Updated: Jul 28
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. (Proverbs 31:10 NIV)
In college, I belonged to a conservative, student-friendly church. While I’m certain I had heard about the “wife of noble character” (the woman described in Proverbs 31:10-31) before, that’s the first time I recall hearing about “the Proverbs 31 woman” or “P31W” as someone I needed to emulate. My friends and I would joke about earning P31W points whenever we did something domestic, like cooking for a bunch of people. Then we would also joke, “So how do I trade in these points for a good husband?”
The jokes are harmless, but the spirit behind them can be dangerous for young women. If you take every verse literally, you set up an impossible standard that no woman could meet. That’s generally understood, but it has been used to make women feel bad about ways they’re not measuring up, despite the unreachable bar.
Yet before this week, I had never in my life considered or been told about an alternative interpretation that has been around since at least 542 AD. After all, who is the most famous wife in the Bible? I’m sure you have some names in your mind, but let me ask a different question: who is the most famous bridegroom in the Bible?
As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5 NIV)
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.” (Mark 2:19 NIV)
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2 NIV)
We are all familiar with the metaphor of the Church as “the bride of Christ.” Wisdom literature, including Proverbs, often operates on both the literal and figurative levels, so I don’t want to discount any practical advice Christian women take from the Proverbs 31 Woman. More power to you! But what if the literal description is (also) for a figurative wife of noble character, namely the Church?
That’s the idea behind Chad Ashby’s article in Christianity Today, and is something I wish I’d heard of a long time ago.
Paul connects the dots when he writes about marriage, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). If this is the profound mystery of the universe, we must rediscover the most foundational reading of Proverbs 31: Mother Wisdom’s poetic instruction to the Messianic King about his Valiant Bride. Church, when was last time you looked into the mirror of Scripture? Do you see the beauty the King sees in you—his excellent wife? And local churches, how would our ministries shift if we began to recapture a vision of God’s people as the strong woman of Proverbs 31?
I strongly encourage you to read and ruminate on the ideas in that article. The concept that the Church, the body of Christ, is collectively responsible for helping all of our family and neighbors suddenly makes the impossible instructions seem doable. It’s still a high calling—the highest calling—but together, with God’s help, we will make the bride of Christ into a wife worthy of praise.