Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Mark of the Proverbs 31 Woman - An Informal Reply to Mark


Dear Mark,

(PS: This is a reply to Mark's comments on my previous post.)

I believe I had addressed your concerns in the following posts of mine here and here.

Believe me, this issue of the Christian homemaker is not a pet topic of mine; it is just that the problem is most rampant in “developed” countries, particularly in Christian homes!

Now concerning your comment:

(PS: I will put your words in quotation marks and italics. My thoughts begin with an arrow “>”.)

Hi Vincent,

>Hi Mark ...

I wonder if you remember me, I commented before on your blog a while back, on this very topic.

>I guess I do remember you ... I’m sorry if I called you an UFO (or jokingly, an "unidentified friendly oracle"). It was not meant to be a disparaging remark. It’s just that, I tend not to publish anonymous posts or posts without a link back to a blog/homepage. Do you realize that almost anyone can pose as “Mark” and get a potshot at my post (it will not be fair for the real “Mark,” whoever he is)? That is why I would like commentators to provide a link or URL to his/her blog/website. Or at the very least furnish me with an email address.

I hope I might, again, be allowed to make some comments, specifically with regard to the part of your response to Jenson regarding lower income families.

>You’re welcomed. By the way, my friend Jenson did not mention anything concerning “lower income families.” Regarding my response? Yes, yes, yes ...

I have not read the specific book Passionate Housewives, although I have read some articles and such by the co-authors and others associated with them ministry wise. From some of what I have read of them though, I believe they miss the bible balance, especially with regards to lower income families like the ones you mentioned (as always, I am open to correction).

>Who are these writers you were referring to? Missing the “Bible balance,” “especially with regards to lower income families?” Please show me where in the Bible was this “balance” mentioned i.e. homemaking and lower income families. Thanks.

Sticking for the moment to the context of lower income families, I think many times unnecessary burdens are placed upon both men and women by well meaning Christians.

>What sort of unnecessary burdens are placed upon both men and women by well meaning Christians, pray tell? Or does the problem lie in those who are unable to submit themselves to clear biblical mandate? Remember, obedience is better than sacrifice.

If a family truly has trouble in making ends meet, it is entirely virtuous and right for the wife/mother to work.

>I do realize that there are exceptional circumstances e.g. father is dead, paralyzed, terminally ill, abandoned mothers, widows (by the way, what does the Bible say concerning diaconal duties and widows?) etc. The focus nevertheless is this: we are discussing about the biblical norm. These exceptions cannot become the norm for the average Christian home.

I am never against mothers working; in fact, mothers got to work ... at home. I believe, however, that the Bible is against mothers having careers outside their main domain of work - the home.

I had written in my previous post, “The emphasis of Paul [in Titus 2:4-5] 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.”

Proverbs 31:16 and 24 tell us that financial contribution to a family is part of the role of a virtuous wife.

>Yes and no. Let us impart more nuance to your statement above.

Look at the verses you brought up ...

16 She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants.

All of the aforementioned examples i.e. the purchase of a field, the planting of a vineyard (you mean she did that all by herself? I believe not!), and the making and selling of garments are not in any way similar to what today’s women do for their careers in contemporary culture or marketplaces. There is no mention of a Proverbs 31 woman working 9 to 5 daily outside her home (or more specifically - her domain of work at home, and she is not necessarily confined to her house/HDB flat), leaving the care of her children to her mother-in-law or the maid, or even delegating household chores like simple cooking to the hawkers or her domestic helper.

The Proverbs 31 woman’s domain of work is within her “home,” although she is never confined to her “house”; therein lies the distinction. She is not limited to being a “domestic helper” at home. She is wise in being a good steward for her husband’s home. The father is the one who brings home the bread and butter; her chief priority is to take care of the home, including her children’s and husband’s daily needs such as food and clothing: she is a vocational homemaker.

In John F. MacArthur’s excellent essay, he has this to say concerning the Proverbs 31 woman and Proverbs 31: 16,24, “In God's order this woman is devoted to the home. She is the ruler of the house. She manages the household, and her devotion is remarkable, really remarkable. Verse 13 tells us that she's involved in making thread out of wool and flax or linen. And I think it is interesting to note the transition between verse 12 and 13. Verse 12 is a pretty spiritual verse; she's being her husband's conscience, she's doing him good and never evil. All the days of her life she's devoted to him being everything he can be. She seeks his spiritual benefit, spiritual welfare. She wants to comfort, and encourage, and strengthen him. ...

