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Women of Valour: Chayil and Andreia


A few years ago, the Hebrew phrase eshet chayil was often the topic of conversation on social media. The late Rachel Held Evans, who is dearly missed, often referred to it, and more than a few women chose to be tattooed with these two Hebrew words.

I thought it was time to revisit the phrase. So, in this article, I look briefly at how eshet chayil is used in the Hebrew Bible. I also look at how the Greek word andreia, a translation of chayil, is used in the Septuagint, in early Christian writings, and by the first-century Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus. I note, in particular, how chayil and andreia are applied to women.

But what do the words chayil and andreia mean?

Valiant (Chayil) Women in the Hebrew Bible

The phrase eshet chayil famously occurs in the passage about the idealised wife in Proverbs 31. This passage begins with the rhetorical question, “Who can find an eshet chayil?

Eshet is a form of the common Hebrew word ishshah which means “woman” or “wife.” The noun chayil occurs over 200 times in the Hebrew Bible. It has a few meanings (see here), but often refers to strength and valour, especially in the context of warfare.

The Tanakh published by the Jewish Publication Society translates eshet chayil in Proverbs 31:10 as “a woman of valour.” “A woman of strength” (NRSVue) and “a woman (or, wife) of noble character” (CSB, NET, NIV) are examples of other translations.[1]

The two-word phrase eshet chayil occurs just three times in the Bible. As well as Proverbs 31:10, it occurs in Proverbs 12:4a where it says, “A woman of valour is her husband’s crown,” and it occurs in Ruth 3:11b where it Boaz says of Ruth, “All the people of my town know that you are a woman of valour.

Even though there are many valiant women in the Bible, I couldn’t find any others described as an eshet chayil. But the word chayil comes up once more in the Bible in the context of women, again in Proverbs 31.

“Many daughters have done valiantly (chayil), but you surpass them all!” (Proverbs 31:29).[2]

Valiant (Andreia) Women in Early Christian and Jewish Texts

Eshet chayil is translated in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, as gynē andreia in Proverbs 31:10 and 12:4, but not in Ruth 3:11. (Ruth 3:11 has gynē dynameōs, “a strong/ capable woman,” instead.)

Andreia often means “courageous” and “brave” and is the opposite of deilia (“timidity, cowardice”).[3] The mother who unflinchingly witnessed the brutal torture of each of her seven sons is described in 4 Maccabees 15:30 as “braver (andreiotera) than men in endurance” (cf. 4 Macc. 15:23). The author of 1 Clement 55:3-6 wrote that many women were andreia and he gives Judith and Esther as two examples.[4] Few people were, or are, given the opportunity to exhibit courage the way these three heroines did, however; and the women in Proverbs 31:10ff and Proverbs 12:4 displayed their strength without defeating powerful enemies or shedding blood.

As well as referring to courage, andreia can refer to exemplary self-control and inner fortitude. In a passage about the benefits of a good wife (gynē agathē), Sirach, an early Jewish author, wrote that a “virtuous wife” (gynē andreia) delights, or gladdens, her husband (Sirach 26:2 cf. Prov. 31:10, 31). The fourth-century church father Cyril of Jerusalem said about Mary Magdalene, “Though the woman was weak in body, her spirit was strong (andreion).” (Catechetical Lecture 14.13, PG 33:840)

Andreia and Celibate Women in the Early Church

Some women in the early church who displayed exceptional self-control and inner strength are described as andreia in early Christian texts. Elizabeth Castelli mentions these women and also notes that the word was associated with women who had dedicated themselves to the church as lifelong virgins. (Sexual asceticism was a celebrated virtue in the early church.)

Castelli writes,

The term is associated with virgins from very early on in the tradition; one of Hermas’ similitudes in The Shepherd includes a description of virgins whose delicacy was contrasted with their andreia [Similitude. 9.2.5]. The term is most often used in relation to particular exceptional women: Macrina teaches her mother patience and andreia [Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Macrina 10]; John Chrysostom speaks many times of the andreia of Olympias, and the word also appears once in her biography [Letters 3.1; 11.1; 12.1 (twice); 16:1 (twice); Life of Olympias 15], and Paulinus describes Melania the Elder’s andreia on the occasion of her son’s death [Letter 45.2, p. 246]. Palladius describes all of the virgins of whom he will speak as possessing andreia and there is a chapter of the Historia Lausiaca dedicated particularly to gynaikes andreiai [chapter 41].[5]

Castelli goes on and highlights two important considerations that I explore briefly below: “The important question here is the nuance of this word, andreia, which refers to one of the Stoic virtues, and which also is related to the Greek root, aner, meaning ‘man/ male.’”[6] Though the main sense of the word is “courage,” andreia is often translated as “manly” in older English translations even when the person being described is a woman.

