Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Discussion With Mark Concerning the Homemaker Part 1

Dear Mark,

In reply to your lengthy comment on my post, I would like to bring up several interrelated issues for your kind consideration. I would also try to bring in some personal experience and examples just to add some reality, and especially – emphathy – to it.

I must first thank you for your keen interest in this subject of the working mother. I must say that I am a little bit flabbergasted as to why your comments have persistently been in connection with my posts on this area of discussion. Are there some personal reasons as to why there is a single-minded interest concerning this pastoral issue?

Some Agreements

I would like to point out some apparent agreements I might have with your points.

1) “And my point is that there is no sin in him asking his wife to help in the financial provision of the family.”

It is never my contention that the wife is allowed to contribute financially to the family. This is a red herring at best.

2) “Both Aquila, and Priscilla were tentmakers by occupation.”

I believe no honest Christian student would disagree with this statement as well. But what is the meaning of the word “occupation” in the Greek text? We would deal with that later.

3) “Where does she consider a field? Outside the home. Where would she plant a vineyard? Outside the home. Did she do it herself? Obviously not! I assume she had servants or other hired help. Yet if it is her project, and she is diligent in getting in done, it would have required time spent away from home supervising, as well as energy and thoughts directed away from domestic duties.”

Although one can consider “a field” anywhere on the globe - including the kampong house – by simply reading or hearing reports about the “field,” or in these days by simply perusing a brochure concerning a piece of property, I have no qualms that the mother is not under house arrest. A godly Christian mother must in many occasions spend time apart from her domestic duties. In activities such as those pertaining to personal hygiene, recreation, exercising, catching up with friends, and even “nature’s call,” the mother “would have required time spent away from home supervising [sic], as well as energy and thoughts directed away from domestic duties.”

So Mark, we agree that the mother can indeed contribute to the family’s finances, and that she would on certain occasions spend time away from her domestic duties and roles as a wife i.e. as a mother to her children and helper to her husband.

Three serious systematic errors in your defense of the full-time working mother hypothesis

1) Hermeneutics

There are a few generally accepted rules for the interpretation of Scripture (hermeneutics). Firstly, obscure portions of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the clearer passages. For example, Revelation 20 must be understood using a theological-hermeneutical grid derived from clearer New Testament Scripture that deals with eschatology. Likewise, we cannot nullify clear biblical passages (e.g. Titus 2:4-5) using obscure portions that are not contextually relevant to the issue at hand. Scripture might make mention of certain couples e.g. Ananias and Sapphira, Aquila and Priscilla etc in its narratives. But does the context of the portion of Scripture quoted deal with the gender role of woman? Does the Bible condone or even approve, for example, the vocational responsibilities of Priscilla as a wife in uncertain terms? We do not even know if Priscilla is a mother, let alone a homemaker (that being said, I have less objections against married women without children having more time-consuming jobs, provided that they have the time for such jobs. Women with children, on the other hand, have their children to keep them busy. Nevertheless, both the mother and the wife have similar responsibilities and roles. They ought to be homemakers first and foremost.). Since the Bible is silent on the social background of Aquila and Priscilla, why then are we so eager in using such examples to support a tenuous doctrine that mothers are allowed to be full-time workers in the marketplace? Why don’t we strive to exegete clear portions of Scripture that speak directly and unambiguously on this issue?

Secondly, we should interpret Old Testament passages with NT Scripture, not vice versa; this is in concert with the principle of progressive revelation. The biblically sanctioned method of interpretation of Old Testament scripture is to apply the hermeneutics of the New Testament writers, as well as the ideas communicated by them. (For a technical discussion on how the early New Testament church interprets the Old Testament, see E. Earle Ellis, The Old Testament in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co., 1991), 77-121.) For example, we should understand the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 with New Testament glasses, and not with Jewish theological and hermeneutical parochialism. This is the error of Dispensationalism.

You wrote, “If God were to remake Singaporean society, or any other modern society with his own laws, would most of the women be at home fulltime? In Old Testament Israel, a society operating by God's laws there were large numbers of women working outside the home as maidservants of other men. In fact, the Fourth and Tenth commandments presupposes this state of affairs. And Exodus 21:2-11 tells us that in God’s view a woman getting married does not automatically break her connection with her master.”

