Over at The Happy Feminist, there has been a very good discussion over the roles of women in marriage spurred on by the Forbes’ article this week where Michael Noer basically tells men to run from career women because a marriage with one of us will never last (Happy has a great synopsis and several links on her site, so go over there for more info on the article that started all this). I had left a comment on what the words normally mistranslated as “helpmate” in Gen. 2 really mean (don’t worry–I’ll be writing an article on that too). I had a request to post an article on Titus 2:3-5. So here is the first part of a series of articles on women, marriage, careers, and the Bible. If you have any Scriptures you would like me to talk about, please leave a comment. As I told Mary, I am always looking for subjects to post on.
Titus was the pastor of Crete. Toward the end of his life, Paul wrote Titus a letter. Crete was a challenging place to be a pastor. It claimed to be the birthplace of the Greek gods Zeus and Hera, and they capitalized on this with celebrations and giving tours of Zeus’ tomb. Every religion in the Roman Empire was there as well including the mystery religions that claimed to give secret knowledge to those who went through their initiations and became members. In Crete young, married women tended to be left on their own after marriage. A woman would leave her father’s home and move into her husband and his family’s home. There she was never quite trusted because she was brought into the family, and could still have more loyalty to her birth family. These women were separated from the women they grew up with, and thrown into houses with women who never trusted them, let alone helped them learn how to be wives and mothers. Alcoholism was rampant among young women in Crete who could not handle the pressures and stress of married life. These women were also easy victims for religious charlatans. Secret sects along with the priests of Cybele would insinuate themselves into the domestic sphere through these women, and several made a good living ripping these women off. Crete was known for its lack of morals in all areas of life. In fact, to be called a Cretan meant that one was a thieving drunkard. Crete was the only place in the Roman Empire were dishonest gain was fine and in some cases encouraged. It was one of the most immoral places in the Roman Empire. And the Cretans took pride in that.
In Titus 2:3 Paul instructs Titus, the pastor of Crete: “Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good.” The Greek word that is normally translated “older women” is presbutidas, which is the feminine form of the word normally translated as “elder” when it is describing a man. It is very likely that these women are not “older women” but female elders. They would have been older since the Jews would not consider someone to be an elder until the age of 60. Older people were looked to for their wisdom in the pagan world as well. Post-meonpausal women had much more freedom in the ancient world as well. In Judaism women were considered unclean during their periods, which disqualified them from religious service during that time of the month. After menopause a women had more freedom in the religious and public spheres–she was no longer unclean, and she was considered wise because of the many years she had lived. We see this in Anna at the temple in Luke 2: she lived at the temple and prayed everyday. She was probably also a teacher there as well. These elders are instructed “to teach what is good.” Teach is from didaskolos which is the word Paul uses to describe teaching the Gospel. Although the instruction goes on to tell them to train the younger women to love their husbands and children, there is no reason to believe that the younger women are the only ones in Titus’ congregation they taught. But the young women who were now part of the church had no teaching in morality or how to be wives and mothers. So Paul encouraged the female elders to focus their teaching on helping these younger women learn how to cope with all the responsibilities of being a wife and mother in Crete. This teaching probably included how to fend off the charalatans that preyed on them and their families. Paul wanted these young women to know the truth of the Gospel, so they would know when they were being hoodwinked for money, and could protect their families from these greedy hucksters.
We also find female elders in another of Paul’s letters. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2 presbutiro is used for both men and women, and is translated as “older men” and “older women.” In this section Paul is dealing with the established order of ministry within the church as seen in the instructions for enrolling widows. These two groups could be the elders of the church. In verse 17 the plural form, presbutiboi, is used of those who preach and teach in the church, and Paul tells Timothy that they are worthy of double honor. There is no reason to believe that this group was comprised of only men, especially since Paul used both the masculine and feminine form of the adjective in the first two verses of chapter 5. It appears women functioned as elders in the church who taught and preached to the younger generation.
The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), “Titus,” 754-8.
Shawna Renee Bound, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry, unpublished thesis, (Â© by Shawna Renee Bound 2002), “Women in the Early Church,” 69-70.
Aida Besancon Spencer, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), 106-8.
All biblical translations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.