Put in such a negative way, who will not lose the joy of living? But it is spotlighting the struggle side, which all vocations have share of, while dismissing the triumph side of home-keeping. What about a stable family, well-reared children, a well-ordered house fit for hospitality, and with all these, a fulfilled woman? Definitely this latter side sees no torture, but enjoys family life.
The sheer patience and determination is born of a principled belief in the value of motherhood. It is not the torture of Sysiphus with its endless cycles. Motherhood sees its triumph in children who become crowns for their generation… I submit without question that the mother has contributed more to society than any female roles.
The emancipation of women, it is claimed, is the noble cause of Feminism. If by this emancipation is meant deliverance from the oppression of male-dominated society that has treated women as mere sex-objects, Christians should stand to be counted. But it appears in their discourses that feminists mean something more radical. Their cause is emancipation of women from the “bondage of the home.”
Leading feminist champion, Simone de Beauvoir, makes this vivid description of the woman’s domestic bondage,
Few tasks are more like the torture of Sysiphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. The housewife wears herself out marking time … The battle against dust and dirt is never won … Severe, preoccupied, always on the watch, she loses the joy of living…1
Put in such a negative way, who will not lose the joy of living? But it is spotlighting the struggle side, which all vocations have share of, while dismissing the triumph side of home-keeping. What about a stable family, well-reared children, a well-ordered house fit for hospitality, and with all these, a fulfilled woman? Definitely this latter side sees no torture, but enjoys family life. It should applaud the sentiment of Edith Schaeffer,
The mark of Christian families should be the demonstration of love in the day-by-day, mundane circumstances of life, in the many moments of opportunity to show that love suffereth long… What is a family? A formation center for human relationships — worth fighting for, worth calling a career, worth the dignity of hard work.2
Is the home a woman’s torture chamber from which she needs emancipation, or is it a relationship center upon which the woman must focus? The Bible has a very definite side to this issue. One may wish to be a feminist and reject Scriptures, she must do so openly and honestly. But no one can honestly subscribe to Scriptures as the Word of God, and espouse the feminist view of the home as domestic bondage.
The rationale for the woman’s creation is stated in Genesis 2:18ff. She is to be a “helpmeet” to the man. This word has provoked misunderstanding. It is often employed by those who hold the view that women are inferior to men by nature. And in reaction to this view, the opposite side do everything to wrest this word of its sober intent.
Perhaps, before setting forth the defined role that is contained in this text, let us take a look at the whole of Scriptures. Two clusters of Scriptures must govern our understanding of women.
(a) Scriptures giving dignified place to women
The classic representative is Proverbs 31:10ff. It is unique in contemporary literature in its exultation of the virtuous woman. [ See separate article by Steve Hofmaier in this issue ]. Women in the Old Testament played prominent roles in the central events of Israel’s history. This led Old Testament scholar, Walter Kaiser, to observe:
Women were not chattel to be ordered about and used as men pleased in the Old Testament, ranking slightly above a man’s ox or donkey! They were fellow heirs of the image of God, charged with tasks that exhibited the originality, independence and management ability of the ‘woman of valor’ in Proverbs 31 and were called to enter holistically into sharing all of the joys and labors of life.3
(b) Scriptures safeguarding the rights and worth of women equal with men
The feminist favorite text of Galatians 3:28 is as vigorously asserted by Evangelicals who do not espouse feminism. This is a text that shows the absolute equality of all under the blessing of the grace of God. This equality is acknowledged in what traditionally was male-dominant privileges. In Matthew 5:27-32; 19:3-9, Jesus’ permission of divorce in case of adultery, which the Jews understood and practiced as a male prerogative, notably was extended to women. Jesus accepted that they can be (and often were) the aggrieved party. Following this train of thought, Paul’s pronouncement in 1 Corinthians 7:4 establishes the woman’s mutual right and authority on her spouse’s body.
The cause of biblical womanhood is not served by unwise pronouncements on the supposed superiority of the man over the female. The common assumption is the supposed physical superiority of the male. But it is only a one-dimensional measure. Science has established that women have a greater pain-threshold than men. There is always another dimension whether one uses the intellectual superiority or emotional superiority argument. The structure does not stand on gender superiority. Man and woman are equal.
Back to the ‘helpmeet’
While equal, man and woman are distinct. Equality does not lead to interchangeability of roles. And from its origin, the man-woman relationship in the home have clearly defined roles. The woman is to be the help meet (= matching, comparable, corresponding to, etc.) for the man’s incompleteness. The word does not indicate inferiority. Recent research into the Hebrew root of ‘ezer reveals connection with the idea of strength. (cf. Deut. 33:26, 29) Kaiser goes so far as to suggest the translation for Gen. 2:18, “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding to man”. Rather than male superiority, the word reminds us of male inadequacy! The woman is the strength that man needs to complete his life.
