The Proverbs 31 Woman
If you are looking for a passive, docile, obedient woman, a woman that would be satisfied to be bossed around and “discipled” and told what to do and be patronized and taught and instructed . . .
you are looking for the wrong kind of woman. Take those patriarchal ideas and throw them in the garbage can.
Assigned reading: Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries
The Proverbs 31 Woman
Welcome to Episode 52 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes we will be talking about patriarchy and feminism, and what both patriarchy and feminism can’t understand about women, about their place in the society and the Kingdom of God, and about the relationship between a man and a woman in the family. Yes, you heard well, I dumped both patriarchy and feminism together. As a Christian, you may have been taught to think that patriarchy is Biblical while feminism is secular and pagan. This is not true. Both modern patriarchy and modern feminism have pagan and idolatrous foundations and origins, and neither is consistent with the message of the Bible. And this week we will try to describe the true Biblical woman and her rightful place in the Kingdom of God, based on Proverbs 31.
Modern feminism, of course, is completely lost in a hole of irrationality and, to be honest, outright insanity; this is so obvious to all – including those on the left side of the political spectrum – that it hardly needs to be demonstrated. Even the leading figures and celebrities on the left stay away from it, and lead a lifestyle that is more consistent with a more traditional, quasi-Christian family life. The extremist feminism is left to childish street activists, all of whom are culturally irrelevant, and continue being culturally irrelevant. Not to mention, of course, that such modern feminists continue destroying their own credibility in the eyes of the very women they supposedly care about. The most recent feminist idiocy is the conclusion of some recent so-called “study” published in some supposedly scientific journal that calling breastfeeding “natural” is unethical, because it has sexist overtones. What does that mean? Well, that means that,
In reality, most of what secular feminism has been doing in the last one generation is put its foot in its mouth so deep as to touch its throat with its toes. It has been hijacked by mentally unstable women who have built their defense of women by trying to make women be men. Even the most independent woman would be grossed out by such an idea, if she is sane. Women who find their self-identity in pretending to be men are very rare even among non-Christians; and such women are seldom capable of having any influence over other women. But don’t be quick to assume that just because modern feminism is self-destructive, this will automatically translate into a cultural victory for the church. It won’t. And the reason is that the church has things in its past to repent of. Yes, specifically concerning the place and authority of women in the society. There was a time when the church joined the side of injustice on this issue. And we have still not repented for it.
The earlier women’s rights movement, the so-called “first-wave” feminism, was about defending the legal rights and equality of women in the society, which have been under attack by the different legal theories of the Enlightenment. In his Institutes of Biblical Law, pages 348-353, R.J. Rushdoony points to the fact that because of its biological theory of women, the Enlightenment quickly destroyed the legal equality which European Christendom had built for women. Yes, you heard that well. Contrary to what many people believe today, the humiliating lower legal status of women in the 19th century was not the product of Christianity, but of the Enlightenment. Thus, the original women’s rights movement was not directed at destroying the family, but only at what Rushdoony called, “restoring women to their rightful place of authority beside men.” That is, to the same place to which they were elevated after centuries of Christendom. Paganism had no legal rights – nor any legal place – for women in its society. The legal status of married women in Athens, for example, was no different than the legal status of married women in modern Saudi Arabia: women were not allowed to leave the home unattended, and were not allowed to inherit property. Courtesans, in fact, enjoyed greater freedom and public influence than married women. Christendom, on the other hand, elevated women and gave them a special place in the society, culturally and legally. Especially married women. The Enlightenment restored the pagan view of women, and led to lower civil rights for women. And the early women’s rights movement tried to restore the Christendom’s ideal.
Unfortunately, the churches in the 19th and the early 20th century did not respond to the women’s rights movement with the Biblical view, but instead joined the Enlightenment’s pagan view of women and of their role in the society. That, of course, was one of the many reasons for the decline of the Christian influence in the West. For over a millennium, Christendom had built a foundation of justice for the place of women in society. Then, within a few generations, justice was aborted. And the church joined the side of injustice. That’s how we have a church that is trampled under the feet of men. Thus, even if modern feminism is self-destructive, this won’t restore the church to her position of authority. That authority is earned by repenting and taking the side of justice. Or, if you want it simple, the Church is a woman, a bride. One woman can’t establish her own authority by denigrating the authority of other women in the society. That much should be obvious to all.
Modern feminism is insane, it approaches men and women as isolated atoms who shouldn’t be allowed to be in any meaningful relation to each as men and women. And since this is obviously idiotic, modern feminism is an easy target. And it has been a target of many conservative preachers and churches whose purpose was to restore and protect the Biblical family. So far so good.
