Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

King Lemuel's mother, Proverbs 31 woman

When Christians mention the “Proverbs 31 Woman” we typically think of the idealised woman mentioned in Proverbs 31:10ff. Myriads of messages, books, and website articles have been devoted to extolling, and sometimes sentimentalising, the virtues of this woman, and she is put forward as a role model for all godly women to follow.

I’d love to have the stamina of this woman and be able to get up before dawn every morning (Prov. 31:15). I’d love to be as industrious and productive as she seems to be (Prov. 31:18, 24). And I think we’d all like to be as rich as she is, and be able to buy our own piece of real estate and plant a vineyard (Prov. 31:16-18). But we must never forget: this woman is not real. She is an idealised fabrication.

There is another woman mentioned in Proverbs 31, a real woman who is often overlooked but who also serves as a model for women. This other Proverbs 31 woman serves as a biblical precedent for a woman teaching a man.

King Lemuel’s Mother

A woman who taught inspired and wise sayings

King Lemuel’s mother is mentioned in Proverbs 31:1. This woman taught, or admonished, her son with an inspired message[1] that is contained in Proverbs 31:2-9.[2] Lemuel was a grown man and he was a king,[3] but this didn’t stop him from receiving and appreciating instruction from a woman. He recognised and respected the wisdom of his mother’s words.[4]

Her words were even recorded and included in the canon of Holy Scripture. This means that the teaching of King Lemuel’s mother has the authority of Scripture.[5] (Many Christians believe Scripture has the highest level of spiritual authority.) Furthermore, by being part of Scripture, the sayings of this woman continue to authoritatively instruct men and women, and even kings. Her admonition remains relevant and much-needed today! Read it here.

Other Bible women also spoke inspired, informative, and influential words to men.[6]

Anna the Prophetess

A woman who spoke about Jesus in the temple

Anna was a prophetess. In Luke 2:37b-38 it says she never left the temple and was “worshipping with fasting and prayer, night and day.” She was in the temple when Mary and Joseph went there with the infant Jesus. When Anna saw Jesus, she recognised who he was and what he would accomplish. So she gave thanks to God and continually spoke about him “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Surely this “all” included men.

Did the men have a problem with the fact that a woman was speaking to them about God and about theology to do with the redemption of Jerusalem? Apparently not. As a pious and respected prophetess, one who had seen the Messiah with her own eyes, Anna and her words were influential and significant. Otherwise, Luke would not have mentioned her and her speaking ministry in his Gospel. [More on Anna here.]

Priscilla

A woman who explained theology to Apollos

Another Bible woman who spoke about theology to men was Priscilla. Priscilla and her husband Aquila explained “the way of God” (i.e. theology) to a Christian minister named Apollos. Apollos was an educated and well-spoken teacher, a scholar, but he did not know about Christian baptism. Priscilla and Aquila, seeing this lack, invited him into their home, which was where the couple’s church met. There they explained to him the doctrine of Christian baptism.

Neither Aquila, Apollos, or Luke (who records this event in Acts) seem to be in any way concerned that Priscilla corrected a male teacher and explained “the way of God more accurately” to him.[7] (See Acts 18:24-26.)

Priscilla and Aquila led a house church in their home Ephesus, and later in Rome. So Priscilla would have had many opportunities to minister and teach in this setting where, presumably, both men and women gathered (1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:3-5; 2 Tim. 4:19).

Faithful Instruction from Wise Women

Many Christians who restrict women to certain roles and functions within the Christian community overlook the Proverbs 31 woman mentioned in verse 1 and concentrate instead on the second woman mentioned in the latter half of the chapter. One thing these two Proverbs 31 women have in common, however, is that they both spoke and taught with wisdom and faithfulness: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction (torah) is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26 NIV).[8]

Many women have worthwhile and wise words to share and to teach—practical, spiritual, and theological words—and their instruction and advice is trustworthy and faithful. Despite what some people have presumed, the Protestant Bible does not say that women are more easily deceived, or more deceptive, than men.

Moreover, the consensus of what the Bible says about women speaking to men, and instructing men, does not support the idea that wise and godly women cannot teach men.[9] Yet many Christian men seem content to miss out on wise and faithful instruction from their sisters. Sadly, many Christian women, too, seem intent on keeping their fellow sisters from teaching and leadership within the church community.

King Lemuel valued, respected, and trusted the teachings of his mother. My hope is that the church will respect and trust her women and their abilities, including their ability to teach inspired and theological messages. 

