researching the wife’s domain.

Chapter 8 of the Excellent Wife by author Martha Peace is entitled, “Home, The Wife’s Domain.”

I’m really trying to read this with an open mind, but I honestly admit, I have what, in communication theory is called a “latitude of rejection.” There are three “latitudes” when it comes to persuasion and the acceptance of ideas:

A latitude of acceptance is when you have a preexisting tendency to accept an idea.

A latitude of non-commitment is when you have no preexisting thoughts on the matter, thus no leaning towards acceptance or rejection.

A latitude of rejection is when you have a preexisting tendency to reject an idea.

My latitude of rejection is based on the fact that, in the early years of our marriage, FirstHusband and I, surrounded by Baptist doctrine, sorted many of these issues out ourselves. Actually, to be more accurate, FirstHusband (a preacher’s kid) had already sorted out much of what he believed about the wife’s role before we were together. He just had to help me to understand it. He told me the beginning of his perspective. When he was a teenager, his conservative Baptist church hired a husband and wife youth minister team. The wife was intelligent, articulate, engaging and a gifted speaker. The husband . . . looked good. (FirstHusband used the word “Himbo.”) The church had a difficult time letting the woman take the lead she was naturally gifted to take. They preferred the husband take the lead, even though he was a terrible speaker and was (in FirstHusband’s word) stupid. FirstHusband spent a lot of time in the Bible researching whether God really expected this bright, articulate, gifted person to stop serving God in this situation, just because she was a woman. I asked FirstHusband if he had a crush on this woman and he said, “No. I really respected her and thought she got a bum deal. Besides, she had red hair.” (Red hair confirms it – no crush. No offense red-headed readers, but FirstHusband is not attracted to red heads.)

I also taught (and graded papers for) business and professional communication at UCF for 7 years. My experience as a teacher steers me toward the holes in Mrs. Peace’s research and drives me to find support for her declarative statements. When I can’t find that support, the declarative statement loses it’s meaning.

I’m also struggling to figure out how to explain myself without sounding like I’m a heathen or that I think I’m exempt from the Bible’s instructions. I promise I’m neither. I just believe that if we, as humans are actively involved in a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and we actively seek to know and live within His moral will through the wisdom found in His Word, we will actively strive to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Him and that glorifies Him. That “way” often looks very different from person to person, from marriage to marriage and from family to family. I believe “different” isn’t “wrong” – if it’s within the moral will of God. If someone doesn’t agree with my point of view, I don’t perceive them to be “out of the will of God” or sinful. I believe it’s okay to agree to disagree. I believe Christians have more in common than not. I want to focus on the stuff we have in common, rather than debate the few things we may see differently.

If we spend time in prayer, not only talking, but “abiding” then we will have a peace and understanding of how we are to order our lives. To come back to the topic of this chapter – and this book in general, we do need to be confident that the way we conduct ourselves as Christian wives is supportive of our husbands. We need to be confident that our husbands feel respected, needed and appreciated. I just don’t always agree with Mrs. Peace on how I should accomplish that. At the end of the day, it’s my HUSBAND’s opinion as to whether I’m accomplishing those goals that’s important to me.

For instance, it’s Memorial Day. FirstHusband isn’t on travel and he isn’t at work. He’s making pancakes. Right now. While I’m sitting on the couch typing this. Let me ask him why he’s doing that.

“Hey hon, why are you making pancakes?”

L O N G pause.

“Why not?”

“I mean, are you making pancakes because I don’t?”

“No. I don’t think of it that way. I just do it for the kids because they like it.”

“Do you wish I would make pancakes sometimes?”

“No. Not necessarily.”

“Why? Would it take away from your “thing?”

“No. I don’t think of it that way. I don’t mind if you want to make pancakes.”

See how pointless this is? He’s making pancakes because he wants to. Sometimes a guy just isn’t all that deep.

