Proverbs 31 - a career woman?

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steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
So, I've begun praying for marriage (apparently it's a good thing, so I heard!). Proverbs 31 sounds like a woman who's active both in homemaking AND a money-making career. In fact, the text goes on and on about it. However, many conservative evangelicals have generally spoken out against career-drivenness in women. It's one of the factors (among others) in the delay of marriage that we're seeing.

Kevin DeYoung, in his book "Just do something..." writes,
There are too many fine Christian women sliding into careers they aren't sure they want to pursue, while they not so secretly wish they be married and raise a family.

What's your take on this passage?
 

Fly Caster

Puritan Board Sophomore
The woman in Proverbs 31 is an industrious woman, but her industry is centered in and about her home. She is the prototype of the Titus 2:5 keeper at home.

Only by viewing the passage through the distorted lens of modern feminist thought can this passage be made to picture a "career" woman. The same can be said for the NT passages that define a mother's role. Just as the phrase "zoo-keeper" (keeper of the zoo) defines the role of the person designated by the title, so does the phrase "home-keeper" (keeper of the home) define the woman's. While a zoo-keeper may, and does, leave the premises to conduct business and aquire needed suppiles, he does not fulfill his duties by working 8-12 hour shifts somewhere off-premises, while farming the animals out for someone else to take care off. Neither does he need to ask his "other" boss for time off to tend to the prize panda when it gets sick, nor is he off working at a career if the tiger gets out and starts eating the monkeys or a few random visitors. His keeping the zoo IS his full time job-- same as the wife and mother's role in the home.

That's not a popualr view, I know. It's the only one, however, that doesn't do violence to scripture.

---------- Post added at 10:17 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:13 AM ----------

Piety is like light which cannot be hidden. The more it seeks concealment, and retires from public notice, the more brightly it shines. Female influence only ceases, or operates unfavorably, when women depart from their own proper sphere; or when they endeavor to obtrude themselves upon the notice and admiration of the public. As we are shocked with infidelity in a female, so female ambition is odious. Let the devoted mother exert herself in her own proper sphere, which is in the retirement of the domestic circle, and in constant and devout attendance on the worship of God. Let her look well to the affairs of her household. Let her manifest her graciousness and forbearance in the steady government of her children. Let her set an example of order, neatness, industry, and hospitality, and she will have enough to do. Every hour, and almost every minute, will furnish opportunity for the exercise of some virtue; and that Eye which goes everywhere will graciously notice, and bring to light too, those acts which are cheerfully and conscientiously performed. A mother cannot be placed in a more interesting field of labor than in the midst of a large circle of children. Here is her appropriate sphere of action. Here she has work enough to occupy her heart and hands.

COUNSELS TO CHRISTIAN MOTHERS- Archibald Alexander

 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
Very interesting analogy. But in terms of her industriousness centered in the home, I'm not sure.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herselfe with strength
and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.f
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.

It doesn't take a feminist to point out that she's involved in some serious entrepreneurship. This doesn't discount the fine work she does to support her husband and family, but it's hard to deny that she seems to be earning her own income - unless there are ancient near eastern backgrounds to enlighten the topic...
 

Tripel

Puritan Board Senior
What's your take on this passage?

My take is pretty simple--that the passage says exactly what it says. The Proverbs 31 woman has a career, and that is admirable. There is value in a woman having a career, but by no means should a career trump the responsibilities in the home. If a woman uses Proverbs 31 as an excuse to farm out her children and hire a housekeeper so that she can maintain a job, she is clearly misunderstanding Proverbs 31.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
What's your take on this passage?

