Healthy Teaching Produces Healthy Christians, Part 2: Older Women – Titus 2:3-5
Here we continue the study that we began last time as Titus speaks the things which are fitting for sound doctrine to the Cretan churches. Now that he has finished exhorting the older men, Paul now turns his sights one the older women. The transition from the older men in v. 2 to the older women here seems like a natural one. In fact, the whole of this section (vv. 2-6) forms something of a chiasm as the instruction is balanced by opening and closing with exhortations to the men (vv. 2&6) yet containing exhortations for women in the middle (vv. 3-5).
It is worth noting that more room is given to the women here than the men. By verse count, the older and younger women receive a combined three verses as opposed to the two verses directed at the men. But if we were to break this down into word count, the women literally receive twice the amount of instruction (34 words in the Greek) than the men (17 words). I don’t think it is accurate to say that Paul devotes more space to women because they are twice as rebellious. It is more accurate to state that the role of women in the church and in the home is of vital importance. So much so, that if they neglect their duty, nothing works. If we compared the older men as being the backbone of the church, providing support, then these women are the vital organs. Their function is vital for the life of the body, but they require a sphere in which to operate.
Paul boils the place of women in the church down to two basic functions. Women are to be disciples and they are to make disciples. On the one hand, the woman’s duty is exactly the same as every Christian. But on the other hand, when we understand the sphere in which she operates, this is a duty that only a woman can do.
Older women are to be disciples (v. 3)
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good”
Here is the first place in this section where we see the older in such close proximity to the younger (v. 4). It is not helpful nor accurate to assign some arbitrary age as to what defines older vs. younger. The idea is simply a distinction between those who are able to or are currently rearing children and raising families vs. those who have already completed that course. As with the men, Paul’s discussion on women looks at the older women first and reveals what they too ought to be.
Four terms are used to describe these older women: two positive and two negatives. This verse also appears in something as a chiasm with the positive characteristics on the outside and the negative marks on the inside. But the use of these terms work as a means of defining each other. In the first term, reverent, we see what sort of disposition the older women must model. The two negative terms that follow help us understand what reverent means by describing what a reverent woman is not.
Right Model – Older women are to be reverent (ἱεροπρεπής) in their behavior. The term literally means as fitting piety. It is a compound made of the ἱερος (holy/pious) and πρέπω (fitting/seemly/appropriate). Her behavior is to reflect that of a priest in a temple. In the context of the church, she is to behave in a manner that is fitting one who wholly belongs to God. While that sounds well and good, what does this look like?
A reverent person must not be a malicious gossip. This is more interesting than you may expect. What the NASB translates as malicious gossip is the adjective διαβόλους or she-devil. The term devil means slanderer, which is exactly what gossip is. To broad cast someone else’s business in a malicious manner is to slander them. But this character assassination is more than just rudeness, it takes up the actions of the chief slanderer, Satan himself. One cannot be a model of belonging to Christ while actively being engaged with the work of the devil.
Neither is she to be enslaved to much wine. The obvious must not be overlooked. Older women cannot be drunkards any more than older men. But Paul uses the word enslaved here quite purposefully. The issue is not one of alcohol vs. tea-totaling but one of control and self-indulgence. If the older women are reverent, belonging to Christ, then they cannot be slaves of anything else. Also, if they belong to Christ, they are bent on doing His will rather than spending all day fulfilling their own desires. The older women must be living and breathing models of piety. They must live as if they are in constant and active service before their God. But their duty does not end by being an example.
Right Instruction – For whatever reason when some people read teaching what is good it is as if they forget what Paul clearly said in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Allow me to reproduce these verses in bold print so that we don’t make any silly mistakes going forward.
“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
So much for women preachers. The best way to spot a false teacher is their complete lack of using context. Titus 2:3-5 would never lead anyone to think that Paul is establishing anything that could possibly be mistaken for a women’s pulpit ministry. This teaching is not even doctrinal, but practical. The term itself (καλοδιδάσκαολος) is found only here in the Bible and carries the idea of teaching what is beautiful, attractive, and useful. The Greek καλός (good) is the same term used to describe God’s good creation. In other words, they are to teach what is indicative of the created order; that which God calls good. Older women are to be disciples so that they might make disciples.
Older women are to make disciples (vv. 4-5)
There is a necessary splitting of hairs before we continue. It is not entirely accurate to say that vv. 4-5 primarily apply to the younger women as directed by the older women. The main focus remains to be the older women throughout this text. They must be these things and thus teach the younger women to follow them as they follow Christ. Their instruction is primarily that of example.
Mission: Making sensible young women – “that they may encourage the young women.” What our English Bibles translate as encourage or admonish or even train is a much more specific term. This verb (σωφρονίζω) actually comes from the same stem as sensible (σώφρων) that we’ve already seen in 1:8 and 2:2. The sense is to train sensibly to be sensible. The entire mission of these older women is to sensibly train these younger women to be sensible.
