When I was seventeen years old, I read a book on the Proverbs 31 woman. I’ve no criticism to offer of the book. 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 parts of the Bible that give 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.
I’ve met a lot of churched women over the years who have varying views on these biblical passages about women. Some have developed a flinch and twitch when they hear them (often because those parts have been weaponized against them like a 1950s law bomb). In contrast, there are those who never talk about the Bible except to quote Titus 2 or 1 Peter 3; they are 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 with the Scriptures that twist the Bible to the point that all blood flow is cut off to inconvenient passages like 1 Timothy 2:11–15 and the prohibition of women teaching men based on the order of creation. Those parts just fall off for them as irrelevant or wrong.
In the English department at my college, there was the occasional lopping off of parts of literature deemed harmful to women by those doing 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. And God’s Word isn’t something indifferent; 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 of the Bible we don’t like very much. He demands all of himself for all of ourselves.
Thankfully, God moved me into all of his Word. Understanding myself as his daughter is no longer based on just three or four texts or on drawing out implications from narratives about women; it’s informed by the whole Bible. It is informed by everything it means to be a Christian. When that is brought to bear on me, a woman, it shapes me into a godly woman, not an indistinct human. Paul instructs us all, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). 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, and that the effect of bringing his whole Word to bear on you—a woman—will be to shape you into a Christian woman.
When Paul tells the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), he isn’t talking to men only. He’s talking to all of us. This means that we don’t have to knock our heads against a wall searching for obscure women in the biblical text that we can imitate, as if other women are our only designated mentors. We don’t have to try to draw elaborate conclusions and applications for our lives from a brief mention in one verse tucked away in Paul’s closing remarks, simply because it was about a woman. We can take that brief mention for what it is—helpful, important, instructive—but not the sum total of God’s Word for us.
No Smugness toward Any Part of the Bible
So what does this mean for the parts of the Bible that pertain 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, as some of the main points will be in the larger body. But we would give special attention to the parts written just to us. We must not elevate certain parts of the Bible over and above other parts. But God forbid we snigger in our sleeves while we put ourselves above those “silly girl” sections, having assigned them some kitschy name, and smugly disdain the women who take them seriously.
God has brought me back to those “women” sections with new eyes. Appreciative eyes. Humbled 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 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, as the woman you are.
Women, we harm ourselves when we use the Bible as a how-to book 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 fundamental realities joined together are the parable that defines us. We have the privilege, the freedom, the endowment of being fully Christian and fully woman.
Content taken from (A)Typical Woman by Abigail Dodds, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.