Usually when we think of the word "virtuous" we tend to think of moral purity. We may even remember overhearing someone speak of some girl having "lost her virtue" -- meaning, "having lost her virginity." After having read in the New Testament of a woman's place in the church, we then read of the "virtuous woman" in Proverbs 31. Somehow, it just does not all seem to fit together. Just what is a "virtuous woman"? Perhaps some of our confusion results from an incomplete understanding of the term "virtuous."
"Virtuous" is a translation of the Hebrew "chavil" (or "havil"). According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament "chavil" is used to denote "strength, power, or might" in a variety of ways. It may refer to the strength of God (Ps. 59:11), the physical strength of man (Eccl. 10:10), or even the strength of a plant (Joel 2:22). And, according to Young's Analytical Concordance, "chavil" is translated "valor" 37 times and translated "army" 54 times.
"When used of a woman (Ruth 3:11; Prov. 12:4; 31:10) it is translated 'virtuous', but it may well be that a woman of this caliber had all the attributes of her male counterpart" (TWOT). The masculine attributes described seem to indicate an individual not only with physical strength, but also strength of character, and possibly one of some wealth and social standing. And the attributes of the "virtuous" woman as shown in Proverbs 31 seem to fit that pattern.
The Septuagint translates the Hebrew "chavil" of Ruth 3:11 into the Greek "dunamis", which means "power." Proverbs 12:4 and 31:10 are translated "andreia", which means "manly."
From this we see that though "virtuous" would INCLUDE the moral purity which evidences strength of character, it would not be LIMITED to moral purity. A VIRTUOUS WOMAN WOULD BE A WOMAN STRONG IN ALL FACETS OF HER LIFE!
It is also interesting to note that our English "virtuous" originates from the Latin root "vir", which means "man"!
Sandra F. Cobble
Published in The Old Paths Archive