The Proverbs 31 Woman–She’s Not Who You Think

Think you know the Proverbs 31 Woman? The truth might just surprise you! I know I was not expecting THIS!

If you’ve spent much time in Christian circles, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Proverbs 31 woman.

The epitome of what it means to be a Godly woman, she has entire websites full of articles on how to be just like her. Strong faith, solid marriage, excellent homemaking skills–she has it all.

What Christian woman wouldn’t want to be just like her? She’s perfect.

A few months ago, after seeing yet another article on “How to be the perfect Proverbs 31 Woman,” I decided it was high time I go read that portion of Scripture again.

Of course, I had read it before, several times, but it had been a while, and I needed to refresh my memory.

I mean, as a Christian woman, I should probably have that portion of Scripture framed and hanging on my walls, if not committed to memory, right? So time to revisit.

But when I reread the passage for myself, I was completely surprised by what I read. It wasn’t what I expected at all! Based on all of the articles I had been reading, I guess I was expecting the passage to read something like:

“The Proverbs 31 Woman is perfect.

She’s everything you could ever want to be and more.

And if you want to be a good Godly woman,

You should be exactly like her.

This is what she’s like:

She’s very quiet, meek and polite

And happy to do whatever her husband wants all of the time.

She loves being a mother,

So much that she happily spends her entire day

At home tending to her children’s every need without complaint.

Her house is always spotless,

Even though she doesn’t have any modern appliances

(Although it probably helps that she doesn’t have Facebook.)

She loves it when guests drop by unannounced

Because her house is always spotless and always smells like cookies.

If you want to be a good Christian woman,

You must do your best to be all these things too.”

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But not much 🙂

But what I found–well, it didn’t say that at all. To refresh your memory, here is the actual Proverbs 31 passage, courtesy of BibleGateway:

A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.

She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.

She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.

She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

–Proverbs 31:10-31

Well, that was nothing like what I was expecting! This passage isn’t talking about how she was an excellent wife and mother at all… It’s primarily talking about how hard she works all day long and how everyone else praises her for it. Weird. 

There’s a TON of articles out there on the Proverbs 31 woman, all of them with a slightly different take. But there’s one take I’ve never seen before… and that’s what I’m sharing today.

Three Things No One Tells You About the Proverbs 31 Woman

1. She Works

Honestly, I don’t even know how the whole SAHM vs. Working mom thing is even a debate anymore. If you like being a SAHM, if you like being a working mom–whatever works for your family–that’s great! (Personally, I love being a WAHM–best of both worlds!) 

So why am I still reading articles that insist that women MUST stay at home and tend to the house and children in order to be good wives and mothers? That it is the ONLY Godly option? And using this passage to do it no less…

A full HALF (11) of the verses in this passage are about how hard she works–both inside and outside of the home. Passages like “bringing her food from afar,” “She considers a field and buys it,” “She sees that her trading is profitable,” and “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes”  — These aren’t really tasks that can be done from home. (Well, the making of linen garments, but not the selling) Whether her kids are with her or not… she’s busy working.

Care to guess how many verses mention her husband? Four. It says he thinks highly of her and she brings him good, not harm. And how many mention her children?  One. “Her children arise and call her blessed.” That’s it.

And at the end, does it say “honor her for what a calm and gentle mother she is,” or “honor her because she is super crafty while still managing to keep her house spotless?” Nope. “Honor her for all that her hands have done.” Hmm… She works hard, and that’s a good thing. Interesting…

2. She’s Competent and Capable

Did you catch where her husband was in this passage? “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

Now, how often and long he was there, I don’t know, but this passage does make it pretty clear that she was more than capable of taking care of things while he was away. “Her husband has full confidence in her,” “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard,” and “She watches over the affairs of her household.” I imagine she was still respectful and loving, but she hardly sounds meek, timid and passive to me.

3. She’s Not Real

And last, but certainly not least, she’s not real. She’s an inspirational character from Proverbs (like Wisdom), not a real, actual person from the Gospels. Maybe there are real women out there who are this wonderful, but she wasn’t one of them and you don’t have to be either.

The truth is, God made all of us to love, enjoy and excel at different things. If you love being a stay at home mom and tending to your little ones all day long, more power to you! If you prefer to work round-the-clock on your latest business venture, that’s awesome as well.

