Is the Proverbs 31 woman a Titus 2 wife? An odd question, I suppose, for most of you who don’t participate in these discussions from day to day. But for those of us who do, the question is raised frequently. Or, rather, not a question but an objection. That the Proverbs 31 woman is NOT a very good Titus 2 wife.
Or, more likely, the kind of wife that their opponent is arguing for, using Titus 2. Whatever attribute is being argued from in Titus 2 is, according to these posters, in direct contradiction to what we see the Proverbs 31 woman doing.
Having read dozens of these discussions it seems to me that the misunderstanding, if misunderstanding there be, lies in one of two different directions. On the one hand there may be a misunderstanding of what we believe Titus 2 promotes, on the other hand there might be a misunderstanding of what we see the Proverbs 31 woman doing.
So I propose in this post to lay out both Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 and show how and why I believe that these two texts, far from being contradictory, are extremely synergistic. The Proverbs 31 woman is the very model of what a Titus 2 woman looks like in practice, and Titus 2 is a New Tesatment confirmation of the ideal raised in Proverbs 31 (and Proverbs 5 and elsewhere).
So lets look, first, at Titus 2:
[The older women are to teach the young women to be:]
to love their husbands,
to love their children,
To be discreet,
keepers at home,
obedient to their own husbands,
that the word of God be not blasphemed.
And, of course, married. The entire context of Proverbs 31 is that of an unmarried man looking forward to a wife, and his mother is describing to him what a truly virtuous woman looks like.
Some objectors dislike the Titus 2 emphasis on children but not in the context of discussions on Proverbs 31, as that woman, too, obviously has children. They are among those who rise up and call her blessed.
So what is left? What are the qualities that are seen to be in conflict between Titus 2 and Proverbs 31? Well, there are only two left in the text, really: keepers at home and obedient to their own husbands.
Most of the time ‘obedient to their own husbands’ doesn’t come up in this discussion. Probably because there is nothing resembling disobedience in story of the Proverbs 31 woman. Oh, and because it is written that ‘the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.’ Only someone with a rather Disneyeque view of obedience would consider this an opening for disobedience.
So I guess what I am left saying is that the whole discussion comes down to the ‘keeper at home’ thing. They think that in saying, emphasizing, and teaching on her being a ‘keeper at home’ we contradict what we see the Proverbs 31 woman doing.
So what we need to do is examine what has been taught on Titus 2 and compare that with what we see in Proverbs 31, in the light of a ‘keeper at home’.
First of all, the old commentators.[see below] Writing in a time with a rather different culture most of the old commentators’ comments focus on a much more literal ‘keeper at home’ than the modern ones. They saw ‘keeper at home’ as being the opposite of ‘gossip’.
You see, back in the days before cell phones, indeed any kind of phones, or faxes, or texting… or anything of that sort, the only way to talk to someone was to… go where they were. Leaving aside the ‘talking over the back fence’ concept (the most primitive of telephones) or yelling from one house to another (hardly suitable for the kind of thing they wanted to talk about) the neighborhood gossip would, perforce, need to be out of her house a lot, moving from place to place, getting and passing on all of the most juicy gossip. So she could not be, in the most literal of senses, a ‘keeper at home’.
And we see this very idea repeated in a couple of places: once speaking directly to widows and once speaking of false teachers (presumably men) who took advantage of this same concept to promulgate their false doctrine. The gossip didn’t mind, obviously, if someone else came to her! With whatever the latest news was.
A second meaning of ‘keeper at home’ is brought forward by Matthew Henry and coupled with ‘chaste’. The woman who wishes to commit adultery, even just a ‘flirtation’ will have a hard time doing it sitting at home with just her children and husband. In this sense a ‘keeper at home’ again has a very literal, if euphemistic meaning: to keep one’s sexuality limited to ones ‘home’, ie husband.
