Wisdom vs Folly: “Her feet do not remain at home”

As I was writing and editing my book, Beyond Authority and Submission, there were a few sections that didn’t make the final cut. What follows is a section comparing the personifications of wisdom and folly in the Proverbs. As you’ll see, some complementarians have used passages to teach that women working outside the home are examples of folly. But what do the verses actually teach us?

Even though the Bible gives many examples of women working, there are persistent questions about women working in society. One of the biggest concerns is whether or not it’s appropriate for women to work or have a career outside the home. After all, the Bible says that women should be keepers at home, right?

There tends to be two extremes on women working. One extreme says women can and should do anything they want without consideration for the effect this may have on others. While this view is found in our secular society, it’s not as common among believers, especially those who want to be faithful to the Bible.

The other extreme is that women shouldn’t work outside the home or have a career. Those who hold this view argue that women are meant to take care of the home and family. Working outside the home leads to abandoning their responsibilities and going against the created order that God established from the beginning.[1]

Most beliefs about women working fall somewhere between these two extremes, but among conservative Christians staying at home is considered the ideal for women. The reasoning is God created women to be focused on the home whereas men were created to be focused on the outside world. Adam was made outside the garden in the fields where he would work, but Eve was made inside the garden in “the ‘home’ where God had placed her husband.”[2]

Women, therefore, have a natural inclination towards domestic concerns. As Mary Kassian explains: “The Bible teaches that God created woman with a uniquely feminine ‘bent’ for the home. ‘Working at home’ is on its top ten list of important things that older women need to teach to younger ones (Titus 2:5). It encourages young women to ‘manage their households’ (1 Timothy 5:14). It praises her who ‘looks well to the ways of her household’ … (Proverbs 31:27). The Bible casts women whose hearts are inclined away from the home in a negative light (Proverbs 7:11).[3]

The verses Kassian uses here are often referred to in discussions about women working outside the home. The first two verses are from Paul’s advice for women in the church. In Titus 2:5, Paul says that older women should teach younger women “to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” In 1 Timothy 5:14, he says, “Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.”

Proverbs 31 has several verses about a woman’s care for her household. Verse 27 says, “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” The other passage from Proverbs that Kassian refers to is Proverbs 7:11 which says, “She is boisterous and rebellious, her feet do not remain at home.”

The question we should be asking is if Proverbs 7:11 is really about women working outside the home. Proverbs 7 is about an adulterous woman tempting a man. In context, it’s a warning to men about avoiding sin. Proverbs 7:11 is about her unfaithful ways. The point isn’t that she’s away from home. It’s that she isn’t faithful to her husband.

In contrast, wisdom, personified as a woman, is described in Proverbs 1, 8, and 9. Both wisdom and the adulterous woman are attempting to influence men. In Proverbs 7, the adulterous or foolish woman is disruptive, rebellious, out in the streets, grabbing and kissing men, enticing them to sin. We see her again in Proverbs 9. Here she’s described as foolish, sitting at the doorway or in the high places, calling out to those passing by, inviting them in, encouraging them to eat secret bread and drink stolen water, leading them to sin and death.

In the parallel passages about wisdom, we also see her out in the streets, at the city gates, at the heights of the city, shouting and calling out to men, inviting them into the home she’s built, encouraging them to eat and drink at her feast. The difference is what wisdom is leading men to. Wisdom leads men to knowledge and righteousness. Her goal is to help and encourage, to build up and strengthen, to reprove and counsel.

The wickedness of the foolish woman isn’t that she’s away from her home or that she’s loud or even that she’s influencing men. Her wickedness is that she’s leading men to sin. Her goal is to destroy and tear down. The methods of the two women are similar, but their goals and the end results are very different.

No woman should want to be like the foolish woman, but the danger isn’t in working outside the home. It’s in being faithless and adulterous. We see the same emphasis on the dangers of adultery and faithlessness in a verse about men, “Like a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man who wanders from his home” (Prov. 27:8).

Just like wisdom and the Proverbs 31 woman, a godly woman can be faithful to the Lord and to her husband while working inside or outside the home. It’s her heart and attitude, not her location, that are essential.

[1] Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, So Much More (San Antonio: The Vision Forum, Inc, 2005), 111.

[2]Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, True Woman 101: Divine Design (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), nook version, 74.

[3]Mary Kassian, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 76.

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