Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Motherhood: Homemaking or Moneymaking?


"But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:1-5)."

Coming from the mouth of an androgynous specimen of the human race, what I am about to express might incur the wrath of the feminists, as well as those who fallow within the mire of pragmatism and secular humanism. I say unashamedly that women ought to be diligent homemakers, and this statement is especially directed at those who are Christian wives and mothers. It is fairly unimaginable for a mother to find time to educate and care for her child, and at the same time, manage her household and hold a full-time job. But this describes exactly the cultural phenomenon within this country and perhaps for most developed nations as well.

Singapore is one of those countries that give little or no regard to biblical roles of male and female, husbands and wives. As long as the mother can contribute substantially to the economy by working outside the home, it is inconsequential to the nation if the children are taken care of by the parents-in-law, the domestic helper, or Rufus the Labrador Retriever. After all, is it not convenient to plop the toddler onto the sofa in front of the goggle box, and allow Barney or Harry Potter to feed the gullible mind of the prepubertal lad? In the mean time, daddy and mummy have to feed the condominium, the V6 engine, and the Visa bills commensurate with the lifestyle choice of the average Singaporean, Christian parent. And the formative years of the Singaporean, Christian child are built around the television, the maid, the family pet, and his cussing friends from the neighborhood school. But this is all acceptable and manageable, as long as the family receives the blessings of health and wealth allegedly indicative of God’s approval upon the materialistic, carnal, and self-seeking Singaporean family. Of course, the children must remember to be in their "Sunday’s best" behavior. The show will go on, but only for two hours during church service, and after which, things will return to the usual routine of maid, money, and Sunday matinee.

Lea and Griffin have rightly commented that, "It is possible that in the preaching of the gospel, with all of its implications for Christian freedom (variously interpreted) and equality in Christ, the God-given order of authority within marriage and the home life was becoming confused and compromised." (T. D. Lea and H. P. Griffin, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 302). Likewise, the Danvers Statement expressed concerns regarding "the widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood, vocational homemaking, and the many ministries historically performed by women."

But one might ask, "Where do we find the teaching within the Bible that the mother or wife should be a homemaker?" Inevitably, this is found in Titus chapter two, and particularly, verses 4 and 5 (cf. Proverbs 31). There is little debate amongst conservatives that the Pastoral epistles are authoritative for the church today. I must also clarify that Paul is not requiring the wife or mother to be confined to her home. In other words, I am not saying that the woman cannot work in any capacity within the workforce, and that she must be placed under house arrest. What I am saying is that Paul is emphatic that the married woman must be the manager of the home. Her greatest responsibilities lie with her home, her children, and of course, her husband. The keyword here is "vocational homemaking" in the Danvers Statement. To attempt to wrestle with Paul’s teaching in Titus 2 by asking, "How many hours of work may the mother work outside her domain of vocational homemaking?", or "Does the Bible state a particular time limit for secular work, beyond which the mother disqualifies herself as a homemaker?", or "Is a mother still a homemaker if she is working a certain number of hours outside her home?", is really a red herring.

The emphasis of Paul seems to be the vocation of the mother. To be a homemaker, the mother’s vocation ought to be that of homemaking. This tautology is paradoxically necessary, as there are certain Christian women who argue that having a full time job outside of home does not disqualify one as a homemaker. These ladies contend that, since their greatest priority and desire is for their home, and that they have tried their best to ensure that the home is in order, they are essentially still homemakers. This is despite the fact that they are full-time executives, managers, doctors, nurses or other kinds of professionals. To turn this argument around, is it not logical to say that, since their vocation is that of a full-time manager, doctor or nurse, they are not homemakers, but vocational managers, doctors or nurses who are incidentally part-time homemakers? Just as the Bible does not give the specific job specification of a vocational homemaker, Paul did not feel it necessary to restrict the amount of time spent in the home by the homemaker. This is because, as a matter of clear logic, a vocational homemaker has for her vocation homemaking, and not full-time nursing or doctoring.