My take is pretty simple--that the passage says exactly what it says. The Proverbs 31 woman has a career, and that is admirable. There is value in a woman having a career, but by no means should a career trump the responsibilities in the home. If a woman uses Proverbs 31 as an excuse to farm out her children and hire a housekeeper so that she can maintain a job, she is clearly misunderstanding Proverbs 31.
Wow, this changes a lot! I've always thought the Reformed taught that the ideal woman was the type who viewed wife and motherhood as the ultimate (and only?) calling to pursue, but I've rarely ever found that kind of girl in my circles.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
What is a career, exactly? My wife does pretty much everything that the Proverbs 31 women does and yet, by modern standards, does not have a career (namely a job outside of/apart from the home). She likes to purchase things, work in the garden and will even sell some of what she knits but even in these things her business is the home and the home is her business.

In addition, many godly men I know grant the responsibilities of finance over to their wives because they are much more shrewd than they. This is not an abdicating of responsibilities (on the part of a husband) nor a failure to submit (on the part of the wife) but wisdom as to who can manage one aspect of home life better than another.
 

Tripel

Puritan Board Senior
I've always thought the Reformed taught that the ideal woman was the type who viewed wife and motherhood as the ultimate (and only?) calling to pursue

You can certainly find many who would say and teach such things. But the fact is that not all women are called to be wives nor are they all called to be mothers. If the Lord blesses a woman with a husband and children, then they become her primary responsibility. But women should not live their lives under the assumption that the Lord will bless them with such. If single, a woman needs to be able to support herself, so a career would be her calling at that point. If a career woman marries, she is not necessarily obligated to give up her career, but she does need to keep things prioritized properly.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
What's your take on this passage?

My take is pretty simple--that the passage says exactly what it says. The Proverbs 31 woman has a career, and that is admirable. There is value in a woman having a career, but by no means should a career trump the responsibilities in the home. If a woman uses Proverbs 31 as an excuse to farm out her children and hire a housekeeper so that she can maintain a job, she is clearly misunderstanding Proverbs 31.
Wow, this changes a lot! I've always thought the Reformed taught that the ideal woman was the type who viewed wife and motherhood as the ultimate (and only?) calling to pursue, but I've rarely ever found that kind of girl in my circles.

Whoa! Not so fast! There is a big difference between these two scenarios:

1) a woman has a 9-5 career at a business that operates out of an office building in the city, where she answers to a man who is not her husband and she ultimately works for the financial well-being of the company (i.e., a surplus doesn't go to her but the owner of the company)

2) a woman engages in various business operated out of her own home, where she remains under the loving leadership of her husband, and ultimately works for the financial well-being of her family (extra profits go directly to the woman and her family)

As said above, Titus 2:5 tells us that the first scenario is not appropriate. The fact that the Prov. 31 woman is doing some sort of profitable work doesn't mean that any sort of work is okay. The sorts of work that are appropriate must be consistent with other bible passages that describe the home-centeredness of a godly Christian woman.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
Career .. good question. Of course it's a modern word, and the main idea I think is a money-making venture that one considers their long term employment. The Prov 31 woman is buying land of her own consideration, planting a vineyard, selling clothing, on top of home making. Perhaps the nobleness of the woman is not that she is centred in any one location, or does any particular work over others, but that she is an extremely capable person who accomplishes so much (?). last verse, v 31 "Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates."
 

Tripel

Puritan Board Senior
Whoa! Not so fast! There is a big difference between these two scenarios:

1) a woman has a 9-5 career at a business that operates out of an office building in the city, where she answers to a man who is not her husband and she ultimately works for the financial well-being of the company (i.e., a surplus doesn't go to her but the owner of the company)

2) a woman engages in various business operated out of her own home, where she remains under the loving leadership of her husband, and ultimately works for the financial well-being of her family (extra profits go directly to the woman and her family)

As said above, Titus 2:5 tells us that the first scenario is not appropriate. The fact that the Prov. 31 woman is doing some sort of profitable work doesn't mean that any sort of work is okay. The sorts of work that are appropriate must be consistent with other bible passages that describe the home-centeredness of a godly Christian woman.