Footnotes

[1] King Lemuel’s mother’s inspired message is variously referred to in English translations as an oracle (NASB, HSCB, ESV), an inspired utterance (NIV), a vision (WYC), a declaration (YLT), a prophecy (KJV), etc, translated from the Hebrew word massa (Septuagint: chrēmatismos). Massa is used frequently for Isaiah’s prophecies (e.g. Isa. 13:1). The same word is also used for Nahum’s, Habakkuk’s and Malachi’s prophecies (Nah. 1:1; Hab. 1:1; Mal. 1:1).
The Septuagint (LXX) adds that the words in Proverbs 31:2-9 are words “spoken by God” and taught (paideuō) by the king’s mother. (In the LXX, Proverbs 31:1-9 is inserted after Proverbs 24:33, and Lemuel’s name is omitted altogether.)
A few English Bibles translate massa as a place name: “The words of King Lemuel of Massa, which his mother taught him” (Prov. 31:1a CEB; cf. CEV & NAB).

[2] Some believe that Proverbs 31:10–31, written as an acrostic, is another inspired message of King Lemuel’s mother.

[3] According to Jewish tradition, Lemuel was King Solomon, but this is unlikely. Gemler states that both Agur (Prov. 30:1ff) and King Lemuel have Minaean-Sabaean names and that this and other details suggest the men are of an Arabian tribe. W.F. Albright, however, suggests they belonged to an Aramean tribe in the Syrian desert. (Source: TDNT 7:480-481.) See also endnote 1 about Massa as a place name. Professor Claude Mariottini further discusses King Lemuel’s identity here.

[4] Solomon also respected the teaching of mothers (Prov. 1:8-9; 6:20). It may have been Bathsheba who instilled in Solomon his love for wisdom and knowledge. “Mother” is mentioned fifteen times in Proverbs, always with some sense that mothers deserve respect.

[5] The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exod. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1–9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture. According to the stance of many churches, women cannot even teach or preach about these words from women.

[6] Mary MagdaleneHuldah, the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah, and the wise woman of Tekoa also qualify as Bible women who spoke authoritatively to men.

[7] Priscilla’s name is mentioned before her husband’s name in Acts 18:26. In fact, her name appears first in four of the six mentions of this couple (Acts 18:2-3; 18-19; 26; Rom. 16:3-5a; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:9). Luke is careful in how he orders names in Acts. For instance, in his account of the joint ministry of the Paul and Barnabas, Luke switches the order of the names of Paul and Barnabas, listing first whoever was more well-known or more active in ministry at that particular time. (See Acts 13:7, 42-50; 14:1, 3, 12, 14, 23; 15:2, 12, 22, 25, 35-36.) In the last chapter of his letter to the Romans, when Paul lists the twenty-eight Christians in Rome who he wants greeted, he lists Priscilla first! (Rom. 16:3ff).

[8] The Tanakh published by the Jewish Publication Society translates Proverbs 31:26b as, “the law [torah] of kindness [chesed] is on her tongue.” In the Hebrew Bible, chesed often refers to God’s covenantal loving kindness.

[9] There is only one verse in the entire Bible that says a woman is not allowed to teach—one verse. I have written about this verse here.

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27 thoughts on “King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman

  1. Love your blog ! I just found you a couple weeks ago and have already learned so much from your posts . Keep up the good work .

  2. I also wanted to ask you , how would I go about starting to learn biblical Greek?

  3. Thanks Heather! I’m glad you’re enjoying it and learning stuff. 😀

    If you’re good at learning things on your own, I’d buy Mounce’s “The Basic’s of Biblical Greek” and go through it slowly. He has extra resources here: http://www.teknia.com/

    Or check with local colleges and universities and do a few courses of Koine Greek with them.

    You’ll need a copy of the Greek New Testament, preferably not an interlinear and preferably one with a dictionary at the end. And I recommend “The New Analytical Greek Lexicon” by Pershbacher.

    I’ve bought just about all my Greek New Testaments, grammars and lexicons second hand, so they need not be expensive. (I have several grammars because each teacher-writer approaches it with slight differences.)

    Update Here are free resources for learning Greek:
    https://margmowczko.com/freebies-for-students-of-new-testament-greek/

  4. This is wonderful, Marg. I love the examples of wise, strong women who spoke authoritatively as they were called. Wonderful.

    If that was really the custom throughout the Bible, shouldn’t it also be ours?

    Blessings.

  5. Hi Jonathan, I really can’t see why some Christians – who know the Bible – refuse to let capable women teach. I really do think it comes down to a lack of trust of women, and some men not wanting to relinquish the positions they’ve created of privilege and power.

  6. Thank you so much for the information . I wanted to add that your posts have been me some clarity on the gender issues being taught in the church . I was listening to some very popular reformed pastors, and I started to feel very confused as to why the women leaders in the Bible were so blatantly being over looked to fit the agenda they were teaching . Your blog has been one of the ones that has helped me understand some of these issues better . I really appreciate it , more than you know!