Paul’s instructions concerning the "younger women" are clear. They are "to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." Whether the exegete might categorize these qualities into two or three groups is not the point. The point is that these instructions are not the divine suggestions of an inspired misogynist. These are didactic commandments of the Voice of One who speaks from the heavenly throne. These are the roles of the woman according to our Creator’s design and good will. God’s will for the younger women is to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, and also to be obedient to their own husbands. Conversely, to be indiscreet, unchaste, or to be unloving towards their husband and children is to be against the will of God. Similarly, it is against the will of God to reject the vocation of a homemaker for married women, and especially, for those who are mothers.

Again, some might ask, "How young is young?" It seems that Paul’s perception of young widows, as opposed to older ones (1 Tim. 5:9-11), consists of those who are below sixty of age. Happily, this might be an adequate solution according to the principle of analogia fidei (WCF, I:9). So, the aged women are to teach the younger women (or those below sixty years old) concerning the God-ordained roles of a woman within the family (Titus 2:4-5). William Mounce notes that the behavior of these godly young women "contrasts with the conduct of the younger Ephesian widows who were lazy and ran from house to house (1 Tim. 5:13)." (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, p. 411). In the present society, the younger women are seldom lazy. Contrariwise, the younger female executives run from office to office, and from job to job in a bid to be prosperous.

One of those words that grate against the ears of the feminist is "oikourgous" or "homemaker" found in Titus 2:5. This word is derived from the Greek words "oikos" and "ergo(n)." "Oikos" means a house, a dwelling, and by metonymy, a household or family, while "ergo(n)" means "work." "Oikourgous" thus has the meaning of "house-worker," "home-worker," or "one who works at home." As opposed to the variant reading "oikourous," "oikourgous" is the preferred reading by Lackmann, Tischendorf, and Alford. Textually, it is the more difficult reading because of its rarity. And it is understandable why the feminist hates the vocation of an "oikourgous," because this word literally means "working at home" or "busy at home." Some commentators join the next word "good" or "agathas" with "homemaker" to mean "good housewives." For example, Dibelius and Conzelmann state, "The two words [oikourgous] and [agathas] should be taken together and translated ‘fulfill their household duties well.’" (Dibelius and Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles, 141). Nevertheless, most translators and translations take these two words separately.

The variant reading "oikourous," on the other hand, is derived from the Greek words "oikos" and "ouros." The word "ouros" refers to a guardian or keeper, and implies direct oversight and responsibility for something. "Oikourous," therefore, has the nuance of "one who actively watches over a household and family." This "housekeeper" sees to it that the husband and children are appropriately cared for, and the home maintained in good order. No matter which variant is preferred, one thing is for certain: it is impossible, be it exegesis or eisegesis, to do away with the thrust and overtone of the word "oikourgous" or "oikourous." Most commentators, including the Puritan scholar Matthew Poole and the Lutheran exegete R. C. H. Lenski, agree with this understanding of the role of the married woman.

The married woman’s household will always be her priority. She is to commit her time and energies to the management of the home, and to the nurture, care, and education of her children. This is inevitably a career all in itself. Kenneth Wuest reinforces the fact that, "‘Keepers at home" is oikourgos, "caring for the home, working at home.’" (Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament). And for the woman to be a keeper at home is not a cultural bias of Paul. As Knight has aptly argued, "Certainly for a wife and mother to love her husband and children and be sensible, pure, and kind (vv. 4-5) are intrinsically right and not just norms of first-century culture. It appears quite arbitrary, then, to single out the requests that women be homemakers and be subject to their husbands (v. 5) as something purely cultural. They are treated on a par with the other items in this list, and elsewhere Paul defends the latter of these two as a creation ordinance in the face of a cultural situation that wanted to go in the opposite direction (1 Cor. 11 :3ff.)." (George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 317). If homemaking is a cultural bias of the Apostle Paul, then one has to accept the fact that virtues such as being discreet, chaste, and loving are similarly cultural preferences of first-century Christianity. Perhaps we should remain consistent and swiftly dispose ourselves of the entire requirements of Titus 2:4-5.

