Biblical Examples of Women in Leadership
As we consider what the bible teaches about women in ministry we have to take into account not only the straight forward teaching about gender roles, but also consider the praxis of the entire biblical narrative. What am I saying here? There are biblical principles and there are biblical practices. If the practices we see administered and affirmed by leaders in the Old and New Testament somehow are different than what we understand the principles those very leaders taught, it is likely that our understanding of the principles are incorrect.
We should not form doctrines without considering the way those doctrines are actually employed in the biblical narrative. To divorce doctrine from demonstrated biblical practice would be intellectually dishonest and likely cause us to come to inaccurate conclusions. Simply said, the biblical narrative should inform our theology, rather than our theology being derived apart from the biblical narrative.
The following is a list of biblical examples of women leading and/or teaching in a way that is affirmed and/or specifically directed by the Lord. Whatever our doctrinal conclusions are they must agree with the following examples from the biblical narrative:
- Deborah was declared by God to be a prophet and was the leader over the entire nation of Israel for a period of time (Judges 4-5). Although she was a married woman, we are told that it is Deborah, not her husband, who was the judge of Israel (4:4). The entire 5th chapter of the Book of Judges is a prophetic song co-authored by Deborah.
- Miriam is also called a prophet and is named as having been “sent before” the nation of Israel alongside Moses and Aaron (Exo 15:20; Mic 6:4).
- In 2 Kings 22:8-20, Huldah is identified as a prophetess of God. When King Josiah is presented with the Book of the Law, he sends the high priest and some of his governmental leaders to “inquire of the Lord.” Rather than going to Jeremiah, Zephaniah, or Habakkuk, all of whom were contemporaries of Josiah, the high priest and leaders go to the prophetess Huldah. Huldah then gives instruction to these men and gives a prophecy for the king, which includes judgment and revival.
- Abigail humbly instructed David not to sin by murdering Nabal and offering to him and alternate way to deal with him. David commends her for her propriety and the fact that her instruction kept him from bloodshed (1 Sam 25:23-31).
- In the New Testament, Anna is identified as a prophet. As an old woman and a widow, she served as an evangelist as she “spoke about the child(Jesus) to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luk 2:36-38).
- Contrary to the prevailing culture of the day, which thought it a disgrace for a woman to be taught the Torah, Jesus gave focused instruction to Mary of Bethany. When Mary’s sister Martha tried to get Jesus to tell Mary to attend to domestic duties instead of being instructed by Him, Jesus corrected Martha and told her that Mary had chosen the good part (Luk 10:38-42).
- The Samaritan woman at the well became the first evangelist to Samaria, leading both men and women to believe in Jesus (John 4).
- When Jesus was resurrected, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” received an angelic visitation, an encounter with the resurrected Jesus, and a directional prophetic word to give to the men. In fact, it could be rightly stated that these two Marys were the very first preachers of the resurrection. Both the angel and Jesus commissioned these women to instruct the men as to what they were supposed to do (i.e. go to Galilee).
- Priscilla, alongside her husband Aquila, instructed the great Apollos, teaching him the way of God more adequately than he had previously understood (Act 18:27).
- Philip the evangelist has for unmarried daughters who were known as prophetic ministers. (Acts 21:8-9)
- There were both men and women in the upper room (Act 1:13-15) on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out and they all began to speak in tongues. Peter even explains to the crowd that Joel had previously prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, male and female, and that both sons and daughters would prophesy (Act 2).
In light of the above references, the question must be asked, does your interpretation of the scriptures regarding women preclude:
- Deborah from judging, leading, and prophesying to Israel?
- Miriam from being sent before Israel alongside Moses and Aaron?
- Huldah giving instructions about the Book of the Law to the High Priest and governmental officials?
- Abigail from instructing David?
- Anna serving as a prophet and an evangelist to both men and women?
- The Samaritan woman from being the first evangelist in Samaria, proclaiming Jesus to both men and women?
- The two Marys from teaching the men that Jesus had been resurrected?
- Priscilla from teaching Apollos?
- Philip’s four unmarried daughters from prophesying?
- The women from the upper room going into the streets and speaking in tongues to be heard and interpreted by men?
- Any of these women who have been used as God’s mouthpiece to author the eternal word of God from preaching in a pulpit at a church service, instructing men, or leading men and women in a church as they led in various capacities in days of old?
If we answer “yes” to any of these questions we must grapple with the principles we are employing that govern how women are being treated in the local church. I believe those who disallow women from leading and teaching in church are misinterpreting several “proof” texts while ignoring a volume of biblical examples in order to maintain that women are somehow disallowed from operating in their gifts of preaching and leading.
A further question one must ask is:
- If God used women to author portions of Holy Scripture which is authoritative in all ages to instruct both men and women, how would we now believe that women cannot be used to teach those very Scriptures to both men and women?
The next several parts of this series will offer biblical interpretation of some of the passages that tend to form the framework for disallowing women to teach or lead men in the local church.
I encourage you to prayerfully consider the verses we are going to look at in light of the context and biblical theological framework to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you about God’s desire to use women in public ministry.