Women of the Bible

DeborahThe women we read about in the bible are examples of why we need women in the church today. They are gifted and capable to serve in every capacity. However, the bible makes it clear that women do not occupy the role of elder according to the apostles teaching (1 Tim. 2:12-15). Some claim that the accounts of women we find in the bible prove that God ordains women pastors. How they come to that conclusion is not always clear. Let’s survey some names that commonly come up in the discussion.

Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21)
She was the sister of Aaron and Moses. She led other women in singing a song to the Lord after crossing the Red Sea in safety.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
Miriam’s ministry may have been only to women and that would not set any precedent for New Testament church leadership.

Deborah (Judges 4-5)
She was the only female judge of Israel and she was one to be held in high regard. Deborah was a prophetess and predicted that Sisera would be defeated by Jael, a woman. Her ministry was public and she appeared to be the most godly judge.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
The purpose of the book of Judges is to describe the apostasy of Israel in the absence of a much needed king. The men surrounding Deborah, like Barak, were cowardly and not willing to lead (Judges 4:8). Throughout the book of Judges, God allowed faithfulness, sinfulness, victory, and defeat. Therefore, no normative standard for leadership is established for the New Testament church. Deborah, despite God using her faith, does not set a precedent for church leadership anymore than the other judges such as Gideon, Jephthah or Samson.

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20)
She was a prophetess that spoke God’s word and predicted that disaster will come upon Jerusalem as previously predicted in 2 Kings 21:12.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
Huldah spoke to five people privately where she lived and that would not set any precedent for New Testament church leadership.

Esther
She was a Benjamite orphan that was made Queen of Persia. Esther was a heroine that prevented a plot to annihilate the Jews in the Persian Empire.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
Esther does not set any normative standards for church leadership. Esther did not have any authority over God’s people nor was she a teacher to those people. As a queen, she operated under the authority of the Persian king.

Lydia (Acts 16:13-15)
She was converted through Paul’s ministry and invited Christians to gather at her house.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
It’s unlikely Lydia was a church leader. Opening your home to Christians does not necessarily mean you are the leader of that church.

Pricilla (Acts 18:26)
She was the wife of Aquila. She, along with her husband, accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey. They were a husband-wife team praised by all the Gentile churches. In Ephesus, Pricilla and Aquila instructed Apollos in the teachings of Jesus that Apollos was lacking.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
Pricilla is never named in the New Testament without her husband. They are a model Christian couple in the ministry and Pricilla seemed to operate under the headship of her husband. In their ministry to Apollos, the couple took Apollos aside and taught him privately. Indeed, Pricilla may have taught Apollos the word in this situation and that would be permissible, however this is not a teaching on church leadership.

The daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9)
They had the gift of prophecy.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
God gave the gift of prophecy to women but there is no indication that these women were church leaders.

Phoebe (Romans 16:1)
She was a servant or a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, east of Corinth.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
Phoebe is explicitly named as a deacon and not a church leader.

Junia (Romans 16:7)
She is presumed to be the wife of Andronicus who is named with her. They were probably a husband-wife team that accompanied Paul. They were fellow prisoners with Paul and well known among other ministers.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
There is much scholarly debate on this verse. It is debatable that Junia was even a woman but it’s reasonable to believe so. Many translations render Junia as “prominent among the apostles” suggesting that Junia was a woman apostle. However, the word apostle can also simply mean messenger or sent one (as in 2 Cor. 8:23, Phil 2:25, John 13:16). The context of the verse favors a more general use of the word apostle, rather than the technical meaning of an authoritative apostle.

Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11)
Her people reported to Paul that there is quarrelling among the Corinthians.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
Chloe’s identity or location is never stated. Her “people” are also not known. They could be family, friends or fellow workers. There’s no reason to assume she was a church leader and that her “people” were Christian men and women under her care.

Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3)
These two women had a disagreement that Paul wanted them to reconcile. Paul states that they labored side by side with him for the gospel.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
Paul often mentioned the names of those he worked with and that does not mean these women are presumed to be church leaders.

Nympha (Col. 4:15)
She hosted a church in her house.
Does this mean God ordains women pastors?
The house belonged to Nympha but there is no reason to believe she was the leader of the church. Again, opening your home to Christians does not necessarily make you the leader of that church.

The ministry and service of these women were valuable. But none of these accounts hold enough weight to overturn the clear teaching that women are not permitted to be church elders (1 Tim. 2:12-15). It simply affirms what we all believe—women are needed in ministry. There are countless ways women can and do serve to advance the gospel. Let us continue to tell their stories to the glory of God.

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