The reformers third meaning of ‘keeper at home’ begins to approach that of many of the modern commentators. In this view (or this facet of what is seen as a many-meaninged phrase) to be a keeper at home refers to a woman’s heart, her sense of priorities. Even when she is ‘abroad’ she is ‘home focused’. Often this view says that the best translation here is not ‘keeper at home’ but ‘worker at home’. Or, in modern parlance, ‘homemaker’.
Modern commentators live in a very different culture than the reformers did. While women have always pursued careers outside the home only in recent days in our society has this become generally considered as the norm. As Chesterton put it:
Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t.
In other words only in a modern society, with easy access to bottles, birth control, child-murder, and ‘day care’ can most women, by and large, pursue ‘careers’. In the past only powerful or wealthy women could do so; and even they would find themselves inconvenienced by pregnancies. Indeed even now statistics tell us that the career paths of women and men are not identical.
Historically women, by and large, found themselves pregnant fairly routinely and then breastfeeding and then caring for the young child. Eventually that child grew old enough, if a boy, to work with his father or, if a girl, to take part of the house load from her mother. By then, of course, she would have become pregnant again. Only the wealthy and powerful could afford a wet nurse and then a ‘nurse’ for the ‘nursery’.
Which makes the Proverbs 31 woman all that much more significant, because she is obviously, at least by the ‘end of the story’, a wealthy woman managing a wealthy household. But I digress. Modern commentators.
Yes, well, so modern commentators are faced with a society filled with women going to school for sixteen plus years of their life, then being expected to go into a ‘career’ which, according to many expectations, they will continue until ‘retirement’. If and when they get married, which they are expected to do, if they do it at all, at a late stage in life, and have children, which is not expected until well after they have married, they will expect to take only a short break for the post birth period and then go right back to work, taking the child from the breast (if he was ever there) and putting him into the hands of strangers to raise.
Oh, and our society teaches then they should only have two children, three at most, and possibly only one or none. So the entire culture, as regards a woman’s role, is dramatically different than the culture the reformers were writing to, or that Paul would have been writing to. The ‘home’ as it existed in Paul and Calvin’s day can hardly be said to exist now. Even when I was growing up I could expect, if I needed something on the way home, to be able to knock at practically any door and have a woman, a wife and mother, answer the door. Nowadays everyone is at work.
So the modern commentators have to take us two steps where the old reformers only had one. The modern commentators must first describe the kind of ‘house’ that the woman should keep, and then encourage her to keep it. Not that these descriptions need to search past Scripture, and, indeed, Proverbs 31 is one of the places that they typically go. (Other passages would be Psalms 127 and 128, for example).
So, then, what kind of ‘house’ do the modern commentators urge modern women to ‘keep’? Let’s look through Proverbs 31:
Pro 31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The first thing we remark about the Proverbs 31 woman is that she is virtuous. And, yes, her virtue is part of the ‘house’ she needs to keep, in both the Old and New Testament. And it is one thing that modern commentators emphasize.
Pro 31:11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
This is a great key to this whole passage. Indeed two great keys. Her relationship with her husband is one where she has his complete trust… and rightly so. And where as a result of their relationship, he does not need ‘spoil’, ie extra money. This is the context for what follows.
Pro 31:12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
His trust is not misplaced, all the days of his life. The husband-wife relationship is designed to be lifelong and the virtuous woman will do her husband good all of those days.
Pro 31:13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
Is the Proverbs 31 woman departing from the Titus 2 model here? In order to ‘seek’ this wool and flax she must ‘leave’ her home, no?
Pro 31:14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
Here again she ‘leaves’, bringing her food from ‘afar’.
Pro 31:15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
But here we have the focus of this ‘going’ and ‘leaving’: providing food for her family. She is the one who gets up early in the morning, so everyone else can eat. She is feeding her entire family by getting up before them. Keeping at home does not mean ‘staying’ at home, but focusing on her home, building up her home, supporting her home.
