“The wife was made of the husband’s rib; not of his head, for Paul calleth the husband the wife’s head; not of the foot, for he must not set her at his foot. The servant is appointed to serve, and the wife to help. If she must not match with the head, nor stoop at the foot, where shall he set her then? He must set her at his heart, and therefore she which should lie in his bosom was made in his bosom.”
“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.” 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). 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.”
“In seventeenth century New England no respectable person questioned that a woman’s place was in the home. By the laws of Massachusetts as by those of England a married woman could hold no property of her own. When she became a wife, she gave up everything to her husband and devoted herself exclusively to managing his household. Henceforth her duty was to “keep at home, educating her children, keeping and improving what is got by the industry of the man.””
~Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Family (New York, 1944), p. 42.
“Benjamin B. Warfield was a world-renowned theologian who taught at Princeton Seminary for almost 34 years until his death on February 16, 1921. Many people are aware of his famous books, like The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. But what most people don’t know is that in 1876, at the age of twenty-five, he married Annie Pierce Kinkead and took a honeymoon to Germany. During a fierce storm Annie was struck by lightning and permanently paralyzed. After caring for her for thirty-nine years Warfield laid her to rest in 1915. Because of her extraordinary needs, Warfield seldom left his home for more than two hours at a time during all those years of marriage.1
Now here was a shattered dream. I recall saying to my wife the week before we married, “If we have a car accident on our honeymoon, and you are disfigured or paralyzed, I will keep my vows, ‘for better or for worse.’” But for Warfield it actually happened. She was never healed. There was no kingship in Egypt at the end of the story—only the spectacular, patience and faithfulness of one man to one woman through thirty-eight years of what was never planned—at least, not planned by man. But when Warfield came to write his thoughts on Romans 8:28, he said, “The fundamental thought is the universal government of God. All that comes to you is under His controlling hand. The secondary thought is the favour of God to those that love Him. If He governs all, then nothing but good can befall those to whom He would do good . . . . Though we are too weak to help ourselves and too blind to ask for what we need, and can only groan in unformed longings, He is the author in us of these very longings . . . and He will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from all that befalls us.”2″
“Puritans became the first Western society to expressly outlaw wife beating. “Every married woman,” stated the Massachusetts Body of Laws and Liberties in 1641, “shall be free from bodily correction or stripes [lashings] by her husband unless it be upon his own defense upon her assault.””
“Three decades later—and still a century before the Declaration of Independence—the pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation went even further. A husband who beat his wife could be prosecuted and subjected to a fine—or even a public whipping, they decreed.”
A second answer is seen to this plea in the nature of the apostle’s grounds for the law. Not one of them is personal, local, or temporary. Nor does he say that woman must not preach in public because he regards her as less pious, less zealous, less eloquent, less learned, less brave, or less intellectual, than man. In the advocates of woman’s right to this function there is a continual tendency to a confusion of thought, as though the apostle, when he says that woman must not do what man does, meant to disparage her sex. This is a sheer mistake. His reasoning will be searched in vain for any disparagement of the qualities and virtues of that sex; and we may at this place properly disclaim all such intention also. Woman is excluded from this masculine task of public preaching by Paul, not because she is inferior to man, but simply because her Maker has ordained for her another work which is incompatible with this. So he might have pronounced, as nature does, that she shall not sing bass, not because he thought the bass chords the more beautiful- perhaps he thought the pure alto of the feminine throat far the sweeter- but because her very constitution fits her for the latter part in the concert of human existence, and therefore unfits her for the other, the coarser and less melodious part…
Every true believer should regard the scriptural argument as first, as sufficient, and as conclusive by itself. But as the apostle said in one place, that his task was “to commend himself to every man’s conscience in God’s sight,” so it is proper to gather the teachings of sound human prudence and experience which support God’s wise law. The justification is not found in any disparagement of woman as man’s natural inferior, but in the primeval fact: “Male and female made he them.” In order to ground human society God saw it necessary to fashion for man’s mate, not his exact image, but his counterpart. Identity would have utterly marred their companionship, and would have been an equal curse to both. But out of this unlikeness in resemblance it must obviously follow that each is fitted for works and duties unsuitable for the other. And it is no more a degradation to the woman that the man can best do some things which she cannot do so well, than to the man that woman has her natural superiority in other things.