older women should teach younger women to xyz.”[5]
The difference between these two statements is like the difference between saying: “Connie should spend all day, every day, in the water practicing swimming strokes”, and “Teach Connie how to swim”.

The instructions in Titus 2:4-5 were appropriate for the young wives in Crete at that time, still these instructions do not define these women, or women in general. None of the biblical authors attempt to define “womanhood”. Rather, the Bible shows that at least some women, even in ancient times, were involved in all kinds of ventures, ministries, and roles. Moreover, nowhere does the Bible give any indication that girls or older women should be confined to the home or restricted to domestic duties.

Paul’s instructions in Titus 2:4-5 (and 1 Timothy 5:14) were specifically related to young women of childbearing age, and are similar to instructions, also concerning young women, which were written by pagan authors of the time. [See endnote 6.] Paul’s instructions reflect the cultural values of his day. His instruction were given to a specific group of women in a culture very different from our own, and they cannot be taken as universal, timeless directives to all women everywhere. The principle behind his instructions, however, still has relevance and importance today.

Paul’s Main Point in Titus 2

Paul’s principle is that Christians should not behave in ways that their society finds offensive, or in ways that their society believes is disruptive to social harmony. Otherwise Christians may find themselves bringing disrepute to God and Christian doctrine (cf Titus 2:5, 8, 9-10).

Modern western society is moving towards regarding and treating men and women as equals.[7] Equality and mutuality are seen by many as the ideals, while the clearly delineated gender roles that were part of a particular demographic of a previous generation are now recognised as not being suited to all people and all marriages. Every person is unique and every marriage is unique. Not everyone fits the mold of post-war, white, middle-class gender roles which some suppose to be biblical.

Churches and Christians in western society who insist that men and women follow fixed, hierarchical gender roles are giving the Church a bad name, the very thing Paul wanted to avoid.[8]

What was socially acceptable for Cretan society in the first century is very different to what is socially acceptable today. Yet, even in those days, it was possible for gifted and enterprising women to occasionally rise above the social norms and not necessarily cause disgrace. Nowadays it seems to be some sectors of the Church who are disgracing themselves in contemporary society by limiting, restricting, and subordinating their women.

Conclusion

The Bible never tries to make the case that women should not work or have influential roles outside the home. Rather, the Old and New Testaments show us that many godly women were not confined to the private, domestic domain. The New Testament women Priscilla, Lydia, and Phoebe worked, travelled and had influential leadership roles in ministry. Paul did not identify these women primarily by their family relationships or their domestic situations. Instead they are described and identified by their work, their travels, and their ministries.

I love my husband and now grown children. I hope that I am self-controlled and pure, that I manage my home well, and am submissive to my husband, as he is with me. Most of my work, ministry and study, as well as family life, in fact, happens at home. But, I also have a life outside of my home. Titus 2:4-5 does not begin to define me or my various roles in life.


Endnotes

[1] Some material in this post comes from a previous article Working Women in the New Testament here.

[2] The idea of private and public domains for women and men has its origins in Greek philosophy which influenced the Greco-Roman world, including Cretan society, of New Testament times

[3] The other reference is in 1 Timothy 5:14.  In his first letter to Timothy (who was temporarily stationed in Ephesus), Paul wrote about the young widows that,

“… they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach …” (1 Timothy 5:13-14).

These instructions were designed to keep silly, idle, young widows occupied, so that they would not give the Church a bad name (cf Titus 2:5, 8, 10).

[4a] My UBS Greek New Testament has oikourgous, the accusative plural of oikourgos, in Titus 2:5.  Oikourgos (with the letter gamma) means “a worker at home” (oikos=house + ergos=worker.)  There is a textual variant however: oikourous (without a gamma), is the accusative plural of oikouros, and literally means “house-keeper” (oikos=house + ouros=keeper or guardian.)  This word is found in Titus 2:5 of later Greek manuscripts and in editions such as Stephanus (1550) and the Textus Receptus. [More on this here.]

[4b] The idle young wives and young widows that Paul is referring to in Titus 2:5 and 1 Timothy 5:14 would have had domestic slaves for the more unpleasant, tedious, and difficult domestic duties. Paul is speaking about the management of the home and home-based industries, such as spinning and weaving, in these verses.