You have made a fundamental error here: you cannot impose Old Testament Israel’s theocratic laws upon clear New Testament mandates. Similarly, you would have to distinguish between OT civil, ceremonial and moral laws. Although the moral laws are binding upon Christians throughout human history, the civil and ceremonial aspects are only for theocratic Israel.

Worse, you have confounded your hermeneutical confusion with factual errors. In Old Testament Israel, according to the New Bible Dictionary, “parenthood was highly prized. Women in biblical narratives mainly operate within a household, naming the children and being responsible for their early education. Mothers were to be honoured (Ex. 20:12), feared (Lv. 19:3) and obeyed (Dt. 21:18ff). Men took responsibility for and protected women family members but, if there were no male heirs, a woman could independently inherit land (Nu. 27:l-8).”

The Tyndale Bible Dictionary is more detailed in its description of the mother’s responsibilities. It likewise emphasized similar roles of the mother in OT days, “The mother was responsible for her sons’ and daughters’ early education (Prv 1:8; 6:20), teaching them religious songs and prayers as soon as they could talk. A father took over the education of his sons, but the mother continued with the daughters, training them to spin, weave, cook, clean, trim the lamps, and generally to become competent in all the household duties (31:13–31). …

“With little furniture, keeping a house clean meant sweeping the floors to keep them free from dust and dirt. Cooking was at once simple and difficult. It was simple in that much of the food was cooked in the form of a soup or stew, or else made into a cake and cooked on a griddle. It was difficult in that the corn had to be ground by hand and bread was baked daily. …

“A mother was expected to take wool, card it, spin it, and often weave and make clothes for her family. In addition, she would help her husband in the fields at harvesttime. Because many families had one or more olive trees, a few grapevines, and fig trees, the mother would also assist in picking the fruit. She would sometimes work at the press when the olives or grapes were being processed. Frequently the treading of grapes in the family vat would be done together by husband and wife. Drawing water from the well was considered a menial task and was generally the wife’s responsibility, although sometimes it was assigned to the children (Gn 24:15–16).”

So even in the OT, the roles of the father and mother are quite clear. The father is the provider, protector, and leader, while the wife is the mother, homemaker, and carer for the family and children. Although these roles are distinct, the responsibilities included within each individual role sometimes overlap with each other. For example, the father’s role is to be the provider, and in this day and age, this would mean being the bread earner. But the mother is the home manager or homemaker for him. In OT days when the field belongs to the household, caring for the home includes caring for the field as well. After all, both the house and field are individual constituents of the household’s property. The wife may be involved in the management of the field or vineyard (as part of the household’s property and the wife as the home manager), but to insist that the wife is therefore a full-time, vocational plantation worker is to stretch the biblical details provided. There is however no doubt that the main domain of the mother’s work concerns the care of her children and husband.

Also, how do “the Fourth and Tenth commandments presupposes [sic] this state of affairs,” i.e. that “there were large numbers of women working outside the home as maidservants of other men?” Are these women wives and mothers? Could you show me such examples in Scripture: chapter and verse?

2) Logic

You wrote, “While you give a logical answer to the question, that is not quite the same as giving a biblical answer.”

Although your statement here appears fairly straightforward, I have to take issue with the underlying error. A logical answer does not necessitate a biblical origin or basis (for example, do you find the logical laws of mathematics in the Bible?). But a biblical answer – which is best defined as an answer according to the Logos or the Word of God – must of necessity be logical. God’s Word emanates (while at the same time I am distancing myself from the panentheistic nuance of “emanation,” c.f. Plotinus or modern day Process Theologians and the doctrine of emanation) from His Mind and Will. Can God’s Mind or Word be illogical? As creatures of Almighty God, we can be assured that His Word and doctrines will be according to the laws of logic. Just as God cannot create a square circle, He cannot think illogically.

In the context of our discussion, we can be certain that God’s Word is according to the Aristotelian Laws of Non-contradiction i.e. ¬(p&¬p) and the Excluded Middle i.e. pv¬p. P and not-P cannot be both true. A statement cannot be both true and false at the same time. A woman who is working full-time in the marketplace as a doctor or chef cannot be a full-time homemaker at the same time. A vocational health care practitioner cannot be a vocational homemaker all at the same time according to the laws of logic.

