Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Biblical Support For Women as Homemakers

My dear friend Claire asked for some scriptural support for my convictions that girls be raised to be homemakers. As with numerous biblical doctrines, I take my position not from one whole book of the Bible that deals only with this topic, but with a smattering of biblical texts that together inform our discussion. I would say at the outset that in order to fully understand this position, and more broadly complementarianism itself, I think a full study of Scripture will be immensely helpful. This mirrors the helpfulness of studying the full text of Scripture when it comes to Calvinism or some other such major issue. On that matter, I started out an ardent Arminian and ended up a convinced five-point Calvinist. Scripture did me in. So, I think, does it speak to this issue.

Scriptural Support For Women as Homemakers and Wives

Firstly, read the Pentateuch. There is enormous descriptive evidence in the first five books of the Bible that show men in the role of provider and women in the role of homemaker. The Israelite society is patricentral, meaning that it is focused around men, and men are the ones who work, who provide, while women raise children and tend to the home.

After the fall, in Genesis 3, it is Adam, expected to be the chief provider, whose work is cursed by God. Not Eve--Adam. Why? Again, he is the provider, the chief laborer of the home. Eve is the homemaker.

In Genesis 4, Cain and Abel are the ones who bring sacrifices to God. Their wives are nowhere to be found in economic terms. Why? Well, we can infer with confidence that they were at home.

In Genesis 9, after the flood, when God renews his covenant with his covenant people, He tells Noah that the offspring and fruit of the earth are his. Noah and the men with him are the providers, the ones who slay the animals, who tend the crops, not the women, and God makes this clear.

In Genesis 13, strife arises between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot, the men who work and lead other men in work. This is clear from the context.

In Genesis 25:27, we read that Esau was a skillful hunter; his brother Jacob later relieves Rachel of her shepherding duties (premarital work) and works to win and support her. She later struggles to deliver children while he is off working.

In Genesis 37, it is Joseph and his brothers who work. This makes perfect sense--no mention of women working with them.

In Exodus 2, it is Moses' sister, not a male in his family, who cares for the child as he grows up.

In Leviticus 27, on the redemption and selling of property, men are the economic agents, those who do the buying and selling. They are the owners of land.

The book of Ruth (see chapter 4)--Boaz provides for Ruth, and Ruth gives birth to children. Before Boaz takes Ruth in, she works to survive. After they marry, Ruth is provided for, and raises a son.

Job (see chapter 1)--Job is the head of his household, as Israelite men were. He owns the cattle, he oversees his workers, and he provides spiritual and economic leadership for his family.

In Proverbs, it is young men who are admonished to work and not to be lazy. One would need to read the book to get the full weight of the responsibility that men have to work and provide. No similar word to women is found. For starters, see Proverbs 6:6-11, 10:4-5, and 20:13.

Proverbs 31:27--"She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness." The proverbial Proverbs 31 woman works diligently from her home to contribute economically to her family. I fully support this, a woman working part-time from her home to supplement her family's income. This woman's husband is a city ruler, showing us that his work takes him from the home, while his wife tends to the business of her home.

1 Timothy 5:8--"But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." This is a key text. Men, not women, have the responsibility to provide for their wives and children. No one else does. The responsibility lies solely at their feet. If the family fails economically, noone looks to the wife--they look to the head of the home, the husband. This clearly shows us that the role of provider belongs to the husband, not the wife, which makes perfect sense when taken with the rest of the Bible.

1 Timothy 5:14--"So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander." Nowhere are widows told to work, as men are. Instead, they are to seek marriage and let a man provide for them. This is perfectly consistent with the biblical model for all women.

2 Thessalonians 3:6--"Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us." Throughout Paul's writings, he admonishes men to work. Where he could make his arguments to both genders, he focuses his attention on men, because men are to be the home's providers and yet men often stray from this role and force women to provide for them. This is evil and condemned by Paul (see also 3:11 and 1 Thess 4:11).

Titus 2:3-5--"[Older women] are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled." No comment needed here. This is a case-maker.