Dennis,
Tim's post shows that there is disagreement on this issue even on the PB. Some here will say it's wrong for a woman to work for a man who is not her husband. Others (like myself) strongly disagree.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
I would think the ANE background of this passage is more conservative than our own culture on the woman staying home and looking after the kids. That's why it really surprises me the large amount of description of her out-of-house activities. Living in rural India, I totally understand this. A woman taking care of 5 little ones can't be doing so much else. Even planting a vineyard in the field you purchased behind the house is almost neglectful parenting! I'm beginning to really wonder if the author is being hyperbolic about this woman's capabilities.

---------- Post added at 10:44 PM ---------- Previous post was at 10:42 PM ----------

Dennis,
Tim's post shows that there is disagreement on this issue even on the PB. Some here will say it's wrong for a woman to work for a man who is not her husband. Others (like myself) strongly disagree.
Daniel, I think I'm more in your camp for the simple reason of reality and the sheer hope of marrying anyone! :)
 

satz

Puritan Board Senior
Proverbs 31 does not show a career woman - as in a woman who makes her career her achieve objective in life or what defines her.

But it does show that a good wife takes time and energy away from being purely domestically focused in order to help bring income into the family, not just to help her husband survive, but to help him prosper, for the family in Proverbs 31 is not a poor one.

It also shows that it not completely true that the ideal situation for each and every family is to have a stay at home wife who is completely focused on homemaking. According to Proverbs 31, is it completely legitimate for a wife to want more than that, to want to have outside pursuits in order to contribute financially to her family.

If the husband approves and if priorities are kept in order, this is not something that takes her time away from being a good wife - it is part of being a good wife.

Off course, some husbands will want their wives to be completely domestically focused. And there are times in life when that is for the best of the family. But there is no bible principle that makes it a rule for every family at everytime.
 

torstar

Puritan Board Sophomore
Suitable to adapt to whatever she is called to do in consideration of the circumstances around her at the time.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
A couple of points to feed into the discussion.
1) The Proverbs 31 woman is not necessarily typical of every OT woman of character; she clearly belongs to the upper class (her husband is a man of standing in the community, she can afford to buy property and so on). She is a wife suitable for a king (see Prov. 31:1). It is not coincidental that in the Hebrew order of the Old Testament Proverbs is followed by the Book of Ruth, which shows us a similar "woman of character" from the other end of the social spectrum, whose life in some ways is very different. Neither one is a 1960's "housewife". Both work diligently, as opposed to lying on a couch all day (which would have been an option for a Prov. 31 woman, though not for a poor woman like Ruth). But they operate at the opposite ends of the working spectrum, from virtually a small business CEO to the equivalent of digging through the trash heap to find food for the day. There's room for this God-centered busyness to find a variety of different expressions in our modern culture, I think.

2) notice that in Proverbs 31, her husband praises her and her children call her blessed (v.28). In other words, she is not so frantically busy that her family is neglected. This can sometimes be a problem for career women (something has to get the best of your time and something else the rest), but it can also be a problem for stay at home women running their own business, or even those who become overcommitted to volunteer activities in the church.