The Proverbs 31 woman isn’t the real standard of perfection–Jesus is. So if you feel like you can’t measure up–you aren’t supposed to! God made YOU. Be you. Messy floors and burnt cakes and screaming toddlers and all.

So if you ever feel like a failure–stop it, and read this article instead. Because you aren’t the Proverbs 31 woman, and you aren’t supposed to be.

* Want to dive into the topic deeper? This article on The Proverbs 31 Woman—10 Myths Explained is a good one that goes a little more in-depth. 

Do you ever feel pressure to be someone you aren’t–whether it’s the Proverbs 31 Woman or the perfect Pinteresty mom? How do you overcome these feelings?

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A devoted Christian, wife and mother, Brittany loves helping other women grow in these roles as well. When she isn’t busy taking care of her growing family, you can find her at Equipping Godly Women, where she regularly shares tips, tricks and encouragement to help you be the amazing woman God created you to be. Brittany also has a thriving online community on Facebook as well.

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This is wonderful. I really need to keep this in mind and have it saved for one of those “I am such a failure days” Thank you.

Hi! I am a 30 year old Catholic wife and mommy of a two year old! I just wanted to say that you are awesome and I love your blog!

Oh, I love this post so much! I have never understood why people use passage to push perfection on women. I think the key is she is NOT real.

The biggest passage I hear quoted in the working vs. staying home debate is Titus 2:4, not necessarily this one.

Yeah, I’ve heard that one quoted too, but decided to leave that discussion for another day 🙂 Debunking this mythical Proverbs 31 that people seem to have created was enough for one post! lol

Thank you so much for this! I’ll go back to my SAHM day with less guilt… and I’ll just keep doing my best, trusting my great Lord to take care of the rest.

I simply LOVE this post! It’s so true that women often get hung up on perfection and I laughed out loud at how you thought this should frame your wall. I used to think the P31 woman was perfection I could never attain, yet I love your interpretation of this famous passage. And I completely agree that the old argument about working mom vs. SAHM needs to just disappear! Thanks for sharing at the Sat. Soiree! You’re featured this week!

Well, okay. She *may* have been real, but given the tone of Proverbs with the personification of Wisdom, etc, my best guess is that she’s not. And even if she was, she’s still a 2-dimensional character. We only know a few things about her, but we don’t really *know* her. She may have been a horrible cook or had stinky breath for all we know–so no reason to over-idealize as some people do 🙂

I’ve always thought the Proverbs 31 woman’s husband was a bit of a tosser. She’s toiling from before the sun comes up to after the sun sets while he gets to sit around at the front gate and gossip with the other guys. Who’d want to be married to a guy like that?

I love the story of Martha and Mary. I especially like the KJV which says “Mary hath chosen that good part.” The NIV version calls Mary’s part the “better” part and I like how that judgement isn’t there in KJV. “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” – Christ is praising Martha for her efforts – “But one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” It’s okay to pursue our own interests. It’s okay to take time for ourselves. It’s okay to slack off a bit on the housework, so that we may choose “that good part which shall not be taken away from” us – whether that be creating something beautiful, or studying, or reading a book ‘just because.’ Our lives are not meant to be drudgery; we are meant to edify ourselves and to put that on equal standing with serving others. It’s a beautiful passage.

LOL, I would be annoyed if my husband just sat around chatting all day too! But if I understand correctly, I think it was actually an esteemed position. It says she makes him look good, not that she makes him look like a loser 🙂

I left my job in May and have been searching for myself since then. I had the longest To-Do List when I began this new chapter… truth is as much as I have done the List isn’t really any shorter! Thanks for your thoughts. I want to be a good wife, but oh, the pressure! Trying to be a better person in God’s eyes is the most important thing I can strive to be right now. My husband is supportive and understanding and to heck with all the (supposedly) perfect women out there! Thanks!!

Perhaps what you need isn’t a to-do list at all, but some time of quiet solitude spent in prayer and reflection? Maybe some clearing your head might do you some good? Just a suggestion!

Brittany I love this… its easy to forget that she is NOT real. Striving for all of these is hard and I’m thankful for bloggers like you to point out that life does in fact have gray areas.

