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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  • 17Sevens

    I would love to hear from her or anyone on the Torah of mercy. The law seems to me the most unmerciful, unforgiving aspect of the Bible, so any help she could give me on making peace with that viewpoint would be welcome indeed!

    • Morgan Guyton

      I would say that the people who want Torah to be tyrannical are those who expect to be compensated in exchange for keeping it. That’s the problem: when it’s sacrifice and not mercy. For God’s law to be about mercy, we need to be rescued from our sense of entitlement and understand ourselves to be recipients of His mercy. That’s why Jesus fulfills the law by justifying us through the cross. As recipients of God’s mercy, we can do what He teaches us out of gratitude rather than as a means of earning something.

      • Thank you, Morgan, for the OP and for this reply. In exchange, I’ll offer you the insight that there is no place where, even in English translation, God is said to “command” anything, including ‘keep my commandments.’ The heart of the ‘law,’ in Exodus 20, is mitzvot — God’s will for our self-care — and stated as promises to those who attend to [shamar, same as in the garden and the priestly blessing] the mitzvot.

  • Excellent piece, the preaching woman of valor sounds like a couple of the wise women that I have known over my life – preaching and teaching mercy.

    • Morgan Guyton

      Me too.

  • Liz P

    Completely agree – which translation are you quoting that uses the word Torah please

    • Morgan Guyton

      The Tanach Jewish English translation of the Hebrew Bible. Hebrew is this:
      פיה פתחה בחכמה ותורת-חסד על-לשונה
      Word for word: “Her mouth opens with wisdom and a/the Torah (law/teaching) of mercy is on her tongue.”

      • Liz P

        Thanks for that – it is good to see Torah used as a positive argument instead of the typical women being subservient to men from NT. I love the OT, and wish it was used far more in Christian teaching.

        • Morgan Guyton

          Me too!

  • I think there’s more to the Proverbs 31 woman than people initially realize when just reading the passage. I’ve incidentally been reading a new book by Dr. Tony Evans and his daughter, Chrystal Evans Hurst, called “Kingdom Woman” that has really been resonating with me and giving me new insights. Right off the bat they talk about the Proverbs 31 woman being the hallmark of kingdom women, “But the Proverbs 31 woman is not the model of a perfect woman. Neither is a kingdom woman called to perfection. Women, you can be a Proverbs 31 woman and more – but that doesn’t mean you do it all at the same time.” They talk about life flowing through seasons and about getting help, not trying to do it all. It’s really eye-opening. If you’re interested in Dr. Evan’s book, they have information and free downloads at kingdomwomanbook.com

    • Morgan Guyton

      Thanks for the reference.