While the main focus here is not the precise definition of the term “homemaker,” let us consider the following propositions as an example of logical processing:

P = A homemaker is a woman who spends most of her time working at home for the family.

Not P = A homemaker is a woman who does not spend most of her time working at home for the family.

According to your arguments, a homemaker is both P and not-P (p&¬p). This is a direct contradiction of the Law of Non-contradiction, thereby making the Word of God illogical.

Of course, we may continue to dispute what exactly should be P, but the take home message here is this: both P and not-P cannot be true.

In my previous, albeit very brief, exegesis on Titus 2:4-5 which you have chosen to ignore, I have given a clear definition on what it means to be a “homemaker.” It does not help in attempting to redefine the meaning of homemaker in order to suit the contemporary lifestyle of the career minded, full-time working mother. Reiterating my words in the previous post,

“One of those words that grate against the ears of the feminist is “oikourgous” (οἰκουργοὺς) 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 οἰκουργούς [oikourgous] and ἀγαθάς [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 (οἰκουργος), “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.”

3. Pragmatism

The error of reading one’s pragmatic interests into Scripture is an example of eisegesis.

From the error of King Saul to the disobedience of Balaam for financial and physical gains, there is always a similar excuse for disobedience, “But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal (1 Sam 15:21).” And is God supposed to applaud Saul for his “distributive justice?”

If Proverbs 31 is not clear enough for us, then Titus 2:4-5 provides us with a clear NT interpretation of the teachings found in Proverbs 31. The responsibilities of the woman to her husband and children are indisputably spelled out in those verses. Quoting my previous post, “These are the roles of the woman according to our Creator’s design and good will [in Titus 2:4-5]. 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.”

In your defense of the “working mother hypothesis” – or the hypothesis that P and not-P can both be accepted as viable descriptions of the “homemaker” of Titus 2:5 – it is apparent that you have emphasized pragmatics considerations over and against clear scriptural injunctions.

For example, you wrote, “For women, the burden of guilt when they are condemned for something God has not condemned. When I said I was restricting my comments to “lower income families” what I meant was I was addressing those who work to address a genuine family need. I would repeat again I am not saying a mother has complete freedom to work as much or whenever she wants out of sheer desire. For men, the burden of being forced to work harder than what is their reasonable best to provide for their families (assuming they are genuinely unable to do so despite their best efforts), or the burden of guilt for having their wives help in the act of provision, when God has not condemned it.”

Again, you wrote elsewhere, “I was primarily thinking of the situation of a father who despite working to his reasonable best was unable, or had difficulty in making mortgage payment, buying groceries or any other reasonable family expenses. And my point is that there is no sin in him asking his wife to help in the financial provision of the family.”

I asked in my previous informal reply to your comments, “Please show me where in the Bible was this “balance” mentioned i.e. homemaking and lower income families. Thanks.”

In other words, I wanted to thrust upon you the impression that the Bible does not furnish us with any verses concerning “lower income families” and the alleged redefinition or reconsideration of the homemaker’s roles. The homemaker remains the homemaker, and the Bible does not give us any biblical mandate which justifies role reversals or the wife giving up her homemaking duties just to make (financial) ends meet. Yes, I agree that the wife can indeed help to contribute financially to the family, but her roles and duties are primarily that of being a homemaker and mother, not a bread-winner and provider. The point is this: a vocational homemaker is not one who is a vocational doctor, lawyer or accountant, who incidentally is also a part-time homemaker.

Titus 2:4-5 does not say that the wife should be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, or good only if the husband can afford the bills. If such conditionals are essential portions of inspired Word, then surely the Apostle Paul must have penned those exception clauses somewhere in the NT. Show me those verses, pray tell.

From my work, I know several patients who are non-Christian husbands, and who belong easily to the lowest income groups in Singapore (they are hygiene officers, bus drivers etc). Despite the fact that they have homemaking wives, children to feed, and mortgages to pay off, these families manage to pay for all their needs (but not their wants). In contrast, I know of church leaders whose wives work full-time; and at the same time, they insist that they are doing these things out of necessity – they own private properties and drive big cars. I’ll take their word with a pinch of salt and more than a tinge of regret and sadness.

PS: To be continued in a second post.

10 comments:

mark said...

Wow.

Thanks for taking the time a nd effort to do that.