Valiant (Andreia) Women in the Writings of Musonius Rufus

Andreia was a Stoic virtue and is referred to several times by Musonius Rufus (born AD 30). He connected andreia with inner fortitude and believed it was a virtue for men and women. He advocated that sons and daughters receive the same education, and believed that educated women were more andreia[7] and made better wives[8] than uneducated women.

Here are two excerpts from the writings of Musonius Rufus.

Now as for courage, certainly it is to be expected that the educated woman will be more courageous (andreioteran) than the uneducated, and one who has studied philosophy than one who has not; and she will not therefore submit to anything shameful because of fear of death or unwillingness to face hardship … Would not such a woman be a great help to the man who married her, an ornament to her relatives, and a good example for all who know her?[9]

Perhaps someone may say that courage (andreian) is a virtue appropriate to men only. That is not so. For a woman too of the right sort must have courage (andrizesthai) and be wholly free of cowardice, so that she will neither be swayed by hardships nor by fear; otherwise, how will she be said to have self-control, if by threat or force she can be constrained to yield to shame? Nay more, it is necessary for women to be able to repel attack, unless indeed they are willing to appear more cowardly than hens and other female birds which fight with creatures much larger than themselves to defend their young. How then should women not need courage (andreia)? That women have some prowess in arms the race of the Amazons demonstrated when they defeated many tribes in war. If, therefore, something of this courage (andreia) is lacking in other women, it is due to lack of use and practice rather than because they were not endowed with it.[10]

But what does the New Testament say about andreia?

“Act Like Men”? (Andrizomai) in the New Testament

The adjective andreia does not occur in the New Testament, but a related verb does, once. The related verb is andrizomai and Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 16:13–14 when he gave final words of encouragement to the Christians in Corinth.

The etymology of andrizomai gives the sense of “act like men.” Similarly, the etymology of andreia gives the sense of “manly.” Both words contain the stem andr– from the Greek word for “man” (as in, an adult male person). But etymology does not always give a reliable indication of how a word is, or was, used and understood in real life.

In the Septuagint [see my first comment in the comments section] and other ancient Greek texts, the verb andrizomai is used in the context of valour, strength, and bravery. And it was not restricted to the courage of men. Unfortunately, in the ESV and in several older translations, andrizomai is translated in a way that makes it sound as though Paul was advocating for uniquely masculine behaviour.

The CSB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, and other English Bibles, correctly translate the meaning of andrizomai as “be courageous.” Paul was not telling the Christians in Corinth to behave as men, he was telling them to be brave, and Paul follows this with “be strong.”[11]

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Chayil and andreia are used with a range of senses in texts about ancient women. Being courageous, valiant, virtuous, and self-controlled are ideal qualities for all people, for women as well as for men.

“Who can find an eshet chayil ?
She is worth far more than jewels!” (Proverbs 31:10)


[1] Different English translations of Proverbs 31:10 and how they render eshet chayil can be compared on Bible Gateway, here.

[2] Proverbs 31:29 is expanded in the Septuagint. Perhaps the translators couldn’t decide between two possible meanings of chayil and so translated it two ways: “Many daughters have obtained wealth (plouton), many women have done mighty things (dynata), but you have exceeded and surpassed all women.”
Note further that the Greek adverb and noun ischyrōs and ischyn, with their senses of “strength” and “might,” occur in Proverbs 31:17 and 26 respectively. The Proverbs 31 woman is being described as a formidable woman!

[3] Deilia in Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott’s, A Greek-English Lexicon, can be viewed on the Perseus website, here.)

[4] In a passage of “perfected” (teleiai) women which mentions Judith, Esther, Susanna, and Miriam, Clement of Alexandria makes this comment about a pagan woman, Leaena, who was famous for withstanding torture and he uses the adverb andreiōs: “And did not Leaena of Attica manfully (andreiōs) [i.e. courageously] bear the torture? She being privy to the conspiracy of Harmodius and Aristogeiton against Hipparchus, uttered not a word, though severely tortured.” Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4.19 (Source: New Advent; Greek: PG 8, column 1329)

[5] Elizabeth Castelli, “Virginity and Its Meaning for Women’s Sexuality in Early Christianity,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 2.1 (Spring, 1986): 61–88, 77.

[6] Castelli, ibid.

[7] Musonius Rufus, Lecture 3.5 and Lecture 4.3.

[8] Musonius Rufus, Lecture 3.6.

