“What is a Proverbs 31 Woman?”
Also known as the Virtuous Woman, the Proverbs 31 wife, the Woman of Valor, or the Wife of Noble Character, the Proverbs 31 woman is a fictional Bible character found in Proverbs 31:10-31.
The Proverbs 31 woman is only mentioned once throughout all of Scripture (in a 22-verse epilogue at the end of Proverbs).
Yet, this virtuous woman in the Bible is one of the most well-known, most widely preached, most popular, and most often emulated biblical women of all time.
- Countless Mother’s Day sermons have been preached to answer the question: “What is a Proverbs 31 Woman?”
- Multiple Christian women’s websites, Christian blogs, and women’s ministries (such as Proverbs 31 Ministries) have explained how we can be more like this virtuous woman in the Bible.
- And countless books, women’s Bible studies, and women’s devotionals have been written to answer the questions: “What is a virtuous woman?” and “How can I be more like the Proverbs 31 woman today?”
Of course, it’s not difficult to see why.
The epitome of what it means to be a virtuous woman, the Proverbs 31 woman certainly gives us a lofty ideal to live up to.
The Proverbs 31 wife is smart, strong, and capable… She rises at dawn and her lamp does not go out at night… Her husband has full confidence in her and their children rise up and call her blessed…
She has it all… she does it all…
Just reading about this wife of noble character is enough to make any Christian woman feel woefully inadequate.
I suppose it should come as no surprise, then, that reactions to this virtuous woman in the Bible are mixed.
While some modern Christians idealize the Proverbs 31 woman, working hard to live up to her inspiring example of how to be a Godly woman, others read Proverbs 31:10-31 in the Bible and feel like a failure, wondering how they could possibly measure up and if they should even try.
Meanwhile, other Christians pretty much ignore the Proverbs 31 wife, assuming that the Bible passage doesn’t apply to them for whatever reason (whether that’s because they aren’t a wife or a mother, or simply because the passage is thousands of years old).
Personally, I ignored this woman of valor for a long time.
Growing up in church, I’d already heard the Proverbs 31 woman explained multiple times, so I wasn’t looking for answers to questions like, “What is a Proverbs 31 woman?” or “What is a virtuous woman?”
Since I learned how to read the Bible years ago, I thought I already knew all about the Wife of Noble character.
After reading yet another blog post about the Proverbs 31 woman, however, I eventually caved.
I realized: I’d heard so many Mother’s Day sermons and read so many blog posts about this virtuous woman…
But when was the last time I read for myself what the Bible says about the Proverbs Woman? Who was this virtuous woman in the Bible? What is a Proverbs 31 Woman really?
So I decided to research the Proverbs 31 meaning a bit more. And what I found surprised me…
Guess what: This article is part of a series!
After you finish this article, be sure to visit 15 Great Women of the Bible Every Christian Woman Should Study to learn more about other incredible women of the Bible, including Esther and Eve, as well!
The Proverbs 31 Woman in the Bible (Proverbs 31:10-31 NIV)
First, let’s start by looking at what the Bible says about the Proverbs 31 woman, also known as the Wife of Noble Character, the Virtuous Woman, the Proverbs 31 wife, or the Woman of Valor.
Then we’ll answer the question: “What is a Proverbs 31 Woman and how can we be a virtuous woman today?”
We find the Proverbs 31 woman explained in the Bible in Proverbs 31:10-31.
Here’s what Scripture says:
Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
–Proverbs 31:10-31 NIV, courtesy of Biblegateway.com
What is a Proverbs 31 Woman?
The Proverbs 31 Woman is a fictional Bible character found in Proverbs 31:10-31.
Also known as the Virtuous Woman, the Wife of Noble Character, the Woman of Valor, or the Proverbs 31 wife, the Proverbs 31 woman provides an excellent example for Christian women to follow today.
However, in order to fully answer the question, “What is a Proverbs 31 Woman?” here are 6 surprising facts you need to know about this virtuous woman in the Bible.
6 Surprising Facts About the Proverbs 31 Woman
“A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.”
