Previous Next

Table of Contents


Widow. 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, Deut. 14:29; 26:12, in leasing, Deut. 24:19-21, and in religious feasts. Deut. 16:11, 14. 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. Deut. 25:5, 6; Matt. 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. Acts 6:1-6. Particular directions are given by St. Paul as to the class of persons entitled to such public maintenance. 1 Tim. 5:3-16. 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. 9, 10. We are not disposed to identify the widows of the Bible either with the deaconesses or with the πρεσβύτιδες 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.