Widows have never been a popular group in any era of history. Many cultures had such a low regard for widows that in some cases they were buried along with their husbands. At other times, the culture did not allow women whose husbands had died to remarry. This was true even if the marriage occurred when the woman was a child.1 This overlooking of widows must also have been true in terms of Old and New Testament histories because there are repeated instructions and warnings to care for widows, as well as orphans.
Two passages are well known but rarely given much heed, in our day, within the body of believers. Too often, Christians are quick to cite the shortcomings, distortions, and negative effects of modern humanistic statism, without first taking the mote out of their own eyes (Matt. 7:5).
The two passages that are virtually ignored, or merely given lip service, are:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. (1 Timothy 5:14)
How many Christians are overly concerned about their religion being pure and undefiled? Based on the amount of time given to visiting orphans and widows, most would fail. Some would counter that they do not have many widows in their congregation, and those widows in their church have family that attend to them. This reveals that the term widow in our day is often considered synonymous with an elderly woman whose husband has died.
But Paul writing to Timothy instructs younger widows to marry, continue to bear children, and manage their households.2 Why? So as to not give the adversary ammunition to slander. But, exactly who would be the target of slander? I maintain that the church itself would be the target of slander. Consider that much of the “negative press” that the Christian church receives in our day is its obvious failure to deal with this important matter.
Modern-Day Younger Widows
A widow is properly defined as a woman who has lost her husband by death. Yet in a culture that has not only moved away from God’s law, but asserts that we should not use God’s commandments as the means of prosecuting evil, there are many women who would be widows indeed, if the laws of capital punishment were in effect. A woman, whose husband is guilty of offenses God’s Word says requires the death penalty, would be a widow if the civil government carried out the required sentence. What’s more, since our culture has systematically devalued the responsibility of protection and covering of the father, the sanctions against those who take sexual advantage of a woman are no longer applied.
Deuteronomy 22:28–29 reads:
If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
Thus, there is provision for a woman, under the protection and covering of her father, who had been seduced by a man, to receive compensation. Derek Carlsen expounds:
We see that when an unmarried couple engages in intercourse, both the man and the woman are guilty before God. According to Scripture, fornication, on the civil level, results in shame for the girl and her family and legal/financial ramifications for the man, who is fined. The fine is a way of making restitution for dishonoring the girl and her family and also helps to secure her future, which the seducer’s actions have threatened. The girl’s father has the responsibility to decide whether to allow his daughter to marry this man or not. The seducing man has no choice about marrying the girl at this stage—his responsibility was to have said no long before this. If the father says yes to the marriage, then the seducer has to marry the girl and is not allowed to divorce her all his days (Deut. 22:28–29).
If a virgin is seduced and her father refuses to give her in marriage to the man who seduced her, the seducer still has to pay a dowry. The dowry is the “bride-price of virgins” (i.e., the price of a virgin’s dowry) and is to ensure that the girl’s lack of sexual purity would be outweighed by the economic gain to be had. The dowry would make the girl, who was no longer a virgin, “attractive” to some future husband who would be marrying a fairly rich wife, and these riches would benefit the whole family unit. Or, the dowry penalty would serve as security to help the girl survive should no man want to marry her due to her lack of sexual purity.3
Today there are many women, many now-single mothers, who because of their failure to submit to the protection and covering of their fathers, or who had fathers who were ignorant or disobedient to their proprietary role in their families, are left in a virtual state of widowhood. The women’s rights movement pushed for equality, but what has resulted is far from equal protection. Instead, we have an entire class of women who must be mother and father, as well as caretaker and breadwinner. Their only value seems to be in the political arena where single mothers can be used to support increased welfare spending.4
Paul tells the younger widows to marry. Is he instructing them to parade themselves (beauty pageant style) to catch a man? Are they instructed to seduce men in order to become wives? I submit that he is instructing the unmarried men of the congregation as much as he is the widows when he asserts that the younger widows should marry. He is telling them not to overlook these women (as well as their children) who need the protection and covering that family life provides. Paul was certainly not referring to their sexual drives when he instructs in this way. Rather, because the family is God’s basic institution for dominion, He is telling all that these women and their children belong in a family setting and that they should function as wives and mothers.