Pro 31:16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
So why is it that we ‘Titus 2’ advocates don’t see this as violating our principles? Why, indeed, do we see this as the very archetype of the Titus 2 wife? Because Titus 2 teaches that women should be strong, intelligent, hard-working women… whose focus is their house, their husband, their children, their ‘staff’. From the lowliest hovel to a royal mansion we believe that the woman is to be the ‘ruler’ of her household. The type of ruling that we see in the most powerful of rulers: a ruler that works harder than any of his subjects. A ruler which is up at dawn and doesn’t stop until they drop exhausted into bed at night.
GK Chesterton, who wrote when feminism was first raising its ugly head, put it well:
The final fact which fixes this is a sufficiently plain one. Supposing it to be conceded that humanity has acted at least not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively typifying the ideals of special talent and of general sanity (since they are genuinely difficult to combine completely in one mind), it is not difficult to see why the line of cleavage has followed the line of sex, or why the female became the emblem of the universal and the male of the special and superior. Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.
GK Chesterton, ‘What’s Wrong with the World.’
Pro 31:17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
Somehow I don’t think this is her exercise routine. I think this is a statement of how hard she works. How she often gets tired and has to get up and do it anyway.
Pro 31:18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
It is easy to make the mistake that the ‘merchandise’ here means that our Proverbs 31 woman must have been working in some factory. We tend, nowadays, to be rather ignorant of history, and do not realize that the days of ‘factories’ are fairly new. For most of history most ‘industries’ were home based. Sometimes they included other people, particuarly apprentices and slaves, but they were ‘family owned and operated’. So the ‘merchandise’ here, as we see in the next verse, is ‘homemade’.
The Feminist (which means, I think, one who dislikes the chief feminine characteristics) has heard my loose monologue, bursting all the time with one pent-up protest. At this point he will break out and say, “But what are we to do? There is modern commerce and its clerks; there is the modern family with its unmarried daughters; specialism is expected everywhere; female thrift and conscientiousness are demanded and supplied. What does it matter whether we should in the abstract prefer the old human and housekeeping woman; we might prefer the Garden of Eden. But since women have trades they ought to have trades unions. Since women work in factories, they ought to vote on factory-acts. If they are unmarried they must be commercial; if they are commercial they must be political. We must have new rules for a new world—even if it be not a better one.” I said to a Feminist once: “The question is not whether women are good enough for votes: it is whether votes are good enough for women.” He only answered: “Ah, you go and say that to the women chain-makers on Cradley Heath.”
Now this is the attitude which I attack. It is the huge heresy of Precedent. It is the view that because we have got into a mess we must grow messier to suit it; that because we have taken a wrong turn some time ago we must go forward and not backwards; that because we have lost our way we must lose our map also; and because we have missed our ideal, we must forget it. “There are numbers of excellent people who do not think votes unfeminine; and there may be enthusiasts for our beautiful modern industry who do not think factories unfeminine.” But if these things are unfeminine it is no answer to say that they fit into each other. I am not satisfied with the statement that my daughter must have unwomanly powers because she has unwomanly wrongs. Industrial soot and political printer’s ink are two blacks which do not make a white. Most of the Feminists would probably agree with me that womanhood is under shameful tyranny in the shops and mills. But I want to destroy the tyranny. They want to destroy womanhood. That is the only difference.
Whether we can recover the clear vision of woman as a tower with many windows, the fixed eternal feminine from which her sons, the specialists, go forth; whether we can preserve the tradition of a central thing which is even more human than democracy and even more practical than politics; whether, in word, it is possible to re-establish the family, freed from the filthy cynicism and cruelty of the commercial epoch, I shall discuss in the last section of this book. But meanwhile do not talk to me about the poor chain-makers on Cradley Heath. I know all about them and what they are doing. They are engaged in a very wide-spread and flourishing industry of the present age. They are making chains.
