Part 2

Myths and Heroines


God’s Gift to the Church

How many times have you heard, "The Bible says that women should neither teach nor lead among the people of God"?

It may be true that some parts of Bible teach this. Later we will take a first look at the passages where Paul instructs women to be silent. Evidently though, other parts of the Bible, quite literally tell a different story. Perhaps the stories of the Bibles heroines reflect the Creators intention that men and women be partners (see last month’s article).


Deborah for example was a dynamic political and military leader. Her story is told in Judges 4 and 5. The Bible remembers her with admiration and maybe even presents her for imitation She is one of the God-appointed "judges of Israel".

We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4:4, where she is described as a prophetess, the wife of a certain Lapidoth. When we meet her she was already judging Israel. It is right and proper that the children of Israel come to Deborah for judgment.

In the same way, when she calls Barak and announces the Lord's orders to him, his only concern is: will she accompany him? However strange we may find it that this war-leader does not question her orders or her right to command God’s people the Bible knows that it is right, for Deborah is God appointed.

As we read her story let us notice that Deborah regularly acts as a prophet, declaring the word of Lord. Clearly, when she was introduced as a prophetess, the author did not mean that her husband was a prophet. For, Deborah like all other true prophets, and preachers, proclaims the word of God to the people of God.

Today missionary women in Africa are allowed roles African women are denied, and are often treated as if they were men! The Bible did not view Deborah as such an honorary man. Rather, Deborah, prophet and leader, is a "mother in Israel" (5:7).

Joab used a "wise woman" from Tekoa to speak to David, in a parable like Nathan's, to persuade him to change his mind. While Joab himself was turned from his course by the "wise woman" of Abel, with her sensible words and brutal actions (2 Sam 20:16-22). In a less violent way women singers led biblical worship alongside the prophet Jeremiah (2 Chron 35:25).

When king Josiah found the scroll of the law during temple repairs he consulted another prophetess, Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20). She like Deborah proclaimed the word of God with authority to leaders among his people.

God’s Gift to the Church

The Early Church also had several prominent women leaders. Paul himself recognises:

If "the Bible teaches that women should neither teach nor lead among the people of God" why did neither Paul nor Luke condemn these women as transgressors?

So, it is a myth that the Bible teaches that women should neither teach nor lead among the people of God! Considering the stories of biblical heroines dispels the myth. Now we should look at the passages from the pauline letters which give rise to it.

There are two places where in letters to different church settings the silence of women is prescribed: 1 Cor 14:34-36; 1 Tim 2:8-15. In each case the text is quite clear. Women must "submit" to their husbands and not speak in Church gatherings. How do we square this with the fact that Paul elsewhere allows and even encourages women to speak (e.g. Acts 21:9; Phil 4:2-3)?

Perhaps the key is the word "elsewhere". Could it be that the Bible requires different behaviour from women in different places? Philip’s daughters (like Deborah) shocked no one and blessed many when they declared the word of God in Philippi. Yet in Corinth, where the church was in disarray and where many of the congregation still had links with friends who practiced pagan religions, more care was needed.

What we are seeing here is that, in the Bible, the Word of God comes to us incarnate in human words. We hear God speaking to particular situations in the past, and through that ancient speech his word addresses us. This means that some of the specific laws and commands of the Bible do not apply directly to me and you. For example, I have never presented myself in Jerusalem with my offering, let alone three times a year as Deut 16:16 commands. I suspect you have eaten pork in direct contravention of biblical law (Lev 11 cf. verse 7).

We both recognise that the Bible addresses specific contexts in the past, and that it is the principles, which proclaim the Word of the Lord to us, and not always the detail. The same is true of Paul’s inconsistent practice and advice about the proper behaviour of women in Church!

Clearly, if the Bible does not condemn women leaders, neither does it command their appointment. For the Bible is not a textbook of social reform or liberation, it is the record of God’s relationship with his erring, sinning people.

Before we discuss women and leadership further we need to be sure of more basic biblical teaching about the relationship of women and men.


This article is part of the "Electric Angels" collection

It is the second of a series about Men & Women, Sex & God

Next article: "Making Love: Sex and Marriage".


© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2002

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