Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

AUTHORISED BY GOD

Spiritual authority is a difficult concept to define.[1] However, it is closely linked with hearing from God and/or being commissioned by God for service. Some Christians, called complementarians, believe that it is only men, and not women, who have been given spiritual authority by God.[2] Complementarians believe that as the spiritual authorities, it is men who need to seek God’s will and guidance on behalf of their churches and families. They believe it is only male ministers who have the spiritual authority to hear from God in order to minister from “the Word” in a public church meeting. And they believe that in the family, it is the husband who has direct authority from God and that the husband has the final word in decision-making. They see the husband as the mediator of God’s will to the wife and any children.

In contrast to what complementarians believe, the Bible contains several accounts where God bypassed husbands and male guardians and spoke directly to women with messages of vital significance. Where God did not speak personally, he sent angels. This article looks at a few of these Bible women who God entrusted with spiritual authority, women authorised by God and who acted without the permission or protection of men.

OLD TESTAMENT WOMEN

Samson’s Mother (Judges chapter 13)

In Judges chapter 13 we read that the Angel of the LORD[3] went to an unnamed woman and revealed to her God’s plan for Israel’s deliverance. This woman was married to a man named Manoah, and yet the Angel entrusted God’s plans and instructions to the wife and not the husband. The Angel told her that she would bear a special son, and her son would deliver Israel from the Philistines. The Angel also gave her instructions about her diet and he told her never to cut her son’s hair.

The woman then told her husband about her encounter. Manoah wanted to hear the instructions for himself, so he asked God to send the man of God (i.e. the Angel) again. He wanted to know how to bring up the child (Judg. 13:8). God answered his prayer but, again, the Angel appeared to the woman. So she ran to get her husband. When Manoah met the Angel, the Angel repeated what he had said previously to the woman:

“Your wife must do all that I have told her. She must not eat … She must do everything I have told her.” (Judges 13:13-14, my underlines.)

God fully trusted the woman to obey and follow these instructions without her husband’s permission or help.

The woman recognised from the beginning that the messenger “looked like an angel of God, very awesome” (Judg. 13:6). Manoah, on the other hand, did not realise that the messenger was an angel until he offered a burnt sacrifice and the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flames and disappeared (Judg. 13:17). Terrified, he said to his wife, “We are doomed to die, we have seen the Lord.” The woman prudently replied, “If the Lord had meant to kill us he would not have accepted the burnt offering.” Throughout this narrative, the woman shows herself to be both spiritually discerning and sensible.

Deborah (Judges chapters 4-5)

No list of women with spiritual authority would be complete without Deborah who was the leader of Israel at some point in their history. Judges chapters 4 and 5 records Deborah’s leadership and does not mention that there was anything peculiar about her being both a leader and a woman. Her gender does not seem to have been an issue. Deborah may have been married—she is described as “a woman/ wife of Lappidoth”—but the Bible mentions nothing at all about her husband, apart from his name. (Judg. 4:4). (This assumes the word “Lappidoth” is her husband’s name and is not a description of Deborah’s splendid or fiery nature.)

In Judges chapter 5 we read that prior to Deborah’s leadership “village life in Israel had ceased” (Judg. 5:7), “the roads were abandoned” (Judg. 5:6), and Israel had chosen false gods (Judg. 5:8). The implication is that Israelite society became more civilised, safer, and more God-fearing because of Deborah’s leadership.

Deborah was an excellent and versatile leader. She was a prophet (Judg. 4:4, 14), a judge (Judg. 4:5), a military leader (Judg. 4:6-10), a matriarch (Judg. 5:7). Deborah’s prophetic insight was accurate and she showed decisive leadership in military matters.

Some have unfairly speculated that Deborah became a leader because there were no men capable of the task. However, the scriptures tell us that Israel was not without male leaders at that time. Judges chapter 5 mentions leaders (Judg. 5:2-3), nobles (Judg. 5:13), princes (Judg. 5:2, 9, 15), and warriors. Moreover, it is evident that Deborah encouraged other leaders in Israel and that these leaders had great confidence in her leadership.

In comparison with most of the other judges mentioned in the book of Judges, who were all men, there is not one negative word said about Deborah. Yet complementarians continue to assert that leadership and spiritual authority is for men only. Rather than seeing Deborah as a scriptural precedent for women leaders, they dismiss her as an anomaly. This stance of the complementarians is short-sighted and unjust, especially as Deborah was an outstanding and respected female leader blessed by God.

More on Deborah here and here.

Other Old Testament Women

Miriam: Miriam is mentioned in five books of the Hebrew Bible. The various biblical narratives show that she was a highly respected member of the Israelite community, and they tell us she was a prophetess and a leader of God’s people (e.g., Micah 6:4). More about Miriam here.

The Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah: This woman was a person of influence and was some kind of leader in the fortified town of Abel Beth Maacah in Israel. As a civic leader in Israel, like Deborah, she may also have had a degree of spiritual authority. She mentions the LORD in her short recorded speech. Through her wise use of authority and peaceful persuasion, she rescued her town from being destroyed by Joab, the commander of King David’s army.[4] (See 2 Sam. 20:14ff esp v.22).

Joab and David had no problem with heeding the good advice of women. Joab knew that David listened to women,[5] so when he was unsuccessful in persuading David about a certain cause of action he asked the Wise Woman of Tekoa to help him (2 Sam. 14ff). The Wise Woman of Tekoa and the Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah are not the same person. “Wise Woman” may be a leadership title and not just a description. These women may have functioned as living repositories of wisdom and lore passed on orally. More on the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah here.

King Lemuel’s Mother: Proverbs 31:1-9 contains the words of an oracle (prophecy) of King Lemuel’s mother. This woman taught her son—a grown man and a king—this oracle. Her inspired words have been recorded in scripture for other grown men and kings to learn from. Her teaching is still relevant today. More on King Lemuel’s mother here.

