Women prophets

At the moment, I’m preparing a message on 1 Timothy 2:12. For one of my points, I have made a list of godly Bible women who ministered to men. As I was making the list I saw something I had not noticed before: all the women, except for one,[1] are described in Scripture as being prophetesses or having a prophetic gift.

These are the women on my list.

Deborah (Judges 4:1-5:31) was a prophetess and judge who led Israel. Barak, the general of the army, respected Deborah and followed her orders, and Israel prospered under her leadership.

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28) is another prophetess who also exercised authority in her ministry. This is what John Dickson says about her in his book Hearing her Voice[2]:

Huldah is “a particularly curious example of spiritual leadership. Not only did she deliver an authoritative message to King Josiah concerning all Judah, but she also validated the authority of the newly rediscovered “Book of the Law of the LORD”. One contemporary scholar has remarked that Huldah’s endorsement of the document “stands as the first recognizable act in the long process of canon formation.”

King Lemuel’s Mother (Proverbs 31:1ff) taught her son, a grown man and a king, an inspired message that is contained in the sayings of Proverbs 31:2-9, and perhaps also Proverbs 31:10ff. Her message is described in various English translations as an oracle (NASB, HSCB, ESV), an inspired utterance (NIV), a vision (WYC), a declaration (YLT), a prophecy (KJV), translated from the Hebrew word massa. Massa is used frequently for Isaiah’s prophecies (e.g., Isa. 13:1), and is used for Nahum’s, Habakkuk’s, and Malachi’s prophecies (Nah. 1:1; Hab. 1:1; Mal. 1:1). By being a part of Scripture, the sayings of this woman continue to authoritatively instruct men and women, and even kings.

Anna (Luke 2:36-38) was a prophetess who never left the Temple in Jerusalem “worshipping with fasting and prayer, night and day.” After seeing the baby Jesus she began speaking about him “to all who were waiting for the redemption (or deliverance) of Jerusalem.” Surely this “all” included men—particularly in such a public setting as the Temple—as well as women.

Philip’s Four Daughters (Acts 21:8-9) are barely mentioned in Scripture but are mentioned in significant ways by other early church writers which show that these women were well known and respected in the early church as prophets. Eusebius associates them with apostolic gifts, teaching, and foundational ministry. The ministry of these four women prophets should not be underestimated.

There are other women I could have added to the list, women such as Miriam who was regarded as both a prophetess and leader of Israel. Even Abigail, a courageous woman by anyone’s estimation, prophesied when she gave directives to David.[3]

I don’t know exactly what the ministries of these prophetic women looked like, but I think they did more than just deliver an inspired message from time to time. Rather, it seems that “prophetic” described who they were, and that “prophetess” denoted a woman with spiritual authority in her community.

What struck me in reading about these women is that there was a place for them in Israelite and Jewish society—a prominent place.[4] It seems that their communities recognised their God-given authority and that women with prophetic abilities were respected, even esteemed.

The biblical record indicates that these women prophets mostly ministered to men, and there is not the slightest hint anywhere that any man was offended by a woman prophesying to, or directing him. Barak, for example, relied on Deborah’s commands and company; Huldah’s expertise was sought out by a delegation that included the most powerful men in the country; David praised Abigail’s words and wisdom.

Furthermore, the inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exod. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are all considered prophetic and are included in Scripture, which shows that the writers of the Bible (who were presumably all, or mostly, male) recognised the authority of the words of these prophetic women. This is important to note, as many Christians believe Scripture has the highest level of authority.

In the Bible we see that there was a place for prophetic women leaders in Israelite and Jewish society, and there was a place for them in the church. What saddens me is that in many Christian communities today there is no longer a place for women leaders. In most churches, gifted women are not even being recognised, let alone being encouraged and permitted to lead and speak. Some are even offended by the idea of women leaders. The church and the world are suffering because the prophetesses—women with God-given spiritual authority—are being silenced and sidelined.

What can you or your church do to make a place for gifted women leaders?
What can you do to encourage a woman to move beyond the sidelines?


[1] The exception is Priscilla. Priscilla is on my list of women who ministered to men but she is not referred to as a prophetess or described as having a prophetic gift in the New Testament. However, her ministry may still have been within the parameters of prophetic as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:3 CSB.
In fact, no legitimate female Christian minister outside of Israel is called a prophetess in the New Testament (cf. Jezebel of Thyatira). I wonder if that is to avoid making any connection between godly, Christian women and the prophetesses in the pagan, Greco-Roman world. Nevertheless, we know that some first-century women did prophesy in churches outside of Israel (see 1 Cor. 11:5).

[2] John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons, Kindle Edition 2012-12-25, Kindle Locations 145-149. A review of this book is here.

[3] According to the Megillah (one of the tractates of the Talmud), the rabbis regard Abigail as one of seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel. The other six women prophets are Sarah, MiriamDeborah, Hannah, Huldah, and Esther. (See Megillah 14a and 14b.)

[4] Throughout the Bible we see that there was a recognised place for female prophets in their communities, with at least one female prophet mentioned in each period of Israel’s history. Some of the prophetesses were good, but others were not. Miriam was a prophet and leader during the time of the patriarchs (Numb. 12:1-2: Mic. 6:4). Deborah was a prophet and leader when Israel was ruled by Judges (Judg. chs 4 & 5). During the monarchy, Huldah was a prophet and an advisor to the king (2 Kings 22:13-40). During the exile, both male and female prophets were condemned for speaking falsely (Ezek. Ch. 13). In the post-exilic period, the prophetess Noadiah, along with other prophets, tried to frighten Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14). Then there was Anna who ministered in the temple at Jerusalem and spoke to all about the redemption of Jerusalem when Jesus was born (Luke 2:36-38). In the church age, the daughters of Philip are mentioned in a positive light (Acts 21:9), while Jezebel of Thyatira is presented in a negative light (Rev 2:20-25).

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