[5] Some people suggest that the word presbutidas (from presbutis) used in Titus 2:3 should be translated as “women elders”. However, I think the emphasis is on contrasting the older women with the younger women, just as older men are contrasted with younger men in Titus 2:2 and 2:6. Moreover, it is the adjective presbuteros that is typically used for the word “elder”, rather than the nouns presbutēs (masculine) and prebutis (feminine) which are used in Titus 2:2 and 3. (The feminine for “elders” is used in 1 Timothy 5:2; but again Paul seems to be indicating and comparing age, rather than a position.) There is nothing in the New Testament, however, which rules out the possibility that some elders in the Church were women, or that women can be elders.

Note also that Paul does not tell the older women that they are to teach theology or the Christian faith to the younger women. The idea that women can teach other women theology – which is accepted in most churches – has less of a biblical precedent than women teaching theology to men.  There are several instances where Bible women taught theology and prophesied to men. [More on this here.]

[6] E.g. The pagan Theano instructed the younger women to listen to the teaching of older women:

“Indeed, to you younger women authority has been given by custom to rule over the household slaves once you have been married, but the teaching (didaskalia) ought to come from the older women (presbyterōn) because they are forever giving advice about household management. For it is good first to learn the things you do not know and to consider the counsel of the older women the most suitable; for a young soul must be brought up in these teachings from girlhood.”  Annette Bourland Huizenga, Moral Education for Women in the Pastoral and Pythagorean Letters: Philosophers of the Household. (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2013) p. 50.

[7] Equality and unity between men and women, rather than a gender hierarchy and divide, are also the ideals of the New Covenant (e.g.Gal 3:28). [More on this here.]

[8] Being a homemaker is a noble activity, and some women feel especially called to this role. I am not in any way diminishing this important function.

Image credit: Ancient Greek woman with tapestry loom. From Stackelberg’s Graeber der Hellenen (plate 33). (Source: Project Guttenberg.)


Related Articles

Working Women in the New Testament
“Workers at home” or “keepers at home” in Titus 2:5?
Is Motherhood the highest calling for women?
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 22-33
Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1-6
Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8
Giving the Church a Bad Name
Believing Wives and Female Co-workers of the Apostles
A Collection of Articles on ‘Paul and Women’

Posted June 11th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, Equality in Ministry, , , , ,

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45 comments on ““Busy at Home”: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today?

  1. […] “Busy at Home”: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Good insights, as usual.

    Note that working and guarding were the charges given to the human in the garden and to the priests in the temple.

  3. […] Titus 2:3-5 is used by some Christians to affirm that women can teach other women; however this verse is not about doctrinal or biblical teaching.   […]

  4. […] Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry Is motherhood the highest calling for women? Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? Working Women in the New Testament Gender Obsessions: Emphasizing our Differences or Similarities? […]

  5. Beth says:

    If we qualify scripture by saying it is not relevant for our culture then why bother looking at it at all and instead do what comes most naturally?

    Paul was not saying we should not do things culturally unacceptable or else he would have been condemning Christ and most biblical characters of faith-who had faith to do what was different than what was culturally acceptable. Hence they died for their faith-obviously because they were not conforming. .

    But you sum it up well to say that these lazy women “would have had domestic slaves for the more unpleasant, tedious and difficult domestic duties”. Isn’t that just as true today-women who aren’t taking on the difficult tasks designed to mature us and our children?

    • Tammy says:

      I love this comment. It states exactly what I was thinking. We are called to be counter-cultural. We have to be careful at times not to offend, but if you have ever read the gospels you will see that Jesus himself was offending people right and left. He just spoke the truth in love and obeyed God and that is very offensive to a lot of people, whether or not we intend it to be.

  6. Marg says:

    Hi Beth, Your first question is very broad. Some verses in the Scriptures indeed have a specific cultural context and are not taken literally by most Christians today. For example, does your church stone children who are disobedient to their parents. Do men greet each other with a holy kiss? Are you setting aside an amount each week to send to the church in Jerusalem?

    Titus 2:4-5 is vitally relevant today in that we need to be careful that our behaviour does not cause God’s word to be maligned by unbelievers.

    It is true that many individual faith heroes – both men and women – went against the cultural norm, however Paul’s instructions in Titus 2:4-5 were to the “average” young wives in the Cretan church who were behaving in unacceptable ways. These women were not faith heroes. Their behavior was giving God’s word a bad name among unbelievers.

    Paul did have several female colleagues in ministry who could be called faith heroes – Priscilla for example (Romans 16:3-4) – women who were not primarily involved with domestic duties but were busy in ministry.