“She's entrepreneurial too. Look at verse 16, "She considers a field and buys it." Notice this, she knows the field is for sale and she thinks it through. She assess the price and the value of the field and the benefit that it could bring to her family, and she decides that it's an appropriate thing to do--notice the independence of this. She considers it, she thinks it through, and she makes the purchase. You say, well where does she get this money? Did she just take it out of her husband's account? No, this is a very enterprising lady. It tells you that she purchases the field in verse 16, from her earnings, and then she has enough to plant a vineyard in it. She decides that this would be a great field to plant grapes and that that would benefit the household well, and so she takes her earnings. ...

“Well, where did she get this little bit of money? Well, she had a little enterprise going. Go down to verse 24, this is an entrepreneurial lady, and what she is doing, according to verse 24, is making linen garments and selling them, and supplying belts or sashes to the tradesmen. So she's got a little cottage industry going. I like this. People say, "Well, shouldn't a women be creative, and what about their talents, and shouldn't they work? Yes, and she has found the right place. The Word of God pictures her right in the home, being enterprising enough to be making these garments--certainly, probably assisted by the maidens that come alongside of her, selling them to the tradesmen who take them and then export them all over the world. So, she's got her own little export business going. She's working with tradesmen, and from the money that she garnered out of that enterprise, she started to save it, and save it, and save it--never indulging it on herself, but always with a view to securing it, so that in the future she could do something that would benefit everybody. She finally comes to the conclusion: she has enough. The field is for sale that's the best investment; she buys the field, she plants the vineyard, and everybody benefits. She makes wise investments. ...

“It is wonderful when a woman is enterprising and if she has the time and the inclination and the talents and abilities to do things in the home that can benefit the family--that is a marvelous thing. Now, the sad thing is when a woman decides that she is going to go have a career at the expense of the family, at the expense of the children, at the expense of the husband and the home.”

Titus 2 is even clearer, “4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”

I do not believe women who are supporting their families in this way should be automatically criticized for neglecting their families, even if their family picture does not conform to the conservative ideal.

>What is the conservative ideal? What is your exegesis of Titus 2:4-5? Do you believe that the Bible condones a full-time working mother?

Likewise if we interpret the bible by comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor 2:13), Proverbs 31 and other verses help us understand what it means for a man to provide for his family, and we understand that he is not failing in this respect if he needs, or chooses to have his wife help him, which is her primary duty in the first place (Gen 2:18).

>Mark, you seriously need to differentiate between different gender roles and responsibilities. “The wife being a helpmate to her husband” does not equate to “the wife having SIMILAR responsibilities as the husband.”

It is terrible that today covetousness and pride often results in the family suffering, even within the church. But we should not overreact and go to the other extreme on this topic of the role of women.

>You don’t sound like the “Mark” I once knew ... anyway, the “covetousness and pride” that often result in “family sufferings” are the “covetousness and pride” that drive men and women, fathers and mothers toward self-centered, materialistic goals of living the “American,” or if I may say, “Singaporean” dream.

The godly man and woman would follow the word of God, observe and fulfill his/her roles as the father/mother, and do that which glorifies God and His Will.

7 comments:

mark said...

Hi Vincent.

Thank you for your long and thought out reply. I appreciate the time and effort you must have put into it. I don’t mean to hassle you or mean any disrespect, although I am interested in the points you raised. Sometimes in typing it is natural for me resort to rhetoric, but I hope you will not take that as hostility or disrespect.

Believe me, this issue of the Christian homemaker is not a pet topic of mine; it is just that the problem is most rampant in “developed” countries, particularly in Christian homes!

I’am not saying it was a pet topic of yours… I do agree that it is an issue that has come to the forefront in our day and age, which is why I am interested in it, and interested in seeing if there are any errors in my understanding of the bible.