The burden of action in the sphere of work is clearly on men, not women. Women clearly are not charged to work as men are, and are in several places spoken of as those who do their work for God from the home, not the office. I would add, though, that situations may change slightly after the kids leave the home. That's a bit of a different scenario.

I hope that this has been helpful. Thanks, Claire, for the provocative questions. I'm glad for all the responses in this little conversation and hope that I've been of some help. As the beneficiary of a wonderful homemaker, I can say that the biblical plan for the home works wonderfully, if two months can tell such a story. The Bible's word must be carefully studied, but I believe the truth is there, if we will look to find it.

4 Comments:

Blogger Vanessa Brooks said...

After reading the 1 Timothy 4:8 reference, I decided to look and see what the TNIV reads...

"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially their immediate family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever"

Two things to note: The adoption of "anyone" instead of a male pronoun, as well as completely deleting "he" from the text... I think this supports your agrument that Christian Feminists are making relevant cultural adaptations to conform to the growing gender debate.

Thanks for this Owen! I have been linking up to all your posts...

7:41 AM  
Blogger Jed said...

Bravo Owen. Thanks for taking the time to provide some specific texts. Now we have something to discuss. Let me kick it off by offering my 2 cents on Proverbs 31:

It is true that the business transactions of this woman were limited to those concerning the household. However there is a good reason for this. In the ancient economy of the near East (and even of Greece), the household was the center of economic activity (cf. Jack Pastor, Land and Economy in Ancient Palestine. London: Routledge, 1997). Economics was by definition transactions related to the home (hence economics is derived from oikos, the home). Economic activity, whether conducted by men or women, centered on the affairs of one's home or estate. It would be a mistake to read an account of a business transaction in the ancient economy and expect modern categories (such as home and workplace) to apply (cf. M.I. Finley, The Ancient Economy). What we can do is look at the proverbs 31 account within its own context and then draw a general principle that can be applied to our own culture. The general principle, I submit, is the following: A woman is free to engage in any business transaction that is also legitimate for a man. (The prov. 31 woman is portrayed as doing all of the essential economic activities that a man would do in her culture). To apply the general rule in our culture: A man can be an investment consultant; hence, a woman can be an investment consultant. This is not to say that other factors may affect the way in which the rule is applied in some instances, but I think the general rule is sound.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Jed said...

"Women clearly are not charged to work as men are, and are in several places spoken of as those who do their work for God from the home, not the office."

--This is the sort of statement that one cannot make because of the extreme differences between ancient and modern economies.

Also be careful with the "hes." For example in the Greek for 1 Tim. 5:8, it does not say "he". Rather it says "anyone" or "one" (tis). It is inclusive of both men and women. There is nothing wrong with translating "he" so long as we recognize that "he" stands for both men in women, as in the Proverb: "He who hesitates is lost."

Finally an issue of methodology: I love the Vos(ian) biblical-redemptive approach to questions of ethics. Murray uses it in his great work Principles of Conduct. However what Vos and Murray both realized is that we are not looking to replicate the exact practices of ancient societies (especially in books that are primarily historical) but rather searching for broad principles that we can employ in today's society. Hence it is not enough to merely show that Hebraic society was dominated by men: one must also argue that BECAUSE WOMEN IN ANCIENT SOCIETY WERE CONFINED TO THE HOME, THEY SHOULD BE IN OUR SOCIETY AS WELL. This is a harder argument to make and one that most users of the historical redemptive approach (ie. conservative Calvinists) have been reticent to make)

8:50 AM  
Anonymous claire said...

THanks, Owen. That's a thoughtful response. Perhaps you could also elaborate on how your theories of childraising are implemented. If I understand you correctly, you you say that women are not supposed to have the same academic ambition as men. How is this actually implemented? Are girls in high school supposed to take less challenging academic classes so that they have more time after school to help their mothers in the kitchen/in the garden/with laundry...? Should women go to less academically rigorous colleges then men?

-claire

9:12 AM  

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