    The Cretan wives had slaves because that is how their society functioned. Almost everyone had slaves or were slaves. Today, most westerners have electrical appliances to help us with housework, and we abhor slavery.

    I’m not sure what you mean about women today “who aren’t taking on the difficult tasks designed to mature us and our children.” This is another broad question. There are plenty of situations in life that mature us. I don’t think that being busy at home, and doing the vacuuming and laundry, is particularly stretching and maturing.

    Let me add, though, that I think it is a wonderful thing to make a home where our family and friends feel welcome, loved, secure and provided for. I believe that this is true for my home. I also meet all the elements Paul includes in Titus 2:4-5, except that my business at home has little to do with housework (as there isn’t much housework to do here.)

    One of the main points in the article is to say that the instructions in Titus 2:4-5 do not define “womanhood”. Paul’s main point is that we do not cause the word of God to be maligned.

    Grace and Peace

  7. […] Some will say that I may only share my knowledge and experience, and my vocal Bible reading and prayers, with women and children.  This is a common, widely-held assumption among Christians, but this view is not based on Scripture.  The Bible never actually states that a woman may teach Christian theology, etc, to women or children.  (Paul’s instructions to Titus about older women teaching the younger has nothing to do with teaching theology or Christian spirituality.  It seems that the young women in Crete were bad wives and lousy mothers and needed to be taught the basics.  More on Titus 2:3-5 here.) […]

  8. […] Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  9. […] Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  10. […] How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  11. Ashley says:

    I was wondering if you could elaborate a little more about “keep house” or literally “house master”. I’ve seen where a similar word is used and translated “head of the household” or “landowner.” I was wondering if this word could help shine light on the discussion of man being “head of the house.” Thank you.

  12. Marg says:

    Hi Ashley, I don’t get involved in any discussions about the man being the head of the house because it is a cultural, rather than biblical, slogan: There is not a single verse in the Bible that states that the man should be the head of the house, using either the Greek or English sense of the word.

    I guess that you’ve seen endnote 4. Whether the word is oikourgos (lit. “house worker”), oikouros, (lit. “house keeper”) or oikodespotēs (lit. “house master”) the actual meaning of these words refers to domestic management and oversight of the house. The instructions using these words were given to young Roman wives and widows in Crete and in Ephesus. These women were usually freeborn women of some status and, according to customs, were expected to be in charge of the running of their household. This would have included oversight of slaves, and what we might call some kind of “cottage” industry to make items for use within the home, especially textiles. Some may also have had oversight of a business that operated from their home. A dwelling often contained living areas as well as workshops and places of businesses.

    Some Christians give the word oikouros (which has the etymology of “house keeper” or “house guardian”) a more lofty meaning, but I am unconvinced.

    Oikodespotēs is also used for “master of the house”, or “householder” in the synoptic gospels: Mt 10:25; 13:27, 52; 20:1; 21:33; 24:43; Mk 14:14; Lk 12:39; 13:25; 14:21; 22:11. “Master of the house” and “householder” are the only two definitions given in BDAG p695. Unfortunately, the NASB and other English Bibles sometimes translate oikodespotēs into English as “head of the house”. I think this confuses the instances where the Greek actually uses the word “head” in the New Testament. I believe it is important to make the distinction between the Greek word for “head” and the English word for “head” as they have different meanings and implications.

    In the culture of New Testament times, the most senior, typically freeborn or freed, male was regarded as the householder. Women, however, such as Lydia, Nympha, Mary of Jerusalem, Chloe, and others were householders. These women were probably widows. The young Ephesian widows were householders, but do not seem to have been doing a good job of it, and were causing problems for the church (1 Tim 5:13-15).

    My husband and I are the joint householders of our home, legally and culturally. In Australia, where I live, we don’t use the term “head of household” on official documents, but I believe that may be different in other parts of the world.

    I hope all this helps.

    • Cassandra Wright says:

      I have often referred to myself as the Household Despot! I like it better than Household Goddess! But I have never really been tyrannical.

      Truth is that the word in Greek is tricky in English. Since I am not a good housekeeper, I do prefer my word!!

      • Marg says:

        🙂

        They are tricky words to translate into English. “Housewife” doesn’t convey the real meaning. But oikodespotēs, and especially oukourgos or oikourous (in Titus 2:5), would have been readily understood by their first century audience. It simply referred to the domestic management of the household.

  13. Ashley says:

    Thank you. That helps.

  14. Anders says:

    In other words, Paul is saying just go with the cultural flow. Did I read that right?