3) the gospel is good news for all of us who can never live up to what the law demands. If you are looking for a woman who perfectly fulfills Proverbs 31, you will either never find her or you will crush her with unrealistic expectations when you think that you have. My wife has many wonderful things in common with the woman in Proverbs 31, but she is a deeply broken sinner as well, just as I am. So leave your wife room to fail, and when she does bring her graciously back to the gospel. And if you find someone able to do the same for you, you have much for which to be grateful.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
she clearly belongs to the upper class (her husband is a man of standing in the community, she can afford to buy property and so on). She is a wife suitable for a king
If she really is that rich, it's all the more striking that she works as hard as she does, so I agree, her diligence is accented. Wouldn't it cast doubt on the assertion that she's working to supplement income to provide for the family? In fact, speaking strictly textually, I don't find a verse that explicitly says her income is being spent on her family. It is assumed it is, but what it does say is that from her income ("fruit of her hands") is being used to purchase the field (v. 16); she gives to the poor (v. 20); her weaving skills are for herself as much as anyone else (v. 22). It seems that her busyness is a big part of her "surpassing them all" (v.29).
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
I don't think that she is working to support her family (unlike Ruth, who clearly is). For an analogy, think of 18th-19th century English novels: many of these rich ladies didn't have to work; some wasted their lives on empty nothings, while others (for Christian reasons) were diligently busy in good works for the sake of their tenants and the poor around them. The point is that godly Christian "busyness" will have different forms for a woman who can afford to live off her husband's income, a woman who has no income except her own, a woman who has children, a woman who has none, and so on. Proverbs 31 is after all proverbial wisdom: it requires wisdom to apply it to the appropriate situation.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
It seems that the Proverbs 31 wife is a real hard worker, but that her work is home-centered and not for any other boss except her own family/husband. That seems to be the reason why I wouldn't call her a
"career woman." She builds up her husband so that he can do well in his calling.
 

kvanlaan

Puritan Board Doctor
When we speak of dietary laws in the OT, we are quick to point out that they were abrogated in Peter's vision, and thus rendered obsolete in the NT. But when we look at Prov 31 and then Timothy and Titus and other passages, we still put them in the context of this OT passage. Why is that? Why not consider it abrogated? Jut askin'.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Because God put man and woman together before the Fall. Gender roles are thus creational and serve no purpose to foretell Christ.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Some attempt should be made to understand the context in order to ascertain what the passage intends to teach and how it may or may not be applicable to the modern situation. It is noteworthy that some of these characteristics of the virtuous woman are to be found as descriptions of "wisdom" throughout the book. That suggests the first point of reference might be the attaining of wisdom. If that is accepted, any application to today's Christian woman would be a secondary application of these virtues of "wisdom" to her calling.
 

satz

Puritan Board Senior
Whoa! Not so fast! There is a big difference between these two scenarios:

1) a woman has a 9-5 career at a business that operates out of an office building in the city, where she answers to a man who is not her husband and she ultimately works for the financial well-being of the company (i.e., a surplus doesn't go to her but the owner of the company)

2) a woman engages in various business operated out of her own home, where she remains under the loving leadership of her husband, and ultimately works for the financial well-being of her family (extra profits go directly to the woman and her family)

As said above, Titus 2:5 tells us that the first scenario is not appropriate. The fact that the Prov. 31 woman is doing some sort of profitable work doesn't mean that any sort of work is okay. The sorts of work that are appropriate must be consistent with other bible passages that describe the home-centeredness of a godly Christian woman.

I don't think it's such a simple distinction.

Proverbs 31:16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
Proverbs 31:24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

How are these verses "home centered"? She may be working from home, but her focus is outside, to earn money and bring it into the family.

The fact that she is working outside of her physical home is not conclusive of whether that work is appropriate, unless you think a godly woman should be so bound to her home that she cannot go to church, go grocery shopping or visit her family. Once you admit that is commendable for a woman to earn income - which is what the woman in scenario 2 is doing with her home businesses - then it is allowable for her to leave her home to do such a commendable work, just as it is allowable for her to leave her home to do the three things I mentioned above (and more).

The fact that she works for a man or boss not her husband is likewise not conclusive. God in the OT ordained a society were many women were maidservants to other men. He even assumed this state of affairs in the Ten Commandments because the Fourth and Tenth commandments tell men how to treat their maidservants or other men's maidservants. He even directly addresses a situation where a woman has both a master and a husband (Ex 21:2-11). In any case, it is up to the individual husband of each woman to decide to what extent she can make commitments that take her away from the home (Num 30:7).

A woman who works outside works for the financial well being of her family too. She brings home her pay and her husband decides how it should be used for the benefit of the family. If you reasoning in the post is correct, every man who works for someone else is serving his boss and not the well being of the family. There's also another interesting point that a woman (or man) running her or his own business gets to keep the extra profits - but he or she also takes the loss of investment/capital if the business is a failure. So I don't feel this is a decisive point saying that a home business is better than a job.