Does the fact that he’s cooking while I’m sitting mean I’m not exemplifying an “Excellent Wife?” What about the fact that he just brought me a cup of coffee, creamed and sweetened just the way I like? What does that mean? In our house, it just means that he was already fixing himself a cup and it was no big deal. He wanted to do something nice for me. Sometimes guys just aren’t that deep.

Now, he did use the coffee pot I picked out. (Thanks for the referral, Lisa Writes!) He got the creamer and the sweetener out of cannisters I picked out and placed in their current location. I picked those particular cannisters and placed them in their location in an effort to be organized and make them convenient. Using the Underwear Principle, I actually created a coffee “station” with all the supplies needed for coffee located in one spot.

coffee station

In the cabinet above are the coffee mugs, travel mugs, coffee filters and creamer refill. I bought identical plastic containers to store coffee in the freezer door (right behind this spot) and marked one of them “decaf.” I even decorated this area by purchasing multi-opening frames, finding, typing and printing coffee and tea “quotes” on pretty card stock and framing each one. (Please forgive the sideways photo.) One of the quotes says, “A man without a mustache is like a cup of tea without sugar.” (He’s had a mustache since I’ve met him.)

coffee art

I did this for him. For me. For us.

At the end of the day, I’m me. I have to live with me. I have to live authentically. For me, that means I have to go back to the Bible on all this. I’m seeking Biblical wisdom. I’m learning. I believe this book is prompting me to learn. What I’m doing here is documenting my learning process, probably more for myself than for anyone who happens upon these posts. So, fully aware of my latitude of rejection, here goes.

Chapter 8 begins with a description of two very different women, Tracy and Stacy. Two polar opposites. Both examples are extreme. Tracy sounds like a “pleaser” who can’t say no because she desperately wants people to like her and she’s probably headed for collapse due to exhaustion. Stacy sounds clinically depressed and should go to the doctor for a full physical exam. The thing is, in my circle of friends and acquaintances, most of the women I know don’t fit in either example. Most of the women I know are significantly more balanced than either of these women. I personally can’t relate to the examples. I don’t identify with Tracy or Stacy. So, if Mrs. Peace is saying that Christian wives should NOT be like either of these women, then check. I’m good so far.

Mrs. Peace follows with the statement:

“A godly wife is organized and works hard to operate her home with the least possible chaos. She also creates an optimistic, joyful atmosphere for her family.”

Still okay. But I can substitute “godly wife” with “good wife” and still agree.

Then comes a declarative statement:

“God has always intended for the home to be the wife’s domain.”

Here’s the thing. I probably agree with that. If we define it the same. But do we? To what extent is “the home to be the wife’s domain?” To the exclusion of what else? This is the crux of it for me. To the exclusion of what else?

As Biblical support for her statement, “God has always intended for the home to be the wife’s domain.” Mrs. Peace quotes only the “verses that pertain to the home” in Proverbs 31. She says that “out of twenty two verses, nine refer directly to her work in the home.” Less than half.

Let’s take these one by one, and I’m going to type EXACTLY what Mrs. Peace quotes here:

“She looks for wool and flax, and works with her hands in delight…” (Proverbs 31:13)

She works hard and enjoys her work. I can’t find anything to indicate this refers “directly” to her work in the home.

“She rises also while it is still night, and gives food to her household, and portions to her maidens…” (Proverbs 31:15)

Now here’s something I never knew before. “portions” to her maidens. I always read that in a very straightforward way. I thought portions meant percentage. I thought she gave her maidens “portions” of food. Here’s what says about the meaning of the word “portions.” The Hebrew word is “choq” and it means:

1) statute, ordinance, limit, something prescribed, due
   a) prescribed task
   b) prescribed portion
   c) action prescribed (for oneself), resolve
   d) prescribed due
   e) prescribed limit, boundary
   f) enactment, decree, ordinance
      1) specific decree
      2) law in general
   g) enactments, statutes
      1) conditions
      2) enactments
      3) decrees
      4) civil enactments prescribed by God

Now see, THIS is why I’m still reading this book. I’m glad I learned that. Mrs. Peace didn’t teach it to me, but if I didn’t doubt her proper application of scripture, I would have NEVER looked up each individual word in this verse. I never knew the Proverbs 31 woman wasn’t feeding her servants. She was giving them their assignments for the day. (I just told FirstHusband that if he really loved me, he would get me some maidens and he said I have to go do some sort of honorable work near the town gate and make sure everyone knows how great he is first. Bummer.)