The problem with many, if not most, of these conservative preachers and churches is that their criticism of feminism and defense of the Biblical family are based on another extreme which has pagan origins: patriarchy. Patriarchy, as in the idea that the father and husband in the family is the ruler of the family. Ruler, to the point where the wife – and by extension, all the other women in the family – is absorbed into the family unit as an addendum, not as an individual and distinct person of authority and covenantal standing. Ruler, to the point where his wife has no independent authority of her own, but her authority is only “delegated” to her by her husband. The concept of “rulership” has been then expanded to include not only the children in their childhood (Biblically, the children are legally considered no different than slaves in the household, according to Gal. 4:1), but also the children in their adult years. They are supposed to stay within a clan system, obeying their father and serving their father even while having their own families and children. Girls are not encouraged to develop academically and professionally, because their place is in the kitchen anyway. Or to breed more children. As some modern patriarchalist preachers declare, “A woman who works outside the house commits sin.” This institutional subjugation of women is then extended to an ideology of the ontological and therefore intellectual inferiority of women – which was exactly the concept of the Enlightenment, inherited from paganism. One of the popular books in the Patriarchy movement, Family Man, Family Leader, by Phillip Lancaster, advises the husband, before leaving for work in the morning, to leave for Mom a list of chores and errands she is supposed to do during the day, with clear instructions on each point. Thus, according to the book, Mom knows that this heavy burden of deciding what needs to be done is taken off her shoulders, and all she needs to do is follow the list. Then, at the end of the day, Dad comes back home and spends time with Mom going over the list, praising her for what she has accomplished, and working for improvement on the points she hasn’t. I am not kidding you, find the book and read it. The book is a perfectly good example of the modern patriarchalist ideologies: it works to establish man’s authority by denigrating and humiliating women as nothing more than imbeciles under care.
Ironically, what that has produced has been not more families and more stable families in these patriarchalist circles, but fewer families and much later ages of marriage for the average young person. The reason should be obvious: such views of women produce in young Christian men the expectation that the women they want to marry must be somehow inclined to be babysat and patronized. One such man shared with me once that when considering marriage, he wants to go out with the woman and observe how she does her shopping, and whether she is willing to be teachable in areas where her shopping doesn’t meet his high standards. (I just laughed in his face when he told me that. “You think you know better than a woman how to shop?”) This was 15 years ago, and he is still not married. Another, having been looking for a wife for the last 10 years, told me that he first gives the girl a book, and sees if she is going to read it, and then talks to her over the book in order to find out if she would be humble and willing enough to be “discipled” by him. Because, you know, he considers it his duty as a husband to disciple his wife in the faith as much as he should disciple his children. My response was that the girl that would be happy to take such insult to her intelligence and God-given authority is not the girl he would be happy with, and the ones he wants will never suffer such humiliation and patronizing. In the final account, many of these young men are looking not for a mate (as in help-mate) but for a maid (as in house maid), for a perpetual child which they will patronize and boss around under the pretense of “exercising male leadership” in the house. Patriarchalism creates in men the impression that women are inferior creatures, and that not much can be entrusted to them outside cooking, laundry, and giving birth; for everything else they need “discipling”; and any authority they have in the house must be carefully controlled by their husbands.
(And, of course, as an extension of this ideology, the husbands are expected to remain perpetual children and therefore to be constantly controlled by their fathers, or, in some cases, by their fathers-in-law. The system is consistent in that it doesn’t allow for any level of independent maturity under God, at any level. But we will confine ourselves to the authority of the women here.)
As I pointed out in an episode of Axe to the Root titled “The Concubinage,” such a woman who is restricted to the position of a housemaid, with only delegated but no direct authority in the house, is considered a concubine in the Bible, not a wife. A concubine in the Bible is a woman who comes into the family without a dowry, and therefore has no inheritance in the family. Having no inheritance, she has no authority of her own in the family, except over her own children – who, by the way, don’t have the right to inheritance either. She is entitled to all the rights of a wife but she doesn’t have the privileges of a wife. Any authority she may possess over her husband’s home can come only from his good will; he has the right to delegate to her responsibilities and authority, but he has no obligation to do so. Thus, from a covenantal perspective, modern patriarchalists, by denigrating the authority of the woman in the family and by placing all authority in the hands of the husband – to delegate to her whatever he wants – are really looking not for wives but for concubines.
