Paul’s Teaching on Women’s Roles in Titus 2:3–5

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In our day and age, few parts of Scripture are more controversial than the household codes of the New Testament. Indeed, as family structures continue to unravel and since hierarchical relations in the home, the church, or the workplace are often abusive, the biblical teaching that men and woman have distinct, God-given roles and that women submit to their husbands has fallen on hard times. Yet, for those who are committed to Scripture, we must take a closer look to see what God says about male-female relationships, and women’s roles in particular, throughout Scripture. And one important place to do that is Titus 2. For more details, see chapter 6 in God’s Design for Man and Woman.

Paul’s instructions to Titus in chapter 2 are given as part of a household code that conceives of the church as God’s household. In keeping with this format, Paul gives ministry directives regarding older men (v. 2), older and young women (vv. 3–5), and younger men (v. 6), as well as bondservants (vv. 9–10).

Like all the members in God’s household, women ought to “renounce ungodliness (asebeia) and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly (eusebōs) lives” as they await Christ’s return (vv. 12–13). They’re part of God’s overall purpose of sending Christ “to redeem” and “purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (v. 14; note the allusion to Israel as God’s “treasured possession among all peoples” in Exod 19:5).

Against this backdrop, we can now turn to Paul’s specific instructions regarding women in verses 3–5, which unfold in two sections.

Older Women Exhibiting Reverence and Self-control (v. 3)

The first section stipulates how older (i.e., mature) women are to conduct themselves. The pattern is chiastic (ABBA), with two positive traits enveloping two negative ones:

  • (1) Reverence in behavior (en katastēmati hieroprepeis). The fear of God is to be exhibited in a woman’s godly character. She is to show her reverence in the way she behaves, not just as part of her inner disposition. This might come out in the way she talks, dresses, and relates to others.
  • (2) Not slanderers (mē diabolous). The word for “slanderer” (diabolos) is stronger than merely referring to gossip (cf. 1 Tim 5:13: phlyaroi). Diabolos is also the word for the devil who epitomizes slander as the “accuser of the brethren.”
  • (3) Not slaves to much wine (mē oinō pollō dedoulōmenas). In Cretan culture, it was particularly important for women to reject excessive drinking because of its prevalent decadent debauchery. Self-control, in this and other ways, is a vital characteristic of reverent women.
  • (4) Teach what is good (kalodidaskalous, literally, “good-teachers”). Older women are to teach young women what is good and pleasing to God. The ESV starts a new sentence here, but in the Greek this is a fourth characteristic. This general command is fleshed out in verses 4–5.

Older Women Training Young Women (v. 4a)

Older women have the important responsibility of training young women in the church. The word translated “train” in the ESV (sōphronizō) is rendered “urge” in the NIV and “encourage” in the NASB. In the entire New Testament, this word only occurs here. In the original, the word means something like “instill a sound mind,” that is, to cause a person to think in a healthy way about their life and priorities. In the present case, this means that young women develop a mindset of devotion to their husband and children and to manage their household well.

Remarkably, as many as five instances of the same word group (sōphr-) are found in Titus 2. In the immediate context, being self-controlled is a recurring quality, said to be worthy of pursuit for both older and younger men and one that older women are to teach young women (vv. 2, 5, 6; cf. v. 12).

One interesting parallel to Paul’s command that older women sōphronizō (“train”) young women is found in verses 11–12, where Paul writes that the grace of God has appeared, “training us” (paideuō) to live self-controlled lives. Ultimately, it is the grace of God that trains us, so older women are called to be agents of God’s grace in the lives of young women in the church.

What Older Women Are to Teach Young Women (vv. 4b–5)

The second section is elaborating on what older women are specifically to teach young women in the church. Titus is not to teach young women himself; rather, this is the role of older, more mature Christian women.

