Deciphering Titus 2:5 for Women

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As part of our Biblical Womanhood Series, we are going to take a deep dive into Titus 2:5. This is a difficult verse for the modern woman to swallow. I know ladies! It feels like a double whammy. The “working at home” and the “submissive to their own husbands” all in one verse! But take a deep breath because God is good and He is sovereign and He always has our best interest in mind. We will dissect this verse and hopefully, by the end of this article, we will walk away with a better understanding and peace of mind.

….to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Titus 2:5 (ESV)
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The General Context of Titus 2:5

We can never try to understand a verse without looking at the context for that particular verse. In this case, we want to start by reading the entire message of the book of Titus. It is a short book, so read it to yourself a couple of times, slowly, and get a feel for the general themes and what exactly is happening.

The book of Titus is a letter from Paul to a man named Titus. He is a person whom Paul has placed in a position of authority and has been tasked with hand-picking leaders for the church in Crete. Paul also encourages him to teach “sound doctrine.” That is important because now we know that whatever is in Titus 2:5 is indeed doctrine and not Paul’s personal ideas and/or suggestions.

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We will explore context further as we move along in the verse. Note, I will be using the ESV version of the Bible so your translations may be a bit different.

“To Be Self Controlled”

The first instruction for young women found in Titus 2:5 is to be self-controlled. The New Testament was translated from Greek manuscripts so at times it is helpful to look at how the original Greek word is used biblically and to look at the literal meaning of the word. Although sōphrōn means to be “self-controlled,”that is the ability to curb one’s passions and inclinations, there is also an element of being sensible, to follow sound reason.

There is an interesting pattern about the Greek word sōphrōn that we should note. It is used more times in this very short book of Titus than anywhere else in the Bible. The word sōphron and its close cousin sōphroneō are used a total of ten times in the Bible, four of those times are in Titus. Go ahead, reread the book of Titus, and circle every time you see the phrase “self-control.” Other translations might use the words “discreet,” “sensible,” “sober-minded,” and “sober,” but they are all based on the same word that means “self-control.”

Paul is telling Titus that elders (or overseers), young women, young men, and older men are to exercise self-control. It is a clear theme within the book of Titus and clearly an expectation of not just women, but Christians in general. Neither our status (elder for example), our gender, nor our age matter. We are all to demonstrate to follow sound reason and exert self-control in our Christian walk.

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MODERN DAY APPLICATION – A good example of not exerting self-control is drunkenness. The excess consumption of alcohol will diminish our ability to use sound reason and therefore exert self-control. So as we seek to use self-control in our daily walk we should also ask ourselves if there is anything in our lives that is affecting our ability to use sound reason. I would argue that social media can have that affect on many of us as we let our reason be manipulated by emotion or every wind of doctrine.

“Pure”

In this verse, older women are tasked with teaching younger women to be “pure.” In modern lingo, we tend to associate the word “pure” with virginity or at least an absence of sexual misconduct. Phrases like “purity culture” and “purity rings” lend themselves to that meaning. However, the Biblical meaning of “pure” means more than that.

The Greek word hagnos comes from the root Greek word hagios which means “holy.”An outline of the Biblical usage based on Thayer’s Greek Lexicon is “exciting reverence, sacred,” “pure from carnality, chaste, modest,” and “pure from every fault, immaculate.” In essence, to be “pure” is to keep one’s self clean from sin. Yes, that includes sexual sin, but we should seek to keep ourselves clean from all sin. Basically, to be beyond reproach.

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MODERN DAY APPLICATION – The use of pornography is actually increasing in women today. That may be an area in our lives that we may need to cleanse. Other areas could be the things like what we watch on TV or the images we view on social media. It could also be gossiping, lying, or just how we treat our husbands or kids. We all have different struggles, so each of us need to do our own self-assessment.

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“Working at home”

This one phrase in Titus 2:5 is frequently used to teach that all wives should be homemakers or stay-at-home moms. Biblically, however, I do not think we can make the case that ALL women should be homemakers in the modern sense of the word.

Some of the earlier Greek manuscripts used to translate the Bible use the Greek word oikourgos which literally means “worker at home.” However, some other later Greek manuscripts use the word oikouros, which literally means “keeper or guard of the home.” There are no other uses of either word Biblically so we can also look at how the word was used in other ancient Greek texts contemporary with the Bible. The Greek use of either word seems to be in the connotation of working at home. (See here for a more thorough discussion on these Greek words.)

The problem is, however, when we think of “working at home” we get this picture that is very Western and “modern.” Think 1950s housewife. But that is not the reality of how life played out in Bible times. So let’s look at it contextually for a better understanding.

Biblical Context of “Working at Home”

We learn in the book of acts that Paul spent some time with a husband and wife team, Priscilla and Aquila. They were both tent makers and Paul worked alongside them.

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2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.

Acts 18:2-3 (ESV)

Paul, the same person who wrote the book of Titus, describes Priscilla as a teacher of scripture and as a tent-maker (along with her husband). Note here that Paul does not disparage her income-earning work. Technically, they are making tents in their home, and Paul has joined them. So are all three “working at home”?

We also need to consider that slaves were very common during the Roman Empire and in ancient Greek society. Many of the women who Paul was speaking to in Titus 2:5 had slaves to do the more mundane housework. (This is similar to how many middle class and all upper class women in third-world countries today have maids because the labor costs are so low.) That is consistent with the Proverbs 31 woman who ran a business, managed maids, along with doing more traditional “domestic” work.