  7. Wow! Thanks Heather. <3

  8. Nice post, Marg! Full of good insights.

  9. Marg! Taking my cue from Heather to tell you that you are an incredible help to me, also! I already wrote you via the contact form, but not sure if it went through.

    I had showered you with love and praises, telling you that childhood abuse left my mind confused and wondering what God really thinks of women, and how he views us etc. I was convinced of ugly “truths” and desperate, praying for answers, hoping he would tell me that we were not created as mere sex toys for men. I was hoping to learn that he values us a lot more than Driscoll seems to think (could not resist…). Then I found myself on this site and on Mara’s, too. I believe God led me here. I read healing words, wonderful words that God is using to enlighten and heal me, and many others… You taught me that women are just as much created in the image of God (wow) as men are, and many other amazing things! I have never in my life felt so loved and valued by God, as a Christian and as a woman, and you are part of the reason why! So, even if you did get my earlier message, allow me to gleefully thank you here, publicly! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and knowledge, and your extremely high levels of awesomeness with the world. ♥

  10. Oasis, I’m sorry I didn’t get your message through the contact page. Not sure what happened there. I’ll check to see that it’s still working properly.

    I am soooo immensely happy that you realise that you are loved and valued by God!!! <3

  11. I am sure there were many women in that day who fit this description.

    The Cosby Show and Claire Huxtible, people said she was make believe and there were no women like her. There are a lot of women like her and she was an adaptation of these women.

    To say she did not exist or is not real is not right.

    S.Smith

  12. I haven’t heard people say that Claire Huxtible. I loved the Cosby show!

    I have no doubt that there were many intelligent and articulate women in Bible times; and that these women used their abilities, as much as they could, in all sorts of situations and circumstances.

    Some Bible women taught and led men, without gender seeming to have been an issue. It’s a shame that some sectors of the Church are making a big huge issue of women teaching men as though it’s against biblical principles.

  13. Good morning! As a homeschooling mom teaching two teenage boys, we have to remember that a moms role is different than just “any woman” also, leading an army or teaching reading is different than leading in spiritual matters. I am proud to be an educated woman, and the leader of our worship team, and Commander of our Awana club, but I am much more proud to be the mom of my two boys and wife to my husband, whom the The Lord gave me. Why do women feel the need to HAVE to teach men? Why not be happy and blessed teaching women? Doesn’t the book of Titus instruct the older women to teach the younger women? I love mentoring young women and have been very blessed…..i have also instructed young men in financial matters and matters of the heart…..God used the leadership of certain women for specific reasons. We just need to make sure we look at the whole of scripture and who God is and what His perfect plan from Adam and Eve to now is, not what we think it ought to be.

    1. I don’t think that a lot of women necessarily feel the need to “have to” teach men. I personally have been wondering for a while if God is leading me into some sort of speaking/teaching ministry. I am not naturally inclined to speak in front of people at all so I have my doubts as to it always just being a desire of women to have to teach men. If the idea that women are restricted by scripture is incorrect and God desires is to use our giftings to also instruct men (for example) then we should seek out to further understand because, in my case at least, I risk disobedience if God is indeed leading me to be a teacher of both men and women and I refuse.

      1. Hi Amanda,

        I am a teacher and don’t have a particular desire to teach men. I also don’t have a particular desire to teach women. I just have a desire to share what I know.

        After reading what the whole Bible says, and seeing what it shows concerning women leading and teaching and prophesying and advising, I have come to believe that in the majority of cases, God does not have the slightest problem with a capable and gifted woman teaching any person.

        I wish you well as you follow God’s leading. By the way, I am a very shy person, but I am passionate about my message; my passion overrides my shyness.

  14. Darcy, with all due respect, why do men feel the need to teach women? Why not be happy and blessed teaching other men? God calls both men and women into ministry, and I, a male, have on a number of times been blessed, challenged, and edified by fantastic women who were following God’s call on their life to serve in ministry.

  15. NET BIBLE
    Tit 2:1 But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching.
    Tit 2:2 Older men are to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.
    Tit 2:3 Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good.
    Tit 2:4 In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children,
    Tit 2:5 to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited.
    Tit 2:6 Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled,

    Titus 2 older women are to teach what is good. And, while they are doing that, they are to make sure to include younger women, but that is not the general thing, which is simply to teach.

    This is one of my concerns with those that believe in gender hierarchy, they see want they expect to see and what they are taught to see and not what is actually there. So I am egalitarian and I encourage every Titus 2 woman to teach, just like Paul did.

  16. Hi Darcy,

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    I don’t think that Titus 2:3-4 can be used to restrict older women to teaching younger women. Do these verses mean that women cannot teach a woman who is older? Does it mean that a woman cannot teach boys? I don’t think we should allow Titus 2:3-4 say more than is intended.