:2cents:
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
I think Rev. Winzer makes a very good point. The Prov 31 woman is exemplifying the virtues of wisdom taught throughout the book. Also, noting that wisdom is personified as feminine, and ought to be sought after with one's whole heart, perhaps the author may be wrapping up the book's teaching through the metaphor of wife-finding. That would make New Testament texts more appropriate than this for listing "job descriptions" of Christian women.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
How are these verses "home centered"? She may be working from home, but her focus is outside, to earn money and bring it into the family.

The fact that she is working outside of her physical home is not conclusive of whether that work is appropriate, unless you think a godly woman should be so bound to her home that she cannot go to church, go grocery shopping or visit her family. Once you admit that is commendable for a woman to earn income - which is what the woman in scenario 2 is doing with her home businesses - then it is allowable for her to leave her home to do such a commendable work, just as it is allowable for her to leave her home to do the three things I mentioned above (and more).

My point was not the physical location of the woman, but rather whether she was working to realize the vision of her household, or some other external entity (i.e., a company owned by someone else). Again, Titus.
 

JBaldwin

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Another thought to toss in for consideration--

The woman described in Proverbs has children calling her blessed. This indicates in my mind that she has at least completed her child-bearing years, and perhaps the children are older. Married women go through "seasons" of life at home, early marriage, child-bearing years, married life with grown children and grandchildren and finally the last stages of her life.

What I glean from this is that the Proverbs 31 woman is reflective of woman's entire married life and the writer is looking back on her life at what she has accomplished. When my children were very small, I simply had no time to focus on anything but taking care of them and the household. I'm sure other mothers will say the same. But as my children have grown, I have more time on my hands, and I find I'm spending time gardening, making things to sell, and now even working together with my husband to get a business started.

It is not even logical to assume that you could look into even week of a woman's life and assume that she would be accomplishing all things at once.
 

satz

Puritan Board Senior
My point was not the physical location of the woman, but rather whether she was working to realize the vision of her household, or some other external entity (i.e., a company owned by someone else). Again, Titus.

Tim,

She is working to advance the vision of her family by earning money which can then be utilized as her husband deems fit - the same as every man who works for a company is really working for the good of his family, even if the only way he can get paid is to simultaneously help his boss achieve his goals.

What's the difference?
 

kvanlaan

Puritan Board Doctor
The woman described in Proverbs has children calling her blessed. This indicates in my mind that she has at least completed her child-bearing years, and perhaps the children are older. Married women go through "seasons" of life at home, early marriage, child-bearing years, married life with grown children and grandchildren and finally the last stages of her life.

I think this is at least a reasonable interpretation - not the 'a woman CAN have it all and be Biblical about it, too!' attitude that so many twist this to mean. If your husband is an elder at the gates, your children are calling you blessed (I know from this one phrase alone that the children are past their teenage years), and you are out and about without children, you are more advanced in years. Simple.

She is working to advance the vision of her family by earning money which can then be utilized as her husband deems fit - the same as every man who works for a company is really working for the good of his family, even if the only way he can get paid is to simultaneously help his boss achieve his goals.

What's the difference?

The difference is (if she has children to raise) that the cost is so much greater to earn said money.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
v.15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.

Her children are old enough to speak and call her blessed, but apparently not old enough to prepare their own breakfast.
 

satz

Puritan Board Senior
I think this is at least a reasonable interpretation - not the 'a woman CAN have it all and be Biblical about it, too!' attitude that so many twist this to mean. If your husband is an elder at the gates, your children are calling you blessed (I know from this one phrase alone that the children are past their teenage years), and you are out and about without children, you are more advanced in years. Simple.

Who and where has said anything about having it all?

