widow Summary and Overview
Bible Dictionaries at a Glance
widow in Smith's Bible Dictionary
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| in leasing, #De 24:19-21| and in religious feasts. #De 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. #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, #Ac 6:1-6| Particular directions are given by St.Paul as to the class of persons entitled to such public maintenance. #1Ti 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. #1Ti 5:9,10| 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 in Schaff's Bible Dictionary
WID'OW . By the Jewish law, Deut 25:5, if a married man died leaving no children, his brother was required to marry the widow, in order, first, that the estate might be kept in the family, and, second, that he might, in their descendants, perpetuate the name. This prescription refers only to the family and the estate, and pays no regard to the individual; but there are other prescriptions in the Mosaic Law which show great kindness and circumspection in behalf of the widowed woman. Ex 22:22; Deut 14:29; Deut 16:11, Rev 16:14; Deut 24:17, Deut 24:19-21; Deut 26:12; Eze 27:19.
widow in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Cared for specially by the law, in the triennial tithes, etc. Deuteronomy 19:29; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 26:12; Deuteronomy 27:19; Exodus 22:22; Job 24:3; Job 29:13; Isaiah 1:17; Matthew 23:14. God is "judge of the widows" (Psalm 68:5; Psalm 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 (Luke 18:1-7). For pious widows, see Anna, and the one who gave her all to the Lord's treasury (Luke 2:36-37; Luke 20:47; Luke 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 (1 Timothy 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 (Acts 9:41). As expediency required presbyters to be but once married (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 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: 1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Corinthians 10:33.) The reference in 1 Timothy 5:9 cannot, as in 1 Timothy 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 (1 Timothy 5:3-4).