I love Ben Witherington’s wonderful deconstruction of the whole “women-must-stay-home-and-keep-house” theology. It seems the patriarchalists have overlooked one teensy, tiny detail in attempting to superimpose biblical patterns of household relationships on the modern world: slaves.
The household Paul has in mind has slaves (see vss. 9-10) which in itself makes the situation totally different from the modern Western household, unless of course you’ve hired illegal immigrants to do the grunt work at home and are paying them under the table. Then there could be some analogy. But any home that had domestic slaves such as this situation, had the slaves to do ALL THE HOUSEHOLD WORK, including minding the children and helping them with their school lessons. In fact there was a particular household slave used for the latter—- the paidagogos which does not mean pedagogue, though that is where the English word comes from, but rather means the child-minder of younger children, the nanny, who among many jobs walked little Publius back and forth to school and helped with the homework.
The wife, in this case, the young wife, did NONE of these jobs on a regular basis, in such a household. She supervised the management of the household. In fact, she was the de facto head of the household.
Then it really gets good:
What did the husband do?
On a normal day, he handed out the list of jobs to his slaves and clients between 6-9 in the morning, and then he went out to the forum or agora to chew the fat, make business or political contacts, play backgammon, go to the baths and gymnasium, get a hair cut etc. In a situation like this, it was the wife, more than the husband who was not merely the bread baker but the head of the household, making sure their would be bread on the table. The man’s job was to go out and establish the public reputation of his family through dialogue, meals, going to games. etc. Both husband and wife ‘provided for the family’ in such situations, and in a high status marriage, like those Paul is most concerned about in the Pastorals, very often the women had more money, social status, and business acumen and contacts than the men—- which is why a smart man would marry her in the first place…. On a day to day basis it was more likely to be the wife and slaves who ran the family store front business, while the husband ran around making contacts, playing games, eating with friends and the like.
Disclaimer 1: There have been stretches of time in my marriage when I have been the “sole breadwinner.” We entered another such stretch this spring when Connie was laid off, but hopefully things are picking up and she has some opportunities for at least a little bit of contract work in the future.
Disclaimer 2: I concur with Ben that there is nothing wrong with the idea of a woman staying at home, taking care of the house, getting the children off to school, etc. But it’s a long way from saying this is a noble calling that God will bless and saying this is the only option available for women is a disgrace, and to insist it is “the” biblical pattern is an anachronism.