Does the Bible Say That Men Must Be the Breadwinners?
- Sarah Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2023 11 Jul
When my husband was out of work twice in a period of more than two years, we discussed whether I should go back to full-time work as the primary breadwinner of our family of four teenagers and a foster preschooler. I dusted off my resume and applied to several jobs, landing an interview at one we thought might turn out to be the answer to our prayers. But God had other plans, and my husband found full-time work before I did (and that job possibility I’d interviewed for fizzled out).
I’ve known families where the husband works, and the wife cares for the children. I’ve known families where the wife works, and the husband cares for the children. I’ve also known families where both husband and wife work full-time. In each scenario, it worked for their family and situation.
But sometimes, Christians can get stuck on stereotype roles not proscribed in the Bible. So, let’s take a deep dive into what the Bible says—or doesn’t say—about who should be the primary financial provider for the family.
What Does the Bible Say about Men and Women?
Let’s start at the beginning, where God gives man work: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, ESV). This seems straightforward enough that man was created to work, but what it doesn’t say is that man—and not women—must be the ones to bring home the bacon, so to speak.
Now we can pivot to the New Testament. Ephesians 5 is often the go-to chapter when Christians discuss who should be the provider of the family. Here are the pertinent verses (22-25, 33) from the ESV: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. … However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
This passage clearly states the husband is the head of the home, with the wife submitting to his headship and the husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church. Paul also emphasizes this in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (ESV). But in neither of these two passages is Paul saying definitively the husband must be the breadwinner in the family. The husband can be the head of his family and not provide financially.
However, Paul does have something to say about work in general. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, he reminds his readers of the importance of working to provide for a living. “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (ESV). In 1 Timothy 5:8, he also says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (ESV). I think we can safely conclude working to provide housing and food for your family is indeed what God calls Christians to do, but what I think we can’t extrapolate is that it has to be the husband doing the providing.
Can Women Be the Breadwinners?
Does the Bible say women can be the breadwinner in the family? I think it does. I’ve always loved Proverbs 31 for its shining example of an excellent, working wife. While I won’t quote the entire passage, let’s remember the first few verses of the author’s paean to a woman, “far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. … Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31: 10-12, 28-31, ESV).
The list of how she provides for her family is both encouraging and daunting, but I think it underscores how gifted many women are when it comes to earning money through their talents and abilities. The wise husband will encourage his wife to use her talents to serve the family through outside work.
Because each family dynamic is different, how can you decide as a team who should be the primary financial provider? Here are eight questions to discuss with your spouse that should help clarify things.
8 Questions to Discuss with Your Spouse
Who has the better job prospects in this economy? Sometimes it will be the man, but sometimes, the woman may have a better skill set to snag a higher-paying job. That can change as available jobs in your area might fluctuate.
Does the current breadwinner’s position have stability? Again, some jobs have a more secure future. It’s wise to consider the possibility the current breadwinner might not be able to continue along this particular career path much longer.
Is the current breadwinner happy for the most part in the work? What we shouldn’t want is for our husband to be miserable long-term in his job simply to put food on the table. It might be time for the wife to work full-time to give the husband time to recover from a bad job.
Does your family need two incomes? You might be facing more expenses at certain times in your life than others, such as when your children head off to college or after a prolonged medical treatment. It might be prudent for both husband and wife to work full-time in order for the family finances to recover or meet new needs.
Does your wife want to work at a job outside the home? Some women do, and some don’t, but it’s worth asking your spouse what she wants. Sometimes, a woman wants to return to work after raising children. Getting back into the workforce at that time could mean changing careers or going back to school. For example, one of my friends is finishing her master’s degree so she can begin teaching English as a second language in our local school system after being a stay-at-home mom for many years.
Who’s better suited to care for the children? At times, the husband might be the one who’s able to handle being at home with the kids while his wife works outside the home. Don’t let stereotypes keep your family from having the best for the kids and parents.
What season of life are you in? You might find that it’s time for both parents to work or for you to switch who’s the breadwinner and who’s available for appointments and childcare. If you feel a change is needed, have a conversation with your spouse sooner rather than later.
What about your individual talents? In our household, I have a better understanding of financial things, so I handle our finances, such as paying bills and balancing our accounts on a regular basis. Playing to each member’s strength will only make the family stronger as a whole, and that includes who’s working and who’s not.
Above all, pray together to seek what God would want for your family and whether the wife or husband should be the primary breadwinner.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Fizkes
Sarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of four teenagers, a therapeutic foster mom, a UMFS Foster Parent Ambassador, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She coaches writers, speakers, and parents with an encouraging and commonsense approach. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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