  15. Marg says:

    umm, no, I’m not saying that.

    At other times Paul encouraged New Creation ideals that were counter-cultural to Greco-Roman society. This is especially true in his earlier letters. These New Creation ideals – such as racial, gender and economic equality – are the goal.

    However, Paul did not want Christians to cause offense, and bring disrepute to the Gospel if it could be avoided. It seems that the Cretans were causing offense, so Paul tells Titus to teach them to behave according to some of the customs of the day.

    As with any biblical directive, we need to use wisdom and discernment in how we apply it today. There are times when we need to openly speak against, and stand against, cultural trends and norms.

    My main message is: Are we causing offense in our society needlessly, and bringing disrepute to the gospel?

  16. Rusty Hicks says:

    It’s interesting that after that after the Fall of humanity, God basically lays out the roles for men and women after that point. Gen 3:16-19 painfull labor, bear children, desire for husband, he shall rule over you. That sounds like the husband is the head of the household to me. Also 1Corinthians 11:3. The man works, brings home food until he dies. Also if the verses in question were simple teaching for those women, it means their intended role was obvious to them. The only passages of scripture that teach of a woman working outside the home is Proverbs 31:10-31. With this virtuous woman, she is all about her household. She leaves the home occasionally to buy and sell, but never seeks employment.

  17. Marg says:

    Hi Rusty,

    Genesis 3:16ff are not God’s rules for humanity; most of the things listed in these verses are the consequences of sin.

    The things contained Gen. 3:16ff are not God’s ideal or plan for his sons and daughters who have been redeemed from the curses of sin. These things were not part of the world before the Fall and they will not be part of the New Creation. As we are already part of the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17) we should not take our cues for living from the curses and consequences of the Fall. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/gender-in-genesis-1/

    The Bible never says that the man is the “head” (or leader) of the household. It does say the husband is the head of the wife in Ephesians 5:23 though. However, the Greek word for “head” rarely if ever means “leader” or “authority” in original untranslated Classical or first century Koine Greek.

    “How is headship exercised? Husbands exercise it, we infer from Ephesians 5:22-33, as they love their wives as Christ loved and gave himself up for the church. On no less that four occasions in that passage husbands are instructed to love (agape) their wives. From a husband’s side it is a headship of agape modeled on the caring, sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus for his people (cf 1 Pet. 3:7). Men are not once directed to to express headship in any other way, neither by decision-making nor leadership and least of all by any kind of oppression.”
    – Paul Barnett “Women in the Church with Special Reference to 1 Timothy 2″ in The Bible and Women’s Ministry: An Australian Dialogue, Alan Nichols (Ed.) (Canberra: Acorn Press, 1990)

    The use of “head” (kephalē) in 1 Cor. 11:3 is not about the relationship between husband and wife, but is about the origin of men and women. Men and women share the same origin; this is something the Greeks did not believe. I have written several articles about the meaning of “head” (kephalē) here: http://newlife.id.au/tag/kephale/

    The teaching in Titus 2:4-5 is very basic. However, “basic” is not necessarily the same as “simple”. This basic teaching should have been obvious to respectable first-century Roman matrons, however the “New Roman” woman was making her mark on the culture of that time, and,judging by Paul’s earlier comments in his letter to Titus, the Cretans were not models of virtue and respectability.

    I cannot find a single Bible verse that says that only men should work or bring food. There are plenty of verses about Bible women who worked:

    The Bible shows that it was not unusual for ancient women to have a job. The Bible mentions women who worked in commercial trade (Prov 31:16a, 24; Acts 16:14 ), in agriculture (Josh 15:17-19; Ruth 2:8; Prov 31:16b), as shepherds (Gen 29:9; Ex 2:16), as artisans, especially in textiles (Ex 26:1 NIV; Acts 18:3), as perfumers and cooks (1 Sam 8:13), as midwives (Ex 1:15ff), as nurses (Gen 35:8; Ex 2:7; 2 Sam 4:4; 1 Kings 1:4) as domestic servants (Acts 12:13, etc) and as professional mourners. Women could also be benefactors (Acts 16:15, 40; Rom 16:1-2) and leaders (Judges ch 4-5; 2 Sam 20:16). One Bible woman even built towns (1 Chron 7:24). The Bible nowhere criticises women who worked outside the home, in the public sphere. From http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/new-testament-working-women/

    The woman in Proverbs 31:10-31 is not a real woman, but an idealised model. This woman does have employment. She has earnings and, with her earning, she buys a field and plants a vineyard (Prov. 31:16). She trades profitably (Prov. 31:18). She sells linen garments and sashes (Prov.31:24). There is nothing that indicates this women left the house only occasionally, rather, she sounds quite involved in business as well as being involved in the management of her extended household.

