Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan (1 Timothy 5:9-15 ESV).
1 Timothy 5:9-15
As with 1 Timothy 2:8-15, I’m approaching this passage because I want to know what God’s Word teaches for how men and women, specifically, should live. What does the Bible teach about gender roles?
“Enrolled” shows us that Paul is talking about a list of widows; verses 4, 8, 16 show that this list is of widows for whom the church provides financially.
The big relationship here is Conditional, followed by a threefold Series.
Verses 9a-10a: For a widow to be added to the list, she must first be elderly; she must have been faithful to her husband, and have been committed to godly living.
“The qualifications taken together depict one who is clearly past the time one usually remarries and past an age where she is likely to be able to care for herself” (Knight 225).
That 9c doesn’t mean a widow must have been married only once; after all, “the permission to remarry (v. 14) points the other way; the writer would scarcely exclude from the official list a widow who on his advice had remarried and again became a widow” (Lock, in Knight, 223).
Verses 10b-f: By godly living, Paul means raising children, being hospitable, serving fellow believers, helping those in need, and, in fact, being devoted to every good work.
The first qualification is regarding a woman’s family; the remaining three are outside (see Knight 224).
“So a church may have a list of elderly and godly widows who have no one else to care for them and who commit themselves to serving Christ. The church commits itself to assist these widows and in turn may ask them to perform certain tasks as need arises. … [T]he church enters into this permanent arrangement only with certain qualified widows and with mutually accepted commitments and possible responsibilities. … The teaching of the passage is…that the church only provides for widows when families do not” (Knight, 222-23).
“The significance of the criterion of age—at least sixty years old—is borne out by its appearing first (v. 9), by the emphatic way in which it is stated (μὴ ἔλαττον), and by its reiteration (v. 11)” (Knight, 222).
The big relationship here is Inference, followed by a twofold Progression.
“Younger widows are counseled to marry again and avoid the difficulties that can arise for themselves, their families, and the church once they are on the list (vv. 11–15)” (Knight, 222).
Verses 11b-12b: What does it mean to be drawn “away from Christ”?
“The meaning of the uncompounded form expresses the strong impulse of sexual desire, which naturally makes such young widows ‘want to marry.’ This desire to marry means that they will need to set aside or annul the commitment they have made to serve Christ as widows” (Knight, 226).
“Vv. 11 and 12 indicate that remarriage itself for any ‘enrolled’ younger widows carries with it an inherent turning from Christ and an inherent ‘judgment.’ But v. 14 makes it clear that remarriage before being “enrolled” does not carry that inherent judgment. The difference is that younger widows, by being ‘enrolled,’ have taken a ‘pledge’ that they would ‘break’ by marrying, and thus would ‘incur judgment’” (Knight, 226).
It is important to notice that “[t]he danger of this broken “pledge” is Paul’s first reason for insisting that the church “refuse” (παραιτοῦ) younger widows” (Knight, 227).
Verses 13a-13e: The second danger is idleness.
Young widows who are financially provided for have the temptation to misuse their leisure time gossiping (13), misusing their time, and others’ time as well (see Knight, 227).
So what does Paul recommend for younger widows? They should get married again, have children, take care of their households, and thus not give enemies (and/or Satan) the reason to slander the Christian faith because of the sinful conduct of professing Christians.
This doesn’t contradict his instructions in 1 Corinthians 7, where he recommends singleness, because for everyone to serve the Lord thus undistracted was a “wish” of his that he knew could not be fulfilled, for God only gives the gift of singleness to some (see Knight, 228).
We can extrapolate from this what is wise behavior for young women in general, I would say. Marriage, generally speaking, is God’s will for men and women. See 1 Cor 7:1-2, 6-9.
It is a shame that young people are putting off marriage longer these days than a couple or a few decades ago.
This is, after all, one of the main reasons for marriage (see Gen 1:28). But not just children - godly children (see Mal 2:15).
BDAG points out that the Letter of Diognetus uses this word to describe “a normal practice among Christians and in contrast to custom of infanticide” (994). This would also contrast the modern praise of no children (either for the planet’s sake, or for self-indulgence).
“Manage their households”
This refers to being in charge of the household. “The call for household management suggests giving guidance and direction to the household” (Lea and Griffin, 152).
This shows that the focus of a godly married woman will be her home. Not that a woman may never work outside the home. But the focus of her energies and her heart should be on her children and on her home - “homemaking” is the old term I think of to describe this.
RESULT: “[I]f the first three things are done (marry, bear children, and manage one’s home, especially the first), then ‘no occasion for reproach’ is left to be given” (Knight, 229). This would keep young widows from wasting their lives.
APPLICATION: Widows are praised here if they have raised children and have served others. Young widows should remarry, have children, and focus on ordering their households.
This means that the focus of a godly, married woman will be her family and her home. She will also focus on serving fellow believers.
Of course, extenuating circumstances can arise: there may be a scarcity of godly young men; a couple may be unable to have children; a woman may need to work to support her family. But these exceptions do not cancel the fundamental principle in play here.
So parents should bring up their girls with this end in mind: marriage and service of one’s family in the home, and service of others.
What does the Bible teach about a woman’s place in the home? We discuss this in this video: