Legalism and the Proverbs 31 Woman

Legalism and the Proverbs 31 Woman


I remember sitting on my couch with a new friend sipping coffee years ago. She sheepishly asked me what I thought about her having a job outside of her home. She began to tell me how she had sat with another woman who was, as we say in “Christianese”, “pursuing her for a discipleship relationship”. This woman began her first session of “discipling” my friend by taking her through Proverbs 31 and showing her all of the ways that she was sinning by having a job as a wife and a mother. As I listened, I began to brew inside. Mostly because I had been that woman once upon a time. I sat above other women and spouted the same garbage, thinking I knew what was best for their lives. Thinking I was more godly than they were because I was a “stay at home mom”. I knew the absolute arrogance involved with holding someone to this standard and I knew the absolute pain of being on the receiving end of such judgement.

I looked at my friend and asked one question, “how many verses did she skip over in order to take this position and in turn, hold you to it?” My friend looked bewildered. I retrieved my bible and read the entire passage to her again, emphasizing the verses that described the Proverbs woman as a business owner, a merchant, and an investor. I pointed out the fact that this woman also outsourced some of her housework to others so that she could serve her family in all sorts of different ways. Relief washed over my friend’s face. She was free.

Legalism is a funny thing. We will take any portion of scripture, rip it out of the bible, twist it all around, slap it on a plate, and serve it as absolute truth to anyone we can convince to take a bite. I have watched (and have been one of) countless women who will wield the Proverbs 31 woman around like some sort of proof text to hold to all kinds of crazy ideas. The working mom seems to be the most common target. We don’t just beat each other up with it, we turn and go after our husbands with this interpretation as well. I have watched as women convince one another that working outside of their homes is absolutely sinful. The husband, doing his best to make ends meet, can’t do it alone. So he turns to his wife for help, who happens to have a perfectly good degree that could be used in many ways, even if only for a few hours a week…but she refuses. She tells him no because Proverbs 31 says she can’t and this other “Godly woman” who is her mentor says she can’t. She’ll have an entire gaggle of women behind her, encouraging her to stand firm in her position. Well what if the husband didn’t need help being the sole provider? What if the wife worked really hard for her degree and they determine together as a couple that she shouldn’t let it go to waste if she enjoys her job? Or what if the couple determines that they will trust the Lord with their finances and will make some sacrifices so that the wife can stay home, because it’s what is best for them? Who gets to decide what is right for each of these couples? Is it our loose interpretation of Proverbs 31? When we try to use this passage in this way, it would be wise to stop and ask ourselves if this application of scripture translates outside of our “Upper-middle class American” context. I think you’ll find the answer when you try to apply it to all women across the globe or even a few zip codes across town.

I remember reading a book by a well known Christian author that insisted that if I had to work outside of my home it’s because my husband is irresponsible and lazy, citing single motherhood as the only exception to the rule. I would give you all a direct quote, but I probably burned that book. Sorry, not sorry! Looking back now, I see how incredibly disrespectful and judgmental this author was being towards our husbands and fueling us to go against them. I have a question for her and for all of us: What about Ephesians 5:22?

 “Wives, submit to your own discipleship mentors as unto the Lord. For this woman is head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church..

Is that what the scriptures say?!?! Absolutely not! I have honestly put myself in many positions where I rejected the leadership of my husband to please a mentor. Or just even thought in my heart how much more “godly” this woman was than my husband, and how I’d wish he’d see it “her way”. That was sinful. God says it is. But here’s the thing with legalism, we will fight to obey our own laws even to the extent of breaking God’s Law. Legalism is bent on saving itself by measuring up to a list of man-made rules, which means legalism is absolutely opposed to the gospel.

“Legalism lacks the supreme sense of worship. It obeys but it does not adore.” Geerhardus Vos (Via @chief_sinner)

My point isn’t really to make a case for the working mom or for the stay at home mom. You should know the Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t make a case for one or the other either, she’s just a hard worker wherever she goes. More importantly than that, please hear me, Proverbs 31 is NOT LAW!!! It is a descriptive passage of a mother telling her son her own ideas of what a perfect woman for him would look like. Imagine sitting your son down one day and describing to him the characteristics of the woman he should pursue for marriage. It doesn’t mean she will always perfectly be this. It’s just a mama’s general description. The Proverbs 31 woman never existed and she is not your righteousness, Jesus is! When we see the Proverbs 31 woman rightly, we no longer fear her and we won’t try to beat others into her image. Oh what freedom!!!

I’d like to add, we as women need to go to our own husbands about life decisions. God made the family structure the way that he did for a reason. When I began going to my husband instead of mentors, I realized something. He is really smart! He gives me a lot of grace! He knows me better than anyone and knows what I can handle and what I can’t simply because he sees the sides of me that no one else sees. There is wisdom and safety in trusting your husband and submitting to his leadership. Mentors are really good when they point you to Jesus and encourage you with the gospel. They are good when they encourage you to seek wisdom and direction from your husband. Mentors are really bad when they want us to emulate their lives and conform to their list of rules. They are especially bad when they go against your husband’s leadership for his own family.

I’m thankful that the Lord broke me out of this bondage of believing that I had to fit a twisted version of the woman found in Proverbs 31. I’m thankful he taught me how to trust in the gospel for righteousness and to let go of all of my attempts at “self-salvation” through endless rules made by myself and others. I’m really thankful he taught me to trust my husband. These verses below are such a blessing to me now. May they encourage you as well.

1 Peter 3:5-8 “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands. as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

My friend, Marci Preheim wrote a book called, Grace is Free: One Woman’s Journey from Fundamentalism to Failure to Faith. I loved this book so much!! Marci talks more about the misconceptions of the Proverbs 31 woman and how the Lord freed her from a life of legalism. Check it out!

Also, while we are on the topic of legalism and breaking free of rules, Elyse Fitzpatrick is coming out with a new book this week and it looks pretty golden!!: Good News for Weary Women: Escaping the Bondage of To-Do lists, Steps, and Bad Advice. 


Photo Credit

3 thoughts on “Legalism and the Proverbs 31 Woman

  1. A close friend who was in marriage counseling for very earth shattering reasons, was told to read Proverbs 31. “It would help her be a better wife to her unbelieving husband.”

    I was furious. I won’t type out the Gould language I used. What an idiot!!! I told her, “no, do not read that passage. You need to read 1Peter 3.”

    It’s the passage I read at least once a day before my husband became a follower. I’m so happy you quoted it. The words are very dear to me.

    Loving your blog!!! Stay bold with grace!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please wait...


Want to be notified when a post is published? Enter your email address and name below to be the first to know.