A French translation of this article is here.
Some Christians have a narrow view of what godly women can be and can do. They believe their view is based on what the Bible shows us about women. They have even named their view “Biblical Womanhood.” These Christians seem to think that godly women are limited to being wives and mothers and homemakers. Or, at the very least, they think that these are the primary and most important roles for women. Is this what the Bible really shows us?
The following list is of roles and activities of Bible women, roles other than that of wife and mother. I am not making any recommendations or judgements one way or the other about these roles and activities. All I hope to show is that they are “biblical” and that many Bible women were not as restricted or as passive as we are sometimes led to believe. It is important to note that all these women are spoken about positively in the Bible, no matter what we might think of them or their actions.
(1) Disobey those in authority and jeopardise your own safety by rescuing young children from danger: Shiphrah and Puah (Exod. 1:15–22), Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter (Exod. 2:5–10), Mephibosheth’s nurse (2 Sam. 4:4), Jehosheba who rescued her nephew Joash (2 Kings 11:1–3). (More on the six women who protected Moses here.)
(2) Think and act quickly to save your husband from imminent death: Zipporah (Exod. 4:24–26), Michal (1 Sam. 19:11–17), and Abigail (1 Sam. 25:1ff). (More about Abigail here.)
(3) Stay single and help your brothers lead Israel: Miriam (Micah 6:4). (More on Miriam here.)
(4) Perform sacred duties for the Israelites in a sacred space: The women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting (Exod. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22). (More on these women here.)
(5) Dress like a prostitute and have sex with your father-in-law so that you can have legitimate children . . . and be praised for it: Tamar, an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Gen. ch. 38, esp. Gen. 38:26; Ruth 4:12; Matt. 1:3). (More about Tamar here.)
(6) Petition for legal rights of inheritance and have your story told on three separate occasions in the Old Testament: Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milka and Noah, AKA Zelophehad’s daughters (Num. chs. 26–27; Num. ch. 36; Josh. 17:3 cf. 1 Chron. 7:15). (Bronwen Speedie’s article on these women is here.)
(7) Do a great job in leading and judging Israel and speaking for God, which includes giving orders to Barak, the general of the army: Deborah (Judg. chapters 4–5). (More about Deborah here.)
(8) Commit treason against your own people in order to help Israel, and cut a shrewd deal to rescue your family: Rahab (Josh. 2:1ff; 6:22–25). (More about Rahab here.)
(9) Kill the generals of enemy armies by driving a tent peg through their skull or by decapitating them: Jael (Judg. 4:17–22; 5:24–27) and Judith (Judith 13:6–10). (More about Jael here; more about Judith here.)
(10) Mortally wound the leader of an army that is attacking your city by being a crack shot with a millstone: A woman of Thebez (Judg. 9:53; 2 Sam. 11:21).
(11) Risk your life by covertly helping David’s spies: The female servant in En Rogel (2 Sam. 17:17) and the woman of Bahurim (2 Sam. 17:18–21). (More on these women here.)
(12) Be a spokesperson and successfully negotiate with a military general for the deliverance of your town, as well as being a living repository of oral lore: The wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah (2 Sam. 20:14–24).
(13) Be more spiritually astute than your husband: Samson’s mother (Judg. 13:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28ff), possibly Jael (Judg. 4:17–24), the woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8–37), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff cf. Luke 1:18ff). (More on Samson’s mother here; on Abigail here; on Jael here; on Elizabeth here.)
(14) Go against your husband’s wishes and use your own initiative without the slightest criticism from God or his people.
Rebekah went against Isaac’s wishes and tricked him when she secured the birthright for Jacob instead of Esau (cf. Gen. 25: 22–23; 27:1–17).
Abigail went behind her husband’s back when she diplomatically intervened between belligerent Nabal and furious David (1 Sam. 25).
Jael’s husband Heber had made a covenant with the Jabin king of Hazor, a Canaanite (Judg. 4:17), but Jael sided with Israel and killed Jabin’s general Sisera (Judg. 4:17–24).
