Women Leaders in the Bible

phoebeMultiple Passages

Anytime you have multiple passages in the Bible that talk about the same issue, you have to combine their individual meanings into a comprehensive whole. Only then is your perspective based on a genuinely biblical foundation. Otherwise, you’re formulating your convictions on human traditions and personal preferences more than you are Divine Absolutes.
For example, women occupy leadership positions throughout Scripture, yet Paul seemingly says that a woman should never teach or speak up in a worship setting.

How does that work?

A Bad Situation

First of all, in 2 Timothy 3:6-7, Paul references a situation where false teachers had wormed their way into the minds of some households where the women were loaded down with guilt and regret. Because they were listening to bogus content, rather than embracing what amounted to a biblically based transformation (2 Cor 3:17), these ladies not only subscribed to a facsimile of the real thing, they were the kind of unruly personalities who were not shy when it came to voicing their personal opinions.

In 2 timothy 3, Paul refers to a group of individuals who “worm their ways into homes and gain control over weak-willed women.” It’s this passage that suggests that the situation Paul is referring to is exclusive to a specific fellowship that had some ill informed women who tended to be disruptive. In other words, he was addressing a unique scenario as opposed to proclaiming a general guideline.

It’s reasonable to believe that the situation described in 2 Timothy was what prompted Paul’s instructions to Timothy to tell the women in his church that they needed to stop being disruptive and cease those activities where they were trying to tell others how and what to teach…

11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. 13 For Adam was created first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. (1 Tim 2:11-14 [see also 1 Cor 14:34-35]).

Paul was addressing a situation where certain women were obstructing what would otherwise have been an orderly worship service. And while Paul is referring to the situation as it existed in Ephesus, it seemed to be an issue in Corinth as well (see 1 Cor 14:34-35). But to process his instructions as being utterly against any kind of female leadership or involvement is to ignore the original Greek as well as the numerous examples of the way in which women were used by God to lead and to teach large groups of people and even the nation of Israel itself.

Women Leaders in the Bible

Consider the following:

Women Leaders in the Bible
name reference context
Miriam Exodus 15:20 Miriam is referred to as a prophetess and understandably so in the way God had spoken through her (Nu 12:1-2). She was a significant and well known figure in Israel’s history (see also Ex 15:1-21; Mic 6:4).
Deborah Judges 4-5 Deborah did an amazing job as Judge over all Israel. Barak, general of Israel’s army, listened to her and regarded her counsel as that which came directly from God (Jud 4:14). God uses her to pen an entire chapter of the Old Testament (Jud 5). Israel prospered and had peace under her leadership for 40 years (Jud 5:31).
Huldah 2 Kings 22:11-20 Huldah was the one that Josiah sought out to interpret the portion of the Law that was found in the Temple. He sent an all male delegation to her to find out how God was going to work. She was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Zephaniah.
Noadiah Nehemiah 6:14 Not much is said of either one of these two women, but they are nevertheless addressed as “prophetess.”
Isaiah’s Wife Isaiah 8:3
Anna Luke 2:36-38 She’s referenced specifically as a prophetess. She was a contemporary of Simeon and, in like fashion, she approached Joseph and Mary and publicly reinforced Jesus’ true Identity and Mission.
Daughters of Philip Luke 2:36-38 Four daughters of a well-known evangelist described in the books of Acts as women who prophesied.
Lydia Acts 16:40 Lydia is an early convert and her house becomes an important location in Philippi where believers met to worship in a society where being a Christian was a huge risk. It’s here where Paul and Silas went after being released from prison before leaving the city. She’s not referenced as a leader, but she nevertheless stood out among her male counterparts as a crucial part of the evangelical work in that city (click here for more information).
Phoebe Romans 16:1-2 Paul describes Phoebe as a “servant” of the church in Cenchreae. That word “servant” is translated “diakonos” which is where we get our word, “deacon.” Paul uses that term to describe himself (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21-22, and even Jesus Himself (Rom. 15:8). For Pheoebe to rate that kind of title, it’s doubtful she was a mere spectator in her congregation.
Priscilla & Aquilla Romans 16:3 Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquilla as “fellow workers” who risked their lives for him.
Eudodia & Syntyche Philippians 4:2-3 These women are described as two who had “contended for the gospel.” The word “contended” is “synthaleo” which means to “fight or work alongside someone.” It’s not stuffing envelopes or answering phone calls. The fact that they’re referenced alongside Clement is significant as well because there’s good reason to believe that he would go on to be the leader of the church in Rome. To be listed referenced among those who had “strived” and would go on to lead and not just serve does little to support the idea that women had no leadership role in the early church let alone any real place in today’s efforts to teach and lead others when it comes to the gospel.


The English Language

The English language doesn’t possess the kind of expressive ability that’s characteristic of the Greek language. While Paul’s words can appear abrupt, the Greek word for “submission” comes from the Greek word “hupotasso” which is a military term that’s more about the voluntary alignment and organization of one’s resources beneath the heading of someone else’s authority. It’s not a forced obedience. The word word for “quietness” is “hesuchios” which refers to an “inner calm.” It’s not a dictatorial muzzle. It’s how you look and act when you’re at peace (click here for a full translation of 2 Timothy 2:11 as it appears in the original Greek).

Both Men and Women

So when you combine the multiple examples of women excelling in leadership roles throughout Scripture and the literal meaning of the words Paul used in the context of addressing difficult characters in the local church, it’s difficult to process Paul’s direction to the church in Ephesus and Corinth as universal prohibitions of women leading or teaching in general. Fact is, when you look at the resume of Deborah and the courage of Priscilla and Aquilla, it’s obvious that God has gifted both men and women with exceptional gifts and character traits that you wouldn’t ever want to dismiss based on a mere portion of God’s Word as opposed to Scripture evaluated as a comprehensive whole.

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