My dear sister-in-Christ, if you are married, your primary responsibilities are to manage the home, nurture your children, and be a helpmate for your husband. Your husband has complementary roles, and he is to be a spiritual leader, protector, and provider for your children and yourself. While your husband is away at work to bring back the bread and butter, you are to ensure that the home is in order. Do you think that your children are best educated and taught by your parents-in-law, the maid, or the child-care centre? Which of these options provide godly care and counsel for your children’s growing minds?

When both husband and wife fulfill their appropriate, biblical roles as father and mother, the family is functioning according to the design of our most-wise God. The husband can work with a peace of mind knowing that his children are in the good hands of his able wife. Likewise, the wife need not fret at work, wondering whether the domestic helper or her parents-in-law have disciplined, fed, or taught her children. In like manner, she will not have the surprise of hearing the first cuss-word from her toddler’s mouth, which is acquired through the diligent observation of quarrels between grandpa and grandma. Do allow me to ask you this question, "What would be the very first word you would like to hear from your child’s mouth?" "Would it be something you have taught him, or would it be something learnt from the other carers?"

Ultimately, there is a very good reason why Paul had given us these prescribed duties or roles for the married woman. And that reason is found in Titus 2:5b, "that the word of God be not blasphemed." Sometimes, believers dishonor God and His Word, not by the evil that they have done, but by the good that they have failed to do. As James said, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (Jas 4:17)." The world judges the Christian faith not by its theological richness or accuracy, but by the lives its professors live. In other words, unbelievers learn about our Savior Jesus Christ, not by the testimony of Scripture alone, but also by the testimonies and lives of those who profess to believe in Him. "Show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer," declares the German Philosopher Heinrich Heine.

Therefore, within a society that decries the God-ordained roles for the woman, it is paramount that the Christian lady is convicted to live out the commandments of Scripture. When the world sees that there are actually very little differences in attitude and behavior between the heathen woman and the professing Christian mother, what testimony is there left for the world to behold? While the heathen woman strives to earn more money at the expense of her home and children, the Christian mother does likewise. While the heathen mother spends most of her time outside the household at the workforce, the Christian mother does likewise. While the heathen mother leaves her children to the care of God-hating pagans, the Christian mother does likewise. While the heathen mother leaves the indoctrination and education of her children to God-hating teachers, the Christian mother does likewise. It is of little wonder, then, that the Church has now lost her testimony to the unbelieving world. Even as the Church continues to bicker about fine theological difficulties and nuances, the pagans laugh at our disintegrating covenant families, executive Christian mothers, and rebellious children.

Dear Lord, may you give faith to the Christian father and mother to fulfill their respective roles within the covenant home, and may the covenant children be raised in godly counsel. And this is for the sake of the testimony of the Church, and for your Son’s sake, amen.

5 comments:

MInTheGap said...

I guess I hadn't thought too deeply into the qualifications for wives found in the epistles. I mean, I knew that women were called to be managers of the home, and my series was based on a lot from Proverbs 31, but I'm glad there's the corresponding passage by Paul.

Thanks for sharing this, and keep up the good work!

Jenson said...

"Singapore is one of those countries that give little or no regard to biblical roles of male and female, husbands and wives..."

Vincent,

That paragraph is spot on! As a Singaporean, I feel very fearful of bringing my family back home because of the lifestyle that many Singaporeans adopt - yes, even amongst the Reformed group.

I think if we did move to back to Singapore, my friends will probably say I "jia-kang-tang" (eat potato) for too long.

Thankfully, my wife has been well taught by her parents about the roles of man and woman - in fact, sometimes, she has to remind me about my duties!!!

Mark said...

Hi,

I have been (silently) following your blog for some time. This is an issue that I have been pondering on for sometime, so I hope I would be able to comment. I confess I would have to say I have come to a somewhat different, and more ‘liberal’ conclusion on this issue than you seem to have.