Huldah: When Josiah, King of Judah, wanted to learn more about how to worship God, he sent a delegation of his top men to “inquire of the LORD.” They went to a woman, to the prophetess Huldah (2 Chron. 34:19-33).

Linda L. Belleville writes:

The size and prestige of the embassy that sought her counsel indicates something about not only the seriousness of the situation but also Huldah’s professional stature: the High Priest (Hilkiah), the father of the future governor (Ahikam), the son of a prophet (Achbor), the secretary of state (Shaphan) and the king’s officer (Asaiah). Huldah’s counsel was immediately heeded, and sweeping religious reforms resulted (2 Kings 22:8-20; 23:1-25).[6]

More about Huldah here.

The Wailing Women: During the dark days of Judah’s apostasy, when deception was rife (Jer. 9:4-6), the only people who listened to God and the prophet Jeremiah were some women. God gave the skilled wailing women a message and he authorised them to proclaim this message in his name. (See Jer. 9:17-22.) More on Wailing Women here.

A Shunammite woman came up with the idea of building a small room to accommodate the prophet Elisha. Her perception, initiative, and generosity brought great blessing to her, to her husband, and to her son. When reading her story in 2 Kings 4:8-37, we see she had spiritual insight and fortitude. This woman, and not her husband, displayed and exercised authority for the benefit of her family (2 Kings 4:23a).

Hannah is the main protagonist in the narrative of 1 Samuel chapter 1. She prays for a child, vows to give that child back to God to be employed in Tabernacle service, and then fulfils her vow. Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, is portrayed as loving and supportive. He trusted his wife’s decisions and actions, and complied with them. Apart from 1 Samuel 1:19b, it appears that Elkanah did not mediate or intervene in the situation at all. Furthermore, Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is part of scripture and has the authority of scripture.

NEW TESTAMENT WOMEN

Mary the Mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38)

The most well-known woman in the New Testament is Mary the mother of Jesus. Most scholars believe she was a young teenager when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. Despite her age and her gender, God sent the angel directly to Mary with the message that she had been chosen for the wonderful role of being the mother of the Messiah. Mary would have been under the protection of a guardian, who was most likely male, and she was betrothed to a man named Joseph, yet the angel Gabriel took God’s word directly to this teenage girl.[7]

If the complementarian concept of male authority is valid, one would assume that Gabriel would have visited the senior male of Mary’s family with the news, especially considering the ramifications of the remarkable, and potentially scandalous, situation Mary would soon find herself in.

Mary’s humble compliance with God’s extraordinary calling on her life is exemplary.[8] Moreover Luke recorded Mary’s faith-filled song of praise, often called the Magnificat, in his Gospel (Luke 1:46-55). These words of Mary have the authority of scripture.[9]

More on Mary the Mother of Jesus here.

Mary the Magdalene (Matt. 28:9-10; Mark 16:9-11; John 20:17-18)

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the fact that the first person to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion and resurrection was a woman. Did Mary just happen to be at the right place at the right time for this momentous meeting with the newly risen Jesus, or was it a divinely appointed encounter?

I believe it is no coincidence that the first person Jesus saw after his resurrection, at the dawning of the New Covenant, was a woman. Jesus’ act of redemption and his inauguration of the New Covenant brought equality for all people, regardless of gender. And with equality, the real possibility of affinity and harmony between the sexes, reversing the divisive effects of sin.

At their meeting, Jesus authorises and entrusts Mary with certain messages for his disciples who, as yet, still believed that their Lord and friend, along with their hopes, was dead.

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her” (John 20:18).

Jesus had no problem authorising and entrusting his marvellous message, that he was alive, to a woman. Jesus’ commission has led the Eastern Orthodox Church to call Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the apostles.”

More on Mary the Magdalene here.

Martha (John chapter 11)

Martha has been unfairly maligned by some because of just one incident (Luke 10:38-42). However, she made two very astute statements of faith concerning Jesus and eternal life recorded in John chapter 11.

Martha answered, “I know he [her deceased brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” John 11:24
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” John 11:27

This second statement is very similar to Peter’s recorded in Matthew 16:15-17:

“But what about you?” he [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Jesus states that Peter could not have known that he was the Christ, the Son of God, unless God the Father had revealed it to him. Likewise, Martha’s faith statements could only have come by divine inspiration.

Martha and her sister Mary of Bethany were devoted disciples of Jesus. But we hear nothing about their brother Lazarus’s faith in the scriptures even though it says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). Here Martha’s name appears first. She was a woman of great faith and spiritual acuity.

More on Martha and Mary of Bethany here.

Other New Testament Women

Since Pentecost, God has communicated personally with his people more freely, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. When Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he made it clear that spiritual abilities, in particular, prophecy, were now freely available to both men and women, and to the young and to the old (Acts 2:17-18).

The Holy Spirit gives his gifts and abilities without apparent regard to gender (1 Cor 12:4-11); this includes the gifts of leading and teaching (Rom 12:6-8). Even staunch complementarian Mary Kassian observes, “There is no evidence in the Bible that gifts are assigned by gender. While it is true that elders may possess gifts of teaching, administration, and pastoring, it is equally true that women possess these identical gifts.”[10] Kassian believes that only men can be elders, however, several women are mentioned by name in the New Testament who functioned as church leaders and ministers.[11]

Furthermore, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis observes,

Nowhere does the Bible say that it is a man’s job to discern the will of God, take responsibility for another’s spirituality, and protect others from Satan and sin. If God has given responsibility and dominion to both male and female (Gen 1:26-28), if we stand on equal ground before God (Gal 3:26-28), if women are equal heirs of the grace of God (1 Pet 3:7), and if all believers together—both men and women—form God’s new priesthood (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10), then there is no reason for anyone to take this sort of spiritual responsibility for anyone else. If Jesus Christ is a female believer’s Lord and Saviour in the same way as he is a male believer’s, then surely no Christian woman has need of a man to stand in the place of Christ for her.[12]

CONCLUSION

Mary Kassian and other complementarians have recognised that women tend to hear from God more than men, and yet they maintain that it is the men who have the spiritual authority in the church and home.[13] When I read the arguments of complementarians, I get the sense that they do not have confidence in the abilities of women. They seem worried that society will crumble if women take more initiative or move outside of certain roles that they wrongly claim have been instituted by God. It seems that complementarians have overlooked the biblical examples where God used and blessed courageous women for his purposes, often in vitally important situations that had widespread ramifications.