1. Proverbs 31 is Written to a Man — Not a Woman
Here’s an interesting fact: Whether we’re listening to the Proverbs 31 woman explained in a sermon or we’re reading the virtuous woman Scripture for ourselves, we typically start reading in Proverbs 31:10.
The NIV Bible even sets Proverbs 31:10-31 apart with the subheading: “Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character.”
Yet, in order to answer the question, “What is a Proverbs 31 woman?” we need to go back to the beginning of the chapter for some context.
Proverbs 31:1 tells us:
“The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.” — Proverbs 31:1
This is important!
Here’s why: Proverbs 31 was never written as a checklist or instruction manual for virtuous woman everywhere to try to measure up to. It wasn’t written to women at all! Rather, this passage on the wife of noble character was originally spoken to a man (King Lemuel) by his mother.
While we typically think of Proverbs 31 as a passage for women (as we can certainly benefit from it!), the Proverbs 31 woman description was actually originally written as advice for a man.
2. Proverbs 31 is One Woman’s Motherly Advice — Not an Overarching Prescription
“Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!
Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
Do not spend your strength on women,
your vigor on those who ruin kings.”
Have you ever heard of the acronym for B.I.B.L.E.? Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth? It’s pretty catchy. Easy to remember. I like it. But unfortunately, it’s not entirely accurate.
Because while there are many, many verses of instructions for Godly living in the Bible, not every Bible verse is a command or instruction. And while we can absolutely benefit from every verse in the Bible, not every verse in the Bible was written to or about us.
Proverbs 31 was not written to instruct all virtuous women everywhere on how to “measure up.” It was written for a man to inspire him for what type of woman to look for.
Read in context, the mother is basically telling her son: “Don’t make bad choices. Don’t get drunk. Don’t chase women. Treat others well, and find yourself a good, Godly woman. Here’s what that looks like…”
NOT: “Christian women, you must do EVERY SINGLE ONE of these things to measure up as a Proverbs 31 wife.”
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3. In the Jewish Culture, Proverbs 31 is a Song of Praise (“Woman of Valor!”)
Have you ever read A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans?
While I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of her theology, the book was a very interesting read, and I especially appreciated how diligently she worked to seek out more of the Jewish context behind the Old Testament passages we still read today.
For example: As Rachel shares in her blog post, 3 Things You Might Not Know About the Proverbs 31 Woman:
“I first learned this from my Jewish friend Ahava who told me that in her culture, it’s not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men… They memorize it, Ahava said, to sing it as a song of praise to the women in their lives—their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends. Ahava’s husband sings Proverbs 31 to her at every Sabbath meal. “
Plus, not only do Jewish men use Proverbs 31 to sing praises over their wives for being such wonderful Godly women, but Jewish women also use the passage to praise each other as well!
According to Rachel’s newfound Jewish friends, the phrase “who can find a virtuous woman?” (from Proverbs 31:10) comes from the Hebrew word “eshet chayil,” which can be translated as “woman of valor.”
Rather than using this virtuous woman description as a guilt-inducing measuring stick, Jewish women will praise each other with a hearty “eshet chayil!” as a way of saying “You go girl! You’re awesome! Woman of valor!”
I love that!
4. The Virtuous Woman is an Allegorical Character, Not a Real Person
It’s also important to remember: While scholars aren’t in 100% agreement, the Proverbs 31 woman likely was not real. Rather she is simply a compilation of the best traits of Godly women as a whole.
In fact, if you read through the entire book of Proverbs, you meet three other allegorical characters first: Wisdom, Folly and the Adultress. No one considers those 3 women to be real people, and the Proverbs 31 woman probably isn’t either. Rather, she completes the set.
Wisdom and Folly go together; the Adultress and the Wife of Noble Character do too.
You can’t be a trophy wife, the perfect mom, a successful entrepreneur and a crafty DIY mama all at the same time?
You’re not perfect? You mess up sometimes? lol. Welcome to the club! None of us are perfect. We aren’t meant to be.
(And even if the Virtuous Woman WAS a real person, the text seems to indicate she wasn’t a young mom with little ones at home, but an older woman with years of experience. And also that she didn’t do ALL of the things all at the same time. Proverbs 31 is simply the highlight reel of the BEST things this Wife of Noble Character did in various seasons over the course of her entire life.)