I have always thought that the P31 woman is actually a collection of the best attributes of many women. For me this part “but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised ” carries the most weight. Whatever we do, as long as it is in line with the will of God then it is good.

I’m a single woman. Sometimes I feel like a failure… But you remind me that just like all the scriptures in the bible for the perfect Godly man, we cannot match up to this scripture. Should we try? Of course. Will we fail? Yes. But it doesn’t mean we are not worthy of love or praise. Thank you.

This is awesome. I have never heard of the Proverbs 31 woman before, but I have felt the pressure to be perfect. And holy. And how somehow I must do both to be both. But I’m neither, I’m just trying. I loved everything you wrote. Thank you!

Hi Brittany,

i fully agree with you that she is not real, but I do think she is someone to be inspired by. I love this passage and I just quickly want to share 3 aspects of this passage that rung very true when I read it. Proverbs 31 starts by saying that a mother of a king called Lemeul gave him the following advice and that this is the type of women he should look for as a king. I think the mother is very wise and as a mother of 2 daughters these are the characteristics I would love for us women in my household to develop. I also think mothers of boys should spend some time giving them advice on the type of women they must court. Especially with emphasis on the character of the lady.
Throughout Proverbs wisdom is portrayed as a wise women so this passage is a great analogy for wisdom and how in every day life wisdom would live life. Like a women who knows exactly what is necessary for her house and goes out to DO that.
The third thing I love about this passage is that as a king’s wife she is the one that makes him look good and she looks after her household and her house, but she is also a manufacturer, an importer, manager, estate owner, farmer, clothing and interior designer and a trader. She has her own dreams and aspirations and she goes after them as an advantage to her family.
But most of all her ‘perfectness’ does not come from herself but because she serves the Lord.
May all women be blessed in the knowledge that our strength does not come from ourselves but from the Holy Spirit in us.
Thanks again for your great blog Brittany and for sharing your wisdom.

Yes i have never read your blog–im assuming you are coming at this from a “christian” perspective? I was really shocked by how much you missed and how many agreed with you by your cursory reading and perspective on this passage. Maybe if i had a blog my words would hold ‘power’ of some sort on people–need to work on that. Here is my response to your article. 1.It is clear from your assumption of what it should say that you admittedly or not have bought the feminist platitudes. Such as a proper christian wife should be meek, quiet, serve her husband.stay at home(key) etc. You seem to have disdain for the expectation for a woman staying home to care for her family. You cant get over the fact that she works! WOW. 2 there is a prob w how you read this passage. First of all you start from the premise that (the point of the godly woman) EVERYTHING she does in this passage is not done for her selfish ambition, her selfish needs of independence, her selfish need of ego etc. EVERYTHING she does she does TO SERVE and provide for her FAMILY that includes her husband and kids. 2 When you read the bible you have to read it in context to reality not your view of our modern cultural reality..sometimes you need to research or look at other resources about it. “bringing food from afar most probably meant her gathering of their own food, either at a market or from the field and prob w her kids. Yes she had independence women did no one knows TRUE history anymore. She bought wool and flax and prob weaved sashes of fine detail she sold to markets along w the scarlet coverings for her family–again taking care of them, From this income she purchased a vineyard–to provide most likely olive oil and olives etc for her family to eat. All done with love and caring to take care of her family. Not what she could accomplish that she just wanted to do and her kids would have been with her and she had the freedom of when she worked and when she didnt. 3. When it ever says in the BIBLE about men sitting at the city gate with the elders this means he was a JUDGE a highly respected leader of the city…not just a lazy do nothing jawing in the yard. With these kind of suppositions, lack of knowledge and judgmental attitudes from a defensive perspective looking for justification of fleshly ideas this is why those who call themselves christian show themselves as quite the word in SPIRIT rightly dividing the word, proving the scripture with the scripture but your heart has to be right to start with or you will totally miss it. All of this is a FAR cry from women who dont want to be tethered to their children–when that is their first and godly commanded duty not as a punitive slavery but as a loving duty to love them, teach them, clothe them, protect them, guide them, be there when they are sick, etc IF you are working which i had to as a single mom i was guilty the whole time..i couldnt miss work to be there when he needed me-I couldnt be there when he got out of school, i was tired and angry by the time i got home to him and then had to deal with him–the best part of my day was spent seperated from him and i didnt want it that way but i had to pay bills and provide food. Because my selfish sinfulness i ended up being a single parent–i have walked this walk. You can justify it any way you want but the proper preferred way is presented it is up to us to choose it or not. BTW it also shows the woman worked hard yes before dawn all FOR her family and done in love would imply without screaming, nagging, RESENTING, plotting for more or better-no schemer here she was content to do her best in the right attitude and work towards what she needed with grace. That is how i interpret this passage. That is why it is so rare to a ruby.