I will certainly agree that a woman’s priorities are her husband, her children and her house, in that order. However, it seems to me that if those priorities are in order, she is free to work beyond that. I guess where we might differ is whether it is possible for a Christian woman to ‘be done’ with her domestic duties and have time and energy for outside work. Obviously whether it is possible for a woman to both fulfill her homeward duties and work outside will vary from family to family. A woman with young children may well be unable to work outside at all, but the same is not true with a woman whom the Lord has not yet chosen to bless with children, or one whose children are all grown. Of course, if it is the husband’s desire that a woman stay home, than it becomes her duty to do so regardless of the circumstances.

In much of the discussion on this topic, I have heard Christians lamenting about the state of modern society and I will fully agree that today’s world disdains motherhood and homemaking in a way that is anathema to biblical womanhood. However, when I look at Old Testament Israel, at a society that was governed by laws given by God himself, it wasn’t the case that all the women were at home while solely the men worked. There were many women working under the authority of other men as maidservants. Even the fourth and tenth commandments imply the existence of this class of people in Israelite society. Nor can it be said that all these women were unmarried, for the Law addressed the situation of a woman being married yet under the authority of a master (Ex 21:2-11). In that place, God specifically denies that the woman’s getting married breaks the previous relationship she had with her master.

Proverbs 31 verses 16 and 24 are two of the more controversial verses I have seen discussed on this topic. I have read much debate about whether the activities undertaken by the virtuous woman in these two verses can be compared to the modern practices of wives working in offices away from home. I would comment that verse 16, at least to me seems to imply at least a substantial commitment of time spent away from home in order to oversee the planting of this vineyard. However, both verses show this woman engaged in activities that have no direct nexus with homemaking or family, and which are undertaken for financial gain. My point from this is that it is an error to assume that ‘the work at home is never done’, or that any seeking of outside employment inevitably entails a neglect of home or family. As I mentioned before, what is required for the care of the home and family will vary from family to family. However, if a couple decides to outsource some of those tasks to servants or other external agencies, I do not see how the bible would condemn it. The virtuous woman’s family employed servants (Pr 31:15) as did most families in the bible except the poor. The bible has much to say about what God requires of the upbringing of children, and the responsibility he charges parents with. Hence there is a greater responsibility on the mother to personally see to the care and training of the children. However, with regards to the home, there is nothing in the bible to indicate that God cares if the mother cleans the floor of if a maid (and that is not just a word from the contemporary Singaporean context, but a bible one as well) does so. It is still the wife’s duty to manage those servants and make sure they know what they are doing, but the act of her delegating tasks to others does not seem to me to be condemned by the bible. And of course, the degree of care of the home required will vary according to the desires of each individual husband.

I will not push is point too far, but I will say that principle has some limited application even to the care of children. The bible speaks of children being placed under the care of tutors and governors by their fathers (Gal 4:1-2). Even if the care of children is being ‘outsourced’ for a period of time each day, the sin is not in the act itself, but in the influences to which the child is exposed. To send children to a daycare to mix to pagan children and be taught by pagan teachers might well be a sin, but if the care is undertaken by genuinely Christian grandparents or other church members, well, we may not like it, but can we condemn it from the bible?

Regarding a married woman’s vocation, consider Acts 18:2-3. Paul came and abode and wrought with Aquila and Priscilla, and that by THEIR occupation they were tentmakers. Both Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers. It does not say Aquila was a tentmaker and Priscilla a housewife. Of course, if she was the godly woman the New Testament presents her as being, we know she also looked after Aquila’s house and any children they might have had, but tentmaking was an important enough part of her life that the Holy Spirit describes it as her occupation, and does not see any inherent conflict between that and her domestic duties.

Coming to Titus 2 and ‘keepers at home’, I know you (kind of) rejected this interpretation, but I have always understood that term to be defined by comparing to 1 Tim 5:13-14. She is to be a keeper at home as compared to someone who is idle and wondering around gossiping. That, as far as the bible is concerned is the primary sin that is the opposite of ‘keepers at home’ is being idle and a busybody, which is seen by the word ‘therefore’ in 1 Tim 5:14. Instead of letting the women be idle busybodies, he would have them ‘marry, bear children, guide the house…’. That is the primary contrast that Paul has in mind here. Those who say that a Christian woman or wife may have a calling outside the home are often accused of having taken on the spirit and thinking of this age. But aren’t we importing our current controversy of homemaker vs career women into this passage when we read it in that way? I do not see anything in these epistles or indeed in the rest of the bible that indicates that was the controversy Paul had in mind when he wrote those passages. Rather, it was idleness and gossip he was primarily condemning.