I guess I do remember you ... I’m sorry if I called you an UFO (or jokingly, an "unidentified friendly oracle"). It was not meant to be a disparaging remark. It’s just that, I tend not to publish anonymous posts or posts without a link back to a blog/homepage. Do you realize that almost anyone can pose as “Mark” and get a potshot at my post (it will not be fair for the real “Mark,” whoever he is)? That is why I would like commentators to provide a link or URL to his/her blog/website. Or at the very least furnish me with an email address.

I took no offense at being called a UFO…I have no idea why anyone would want to pose as me or what benefit they would hope to obtain form doing so though. I don’t have a blog or homepage, but I am interested in discussing the points you raised. I’ll admit that I enjoy my cloak of anonymity as far as the internet is concerned and I believe I tried my best to keep my comment polite and biblically based (even if you consider that a wrong interpretation of the bible) such that there is no abuse of said anonymity. Certainly I hope I have done nothing that you qualify as taking a ‘potshot’ at your post. While I am not aware of how many people read your blog, I do not wish to provide my email on an open internet page. If you have a blog email address I am certainly willing to email you, if that is what you wish (I believe I gave you an email address during our previous exchange, but that has fallen into disuse).

You’re welcomed. By the way, my friend Jenson did not mention anything concerning “lower income families.” Regarding my response? Yes, yes, yes ...

No, Jensen did not mention anything about lower income families. My comment was mainly address the statements you made:

“It is indeed a challenge especially for low (and some middle-low) income groups to struggle with a single salary, taking into account the rising cost of living…But then again, we know that Christian living isn't easy. The world has their ways, and we have ours.”

Who are these writers you were referring to? Missing the “Bible balance,” “especially with regards to lower income families?” Please show me where in the Bible was this “balance” mentioned i.e. homemaking and lower income families. Thanks.

I was referring to Mrs Chancey and Mrs McDonald. I tried to word my comment carefully to be clear that I was not claiming to be an expert on their views. The balance I refer to is that the bible allows a far greater amount of freedom for wives to work outside the home than Mrs Chancey and Mrs McDonald would allow – at least from what I remember of their writings. And no, when I say ‘greater freedom’ I do not mean ‘complete and unrestrained freedom’.

In any case, I mentioned that because I had some small familiarity with the books authors. Even if my knowledge of them turns out to be deficient, I am still interested in the points raised.

What sort of unnecessary burdens are placed upon both men and women by well meaning Christians, pray tell?

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.

Or does the problem lie in those who are unable to submit themselves to clear biblical mandate? Remember, obedience is better than sacrifice.

No I would not think the problem is with those unable to submit to a bible mandate. I believe the problem is that the bible mandate, and the obedience that God requires, has been wrongly defined.

I do realize that there are exceptional circumstances e.g. father is dead, paralyzed, terminally ill, abandoned mothers, widows (by the way, what does the Bible say concerning diaconal duties and widows?) etc. The focus nevertheless is this: we are discussing about the biblical norm. These exceptions cannot become the norm for the average Christian home.

Point taken. That said, I do not see the biblical norm as being as strict as what you seem to be claiming it to be. 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.

What does the bible say about widows? 1 Timothy 5 tells me they ought to be cared for … but not all widows. As verses 9 and 10 tell us, they must be above sixty, and have lived a certain life of good character.

Deut 24:19 tells us that sheafs are to be left for widows and other needy peoples – but the widow still needs to go out and collect it. Unless a woman meets the special criteria for full time support in 1 Timothy 5, Christian charity towards her involved providing her with work, or giving her work that would be easier than normal. Which lines up exactly with how Boaz treated Ruth in Ruth 2. He did not say as a widow she should not be working gleaning in his fields, but he did take steps to make her gleaning easier and more profitable than it otherwise would have been.

I had written in my previous post, “The emphasis of Paul [in Titus 2:4-5] 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.”

I hope I am not wrong in saying that this paragraph is primarily an exegesis of Titus 2:5, so I will try to address it later. I agree that according to the bible, wives are to be homemakers. That said, you raise the question can a woman be a homemaker while having another vocation?
While you give a logical answer to the question, that is not quite the same as giving a biblical answer.

I know in our previous exchange we disagreed over my usage of the example of Aquila and Priscilla. I’ll give the verses again.