From the Scriptures, we can see that God does not speak solely to men and husbands, even in matters that directly affect them and their families. God can and does entrust his word, with the authority it entails, directly to women and wives. God can and does speak to women without using husbands, fathers, and male church leaders as mediators. All believers have direct access to God through Jesus and his Holy Spirit, and vice versa.

There is one mediator between God and people (or humanity), the person (or human being) Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5

Footnotes

[1] Complementarian Mary Kassian defines “authority” purely in terms of hierarchical structures. Mary A. Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 32-33.

[2] Complementarians interpret the two instances (Eph. 5:23; 1 Cor. 11:3) where Paul says that the husband, or man, is the ‘head’ (Greek: kephalē) of the wife, or woman, as meaning that the husband has authority, including spiritual authority, over the wife. This interpretation presumes that the English (metaphorical) meaning for “head” is the same as the Greek (metaphorical) meaning for “head.” In English, “head” can mean “chief” or “a person in authority,” etc. However, in Hellenistic Greek, of which New Testament Greek is a subset, “head” rarely, if ever, meant “chief” or “authority” in texts originally written in Greek. Moreover, complementarians elaborate on the supposed spiritual authority of the husband in ways that are not supported by Scripture. My article on Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters here.
The authority that the Holy Spirit gives is a functional authority to engage effectively in certain ministries. It is not an authority over a capable, fellow brother or sister in Christ.

[3] Many theologians believe the Angel of the Lord may have been a Theophany or Christophany: a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.

[4] Joab and his brothers Abishai and Asahel, who were all great warriors in David’s army, are frequently mentioned as being the offspring of their mother Zeruiah. Their father’s name is never mentioned. One cannot help wondering what sort of woman Zeruiah was, and what sort of influence she may have had on her sons. (See 1 Sam. 26:6; 2 Sam. 2:13,18; 3:39; 8:16; 14:1; 16:9-10; 17:25; 18: 2; 19:21-23; 21:17; 23:18, 37; 1 Kings 1:7; 2:5, 22; 1 Chron. 2:16; 11:6, 39; 18:12, 15; 26:28; 27: 24.) Zeruiah was one of David’s sisters (1 Chron. 2:13-16).

[5] David listened to Abigail (1 Sam. 25:23-35) and to Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:11-31), etc.

[6] Linda L. Belleville, “Women Leaders in the Bible” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (ed) (Leicester: InterVaristy Press, 2004) 110-125, 113.

[7] Only later did the angel tell Joseph about God’s plan for Mary.

[8] Mary’s humble and obedient response to the angelic message is a contrast to the disbelief of  Zechariah, the priest (Luke 1:19-20).

[9] The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exod. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. 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 considered prophetic and are included in Scripture.

[10] Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall, 168.

[11] Some of these women ministers include Philip’s daughters, Priscilla with Aquila, Nympha, Phoebe, Junia with Andronicus, Euodia and Syntyche, etc.

[12] Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, Ronald W. Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, Christa L. McKirland (eds) (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021), 393-428, 406.

[13] Mary Kassian has observed, “… both psychology and history lend credible support to the biblical recognition of innate differences between men and women, with a major difference being a heightened spiritual perceptiveness in women.” Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall, 111. Sadly, Kassian sees this heightened spiritual perceptiveness as including a general propensity towards spiritual deception among women. (The Bible never states that women are more easily deceived than men.) Despite believing that women are prone to deception, Mary Kassian has a public ministry as a Christian speaker and writer.

© Margaret Mowczko 2010
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35 thoughts on “Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

  1. This is excellent! Your study is very comprehensive. I learned a lot!

    1. While I appreciate and even accept the study put forward on women as spiritual leaders in the church, there is one question unanswered. Is there any evidence of any of the spiritual women been anointed? Priest, kings were anointed but were any of the women anointed?

      1. Hi Wayne,

        I can’t think of a story where a woman was anointed with oil for leadership. As you say, priests and kings were anointed, but no women, and only a tiny fraction of the male population, were priests or kings.

        In the New Covenant, all followers of Jesus, male and female, are part of his priesthood, and only Jesus is king. 🙂
        https://margmowczko.com/old-testament-priests-new-testament-ministers/

        1. What do you think about the long-standing Jewish belief that Moses, Joshua and their successors ordained an unbroken line of judges to serve the people until the Second Temple period? If this is true doesn’t it mean that using deductive reasoning we can know for sure that Deborah was an ordained judge who had the same authority and ministry as Samuel the judge and Joshua son of Nun?

        2. By deductive reasoning I mean that if we accept all the following premises then the conclusion that Deborah was also an ordained judge becomes inescapable.
          1. Moses intended for priests and/or judges to be perpetually ministering in Israel during the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 17:9 and authoritative Jewish Tradition).
          2. Priests and Judges were ordained in succession to offer both secular and religious leadership.
          3. The Hebrew Bible refers to the leaders identified in the Book of Judges as “judges” in exactly the same way that Deuteronomy refers to the 70 elders as judges (Ruth 1:1)
          4. The judges would play a pivotal and public leadership rule typically signified by a judge “judging (sha.phat) Israel”
          5. The ministry of the Judge was that of intermediary between God and the people and was characterized day to day by delivering God’s “judgment” (mish.pat) in religious case law as well as matters of great national interest (Deuteronomy 1: 17)
          6. Deborah is depicted as exercising this ministry of Judge as she “judges” (sha.phat) Israel and gives authoritative rulings on religious matters.
          7. It is clear that she issues prophetic guidance but also issues authoritative rulings as she teachers the people.
          Conclusion
          I have heard it argued that the judges described in the Book of Judges were not ordained Judges like the ones in Deuteronomy but rather Charismatic lay leaders. The problem of course is that based on the Hebrew Tradition’s own definitions (the judge is ordained for issuing authoritative religious rulings God’s (mish.pat) this hypothesis makes it sound as if the ordained judges in Israel (during the book of Judges) basically gave up their religious leadership role and their job title to do something else and let lay people do the judging. Naturally some will probably argue that something like this could have happened because of the general spiritual and social dysfunction in the time frame of the judges. I am trying get feedback on my ideas from someone who understands and loves Scriptures and Church history. What is your honest opinion about my hypothesis?

