24 July 2011

Homemaking and SAHMs

The Social Pathologist and Ulysses have written quite a bit about stay-at-home-mothers and careerism and a whole host of other things related to women’s roles in society (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).  In short, feminists and other leftists have told women to pursue a career alongside the boys and traditionalists have told women to stay at home and take care of their kids.  However, it appears that while most women enjoy domestic duties, they would also like to spend some time engaging in work outside of the home.  In essence, optimal reality is somewhere between the extremes.

Anyway, I want to look at the religious traditionalists’ assertion* that women should be stay-at-home-mothers.  Religious traditionalists assert that women should stay at home and take care of the family.  This assertion is justified by citing Titus 2:5, which says that the older women should teach the younger women to be homemakers.

The question that should be asked of the traditionalists is:  does being a homemaker require one to be a stay-at-home-mother?  Answering in the affirmative requires one of two possible conditions: either the word translated “homemaker” in Titus 2 is an unqualified implication** that women must stay at home or the rest of the Bible is silent on women working outside the home.***

The former question is easily answered by consulting with Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the New Testament.  The word translated “homemaker” in Titus 2:5 is the Greek word oikouros  (Strong’s 3626:  οικουρος).  The New King James renders this word “homemaker;” the King James renders it “keepers at home.”  The literal meaning of the word is “working at home.” Thus, the command in Titus 2:5 is that women are to work at home.

This means, first and foremost, that women are expected to work, a lesson that often seems lost on far too many modern American women.  Additionally, they are expected to work at home, which means that women have a moral imperative to do work on behalf of their family within the setting of the home.  However, there is no qualification on the command to work at home, especially the qualification “only.”  This means that women are not explicitly forbidden from working outside the home, although it should be clear that the woman’s work at home is a non-negotiable imperative.****

Therefore, the teaching of Titus 2:5 is that women need to work at home, which only implies their presence at home insofar as they are required to work at home.  It would appear that the application of this verse would be that women must not shirk their duties to their families to pursue other things.   Since the word “work” is unqualified, and since wives are to submit to their husbands, it is reasonable to conclude that the work women do in the home is done under the authority of their husband and that the specific role each woman plays in the home may vary based on the specific circumstances each woman finds herself in.

Since Titus 2:5 does not specifically detail the work that a woman is supposed to do at home, a final question remains:  Are there any passages that state, imply, or otherwise teach that a homemaker (as the Bible uses the phrase) can work outside the home?  If the answer is no, then one can reasonably infer that that being a homemaker is equivalent to being a stay-at-home-mother.  If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, then one can infer that being a homemaker does not necessarily require one to be a stay-at-home-mother.  It should be noted, however, that neither implies that there is an imperative for a woman to work outside the home.  Thus, working outside the home can be forbidden or allowed, but never compelled, at least directly in a moral sense.

Proverbs 31 is worth considering as an answer to the question of whether it is possible for a woman who meets the biblical definition of homemaker to work outside the home.  It is obvious that the woman described in Proverbs 31 works at home:  “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household,” “She watches over the ways of her household,” and “her household is clothed with scarlet.”  Obviously, this woman works at home, in keeping with God’s expectation in Titus 2:5.  But she also works outside the home:  “She considers a field and buys it,” “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants,”  and “she is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar.”

Since the woman of Proverbs 31 is described as virtuous, and thus has God’s stamp of approval, it is clear that being a homemaker does not imply that one is a stay-at-home-mother and it is likewise clear that being a homemaker does not preclude a woman from working outside the home.  Therefore, it should be obvious that the religious traditionalists’ assertion that women should stay at home as a matter of biblical imperative is wrong.
However, this is not to say that women must work outside the home, nor is this to say that it is bad for women to stay at home.  Instead, the only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that women do have responsibilities at home that should not be shirked, and these responsibilities will vary by each woman’s situation.  Each woman should submit to her husband, who can legitimately require that his wife stay at home and tend to the family.