Acts 18:2-3 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.

Verse 3 says that by their occupation they were tentmakers. Both Aquila, and Priscilla were tentmakers by occupation. Was Priscilla a vocational homemaker? Given Paul’s hearty commendation of the couple in his other Epistles, she must have been. Did she have another occupation or vocation? Yes, she was a tentmaker.

I think this example does show that being a homemaker as the bible commands is not incompatible with a woman having another vocation. That said I will agree that her homemaking comes before any other vocation she may have (if any). The issue is not a simple condemnation of a mother having a vocation outside the home, the issue is can she fulfill her duties at and to the home while having this other vocation? Priscilla obviously could. We don’t know if this couple had any children, and obviously a woman with no children will have more time to devote to pursuits outside the home than a woman with children. Again, I believe the issue if a woman is fulfilling her duties. This will differ from couple to couple based on factors like number of children, age of children etc, and cannot be answered by a blanket condemnation of any vocation outside the home.

Yes and no. Let us impart more nuance to your statement above.

Look at the verses you brought up ...

16 She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants.

All of the aforementioned examples i.e. the purchase of a field, the planting of a vineyard (you mean she did that all by herself? I believe not!), and the making and selling of garments are not in any way similar to what today’s women do for their careers in contemporary culture or marketplaces.

I was using those verses to prove a particular point – the virtuous woman had pursuits that brought her time, energy and person away from her domestic duties, and these are considered to be part of what makes her a great woman.

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. Similarly with the making of garments. She might well have done this at home, but it would still have meant she spent time away from her domestic duties.

I am not sure exactly what differences you had in mind regarding these activities and contemporary work. One example I have heard raised (and I think it is a reasonable one) is that the activities in proverbs 31 allow more flexibility as opposed to a 9 – 5 job. This is true, but it does not settle the issue. As I said before, the question is can a wife fulfill her duties at home? A fixed 9 -5 job may make it harder, but that still leaves the question unanswered. Again, the specific circumstances of each family needs to be considered instead of giving a blanket answer.

There is no mention of a Proverbs 31 woman working 9 to 5 daily outside her home (or more specifically - her domain of work at home, and she is not necessarily confined to her house/HDB flat), leaving the care of her children to her mother-in-law or the maid, or even delegating household chores like simple cooking to the hawkers or her domestic helper.

No, there is no mention of it, but there is no condemnation of it either. As I said already, there is mention of her having projects and activities that took her away from her domestic duties. Proverbs 31 certainly shows that a woman’s responsibility is for her home. I do not see how it prohibits her from moving outside the domain of her work at home if things are getting done at home.

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.

Regarding the outsourcing of household chores, where do you get the idea that it would be wrong for a wife to delegate cooking or other such duties to others? What do all her maidens from v15 do if they are not even to help her in her domestic duties? And if Abraham could delegate a trusted servant to find a wife for his son, surely a woman can delegate the cooking to someone else if she so chooses, and her husband allows.

Now, the sad thing is when a woman decides that she is going to go have a career at the expense of the family, at the expense of the children, at the expense of the husband and the home.”

I would comment on this portion of John MacArthur’s essay. I agree with him here, although he probably would not agree with how I use his words. A woman should not have a career at the expense of her husband, children or home. However, I would disagree that the very fact that she has a career is automatically at the expense of her husband, children or home. It might well be, but again, it is something that must be looked at on a case to case basis.

What is the conservative ideal? What is your exegesis of Titus 2:4-5?

I assume you refer to the phrase ‘homemakers’ or ‘keepers at home’ from Titus 2:5. I will have to give the same interpretation I did during our last exchange, although I believe you rejected it then.

Obviously this phrase speaks of some sort of domestic focus for a woman, but I would understand this phrase more completely by comparing it to other places in the bible.

Firstly to understand what a homemaker is I return to Proverbs 31, and understand that she is to be responsible for the running of her home – but that does not automatically preclude business outside the home.

Next I go to 1 Timothy 5:13-14, ( And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully)

that contains the similar phrase ‘guide the house’. However I notice that v14 starts with ‘I will therefore’. Paul’s commands for women to be guiding the home is in response to, and in opposition to a specific something - they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.