        3. Dana, I haven’t heard of an idea that “Moses, Joshua and their successors ordained an unbroken line of judges to serve the people until the Second Temple period .”

          Have you got more information about this idea? And are you sure it’s a Jewish idea? I didn’t think the Jews were as worried about ordination as Roman Catholics seem to be.

          Despite a prophecy about Moses’s prophetic ministry, the only successions Jewish people seem to be concerned about is priestly succession (from Aaron and from Zadok) and royal succession (from David and perhaps from Zerubbabel).

          Judges 2:18 says that God raised Judges. I don’t recall that the Bible says they were all ordained by people.

          Having said that, there is no reason to assume that Deborah is any less a judge than the other judges.

          1. I know I was surprised when I read it too because we always hear preaching about the priesthood of the Levites and the priesthood of Aaron to the exclusion of Judges. Please read the article I have attached below. Essentially it explains that the Jewish people feel they have a grave obligation to appoint by ordination Judges who are in a kind of “Apostolic succession” from Moses. The article explains that this went on until the Second Temple Timeframe and perhaps into the early Middle Ages. They were devastated when this succession fell apart because there were too many rules requiring this and that for a new Judge to be ordained (it had to happen in the Holy Land etc). I would have to be blind not to see this as the second form (besides the Levitical priesthood) God’s Old Testament priestly ordination in the Old Testament.
            https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1933944/jewish/What-Is-a-Rabbi.htm

          2. That was a very interesting article. However, it seems to me that a few rabbis, living hundreds of years after the events recorded in the books of Moses and in the books of Joshua and Judges, have read their own ideas of the ordination of rabbis back onto the Hebrew scriptures. (Also, when the article uses the word “judges” it doesn’t refer to those back in the book of Judges.)

            The article makes this statement: “The original form of ordination was passed down from teacher to student in an unbroken chain reaching all the way back to Moses.” But in the book Judges, especially, there is no sign of teachers or students, let alone a line of ordination that connects the judges. Rather, God raised judges “here and there” with usually no apparent link between them.

            For example, who was Joshua’s disciple? Who was Samson’s disciple?
            Samuel’s teacher was most likely Eli. But who was Eli’s teacher? It wasn’t Moses or Joshua.

            Apart from Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and perhaps one or two more examples I’ve forgotten, the Hebrew scriptures tell us nothing of a recognised succession, a lineage, of teachers and disciples which is what this article is about.

            I do wonder, however, if the prophetic guilds had teachers and students. But we know almost nothing about these guilds. [1 Samuel 10:5-6 (cf. 19:19-24), 1 Kings 18:3ff; 22:1ff; 2 Kings 2:1ff; 4:1; 6:1ff 9:1ff; 2 Chronicles 18:5ff; Ezra 5:2; Nehemiah 6:14.]

            The ordination being written about in the article has no apparent historical basis in the Hebrew Bible. It is a later Jewish tradition. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I feel this is similar with the Roman Catholic idea of apostolic succession. It has no firm basis in scripture. God can and does raise ministers of all kinds “here and there” without recognisable links or lineages.

        4. I understand your perspective however I still disagree that there is no biblical basis for Apostolic Succession/Jewish succession of Judges. I agree with you in that ordination was given somewhat differently in the Old Testament. For example, it was probably not strictly necessary to have a teacher-student relationship where the former ordains the latter as their successor. This is made perfectly clear by the fact that two of the original 70 elders stayed home away from their ordination but received the Spirit that they would have received from ordination anyway.
          So yes, I agree that the Judges in the book of Judges would have sometimes been ordained directly by God not by someone in a succession from Moses.
          Now on the other hand it’s clear from the Bible itself (when read in terms of church/Jewish history) that a kind of Apostolic Succession was intended by God in both the New Covenant in the Old Covenant beginning with Mount Sinai.
          The post Mount Sinai constitution of the Jewish people (Deuteronomy) specifies
          “If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns which is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God will choose, 9 and coming to the Levitical priests, and to the judge who is in office in those days, you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10 Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place which the Lord will choose; and you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you; 11 according to the instructions which they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the verdict which they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.”(Deuteronomy 17:8-11 RSV)
          This clearly suggests that God and Moses intended a judge and/or a priest to be in office throughout the Old Covenant. But to make sure it’s true let’s look at Jewish history. It can verified by historical records that the Jewish religious leadership in Jesus’s time was primarily made up of Temple priests and Members of the Sanhedrin. Presumably it didn’t just start to be that way in Jesus’s time.
          The Sanhedrin (Council of elders) was very specifically composed of 70 led by a President for a grand total of 71. The Jewish people will confirm that the reason why this was the way it was is that Moses appointed 70 judges to assist him in leading the people. Just like the Judges in the Book of Deuteronomy each one of these Sanhedrin members was ordained. Moreover, the Greek New Testament calls the members of the Sanhedrin “presbuteros” likewise the New Covenant community describing the Acts of the Apostles calls their own high-level leaders working with the apostles “presbuteros” (Acts 15:22). Therefore, the Bible confirms that judges (not lay persons) were intended in place throughout Israel’s history. No, the Tradition described in the article is not a later Jewish tradition described centuries after the New Testament. However, it’s not clear whether God had to step in and ordain some judges early on.
          Moreover, this religious leadership role was modified and continued into the New Covenant. The New Testament also explains the great care with which the apostles and presbyters must choose their successors (preferably through the laying on his hands). Again, I don’t think that the New Testament directly addresses the possibility of God ordaining presbyters without involving a human being as in the old times with Samuel and the Book of Judges. However presumably New Testament ordination was meant to be handed down from one apostle or presbyter to another in a successive chain (Apostolic succession).