5. The Virtuous Woman Isn’t Weak, Passive or the Family Maid
“She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.”
Another thing I noticed right away when I read Proverbs 31 in the Bible is that the Virtuous Woman isn’t a weak, passive pushover at all!
I feel like, oftentimes, we women get so hung up on submission, thinking that in order to be a good Proverbs 31 wife, we have to be quiet, keep all of our opinions to ourselves, and just let our husbands do whatever they want, even when our husbands make decisions we don’t agree with.
(Not saying we DO that successfully; just that we feel like that’s what’s expected of us…)
But if you look at the Proverbs 31 woman, she is confident, capable and self-assured. Her husband goes off to the city gate (where he’s a respected elder), and he’s totally confident in her to take care of everything while he’s away.
The Scriptures tell us, “Her husband has full confidence in her,” “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard,” and “she is clothed with strength and dignity.”
The Wife of Noble Character honors her husband. She reflects well on him. But she’s still her own person with her own skills, strengths, and abilities, not just the family maid.
We often think that the Proverbs 31 Woman is the perfect example of a wife and mom. But count how many times her family is actually mentioned.
A full HALF (11) of the verses in this passage are about how hard the virtuous woman works–both inside and outside of the home.
Only four verses even mention her husband, and her kids are only mentioned once!
While the Proverbs 31 woman is a wife and mom, this isn’t the main focus of the passage.
And look 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.
It says: “Honor her for all that her hands have done.”
The Proverbs 31 Woman is her own person with her own unique, God-given talents and abilities that DON’T all revolve around her family.
6. There’s More Than One Way to Be a Virtuous Woman
Remember earlier how I said the phrase “who can find a virtuous woman?” (from Proverbs 31:10) comes from the Hebrew word “eshet chayil,” which can be translated as “woman of valor?”
Well, as it turns out, Proverbs 31 isn’t the only place “eshet chayil” is mentioned in the Bible. According to this article by Rachel Held Evans, you can also find it in Ruth 3:11, where Boaz tells Ruth:
“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
How often do we, as Christian women, assume that, if we want to be a virtuous woman, we HAVE to be wives, mothers and homemakers? That something is wrong with us if we’re not?
Well, guess what. Ruth’s life looked NOTHING like the Virtuous Woman’s life.
- She didn’t have servants. She was so poor she had to go glean the leftovers in Boaz’s fields.
- She wasn’t a wife or a mom. Her husband died without giving her children, leaving her a widow.
- She had next to no money or resources to her name. No one would have envied her life.
And yet, Boaz saw her and called her an “eshet chayil” — a woman of valor.
Because that’s exactly what she was.
What Does a Proverbs 31 Woman Look Like Today?
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
Alright, so that’s the Proverbs 31 woman explained… but how can we be a Proverbs 31 virtuous woman today?
Thankfully, being a virtuous woman today is easier than you may think.
Here’s how to be a Proverbs 31 Woman today:
- Study the characteristics of the Proverbs 31 Woman (what was she like?)
- Look for ways to incorporate these same traits in your life today, where you can.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you be a more virtuous woman (He really will help!)
For example, the Proverbs 31 woman:
- Has excellent character/integrity (v. 10)
- Is trustworthy (v. 11)
- Seeks to do good toward others (v. 12)
- Works diligently (v. 13-15, 17-18)
- Makes wise decisions (v. 16, 18)
- Is compassion to help those in need… (v. 20)
These are all traits we can cultivate today–whether we have husbands, kids, homes, or jobs or not!
We may not ever work with a distaff and spindle like the Virtuous Woman in the Bible did. We may not all own our own businesses, have husbands and children, or have servants to help.
But all of us can be Proverbs 31 women today, simply by seeking to model our character after her incredible example.
How would you answer the question, “What is a Proverbs 31 woman?” What other virtuous women in the Bible do you personally look up to?
Ready for more? Be sure to check out my article on 15 Great Women of the Bible Every Christian Woman Should Study to learn more about other virtuous women of the Bible, including Esther and Eve, as well!