A custom was prevalent in patriarchal times, Ge 38, and was afterwards confirmed by the Mosaic law, De 25:5-10, that a widow without children, in order to preserve the family name and inheritance, should marry the brother of her deceased husband; or he failing his nearest kinsman, Ru 3:12-13; 4:1-11; Mt 22:23-30. The high-priest was forbidden to marry a widow, Le 21:14. The humanity and justice of true religion are shown in the Bible, as might be expected, by numerous indications that God and the friends of God sympathize with the sorrows, supply the wants, and defend the rights of the widow, Ex 22:22-24; De 16:11; 24:17,19; Ps 68:5; Isa 1:17; 10:2; Jer 22:3; Mt 23:14. The apostolic church was not negligent in providing for widows, Ac 6:1-3; 1Ti 5:16; and James makes this duty an essential part of true piety, Jas 1:27. Heathenism, on the contrary, makes those who have been slaves to a husband's caprices during his life, either victims upon the funeral pile at his death, or forlorn and hopeless sufferers under destitution and contempt. The duties of Christian widows are specified in 1Ti 5:3-16.
Cared for specially by the law, in the triennial tithes, etc. De 19:21; 24:17; 26:12; 27:19; Ex 22:22; Job 24:3; 29:13; Isa 1:17; Mt 23:14. God is "judge of the widows" (Ps 68:5; 146:9), therefore, the judge or righteous vindicator of His church, and of Israel especially (Isaiah 54), widowed by His physical absence, against her adversary Satan (Lu 18:1-7). For pious widows, see Anna, and the one who gave her all to the Lord's treasury (Lu 2:36-37; 20:47; 21:1-4). (See ANNA.) Three classes of widows are distinguished in 1 Timothy 5
(1) The ordinary widow.
(2) The widow indeed, i.e. destitute, and therefore to be relieved by the church, not having younger relatives, whose duty it is to relieve them (let them, the children or descendants, learn first, before calling the church to support them; to show reverent dutifulness toward their own elder destitute female relatives).
(3) The presbyteral widow (1Ti 5:9-11). Let none be enrolled as a presbyteral widow who is less than 60 years old. Not deaconesses, who were chosen at a younger age (40 was fixed as the limit at the council of Chalcedon) and who had virgins (latterly called widows) as well as widows among them, compare Dorcas (Ac 9:41). As expediency required presbyters to be but once married (1Ti 3:2; Tit 1:6), so also presbyteresses. (The feeling among Jews and Gentiles being against second marriages, the desire for conciliation in matters indifferent, where no principle was compromised, accounts for this rule in the case of bishops, deacons, and presbyteresses, whose aim was to be all things to all men that by all means they might save some: 1Co 9:22; 10:33.) The reference in 1Ti 5:9 cannot, as in 1Ti 5:3, be to providing church maintenance, for then the restriction to widows above 60 would be harsh, as many might need help at an earlier age.
So the rules that she should not have been twice married, and that she must have brought up children and lodged strangers, would be strange, if the reference were to eligibility for church alms. Tertullian ("De velandis Virginibus," 9), Hermas (Shepherd 1:2), and Chrysostom (Horn. 31) mention an order of ecclesiastical widows, not less than 60 years old, who ministered to widows and orphans. Their experimental knowledge of the trials of the bereaved adapted them for such an office and for general supervision of their sex. Age was a requisite, as in presbyters, to adapt them for influencing younger women; they were supported by the church, but were not the only widows so supported (1Ti 5:3-4).
Widows from their poverty and unprotectedness, are regarded in OT as under the special guardianship of God (Ps 68:6; 146:9; Pr 15:25; De 10:18; Jer 49:11); and consequently due regard for their wants was looked upon as a mark of true religion, ensuring a blessing on those who showed it (Job 29:13; 31:16; Isa 1:17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3-4); while neglect of, cruelty or injustice towards them were considered marks of wickedness meriting punishment from God (Job 22:9-10; 24:20-21; Ps 94:6; Isa 1:23; 10:2; Zec 7:10,14; Mal 3:5). The Book of Deut. is especially rich in such counsels, insisting that widows be granted full justice (De 24:17; 27:19), that they be received as guests at sacrificial meals (De 14:29; 16:11,14; 26:12 f.), and that they be suffered to glean unmolested in field, oliveyard, and vineyard (De 24:19 f.). See, further, Inheritance, i. 2 (c); Marriage, 6.