Remember that this term carries the idea of prudence and self-control. The sensible woman thinks before she acts or speaks. She plans her moves before she executes. This is not a natural function for any person and so these younger women must learn to be sensible from these sensible older women.
Sphere: The home and family – “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands”
There are seven characteristics that the older women must model and therefore teach to these younger women. These characteristics define what it means to be sensible and therefore define what it means to live good/well as God originally designed in His good creation. As we look at this list, there are two things that we should notice. First, these character traits seem to come in pairs with the exception of the final trait which serves as a fitting conclusion. Second, all of these traits help define a woman’s sphere and explain how she can behave as one owned by God as she reflects God’s created order that is very good.
First, younger women must be taught to love their husbands and love their children. Literally translated they must learn to be husband lovers and children lovers. This is quite a statement when we consider that the original audience lived in a culture where the bride did not necessarily choose her own husband. She must love him and their children. Her duty is not to herself, but to her family. We should also remember that these qualities must first be attributed to the older women for they must exemplify before they can exhort. How often we see older women prefer the company of lap dogs to children and other old crones to their husbands. Younger women must see this love and devotion put into practice.
Second, younger women must be taught to be sensible and pure. Again, we see this term from σώφρων and now attributed directly to the younger women. At this point we have seen Paul demand that older men, older women, and now younger women all be sensible. This is to be a mark of the believing community at all levels. They must think before they act. They must consider the consequences before they speak. But here it is paired with pure or holy (ἅγος). This is a different term that we saw in v. 3 and speaks of objective holiness, blamelessness, and being without blemish. It is often used to describe women who are chaste. The two terms paired together speak of sexual fidelity. The young women must consider their actions and be pure. Their bodies belong to their husbands and the being belongs to God. They must behave accordingly.
Third, they are to be workers at home as well as kind. It may not be abundantly obvious how these two terms work together but kind translates the Greek ἀγαθός which is often translated as good. While being generally synonymous with καλός (objectively good/beautiful/wonderful), this term speaks more to what is good/beneficial/useful. In other words, the younger women must be taught to be workers at home, but as they do so they are to be beneficial to those under her roof. It is not enough to simply stay cooped up in the house. She is to use her time to benefit others. She who spends her time galivanting all over town is of no more use than she who sits at home reading romance novels or scrolling through social media.
The final character trait has no pair because it needs no pair. They are to be submissive to their own husbands. This is not a role based on gender, but a role based on relationship. The younger women are not taught to submit to men or to anyone else’s husband, but to her own husband. The husband/wife relationship is part of God’s good created order. The believing community must model what has always been considered good because it reveals the coming re-creation. Marriage is not a partnership between two share-holders with equal shares. The man is head over his wife, and she is his helper. Older women must model this submission and then speak sense into the lives of the younger women.
Notice that the whole of this exhortation takes place within the sphere of the home. This is where women are designed to be. They are divinely created caretakers and nurturers. Our sin nature fights against God’s created order, but it is of the utmost importance that Christ’s church model and demonstrate His good creation.
Purpose: The glory of the gospel – “that the word of God may not be dishonored.” You read this correctly. If the women of the church (both old and young) disregard their divinely appointed place, they bring dishonor to the Word of God. Dishonor is actually a very tame translation of the Greek βλασφημέω. A more specific term would be blaspheme. What good is a gospel that does not transform lives? A church that preaches obedience and does not model it leaves the gospel of grace open to all kinds of scorn. The church is to be both salt and light. Men are not only supposed to hear the message we proclaim but also see our good works so that they might give God all the glory.
Women are in a very significant position to be either a tremendous blessing or a tumultuous curse to all they touch. As they submit to their husbands, love them, love their children, busy themselves with matters of the home and family, they demonstrate the beauty of God’s good design and provide a snapshot of the blessings of eternity. But if they pursue their own selfish desires, they invite shame and scorn upon the message of salvation and transformation.
Paul’s primary objective is not to make cookie cutter families for a Norman Rockwell painting, but to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church must be godly primarily so that God will receive the glory. Yes, obedience brings blessing. But that blessing is always secondary to the glory of God.
It is difficult to see how these verses support any sort of formal teaching ministry by women for women. The context and simple wording of these verses reveal very personal and purposeful discipleship, not a broad pulpit ministry. This is what women’s ministry is supposed to look like: older sisters speaking sense into their younger counterparts. The church does not need female pulpiteers. Yet the church desperately needs godly disciple-makers.
Only a fool would look at our culture and conclude that our young ladies will learn godliness from society. Our society promotes lovers of self rather than lovers of family, experimentation rather than fidelity, free spirits rather than useful saints, and rebellion rather than submission. The world has nothing to offer our daughters and young women. It is high time that our godly older sister saints step down from their pulpits and lecterns and step into the lives of their younger sisters. Soli Deo Gloria!