The Language of Biblical Womanhood
- 2007 31 Jan
For hundreds of years, young women who came of age in southern China learned a secret language. Secret, that is, from the men and the boys. Like their mothers and grandmothers before them, these girls were denied the opportunity of learning to read and write Chinese. So the oppressed women of that culture — determined to have a means of expressing themselves — developed their own language. It was a girls-only writing script called Nushu.
According to an article in the Washington Post, three days after her wedding a new bride would receive a "Third Day Book," lovingly inscribed in Nushu by her mother, grandmother, and "sworn sisters." In delicate, elongated handwriting these women expressed feelings of sadness at losing a daughter and friend and shared best wishes for her future happiness. The bride would make her own entries in Nushu, and the book became a diary of her married life.
Someday the bride would teach her own daughter Nushu. And so these peasant women preserved their language for over fifteen hundred years, right into our century. With no education, means, or encouragement, they created something unique in all of history: the only language written by women for women.1
Another Language for Women Exists Today
Did you know that God has given us our own mother-daughter language? Unlike Nushu, our language is not a secret. It is not a response to oppression, but it is a uniquely feminine language. As mothers and daughters, God has entrusted us with its progress and preservation. It’s the language of biblical womanhood.
Biblical womanhood, simply defined, is God’s perfect design for women as revealed in the Bible. Much more than a writing script, it’s a way of life. More than something we read or write, it’s something we speak and do.
We find this language scattered throughout the entire Bible. Tucked in Titus 2:3-5 is a summary of some of the qualities of a godly woman, such as purity, self-control, kindness, love for husband and children, skill in homemaking, and a heart of submission. But we find more traits in passages such as Proverbs 31:10-31, 1 Timothy 5:9-10, and 1 Peter 3:1-6 — steadfast faith, good works, strength, and wisdom, united with a gentle and quiet spirit. Together these characteristics comprise the language of biblical womanhood. They provide for us a composite sketch — to imitate and copy like an aspiring artist would copy a great masterpiece.
Passing the Language On
But first we must understand our responsibility to pass on this language from mother to daughter. For while God clearly calls all older women to school the younger women in the art of biblical womanhood (Titus 2:3-5), one of the most important teacher-student relationships is between a mother and her daughter. We have an exciting task, an assignment from God Himself to transfer these feminine attributes from one generation to the next. This is our mother-daughter purpose. Our mission.
I was reminded of our mission when my mother sold her house. Because of my father’s failing health, my parents recently moved from Florida to Maryland to live with my sister and her family. At my mom’s request, my brothers, sisters, and I sorted through all their belongings.
I brought several items home for my daughters: some old books for Nicole, a crystal bowl for Kristin, and my grandma’s handmade quilt for Janelle. For myself I kept a solitary piece of china, one of the few remaining plates from the set my grandfather bought my mother for her wedding.
I can still remember the set in better days serving many a guest on a Sunday afternoon. But its comrades have all been broken or have disappeared, and this plate is all I have. It is delicate and faded — you can no longer read the pattern name printed on the back. But it hangs in my dining room as a pleasant reminder of my aging mother’s once vivacious hospitality.
My brothers and sisters each took home small items of sentimental value, but don’t expect to see us on "Antiques Roadshow" anytime soon. My parents were frugal, modest people who gave away more than they collected. In keeping with her Mennonite background, my mother owned no jewelry except a watch. She never even wore a wedding ring.
Although I have not received costly earthly treasures from my mom, she has given me a gift of priceless value, for she was faithful to pass on to me a legacy of biblical womanhood. Through her teaching and her example she taught me to aspire to these qualities that commend the gospel.
I don’t expect to have much of significant monetary value to leave my daughters either. (Maybe one of them can have Mom’s china plate if it survives.) But like my mother before me, I want to faithfully impress the qualities of biblical womanhood upon the hearts of my daughters. I want to be found worthy of God’s calling to me as their mother, and I want them to live for His glory.
The Need for Strong Relationships
In order for any of us to do this effectively, our mother-daughter relationships must be strong. This transfer can’t be made through a wall of bitterness, amidst yelling and screaming, nor in silence — now can it? In order to pass on the language of biblical womanhood, our relationships must be founded on the Word of God.
As you may have noticed, biblical womanhood isn’t exactly popular these days. The language our culture speaks is hardly one of selflessness, purity, submission, or faith. Instead, it demeans these attributes and the gospel they commend. Our culture speaks a "live for the moment, live for yourself" language that misses out on the beauty of biblical womanhood.
What is troublesome, however, is that many Christian mothers and daughters have dismissed the language of biblical womanhood or are wholly unfamiliar with it. They speak the language of the world — often unintentionally — by believing that submission is outdated, purity is impossible, and homemaking is unappealing.
Maybe you too think these ideas are a little old-fashioned. You’re not sure you want to speak this language. But these feminine traits relate to what you’re going through and will make a difference in your life no matter what your situation.
The Purpose of Pursuing Biblical Womanhood
Our language points to and highlights the most joyous news in all of history: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says in Titus 2:10 that these qualities "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." They declare to the world that the Bible is true, that Jesus is real, and that the gospel is the power of God to change lives. Biblical womanhood displays the truth that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
This task isn’t reserved for an elite group of extraordinary mothers and daughters. None of us on our own is capable of displaying even one small aspect of biblical womanhood — much less passing it on into the future. But through the power of the gospel we can speak this language and "shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15).
This must be the aspiration of all mothers and daughters: the successful transfer of the qualities of biblical womanhood that sparkle with the gospel — so that in the midst of this me-centered, self-focused, ungodly language of our culture, we can speak the refreshingly pure, altogether true, and saving message of Jesus Christ.
This column is part of an ongoing series on Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. Click here for last month's installment.
Carolyn Mahaney is a wife, mother, homemaker, and the author of Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, and Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. During her more than 30 years as a pastor’s wife, Carolyn has spoken to women in many churches and conferences, including those of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which her husband, C.J., leads. C.J. and Carolyn have three married daughters and one twelve-year-old son, Chad.
Nicole Mahaney Whitacre is the oldest daughter of C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, as well as a wife, mother, and homemaker. She assisted her mother with Feminine Appeal, and is the co-author of Girl Talk. Nicole and her husband, Steve, have one son, Jack.
Carolyn and her three daughters keep a weblog for women in all seasons of life, also entitled "Girl Talk."
This column was adapted for Crosswalk from Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood (Crossway 2005) by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre © 2005 (Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.gnpcb.org.)