          1. Yes, we do have different opinions on succession. I don’t see its relevance or importance, and I can’t see evidence for it in the Bible which is my primary source for doctrinal matters. Rather, I’ve observed that God can use whoever he wants as ministers of all kinds.

            “Elders” (zeqenim) in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is a topic I have studied. The word is (almost) always plural. Elders were a body of men and their authority was derived from belonging to the group. They typically didn’t act alone when making judgements.

            Elders were older, presumably wiser, men who had property and status; they were usually leading figures in their clans. Being appointed as an elder was usually not a lifelong position.

            After the time of Moses and the Judges, elders were an advisory board for kings. They are rarely mentioned in the prophetic literature, but then develop into a group, or groups, of representatives of the Jewish people.

            The Hebrew Bible shows that elders were advisors, representatives, they had juridical roles, they were witnesses, they could lay hands on people in rituals, and some were scribes and recordkeepers.

            Elders typically exercised civil “secular” leadership. They were involved in national and local governance. They were involved in political diplomacy, military strategies, and they made decisions on daily life, including commerce.

            Elders did not ordinarily perform liturgical, priestly, or prophetic functions. These were not their usual roles, but that’s not to say they never did these things. There is a record where elders lay hands on sin offerings. Elders asked that the Covenant Chest (Ark of the Covenant) be brought into battle. And elders sought advice from prophets.

            The Sanhedrin had a short life of perhaps 100-150 years. It began as a political and judicial council but developed to become a religious council also. Some elders that belonged to the Sanhedrin had additional roles as rabbis and priests. The Sanhedrin was disbanded when Jerusalem fell in 70 CE.

            In the New Testament, there is nothing that connects elders (presbyteroi) in the church with liturgical or worship functions, though some taught. As groups, church elders probably functioned as an advisory board within local congregations, including the church at Jerusalem.

            The word presbyteros is also occasionally used for members of the surviving Twelve. In his Church History 3.39.1-7, Eusebius mentions John the elder, as well as the names of some of the Twelve, and records that Papias seems to have used the word presbyteroi for Christians who were immediate followers of Jesus and for “those early Christian leaders who had known the immediate followers of Jesus—leaders of the second Christian generation.” F.F. Bruce, Men and Movements in the Primitive Church (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1979), 134.

            Gunther Bornkamm notes, “the title presbyteros in 2 John 1 and 3 John 1 can be integrated into neither an episcopal nor presbyterian form of government. The elder … works outside any ecclesiastical constitution.” “presbys, presbyteros …” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 6), 671.

            Apart from teaching, there is no evidence in the New Testament linking either overseers (episkopoi) or elders (presbuteroi) to worship. Raymond Brown notes that “no cultic or liturgical role is assigned to presbyter-bishops [elders and overseers] in the Pastorals.” “Episkopê and Episkopos: the New Testament Evidence”, Theological Studies 41 (1980), 322-338.

            Many ministers mentioned in New Testament Churches probably did not belong to a group of local church elders.

        5. Well, you provided me with a great deal with relevant information I copied and pasted your reply for future reference. However, my central argument was not that every instance of the word “elder” in the Bible refers to a priest but that the New Testament presbyters are patterned off of the Old Testament Judges (and Priests). Not all elders in the Bible were also Judges. No doubt the original 12 apostles/early believers must have had the Sanhedrin in mind when they laid the groundwork for New Testament religious leadership based in part on the 70 elders/judges plus Moses. I know these things are controversial but if Samuel the prophet is a presiding presbyter or elder why isn’t Deborah considered to be an Old Testament prefiguration of a New Testament presiding female presbyter or elder?
          There are so many unwritten assumptions and variables that it makes it difficult to assess the persuasiveness of my argument. It seems logical to me that God would want people filling these leadership positions throughout the Old and New Covenants. Paul and Barnabas were chosen by the Holy Spirit working through the local religious leaders (prophets and teachers) for their Apostolic ministry. I don’t see why it would change 500 years after the fact. My view of succession is different than the Roman Catholic Church’s official teaching in that I believe that the presbyters (not only Bishops) can perform all ordinations.

          1. I completely disagree that New Testament church elders (or the Jewish elders or members of the Sanhedrin in the New Testament) are patterned off either judges or priests.
            Judges usually led alone and were typically raised by God. Elders worked in groups and their authority came from belonging to the group.
            And priests were supposed to be retired at 50 (Num. 8:24-25). Whereas 50 was around the starting age for an elder.
            https://margmowczko.com/old-testament-priests-new-testament-ministers/

            Paul was ministering before he and Barnabas were chosen for a specific mission in Acts 13. And Paul was not a church elder. Paul calls himself by all kinds of ministry terms, but never elder. Paul ministered because Jesus commissioned him (Acts 9). Sometimes he ministered with the permission and commissioning of others, at other times, he ministered from his own initiative.

            We don’t know if Deborah was an older person (a necessary requirement for being an elder), and she seems to be making judgements on her own, not as part of a council of elders.

            Leadership structures in ancient Israel were variable, and they evolved. There are some patterns–patriarchs, judges, monarchs, governors–but there were many more ways to lead. And many elders did nothing more than make collective decisions on rather mundane matters (e.g., Ruth 4:2ff).

            There were also various ways to lead and be a minister in New Testament churches and there still are.