From this I understand that by the bible’s definition, the opposite of a homemaker is not a woman who works, necessarily, but a idle and gossiping woman.

From this two passages I understand Titus 2 to be teaching a woman’s responsibility to her home, and the direct sin it is forbidding is that of idleness and gossip.

Do you believe that the Bible condones a full-time working mother?

I believe, at present, that the bible condones a mother who takes care of her husband, children and home. Can she do that while working full-time? Like I have said many times before, it will depend on individual circumstances. I do not, at this time believe there is biblical warrant for saying the answer is always ‘no’.

Mark, you seriously need to differentiate between different gender roles and responsibilities. “The wife being a helpmate to her husband” does not equate to “the wife having SIMILAR responsibilities as the husband.”

I never said they had similar responsibilities. Let me try to explain myself better. The husband is tasked with providing for his family. However, his wife is his helper, and Proverbs 31 and the example of Aquila and Priscilla tell me that part of her role of helping does involve the wife contributing to financial provision. This flows out of her role as a helper. Even her care of the children flows out of this role as a helper. It is fathers whom God primarily entrusts with bring up children (Eph 6:4, Col 3:21), and his wife is to help him do it. Now, God has mandated a ‘division of labor’ such that the man is primarily tasked with providing and the woman is primarily tasked with looking after the domestic affairs. However, I do not see how that forbids her from helping him financially, given the bible examples I have shown.

You don’t sound like the “Mark” I once knew ... anyway, the “covetousness and pride” that often result in “family sufferings” are the “covetousness and pride” that drive men and women, fathers and mothers toward self-centered, materialistic goals of living the “American,” or if I may say, “Singaporean” dream.

I honestly don’t know what you mean… How do I sound different?


Let me try to conclude…

My first comment was primarily in response to your comment which said this:
It is indeed a challenge especially for low (and some middle-low) income groups to struggle with a single salary, taking into account the rising cost of living. Do you know that the LTA is going to increase the number of ERP gantries, not mentioning the exorbitant increase in the price of groceries and daily products in Singapore?

But then again, we know that Christian living isn't easy. The world has their ways, and we have ours.

To the extent that this seemed to imply that it was a duty even for struggling low income families to survive on one income at any costs, I did feel that was an unfair burden given what I have tried to show about the wife’s role as a helper in financial matters.

Hence, I do not believe it is wrong for a wife of such a family to go out and work given that

a) the bible shows financial contribution is part of a wife’s role

b) the bible neither forbids her from working outside the home nor commands her to be totally focused on the home.

c) this is a completely different situation from a mother who works to chase prosperity or for self-fulfillment.

Jenson said...

Hello Mark,

"I hope I might, again, be allowed to make some comments, specifically with regard to the part of your response to Jenson regarding lower income families.”

I should clarify myself. Terms like "lower income families" or "living standard" to me are arbitary. I remember an Indian pastor who came to stay with a group of us in London - this was in a hostel owned by the Met Tab. One of our housemates was out of a job and complained that he could not find suitable work (he had a BA in Marketing or something). The Indian pastor scolded him, saying something like, "Brother, you are living in London, where the street are paved with gold!". So a Singaporean's definition of "lower income families" would be equivalent to "middle/upper income familes" to others.

The issue with mothers going back to work is the purpose for doing so. Is the family in dire straits and so she has to work to pay the bills?

If Christians can be better stewards of their money and resources, this situation would not happen. The church will also be able to do what Scriptures prescribed - i.e. support widows/widowers and missionaries.

I cannot imagine in the Day of Judgment, where we shall stand before God giving an account of our... accounts.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Mark,

I will be writing a blog post as a reply to your lengthy comment - there are just too many issues mentioned in your post. But please pardon my lack of time ... I am working full-time and taking exams soon. So, do stay tuned. ;)

mark said...

Hi Vincent,

No problems...

All the best with exams.

PuritanReformed said...

Mark:

You can get an OpenID, btw., like here (http://openid.net/). Then you would be able to comment on places where registered users only are allowed to comment.

Jenson said...

Hi Vincent,

What about dealing with the fundamental issue - what is good Christian stewardship? How does one spend one's money/time/resources?

mark said...

Puritanreformed,

Thanks.