Monday, August 11, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Teaches What Is Good

Miniature of poetess Faltonia Betitia Proba (4th Century)
teaching the life of Jesus, De mulieribus claris
by Giovanni Boccaccio (15th Century) (Wikipedia)
If we were to ask the average Christian about what is meant by “Titus 2 Woman,” he or she would probably say with the utmost of confidence, “The older women are to teach the younger women,” and launch into a discussion about the importance of positive role models for today’s girls. Many heads would nod, indicating that that answer is satisfactory, but if we thought about it a little, it really should raise more than a few eyebrows. After all, in what society in all of human history have older women not been expected to impart some sort of knowledge upon the younger members of their sex? What next? “Parents, feed your children”? Pauline doctrine, often thought of as theologically sophisticated, now appears utterly sophomoric. So on that note, let’s take a look at what the text actually says:

[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)

As I mentioned earlier in this Bible study series, the word of interest is καλοδιδασκάλους (“teacher of virtue”/“teaching good”), giving us the second instruction for older women. The first was, as you’ll recall, the charge to be reverent, which was then defined in terms of its opposite behavior, being malicious gossips and drunkards. Now we have the call to be teachers of virtue. Older women are to teach what is good, so that by doing this, others will learn to model godly behavior.

Notice that Paul clearly places the emphasis not on who is being taught (i.e., “young women”) but on what is being taught (i.e., “goodness”). I might appear to be making a mountain out of a mole hill, but a slight difference in how we read a verse can have profound implications on how we live out its doctrine. By emphasizing the “who,” many Christians have exchanged lessons on godliness for courses on Home Economics. It takes the young woman away from Mary, learning at the feet of Jesus, and places her into the kitchen with Martha, learning how to bake whole wheat bread. Cretan women would’ve taught their daughters cooking skills regardless. What Paul was concerned about was them practicing righteousness, something they obviously weren’t doing. We shouldn’t confuse the two.

Another concern I have is the disturbing trend for male church leaders to insist that the verse absolves them of teaching young women anything since that’s a woman’s job. One Bible professor I heard made an argument from silence, showing that since Paul never gave Titus anything to relay to the young women directly, Titus wasn’t to teach them at all. This professor never thought to be consistent, however. He would have to claim also that Titus couldn’t teach slave masters since Paul only gave him instructions for slaves (Titus 2:9-10), but I suppose that would’ve struck him as ridiculous.

Before I close, I’d like you to consider a new interpretation. No, I
’m not trying to rewrite the Bible. The translation “and so to train the young women” is, in my unschooled opinion, both an accurate rendering of the Greek and consistent with the overall context of the passage. However, in the course of studying it for this series, I’ve wondered about possible alternative readings. The two words of interest are σωφρονίζωσιν (“making sensible”/“recalling them to their senses”) and νέας (“new”/“young”).

While words like “training,” “teaching,” and “instructing” suggest imparting something new, σωφρονίζω appears to also carry a sense of restoration or reconciliation. In other words, Paul might have not intended the Cretan women to merely instruct each other, but to also correct each other, bringing wayward souls back into communion with God. And while νέος is known to mean “young” (think “neonatal”), we’re also are familiar with the usage of “new” (think “neoliberalism”). I’m wondering if it is possible that the νέας Paul was referring to were “new women” or recent converts (cf. Colossians 3:9-10), but that might be a stretch. At the very least, I hope that, in your quest to become a “Titus 2 Woman,” you will foremost be a teacher of what is good. Expect that role to include some teaching and perhaps some restoring. And in your quest to meet the needs of those younger than you, don’t forget that new Christians need guidance too.