Misnomers?

I’ve read more books than I care to count on “the Proverbs 31 woman” and related themes over the past thirty-plus years.  I’ve participated in numerous Bible studies on the same theme and taken several Old Testament Lit and Inductive Bible Study courses on this passage at the graduate level and elsewhere.  Over the years I’ve noticed an interesting, fairly predictable response to the last verses in the final chapter of this Book of Wisdom:

 

  • Blank stares
  • Sighs and shrugs
  • Glazed-over eyes
  • Slumped shoulders
  • Cringes
  • Body language dripping with guilt-gummed aversion and “here we go again-isms”

 

Why?

 

Why is a common response to “Proverbs 31” right out of the Man a la Mancha’s Quixotic Impossible Dream?  “Great,” I’ve heard some women mutter, “just what I need.  Another Bible study on all the ways I’m failing as a `Christian woman’ – measured against an unattainable ideal.”  This passage seems to engender an unusual – and largely predictable – amount of resistance, resignation, frustration, annoyance and rolling of the eyes.

 

If you don’t think a large percentage of Christian women wrestle with this, just Google the topic (or chapter).  My question is: Why?

 

I have some thoughts on that.  I’ll get to them later.  Right now I want to ask another question.  Why do we so often refer to this section of Scripture with the tag, the “Proverbs 31 woman”?  Probably the best known verse from this passage is verse 10, which may be considered the Intro or Preface to this section.  One minor detail: Verse 10 doesn’t say anything about a “woman.”  Need convincing?  Look it up.  (That’s okay.  I’ll wait.)

 

Depending on the version you’re reading, roughly one-third of this passage describes the woman in question as a wife or with related terms.  In the NIV, verses 10, 11, 12, 15, 21, 23, 27, and 28 link her with “husband, household, family and children.”  This passage is most often dubbed, A Wife of Noble Character.  In fact, many commentators and preachers title this passage “How to find a good wife.”  Where does that leave females who aren’t married?  High school teens and young girls?  Divorcees?  Widows?  Women who are married without children? 

 

Can someone be a “Proverbs 31” woman without a husband and kids?  (According to quite a few sources, the implicit answer is “Nope.”  This opens a huge can of worms –to put it mildly.)  Put another way: Is the Proverbs 31 “woman” a misnomer?  If it is, how sound can the paradigms be that are based on it?

 

— To be continued-

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