    In Proverbs 31:1-9 we can read the inspired words of a real woman. These words have been preserved in Scripture, and so have the authority of Scripture. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/the-other-woman-in-proverbs-31/

    Phoebe travelled, as did Priscilla and other women. There are plenty of things that good and godly women can do that have nothing to do with staying home.

  18. Rusty Hicks says:

    I appreciate your sincere answer and I applaud your diligent study of the Bible. We need more people like you in America, where I live. However, I am not convinced. I will now attempt to make a suggestion based on a worldly viewpoint. As I said, I live in America, a place where man thinks they have right to separate what God has joined together by law. A place where man thinks they have the right to kill and unborn child because of “women rights”. Get the picture? Anyway, the divorce rate is the same as the percentage of women in the workplace with men about %50! Crazy huh? Adultery, Divorce, Fornication, all these things run rampant here in the good in the good ol’ USA!
    The unemployment rate is high, but it has been studied and it seems that if women were at home, instead of in the workplace with men, the rate would normalize.

    I just wanted to share this thought with you. I have no further arguments for you, it seems your mind is set.
    I’m glad I had this opportunity to speak to a sincere child of God.
    I pray you will continue to glorify God all the days of your life.

  19. Marg says:

    Hi Rusty,

    Thanks for your comments. I also deeply lament the state of western society.

    On the issue of abortion, things are not much better in many non-Western countries. In places like India, where women have very few rights, the abortion rate and incidences of female infanticide are tremendously high.

    Things weren’t much better in antiquity either. I study Roman history where women had fewer rights than men. (Some women had almost no rights at all.) Abortion was not uncommon among higher class women. And unwanted babies of the rich and the poor were left exposed, sometimes in special areas. (Some of these babies were taken and loved. Some were taken to become slaves when they were older. But many died from exposure.) Husbands could insist that a baby be exposed. [I wonder how many abortions in America are done at the insistence of a husband or boyfriend?] The birth rate was extremely low in the early Roman Empire, so much so that the Romans even introduced laws as incentives so that women would have more children. For instance, if a free born woman had 3+ children, she became legally free in her own right, and no longer under the legal “protection” of her husband.

    In Australia we do not have the same economic problems as in America. I believe this is mainly due to different banking regulations, as well as our mining industry. We have had women as CEOs of the major banks, and women hold some of the most senior positions in the mining industry. We have enough jobs for men and women.

    I don’t think the problems with struggling western economies can be solved by keeping women out of the workforce. There are too many other factors at play. Also women are different to men; I believe we need the different perspectives and skills that women and men can bring to projects. I am grateful to the women in leadership positions in Australia who bring balance, wisdom and compassion into the workplace.

    Thank you for your kind comments and prayer. I really appreciate them.

  20. […] [9] Paul gave this instruction to the young Ephesian widows because of certain problems within the Ephesian church.  One of the more serious problems was the spread of false teaching within the church.  It seems that the younger Ephesian widows were engaging in irresponsible conversation and conduct which may have involved listening to, and spreading, false teaching.  This even led to some of the young widows wandering from the truth to follow Satan (1 Timothy 5:13-15).  [I've written more about Paul's instructions to young wives and young widows towards the end of this article and here.] […]

  21. […] Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  22. Susan says:

    Hi, Marg,
    I enjoyed reading your post about the meaning of “busy at home” in Titus 2: 4-5. IMHO, I think the correct word is oikourous because it means guardian of the home. Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Paul’s, used this word when discussing the duties of housewives. In latin inscriptions, good Roman wives were described as “domum servavit” or the guardians of the house. It would make sense that this would be the correct word. In both Roman and Greek culture, women were seen as the guardian of the household property. Demothenes said: “We have hetaerae for pleasure, pallakae to care for our daily body’s needs and gynaekes (wives) to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.” Roman women were given the keys to the husband’s households upon marriage because both cultures considered women to be charge of valuable possessions and economic security of the property. A woman who let a stranger in the house made the household more vulnerable to theft. In Titus 1:11, Paul warns against false teachers who “subvert whole households for filthy lucre”.