“She considers a field and buys it, from her earnings she plants a vineyard…” (Proverbs 31:16)

This is straightforward. She buys a field and plants a vineyard. I really don’t understand how this is “directly” related to work at home. It sounds like she’s an entrepreneur. Unless the vineyard is near her home and the grapes (and wine?) will only be consumed by her household and not sold. In my understanding, this verse doesn’t relate “directly” to her work at home at all.

“her lamp does not go out at night…” (Proverbs 31:18)

Now this is why I’m double checking Mrs. Peace’s application of scripture. She left out the first half this verse. Here’s verse 18 in its entirety:

“She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.”

Now why omit the first part of the verse? I’m off to to find out what it means. The verse used there is in the King James Version:

“She perceiveth that her merchandise [is] good: her candle goeth not out by night.”

Back over to blueletterbible to look up “trading” or “merchandise.” The Hebrew word is “cachar” and the Outline of Biblical Usage reads:

“1) traffic, gain, profit, gain from merchandise”

This part of the verse definitely doesn’t seem to relate “directly” to work at home.

Checking out “profitable” or “good,” the Hebrew word is “towb” and there are just too many synonyms to type.

Then I looked up the part of the verse Mrs. Peace DID quote here. I looked up the word “candle” or “lamp.” The Hebrew word is “niyr” and the Gesenius’s Lexicon Help reads:

“a lamp, always used figuratively of progeny.”

and then there’s text I can’t type due to keyboard limitations, followed by a reference to 1 Kings 11:36, “that David my servant might always have a lamp,” i.e. that his race might continue for ever; and notes to compare its use to 1 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19, and 2 Chronicles 21:7.

Figuratively? I never read that “figuratively” before. I took it literally. Lamp. Candle. Didn’t go out at night.

I need some commentary on the “figurative” use of this word, so I pick one on blueletterbible. A. R. FAUSSET says:

“17, 18. To energy she adds a watchfulness in bargains, and a protracted and painful industry. The last clause may figuratively denote that her prosperity (compare Pro 24:20 ) is not short lived.” (emphasis added)

Interesting. Totally NOT what I thought. Very cool! Thanks to Mrs. Peace again for prompting me to look up each word in this verse – even the part she omitted. Unfortunately, her application of this verse – that it refers “directly” to a woman’s work at home – isn’t supported.

“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle…” (Proverbs 31:19)

This one seems pretty straightforward and let me just say, THANK YOU to Samuel Slater.

“…all her household are clothed with scarlet…” (Proverbs 31:21)

ewwww. I really didn’t need to know where the dye came from. But here she takes care of her family’s wardrobe. DIRECTLY related to her work at home!

“She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple…”

She dresses well, and makes her own clothes. I can’t sew. I do not believe my inability to sew means I’m failing my family or God. When the literal translation doesn’t fit today’s culture, I look for intent. My clothes look nice, they fit and they are reasonably priced. I just buy my clothes instead of make them. Often second hand or at Ross. So is this verse “directly” related to the Proverbs 31 woman’s work at home? Sure, why not?

“She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the Tradesmen…” (Proverbs 31:24)

I don’t understand how this is “directly” related to her work at home. She’s an entrepreneur.

“She looks well to the ways of her house, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” (Proverbs 31:27)

DIRECTLY related to her work at home!

So I found three verses, not nine. But I learned that I need some maidens and was reminded that my prosperity is not short-lived. Good Bible study. Overall, time well spent.