[9] Musonius Rufus, Excerpts from sections 5 and 6 from Rufus’s Lecture 3: “That women too should study philosophy.” From Musonius Rufus, “The Roman Socrates”: Lectures and Fragments, Introduction and Translation by Cora E. Lutz (Yale Classical Studies, volume 10; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947). (Online at thestoiclife.org.) The Greek can be read in a pdf of Lutz’s book (p. 40, lines 33ff).

[10] Musonius Rufus, Section 3 from Lecture 4: “Should daughters receive the same training as sons?” (Greek: p. 44, lines 23ff)

[11] In the ancient world, bravery was considered to be a manly virtue. (I look more at this in my article on Isaiah 3:12 here.) The Greek adjective andreia is equivalent in meaning to the Latin adjective virtus from which we get the English word “virtuous.” Virtus is derived from the Latin word for “man” (vir).

© Margaret Mowczko 2023
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Image Credit

Portrait of Judith with her maid (cropped) by Italian artist Cristofano Allori (1577–1621) (Source: Wikimedia)

Explore more

King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman
Manhood and Masculinity (and andrizomai) in the ESV
Does Isaiah 3:12 show that women leaders are a bad thing?
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority 
3 Legendary Ladies: Judith, Thecla and Catherine of Alexandria
Esther’s Story
Olympias: Deaconess and Chrysostom’s Friend
I have more articles on brave Bible women, here.

12 thoughts on “Revisiting Eshet Chayil (“Woman of Valour”)

  1. Good article, thank you.
    I agree that “be courageous” is a possible translation of the word ‘andrizesthe’ in 1 Corinthians 16:13.
    However, in context, it appears more likely that Paul’s concern is maturity: he wants the Corinthians to come to maturity and act maturely (compare 14:20), in contrast to the immaturity he has mentioned earlier in the letter (3:1).
    In 13:11, Paul says that when he became an ‘aner’ (man) he put away childish ways. This means he became a mature adult, having previously been a child: obviously it does not mean that he became a man, having previously been a woman. ‘Aner’ can be used of both men and women (for some examples, see Acts 1:13-16; 17:34; James 1:5-8). LSJ confirms that ‘andrizō’, used in the middle or passive voice (as in 1 Cor 16:13) can mean “come to manhood”. So, in this context, it seems to make better sense to understand it as a reference to adulthood and therefore to maturity.
    Perhaps it’s worth noticing one other point. Contrary to some popular misinterpretations of 1 Cor 16:13, Paul is not teaching that courage is a distinctively masculine characteristic. In that passage he is not offering teaching on differences between men and women; 1 Cor 16:13 is addressed to both men and women without distinction.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Andrizesthe (from andrizomai) is sandwiched between “stand firm in the faith” on one side and “be strong” (krataiousthe from krataioō) on the other in 1 Cor. 16:13. I think Paul is using three different expressions to say “be strong.” But a big part of being courageous and strong is being a grown up, mentally and physically.

      Andrizomai is almost always paired with another word that means “be strong” in the Septuagint.
      Andrizomai and krataioō (“be strong”) are both used in 2 Sam. 10:12; Psalm 27:14 (26:14LXX); Psalm 31:24 (30:25LXX); Nahum 2:1 (2:2LXX) (cf. 1 Cor. 16:13).
      Andrizomai and ischuō (“be strong”) or enischuō are paired in Deut. 31:6, 7, 23; Josh. 1:6, 6, 9, 18; 10:25; 1 Chron. 19:13; 22:13; 28:20; 2 Chron. 32:7; Dan. 10:19.

      “Man” in Ephesians 4:13 refers to being grown up, a mature person (andra teleion). This becomes even clearer when contrasted with the word “infants” (nēpioi) in the following verse. This happens in 1 Cor. 13:11, as you’ve pointed out, when Paul speaks about himself as putting away childish speech, thinking, and reasoning when he became a man (anēr). In 1 Cor. 14:20, Paul contrasts thinking like children with thinking like mature adults (teleioi).

      I don’t like the LSJ entry on andrizō/ andrizomai. LSJ can be very old-fashioned at times. Also, they’ve put 1 Cor. 16:13 (and Joshua 1:6 LXX) under the gloss “play the man.”

      I think Paul is calling for resilience, strength, and courage in 1 Cor. 16:13 (cf. 1 Cor. 15:58).

    2. Good thoughts, Marg and Andrew. On the question of whether we should interpret ‘andrizesthe’ as “be courageous” or “be mature” in 1 Cor 16:13, it might be a false choice, if the two were closely linked at Paul’s time and place. Youth was associated with timidity, I believe, so courage would be a characteristic of maturity.