Even if we take ‘keepers at home’ as having the meaning of ‘homemakers’ or specifying the woman’s duty at home, as I have tried to show above, that does not forbid her engaging in work outside. I agree with you that it wrong to try to come up with some limit of X hours allowed outside the home. The primary issue is that what is required at home is getting done. And as I have tried to show, sometimes those duties will simply be enough to effective bar a woman from outside pursuits. But that will not always be the case.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Mark,

I’ve an uncanny feeling that somehow I know you personally. Do you have a blog somewhere? Or do you attend a reformed church in Singapore? This is because your writing style gave you away … :)

You wrote:

“I will certainly agree that a woman’s priorities are her husband, her children and her house, in that order. However, it seems to me that if those priorities are in order, she is free to work beyond that. I guess where we might differ is whether it is possible for a Christian woman to “be done” with her domestic duties and have time and energy for outside work.”

“My point from this is that it is an error to assume that “the work at home is never done”, or that any seeking of outside employment inevitably entails a neglect of home or family.”

My point:

I agree. What made you think I didn’t?

You wrote:

“Even if the care of children is being “outsourced” for a period of time each day, the sin is not in the act itself, but in the influences to which the child is exposed.”

My point:

Parents in Singapore would be glad to “outsource” their children to the care of others. But where in Scripture do you find that? I have nothing against sending kids to godly carers for a short period (and I do not want to get into the “X hours can, Y hours cannot” arguments). But the parents must be the prime carers. But if Dad if the breadwinner (I hope this is the case), then mum would have to be looking after the child at least for most of the time.

I agree with you that allowing the child to be negatively influenced by the world would be heading towards disciplinary issues within the visible church. So that brings the “home-schooling” issue into view. Perhaps in another post.

You wrote:

“But aren’t we importing our current controversy of homemaker vs career women into this passage when we read it in that way? I do not see anything in these epistles or indeed in the rest of the bible that indicates that was the controversy Paul had in mind when he wrote those passages.”

My point:

Ah … my friend. Even “liberal, new evangelical” commentators know that the “homemaker versus career woman” issue was an issue in first-century Roman society. You can check up any good new testament background text (F. F. Bruce’s New Testament History), or a good commentary.

But even if it isn’t, Titus 2 contains didactic instructions to the young man, young woman, old man, and old woman “that the Word be not blasphemed.” What do you think of that? So was that merely a “gossipy versus hardworking” woman issue?

You wrote:

“I agree with you that it [is] wrong to try to come up with some limit of X hours allowed outside the home. The primary issue is that what is required at home is [sic] getting done. And as I have tried to show, sometimes those duties will simply be enough to effective[ly] bar a woman from outside pursuits. But that will not always be the case.”

In a “Christian” society that is always looking for “exceptions” to the Word of God, I think it good to try to mould our desire and needs according to the Word. Yes, there will always be exceptions, but God is not looking for exceptions to following His prescribe instructions in Titus 2, he is looking for obedience, which is better than sacrifice. You agree?

I’m not saying that a woman cannot work outside (which is emphasized in my post). What I am saying is this: can a wife or mother work with a clear conscience outside the home, knowing that the kids and family is in good order before the Holy God? If she can manage the home well, and at the same time teach and manage her children, she can work from home or outside the home. But the final judge is Christ.

I believe this is the prosaic reading of Titus 2, as agreed by most commentators.

Mark said...

Hello,

You wrote:

“My point:

I agree. What made you think I didn’t?”

I wrote what I did mainly by way of sharing some of my thoughts on the subject since you had posted something on it. It is a subject I am interested in discussing. I never said my comment was a refutation of your post.

