Titus 2 women, keepers at home, biblical womanhood, gender roles

Watercolour and ink portrait of Ruth by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait can be purchased here.

The older women “are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered.” (Titus 2:4-5 CSB, italics added)

Paul’s instructions in Titus 2, about what the older women in Crete should teach the younger women, come up from time to time in conversations about women’s “roles.” (See Sharon’s comment here, for example.) The idea that women are to be “keepers at home” (KJV), “workers at home” (CSB), or “busy at home” (NIV) is one phrase that is often highlighted and emphasised.

I’ve previously written about the meaning of the Greek words behind “keepers/workers at home” here. And I’ve written about Titus 2:4-5 more generally here, including the fact that the qualities Paul lists in these two verses were often used on epitaphs, etc, when describing virtuous Roman matrons who weren’t Christians. (See footnotes here.) There is nothing especially Christian in Paul’s list.

I’m all for loving one another, especially our family members. And having a home that is clean and tidy is important. But the Bible, overall, does not indicate that keeping at home, or housekeeping, is all women are meant for. Far from it. What Paul says about young Cretan women in Titus 2:4-5 is not the sum total of what the Bible, or even Paul, says about women.

Most women who are portrayed in a positive light in the Bible were not primarily, or only, keepers at home. Here is a sample.

~ The women who served at the entrance to the Tabernacle were not keepers at home. More on these women here.

~ Rahab wasn’t just a housekeeper, she was an innkeeper, and God chose her to have faith, risk her life, and to help the Israelites. More on Rahab here.

~ Ruth wasn’t a keeper at home She worked hard gleaning in the barley fields. Many ancient women, including godly women, worked hard for their livelihood. More on working women in the Bible here.

~ Deborah, a prophetess and judge of Israel, didn’t keep at home but judged under the Palm of Deborah, a landmark at crossroads in the centre of Israel. And she went with Barak to battle against their enemy. More on Deborah here.

~ The Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah didn’t keep at home when she spoke with Joab (the commander of David’s army) on behalf of her city and negotiated for its safety. More on this wise woman and other Bible women with authority here.

~ Huldah, on the other hand, seems to have been at home when she received a delegation sent from King Josiah seeking her advice. This delegation included the High Priest (Hilkiah), the father of the future governor (Ahikam), the son of a prophet (Achbor), the secretary of state (Shaphan), and the king’s officer (Asaiah). Huldah speaks to these men on behalf of God. More on Huldah here.

~ The Queen of Sheba didn’t keep at home and she was commended by both Solomon and Jesus for coming “from the ends of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom” (1 Kings 10:1-29; Matt. 12:42, Luke 11:31). More on this queen here.

~ Sheerah could not have built towns if her main role was housekeeping (1 Chron. 7:24). More on her here. And the daughters of Shallum could not have helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem if their main role was housekeeping (Neh. 3:12).

~ Anna spent little time at home. She spent her days and nights fasting and praying in the temple in Jerusalem. She was there when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple, and from that time she began telling everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem about Jesus (Luke 2:37-38). More on Anna here.

~ Many Galilean women didn’t keep at home but followed Jesus as he ministered in Galilee. They even followed him to Jerusalem where they watched him be crucified. And Mary Magdalene wasn’t at home on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m glad she didn’t miss out on being the first to see the risen Lord by keeping at home. More about the many women who followed Jesus here.

~ When Paul first met Lydia she wasn’t at home but she later used her home as a base for the new church at Philippi. She also ran a business dealing with luxury textiles. Lydia, and many other first-century women like her, had servants and slaves to do the housework. Paul wasn’t talking about scrubbing floors or doing the laundry in Titus 2:4-5. More on Lydia here.

~ Phoebe didn’t stay home or do laundry. She travelled from Cenchrea (a port city of Corinth) carrying Paul’s precious letter to the church at Rome. Paul speaks about her warmly and tells the Romans she is a diakonos (minister or deacon) of the church at Cenchrea and a patron of many. More on Phoebe here.

~ Junia didn’t say home. She was a missionary and, at one point at least, was imprisoned with Paul. More about Junia here.

~ Priscilla didn’t stay home. She travelled with her husband Aquila and the apostle Paul. Paul mentions that she and her husband risked their lives for him. The couple’s home was a base for the church at Ephesus and they later hosted a church at Rome. When Paul greets 28 Christians at Rome, he greets Priscilla first. First! More in Priscilla here.

There are still more women I could mention such as Miriam, the woman of Thebez, and Mary the mother of Jesus, who didn’t devote their lives to housekeeping and didn’t restrict their lives to the domestic sphere. Rather they were out and about helping, sometimes rescuing, their family and community, or were ministering the gospel.

In his other letters, Paul mentions 18 women. He does not primarily identify these women by their family relationships or their domestic situations. Instead, they are described and identified by their work, their travels, but especially by their faith and ministries in the church.

If young women not keeping at home will cause God’s word to be slandered by non-Christians, then women should probably keep at home. This was the issue in ancient Crete. But young women working outside the home is usually not a problem in developed countries. And there is nothing wrong with following the examples of Anna, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, Priscilla, and other women devoted to Jesus and to Christian ministry, and who were not primarily keepers at home.

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