Pro 31:19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
The wife’s hard work in this area is one reason her husband has no need of ‘spoil’. His work, probably in the fields, combined with her work in the home produces a sufficient, indeed abundant, family income.
Pro 31:20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
God’s word promises blessings to the righteous man when he is generous with the poor. Here we see this man’s wife promoting that blessing.
Pro 31:21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
Pro 31:22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Pro 31:23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
Here is a set of results of her hard work: her family is prosperous. They can afford expensive clothing, and her husband can afford the leisure time to be one of the rulers of their city.
Pro 31:24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Again, as we said before, this is not an example of her going out to work in some factory. These are her home goods, produced by her own hands, that she delivers to the merchant.
But in this corner called England, at this end of the century, there has happened a strange and startling thing. Openly and to all appearance, this ancestral conflict has silently and abruptly ended; one of the two sexes has suddenly surrendered to the other. By the beginning of the twentieth century, within the last few years, the woman has in public surrendered to the man. She has seriously and officially owned that the man has been right all along; that the public house (or Parliament) is really more important than the private house; that politics are not (as woman had always maintained) an excuse for pots of beer, but are a sacred solemnity to which new female worshipers may kneel; that the talkative patriots in the tavern are not only admirable but enviable; that talk is not a waste of time, and therefore (as a consequence, surely) that taverns are not a waste of money. All we men had grown used to our wives and mothers, and grandmothers, and great aunts all pouring a chorus of contempt upon our hobbies of sport, drink and party politics. And now comes Miss Pankhurst with tears in her eyes, owning that all the women were wrong and all the men were right; humbly imploring to be admitted into so much as an outer court, from which she may catch a glimpse of those masculine merits which her erring sisters had so thoughtlessly scorned.
Now this development naturally perturbs and even paralyzes us. Males, like females, in the course of that old fight between the public and private house, had indulged in overstatement and extravagance, feeling that they must keep up their end of the see-saw. We told our wives that Parliament had sat late on most essential business; but it never crossed our minds that our wives would believe it. We said that everyone must have a vote in the country; similarly our wives said that no one must have a pipe in the drawing room. In both cases the idea was the same. “It does not matter much, but if you let those things slide there is chaos.” We said that Lord Huggins or Mr. Buggins was absolutely necessary to the country. We knew quite well that nothing is necessary to the country except that the men should be men and the women women. We knew this; we thought the women knew it even more clearly; and we thought the women would say it. Suddenly, without warning, the women have begun to say all the nonsense that we ourselves hardly believed when we said it. The solemnity of politics; the necessity of votes; the necessity of Huggins; the necessity of Buggins; all these flow in a pellucid stream from the lips of all the suffragette speakers. I suppose in every fight, however old, one has a vague aspiration to conquer; but we never wanted to conquer women so completely as this. We only expected that they might leave us a little more margin for our nonsense; we never expected that they would accept it seriously as sense. Therefore I am all at sea about the existing situation; I scarcely know whether to be relieved or enraged by this substitution of the feeble platform lecture for the forcible curtain-lecture. I am lost without the trenchant and candid Mrs. Caudle. I really do not know what to do with the prostrate and penitent Miss Pankhurst. This surrender of the modern woman has taken us all so much by surprise that it is desirable to pause a moment, and collect our wits about what she is really saying.
Pro 31:25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
Is this where Titus 2 contradicts Proverbs 31? Is the Titus 2 woman a ‘strong’ woman . Our modern world has no conception of ‘honor’ and many think that the ‘strong’ woman is the very antithesis of the Titus 2 woman. Older societies knew better, and knew of the extreme strength that it took to be a Godly woman. Godly women of old were martyred, endured childbirth without medication. Even today African women will give birth in the morning and work in the fields in the afternoon.
Pro 31:26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
Is this a violation of Titus 2? All of this ‘opening her mouth’? Far from it, it is actually in the text. The older Titus 2 woman is supposed to have lived her life in a righteous way specifically so she can teach.Teach the young women how they should love and obey their children, love and raise her children, manage her household.
