Thursday, May 15, 2008

Addendum to headship and helping

One advantage of studying the New Testament in Greek is that sometimes a Greek word strikes the reader with a force greater than the English equivalent. Yesterday in a small Greek NT group we worked our way through 1 Timothy 5. In the course of instructions concerning widows Paul signals his wishes in respect of younger widows and one word jumped out at me in connection with my previous post about ‘Headship and Helping’.

‘So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander’ (v. 14).

The Greek for ‘manage their households’ is the verb oikodespotein. It is unique in the New Testament but is related to the noun oikodespotes found several times in the Gospels where Jesus tells stories involving stewards or managers of households. If you are thinking this word also relates to our English word ‘despot’ you are right, but the Greek is talking about an everyday manager of household affairs and not a bullying tyrant.

Now we cannot build castles in the air on the basis of this word. Presumably a married woman oikodespoting her house is (a) focused on some concerns which her husband has left to her discretion (The kitchen? Control of the servants? Aspects of the children’s upbringing?) and (b) doing so alongside her husband’s oikodespoting (recalling 1 Timothy 3:4,5, and 12’s injunctions about bishops and deacons managing their households and children well, though using a differing verb to oikodespotein).

Nevertheless we are left here with an intriguing thought in respect of arguments that because the husband was the leader of the ancient household and the church was envisaged as the household of God therefore church leaders should be men. Is this argument weakened just a little by the possibility of joint leadership of ancient households by husbands and wives?

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