Consistent with this teaching, Paul writes Titus to tell older women to teach young women four traits focused on their family and three other general characteristics. In terms of family and home, older women are to teach young women:

  • (1) To love their husband (philandrous, lit. “husband-lovers”). It is not presumed that this comes naturally. A young woman will need help to show love to her husband. Some of this may involve conversations about respect and sex. Each woman will obviously have unique needs. 
  • (2) To love their children (philoteknous, lit. “children-lovers”). Again, it is assumed that a woman will have some need of mentoring in loving her children. There is a lot to learn in raising children. Her devotion to this area of life is one of the greatest contributions she might make to the world.
  • (3) To be submissive to their own husbands (hypotassamenas tois idios andrasin). This means that she follows her husband’s lead and ultimately defers to his decision-making. It means that she contributes areas of giftedness and strength in the bounds of his care and guidance.
  • (4) To be workers at home (NASB; oikourgous; the KJV has “keepers at home” based on a later variant reading, oikourous). In a parallel passage, Paul urges younger widows to “marry, bear children, [and] manage their households (oikodespotein)” (1 Tim 5:14; see also 1 Tim 2:15). “Workers at home” doesn’t mean women should never work outside the home; rather, it denotes their center of gravity (cf. Prov 31:10–31). Also, when children are older or have left the home, this may allow for greater latitude, though a woman should still put a priority on her home.

In terms of general characteristics, young women should be taught to be:

  • (5) Self-controlled (sōphronas)Various forms of self-control may be in view here: patience with all of one’s family members; appropriate speech involving not only refraining from gossip but positively nurturing and encouraging others; restraint in preparing healthful, appropriately-apportioned meals within the family budget; and general attitudes that are forward-looking and positive.
  • (6) Pure (hagnas). This entails removing worldly influences such as unhealthy associations and unwholesome pastimes. Young women should pay close attention to what they watch, read, and think about. A woman who places a priority on her spiritual life over her external beauty stands in the time-honored tradition of godly women (1 Pet 3:4–6; cf. 1 Tim 2:9–10).
  • (7) Kind (agathas). This involves not being edgy, irritable, or mean to one’s spouse and children and reaching out in ways that touch the heart of her family even when challenges arise.

All of this is to be done “that the word of God may not be reviled” (v. 5). People should have nothing bad to say about women, whether at the church in Crete in Paul’s day or in ours (cf. vv. 8, 10).

Conclusion

Paul’s instructions in Titus 2:3–5 on older women mentoring young women can serve as a template for women both young and old for living out their faith in the church, the home, and the world today. It is thus imperative that mature older women in the church help young women to think rightly about their priorities and to lead a disciplined and self-controlled life. You might call this the “mentoring mandate.” In a world that often disparages women’s devotion to marriage and children, this passage, while deeply countercultural, brings us back to God’s purpose for creating women for his glory and their own good, as well as those of others.

Note: For further study, see Andreas J. and Margaret E. Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), esp. chaps. 6 and 8; and Andreas J. Köstenberger, 1-2 Timothy and Titus, EBTC (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2021).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author

  • Marny Köstenberger

    Marny Köstenberger (ThD, University of South Africa) is a teacher and women’s consultant, author of Jesus and the Feminists, and coauthor of God’s Design for Man and Woman and Parenting Essentials. Her new book, Sanctification as Set Apart and Growing in Christ, is forthcoming in June. She previously served as director of women’s programs and mentoring, and professor of theology and women’s ministry at various churches and seminaries. Marny and her husband, Andreas, live in North Carolina.

Marny Köstenberger

Marny Köstenberger

Marny Köstenberger (ThD, University of South Africa) is a teacher and women’s consultant, author of Jesus and the Feminists, and coauthor of God’s Design for Man and Woman and Parenting Essentials. Her new book, Sanctification as Set Apart and Growing in Christ, is forthcoming in June. She previously served as director of women’s programs and mentoring, and professor of theology and women’s ministry at various churches and seminaries. Marny and her husband, Andreas, live in North Carolina.