Modern-Day Single Males
I have heard from more than a few young unmarried Christian women that the pickings are slim in church circles (both Reformed and otherwise) when it comes to their prospects for marriage. Especially those with a fervency for their faith find that single Christian men are rarely very different from their unbelieving counterparts. They seem to be more concerned with physical attributes than godliness. What’s more, many of these “correct thinking men” are heavily in debt and have little to no interest in having a family, let alone the ability to provide (dowry and regular support). In short, there is an abundance of single men in churches with little to no sense of the dominion obligation to begin families. For them, marriage is one choice among many and they like the autonomy and independence of being bachelors.5
This puts the modern widows in an even tougher position. If those women not previously married are finding a dearth of suitable candidates, what will be the widows’ lot? Many of these women would love to provide their children with a Christian education by homeschooling them. However, in order to keep food on the table, they cannot afford this necessity. Yet there are many financially qualified men available to help, who are more concerned about their own comfortable lifestyle. So much for pure religion. Note that the second part of that verse says, “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Is not the “stain of the world” to be self-centered and self-absorbed, rather than concerned with the commandments of God?
A common criticism presented to those who stand outside abortion clinics pleading for the lives of the unborn is that, “You care only that the woman not abort her child. What is the mother to do afterwards?” Keep in mind that most women would not be taking the trip to abortuaries if the men who impregnated them were willing to take the responsibility attendant with the pleasure they received during the sexual act. Alternatively, if a society enforced the law of God regarding the payment of the dowry and the obligation to marry without the possibility of divorce, their plight would not be as extreme. Only when the people of God are willing to repent of neglecting widows and orphans in their distress, and assume the responsibility God’s Word assigns, will our witness to the culture be effective.
Carlsen goes on the say:
In the Bible, when the living are actually defrauded, the guilty party is forced to make restitution to them (Exod. 22:1–4). We even see that when a maiden is seduced, she has been defrauded and thus receives restitution to help her deal with the real-life ramifications of her loss. Despite the fact that a fornicating girl defiled herself, Scripture still made provision for her in her impure state—she received a dowry.6
An Historical Precedent
The early church existed in a culture, in many ways, worse than our own. Yet there were similarities to today. The difference, though, is reflected in how they were willing to put legs to their faith. R. J. Rushdoony notes,
Two battles, which marked the early church from the beginning, we still have with us today. The first was over the question of sovereignty or lordship, and the second was over the issue of abortion. Abortion was entirely legal within the Empire, but the early church instituted very severe penalties against any of its members involved in this very common practice. But that is not all. At the same time, the early church began to deal with the results of this world of abortion.
Not every abortionist in those days functioned with the cold and brutal efficiency common to us now. Therefore, they were not always successful in aborting babies. As a result, when the unwanted babies were born, they were promptly taken and abandoned under the bridges of the River Tiber in Rome. In other cities there were places which were routinely used for abandoning babies.
The Christians made it their habit immediately to go to the places where these babies were abandoned — to be devoured, as Tertullian said, by wild dogs — to collect these infants and parcel them out from family to family. This tells us something about the life of faith among these believers. How many members of congregations today would welcome an officer of the church coming by with an abandoned baby or two, and feel it was their duty to rear them in the faith!7
No one can assert that this would have been an easy task. I am not asserting that what I am proposing would be easy. Nevertheless, the early church was determined to do what was right. By taking the instruction to care for orphans in their distress, these believers were practicing religion pure and undefiled. We must do the same for our modern-day, younger widows.