But in the world after the Cross, there are to be no more concubines, no more second-rate wives. This characteristic has a much more profound meaning, and we won’t have the time to examine it today. One application of it, however, needs to be mentioned: the fact that there are no more concubines in the world after the Cross affects the way we view the Church and her covenantal status before God. In an article in Faith for All Life several years ago, I made the connection between the different existing eschatologies and how they view the Church as the Bride of Christ. Modern amillennialism views the Church as simply a girlfriend, or, at best, a fiancee of Christ. “Almost a wife but not yet.” She has no authority over the world which is her Husband’s estate. Like a virtuous fiancee, her focus is on purity, not on responsibility and authority. She is not expected to take over the world as her legitimate sphere of work and dominion; she doesn’t have that legal right. Modern dispensationalism views the Church as a concubine of Christ. The real, fully privileged wife is national Israel, and all the promises and the inheritance belong to that real wife. But since, for a time, the real wife has eloped with her heathen lovers, Jesus has taken a temporary consort, the Church, with the purpose to incite the real wife, national Israel, to jealousy, and thus return Israel to Himself. The Church has all the rights of a wife and she will be rewarded for her services, but she has no inheritance or authority, for all the promises belong by right to Israel. Finally, postmillennialism view the Church as the true, fully privileged wife of Christ. Not only does she have the rights of a wife, she is fully representative of her Husband and has full authority over His estate, the world. She is expected to take dominion over the world now and to exercise her authority in bringing the world. She has full authority; she doesn’t have to wait for any more permission to rule in her own right. Being Christ’s body and His fulness (Eph. 1:23), redeemed, crowned, and enthroned to rule with Him, her job is to occupy, or, in another translation, do business, or, using the Greek original, pragmateusaathe (from the same root as “practice”), until He comes.
But that mandate is not limited to the church. It is actually a mandate to every wife. Whoever claims that wives are supposed to remain passive and waiting for their husbands to rule over them and tell them what to do, micromanaging their work, shopping, and business decisions, has no idea of what the Biblical view of the virtuous wife is. That Biblical view is expressed very specifically in one of the most important chapters about the Biblical view family: Proverbs 31. Anyone who does not lay Proverbs 31 as the foundation of his view of the family, is not restoring the Biblical family, but some twisted pagan view of the family, whether patriarchal or feminist, but the Biblical view.
Proverbs 31:10 gives us the introduction: “An excellent wife who can find?” That’s New American Standard, the one I usually prefer, because it sticks closer to the literal meaning of the words . . . well, most of the time. But if you compare all the available translations, you will find out they can’t agree on the translation. Some translations have “excellent” translated as “virtuous.” Others as “of noble character.” Still others as “of strong character.” Still others translate it as “capable,” or “worthy,” or “diligent.” I have seen disagreements between translations, but, boy, the disagreement over this word is a bit too much. Why is there such a disagreement? Because, believe it or not, the original Hebrew word means nothing like these words. The original Hebrew word is chayil, that is, “army.” “And army wife who can find?” The root for the chayil, of course, is the word for “strength, force, endurance.” No matter how you want to translate the literal text “army wife,” one thing is perfectly sure: the kind of wife commended by it is certainly not the docile, servile, subjugated type of woman ancient and modern patriarchalism imagine. The woman in Proverbs 31 is very different.
As Andrea Schwartz pointed recently, the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 is not known for her ostentatious spirituality. There are no women’s meetings in that chapter, no church activities. The virtuous wife is not known for being a prayer warrior. Not that she doesn’t pray, of course, but long prayers and church activities are not what defines her as virtuous. Neither is she defined by her obedience to her husband. Such obedience is not mentioned at all – to the contrary, the virtuous woman is shown as an independent woman who makes her own decisions.
What defines her as virtuous is her ability to take dominion. More than that: what defines her as virtuous is her ability to take dominion independently of her husband, making decisions for him, with his and her property, in his absence.
To start with, notice where her husband is. He is not in the home barking orders. Nothing like this. He is in the gates, taking dominion in the world outside the family. (The city gates were the locus of judicial authority in Israel.) He doesn’t oversee her work; in fact, verse 11 specifically says that “his heart trusts in her.” (Nothing even similar to discipling her as an immature child.) The decisions to buy and sell are her own, not his, according to verses 14 and 16. (Nothing even remotely similar to teaching a wife how to shop. She makes the economic decisions as to what the family should produce (verse 13), and she makes the economic decisions if something should be produced or bought at a lower price (verse 14). She controls the labor force of the business (verse 15), and she controls the charity contributions of that business (verse 20). All this means, she is not a woman whose training has stopped at being able to cook and do laundry and give birth. We have here a woman who is educated and knowledgeable, in order to make all these decisions. Many of these decisions, depending on the specific situation of the family, will require a business education, and the production part may require engineering or other technical education. (You don’t expect that the “spindle” in verse 19 will still be just a spindle in the 21st century, do you?) The Biblical woman is not expected to be dumb or uneducated; she is expected to be as highly educated as the circumstances allow it, in all available information.
