Yesterday I asked the question, Is the husband supposed to be the provider for his family? You can read Husband, the Provider: Part 1, which included my personal background and an explanation as to why I'm addressing this topic.
What the Bible Says
I know that just because something doesn't sit well with me doesn't mean it is unbiblical or unwise. I am a sinner, and because of that my judgment is not inherently Godly nor selfless. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't sit right with me because I am bent toward looking out for myself instead of others. This is one reason God gave us His Scriptures: We need correction.
But when I turn to Scripture, I don't find any support for the notion that the husband should be the provider for a family. I do find support for the idea that all people should be hard workers so that they are good witnesses to the watching world, and so that they should not be a drain on their community (1 Thess 4:9-12). I find support for women who are entrepreneurs (Prov 31:10-31) and business women (Acts 16:14). And I find that distinct gender roles are a result of The Fall, not a result of God's design (my post on Gen 1-3).
There are two scriptures that I have seen as references for prescriptive gender roles of male employment and female homemaking. They are Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 5:8.
First, I would like to quickly clarify that Titus 2:3-5 has nothing to do with income or the duties of men. It is about women being responsible instead of being lazy, unkind, or selfish. It does not say that men should not do those things listed. I have no problem working for the good of my home, but that verse neither prohibits me from working outside the home nor does it exclude my husband from the responsibilities of housework. Those conclusions are, at best, a result of weak exegesis. Moreover, this verse begs for us to have a real discussion about the false separation between income-producing activities and tending to our home.
But Titus 2:5 also reveals one of my biggest pet peeves with Bible interpretation as it applies to gender: Just because the Bible says men or women should do something, that doesn't mean it prohibits the other sex from also doing that same thing.
Now to 1 Timothy 5:8. As is the case with many verses, the Bible translators here have used male pronouns, but this Scripture simply is not talking about men, it is talking about all people. There is no gender indication in this verse at all. All articles and nouns could be masculine, feminine, or neuter. (However, even if the articles and nouns were masculine, that would still not indicate "men to the exclusion of women." When a masculine gender is used in Greek, it simply means "all people" unless the context specifies.) This verse is about us, all of us, taking care of our families, perhaps specifically in regard to widows and the aging. In fact, you could even make an argument that this verse, based on the context, is addressing widows themselves.
Our discussion of Scripture as it applies to gender could continue, but from what I can tell, the teaching that men are supposed to be the provider for a family is not based on the Bible.
Of course, I understand why these traditional roles exist. Some women suffer morning sickness or "baby brain" during pregnancy. Most women need to physically recover after birth. Some women breastfeed. Because of these things, men have been physically freer to leave the home for work. I get it. It is often sensible, in many couples, for the man to be the breadwinner.
But that doesn't mean all couples should function that way.
The decision that men are to be the breadwinners might be wisest for many couples, but for other couples, things might look differently. In many couples, the man might want to stay home with the kids and the woman might thrive being the breadwinner. Or they both might want to work part-time. Or, heaven forbid, non-parental childcare might be a good option too! Not all couples find themselves fulfilling traditional roles, and if it works, that should be as encouraged as any other system.
However, when non-traditional couples are given as examples to some traditionalists, I have often heard either 1) "Yeah, but is it good for that man to stay at home? Isn't there something wrong with him if he doesn't feel the responsibility to provide?" or 2) "How could any woman be okay with leaving her children all day long?"
#2 should probably be addressed in a separate post, a post on the decision mothers make to stay at home or work. It's a topic that needs some honest discussion. But briefly, I don't see why we should expect fathers to be okay with leaving their children all day long. Any parent should have a hard time parting with their new babies, even dads. Of course it's hard for mothers to go to work after having a new child, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't.
As to #1: I understand that many men feel the need to provide, and I understand that this drive is often a good, even Godly, sentiment. Men are absolutely called by God to care for other people, not to be derelict in caring for their families and friends. But how that responsibility is executed is not the same for all men. Some men want to earn money, others want to change diapers and be a homeschooling dad. The important thing is that couples come together as partners and figure out what works best for them.
However, I think the male drive to provide can be a culturally-acceptable idol, and that is a serious problem. If you feel the need to do anything, that thing is probably an idol for you. As Tim Keller says, idols are "good things that become ultimate things." If you are a man and you feel as if you are a failure because your wife makes more money than you, you're most likely dealing with an idol. Men are not defined by what they do; men are defined by God. Any attempt to prove your identity or worth is idolatry.
Often, our areas of giftedness from God are where we are most likely to develop idols. Women (including myself) who are tempted to feel incomplete without children are battling idolatry. It is a culturally-encouraged idol, but it's an idol nonetheless. The same is true for men who feel that their manhood depends upon their ability to provide.
The male drive to provide can also be an idol because sometimes men are placing burdens on their own shoulders that are ultimately God's burdens. Yes, we are to be God-like, but that does not mean that we are to put ourselves in the place of God. God, not the husband or wife, is the ultimate provider for all families. He is Jehovah-Jireh. Our duty is to seek first His Kingdom, trusting that "all these things" will be provided for us (Matt 6:24-34). Throughout Scripture, things might get tough, but God provides (and he often provides through other humans).
While husbands and wives should be partners, responsibly making decisions about income and childcare, they are not ultimately responsible for providing for their family; God is. Even husbands who have taken on the sole breadwinning responsibility in their home are not the ones who are providing; God is.
Now, to clarify, let me carefully explain what I am not saying:
I am not saying that families with a stay-at-home mom and an employed dad are unbiblical or sexist. I am saying that every couple should figure out what works best for their situation; the Bible is not prescriptive in this regard.
I am not saying that men should be lazy, irresponsible, or negligent toward their families. Rather, I am saying that all people within the Christian community are expected to be diligent workers as much as they are able.
I am not saying that husbands should place the burden of providing onto their wives. That is a reversal of tradition, but it overcorrects and is also an error. The ultimate burden to provide for Christians is placed on God's shoulders, and our duty is to work hard and seek first God's kingdom, not our own.
I am not saying that the drive to provide is inherently bad. But I am saying that the drive to provide can be idolatrous and show a lack of trust in God.
So, what do you think? Are there any Scriptures I left out? A whole book could be written about this topic, and I'm sure many of you have thoughts on the subject. I would especially love to hear from men.