Hi, Kim, thanks for your thoughts. I think you may have missed the point of the article. My intention was not to give a thorough overview of all of the intricacies of the chapter. In fact, I wasn’t even responding to the chapter so much as I was responding to articles others have written about it. I was only attempting to highlight one detail that I feel the other articles miss.

(Which is why I wrote “Based on all of the articles I had been reading, I guess I was expecting…” and “But there’s one take I’ve never seen before… and that’s what I’m sharing today.”)

From reading others’ articles on the Proverbs 31 woman, I got the impression that the chapter said she was meek and powerless and did nothing but stay at home cooking and cleaning and caring for the children all day. The things I highlighted weren’t necessarily supposed to be the key take aways from the chapter, but the things that I noticed were very much lacking from other articles I had read.

And to set your mind at ease, no, I don’t have a disdain for stay-at-home moms at all! I actually work from home so I can be with my children all day as their primary caregiver, and this is by choice. I just don’t agree with the sentiment I’ve seen expressed *on other blogs* that says a woman is only a good, Godly woman if she doesn’t work at all, but just cleans and cares for her children all day. Staying at home is an excellent choice, but it is not the only one.

Hope that clears things up a little!

YES!!! I completely agree and so very glad to see someone else say it. You say that no one says she works. You must not have read quite as many of those articles as you thought, because I see this all the time. She is a diligent worker, it’s one of the main points of the passage! I think the “argument” is to her motivation, as the previous commenter brings up. I’ve never read any article about the P31 woman that says the things you’re saying they all say. Even in your denial of the disdain, your tone seems very …disdainful.

I’m sorry it came across that way–that was not my intention at all. And I don’t mean that they say she never works–but that I’ve never seen one that mentions her working outside the home. I’ve only seen articles talking about how she works so hard at home to be the perfect wife and mother. I think those things are absolutely fantastic! But seems like sometimes people miss this one small point.

I see, so you are actually using Proverbs 31 as an argument for why women should work outside the home…I completely disagree with your interpretation. There is a big difference between what she did and have a full-time career. Everything she did was based on serving her family and taking care of them. Not building a career separate from that.

Not at all. This post is about “Three Things No One Tells You About the Proverbs 31 Woman” — It’s not a response to the Bible passage. It’s not supposed to highlight the most important points of the passage. it’s not supposed to say women should work here, there or any other place. It’s simple a response to other articles I’ve read leave out what I feel are important details worth including in the conversation.

If you haven’t read the same types of articles I’ve read–the ones that talk about the P31 woman being the perfect wife/mother/homemaker and how we all have to be exactly like her, then my stance to *those types of articles* may not really make sense, taken out of context.

Hi Brittany!!!

THANK YOU!!! I love your perspective on this. You are so right… I avoid reading blogs about the Proverbs 31 wife so hard because I feel like I’ll never live up to that “perfect” model of a women. As a wife, being a full time student with a job, soon to be mommy, and still try to come home every day and keep the house spotless with dinner on the stove every single day is nearly impossible! Often times I feel like a failure. Needed this today.

I love this! I always thought, “darn, she really works hard!” When I read this passage. But the Christian culture sure have taken this example and gotten carried away. I love the part about her helping the poor. We really should be focused on compassion and helping those in need as it was a pretty big part of Jesus’ ministry. She takes care of business and has time to help others. Nothing in there about creating a magical childhood for her kids and being perfect at every aspect of life. Interesting.

Exactly. Not that she wasn’t a great mother–I’m sure she was too–but I think sometimes we ascribe all of these attributes to her and feel like we have to measure up–when that’s not what the passage is even saying…

Seeing as though it was written from Bathsheba to Solomon, of course there wouldn’t be mention of how she interacts with her children because she would be unwed and not yet have children. Hence “her children RISE UP and call her blessed” I enjoyed most of the article but your stance on children being mentioned once made my stomach turn. The mother that a woman is shows a lot about her character and if she is not patient, kind, loving and selfless with her children, how will she be that way to others?

God bless.

This is most likely written by Bathsheba to Solomon. It is s mothers heart for her son. So what mother wouldn’t present this “type” of an ideal woman befor her son encouraging him to look for a woman like this. I know I would. She lives her life for the benefit of her family & others. She is placed in the Bible as a type that all of Gods daughters can look to as an example, just like the many other Bible characters we look to. She is, whether real or not, a woman to be praised not threatened by😊

Seeing as though it was written from Bathsheba to Solomon, of course there wouldn’t be mention of how she interacts with her children because she would be unwed and not yet have children. Hence “her children RISE UP and call her blessed” I enjoyed most of the article but your stance on children being mentioned once made my stomach turn. The mother that a woman is shows a lot about her character and if she is not patient, kind, loving and selfless with her children, how will she be that way to others?

God bless.

Absolutely. That just wasn’t the purpose of this article. This isn’t meant to be a thorough discussion of the Proverbs 31 woman, but just a reaction to all of the other articles you read out there. I feel like some of the other articles are quite one-sided and unattainable. This article is ONLY to say “Hey, don’t forget these couple of points too”

Note also that she has “female servants” and “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”, in other words, her home and children are taken care of whilst she is busy buying fields and making sure her household will be warm and well fed…and she’s just a reminder of what we wish to become.

It certainly is the truth that sets us free! The proverbs 31 woman is an example of the “Bride of God” as in, his people. (Think to how in Hosea, Isreal is described as an adulterous woman, or in 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul says that he has betrothed them to one husband, or in Isaiah, The Lord says through Isaiah “For your maker is your husband”)

No one woman is expected to be this; but rather, we as a whole, working in the ways God has called us, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, fulfill this.

Pay close attention to verses like
“She brings her food FROM AFAR” (Who else is brought from afar in the Prophets?)
“She rises while it is STILL NIGHT”
And gives food to her household”
“For all her household are clothed with scarlet”
“Her Husbandis known in the GATES
When he SITS among the ELDERS of the land”
“And supplies BELTS to the tradesmen”
“She smiles at the future”

How brilliant is The Lord?
“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to SEARCH OUT a matter”

LOVE THIS! The fact that you pulled so much out regarding the working aspect was exactly what I needed to read right now. I currently work full time but have the ability to work 2 of the 5 days from home which helps in the cleaning department. I get discouraged a lot with thoughts of not being a good enough homemaker/mom/wife. Now ministerial teaching and exhortation? Yeah I can do that (I run a ministry as well) but when it comes to cooking, cleaning, kids, etc- well…lets say I am not the perfect P31 woman of our imagination LOL!

Thanks for this, God knew I needed it!

Awww, glad to encourage you today! Yes, we do have a special role as homemakers, but that certainly isn’t our ONLY role and no one said it should be the most important either. Important, yes, but MOST important…? Nope. No need to stress 🙂

Thank you for this. I was just telling my husband tonight that I really hate this particular passage because she seems to have it so well put together. Yet I am a pastor, wife, mother and employee who is totally and utterly not feeling put together. Yet this passage when I went back and re read it is important. I am looking forward to studying more into the lessons it teaches and seeing it from a different perspective.

Awwww, we all feel that way sometimes. And don’t compare yourself to a 2D passage — that’s not fair to you. She’s just a picture — not a real person with bad hair days and bills to pay. I’m sure you’re doing great 🙂

This came up in my search, today and wow. *TEARS!!!* Thank you, so much for this. I’m a coupe of years late reading, but this is incredibly timely for me. I was starting to feel like I’m not enough of a mom. I’m a single parent, but I still strive for the Proverbs 31 way of doing things. Just…thank you. his article blessed me.

It wouldn’t matter if she was a real woman. There’s no reason why she couldn’t have been based on one. The proverb still never says she’s perfect. We humans put that label on her. I think she’s a lovely example of robust femininity in it’s true place os subservience to God and husband. 😆