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What does the Bible say about wives working?

If I were looking for the primary biblical texts, I think I would be looking at Proverbs 31, Titus 2:5, and Ephesians 5:22-33. Let’s start with the toughest one - Titus 2:5.

NIV Titus 2:5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

NAS Titus 2:5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.

NAU Titus 2:5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

NKJ Titus 2:5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.

This particular Greek word is used only here in the New Testament, so we have no other clues to its meaning or use in the Bible. I think we get a clue to what Paul means by looking at his words to young widows in 1 Timothy 5:13:

NKJ 1 Timothy 5:13 And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.

Working at home would at least include the sense of staying home and doing your work there, as opposed to going around from house to house, gossiping and wasting time.

The question is, does Titus 2:5 mean that a woman can only work in the home, and not outside the home? Proverbs 31 describes the activities of the godly wife, and these include purchasing materials and food, buying property, planting a vineyard, and doing business. Certainly this takes her physically outside the home a great deal. In this sense she is not strictly working at home, i.e. in her house—though there is a good bit of that also. Even in the more restrictive environment of that time, the godly woman had a much greater freedom (which her husband facilitated) than we might suppose. It is interesting to ponder the Proverbs 31 text a bit, because it would appear to me that the wife’s hard work is part of the reason why her husband can carry out his leadership role at the city gates.

Finally, I have suggested Ephesians chapter 5. The reason is that this text makes it clear that the husband-wife relationship is to portray the relationship of Christ and His church. He is the head of the church, and thus the husband is to be the head of the wife (also 1 Corinthians 11). For the wife to support her husband (unless there were very exceptional circumstances, which made it impossible for the husband to work at all), would be to distort the picture of Christ providing for His church. Nevertheless, the church is not to be entirely passive, either. We do have work to do, God’s work, energized by His Spirit. It is my personal conviction that while the wife may work outside the home, she should not be the primary breadwinner (or provider) in the family. And her work should not prevent her from carrying out her responsibilities to her husband and family.

I think that this is not always a cut and dried issue. For example, would it be wrong for the wife to contribute to the family income by sewing at home, or baking? Then it must not be wrong for the wife to contribute to the family income. Is the place where she works the primary measure of its rightness or wrongness? Once again, she has a significant responsibility to her family, and I think that many young mothers exhibit wrong priorities when they leave their children in the care of others so that they can earn money to raise the family’s standard of living.

Finally, I think that this is a matter of conscience and conviction, and I fear that there may be some judging here that needs to be considered. These are not easy matters.

Related Topics: Christian Home

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