Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Is Reverent

Gossip by deegrafix (Flickr)
When we think of “reverent,” different images may come to mind: Subjects in medieval art with forlorn faces and golden halos around their heads. Present day children sitting in a church pew wearing ill-fitting suits and ties and holding hymnals when they’re too young to read. But what is meant in our passage of interest?

[Π]ρεσβύτιδας ὡσαύτως ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, μὴ διαβόλους μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ δεδουλωμένας, καλοδιδασκάλους, ἵνα σωφρονίζωσιν τὰς νέας φιλάνδρους εἶναι, φιλοτέκνους σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται. – Titus 2:3-5 (NA28)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.Titus 2:3-5 (ESV)

The Greek word often translated as “reverent” is ἱεροπρεπεῖς. Despite ἱεροπρεπής being poorly attested in biblical literature, we can get a straightforward sense of its meaning from its usage in the Epistle of Titus, the apocryphal 4 Maccabees, and a few other ancient works: “befitting a sacred place/person/matter,” derived from two more common words, πρέπω (“to befit”) and ἱερός (“sacred”). When Paul says the elderly women are to be ἱεροπρεπεῖς, he is saying that they are to live their lives in a saintly way, befitting of servants of the most holy God.

We could develop a lot from just one word study, but we would do better by considering the context. The women weren’t to be “Sunday Christians.” Holiness was to be evident in their everyday lives. Paul contrasts the ideal, not with dressing casually for worship or missing a Bible study as many Christians might focus on today, but with wrongful behavior that can occur both inside and outside of the assembly.

The Cretan women were not to be διαβολους (e.g., “slanderers,” “malicious gossips”). Note that διάβολος is where we get words like “diabolical” from. It indicates corrupting and hurtful behavior of the sort that alienates others from us particularly and possibly even Christianity in general. The Christian woman shouldn’t be out to get others, whether members of the Church or unbelievers. The ideal woman knows to seek counsel and mediation when wrapped up in an ugly dispute to make sure that she doesn’t cross the line. I imagine that she understands forgiveness and the importance of letting things go rather than holding grudges forever (something I’m still trying to master myself). Instead she controls feelings such as envy and pride, which might otherwise cause her to want to hurt others.

Next we see that the ideal Cretan woman also was not someone οινω πολλω δεδουλωμενας (i.e., “having been enslaved to much wine”). Despite what many Christians wish this passage said, it doesn’t mean a holy woman can never consume alcohol. Rather she exercises control over it rather than letting it control her. She knows how much drink is appropriate for the time and place, and how much her body can handle. She doesn’t embarrass herself and others with drunken behavior. She doesn’t drunk dial or drunk text, revealing information that she’ll later wish she’d kept secret. And she doesn’t wake up the next morning wondering what she’s done the night before…and with whom!

While not all of us are alcoholics, habitual gossips, or even “diabolical,” we can still draw some useful instruction from Paul’s words. When we think about being reverent, we should keep in mind that it’s not about how “angelic” we look, sitting up straight and holding our Bibles. It’s about living a life that’s in harmony with our claims to being Christians.