Is the Proverbs 31 woman a preacher? (Proverbs 31:26)

Is the Proverbs 31 woman a preacher? (Proverbs 31:26) May 26, 2013

It’s Mother’s Day here in the Dominican Republic. One of the scripture readings for church tonight was Proverbs 31, which many evangelicals view as the prescriptive model for Biblical womanhood. I had never noticed verse 26 before: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the Torah of mercy.” If the Proverbs 31 woman speaks Torah and wisdom, why in the world would anyone want her to be silent in church?

I think this verse both captures why we need women preachers and why they’re a threat to a certain kind of theology. What a wonderful phrase — תורת חסד — the Torah of mercy! And what a tremendous threat to Christians who get very nervous about the concept of mercy. Mercy is okay as long as it happens only under very specific conditions and it’s balanced out by justice and holiness (which are both synonymous with wrath).

The problem with putting a Proverbs 31 woman in the pulpit is not just that she’s too merciful, but that she understands the Torah as mercy. How can the law be mercy? That would cause the whole system of binaries to collapse. Next thing you know, people would be saying that grace and justice are the same thing or love and holiness! What madness!

Someone who’s audacious enough to say that the law is mercy could even go so far as to say that mercy triumphs over judgment. Or that God’s judgment is merciless against those who have shown no mercy, independent of whether or not they’ve “confessed Jesus as Lord” or said the sinner’s prayer or followed another salvation formula. Such a person might even say that faith without mercy is dead or that our practice of mercy is a good litmus test of whether we have actually put our full trust in the mercy of God. Such a person would probably preach a lot from the second chapter of James.

I’m glad that I’ve had some Proverbs 31 women in my life who “opened their mouths with wisdom” and shared it with me. I’m glad that they taught me the Torah of mercy.

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