The earliest mention of widows in the history of the Christian Church is found in Ac 6:1, where the Grecian Jews murmured 'against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected' in the daily distribution of alms or food. In course of time these pensioners became an excessive burden on the finances of the Church. We thus find St. Paul dealing with the matter in 1Ti 5:3-16, where he charges relatives and Christian friends to relieve those widows with whom they are personally connected (1Ti 5:4,8,15), so that the Church might be the more able to relieve those who were 'widows indeed' (i.e. widows in actual poverty and without anyone responsible for their support) (5/3/type/williams'>1Ti 5:3,5,16). He further directs that 'none be enrolled as widows' except those who were sixty years of age, of unimpeachable character, and full of good works; and he adds that 'the younger widows' should be 'refused' (i.e. not enrolled); for experience had shown that they 'waxed wanton against Christ' and, re-marrying, 'rejected their first faith.' Since it could not have been the Apostle's wish that only widows over sixty should receive pecuniary help from the Church (for many young widows might be in great poverty), and since he could not describe the re-marriage of such a widow-pensioner as a rejection of her faith, it follows that the list of widows, from which the younger widows were to be excluded, was not the list of those who were in receipt of Church relief, but rather a list of those, from among the pensioner-widows, who were considered suitable by age and character to engage officially in Church work. Therefore we may see in this passage a proof of the existence thus early in the history of the Church of that ecclesiastical order of 'Widows' which we find mentioned frequently in post-Apostolic times.
Charles T. P. Grierson.
Under the Mosaic dispensation no legal provision was made for the maintenance of widows. They were left dependent partly on the affection of relations, more especially of the eldest son, whose birthright, or extra share of the property, imposed such a duty upon him, and partly on the privileges accorded to other distressed classes, such as a participation in the triennial third tithe,
De 14:29; 26:12
and in religious feasts.
With regard to the remarriage of widows, the only restriction imposed by the Mosaic law had reference to the contingency of one being left childless in which case the brother of the deceased husband had a right to marry the widow.
De 25:5-6; Mt 22:23-30
In the apostolic Church the widows were sustained at the public expense, the relief being daily administered in kind, under the superintendence of officers appointed for this special purpose,
Particular directions are given by St.Paul as to the class of persons entitled to such public maintenance.
Out of the body of such widows a certain number were to be enrolled, the qualifications for such enrollment being that they were not under sixty years of age; that they had been "the wife of one man," probably meaning but once married; and that they had led useful and charitable lives. vs.
We are not disposed to identify the widows of the Bible either with the deaconesses or with the presbutides Of the early Church. The order of widows existed as a separate institution, contemporaneously with these offices, apparently for the same eleemosynary purpose for which it was originally instituted.
WIDOW. Among the Hebrews, even before the law, a widow who had no children by her husband was to marry the brother of her deceased spouse, in order to raise up children who might inherit, his goods and perpetuate his name and family. We find the practice of this custom before the law in the person of Tamar, who married successively Er and Onan, the sons of Judah, and who was likewise to have married Selah, the third son of this patriarch, after the two former were dead without issue, Ge 38:6-11. The law that appoints these marriages is De 25:5, &c. Two motives prevailed to the enacting of this law. The first was, the continuation of estates in the same family: and the other was to perpetuate a man's name in Israel. It was looked upon as a great misfortune for a man to die without an heir, or to see his inheritance pass into another family. This law was not confined to brothers-in-law only, but was extended to more distant relations of the same kind; as we see in the example of Ruth, who married Boaz after she had been refused by a nearer kinsman. See SANDALS.