Vashti defied her powerful husband, King Xerxes, when she refused to appear at his booze-up for male guests (Esther 1:8–12). (More on Vashti here.)
(15) Make the first move in securing a husband for yourself by going to him at night and uncovering his “feet”: Ruth (Ruth 3:7). (Link to an external article on Ruth.)
(16) Be a prophet and a royal adviser: Huldah (2 Chron. 34:19–33; 2 Kings 22:8–20; 23:1–25). Several female prophets are mentioned in Bible: Miriam (Exod. 15:20), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36–38), Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9). (More about Huldah here; more on female prophets here; more about Philip’s daughters here.)
(17) Build towns: Sheerah (1 Chron. 7:24). Or help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem: The daughters of Shallum (Neh. 3:12). (More about Sheerah here.)
(19) Become the queen of one of the most powerful men in the world, then risk your life by devising and implementing a successful scheme to rescue the Jews, and then authorise a new religious holiday: Queen Esther (Esther 9:29–31, etc). (More about Esther here.)
(20) Give away your and your son’s last meagre meal to a prophet, even though there’s a severe famine, because that’s what God has personally directed you to do: The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8–24 cf. Luke 4:35–36)
(21) Give your mistress vital information that will result in her husband, yet another army general, being healed of leprosy: The young slave girl taken captive from Israel (2 Kings 5:2ff).
(22) Be involved in agriculture or industry: Achsah and various other women (Gen. 29:9; Exod. 2:16; Josh. 15:17–19; Ruth 2:8; Prov. 31:16; Acts 16:14; 18:3). (More about working women in the Bible here.)
(23) Lead public displays of celebration or mourning: Miriam (Exod. 15:19–21), Jephthah’s daughter (Judg. 11:34), the wailing women in Jeremiah (Jer. 9:17-20), among others. (More about celebrating and wailing women here.)
(24) Say prophetic prayers and praises that have the authority of holy scripture: Miriam (Exod. 15:20–21), Deborah (Judg. 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Mary (Luke 1:46ff), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff).
(25) Be devoted to praying for the kingdom of God: Anna (Luke 2:37–38), and the women in the upper room (Acts 1:14).
(27) Forget about cooking and serving (the less necessary things) and sit at Jesus’ feet with the other disciples learning about the Kingdom of God (the better, more necessary thing): Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:38–42 cf. John 12:3). (More about Mary of Bethany here.)
(28) Have theological discussions with Jesus about worship and the resurrection: The Samaritan woman, the first indigenous Samaritan evangelist (John 4:19–25, 39), and Martha (John 11:20–27). (More on the Samaritan woman here; more on Martha here.)
(29) Travel with Jesus and support his ministry from your own resources: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, etc, (Luke 8:1–3: cf. Matt. 27:55–56). (More on the many Galilean women who travelled with Jesus here; more on Mary Magdalene here; more on Joanna here)
(32) Host and care for a house church: Lydia (Acts 16:40), Nympha (Col 4:15), Priscilla with Aquila (1 Cor. 16:19), and the Chosen Lady (2 John 1:1, 5). (More about these women here.)
Our culture and customs in western society today are vastly different from the culture and customs of the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world of Old and New Testament times. Differences in culture are factors that must be considered when trying to extract biblical principles from the text for application today. Not everything that was done in the Bible has a universal, timeless, or useful application.
What is a timeless principle is that both men and women should be taking their lead from Jesus. We should be emulating his character, and displaying and using the fruit and gifts of his Holy Spirit, in order to actively bless our families, and the church, and further God’s kingdom. Moreover, we should be doing this in a broad variety of ways. We should be careful that we don’t limit and stifle people or promote passivity.
Nevertheless, I am not a biblical woman. I am a follower and servant of Jesus Christ, and I am being conformed more and more into his image. Bible women are not my primary role models—Jesus is.
What are some other roles and activities of biblical women that can be added to this list?
© Margaret Mowczko 2013
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