When I was seventeen years old, I read a book on the Proverbs 31 woman. I’ve no criticism to offer of the book. I think it was written by a godly woman who was pouring herself out in honoring God. I was electrified to discover a part of the Bible that seemed directly written for me, a female. It was the kind of discovery that felt like I was being given a template for life: no more mystery, no more puzzlement as I clumsily plowed through stuff I didn’t understand — the step-by-step handbook had arrived.
When I combined what I’d read from Proverbs 31 with the other parts of the Bible giving instructions to women, I almost wasn’t sure why I needed to read the rest of the Bible. Maybe my job was to camp out here. Certainly there was enough here to keep me busy for the rest of my life. I knew instinctively that I didn’t measure up to the standard of godliness that I was reading.
You Need the Whole Bible
I’ve met a lot of churched women over the years, with varying views on these biblical passages for women. Some have developed a flinch and twitch when they hear parts of the Bible directed at women (often because those parts have been weaponized like a 195’s law-bomb against them). In contrast there are those who never talk about the Bible except to quote Titus 2 or 1 Peter 3, content to live there. And then there are some with a chip on their shoulder who just flat out refuse to allow the Bible to say what it says to women, doing feats of flexibility that twist the Bible up to the point that all blood flow has been cut off to certain parts. They just fall off as irrelevant, deemed wrong.
In the English department in college, there was the occasional lopping off parts of literature deemed harmful to women via critical gender studies. Who were these dead white guys to be telling us what good literature is, to be writing female characters for us? Why should enlightened women read such dregs, except to refute them? And for some, this has extended to God’s Word. If dead white guys can be cast off, why not dead Middle Eastern guys too?
But the Bible isn’t a trifle. It isn’t Gulliver’s Travels or Great Expectations. Its author is divine, not dead; perfect, not sinful. To read it is to be changed or judged, in some measure. We either come under it in full-stop submission, or we cast it aside as boring or harmful or stupid or nice. In unmitigated pride, we may even exploit it as its editor. And it isn’t indifferent toward us; it masters us willingly now or unwillingly later.
The God of the Bible won’t be suppressed to a few select passages directed toward women. He also won’t allow his daughters to cut off blood supply to the parts we don’t like very much. He demands all of himself for all of ourselves.
You Need a Vision of God
By God’s grace, I didn’t camp out only in the “for women” sections of the Bible. God had put a love in my heart for him, and I wanted more of him, more of his goodness, love, kindness, justice, and perfection. I desperately needed him. I needed more than a vision of womanhood. I needed a vision of God.
Knowing God through the whole Bible, his works and ways, the narratives, poems, prophets, and promises, the Gospels and epistles and everything else, has given me a full-orbed view of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And as I find that he is not small but big, not tame but free, not made in my image but I’m made in his, my understanding of what it is to be his daughter rather than his son has also grown.
Understanding myself as his daughter is no longer confined to three or four texts or to drawing out implications from narratives about women, but informed by the whole Bible. It is informed by everything it means to be a Christian. Paul instructs us all,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16–17)
Maybe the Lord is reminding you today that the whole Bible is for you, to dwell in you richly, as he reminded me those many years ago.
The “For Women” Sections
So what does this mean for the parts of the Bible directed to women? Are we above them now? No, we aren’t. Are they worth our focus, our study, our attention? Yes, they are. Imagine receiving a letter addressed to your family from an uncle. It begins, “Dear Family,” and goes on for five paragraphs. The sixth paragraph starts, “To my nieces.” We would give full attention to the whole letter. Some of the main points will be in the larger body. But we would give special attention to the parts written to us as well.
God has brought me back to those “for woman” sections with new eyes. Appreciative eyes. Humble eyes. Eyes that can see them as part of the whole. They are not insignificant, nor are they to be plucked out and isolated from the rest. They are treasures; they are an integral, lovely aroma of Christ. So read good books on the Proverbs 31 woman with thankfulness. Study the women of the Old Testament. Embrace the feminine virtues as fully as you possibly can. But also read everything else. Read the commands given to all of God’s people. Be awed by God’s work in Abraham and Moses and Joseph and David. See the types of Christ. Listen to the gospel again and again. Receive and obey it all.
Women, it’s to our harm when we use the Bible as a cookbook on being a woman only, rather than look to it to see our God and Savior, who teaches us all things. Yet to leave off the reality of being a woman, thinking we can submit to God without submitting to God’s very good creational order, wars against him. Both realities joined together are the parable that define us. We have the privilege, the freedom, the endowment of being fully Christian and woman.