This is the Greek oikouros, which is a combination of oikos (home) and ouros (a keeper). It means “one who guards the house, one who stays at home, domestically inclined.” “One who looks after domestic affairs with prudence and care” (Complete Word Study Bible). 1 Timothy 5:14 says the wife/mother is to “guide the house.” This is the Greek oikodespoteo, which is a combination of oiko (house) and despotes (ruler). It is a strong word, meaning master of the house, governor, manager. This was the role that Joseph had under Potiphar. “... he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand” (Ge. 39:4). The wife governs the household affairs under her husband’s authority and oversight. This is the exalted biblical role of a wife. She is the household governor. She orders it. She “looketh well to the ways of her household” (Pr. 31:27).
The modern versions read “working at home” (ASV, ESV, Vine, Wuest) from the critical Greek text (oikourgos, oikos - home and ergon - work). This is a much weaker concept. The mother is not merely a worker at home; she is the guardian of the home under the husband’s authority and supervision!
What “keepers at home” means is that the chief responsibility of the Christian wife and mother is her home and she should focus her attention on this and not do anything that would cause her to neglect it. No one can take the place of a wife and mother, and if she neglects her duty toward the husband or children, great harm results.
The job of “keeper at home” and “guide of the house” is very large. The godly wife is not just a maid and cook. She does everything she can to make the home what God wants it to be. She must concentrate her attention on developing a sober, discreet mind by a serious relationship with the Word of God and a testing mindset. She must develop and pursue chastity and goodness. She must study how to love her husband, how to be obedient to him, how to help him, how to encourage him. She must study how to love her children, how to understand them, how to discipline them, how to educate them, how to disciple them, how to teach them to go in God’s will. She is a friend, a lover, a nurse, a chef, an organizer, an educator, a disciplinarian, an evangelist, a discipler. She must be a Bible student and a student of life. She must understand nutrition, diet, and healthcare. She must know how to honor her husband and how to reach the hearts of her children. She must be the teacher of her children. She needs a good education in general and a good Bible education in particular.
The home is a tremendously important institution. It is the first institution that God made when He brought Eve to Adam and performed the first marriage, as recorded in Genesis 2. The home is for the purpose of raising up a godly seed for God’s glory. The prophet Malachi described this. “And did not he make one? ... And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed...” (Mal. 2:15). The context is marriage. The husband and wife are made one by God, and when He gives them children, he is seeking a godly seek. Children do not belong to parents. Both parents and children belong to God, and the parents are tasked with raising the children to know God.
This does not mean that the woman can do nothing outside of the home. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, we know that the virtuous woman does many things such as seeking wool and flax (Pr. 31:13), bringing her food from afar (Pr. 31:14), buying a field and planting a vineyard (Pr. 31:16), and stretching out her hands to the poor (Pr. 31:20). But her work outside of the home is done in the context of fulfilling her duties as a godly wife and mother and contributing to the blessing of the household and does not cause her to neglect such duties. In the book Woman and Her Service for God, in the chapter “The Virtuous Woman,” I describe my own wife’s labor in buying and selling property in the 1990s. She did that in the very context of being a keeper of the home and it was a great blessing to our family.
I have heard many men say that a major reason why their children turned out right for the Lord was marrying the right woman and making the decision for her to be the keeper of the home, and I can say the same thing. My wife was a nurse before we were married, but she has not worked as a nurse since then (though she has used her medical training to great benefit). She has been free to devote herself full-time to being a godly and effective wife and mother, and it has paid unspeakably rich dividends to her husband and children. I am very happy that all of my daughters and daughters-in-law are keepers at home for their young families. Recently I heard of a medical doctor who left her lucrative career to focus her attention fully on her children. When she and her husband had their first child, he was the home keeper and she was the breadwinner. She had an extremely well paying job. After some time they were convicted about this scenario and determined to follow God’s Word rather than their previous plans. They relocated to a former church, which was a stronger church, and she became a keeper at home. Now she focuses all of her considerable abilities on loving her husband and loving her children.
Evangelist Billy Sunday and his wife, Nell, provide a sharp warning on this subject. In 1908, they left their three boys (age 15, 7, and 1) in the care of nannies and traveled together on the evangelism trail. Nell was Billy’s campaign and business manager. Their boys turned out to be drunkards with marriages between them. They all died before age 40: George of suicide after being arrested for drunkenness and auto theft, Billy Jr. in a drunken car crash, Paul in an airplane crash. Yet Nell Sunday pushed for women working during World War I. She said, “... at last, the doors of the Doll House have been opened and women have been invited to come into the great world outside.” The only Sunday child that turned out “right” was their first child, a daughter that Nell raised herself before venturing out of the home.
For the wife to be the keeper at home requires the husband’s commitment. One of my nieces wrote to me recently and said, “Elias turned 1 on the 11th of last month and Ivan will be 3 on the 21st of this month. It is going by fast. We have such a short time with our children to teach them truth. I'm so glad I’m able to stay home with the boys and be fully present. Brian [her husband] always wanted it that way.” Here she pinpointed a fundamental key, which is the husband and wife being in unity and the husband fully supportive. This young couple lives wisely and frugally on the income of a deputy county sheriff, which is not very large, but they make all necessary sacrifices for God and for their children. They do not go into debt. They save their money to buy things like vehicles and shop for the best value.
Modern society does everything possible to get the mother out of the home and to encourage parents to turn the children over to babysitters and schools. It is the product of feminism which began to spread at the end of the 19th century. Feminist philosophy is rebellion to God’s Word. Feminism teaches that women should do whatever they please rather than submit to fathers and husbands. It teaches that women can do anything a man can do, downplaying, even denying, the fundamental differences between male and female. It teaches that being keepers at home is bondage, and women need to be liberated from such things. Women working outside the home began with the Industrial Revolution in England and America and increased during World War I (1920s) and World War II (1940s). It is the product of covetousness, the advertising age; you must have everything and you must have it now. This is not the Bible way, and the fruit has been terrible. It has been a major contributor to the weakening of the home and the explosion of divorce. It has left the children without direct parental supervision.
Each family must make these decisions before the Lord. Pastors are the teachers and overseers of the assembly, but a pastor is not the head of the homes in the assembly. The husband and father is sole head of the home under Christ, and he must make these decisions in conjunction with his wife; they are one flesh (Eph. 5:31). The husband and wife do not have the authority to ignore or disobey the Word of God, but they have the authority to interpret the Word of God and to apply it to their family situation (1 Jo. 2:27). In some cases, for example, the children are in a church school and mothers work in the school and church. In that type of situation, the mothers are not neglecting their children, because the children are in the school.
There are extenuating circumstances that must be taken into account in regard to women being keepers at home. Sometimes the husband is unable to work, for example, and the wife is called upon to become the “chief bread winner.” We must exercise mercy and grace in such matters. There was room for this type of thing even under the strict law of Moses. For example, though the sabbath was not to be broken and no work was to be done under pain of death, God allowed a man to lift his ox out of the ditch on that day (Lu. 14:5).
We would note that there is an association between “chaste” and “keepers at home.” Countless homes have been broken when women have become romantically involved with men at work and left their husbands. “Dinah, when she went to see the daughters of the land, lost her chastity. ... Not but there are occasions, and will be, of going abroad; but a gadding temper for merriment and company sake, to the neglect of domestic affairs, or from uneasiness at being in her place, is the opposite evil intended, which is commonly accompanied with, or draws after it, other evils” (Matthew Henry).
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