      2. Not sure where to put a comment… priests were circumcised males. And rabbis were men. Gods word does not contradict itself the New Testament is a good place to look 1 Tim 2:12 a woman should not practice authority over a man. This is not from the book of revelations;). Also 1 Tim 3 speaks of deacons and overseers call them what you want they are husbands of one wife. If a man can’t rule his home how can he run a church. HE. Elders same thing, husband. If we study the Greek referring to the woman recognized in the New Testament who were co laborers of the gospel the words define them as ambassadors or servants not the office of a pastor. Prophetess(es ) are everywhere, we see that. Eph 5 I believe is the perfect blueprint for the church. If a woman is the head of a church then she should be the head of her home and husband… yes I know sounds twisted.

        1. Hi Tom, I’ve noticed that you haven’t responded to the contents of the article but are just leaving your own thoughts. It’s usual website etiquette to leave comments that are on topic. But I’ll just leave a few comments in response to your remarks.

          Priests and Ministers

          All Jewish men, not just priests, were circumcised males. This basic point of yours has no bearing on the topic of this page. Furthermore, the Levitical priesthood is not a model for ministry for New Covenant people.

          The qualifications for Levitical priests were physical and ancestral; the qualifications for Christian ministers are spiritual and moral.

          More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/old-testament-priests-new-testament-ministers/

          1 Timothy 2:12 and Authentein

          1 Timothy 2:12 has no bearing on sound, healthy ministry. All of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is Paul addressing and correcting the problem behaviour of certain men and women in the Ephesian Church. These are not Paul’s general thoughts on ministry.

          The “authority” (Greek: authentein) that Paul is disallowing is behaviour that is unacceptable for all Christians, male and female. It means to have full power over someone. This is not the kind of authority Jesus wants for his followers. So Paul corrects a woman in Ephesus who was domineering a man, probably her husband.

          Here’s a simple piece on authentein: https://margmowczko.com/authentein-authenteo-1-timothy-2/

          Here’s a technical piece: https://margmowczko.com/authentein-1-timothy2_12/

          Paul’s Greek Terminology for Ministers

          Tom, you mention studying Greek. I’ve been studying Greek for 15+ years. I have formal qualifications and I read various Greek texts every day. I can read the New Testament and other ancient Greek texts with proficiency.

          No person in the New Testament, other than Jesus, is referred to as a poimēn (“pastor, shepherd”).

          Paul uses the exact same words for female ministers as he does for male ministers (such as Timothy). There is no difference in the terminology Paul uses for his male and female ministry colleagues: coworker, minister/ deacon (diakonos), apostle/ missionary (apostolos), labourer, etc.

          Paul doesn’t refer to any named individual as a pastor, overseer, or elder. So we don’t know the sexes of them. It’s likely however, Prisca was an overseer and/or elder, and that other women, such as Nympha, functioned as pastors in their home churches.

          There are no masculine personal pronouns in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1-7; there is no “he” in the Greek. And I’ve written about the Greek expression behind “husband of one wife” and “wife of one husband” here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/ See the footnotes also.

          Paul and Christian Ministry

          All followers of Jesus are children of God, we are brothers and sisters. And the authorisation to function in certain ministries, which ultimately comes from God, is the authority to become servants and even slaves (douloi). Christian ministry is serving God and serving others.

          Christian ministry is not about exercising authority *over* capable fellow believers.

          We see in his letters that Paul had issues with both men and women who were teaching rubbish and were behaving badly, but he did not have a problem with godly and gifted men and women being ministers of any kind.

          Paul’s general teaching on ministry, in the Greek, does not hint that women are excluded in any way. See Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Ephesians 4:11 (cf. 1 Cor 14:26; Col 3:16). (Note that Paul mentions prophets and prophesying before teachers and teaching.)

          In fact, all lists of ministries in the New Testament, without exception, give no hint that some ministries within the body of Christ are only for women and others are only for men: Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27-28; Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pet. 4:9-11 (cf. Acts 2:17-18).

          Jesus is the Head of his Church

          Paul makes it clear that Jesus is the kephalē (“head”) of the church, and that the church is his body. Paul calls no one else the kephalē (“head”) of the church!

          I have various articles that look at Paul’s use of the Greek word kephalē (“head”) here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/kephale/

          Tom, if you wish to leave further comments, please make them direct responses to the article above. The basic premise of the article is that God can, and does, entrust his word, with the authority it entails, directly to women and wives. I welcome constructive criticism and corrections directly related to my words.

  2. So refreshing. I enjoyed this, thanks a lot.

  3. Wonderful information –

  4. I was reading Genesis 25 recently and was struck by the fact that while Isaac entreated the Lord for Rebekah and she conceived, she personally went to the Lord to ask about the struggle in her womb and God spoke to her about it and gave her the prophecy that the elder would serve the younger. Isaac later ignored that prophecy and tried to circumvent it by giving his blessing to Esau anyway, but Rebekah intervened and Jacob was blessed.

    1. Yes, God had no problem with telling Rebekah, a woman, how things would pan out.

      It’s such an interesting story. It intrigues me that there is no hint of censure about Rebekah’s actions in the Bible even though she totally tricked her husband into doing something he clearly didn’t want to do.

      Other women, such as Abigail and Jael, also wents behind their husband’s back, and they are praised for it.

    2. Of course god can speak to woman he hid Mary’s attention didn’t he… we are all apart of the great commission. Prophetess evangelist, not apostle ,not pastor ,spiritual teacher(the office of? That’s questionable 1tim 2:12 not to teach over a man. Not sure how we misread that

      1. Hi Tom, it is unwise to use one verse (1 Tim. 2:12), written to correct the bad behaviour of a woman who needed to learn (1 Tim. 2:11), to silence all teaching from all women for all time when men are around.

        I take 1 Timothy 2:12 literally and it says nothing about apostles or pastors. Rather, all of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 was written to address and correct the bad behaviour of men and women in the Ephesian church.

        Elsewhere in the New Testament, we see women involved in all kinds of ministries with Paul’s commendations. Priscilla, with her husband, even corrected and taught a man who was himself a teacher and apostle.