But now that much has been admitted, this text mandates the female focus in marriage. From the very beginning, there is a role-hierarchy that God mandated in the house. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 11:9, “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man”. Also in 1 Timothy 2:12, 13 [ see my separate article, “Evangelical Feminism?” ]. We must agree that this text sees in the order of creation a principle mandatory upon all. So says Lenski,
God could, indeed, have created both man and woman, Adam and Eve, in one undivided act. Today many think and act as though God had really done so. But the fact is otherwise. Nor should we think and say that at this late date God’s creative act, which lies far back in time, makes no difference. The facts of creation abide forever. They can be ignored without resultant loss or harm as little as can other facts of nature.4
The resulting hierarchy structure from this order is the mandatory authority of the male partner and the subordinate submission of the female partner. James Hurley observes the consistent appeal of New Testament discussions to the creative act of God,
Our examination of New Testament arguments concerning marriage has shown that the marriage relation was viewed as ordained by God at creation, with a particular structure as a continuing element of that relation. With the exception of 1 Peter 3, the major apostolic discussions of marriage all appeal to the divine institution of marriage at creation as a ground for the present ordering of it (1Cor. 11:7-12; 14:34; Eph. 5:31; 1Tim. 2:13-14). These discussions not only prescribe the institution of marriage, but also demand a particular structure within it.5
DEFINITE PRIMARY SPHERE
The mandated role defines the primary sphere of the woman’s vocation in marriage. That sphere is the home. This position will throw feminists into a fit of protest. “Bondage!” “Domestic oppression!” As though, secular career has no bondage and oppression all the more cruel? Why not the emancipation of women from the primary concern of the secular to have her primary freedom at home? Is this not why the woman was created for the man. Indeed, her mandated role requires her, under normal circumstances, to devote her primary efforts to being a wife. Many a home is broken because the wife sees more the ‘well-watered plain’ of career advancement than the laborious task of home-building.
Exalted vocation of Home-building
Our protest against feminist denigration of the home must be passionate. Scriptures direct the moral assessment of woman in what she makes of the home.
Every wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish pulls it down with her hands. Proverbs 14:1
Here the wisdom (in Proverbs, a moral/spiritual attribute) of the woman is measured in terms of its impact upon the home. Note that woman is the modifier in the original, and might better be translated, ‘womanly wisdom’. The wisdom that is uniquely feminine is exercised in the field of home-building!
The New Testament re-affirms this focus. Where Paul anticipates marriage to occur, this is his instruction to the woman partner, “… bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Timothy 5:14). His language indicates how Paul takes this issue as crucial to the interests of the gospel cause. And in the collection of virtues that he urged on women in Titus 2:3-5, Paul revolved woman’s duties and graces on the concerns of the home: “… love their husbands, to love their children… home-makers… obedient to their husbands,” capped by the now familiar warning, “that the Word of God may not be blasphemed!”
In this connection, we must raise the serious issue of motherhood, a calling without substitute. But, perhaps, motherhood is the most unappreciated of human vocations. This is the age of the career-woman. It is much easier to feel valuable where there is regular salary and certain promotion. On the other hand, educated women cringe at the thought that their BS and BA or higher will end up with changing diapers and breast-feeding. It is thought embarrassing, and at any rate, inferior. But is it? Is motherhood the dumping ground for the ill-educated? We must protest against this with every fiber of our being.
Walter Chantry corrects this sentiment,
Proverbs 10:1 tells those who are children that ‘a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother… Motherhood could not be a part time hobby… Godly women do not live for kisses and nice little gifts, but to see their children walking with the Lord in righteousness. All of a godly woman’s hopes in this world are bound up with the children of her motherhood.6
To say that only those who can do nothing worthwhile in society should just become mere mothers is tragically foolish. The infant life deserves the best qualified woman, qualifications that put the stress on patience of character and reliable stock of knowledge. Of course, education contributes greatly to her knowledge and character, and with whatever livelihood she can render without robbing the home of its primacy. But the sheer patience and determination is born of a principled belief in the value of motherhood. It is not the torture of Sysiphus with its endless cycles. Motherhood sees its triumph in children who become crowns for their generation.
I submit without question that the mother has contributed more to society than any female roles. Multiply the number of children yet in their crib. They will make up the fiber of society tomorrow. What type of fiber that will be, depends on the hands that rock their cradle. Some of them will end up in the gutter, largely because of slack mother (and a father who is no better). Others will become pillars of the nation and society. Let us not forget that behind them are patient motherly hands. Here lies the value of motherhood — not in salary or degree, but in the life that it builds.
If for this reason alone (there are more!), it is enough to espouse this as a cause for reformation: Home-focused Mother!
Happy Mother’s Day!
- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, (trans. by H. M. Parshley) : p. 425
- Edith Schaeffer, What is a Family?; Baker Book House : p. 81
- Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics; Zondervan Publication : p. 207-8
- R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians; Augsburg Publsihing : p. 443f.
- James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective; Zondervan Publication : p.160
- Walter Chantry; from the tract The High Calling of Motherhood; Banner of Truth