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What is the Biblical view of men fulfilling women’s roles? I.e. staying home and managing the household, caring for small children, etc. while the woman works outside the home to provide for the family?

Super question! It’s not a cut-and-dried easy answer, though. There are a lot of things to take into consideration.

The first thing we need to consider is, of course, what the Bible says about this issue. And when we look at what the Bible says about human behavior, we need to look at two things: the heart and the actions. The Bible does forbid and command a lot of actions, but God is also clear that He judges the heart. It is possible to do the right thing with the wrong motives and the wrong thing with the right motives. We want to make sure we have right motives that lead us to do the right thing.

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. 1 Samuel 15:22-23a

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b

The first question we need to ask ourselves is, “Is there an explicit command that the husband must leave the house and go to work every day to financially support the family, a command that he absolutely cannot stay at home and manage the household and raise the children, or a command that a wife may not work outside the home or support her family financially?”

I have not found any specific, in context, “thou shalt/thou shalt not” commands along those lines. And there’s a reason for that. God beautifully designed the Bible to be applicable and relevant to all people, across all cultures, in all time periods. So there are some universal commands in the Bible that apply to everybody, everywhere, in every time. For example: It is a sin to murder whether you’re young or old, male or female, smart or dumb, ugly or pretty, rich or poor, living in the Middle East or Polynesia or Antarctica, in 3271 B.C., A.D. 0, or A.D. 2019. Murder is always a sin, no matter what.

But God has not chosen to make that same pronouncement about the financial support of the family and who should work inside or outside the home. If we examine all of the Scriptures that mention men and women working, we can see a general overall pattern that points to the wisdom, in most cases, of wives doing most of the household management and child-rearing, leaving husbands free to concentrate primarily on bringing home the bacon, but God has not chosen to make this a universal command.

(I’m sure many readers are thinking, “But what about Titus 2:5, saying women are to be ‘workers at home’?” First, this is not a command that women are never to work outside the home (keep reading for more Scripture about women working and contributing to the support of their families). Second, if you’ll examine that verse in context (2:2-10), you’ll notice that this passage deals with people’s character, not careers. This can be easier to see if you compare Titus 2:3-5 with 1 Timothy 5:3-16, especially v.6, 13-14. Women are not to be lazy, idlers, and busybodies, they are to be hard workers, glorifying God in their work. In first century culture, this nearly always meant marrying, raising children, and managing their households, because this was virtually the only culturally appropriate venue available to them in which to work. Titus 2:5 is primarily about working hard to the glory of God, not primarily about where that work is performed. Does this mean all Christian women are free to abandon their children and homes in favor of working outside the home just because they feel like it? Of course not. As we’re about to see, that goes back to having a godly motive, going with the grain of the way God generally created women if at all possible, and discerning what is pleasing to the Lord in the circumstances in which He has placed your family. Which is exactly the type of character Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5 teach that Christian women are to have.)

Why did God not make this a command? Because in His sovereignty, over time, God has allowed or created different types of cultures to develop at the macro level, and different sorts of circumstances to occur in the lives of various individuals at the micro level.

In our culture, with regard to supporting a family, it is typical for a husband to get up Monday through Friday, leave the house, work for someone else for eight hours, receive a paycheck, and return home.

Although that was true for some families, particularly city-dwellers, during Bible times, it was far less the norm than it is today. Think about the types of work most often mentioned in the Bible. It was a much more agrarian society. Dads usually worked their land and livestock as an extension of their home, and moms and any children who were old enough had their chores around the “farm” as well. The whole family worked together to provide necessary sustenance, and dads had much more direct oversight over their children on a day to day basis than a 21st century dad who leaves home and goes to the office every day.

But even in situations in which there was a family business (such as Joseph being a carpenter) the sons usually grew up learning the business under the direct tutelage of their fathers. And though the daughters were being trained at home to learn how to be good wives, it is reasonable to assume that they and their mothers helped out with the business as needed in a culturally appropriate way.¹ There was much more integration of work and family in that culture, giving fathers more contact with their children during the day.

There are also passages in the Bible that help us to see that bringing in income was not strictly relegated to men and child-rearing was not strictly relegated to women. In Proverbs 31, we see a wife and mother conducting business and contributing to the support of her family. We see Deborah “working outside the home”. We find that Lydia was, in some way, a merchant. And we do not see the Bible condemning these women as ungodly for contributing to the support of their families or performing some kind of work outside the home. Quite the opposite, in fact – the “Proverbs 31 woman” is, to this day, held up as the ideal wife and mother for godly women to emulate.

Furthermore, we often see passages in Scripture that lay the ultimate responsibility for instructing, disciplining, and properly bringing up children at Dad’s feet, not Mom’s. Read the first nine chapters of Proverbs. This is a father, not a mother, training up his son. And take a look at Ephesians 6:4 (Fathers…bring [your children] up) and Colossians 3:21 (Fathers, do not provoke your children…).

So there is no explicit biblical command about only husbands supporting the family financially and only wives managing the household and raising the children. We need to make sure we separate out what is biblical and what is cultural when it comes to the roles of husbands and wives.

As I mentioned, in addition to God sovereignly creating/allowing different cultures on the macro level, He has also created/allowed, on the micro level, varying life situations for various families. Dads who are disabled or have medical conditions that are more conducive to staying home with the children than having a job outside the home. Men who have had very limited educational and job opportunities who fall in love with and marry women already established in lucrative careers. And, especially in these modern times, Dads who are able to work from home while caring for the children. These and other scenarios can be contributing factors when it comes to which spouse works outside the home (If, indeed, working outside the home as someone else’s employee is necessary for either spouse; working from home or starting your own home-based business is an option many families overlook).

So there are a lot of external, and sometimes unavoidable, cultural and personal circumstances at play in each family’s decision-making process. But what about the internal factors at play? This brings us back to the motive of the heart.

What is the husband’s motive for wanting to stay home with the children? Is it because he’s lazy (lemme just take a moment to say this: if you’re lazy, raising children and managing a household isn’t the job for you) and just wants to shirk responsibility? Because he’s so arrogant or headstrong that he refuses to submit to a boss’s authority? Because he wants to live in luxury on his wife’s salary rather than cutting expenses and living more modestly on what he is able to earn so she can stay at home?

What is the wife’s motive for wanting to work outside the home while her husband manages the household and raises the children? Is she a feminist out to make a statement or further an agenda? Does she pridefully feel that the day to day job of wife and mom is beneath her? Is she finding her identity in her position, her income, or the praise of men instead of finding her identity in Christ?

These are wrong reasons for doing what might, financially, actually be the right thing. But as I said, as Christians, we need to make sure we have right motives leading us to do the right thing. And what is the right motive in this, or any other, decision-making process?

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Ephesians 5:8b-9

Husbands and wives each need to repent of any wrong motives they may have harbored in their hearts, walk in Christ as children of light, sit down together, pray for God to give them wisdom, examine all the factors at play in their situation, and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord in the situation He has sovereignly placed them in.

For most families in our culture, what this typically ends up looking like is that the husband is the main breadwinner and the wife is the main manager of the household and children. And part of the reason for this is that God has generally wired men to desire to go out and conquer the world, and He has generally wired women to desire to keep the home fires burning. So if there aren’t any circumstances that force a couple to go against that grain, it’s usually wisest for Dad to be the primary financial supporter of the family and Mom to be the primary manager of the family. But there are going to be godly exceptions to the rule, and we need to be sure we’re not assuming people are in sin just because they don’t fit what’s usually the norm.


¹Certainly there were other types of work/employment in Bible times, I’m just using these primary two to demonstrate my point.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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