Should Wives Work Outside the Home?

Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Timothy 5:14 talk about young wives working at home, is this the ideal role God ordained for women? Should women not work outside the home?

To answer those questions, it will be helpful to look at five considerations.

1. Principles from the Bible 

First, it is important to glean principles from the Bible to answer this question. The first principle or truth that I think is relevant is that God made humans gendered. The Bible clearly teaches that males and females are both made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and yet males and females differ from one another in some respects to various degrees. Scripture also teaches that within the family and within the church God has given complementary roles and gifts. For example, see the table from God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger:

The way that Andreas Kostenberger says it, is that “Women are to place special priority on their God-given calling as mothers and homemakers.”[1] That, I agree, seems to be a biblical principle. Women are especially equipped for that task (even physiologically).

2. Priorities from the Bible 

Next, it is important to consider priorities from a biblical perspective. We want our priorities to lineup with the priorities of Scripture. If they don’t we will have a problem with Scripture wherever it is at odds with our priorities. Our priorities, however, should be aligned with Scripture; we should not seek to align Scripture with our priorities.

Interestingly, “A 1982 Gallup poll showed that more than eight out of ten respondents (82 percent) assigned top priority… to the importance of family life. Families… rated as more important than the possession of material goods.”[2] Scripture agrees with what was the majority assessment in 1982 (see e.g. Deut. 11:19, 21; Ps. 127:3-5).

What, however, do we value?[3] Fortune or family?

Tacitcus, the Roman historian and politician writing around the same time as the Apostle Paul in A Dialogue on Oratory said,

“Our children are handed over at birth to some silly Greek servant maid… The parents themselves make no effort to train their little ones in goodness and self-control; they grow up in an atmosphere of laxity… they come to lose all sense of shame, and all respect for themselves and for other people.”

Tacitcus had a problem with that approach. And I think Christians should too.

We, however, haven’t answered our above question yet, but we’re getting there. But, it’s vital that we consider our motivation and priorities as we ask the question.

3. Precedent from the Bible 

What does the Bible specifically say about our above question? The Bible does not prohibit wives from working outside of the home. Titus 2 says, “working at home” (v. 5)[4] and 1 Timothy 5 says, “manage their households” (v. 14).[5] Scripture, however, never says that women, wives, or young wives must only work at home. In fact, Proverbs 31 seems to commend the woman who is industrious even outside of the home (v. 16, 18, 24). Scripture also leads us to believe that Lydia’s productivity as “a seller of purple goods” facilitated her hospitality (Acts 16:14, 40).[6]

It is also important to remember that many people in that time and culture had household servants and so part of a young wife’s managing of the affairs of a house would often have included managing people outside of the immediate family unit. So, being “merely” a mother involved even more than all we think of it involving. That is, many women would have helped manage the family business even from their home.

It’s also important to consider that part of the reason for Paul’s exhortation is to “counter a prevalent view of marriage in which a wife might pursue a life of pleasure as some of the Roman wives did.”[7] The biblical priority and precedent is not for Christians to merely live for pleasure. It is to sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8), to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), and invest in heaven (Matt. 6:19–20).

4. Particular Circumstances Understood in the Bible 

We should realize, however, that the Bible gives a realist account of history and the lives we live. The Bible tells us about Ruth and Naomi and about slavery in Egypt. The Bible knows that we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes, sadly, women have to work outside of the home a lot more than they would like and cannot have the time with their kids, as they would like. I don’t believe that’s ideal, but again, we don’t live in the ideal world. However, the Bible is emphatic that there is grace! There is kindness and there is help for us who live in this broken and hard world.

My own mom of ten had to work outside of the home, and more than she would have liked. But, it was not because she didn’t prioritize the right things, it was because she did prioritize the right things.

For women working outside the home, I don’t believe the Bible condemns you. I believe it commends you, if you are working for the right priorities.

“In our culture, we’re progressively seeing more wives working outside the home while some husbands stay at home for a variety of reasons. There are situations in which a wife can make more money than her husband or in which the couple has chosen to work out their marriage in this way because this is their preference. In other cases, the husband may be lazy or may even misuse his position of authority. Whatever the reason, it’s important for families to look to Scripture to learn and to stand by their biblical convictions regarding God’s design of them. Men need to come to realize that they should act out their leadership role in a loving, sacrificial, and humble way and work to provide on the domestic sphere. God’s creation order is certainly not arbitrary.[8]

5. Potential Blessings

The calling of a wife, though difficult, is not there to keep the women down. No. From a biblical perspective it is for blessing; blessing for the woman, the family, and the broader society. Scripture teaches that children are a blessing (Gen. 33:5; Ps. 127:3).

The calling of a wife does not at all communicate she is not capable. No. It highlights her capability (see e.g. Prov. 31:10, 11, 23)! Dorothy Patterson has said,

 “Homemaking… is not a destructive drought of usefulness but an overflowing oasis of opportunity; it is not a dreary cell to contain one’s talents and skills but a brilliant catalyst to channel creativity and energies into meaningful work.”[9]

Conclusion

I believe each person should consider what the Bible itself says and the five considerations above and make their own informed decision. I myself believe it is sometimes wrong for women to work outside of the home and other times it is very right. I believe it comes down to mainly the motivation and priorities of the heart.

For example, is family or fortune more valued? Are we operating from a secular worldview or a biblical worldview? Those are questions I can’t answer for you.


[1] Andreas Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 271.

[2] Dorothy Patterson, “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 367. “Many of our problems—in children’s and young people’s behavior, in our morals, culture and in production—are partially caused by the weakening of family ties and slack attitude to family responsibilities” (As quoted in Ibid., 372).

[3] Sadly, very often “The virtues and vices of Christianity have been inverted so that self-gratifying personal rights, selfishness, and self-interests are exalted, whereas self-effacing submission, humility, and service to others are degraded” (Patterson, “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 376).

[4] It’s important to understand, however, that Paul’s instruction to younger wives was not merely designed to “stabilize the household by calling them back from promiscuity.” Rather, “at the forefront of Paul’s thinking was not the collapse of society or the empire, but rather damage to the church’s public image and witness” (Turner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 728). It is the church’s standing more than simply the husband’s honor, which is a stake (Turner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 729). Paul did not want the word of God to be reviled (Titus 2:5). 

[5] I totally agree with this: “It’s very hard to argue that these letters are merely occasional. If you want to look anywhere in the New Testament, the letters to Timothy and Titus are the place to look for normative instructions for church life” (Andreas & Margaret Kostenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 200-01). I just believe Titus and 1 Timothy give flexibility and do not require that wives only work at home.

[6] I agree with the Kostenberger couple when they say “The church should seek ways to strengthen families since the home is also a powerful center and springboard for ministry. If you look at the ministry of the early church in the book of Acts, you’ll find that ministry often flowed from the homes of individual believers” (Kostenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 234).  

[7] Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows; The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, 162.

[8] Kostenberger, God Design for Men and Women, 235.

[9] Dorothy Patterson, “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 377.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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