Back to Mrs. Peace:

“The excellent wife’s home-based ministry does not apply just to King Solomon’s day, but to our day, as well. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus about this very issue.

Older women (are to) teach what is good…that they may encourage the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands… (Titus 2:3-5)”

Then Mrs. Peace gives some Biblical support! She notes that “worker at home” is translated from “oikourgos” and says that the word is derived from two root words, “oikos” which means “a dwelling, a home or a household” and “ergon” which means “to work or be employed.” But says that the second root word for “oikourgos” is “ouros.” Not “ergon.” So I look up both.

ergon does mean “business, employment, that which any one is occupied” but is it a root of oikourgos?

ouros means “a guard”

So while the definition of “ergon” is correct, where did Mrs. Peace get “ergon” as a root of oikourgos? She follows by explaining that a “worker at home” is someone who guards the dwelling or is a keeper of the household – which is the definition of “ouros.”

So I’m confused. What is she saying? How does “ergon” fit with “guards the dwelling?” She used one definition and supported it with the meaning of another. Did I mention I was confused?

It seems there’s a discrepancy as to the second root word. I’m going to break it down and follow the bread crumbs:

“oiko urgos”

“urgos” is the word I want to understand.

Some sources indicate it is a form of “ouros” i.e. “keeper,” – which more accurately means someone who is watching over something or being a guardian.

A form of.

Some sources indicate “urgos” is derived from the root word “ergon” which means “work,” “employment,” or “task.”

Derived from.

I understand that the Bible COMPLETELY reveals the moral will of God. I get that. But there’s a problem. For like . . . EVER, people have been using passages to support their premise and point of view. There will ALWAYS be disagreement, even among Christians, as to the specific directives found there.

So which translation is correct? A FORM of the word or another word from which it is DERIVED? This is why I will never go to seminary.

I’m cheating. Someone else must have done this research. After a little searching, I did find an interesting post which specifically addresses the translation of oikourgos. Here are some snippets:

“Oikourgos is a compound based on the word oikos, “house”. It is translated as if it was a noun (many Greek nouns end in -os). However, the -os noun ending is masculine. Since in this context it is referring to women, the masculine ending would not be correct. Therefore we know that the word is not a noun. Instead, the ending is actually a different suffix: -os in its usage as an adjective-forming verbal suffix.

The KJV translators saw the word oikourgos as a noun, and since it was describing a person, they took it to mean a certain type of person. Since oikos means “house” and urgos (a form of ouros) comes from a root meaning “to keep”, they translated it in the KJV as “keepers at home”.

Oiko-, as you should remember from the above explanation, means house. The form -urgos, a form of ouros, means “to keep”. In the case of compound words, it means “taking care to keep something (in good condition)”. The entire word, oikourgos, then means “mindful (or careful) to keep their houses in good condition”.

You decide for yourself. As for me and my house? I’m going with “ouros” and I’m going to be mindful to keep my house in good condition.

Forgive me if I don’t track down the meaning of “oikodespoteo” as Mrs. Peace uses it with regard to keeping widows of trouble and preserving their reputation. I’m just too tired.

But back to the term “worker at home.” I have a few questions? What about children? The two verses quoted here, Titus 2:3-5 includes “to love their children” and 1 Timothy 5:14 includes “bear children.” What does Mrs. Peace say about raising children in this chapter? Not very much:

” . . . but I do believe that God intended for the women, especially the younger women, to stay home and do a good job of caring for their homes and for their families. A wife who is gone with too many activities or work does not have the time nor energy to keep her home as it should be kept.