        Paul had no problem whatsoever with godly gifted women ministers. https://margmowczko.com/paul-romans-16-women-coworkers/

  5. This is very interesting. I believe in order for society to function at its fullest, we need both men and women of Christian Faith in every walk of life, we need both men and women in STEM fields, we need both men and women at the front lines of the film and music industry (an industry that’s increasingly important Christians enter), we need both men and women in ministry (including ALL leadership positions), we need both men and women in the arts, we need both men and women in education, we need both men and women in our military, we need both men and women in the criminal justice field, and we need both stay-at-home moms and stay-at-home dads.

    1. I agree entirely. It is a person’s capability that determines what he or she should do. Not their gender. Men and women working together bring a great synergy to just about every project and role.

  6. Great article. I have learnt a lot. Thanks

  7. Thanks Marg! I’m enjoying reading your articles…especially this one. One thought I’ve been dwelling on recently is the seriousness of prophecy, that if someone prophecies falsely, that they are to be put to death. That indicates the gravity of their spiritual authority. Complementarians might be okay with a woman prophesying, but they claim it’s not the same authority as preaching. Huh??? But no where in the Bible is “Put false preachers or elders to death.” So wouldn’t prophets hold a higher responsibility?

    I really can’t understand why complementarias can’t let go of the idea that a church has to be four walls, and only a man can preach. When I brought up John 4 to my pastor, he said that the Samaritan woman was merely transmitting information and not preaching. I responded that the early church didn’t necessarily have four walls, and that many people believed because of her testimony. She was like John the Baptist.

    I get very offended by complementarianians who claim that egals don’t hold to a high view of Scripture. Then they minimize Deborah, Huldah, Mary(s), Nymphia, 2 John, etc.

    Another thought that’s probing my mind…American slavery (I know you’re Australian 🙂 American slave holders used Scripture (mainly Lev 25, Gen 16, and Philemon) to justify slavery, claiming that God endorsed slavery… and then accused anyone who opposed them of not having a high view of Scripture. Christian abolitionists had difficulty in using Scripture to support their cause, but claimed that the overall principles of the Bible were justice, equality and no hierarchy. I see the same way of reasoning for keeping women silent ((please know that I’m not saying that my being silenced is at the same level of the brutality and torture of Black slavery))

    1. Hi Jamie,

      ~ In Paul’s lists of ministries, he always lists prophecy and prophet before teaching and teachers. He considered prophecy to be a very important and influential ministry.

      ~ I agree that traditional ideas of “church” are something that hinders people from seeing that women can also minister. Some people just can’t get past the idea that only an ordained man can preach a sermon from a pulpit on a Sunday morning. But this idea has no basis whatsoever in the New Testament.

      ~ It is frustrating that some complementarians claim egalitarians don’t have a high view of scripture. It’s simply untrue.

      It sounds like we’re on the same page. 🙂

      1. Hi Marg
        What is your opinion on the theory proposed by Dr. Scott Hahn and a few rabbis like Rabbi Jonathan Magonet that Judges 11 and 12 has been horribly mistranslated? My impression is that mainstream scholars believe Jephthah performed a human sacrifice with his daughter. But Dr. Hahn says that grammatically this makes no sense because the Hebrew word for “custom” is the wrong gender to match with “it”. Alternatively, he proposes that Jephthah’s daughter was consecrated to be an Old Testament deaconess.
        “And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.” (Judges 11:39-40 RSV)
        Sincerely
        Dana

        1. I briefly discuss the idea that Jephthah may have been a consecrated worker in the tabernacle here: https://margmowczko.com/women-entrance-tent-of-meeting-tabernacle/

          And there’s a bit more on her here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/jephthahs-daughter/

          However, the word used for “offering” in Judges 11:31 in the Hebrew text and Greek Septuagint means “burnt offering”; it doesn’t just mean offering or dedication or consecration.

          Honour was more important than life in the ancient world, and still is in some cultures today. Her father made a ridiculous and stupid vow that could not have pleased God, but was honour bound to fulfil it in some way.

          The gender of “it/and it became” wattəhî (feminine) doesn’t match with “custom” ḥōq (masculine). How does Dr Hahn translate the last phrase of Judges 11:39b-40? What is his point? I don’t have access to Scott Hahn’s article, A Better Approach to Jephthah’s Vow in Judges 11: The Sacrifice of his Daughter as Virginal Consecration (vs. Child Sacrifice).

          I like Rabbi Jonathan Magonet’s article here: https://www.thetorah.com/article/did-jephthah-actually-kill-his-daughter
          He makes several valid observations. I especially like this paragraph:

          The flexibility of the vav conjunctive linking the two statements would allow it to be read here as ‘and’, so that ‘belonging to the Lord’ meant the burnt offering mentioned immediately after. But the ‘vav’ could also be read as ‘or’, so that whatever or whoever came out would be dedicated to God, and, only should it prove appropriate, would be sacrificed. This latter suggestion runs the risk of sounding like apologetics, designed to give Jephthah a certain amount of leeway, but the ambiguity is present in the text.

          1. “How does Dr Hahn translate the last phrase of Judges 11:39b-40? What is his point?”
            Here is a link to the small article that Dr. Hahn wrote and posted online. I know that you don’t like links so I would have copied and pasted it but the software would not allow me to copy and paste his article.
            https://m.facebook.com/Dr.ScottHahn/posts/2619452818075812
            Dana

          2. Hi Dana, Thanks for the link. Scott Hahn didn’t write this (which explains my difficulty in finding the article). Hahn acknowledges that the author is James B. Jorden.
            Here’s a better link: http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-horizons/no-86-jephthahs-daughter/

            Quite a bit of it is too weird for me, and Jordan notes that he offers some of his ideas tentatively.

            He may have a point about the Hebrew word-phrase “and it became”: wattəhî– (3rd-person feminine singular) in the last phrase of Judges 11:39. Especially as it is preceded by a phrase that includes “and she”: wəhî which is 3rd-person feminine singular.

