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Holman Bible Dictionary


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Not engaged in earning a living; depending on the labor and generosity of others for support. Scripture distinguishes between those unwilling to work who should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10 ) and those unable to earn a living (for example, “true” widows, 1 Timothy 5:9 ) for whom the community of faith is responsible. Hebrew wisdom literature frequently condemned idleness as the cause of hunger (Proverbs 19:15 ), poverty (Proverbs 10:4 ; Proverbs 14:23 ), and inadequate housing (Ecclesiastes 10:18 ). According to Hebrew wisdom, the ideal woman “eateth not the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:27 ), but is an industrious, working woman who helps provide for the financial needs of her family (Proverbs 31:16 ,Proverbs 31:16,31:24 ). In the New Testament, Paul called attention to his own example as a bi-vocational minister to encourage the Thessalonian Christians to be hard workers (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 ). Though Scripture consistently condemns “willful” idleness, it is also aware of economic realities in which some who are willing workers stand idle because no one has hired them (Matthew 20:6-7 ). The biblical witness likewise does not trace all poverty to idleness. Some poverty results from the rich refusing to pay their poor day laborers (Leviticus 19:13 ; Jeremiah 22:13 ; James 5:4 ).

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Idle'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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