If a wife is working or is thinking of returning to work, she should examine her motives. What is it she really wants? What is her heart set on? Is it to avoid becoming a “non-person?” Is it more material things? Is it wanting to be out from under the demands of child care? Is it to relieve her husband from his responsibility to work? None of these motives are for the glory of God. They are self-serving and sinful. Godly motives would be “learning to be content” (Philippians 4:11), “gratitude to the Lord for what she does have” (I Thessalonians 5:18), and “whatever you do in thought, word, and deed, do all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). Staying at home and organizing a clean, well run household is a major biblical emphasis in the God-given ministry of the wife.(emphasis added)

It’s the declarative statement I’m having trouble with. Staying at home and organizing a clean, well run household is a major biblical emphasis in the God-given ministry of the wife? “Major biblical emphasis” is some fairly strong language. Are the verses she quotes here the “major biblical emphasis” which support this statement? I don’t see the connection. Doesn’t the “God-given ministry of the wife” include raising her (and her husband’s) children?

I’m left wondering because there’s no more on this. Mrs. Peace moves on:

“Many times, if a couple did an honest appraisal of the wife’s income, and looked at how much they spent on transportation, child care, taxes, clothing, lunches out, dinners out, and increased grocery bills due to buying prepared foods, the couple would likely see that they are actually losing money. How much wiser might it be for her to stay home and care for her family!”

Now HERE I agree with Mrs. Peace. I actually drafted this part of the post earlier in the week and stopped to write another, entitled “to work or not to work, that is the question.

Then Mrs. Peace throws out a question.

“What if a husband instructs a wife to work? Is she to be submissive?”

Her answer makes me very, Very, VERY uncomfortable:

“Yes, unless she can show him that she would be sinning by working. It would be sinful for her to financially support her husband so that he could be irresponsible or lazy. Instead, she should take advantage of the biblical resources God has given to protect her.”

Why is the assumption that a man without a job is “irresponsible” or “lazy?” There are other possibilities. He might be an excellent family manager and caregiver to their children. What if she had a higher earning power? What about “unless the wife can show him that she would be sinning by working?” How would she do that? This is the most disturbing part of the answer for me. That she should “take advantage” of the “biblical resources” God has given to protect her. Is this using the Bible as a weapon? As a tool to manipulate? That’s a fine line I don’t want to walk.

Christians have been using the Bible – in and out of context – since forEVER to prove their point. (Did I say this before?) Each side using words like Mrs. Peace uses when she says, “Common sense would dictate . . . ” The problem is that my “common sense” doesn’t lead me to the same conclusions as Mrs. Peace. Now what? What happens when a husband and wife come to different conclusions? What if the wife believes she is sinning by working and her husband doesn’t? She should submit? But she should live in sin? In Chapter Two of Excellent Wife, Mrs. Peace says God’s authority overrides the husband’s authority. This reasoning is a circle.

I’m going to skip the part where Mrs. Peace believes the church has a responsibility to help a woman to be able to stay at home with her children if her husband were to die. In today’s culture, that’s not the norm.

Then Mrs. Peace relates some practical housekeeping tips that have obviously worked for her. Take what you can use, but since these aren’t biblical directives, no condemnation for not employing any of them. I agree 100% with the premise that “A little bit of prior planning makes all the difference in the world.”

Finally, there’s the “Lazy Person” vs. “Self-Disciplined Person” comparison chart on page 75. If you recognize yourself as a “Lazy Person” make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Make sure you are physically and mentally healthy. If you believe you may be a “Perfectionist,” please consider counseling. Whose expectations are you trying to meet? Are you a product of “conditional” love? Before you assume sin, rule out health related possibilities.

Lazy? Perfectionist? Maybe. Maybe not.

2 thoughts on “researching the wife’s domain.

  1. Again, my thanks for the time you’ve taken to parse out these words and meanings. I find myself convicted all over again through the readings and discussions of this book–which I’m not even reading right now.

    Having spoken with Mrs. Peace on some of these things, I know that in her nouthetic counseling she deals with the extremes of our understanding in both cases–the woman who is the doormat and the woman who is the proverbial boss of the hoss. Therefore, to some degree her writing is meant to correct the extremes of our culture rather than those who have long before and continued to submit themselves to Biblical direction.

    That being said, I agree with you still that the value of her instruction comes foremost from comparing it to Scripture and discussing it with Husband. Please keep on, I do appreciate your posts.

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