      I find it interesting that Paul’s appeal to stand firm at both 1 Cor 16:13 and Phil 4:1 is immediately followed by his commendation of the leaders of the two churches. Your thoughts?

      1. Hi Richard, Youth may have been associated with timidity, but so was being a woman.

        Herodotus records Xerxes as saying: “My men have become women, and my women men” (Histories 8.88.3). Xerxes was speaking about his own men who had floundered and about Queen Artemisia I of Caria who he regarded highly. She was his ally and had personally led her navy in the battle at Salamis (480 BC).
        I mention this here: https://margmowczko.com/isaiah-3_12-women-leaders/

        I do think, as I said to Andrew, that “a big part of being courageous and strong is being a grown up, mentally and physically.” So maturity does come into understanding andrizomai.

        However, I don’t think “be mature” captures the sense of the verb as well as “be courageous,” especially considering how it is used in the LXX.

        It’s a bit interesting that after his general comments in 1 Cor. 16:13-14 and Phil. 3:1, which includes the instruction to stand firm (stēkete), Paul then gives exhortations.

        He exhorts (parakalō) the Corinthian believers (adelphoi) to recognise Stephanas and his crew, and he exhorts (parakalō) Euodia and exhorts (parakalō) Syntyche to think the same thing in the Lord.

        But I don’t know if we can make much of it except that Paul liked to use the word parakalō. Does he use it again in verses where church leaders are mentioned?

        1. As you know, I have argued that Stephanas was THE leader of the church of Corinth, and that Euodia and Syntyche were the leaders of the church of Philippi. I also argue that “true yokefellow” refers to the congregation.” The Philippians are to stand firm (4:1), and Euodia and Syntyche are to also have a mind to stand firm (4:3), and the congregation is to support them, just as they had supported Paul when he led the assembly when he was with them (4:3). Similarly, the Corinthians are to stand firm (16:13) and submit to their hosts (the household of Stephanas), just as the hosts had committed to serving the congregation. The churches of Philippi and Corinth are to stand firm by uniting behind their leaders. Does that make sense? Should it be nuanced differently?

        2. The author of the letter from the Corinthians in the apocryphal Corinthian Correspondence portrays Stephanas as THE leader.

          I also think Euodia and Syntche had leading roles in Philippi. As did Chrysostom.

          But I can’t see that Paul is using stēkete to tell the Corinthians or the Philippians to stand firm by uniting behind their leaders.

          The Corinthians are to stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). The Philippians are to stand firm in/with one Spirit (Phil. 1:27) and in/with the Lord (Phil. 4:1). The Thessalonians are also to stand firm in/with the Lord (1 Thess. 3:8 cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). The Galatians are to stand firm and not allow themselves to be held down again by a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1).

  2. What’s quite eye-opening, or maybe alarming, sad, or horribly misleading, is that the exact same word appears in so many phrases translated as “men of valor.”

    Why are women “noble” or “virtuous” but men are “valiant”?

    How differently would we all, men and women, read the OT if men were called “men of virtue” while Ruth and the Proverbs 31 woman were called “valiant” or “women of valor”?

    1. Chayil is often used in the context of warfare. Calling warriors “men of virtue” would be an odd translation choice. Whether we translate chayil as “(of) virtue” or “(of) valour,” etc, comes down to context. Having said that, Judith, Esther, and Ruth were brave “women of valour.”

      1. Yes, calling soldiers “men of virtue” WOULD be odd; that’s pretty much my point!

        Soldiers have to be brave, bold, willing to sacrifice themselves, work as a team, endure hardship, and so on. There’s a certain flavor, a mental picture that instantly forms when we read “men of valor.”

        But when Ruth is called a “virtuous woman” or a “woman of noble character,” I think a quite different mental picture is likely to form, and it’s more than likely to be whatever a “proper woman” is in the reader’s particular culture. And that’s probably not going to be very accurate.

        Neither Ruth nor the Proverbs 31 woman was a demure, reticent, wallflower-type woman who stayed in the background so much as to be nearly invisible, but the way most English translations render this word, that’s the mental image that gets generated. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

        1. There’s a sense of strength in the word chayil which can be missed when it is translated into English as “virtuous.”

  3. This is so cool, Rufus advocated for women’s rights for education way back then, in contrast to what we see in Afghanistan and some Christians. Also is it possible for a husband to be a wife’s crown?

    1. Hi Casey, I don’t think Musonius Rufus saw the education of girls as human rights issue. Rather, he recognised that educated women and girls benefitted society.

      Using the metaphor of “crown” can be applied in any way the speaker or writer feels fit. I’m sure some wives feel that their husband is their “crown.”

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