We have a great guest post for you this week from Kay Bonikowsky. Kay describes herself as a Missionary kid. Mother. Wife. Seminarian. Opinionated. And Grateful. Check out more of Kay’s excellent articles at kbonikowsky.com.
The story of Ariel, The Little Mermaid, is a story of a young woman learning the value of her voice. Ariel traded her voice for legs, only to learn her silence nearly cost her life, her father’s life and her lover’s. Disney’s make-believe tale highlights the tendency in many cultures and ages to keep women quiet, to silence their voice, for no better reason than female provenance. Sadly, Christianity has been no different. But, a woman’s voice is of great worth in God’s kingdom as the Bible relates through a multitude of stories. Like these biblical women and Disney’s Ariel, we moderns must speak up. You must find your voice.
It is hard to find our voice, though, when we are told with authority to “Be Quiet,” isn’t it? Princess Tamar, the daughter of King David, had been pursued and raped by her half-brother Amnon. She pleaded with him to marry her, but he refused to listen to her. And when she raised her voice in public sorrow and shame, she was told, “Be quiet.” She agreed and traded her voice for a lifetime of silent, secluded desolation (2 Samuel 13). How many women over the millennia have kept their mouths shut simply because they were told to “be quiet?” How many women have felt the ache in the pit of her belly from a ball of unsaid words? Words that should have been voiced, but weren’t? There is a time for women (and men) to be silent, and there are times for women to speak!
Listen to me.
Let us consider the tales of women recorded in the Old Testament who found their voice and did not accept a silent life.
In 2 Kings 5, a young, Israelite slave-girl pipes up to guide her master to Elisha, the prophet who would cure him of leprosy and introduce him to the Almighty God. In 1 Samuel 25, young Abigail defies her foolish husband’s orders and asks of David, “May I speak to you? Will you listen to me?” She eloquently articulates two paragraphs of her responsibility toward David and the faith she placed in his destiny. Queen Esther refuses to remain silent when she is faced with the persecution, abuse, and even holocaust of her people. Her words deliver Israel in Esther 7.
Ruth, a woman of few words, spoke a marriage proposal to Boaz in Ruth 3. These assertive words rescued her mother-in-law from destitution and childlessness. Huldah was required to speak. She was summoned to interpret the Word of God for King Josiah’s advisors and instructed the king on repentance in 2 Kings 22.
The wise woman in 2 Samuel 20 demands, “Listen to me!” Her words and decisive actions avert a war. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah spoke before the entire nation of Israel in Numbers 27, challenging the Law of Moses. They appealed for their father’s inheritance since they had no brother, and God concurred. Their combined voices altered God’s law! These anecdotes from the Hebrew Bible describe the many ways women’s speech altered the course of Israel’s history.
Let them speak.
Women’s speech also altered early church history. Psalm 107:2 grants women a voice by declaring, “Let those redeemed by God speak!” Seeing a pregnant Mary, Elizabeth declares her belief out loud that Mary will birth The Promised One of God. She corrects the crowd at the birth of her son to declare obedience to God in naming him John, not Zechariah (Luke 1). Mary sang her hope of salvation and declared faith in God’s promises to her people (Luke 1).
Anna, a prophet, spoke to anyone who would listen about the Redeemer of Israel – a baby she met in the Temple (Luke 2:38). A Samaritan village is first to believe Jesus is the Messiah because of a woman’s words (John 4:42). A woman’s speech illustrates God’s words over a repentant sinner. “Rejoice with me!” she says (Luke 15:9-10). Mary Magdalene first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus to the Twelve (John 20:18). Women began to speak publicly in droves after Pentecost fulfilling the prophecy of Joel that even female voices would be heard declaring the Lord’s coming (Acts 2:18). The Apostle Junia taught the early church (Acts 2:42, Romans 16:7). The Apostle Phillip’s four daughters edified the church through spoken words (Acts 21:9, 1 Cor. 14:14). Priscilla instructed Apollos (Acts 18:26).
There must be another understanding.
The Bible has many stories of women who used their voices to help others and elucidate the Word of God. Would these women have been muted in a church setting due to the injunction of two baffling verses demanding women to be silent and quiet (1 Cor. 14:34, 1 Tim. 2:12)? God forbid! There must be another understanding.
I suggest we go deeper than a straightforward interpretation of these verses in the same way we examine troubling verses such as Matthew 5:38, John 6:53 and 1 John 3:9. Matthew 5:38 says we must be perfect to go to heaven. In John 6:53, Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to share in his kingdom. 1 John 3:9 teaches a Christian cannot sin! Yet, no mainstream church teaches perfectionism or cannibalism. We reject an unqualified interpretation for these verses. We know there must be another understanding. Then why do we halt at a simplistic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 that gags the mouths of women? To do so flies in the face of millennia of God-fearing speaking females. There must be another understanding.
Break the shell of silence.
At the end of the cartoon, The Little Mermaid, the shell that imprisons Ariel’s beautiful voice is broken into pieces at her feet, and her song is returned to her. Those witnessing the event, shake their heads to clear the fog cast by the sea witch’s spell now broken by Ariel’s voice as if to say, “That’s right! Ariel can speak. She isn’t a mute. Somehow I knew this, but I had forgotten!” The shell of 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 that silences women in churches must be broken. Woman of God, find your voice.