The Proverbs 31 Wife (Complementarian Edition)

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Matthew Shallenberger

I recently read through the book of Proverbs. When I got to Proverbs 31, the well-known chapter about the virtuous wife, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the things the virtuous wife does seem contradictory to the complementarian model of marriage.In complementarianism, men and women have distinct roles in both home and society.

Men take the leadership role as the authoritative head of the home; women take the supporting, submissive role, and are not to usurp the authority of men. In decision-making, women might give input, but men have the final word. If there is disagreement about how to move forward, men have the tiebreaking vote.I imagined how this chapter might read if it was modified with complementarian ideals. For example: “She considers a field and buys it” (but not before consulting her husband); “out of her earnings she plants a vineyard” (only after her husband has given his approval).Or:“She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (but she only instructs other women and children; it would be wrong for her to teach a man).And of course:“She watches over the affairs of her household…” (but her husband always has the final say in any decisions).Then lastly:“Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (but make sure to acknowledge her husband is the head of their home and is ultimately responsible for everyone in the family).

The truth is that the Proverbs 31 wife doesn’t fit into the complementarian mold; she shatters it. She exhibits leadership qualities, makes financial decisions for the family, plans and prepares for their future, and shows great wisdom and an ability to teach others.And these are things for which her husband praises her. He is not threatened by her business acumen or her leadership ability. There is no indication that he reserves the right to review her decisions to have the final say.

On the contrary, she is portrayed as capable of independent thought and action, and her husband is not just OK with it, he encourages it.Marriage works best as a partnership, with open communication and shared decision-making between husband and wife. Both men and women are capable of rational thought and both contribute to the leadership of the family. Management of various aspects of the home should be based on competency, not on gender. For example, if a woman has a keen mind for business and numbers, it makes more sense for her to manage the family finances than her husband who has little interest in such things.What I see described in Proverbs 31 is a partnership where the husband trusts his wife and puts full confidence in her abilities, rather than a complementarian or patriarchal system where he must have the final word on everything, and his wife must always submit to his decisions. He empowers her to reach her full potential; he does not restrain her so that she can never surpass his limitations.

It’s time we reconsider whether complementarianism is really a biblical model, or simply a traditional cultural model onto which we’ve imposed a proof-texted interpretation of Scripture. The Proverbs 31 wife is not a quiet, retiring housewife who exists simply to fluff her husband’s ego and carry out his whims. She is a boss! And she is presented as a model for women everywhere. What lessons might we learn from her today?

Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash

5 thoughts on “The Proverbs 31 Wife (Complementarian Edition)

  1. I think I agree with you here. We see women like this in the NT as well. Dorcas comes to mind, who was a business woman, a seller of purple. And, she wasn’t alone!

    I also see this role, in a sense, as complementary. As this woman is a business leader, and a teacher, and trusted by her husband, her activity frees him up to spend more time serving the Lord! How can he spend time studying the Scriptures if he must spend all of his time working to support his family? Of course he should support his family, but if he is called into ministry, she certainly has a part in his ministry!

    I don’t see this as a conflict, or her as being his superior, or rival, but both are working toward a common goal; the building of the kingdom of God! Each of us has been given gifts by God, when we were saved, and I have no doubt that God intended the gifts to be complementary.

    It is our own sinful pride which would lift up ourselves against our partner, rather than working together for a common goal!

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  2. … Note : Another woman of wisdom is Mary, Mother. We should strive to be women of faith, wisdom, and “help mates.” We are equal in faith, but have different roles and duties than men, husbands, sons, pastors, men-teachers, etc.
    Another is Mother and daughter (Ruth, etc).
    Others are the other Mary’s in the Bible. (Timothy / or Titus) talk about roles and duties and modesty o do,f faithful women : to instruct and encourage holy lives of women today ; unfortunately this subject has been ignored and mal-aligned in the modern world. I believe we would do well to return to this subject periodically, and bolster godly behavior and faith in our families. We ignore this to our peril in this “Modern world” of “I can do as I want to, and it won’t hurt ourselves or anyone else.”
    (Another perspective of holy and wise women of the Bible and of Proverbs 31).

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