You wrote:

“Parents in Singapore would be glad to “outsource” their children to the care of others. But where in Scripture do you find that? I have nothing against sending kids to godly carers for a short period (and I do not want to get into the “X hours can, Y hours cannot” arguments). But the parents must be the prime carers. But if Dad if the breadwinner (I hope this is the case), then mum would have to be looking after the child at least for most of the time.

I agree with you that allowing the child to be negatively influenced by the world would be heading towards disciplinary issues within the visible church. So that brings the “home-schooling” issue into view. Perhaps in another post.”

Well, there is now a whole post on this, so I will not comment here.

You wrote:

“Ah … my friend. Even “liberal, new evangelical” commentators know that the “homemaker versus career woman” issue was an issue in first-century Roman society. You can check up any good new testament background text (F. F. Bruce’s New Testament History), or a good commentary.”

I don’t know much, if anything about first century Roman society, so I will have to take your word for it. I did try to show, from the bible, why I thought that idle women was Paul’s primary concern. In 1 Tim 5 Paul says that because younger widow are apt to become idlers and busybodies, ‘I will therefore’ that these women marry, bear children, guide the house. As far as we can tell from the bible, within the context of Paul’s thought, the ‘opposite’ of being a good homemaker is being an idle busybody, not a ‘working woman’ per se.

You wrote:

“But even if it isn’t, Titus 2 contains didactic instructions to the young man, young woman, old man, and old woman “that the Word be not blasphemed.” What do you think of that? So was that merely a “gossipy versus hardworking” woman issue?”

I am not sure how I gave the impression Titus 2 did not contain didactic instructions. Whatever ‘keepers at home’ means, women are commanded by God to be that. My position was that ‘keepers at home’ primarily condemns idle wondering, and being a busybody and gossip, because if we compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor 2:13) than 1 Tim 5 tells me that interpretation is the best fit.

Even if you want to say that ‘keepers at home’ has the meaning of defining a woman’s role and duties as a homemaker, I tried to show that Proverbs 31 portrays the virtuous woman as one who has businesses and activities that take her outside the home. And these were not merely drastic measures to deal with an exceptional situation in the family like the father being unable to work. Within the context of Proverbs 31 these outside activities were part of what made her a great woman.

You yourself made the point that to enter into a calculation of ‘Well exactly how many hours can she be gone?’ is barking up the wrong tree. Which I agreed with. My point was that the key is not how many hours is she at home or not at home, but rather are the requirements of home being taken care of. And I said that that answer is going to vary from family to family, circumstance to circumstance.

You wrote:

“In a “Christian” society that is always looking for “exceptions” to the Word of God, I think it good to try to mould our desire and needs according to the Word. Yes, there will always be exceptions, but God is not looking for exceptions to following His prescribe instructions in Titus 2, he is looking for obedience, which is better than sacrifice. You agree?

I’m not saying that a woman cannot work outside (which is emphasized in my post). What I am saying is this: can a wife or mother work with a clear conscience outside the home, knowing that the kids and family is in good order before the Holy God? If she can manage the home well, and at the same time teach and manage her children, she can work from home or outside the home. But the final judge is Christ.

I believe this is the prosaic reading of Titus 2, as agreed by most commentators.”

As I said, I think this is basically where we differ. I do not see a woman working outside the home as an ‘exception’ to God’s command. As I said, it is a matter of her fulfilling her duties.

A single woman has the greatest freedom to do so, since although she is under her father’s authority and is to help him in whatever way he wants, she is not his special helper in the way his wife is. A married woman without children has much more duties at home, since she is now committed to be her husband’s helper and take care of his home, while a woman with children has significantly more duties. So it is a matter of whether the woman can fulfill her duties at home and still work outside. For a single woman, this will be determined primarily by the will and disposition of her husband. Since it is his house and he determines what he requires for the care of it and what burdens he is willing to allow to be placed on it. When children come, God has specified what he requires of parents in the care of children far more thoroughly than he has spoken about what he requires in the home, so there is obviously a greater duty.

You may disagree, but I hope that explains my position better.