    In relation to the culture, it makes sense to me that Paul is telling young women that they must be “guardians of the house” so they are more vigilant about letting so-called “Christian teachers” in to deceive with false teachings. Compare this to 2 Tim 3: 6-7 about false teachers who lead silly women away by false teachings.

    From what I’ve read, Roman Crete had a similar religious problems to the Ephesian situation. I also think that when Paul tells young women to “be in subjection to their OWN husbands”, he is asking them to show a united front with their husbands against false teachers so that no one else can speak reproachfully against God’s word. This has nothing to do with submission to a husband’s authority. Paul is simply ask older women to teach younger women to use their culturally expected roles to guard the family against false teachings. Same thing in 1 Tim 5:14 when he asks women to “master the house” to “prevent slander by an adversary”. This is just my opinion, but I think it is the right one. However, if the word is really oikourgos – a worker at home, I don’t think it means much difference in light of 1 Tim 5:14. Another important role for women was “working in wool” or “lanam fecit” according to latin inscriptions.

    According to archaeological finds, Roman Crete had a large number of looms found in private houses that suggested that manufacturing textiles was extremely important for private household needs and suggested a local trade economy in wool garments. This is important because these looms were inscribed with women’s names suggesting they did most of this work, and this kind of economy beyond regular household use was unheard of in Crete prior to the roman era. Working in wool was considered something all women were supposed to do in Greco-Roman society so it isn’t too much to say that Paul could be referring to this. Men also worked out of the home, and their wives worked along with them in baking shops, cobbler shops, etc. While the term “working in the house” most certainly means domestic duties, it also may be inclusive of any profession in the house done by women.

    The Proverbs 31 wife ran a lucrative business in wool and linen in and outside of her home as well as purchased fields to grow produce for profit. The profit 31 woman is also said to “tsaphah” watch over the comings and goings of her household and to remain vigilant (Prov. 31: 27). I don’t think this is restricted to cleaning the house and chauffeuring the kids to activities in the modern sense. This is watching over the house for the moral welfare of the family. Anyway, those people who claim working in the house means a woman’s place is in the home are ignoring the culture from which this verse comes from.

  23. Marg says:

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for your comment and the extra, useful information. I agree with you that Paul is asking the Cretan women to fit in with their culture – a culture that was not influenced by biblical principles – for the sake of the Gospel.

    Women as “guardians of the home”, or in this case, house church, also comes up in 2 John 1:10-11.

  24. […] Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  25. Kim says:

    I think you kind of missed the point, distracted by trying to dispell the idea of homemaking. I really don’t think your article needed to be that drawn out. The verse is quite simple. The primary focus of the woman should be managing and working (the Greek) the home. Obviously, a woman can venture outside of the home, as shown in Proverbs 31. However, the Bible is very clear on that verse. It makes no sense to compose long, drawn out blog posts, simply because it doesn’t jive with the ideas of today’s society.

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.” – Proverbs 3:5

  26. Marg says:

    Hi Kim,

    I don’t dispel the idea of home-making or housework. Housework is a necessary chore. But I hardly think that every woman’s primary vocation is to have a clean, ordered home. The overall teaching of the Bible, which rarely mentions housework, does not indicate this.

    Jesus had many female disciples who travelled with him. They weren’t busy at home. In fact most of the women named in the Bible were not busy at home, women such as Deborah, Miriam (a single woman), Sheerah, Anna, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, and many more.

    My hope is that people will see the reason behind Paul’s teaching in Titus 2:4-5 – “so that no one will malign the word of God”. This principle still applies in today’s society. This is Paul’s point.

  27. Kim says:

    I don’t think the infrequency of a verse is a reason to dismiss it. Also, you do realize that there were no “church buildings” and most of these women were working in homes? There were only 12 disciples and many women followed Christ. However, Mary and Martha worked in the home. The Titus 2:5 command is found in Titus 2, not the Gospels, by the way. If you think the “keepers of the home” command means simply to keep the house clean, I think you’re missing the point which would lead you to believe that the command is not really a command.

    You mentioned: “Paul’s principle is that Christians should not behave in ways that their society finds offensive, or in ways that their society believes is disruptive to social harmony, otherwise Christians may find themselves bringing disrepute to God and Christian doctrine”

    Please read 2 Timothy 3:12 and 1 Corinthians 4:19. Our society has standards for us that oppose God’s and we are always to choose God’s standards over the world’s.

    You also said, “The Bible never tries to make the case that women should not work or have influential roles outside the home.”

