Staying Home with Kids vs. Second Income

But Paul knew nothing of the Industrial Revolution. When he exhorted Titus to have the older women in Crete to teach younger women how, among other things, “to be workers at home” (Titus 2:5), he was speaking into a situation in which almost 85 percent of industry happened in a domestic setting. People knew no such thing as a factory or office worker vs. a stay-at-home mom. Both husband and wife shared the jobs of stay-at-home parent and worker. In Paul’s world, if a man was home from war, both husband and wife raised kids, taught kids, and contributed to the family’s economics. And when he went off to war, she managed it all.


Not long ago, the Desiring God site ran an article titled, “Does My Family Need a Second Income?” The article began like this: “‘Will you stay home?’ This is the question I ask when I meet a postpartum mom wearing her weeks-old baby in a Moby Wrap or Ergobaby carrier. Whether the answer is yes or no, I’m glad for every opportunity to talk with new moms about what it will cost them to return to the workplace.” The article went on to talk about why women should stay at home with their kids.

Some of the author’s arguments are worth exploring, because Christian parents have this in common: we want the best for ourselves and our families. But it’s important to recognize that the binary, either-or for women to work outside the home vs. stay home with kids is a post-Industrial Revolution, western construct. And one we’ve started reading into our Bibles.

Not only that. When the abovementioned article hit Twitter, many members of underrepresented groups pointed out that among most persons of color, this debate has largely been considered a “white” one. Along with a retweet of the article, one person included an apology to her “black sisters” with this added: “I’m sorry articles like these hurt you. They know not what they do.”

Within a backdrop of these historical and social elements, I’ll consider the arguments in light of the Bible. But it’ll take me a higher-than-usual word count to do so, because ideas about earnings and gender so are engrained in our many subcultures that the topic deserves a thorough analysis.

The Husband’s Job to Provide?

Many like the author in question believe it’s the husband’s job to bring home the paycheck. In her piece the author wrote, “a husband’s disability, unemployment, or laziness might force you out of the home (1 Timothy 5:8).” But let’s look at her proof text there in parentheses. It’s so, so, so often cited as the Bible verse that puts the full economic responsibility on the husband. And it’s easy to see how we got there. . . .

Most translations of 1 Timothy 5:8, including the ESV’s (coming up in a sec), make it sound like providing is totally his job: “But if anyone [sometimes elsewhere translated “If a man…] does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (ESV, emphasis mine).

Did you notice the three male pronouns in that short little verse? There’s only one problem with them—they’re only part of the translation, not in the original. That is, the Greek does not assign this “providing” to one sex or the other. It’s neutral. But the “male weighted” translation is more elegant than the clunky translation required in order to show the actual intent regarding gender in the original: “If anyone does not provide for that one’s own relatives, and especially for members of that one’s own household, that person has denied the faith….” There’s actually nothing exclusively male about it. Nothing.

Later in the same passage, when Paul finally does give a gender-directed suggestion, he actually says that Christian women should provide for their family members in need (v. 16). Same context. Same subject. But totally different assignment of responsibility from what we usually hear. Providing is certainly not “the man’s job” eight verses after the genderless exhortation in 1 Timothy 5:8.

Consider the ideal woman—wisdom personified—whom we read about in Proverbs 31. Is her husband a financial provider? He doesn’t appear to be. Is he lazy? No. Disabled? No. Does she have wrong priorities? No.

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