Just with these three contextual references, we begin to get a picture of the possible meaning of “working at home.” It is less about cooking and cleaning and more about managing the home. This interpretation is consistent with I Timothy 5:14 where young widows are encouraged to “marry, bear children, manage their households.” (For a more in-depth look at I Timothy 5:14, read “Is the Man the Head of the Household?”). Managing a household, which implies a type of leadership position, is also consistent with the idea that women were created in the image of God. Part of being created in the image of God is also having dominion (aka leader), even if that dominion is under the authority of her husband. (See, Defining Truth for Women: Created in the Image of God)

MODERN DAY APPLICATION: So what does this all mean practically for us today? Women have the responsibility to manage the home, but that may look different in each marriage. Both a husband and wife need to prayerfully consider the needs of the family, their talents, the call of God on their lives. A woman with a full-time job could manage her home by hiring the best caregivers for her kids and hiring someone to do the cleaning. Another one can be a traditional homemaker. And there will be times when a woman would love to have job outside the home, but the needs of the family require her to stay home (that is what happened to me). And there may be a woman who would love to stay home, but financially it is just not possible and must work outside the home.

The important thing here is the decision for a career (for either a man or a woman) should never be based on what brings us glory, but on what brings God glory. And we can only reach a decision that is godly if we remove our ambition, come together with our spouses, and prayerfully ask the Lord for guidance.

“Kind”

The word “kind” means what we think it means. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives the following possible meanings for the Greek word agathos, the Greek word behind the English word “kind”:

  • “of a good constitution or nature”
  • “useful, salutary”
  • “pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy”
  • “upright, honorable:”

In essence, young Christian women should be pleasant to be around. Now, this is a quality that is commanded not only of women but all Christians in general.

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:10 (ESV)

The word “good” in Galatians was translated from the same Greek word agathos found in Titus 2:5.

MODERN DAY APPLICATION – Do people like your company? Are you pleasant to be around? Some women are naturally this way. Some, like me, are not. Those of us who are a little rougher around the edges need to be more intentional about it. I had to make a conscious effort to not come across as so grumpy or moody with my teen girl especially. Changing my own demeanor helped improved my relationship with her.

“Submissive to Their Own Husbands”

I dive into this idea in great detail in my article, “Is the Man the Head of the Household?” so I will not spend a lot of time on it here. I will just say a few words about its meaning in Titus 2:5, but I encourage you to read the article for a more thorough understanding.

In essence, it does mean what we think it means. Women are to submit to their husbands, but there are a lot of nuances to consider.

“Submission” has become a dirty word in our culture and part of that, unfortunately, is because certain traditional Christian circles have used it in a way that is not biblical and at times in ways that are oppressive. In addition, our current secular culture has painted it in a negative light. But the biblical meaning placates neither traditionalists nor progressives.

For example, does submission mean that a woman has no leadership role in the home? No. The Bible tells us otherwise.

Does a woman submit to a husband who is abusing her or her children? No, there is biblical precedence to disobey in those instances.

Does a husband force his wife to submit? No. Absolutely, not. The act of submission is solely made by the wife as an act of faith. And it is older women, as we see here in Titus 2:3, who are responsible for teaching younger women about submission (not even Titus is given that task!).

Should you submit to all your huband’s sexual desires? Actually, not if you feel uncomfortable with it. The Bible teaches that when it comes to the area of sex, the husband does not get to dictate. Instead, both must engage in mutual submission.

Biblically, having authority is not a reward. It is not a measure of intelligence or capability (sorry men!). Once we can internalize that aspect of authority, the idea of submission takes on a new meaning. We begin to understand it is an act of faith where we put our trust in God, and not in our husbands.

MODERN DAY APPLICATION – How would this look in a marriage? Because a woman also has a management role, in most cases, especially if the husband works all day, the woman makes the day-to-day decisions of running the household. That can include more “domestic” things like disciplining the children and choosing the right furniture, but also things like hiring and firing contractors depending on her knowledge and skill. A good husband who loves his wife will appreciate whatever knowledge and talents she brings to the table and trust her to make those decisions without him micro-managing. She is his executive officer.

However, let’s say, she wants to spend 20k on remodeling the kitchen and he wants to spend it on a new roof. She can certainly make her case on why the kitchen matters more, but at the end of the day if the husband decides to spend it on the roof—that is where she would submit to his final decision. This is where she just puts her trust in God, especially if she believes her husband’s decision was not the right one.

The Purpose of Titus 2:5 -“That the word of God may not be reviled”

This last part of Titus 2:5 shows us the reason it is so important to heed these instructions, to not give anyone a reason to revile God’s word. Revile means to slander or blaspheme. At the end of the day, we are representatives, ambassadors of God and Christ here on earth. We do not want to give anyone a reason to slander God’s word because we were unkind, sinful, or had wayward children, for example, because we were unable to manage our household. If people are going to criticize, let it be for well-doing, and never for evil.

When we read Titus 2:5, many of us want to take it personally. We want to interpret it as an affront to us women and our rights. I have done that. But at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with Him. But the beauty of it all is that the boundaries and restrictions God puts on us serve a greater purpose, even if it may feel uncomfortable for us personally at the moment.

For example, the submission thing was hard for me at first, but I find that my husband and I fight less and the home is more harmonious. I see the wisdom now in God’s order that I failed to appreciate before. Likewise, I pray and hope that in your obedience God will reveal his greater purpose.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Cass

    One of the most readable, accessible treatments of this verse that I have ever read. And, on point! It’s not about us, it’s about Him, and His glory. Solid Deo Gloria.

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