    I think the Bible esteems the idea of homemaking which includes raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord as one of the most influential roles there is. Being a homemaker is certainly not less influential than any vocation. (Malachi 2:15)

  28. Kim says:

    Though, I do agree with you. I don’t think the Titus 2:5 verse has little to do with cleaning the house and driving kids to activities. All believers are required to be industrious and busy themselves with serving others such as is the case with the women you’ve mentioned. However, this work should be primarily home based. Hence, the working “at home”. It does not negate Godly work. Proverbs 7:11 and 1 Timothy 5:13 show what happens when women neglect the Titus 2:5 command.

  29. Marg says:

    Hi Kim,

    Which Bible passages state (or imply) that God esteems housework?

    Does Jesus ever teach his disciples to keep house? (Jesus had many disciples, not just 12 (Luke 6:17). Some disciples were itinerant and travelled with Jesus, and others, such as Martha and Mary, weren’t.

    I think keeping a clean house is commendable and important, and housework is part of my daily routine, but it is hardly my primary calling or vocation. (Moreover, I don’t fit the “young women” part of Paul’s instruction.) That’s not to say that God doesn’t call some women, and even some men, to devote their life to housekeeping.

    Raising children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” is certainly important (Eph. 6:14). But this is something that fathers, and others in the family and community, as well as mothers can be involved with.

    Nowhere in my article do I say that women should not be home-makers or mothers. Or that these roles are unscriptural or dishonorable, so I’m not entirely sure what your objection is.

    Also, there is a big difference between being persecuted for our faith in Jesus and giving his Word a bad name.

    • Kim says:

      I’m assuming you didn’t read the Bible verse that followed or the reply that I sent. I never said that “keeping the home meant cleaning it. I actually mentioned in the reply that the Titus 2:5 verse has little to do with the activities of a modern day housewife.

      There is a lot of service (Dorcas, Priscilla) and industry (Proverbs 31) that goes in to keeping the home.

      Alongside Ephesians 6:4, there are verses in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 that clearly lays out the responsibility of the parents in teaching their own children. It was done all throughout the day, not for twenty minutes after work. Someone had to be responsible for this. It’s interesting how Timothy was instructed by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), which would be expedient seeing as how they were the keepers of the home.

      My objection is when it’s stated that Titus 2:5 is a vague suggestion rather than a biblical command, women can find much comfort in obeying God’s Word when being looked down by women who think their role as a keeper of the home is inferior.

      Also, you said “Christians should not behave in ways that their society finds offensive”. There is plenty, in the Bible, that offends society, which may seem to give God’s Word a “bad name”.

  30. Marg says:

    If someone can minister to others by staying at home (e.g. through hospitality) that is great. But there are plenty of other ways to minister. I can’t find a verse in the Bible that says women need to minister primarily from home.

    Deborah, Miriam, Anna, and other women ministered primarily in public places.

    Women in other cultures have more constraints placed on them than women in western society that, if ignored, might cause the Word of God to be maligned. So for them it might be best to stay at home. Yet, even in patriarchal societies, some women have risen above societal conventions to be wonderful ministers and leaders.

    • Kim says:

      Also, it’s very confusing when you reference to Old Testament societal structures, even mentioning Deborah. The verse we are talking about is in Titus 2:5, the New Testament. If this was a commandment found in the Old Testament it would have been referenced (I suppose Proverbs 7:11 is the closest).

      The point is that Titus 2:5 is a command. You can explain it away and say that it doesn’t really mean what we think it means but the verse still stands and commands that women are to work at home and that the older women are to teach them to follow their example.

      But I suppose the point of this article was to explain how it doesn’t mean what it says so that women feel less guilty…I get it.

  31. Marg says:

    Hi Kim,

    Titus 2:4-5 is not about raising godly children. All it says about children is that the young wives should be trained by the older women to be “loving their children” (philoteknous). I know many young mothers and none of them need to be trained to be philoteknoi, as they already love their children immensely. (As I say in the article, the instructions are basic indeed.)

    To understand that this verse is somehow about raising godly children is to read much more into the word philoteknous, and into this passage, than is reasonable. Other Bible passages speak about raising godly children, but not this one.

    Kim, you have said several times that I’m dismissing the verse. I am not dismissing it, in fact I am highlighting it by writing about it and emphasising Paul’s point.