Am I allowed to respond? I know you said nothing that would hint at a negative answer, but I am a little leery of spending the time to formulate a reply if you had wanted to conclude the discussion.

mark said...

Hi Vincent,

This is more a personal note than something meant to be published.

On second thought, I was thinking, the better question to ask would be do you WANT me to respond?

I have read through both your posts and for the moment do not see any reason for me to abandon my position.

Obviously I would need to re-read them to get a better understanding and I will certainly do so irregardless of whether I respond or not.

I guess I was just thinking, those two posts must have taken you a very long time to come up with, which I assume is quite a burden given you are working and studying at the same time. I don't know if you are married or have children, but I'am guessing you have better things to do with your free time then spend it replying to lurkers like me.

So, if you want, I am happy to leave off this debate, since this is your blog. I don't mean that in any condescending way, I sincerely am wondering if it is fair for me to take up large portions of your time, given that you might feel 'obliged' to reply, given that it is your blog and if I had a blog I would certainly feel the need to address any errors that ended up there for people to read.

So...let me know. I am happy to try to address some of your points if you wish. If not, I would still hope to be able to make some short closing comments just to clarify some things.

regards,
Mark

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Mark,

I have only one thing to say: do get an internet ID! The way blogger works, anyone can make a comment - which is essentially anonymous - simply by signing off with a name. My name is Vincent, for example. I can sign off as Bush, and it will still be an anonymous comment. Why don't you get an internet ID, and this way I can give you a personal email which sometimes is more appropriate.

I wrote the post last night when I took 2 hours off ... so, yes, I could have studied with that time :)

I would like you to read my reply carefully ... and if you feel that I have missed your point or failed to present my point, do feel free to say it/reply me.

I know your position pretty well - it is summarized in your closing statements in your last lengthy comment. I hope I did not misrepresent you ...

Are you sure that I "said nothing that would hint at a negative answer?" Sometimes I put it in a milder way, which might be better ;)

I will be glad to reply you in the future, but it will take time - I have lectures and tutorials to attend as well ...

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Mark,

As I have always refused to publish anonymous comments, I urge you to get yourself an internet ID. Please. At least before you post your next reply.

We have to stand by our words, and this is to encourage responsibility and accountability for what we write.

I had several passionate debates with some church leaders over this issue once upon a time. The last thing I want is for some of them to "pose" as Mark, or Matthew, or Bush ... :)

mark said...

OK... I just created a blog... does this work?

I will try to reply soon. If you wish, feel free to either not publish it, or to delay publishing until you have the time to respond.

Or we could carry on this conversation via email, if you prefer.

Let me know if my new account works.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Mark,

Your account "works" - there are no details on it. You have successfully remained anonymous.

So much for the "accountability" bit.:)

I'm curious - what is your full name (real name), your church, and your vocation? Are you married?

Why do you keep asking me what "I wish?" I would expect you to give me a robust reply ... do the best you can, please. If you have good rebuttals to my posts, the readers will be the best judge.

So far my replies had been quickly written ... I would find the time later to give you a formal reply when possible; I have yet to find the time to do proper research. For expediency, I have been relying on my faithful Logos software (hint), which explains the speed with which I church out those replies. ;)

But I have been slightly disappointed in my previous interactions simply because of the failure to take into account what I have written in some areas e.g. my position on the homemaker and my understanding of Titus 2 in the older posts. If you read my older posts carefully, you would find the answers to most of your questions. It's just that you didn't accept my arguments ...

One thing is for certain: you are not here to change your views on this matter, whoever you are.

One suggestion: Why don't you post your replies on YOUR blog and link to mine? That way everyone can read your post properly - it is not easy to read a full post on the comments section, especially when we are trying to figure out who said what. On your blog, you can quote my words in italics, for e.g.

I can then link to your blog, and we can continue with this "homemaker" debate of yours.

Thanks and best regard,
Vincent

PS: I have very strong convictions on this matter. I know of some very godly Christians who have served as such examples in my life. And I am very sure what God's Word says in this matter. So look on the bright side: we both will not be changing our views any time soon ...

vincit omnia veritas said...

erratum:

... I churned out those replies ...

mark said...

Hi Vincent,

I don’t know what to say. Yes, there are no details on my account. I believe I stated from the beginning my desire to stay anonymous. I thought the point of my getting an account was to prevent impersonation?