Oh, but this is not all. Wait for it. She is not silent either, neither does she need to be discipled in the faith, that is, to be patronized and humiliated. Not at all. She is herself a source of wisdom and teaching, for verse 26 says that she opens her mouth in wisdom. The same wisdom of which Proverbs 8 speaks. But that wisdom goes far beyond that. The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is expected to speak with God’s authority. How do I know this? Because in two places (Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20), the author of Proverbs admonishes a young man to not forget the teaching of his mother. But the word for teaching there, in both places, is actually torah, the same word used to denote God’s Law. The author could have used another Hebrew word for teaching, like musar. That he chose, twice in a row, to use torah, for the teaching of a woman, is very significant. When a woman and a mother is speaking with wisdom, she is speaking as God’s representative. Her authority is not delegated through anyone, not even her husband. It may be united with his authority in the same covenant, but it is distinct. She has her own authority under God, and it is her own, whether her husband “delegates” it or not. The family is not the husband, plus a wife as an addendum. The family is the husband cleaving to his wife, as his equal, of equal and distinct authority.
So distinct it is, and so equal to his, that she is under obligation to oppose her husband when he goes astray. The greatest Biblical example of this is Rebekah and her deception of her husband Isaac. While we won’t have too much time to discuss it, one thing is clear: contrary to many claims today, Rebekah was not in rebellion against Isaac when she encouraged Jacob to deceive his father. It was Isaac who had gone against the will of God, trying to thwart God’s plan by giving away the birthright for a meal. (What his unbelieving son Esau had done years before to his brother Jacob.) Rebekah’s actions were aimed at keeping her husband withing the plan of God. She was successful, and Isaac acknowledged it. He never changed his mind. Listen to my sermon, “Redeeming Jacob.”
The importance and power of the woman’s authority in the family can be seen also in the fact that the Bible doesn’t expect women to be passive even in the very act of marriage proposal. In our culture today we have adopted the practice of the women being passive, while the men are supposed to take the initiative to make the marriage proposals. While this sounds quite romantic, the passivity of the woman in such relationships is not a Biblical standard; it rather comes from earlier, pagan times. I will refrain from discussing the Song of Solomon here, but everyone can read it and notice how normal it should be for the woman to take the initiative. What is more important is that in the New Testament, Paul actually commands women to take the initiative in getting married! I want the younger widows, he says in 1 Tim. 5:14, to marry, bear children, and rule households. (Notice, rule households.) But such command is impossible in our modern church culture. How can a woman – let alone a widow – obey Paul’s command, if she has to abide by the rules of our modern society? If she is to remain passive, waiting for a man to come to her, she may never be able to marry again. It is hard enough for unmarried girls to find bridegrooms in the modern effeminate church culture; how would a widow be able to do it, unless she takes the initiative. And obviously, Paul connects such initiative to her ruling a house. Apparently the woman of Proverbs 31 must be a woman who can initiate a marriage proposal too.
In the final account, if you are looking for a passive, docile, obedient woman, a woman that would be satisfied to be bossed around and “discipled” and told what to do and be patronized and taught and instructed . . . you are looking for the wrong kind of woman. Take those patriarchal ideas and throw them in the garbage can. The Biblical woman you need and want is a woman who will be your partner – independent of mind and spirit, but committed to the same purpose. She is a woman that can run your household and make your decisions in your place while you are away. She is a woman who can provide for the family, and stay tough and enduring – like an army wife – in the worst of the worst circumstances. And, most important of all, she is a woman who won’t hesitate to stand up to you and speak truth in your face when you go astray; and thus protect you from yourself. If you are looking for anything different, you are in for a disaster.
The reading assigned for this week is Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity. Some of his claims may need to be verified, but pay attention to the role of women in the early centuries of Christianity. You may be surprised to learn how much our modern world has been shaped by those Christian women.
Remember in your prayers and in your giving the Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission organization committed to building an intellectual foundation for the future Christian civilization in Eastern Europe. Visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to our newsletter, and donate. God bless you all.