    I do everything in Titus 2:5 – everything. Nowhere do I say that we are not to do the things Paul lists in this verse. Yet this one verse does not define who I am or what God has called me to be. Moreover the activities in Titus 2:5 do not define most of the women mentioned in the Bible – in both the Old and the New Testaments.

    It could be that Titus 2:4-5 encapsulates your identity and calling, and perhaps in your society it is wise that you stay at home so that you do not give the Word of God a bad name.

    There are five verses in the New Testament where Christians are commanded to greet each other with a kiss. Four were written by Paul, and one by Peter (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12b; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14b). Do you kiss your brothers and sisters in Christ with a kiss? Do the men in your Christian community kiss each other? Or do they follow the principle and greet each other in another way that is more appropriate to your culture?

    I think it is very important that we understand Paul’s principle in Titus 2:4-5 which is clear because he states the reason for his command. We should not dismiss Titus 2:4-5, and we should apply it appropriately.

  32. Evang. Emmanuel Williepaye,Jr says:

    Before I post my comment, let me firstly inform you that I am a student of theology. I am a graduating student from the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary located in Liberia West Africa.
    I am doing my Thesis from Titus 2:3-5 on the topic “AN EXAMINATION OF THE IMPACT OF PASTORAL TEACHING ON THE LIVES OF CHRISTIAN WOMEN ” EXEGETICAL STUDY OF TITUS 2:3-5
    Comment: I think the text under consideration’s can be used as a biblical basic for building absolute moral character in Christian’s women lives for the good image of the Christian faith. more to that, Christian’s women should live in a way that reflect the truthfulness of the gospel, they should bring up their children in such a godly way not deserting professional jobs and other means of supporting the family meaningfully.
    I need more of your academic help. I need more information on the role of women in Old testament Hebrew culture, New testament cultures, western and African cultures.

  33. Marg says:

    Hi Emmanuel,

    My area of study is Christianity in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, so I can’t help you with books about Old Testament Hebrew culture.

    One of the best books I’ve read about women in 1st century Israel is “Her Price is beyond Rubies: The Jewish Woman in Greco-Roman Palestine” by Leonie Archer, published in 1990. It is expensive, but maybe your library can get it in for you.

    Another book I love and recommend is “Women in the World of the Earliest Christians” by Lynn Cohick (Baker 2009).

    Bruce Winter’s book “Roman Wives, Roman Widows” (Eerdmans 2003)is an excellent book, but I must admit I haven’t read it from cover to cover. Chapter 8 in his book is devoted to Titus 2:3-5.

    Craig Keener’s “Paul, Women and Wives” (Baker 2004) is a good all round book but Keener doesn’t look at Titus 2:3-5 in any depth.

    As far as commentaries go, I’d say that Aida Besancon Spencer’s new commentary on 2 Timothy and Titus in the New Covenant Commentary Series (2004) is a must have.

    I’d also recommend looking into Plutarch and reading the following book as it will present you with a view of women in New Testament times that is free from any Christian bias: “Plutarch’s Advice to the Bride and Groom and A Consolation to His Wife: English Translations, Commentary, Interpretive Essays and Bibliography”, Sarah B. Pomeroy (Ed.) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)
    Here is something I wrote about Plutarch and Paul: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/plutarch-and-paul-on-men-and-women-and-marriage/

    If I think of other books I’ll leave another comment.

  34. […] Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  35. fiona says:

    I really enjoyed readying this blog and the conversations which followed it. Thanks for writing it and spending time answering and teaching those who commented. Many blessings.

  36. […] [7] In reality, many Complementarian men (who believe that God has ordained them to be the leaders of their homes and wives) do not lead or run their house and family; they leave much of the running of the household to their wives. (See 1 Tim. 5:14 where, in the Greek, Paul uses the word oikodespotein in reference to young Christian wives in Ephesus. Oikodespotein literally means “to be the master of the house”. The KJV translates this verse literally. More on 1 Tim. 5:14 and similar verses Titus 2:4-5 here.) […]

  37. […] “Busy at Home”: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? […]

  38. melanie says:

    Some people say that this isn’t a true christan website, of course they’re still living in the past.

    • Marg says:

      I don’t know who these some people are, and it is silly that anyone would say that this isn’t a true Christian website. All my articles have something to do with Jesus, the New Testament, the Early Church, and/or Christian ministry.

      If these some people are really living in the past they should love this site, as many of the articles are about the Christian church in the first and second century. Perhaps these some people are not living in the past, or recognising the past, enough.

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