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Can Women Only Work at Home? (Titus 2:5)
Before I get into this blog, I want to share an interesting fact that someone sent me. This is my 500th episode for Monday w/ Mounce. I started in 2008 and have tried to write consistently, with a few summers off. I am thankful for having been able to do this and trust that you have found it helpful.
This blog is really about how you decide on the meaning of a Greek word that rarely occurs.
In Titus 2, Paul gives a list of characteristics and activities for older men (v 2) and then older women (vv 3–5). This later group is to teach the younger women to be “busy at home (οἰκουργούς).” How do you define οἰκουργός? Both it and its variant οἰκουρός occur only here in the New Testament and rarely in secular literature.
Under these situations, you have to look and the morphology of the word and its biblical context. οἰκουργός is a compound word formed from οἶκος + ἔργον, “house” + “work.” Note that there is nothing in the morphology that says working “only” at home.
The variety of translations shows the difficulty of defining this word. “workers at home” (NASB, CSB), “working at home” (ESV), ”to work in their homes” (NLT), ”busy at home” (NIV), “good managers of the household” (NRSV, which does not see ἁγνάς [“pure, chaste”] as its own category but as modifying οἰκουργούς), “fulfilling their duties at home” (NET), and “to be good housewives” (TEV).
Context provides the important clue. As is true of most of these lists in the Pastorals (see my commentary), they are listing the good qualities that contrast with the bad qualities of the false teachers and their adherents. For example, the false teachers were drunkards, and so church leaders should not be given to much wine. “Busy at home” contrasts with the activity of the younger widows, who “get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to” (5:13).
Broader context assures us that godly women can work outside the home (Prov 31).
Paul is encouraging the older women to teach the younger women to not be like the younger widows who use their freedom for gossip, but rather focus on their household duties. Stated positively, Paul “counsel[s] younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes (οἰκοδεσποτεῖν) and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (5:14).
Notice that this instruction is not grounded in creation (1 Tim 2:12). It is “to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” This argument is used three times and has to do with their effect on society: "in order that the word of God may not be blasphemed" (v 5); "in order that the opponent may be put to shame because [he] has nothing evil to say against us" (v 8); "in order that they [i.e., the slaves] might adorn the teaching of God our Savior in all things" (v 10).
When applied to modern culture, where working outside the home would not necessarily be a reason for cultural rebuke, Paul’s injunction would not apply. However, in my opinion, when both parents work outside the home, and if the children are being neglected, and their homes are not being managed, I think the verse does have something to say.
For issues of present-day relevance, see S. Foh, Women and the Word of God (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979) 190-91.