Pro 31:27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Here we find her focus: her household. And her characteristic: she is not lazy. She works hard to see that her household is fed, clothed, well taught… this is the Titus 2 woman.
Proverbs 31:28-31 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
And here is the conclusion. The passage ends where it started, with this woman being praised. We heard that her worth was above rubies, and now we see the conclusion of this evalution: her children, her husband, and even all of the rulers of the city rise and praise this woman.
I am afraid that the modern woman would not praise this woman. In fact I have seen it. The modern woman hates this woman. The woman who is praised by her husband and children, this woman is more frequently castigated by her modern peers.
But in conclusion let me say that this Proverbs 31 woman is exactly the kind of woman that we Titus 2 advocates wish our wives to be. The apostle Paul, who wrote Titus 2, was a a Jew, a Pharisee, and wrote:
2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
He didn’t contradict Proverbs 31 with Titus 2, he helped define it. The qualities that the Titus 2 women are to teach are exactly the qualities that the Proverbs 31 woman demonstrates.
Keepers at home: minding their own family affairs, not gadding abroad; and inspecting into, and busying themselves about other people’s matters. This is said in opposition to what women are prone unto. It is reckoned among the properties of women, by the Jews, that they are יוצאניות, “gadders abroad” (x): they have some rules about women’s keeping at home; they say (y),
“a woman may go to her father’s house to visit him, and to the house of mourning, and to the house of feasting, to return a kindness to her friends, or to her near relations–but it is a reproach to a woman to go out daily; now she is without, now she is in the streets; and a husband ought to restrain his wife from it, and not suffer her to go abroad but about once a month, or twice a month, upon necessity; for there is nothing more beautiful for a woman, than to abide in the corner of her house; for so it is written, Psa_45:13 “the king’s daughter is all glorious within”.”
And this they say (z) is what is meant by the woman’s being an helpmeet for man, that while he is abroad about his business, she is יושבת בבית, “sitting at home”, and keeping his house; and this they observe is the glory and honour of the woman. The passage in Isa_44:13 concerning an image being made “after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house” is by the Targum thus paraphrased:
“according to the likeness of a man, according to the praise of a woman, to abide in the house.”
Upon which Kimchi, has this note.
“it is the glory of a woman to continue at home, and not go abroad.”
The tortoise, which carries its house upon its back, and very rarely shows its head, or looks out of it, was, with the ancients, an emblem of a good housewife. These also should be instructed to be “good” or “kind” to their servants, and beneficent to the poor, and to strangers, towards whom, very often, women are apt to be strait handed, and not so generous and liberal as they should be:
Chaste, and keepers at home, are well joined too. Dinah, when she went to see the daughters of the land, lost her chastity. Those whose home is their prison, it is to be feared, feel that their chastity is their fetters. Not but there are occasions, and will be, of going abroad; but a gadding temper for merriment and company sake, to the neglect of domestic affairs, or from uneasiness at being in her place, is the opposite evil intended, which is commonly accompanied with, or draws after it, other evils. 1Ti_5:13, 1Ti_5:14, They learn to be idle, wandering from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. Their business is to guide the house, and they should give no occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully
Keepers at home – Οικουρους. A woman who spends much time in visiting, must neglect her family. The idleness, dirtiness, impudence, and profligacy of the children, will soon show how deeply criminal the mother was in rejecting the apostle’s advice. Instead of οικουρους, keepers of the house, or keepers at home, ACD*EFG, and several of the Itala, have οικουργους, workers at home; not only staying in the house and keeping the house, but working in the house. A woman may keep the house very closely, and yet do little in it for the support or comfort of the family.
keepers at home — as “guardians of the house,” as the Greek expresses. The oldest manuscripts read, “Workers at home”: active in household duties (Pro_7:11; 1Ti_5:13).
(a) Not roving about idly.
Keepers at home – Whenever they are not called out by works of necessity, piety, and mercy.
Keepers at home – That is, characteristically attentive to their domestic concerns, or to their duties in their families. A similar injunction is found in the precepts of the Pythagoreans – τὰν γὰρ γύναικα δεῖ οἰκουρεῖν καὶ ἔνδον μένειν tan gar gunaika dei oikourein kai endon menein. See Creuzer’s Symbolik, iii. 120. This does not mean, of course, that they are never to go abroad, but they are not to neglect their domestic affairs; they are not to be better known abroad than at home; they are not to omit their own duties and become “busy-bodies” in the concerns of others. Religion is the patron of the domestic virtues, and regards the appropriate duties in a family as those most intimately connected with its own progress in the world. It looks benignly on all which makes home a place of contentment, intelligence, and peace. It does not flourish when domestic duties are neglected; – and whatever may be done abroad, or whatever self-denial and zeal in the cause of religion may be evinced there, or whatever call there may be for the labors of Christians there, or however much good may be actually done abroad, religion has gained nothing, on the whole, if, in order to secure these things, the duties of a wife and mother at home have been disregarded. Our first duty is at home, and all other duties will be well performed just in proportion as that is.
Redirects from the Titus 2 passage to this comment on I Tim 5:
13And not only so, but they grow idle Nothing is more becoming in women than keeping the house; and hence, among the ancients, a tortoise (94) was the image of a good and respectable mother of a family. But there are many who are diseased with the opposite vice. Nothing delights them more than the liberty of running from one place to another, and especially when, being freed from the burden of a family, they have nothing to do at home.
Tattlers and busybodies Besides, those widows, under the pretense of the respect due to the public character which they sustained, had more easy access to many persons. This opportunity, obtained through the kindness of the Church, they abused for purposes of “idleness;” and next, as usually happens, from slothfulness sprung curiosity, which is also the mother of talkativeness. Most true is the saying of Horace: “Shun an inquisitive person, for he is always a tattler.” (95) “No trust should be placed,” as Plutarch says, “in inquisitive persons, for, as soon as they have heard anything, they are never at rest till they have blabbed it out.” This is especially the case with women, who, by nature, are prone to talkativeness, and cannot keep a secret. With good reason, therefore, has Paul joined together these three things, sloth, inquisitiveness, and tattling.
(94) “Une tortue ou limace.” — “A tortoise or a snail.”
(95) “Percunctatorem fugito; lam garrulus idem est.” — Hor.
THE MEANING OF “KEEPERS AT HOME”
The Greek word translated “keepers at home” is oikourous. This word is derived from two Greek words. The first, oikos, means a house, a dwelling, or, by metonymy, a household or family. The second, ouros, refers to a keeper, watcher or guardian, i.e., one who has the oversight and responsibility for something. Thus, the basic significance of oikourous is that of a “housekeeper,” that is, one who watches over a household and family, seeing to it that all members are cared for, and all things maintained in good order. Oikourous is used only in the New Testament in Titus 2:5; therefore, in seeking to accurately discern its meaning we must look to the Greek literature of the New Testament era. There, the word oikourous meant watching or keeping the house. It was employed in reference to a watchdog who guarded a house, but more germane to the context of Titus 2:5, oikourous also meant keeping at home, and was employed as a substantive, “housekeeper,” to indicate the mistress of the house. Furthermore, it was specifically used in praise of a good wife. Interestingly, oikourous is utilized contemptuously of a man who refused to go out to war, designating him a “stay-at-home” man.
The verbal form of the Greek stem oikour-, oikoureo, meant to watch or keep the house. It was used of women to indicate those who were at home to watch over the affairs of a household, and of men to designate those who stayed at home to avoid military service.Other words based on this same Greek stem such as 1) oikourema, meant keeping the house and staying at home, and was used to refer to women as the “stay-at-homes”; 2)oikouria, referred to women as those employed in the work of housekeeping; 3) oikourios, meant the wages or rewards for the work of keeping the house, but also designated, significantly, keeping children within the doors of the house, i.e., keeping them at home.