I can't speak for anyone else but my position has been that these verses teach it is part of the role of a wife to contribute financially to the family. How much (if any) time she spends on this will depend on the circumstances of her family and her husband's wishes. However, bibilcally there is no basis for saying that the dedicated stay at home wife is the only acceptable model of christian family life.

The difference is (if she has children to raise) that the cost is so much
greater to earn said money.

If the cost is too great she should not earn the money.

But whether we are talking about a paid job or a home business there is always some potential cost in that it is taking time and energy away from her being directly focused on her home. And this applies even if the children are grown up and married.

Again, the issue is whether the wife is fulfilling her duties. And whether a job or business will prevent that is a matter of individual circumstances, not of making blanket rules.
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
Fly Caster,

"Keeper at home" is actually a textual variant. The two readings are:

οικουργους-working at home
οικουρους-keeper at home

They are very similar. Most text critics that I have talked to here at Trinity have noted a couple of things. First, the reading οικουργους [working at home] is the more primative and widest attested reading. It is in the original hand of Codex Siniaticus, Codex Alexandrinus, the original hand of Codex Bezae [a western manuscript] as well as later manuscripts such as 33 and 81. Also, the word οικουρους was far more common in the ancient world. We only know of one or two more occurances of οικουργους, while οικουρους is well attested. The tendency is to go from the least common to the more common. If οικουρους were original, there would be no reason to change it to the far less common οικουργους.

Also, I think the context of Titus 2 is important. Paul is speaking in an ethical context, not a context of gender roles. Women are also called to love their children [v.4]. Does that mean that it is okay for the husband to hate his children because it is the woman's gender role to love the children? Women are also called to be pure and kind [the two words surrounding "working at home" in verse 5]. Does that mean that husbands can be sinful, defiled, and mean because it is the woman's gender role to be pure and kind? No, Paul's context here is of an ethical nature, not of a nature of gender roles.

In other words, what if Paul were talking about women working at home, but at the same time, not excluding men from that task, in the same way he does not exclude them from purity and kindness? One can easily see how ethical issues such as slothfulness in the home on the part of both the husband and the wife can put stress on a marriage, and lead to major problems. One can also see how this could be the case in the context of the problem of women as gossips and busybodies, which is something Paul has to address elsewhere [1 Timothy 5:13]. Thus, Paul's concern would be for women to give appropriate help to their husband and children in the home so that their idleness is does not give an occasion for the word of God to be blasphemed.

I would even think most people who are homemakers would get upset if their husband always came home from work, propped up his feet, and did nothing the rest of the day!

Now, as far as Proverbs 31, I don't think the point of Proverbs 31 is to speak of a woman who actually exists. Not only are their connections to wisdom, but there also seems to be a connection to the sections dealing with the kind of woman a man is to be seeking. Thus, these are the kinds of traits that show that a woman is wise. Also, I don't think it will do to speak about a "carrier woman" or a "homemaker." Such is entirely anachronistic, and totally a product of the industrial revolution. Now, if you demand the family-centered agrarian society of the ANE, you also have to reckon with the fact that the family structure was different. Not only did one generation live in a home and work together, but there could be up to three generations living and working together. Worse than that, families in the ANE also included slaves and resident aliens [does that mean that you could invite someone to live with you, and look after your children while you go to work?]. Also, it would not usually be the husband who would have authority over the members of the family, but the oldest living patriarch. Thus, the husband and the wife may not have the authority in the home; it might end up being with the great-grandfather. Also, if you were a resident alien, the authority in your home might not even belong to someone in your own family!

Indeed, I think both the agrarianism of the southern confederacy [common in modern patriarchy] as well as the feminism of the 1970's are both inappropriate paradigms for understanding the context of the Bible. To read either of these ideas back into the text is totally anachronistic. Suffice it to say that the Bible allows for work and profit, but not at the expense of leaving everyone in your family with all the work at home, and certainly not at the expense of taking care of your children. The Bible makes very clear that *all* of these areas are important, and for any household to neglect any one of these is wrong.

God Bless,
Adam
 
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