“Keepers at Home”

Lenski, Lutheran commentator:

Abraham van Strij - De huisvrouw“Nonetheless, in accord with the spirit of our age that looks in disdain upon the notion that the sphere of a married woman’s work is her home, many in the church have rejected the earlier consensus understanding of “keepers at home.” Instead, to be “keepers at home” is interpreted to mean that a wife and mother is “to be busy at home” (NIV), i.e., she “should not be idle or derelict in fulfilling home duties.”[4] In other words, “keepers at home” does not define the married woman’s calling or the sphere of her work, but is simply an admonition not to neglect her domestic duties. Therefore, a wife and mother may pursue a career outside of the home — as a lawyer, teacher, sales clerk, etc. — as long as she fulfills her responsibilities in the home.

The difference between the traditional interpretation of “keepers at home” and the modern version is considerable.

While the traditional interpretation established the home as the sphere of a married woman’s work and calling, the modern understanding says that the term does nothing of the kind. While the traditional interpretation defined a married woman’s “career” as homemaking, the modern view teaches that a married woman may pursue a career outside of the home as long as she does not neglect homemaking. While the traditional interpretation calls the woman to focus her energy, time, and talents in the home in the service of her family, the modern view says that she is not so “restricted” and may go outside the home for her employment.

Which is the correct understanding?

It is our belief that the traditional interpretation is the correct one. We base this opinion on the meaning of the Greek word translated “keepers at home,” and on the wider Biblical teaching on the roles of the wife and mother.”

Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford, 1940), p. 1205:

“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.”

“A common objection to the interpretation that to be “keepers at home” requires a married woman to confine her work, her “career,” to that of her home, is that the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 did not confine herself in this way. We are told that she was a “business woman” engaged in pursuits beyond the sphere of her own household, thus justifying the claim that a wife and mother is free to pursue employment and a career outside of the home. But the picture of Proverbs 31 is that of a woman managing her own household, not of a woman leaving the home for employment elsewhere.

Actually, the portrayal of the virtuous woman provides strong support for the traditional interpretation of “keepers at home.” She is a wise manager of the resources her husband commits to her care (vv. 14, 16, 24). She is a true helper to her husband enabling him to rise to prominence (v. 11, 12, 23). She cares for the needs of her children and husband, assuring that they are well fed and well clothed (v. 15, 21). She sees that all their property is put to good use (v. 16).[10] She even engages in “cottage industry” by using any available time and strength to make fine linen and sashes to be sold to the merchants.”

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