In sum, there is much freedom in the carrying out of the specific command found in Titus 2:5.  Religious traditionalists should understand that working outside the home is not inherently evil, though it can be in some cases.  As such, they should not stigmatize and ostracize mothers who work outside the home unless it is obvious that said mothers’ working outside the home is having a detrimental effect on their family.  There is freedom in Christ, and those who claim to follow him would do well to recognize this.

(As a closing aside, I would like to point out a couple of things in regards to women’s desires to balance family and career.  One, obtaining optimal balance is impossible.  One can get close to it, but there will be times when the mix is less than optimal.  Two, perfect, continuous happiness is impossible.  One’s job will be frustrating at times; one’s domestic responsibilities will be frustrating at times.  Three, sometimes women desire the impossible.  The optimal mix of careerism and domestic responsibility as one envisions it may simply not exist.  Fourth, a woman’s family should take precedence over a woman’s personal desires, by which I mean that a woman should do what is best for her family, not her happiness.)

* Lest anyone accuse me of creating a straw man, let me simply say, for the record, that the argument that women should stay at home and take care of the home/children is a faithful reproduction of what my father and mother have taught me.  Additionally, the argument that my father has made regarding the necessity of a mother’s staying at home is largely consistent with arguments made by his preaching buddies.  And yes, I am the son of a preacher man.

**  That there is a controversy over this specific verse would indicate that the meaning of “homemaker” is not obvious, and the command must be unqualified elsewise one could only argue for staying at home as a matter of principle, which would then yield to pragmatism.  And if the issue is inherently pragmatic, than the principle is not absolutely binding, and the application becomes a matter of circumstance, and the traditionalist argument does not yield itself to modern conveniences, which is a matter for another post, or possibly the comments section.

*** The biblical principle of silence is addressed in Hebrews 7:14.

**** Which is to say that while women can work outside the home, whatever work they do outside the home should not interfere with their work at home.  Essentially, their work at home carries the highest priority.


  1. I agree with your analysis. I know some of the debate over this has been the "keeper of the home" passage vs. that wives are to "submit to their husbands in everything" passage and which overrides the other. Should a women work full time outside of the home if that is her husband's request? Should she submit to him in that regard? Tricky.

    "Fourth, a woman’s family should take precedence over a woman’s personal desires, by which I mean that a woman should do what is best for her family, not her happiness."

    I was reminded of this article that says career women are happier women and happier women are better moms, so therefore career women should not be quickly dismissed.


    At first glance it seems reasonable enough, but as you pointed out women should do what is best for their family, not their happiness. Of course they will argue that a career is what is best for their family. It makes them happier and provides material things, that otherwise would not be so. At this point, I think it gets down to what is right and wrong. Many choose full time homemaking because they feel it is morally right, not because it will make them happy, but rather, they learn to be happy or "content in all things". This is the lesson that escapes the modern world. Happiness is not found in things and endeavors, but can be chosen based on your situation. I think a career woman can find happiness in the home, she just chooses not to. Plus, if she has such a good business sense, she should be able to make her own home business.

  2. I think it's important to keep in mind that a woman's highest duty is to serve God, and all else takes second place to that. As such, a woman would then submit to her husband insofar as doing so does not place her in conflict with obeying God. I would say that the principle of submission supersedes the principle of homemaking because the former is more specific than the latter (i.e. submission can be easily defined, but homemaking cannot because it encompasses a wide range of acceptable behavior). Furthermore, men are the ones in charge of deciding what is best for the home, and thus bear the responsibilities of their decisions, the effects of which cannot be determined ex ante. As such, the woman should submit to the man, and the man should make the best decision he can for his family. We must never lose sight of the fact that what is best varies by family, since circumstances for each are different.

    I also agree with your assessment that a woman with good business sense should be able to work from home. In many ways, the internet age has rendered much of the debate on career vs. family moot because the internet enables people to work from home cheaply, easily, and efficiently.

    And yes, happiness is a self-determined state of mind.