A Test of Faith: How We Treat Widows
If we truly wish to reconstruct society according to God’s law, we must start in the areas that are under our control. Rushdoony makes the point:
God’s repeated test of the integrity of a people’s faith is their care for widows, orphans, and strangers, for those who are outside their normal realm of association. This is the second aspect of this commandment. To love our neighbor as ourselves is to show as great a concern for their welfare, rights, and reputation as for our own…
What this means is very clear. Beyond a very limited sphere, judgment is the province of God. A godless state will assume more and more of the prerogatives of God and assume powers of judgment over all of life. Because we are not God, for us the decisive power in society must be the regenerating power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Not revolution but regeneration, not coercion but conversion, is our way of changing the world and furthering the Kingdom of God. This is the heart of Christian reconstruction. The heart of Biblical law is that it makes us the basic government of society in and through our personal and family life, through our vocations, churches, and schools. In Biblical law, civil government is a very limited and minor sphere of rule and power.8
Families committed to pure and undefiled religion are uniquely positioned to offer help and assistance to single mothers in raising their children. Helping them understand the law-word of God and discipling them in the care of their children will make them good candidates as future wives for godly men. Married women can act as mentors, helping them see what it means to serve God as a wife. Meanwhile, the married men need to be an influence in the lives of unmarried men, helping them take responsibility for children they have fathered or possibly to take on the responsibility of a family in need of protection and covering.
Real Life Examples
C.S. Lewis fans may not know that the woman he eventually married was faced with the prospect of having to return to America when the Home Office in Britain did not renew her visa. She was a divorced woman whose husband had committed adultery and left her after repeatedly physically abusing her. Although Lewis and Joy Davidson were friends, he felt no romantic attachment, but married her to make it possible for her to stay. Their fondness grew and he developed a strong love for her, taking care of her during her ordeal with cancer that eventually took her life. Subsequently, he cared for her sons as part of his commitment to his new family.
I have witnessed this recently with a Christian family who are committed to God’s Word and made a point of introducing an unmarried man to a single mother trying hard to homeschool her daughter in the face of also having to provide the family support. Despite a host of complications, with the help of the mentoring couple, the two were married. The woman’s daughter now has a committed Christian father, and they have a young son. You see, they were both already committed to serving God faithfully. Romance was not their motive (although a factor); the Kingdom of God was. Thanks to a Christian family interested in seeing the Kingdom of God progress, a new family was created. This is religion pure and undefiled.
A Challenge to the People of God
Let us become known as those who look out for widows and orphans, however they come to be classified as such. Rather than serve as a matchmaking service, this is Kingdom service where duty and responsibility will have an impact in the social order. God’s law needs to be applied in families (daughters remaining chaste until marriage and fathers overseeing their protection and covering if they are seduced), along with society in general caring for those who have fallen through the cracks. This is a means to lessen the burden on the statist welfare and foster care system, by providing real and lasting help as we build strong families committed to serving Christ and His Kingdom. The care of widows and orphans has never been the jurisdiction of the state. Moreover, Christian families can make it a priority to help single-parent households and invest in the children who often are the casualties of their parents’ sins. Our most fruitful work is in teaching the full counsel of God so that these forgotten widows and orphans will be numbered among those who receive God’s mercy because they know and live out His commandments.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exod. 20:4–6; cf. Deut. 5:8–10).
1. The subject of the diminished status of women in India was portrayed in the film, Water (2005).
2. The first, bearing children, would be something postmenopausal women would be unable to do.
3. Derek Carlsen, “Rape or Sexual Abuse and the Victim’s Sexual Purity,” Faith for All of Life, March 1, 2007.
4. We might add that the sad prospects increase the appeal to seek out abortion.
5. See blog, “Unsuitable Suitors” on chalcedon.edu
6. Carlsen, ibid.
7. R.J. Rushdoony, The Atheism of the Early Church, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  2000], pp. 10–11).
8. R.J. Rushdoony, The Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), pp. 281–282.
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].