    Moreover, these verses are not speaking about spiritual teaching or Christian doctrine. Rather the “lessons” listed are the basics of respectable living whether a Christian Cretan woman or a pagan Cretan woman.

    I cannot find an example of a Bible woman who only taught women. In fact, most of the examples taught men. Here’s a list of about a dozen Bible men, including kings and generals, who were appreciative of the wisdom and guidance of women.
    https://margmowczko.com/created-order-1-timothy-212/

    I completely agree that we need to look at all of scripture in forming our ideas and doctrines. My views about gender come from Genesis and from Revelation, and everything in between.
    (I am currently working through the Old Testament, very slowly, and commenting here, but my speciality is Paul.)

    I have written about Titus 2:4-5 here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/busy-at-home-how-does-titus-24-5-apply-today/

    I am happy to teach whoever is interested in what I have to say or write, male and female, young and old. And I don’t know any woman who feels “the need to HAVE to teach men.”

  17. Thanks for this insightful post. Clearly, gender has nothing to do with who has something valuable to teach and share with others. The church suffers when we silence wise, faithful instruction from her women.

  18. It is sad that women cannot be content with the position that Jesus created them to have. We are told not to usurp authority. All through Gods Word He placed the woman under the authority of man. You are blaspheming Gods Word. You are scripturally wrong. ||

    1. Hi Cristy,

      I am more than content with the life and the ministry and the family that Jesus has blessed me with. In fact I feel extremely blessed.

      Believe me, I have no intention of usurping anyone’s authority.

      Which part of the article is blasphemous and wrong?

      1. She’s referring to 1 Timothy 2:11-12

        “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.”

        “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

        “For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

        “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

        The apostle Paul wrote that epistle to his son Timothy. 1 Tinothy 1:3 Paul tells his son that he doesn’t want any other doctrine taught or added to the doctrine that Christ had already set forth to be taught. He confirms it again in 1Timothy 2:7 when he states his authority to make such a stand and continues on to lay out in Chapter 3 more rules and precepts for women, bishops, deacons and in Chapter 4 he warns against false teachers.

        1. I think we’re all aware of what 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says. But quoting these verses does not answer my question which was “Which part of the article is blasphemous and wrong?” If you can point out the blasphemy or error in the article, I’ll gladly edit it out.

          Here are several articles on these verses, including 1 Timothy 2:15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (Any valid interpretation of verses 11-12 must also make sense of verse 15.)
          https://margmowczko.com/category/equality-and-gender-issues/1-timothy-212/

          And in this article is a list of Bible men, including kings and generals, who had no problem with being taught and guided by wise Bible women. One of these men is King Lemuel.
          https://margmowczko.com/created-order-1-timothy-212/

      2. Yet Paul, in many salutations at the opening and closing of his letters gives high praise and admiration to Women who are leaders of the churches he is writing to.

        At the end of Daniel (12:4) he was told to seal up his book for a future time when “men would go to and fro, and knowledge would be increased” Note he didn’t say ‘made perfect, or ‘made complete’. I think if we find ourselves being bombastic over a point of doctrine like this poster has done, we should humble ourselves and control our tongues, because there’ll be surprises for everybody. Nobody will have everything perfectly right.

        Isaiah outlines a principle in 28:10,”For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:”.This is where mens knowledge will increase according to Daniel, by going “here and there” in scripture.

        Great exposition Marg.

  19. Just regarding your comment that it’s doubtful that Solomon wrote Proverbs 31 because the Septuagint leaves out the name “Lemuel”. I would have thought that adds weight to the argument that he wrote it because Proverbs opens in Septuagint by saying
    The Proverbs of Solomon son of David, who reigned in Israel;

    Chapter 31 just flows on … no mention of Lemuel… thus the assumption it’s still a Proverb of Solomon.

    1. Hi Robin, the second statement in endnote three is not a “because” statement. It just provides additional information.

      Also, in some versions of the Septuagint, chapter 31 as we know it, doesn’t flow on from chapter 30. Rather, chapter 31 begins at our verse 10: “”Who will find a virtuous woman?”

  20. “When she saw Jesus she began giving thanks to God, and continued speaking about him “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Surely this “all” included men.

    Did the men have a problem with the fact that a woman was speaking to them about God and about theology to do with the redemption of Jerusalem? Apparently not. As a pious and respected prophetess, one who had seen the Messiah with her own eyes, Anna and her words were influential and significant. Otherwise Luke would not have mentioned her and her speaking ministry in his gospel.”

    I love this Marg! I’m glad you caught it and included the Anna teaching men part. Just more proof right there in our face that godly women were indeed teaching men. Anna even taught them in the Temple which would be our equivalent of a Church.

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