I would not wish to share my personal details on an open page on the internet. If you are really concerned, I can give those details you wanted in a private email.

I do agree with you that we need to be accountable for our words. I have strived to not have said (or typed) anything I would be ashamed to say in person before God or men.
That said, I do not really want to put my personal details out on the internet. Is there a particular reason I must?

I have tried to back up what I have said or asserted with scripture. I know you disagree with many of my conclusions / interpretations, but the verses I have used are open for all to see. I have not appealed to my education, intelligence or life experience to prove my points. I have tried, although perhaps failed, to avoid lying, slander or insults. There is no need to know who I am personally, for if there is bible truth in what I write, surely it can be accepted irregardless of the source. If anything I write is not true according to God’s word it can and should be rejected, no matter who I am. Of course, its your blog and you can set the house rules.

Why do I keep asking you what you wish? Well, because it is your blog. I think an hour of time a day is not a light thing to give up. Lots of Christians or churches publish articles on the net without leaving room for comments.

I am sorry you feel I have not been interacting properly with your points. In all honesty I did feel I addressed the issue of the bible definition of a homemaker and the correct interpretation of Titus 2. I will try to do better, when/if I respond.

You are probably right that I am not here ‘to change my views’. If you mean I do not seem teachable, well surely part of believing something from the word of God is to be able to hold it with certainty. Most certainly I hope I would be willing to change if I was found to be holding on to any error, but that doesn’t mean I can’t believe something firmly.

Your suggestion seems a good one, as long as I can figure out how to use blogger.

I appreciate, and can tell, you have strong convictions on this matter. As I said, I commented to sharpen my own understanding of the bible. I have no personal agenda.

Regards,
Mark

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Mark:

You wrote:

“I don’t know what to say. Yes, there are no details on my account. I believe I stated from the beginning my desire to stay anonymous. ... I do agree with you that we need to be accountable for our words. I have strived to not have said (or typed) anything I would be ashamed to say in person before God or men. That said, I do not really want to put my personal details out on the internet. Is there a particular reason I must?”

My reply:

>Must? There’s human autonomy, you know (emoticon = smile).

>But really, most if not all Christian bloggers have requested, and reasonably so, that comments should not be made anonymously. This is to allow the owner or writer of the article/post to know who you are, where you come from, and perhaps why you are commenting. Whether those statements we made are shameful is not for us to judge - and as you said: “before God or men.” That’s for God or men to make that judgment. (emoticon = wink wink). In fact, most bloggers do not publish anonymous comments. I have always - or at least by far - allowed you to comment because I do consider your input worthwhile and interesting. Jenson is another brother who signs off as “Jenson”; there is a little difference here, because I KNOW Jenson as a personal friend, and I know he is not one of those “lurkers” who strikes whenever a certain issue is brought up (and I’m not referring to you; I just liked the term you used - “lurker.”). Besides, Jenson used to own a blog.

>I have previously deleted comments on my posts on homosexuality. Guess why?

>I ever had several “talks” with different Christians/leaders over this issue (and of course, it concerns them - I did mention some with big cars and big house?), and that is why I do not want any of them to comment on my blog as an anonymous entity. Why hide behind a moniker? (And I am not referring to you again).

>Finally, I understand the rest of your points above and do accept them. But again, if you are willing to stand by your statements and convictions, why do you want/wish/insist to remain anonymous? Do you realize that all the other posters on my blog have real names, web address, and details concerning where they come from/who they are etc?

PS: Blogger is easy to use. And my face is on the bottom right hand corner of this blog for all to see, so that all will be able to recognize me on the streets.

mark said...

Hi Vincent.

Thanks for your reply.

You said:

**But again, if you are willing to stand by your statements and convictions, why do you want/wish/insist to remain anonymous? Do you realize that all the other posters on my blog have real names, web address, and details concerning where they come from/who they are etc?**

Why do I wish to remain anonymous? In all honesty, personal preference. And, I’am shy. I don’t wish to have my personal details online on the internet.

So I guess I am asking your indulgence.

Perhaps Hebrews is a bible example of an anonymous letter? :P Although certainly what I write is of infinitely less value.

As I’ve said before, I am happy to share more over private email. You can mail me at mmsze_81@yahoo.com if you wish.