On the basis of this word study, it is concluded that oikourous was primarily used in the positive sense to indicate both the nature and sphere of a married woman’s work. The nature of her work is to manage the affairs of her household, and the sphere of her work is the home. It is important to note that oikourous and its cognates all included the idea of staying at home. Therefore, we believe that the “keepers at home” are those who stay at home for the purpose of managing their households.
Paul’s admonition is definite: Let the older women teach the younger women to remain within the sphere of their own households so that they might properly attend to their duties of caring for their family and managing its everyday affairs.
“Keepers at Home”
Of the handwritten copies which contain Titus 2:5 the majority of the manuscripts have the word oikourous meaning – “Watching or keeping the house. II. Staying at home, domestic…the mistress of the house” (Liddell & Scott, Abridged 17th ed. pg. 478). The King James and New King James versions look to this word in their translations –“keepers at home” (KJV).
Based on the King James rendering one might draw the conclusion that the point is for the woman to “keep” or “stay” at home. However the emphasis seems to be on the woman’s responsibility to the home. Vincent claims – “The meaning is notstayers at home, but keepers or guardians of the household” (Vol. IV, p. 342). This word is a compound of oikos (o‰kow) – “house” and ouros “a watcher”.
Scholars tell us that this was a common word in the ancient world. Liddell & Scott claim it carried with it the idea of one acting as watch-dog (8th ed. p. 1032). In Athens 400 years before Christ there stood a pagan temple called the Erectheum which housed the figure of a snake. The snake symbolized security and protection of the city of Athens. The playwright Aristophanes calls this “the GUARDIAN (oikouros) Serpent” ( Lysistrata 759, p. 212, 252). Four hundred years after Christ a preacher named Chrysostom used the word to describe a wife’s proper conduct. He writes – “The woman who isKEEPER OF THE HOUSE (oikouros) will be of sound mind; the KEEPER OF THE HOUSE (oikouros) practices management of the house; she is not about luxury, nor unnecessary goings-out, nor will she be occupied with such things of others” (taken from Alford, Vol. III, p. 416).
“Workers at Home”
Instead of the idea of the wife as “keeper of the house” some manuscripts use the word oikourgous meaning, “working at home” (BAG, p. 561). The American Standard and New American Standard look to this word – “workers at home”(ASV, NASB). It also is a compound of oikos “house” but with the word ergon “work” added to it rather than “watcher”.
Scholars tell us this word was less common in ancient usage. The only example of oikourgous being used outside of Scripture is that which is found in the medical writings of a Second Century doctor named Soranus of Ephesus. Concerning one having female illnesses he writes – “Conduct life as a HOUSE-WORKER (oikourgos) even sitting-still” (taken from Nicoll, Vol. IV, p. 192). The verb form of this word is found in the writings of the Second Century Christian Clement of Rome. In a probable reference to Paul’s teachings in Titus 2:5 he writes – “Ye taught them to keep in the rule of obedience, and to MANAGE THE AFFAIRS (oikourgein) of their household in seemliness, with all discretion” (The Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot, Vol. II, p. 272).
The only other clues we have regarding the meaning of what it is that the Lord is teaching us here come from ancient translations. When translators in the first few centuries after Christ tried to convey the idea into Latin the translator of the Vulgate (400 AD.) used three words – domus curam habentes (“having a care of the house” - Rheims-Douay Version, from the Vulgate). Another early translation was one done in Syriac (Aramaic). The Syriac version called the Peshitta (400’s AD) connects this thought with the next word in the text – “… discreet, chaste, GOOD HOMEMAKERS, obedient to their own husbands…” (Lamsa Version from the Peshitta).
Written by Vaughn Ohlman
Approved by Jeff Woodward