Monday, June 30, 2014

Reexamining the ‘Titus 2 Woman’

15th century illumination of Christine de Pizan (Wikipedia),
who argued in her The Treasure of the City of Ladies that 
godly instruction must be given to people of all social
classes to discourage finger-pointing (my words, obviously).
When Christians think of the Epistle to Titus, what invariably comes to mind? For some it might be Paul’s use of what’s generally called the Epimenides paradox, stated in Titus 1:12–13. For others it might be the qualifications given for “overseers” of the church (i.e., bishops, elders, pastors), found in Titus 1:5-9. But I suspect most will identify the words found in Titus 2:3-5. This short passage has become a sort of handbook for modern female Christian living. There have been sermons, books, Bible studies, and seminars devoted to producing more “Titus 2 women.”

While there are other biblical passages giving instruction specifically to women, this one has gained considerable popularity over the last few decades. Perhaps because it serves as a sort of spiritually-focused, New Testament replacement to the secular-focused, Old Testament “Proverb 31 Woman.” Or maybe because it provides a convenient checklist that women can use to measure their own and, more importantly, others’ behavior. And we tend to like checklists. It absolves us from making difficult and mature decisions about what is right and wrong behavior. We become like students who are anxious only to complete our work well enough to get that “A,” or even just a passing “C,” but don’t care one iota about actually mastering the material.

There’s another factor: sexism. Men love quoting Titus 2:3-5 and admonishing women to follow those instructions. When we look at the wider context, we see that Paul addresses men as well, yet to my knowledge there has never been a Bible study, sermon, or anything else focusing solely on “becoming a Titus 2 Man.” Even when men are teaching on the whole chapter or book, they tend to have relatively more to say about the duties of women. And women are only too willing to echo men’s rebukes, creating a hostile atmosphere in which each tries to “one up” another to win the approval of the opposite sex.

Given what I’ve stated above, you might wonder why I would then promote studying this passage. While there’s potential for overemphasis, I still think checklists are a good starting point, especially for immature believers, as it appears the Cretans had been when Paul wrote to Titus. However, after we’ve completed every instruction, we must recognize that our work is far from finished. Achieving godliness is an ongoing process and includes far more than the seven characteristics mentioned in this passage.

Secondly, the misuse of Titus 2:3-5 needn’t disqualify any study. I think that men need to seriously reexamine their motives before preaching on women’s duties and strive for more balance by spending considerably more time on the duties of men, by which I don’t mean “being a manly man” but being sober-minding and self-controlled as Paul instructed the original audience (Titus 2:2). Women, however, can still benefit from continuing to study this passage, as long as self-application, rather than the condemnation of others, remains at the forefront of the discussion.