            There are also other 3rd-person feminine singular words earlier in verse 39 and they all refer to Jephthah’s daughter.

            A literal translation of the last phrase is, “she became a custom.” But what it means is, “the circumstances of her tragic death gave rise to a custom” (cf. Judges 11:39 NET). This can be condensed as, “it became a custom,” which is what we have in many English translations.

            So all in all, I don’t think “it became a custom” is wrong. Translation work always requires some compromise.

  8. Thanks Marg!

    Again, I’m reading your articles for several hours a day, and loving them! Your articles, and your comments to others’ replies have been super helpful as I defend egalitarian views, while refuting complementarian views. Over the past two months, I’ve been unraveling just how deeply complementarian my new church is…they even point to eternal subordination in the Trinity for their gender role views. I’ve been challenging this male-only elder-led church, and your articles have helped me articulate my arguments while maintaining Biblical integrity.

    Question (I know this is off topic from the thread and your article): how do you refute “Eve created as a helper”? I know that the word for “helper” is the same used when God described himself…16 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, right? But I don’t know the scripture references for these 16 times. And “helper” is also used several times to describe military equals, but again, I don’t know the references.
    And, even after pointing out to a staunch complementarian that “helper” is used in these other contexts, but still believe that “helper” for women means traditional gender roles, how do you refute that?

    Thanks!

    Jamie

    1. Hi Jamie,

      I list all the verses that contain the noun ezer (“help/er”) at the bottom of this post: https://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/

      I have several articles where I discuss what Eve as helper does and doesn’t mean. They are tagged with “Suitable Helper”: https://margmowczko.com/tag/a-suitable-helper/

      Happy reading
      Marg

  9. This site claims that because of the parts of the new testament that say for women to be silent and that men are the heads of women, that Deborah having authority teaching men, as well as other female prophets, would violate the bible. https://wels.net/serving-you/christian-life/womens-ministry/ministry-ideas/deborah-a-woman-of-influence/ So the author makes excuses to justify believing their roles weren’t as significant as their male counterparts, because they are given different descriptions that apparently denote less authority and that female prophets never prophesied in public, but male prohets did, and that Deborah believed Barak should have more honor than herself. She teaches about how God can’t contradict himself but hypocritically ignores the accounts of women teaching men with God given authority to make it seem like those texts are misunderstood, instead of the interpretations of the oft quoted verses by complimentarians being inconsistent with the female prophets.

    1. Hi Eric,

      I often hear people explain away the significance and scope of Deborah’s leadership and the significance and scope of the ministries of Huldah, Anna, Priscilla and other women. These people explain away numerous Bible verses for the sake of a small number of verses that do limit the ministry of certain women. Moreover, they give these very few verses precedence. They have failed to see that these few verses were addressing problem behaviour rather than making general statements about women and ministry.

      The author of the article you linked to wonders “how all this [Deborah’s leadership] fits with Scripture’s clear directive that women should not have spiritual authority over men.” No doubt the author is alluding to 1 Timothy 2:12. But (1) 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as she assumes; (2) this verse is not a directive about women (plural); and (3) it says nothing about normal or healthy authority, let alone spiritual authority.

      Here are two of my articles about Deborah.
      https://margmowczko.com/deborah-and-the-no-available-men-argument/
      https://margmowczko.com/deborah-woman-of-lappidoth/

      Here are my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12.
      https://margmowczko.com/category/equality-and-gender-issues/1-timothy-212/

  10. I do like your article however I don’t see where it is clear that you’re talking about women being able to hear and be used of God vs. in a place of leadership. I see that Adam was first created then eve was brought to Adam as his Helper made comparable to him. It was clear that Paul stated that he did not permit a woman to be in a place of authority due to Eve being deceived which he stated that this was the reason. It appears that the rules out the reasoning due to current cultural reason but due directly because Eve was deceived and Adam was dealt with by God as he was responsible for the situation. I see in all the writings when it comes to leadership in the home and church it is clear from scripture. I am actually on the fence or in the middle if you will as I see Deborah as a Judge and yet she told Barak that he needed to go to war without her so that she would not receive the glory for the victory. You stated that Complementarians believe itis God that is to seek God and hear for direction. I don’t think all believe this. In fact, you can see that God used so many women in so many places in the bible. The areas that you don’t see it is in leading the church or family. I seems that one has to stretch to find woman leading the family or the church. It also appears that you have to go beyond what the multitude of scholars and tehologens have stated and how they have interpreted the bible as in the AMPC you can see that great detail was taken to correctly interpret what the word states. I hear a lot of words like Patriarchy and Hierarchy, unfortunately, I don’t believe this is the view of most who take the scripture for their final word on the issue. They don’t see women is less than or unequal . I think its a desire to adhear to what the bible actually says and exegesis instead of eisegesis. All this to say I am searching for the truth to be revealed in scripture not what I want it to say

    1. Hi Earnest,

      I have over 400 blog posts on this website. I have other articles that discuss headship (here), Eve as helper (here), Eve’s deception (here), and some of the other things you mention.

      This article discusses spiritual authority. In particular, I claim that hearing from God, or being spoken to by God, constitutes some kind of authorisation from God. I stand by this claim.

      It seems you are applying eisegesis to my article rather than reading what I actually say.

      I don’t equate spiritual authority with leadership in this article. The only person I have used the word “leader” for in this article is Deborah. The Bible tells us that she was judging (i.e. leading) Israel. I also mention in passing that Philip’s daughters, Priscilla with Aquila, Nympha, Phoebe, Junia with Andronicus, Euodia and Syntyche, were church leaders and ministers. But this is a side thought.

      Perhaps my main point is: “God can and does speak to women without using husbands, fathers and male church leaders as mediators.” Do you have an issue with this point?

      Also, 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as you seem to think it is. I write about several hermeneutical challenges in this verse here.

      Like you, I want to understand what the Bible actually says.

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