Modern parenthood and the myth of the Proverbs 31 woman

Tim Fall

Karen Swallow Prior
March 19, 2013

"She's not a real person. She's a personification." Exactly, Tim. A great example of how the literary skills required to read any text well are the first step to reading the Bible well. Christians are a "people of the word," but we seem to live up to it less and less as we lose grasp of those skills. Great post.


March 20, 2013

Thank you, Professor. High praise indeed!

March 20, 2013

Thank you for this! I have not seen this pointed out before.

Sean Durity
March 22, 2013

That is a fanciful exegesis, but ignores the clear context of chapter 31 - a king's advice to his son to choose a good wife. Most of chapter 31's description of a noble wife and mother makes no sense if it only describes wisdom. The chiasm idea just doesn't hold up here.

March 23, 2013

Thanks Sean. You see no chiasm and I do, and the wonderful thing about us being in God's family together is that God loves us both more than we can imagine.


Jeremy White
March 26, 2013

As usual, Tim...you offer thought-provoking encouragement that challenges us to re-think whether some of our assumptions are as "Biblical" as we once thought. And you do it while maintaining an admirably high view of the integrity and authority of Scripture. Thanks for this post! :)

Marta L.
March 31, 2013

Growing up, I made lists of the ideal characteristics my future husband would maek - physical descriptions but also personality traits like "makes me laugh" or "would never laugh at me." I'm sure I'm not alone in having a list like this tucked away somewhere in a keepsake box somewhere. The wisest of women will realize no man could ever live up to this ideal but will realize the ideal still matters, it is a paradigm, an idealized version that tells us what things are most important to us. It just needs to be balanced against the reality that no flesh-and-blood person could ever meet any ideal.

With that in mind, I think both Tim and Sean might be on to something. The way I read Proverbs 31, it is meant to describe an ideal for a good wife. But we shouldn't forget it is an ideal and not a description any woman will ever hope to meet point for point, any more than any potential mate could ever hope to be as good as my list. I'd also point out that IMO this is an ideal, not the ideal. What I mean is, it represents good priorities played out in a certain historical context. A good wife today will provide for her family's needs and honor her family and husband, both in the home and in public. This doesn't mean that she has to spend all her time making soaps and selling them on Etsy. There are more ways to play out these ideals than just the one, based both on the wife's talents and drives and also on what her society allows.

April 16, 2013

Marta, thank you for pointing out how we need to be aware of historical and cultural context as well in understanding Scripture. Well done, and very helpful.


July 2, 2013

I see the potential for both literal interpretation and personification. The latter started just as you say here Tim -- early on in the book of Proverbs. So, in that sense I find it incredibly poetic. The imagery of wisdom providing a sort of protection is lovely. And I appreciate your bringing this out of the book for us. It relates the value of wisdom to every day things that give comfort and protection.

I also see the literal -- the application of wisdom to everyday life. Wisdom has to have a practical placement in life, even with all of the boring routines that can seem meaningless.

Is prov 31 a checklist of a what God wants a woman to be? Not at all. Is there anything wrong with a woman who fits this description? Not at all.

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I have more problems with the "prescriptions" for women stated by Paul in the New Testament. No explanations have satisfied me.

Heather Braoudakis
July 6, 2013

I think there's more to the Proverbs 31 woman than people initially realize when just reading the passage. I've incidentally been reading a new book by Dr. Tony Evans and his daughter, Chrystal Evans Hurst called "Kingdom Woman" that has given me new insights. Right off the bat they talk about the Proverbs 31 woman being the hallmark of kingdom women, "But the Proverbs 31 woman is not the model of a perfect woman. Neither is a kingdom woman called to perfection. Women, you can be a Proverbs 31 woman and more - but that doesn't mean you do it all at the same time." They talk about life flowing through seasons and about getting help, not trying to do it
all. It's really eye-opening. If you're interested in Dr. Evan's book, they have information and even free devotional downloads at kingdomwomanbook.com. I hope it blesses you as it has blessed me.

July 14, 2014

My wife has labored under the weight of this chapter all her life, and it is killing her. We spoke about this again after dinner (while I was doing dishes, if anyone's wondering). My challenge to her was to find the examples in scripture of anyone's wife fulfilling all of this while he sits with the elders, wishing someone would invent television. The problem has always been that, though I saw it as wholly unrealistic without pharmaceutical assistance, it still was God's Word. Truthfully, and with no hopes of gaining favor, I have seen all my life that women outwork most men and it's because they have to; they can't let something go undone or be done poorly. Their example has made me wonder if this chapter was indeed literal. I hope you're right, Tim. I intend on studying this in much more detail to give relief to my tired wife. (I expect a follow up comment to point out that if I really wanted to give me wife some relief, I'd stop surfing and go paint the deck. Point taken.)

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