Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Introduction

I wrote this article in response to a question about using the example of Jezebel, a false prophetess in the church of Thyatira, as a basis for disqualifying women from teaching in the church. In the article, I provide a brief explanation of biblical prophecy and mention Bible women who were prophets. I also look at what it says about Jezebel in Revelation 2:20ff, and what her example brings to the discussions of women in ministry.

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’  Revelation 2:20-25

The letter to the church at Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. A considerable portion of this letter is devoted to a warning about a woman symbolically referred to as “Jezebel”. Queen Jezebel, in the Old Testament, promoted the idolatrous worship of Baal.[1] “Jezebel” of Thyatira, in the New Testament, also promoted idolatry, yet she regarded herself as a Christian prophetess.[2]

Female Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament

True prophets are people who are inspired by the Holy Spirit and speak for God or about God. Their speech may or may not include foretelling.

Several female prophets are mentioned in the Bible. Miriam and Deborah were recognised and respected as both prophets and leaders (Exod. 15:20 cf. Mic. 6:4; Judg. 4:4). Huldah the prophetess helped to bring about a spiritual revival in Judah (2 Kings 22:13-14; 2 Chron. 34:21-22). Anna the prophetess ministered in the Temple and spoke to everyone—presumably men and women—who were “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38). Noadiah (Neh. 6:14) and Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3) are also called prophetesses. There was a recognised place for prophetic women leaders in Israel. (Every female prophet in the Bible is listed and discussed here.)

Moreover, the inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of 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. Because they have been recorded in the Bible, they have the authority of Scripture. (Many Christians consider Scripture as having the highest level of prophecy and authority.)

Female Prophets and Prophecy in the Church

With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the ministry of prophecy became more widespread among God’s people than in Old Testament times.

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy … Even on my male servants/ministers and on my female servants/ministers, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”  Acts 2:17-18

In the early church, prophets provided guidance (Acts 13:3-4; 16:6), instruction (1 Cor 14:31), strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Cor 14:3).  It was not unusual for women to prophesy and be prophets (cf. 1 Cor 11:5).  Philip’s four daughters, who were well known and respected female prophets in the apostolic church (Acts 21:9).

Paul considered prophecy to be the most desirable of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:1), and he listed prophets before teachers in his lists of ministry gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. Because of Paul’s high regard for prophecy, it is doubtful that he considered this ministry as having less influence, importance, or authority than the ministry of teaching. Moreover, prophecy often included teaching.

False Prophets and Teachers in the Church

There were genuine, inspired prophets and sound, gifted teachers in the early church, but there were also impostors. The New Testament contains many warnings about false prophets and false teachers. Many of these warnings came from Jesus himself. Some of the false prophets and teachers in the early church were men, and some were women.

Jezebel was a false prophet and a false teacher who, it seems, had been teaching the “deep things of Satan” (Rev 2:24). Because she was a wicked prophet and teacher, Jezebel cannot legitimately be used as a precedent to ban godly women from being prophets or teachers.

It is important to note that there is nothing in Revelation 2:20ff that suggests Jezebel should not have been teaching because she was a woman. This passage does not say that Jezebel was given time to repent of the fact that she was teaching. Rather, it says that she was graciously given time to repent of her immorality. It was the content of her teaching and her immoral, idolatrous practices that she needed to repent of.[3] It may be difficult for us to imagine, but sexual licence was not an uncommon problem in the early church.

It is likely that Paul’s prohibition of a woman teaching was also aimed at silencing a false teacher, or, at least, a false teaching.[4] Some say that this prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12—the only verse in the entire Bible that says a woman is not allowed to teach—was a universal and timeless prohibition against every woman from teaching any man. But this assumption overlooks the fact that Priscilla, a woman, along with her husband Aquila, taught Apollos, a man, in Ephesus. Moreover, Priscilla and Aquila were friends and ministry colleagues of Timothy, and especially of Paul, and the couple hosted and led a church that met in their home in Ephesus (cf. 2 Tim. 4:19).

Women Church Leaders: Then and Now

In Revelation 2:23, the Son of God says that he will kill Jezebel’s children with pestilence. The word “children” is commonly used by John in each of his three New Testament letters to describe Christian believers (i.e. disciples and church members).[5] It seems that Jezebel was not just a self-proclaimed prophetess and false teacher, she was a church leader who led her own “children” (disciples and church members) astray.

Nowhere in Revelation 2:20ff does it indicate that Jezebel’s gender was an issue. Jezebel is never criticised for being a woman in ministry. This passage, and others, indicates that churches in NT times did not have a problem with women being prophets, teachers, or leaders. Jezebel was just one of several women in the NT who were leaders.

While Jezebel is an example of a bad leader, many other women are mentioned by name in the context of good ministry and house church leadership. These other women serve as precedents for women in leadership today.

It would be wonderful if the contemporary church could reclaim the custom of the NT churches and trust godly and gifted women, as well as men, as prophets, teachers, and leaders.

Footnotes

[1] Jezebel in the Old Testament was the wicked wife of King Ahab. (See 1 Kings 16:31; 18:13; 21:25-26; 2 Kings 9:30-37.) She was a murderess who enticed her husband and the Israelites into idolatry. Jezebel in the New Testament enticed her congregation into idolatry (Rev. 2:14). “Jezebel” is most likely a pseudonym designed to associate the New Testament woman with Ahab’s wife and idolatrous worship.

[2] “The power and influence of this Jezebel, a self-styled prophetess at Thyatira, must be viewed in light of three facts: (1) women prophesied  freely in early Christianity (see, for example, Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1  Cor. 11:5); (2) women often played major roles as priestesses in contemporary Roman and Eastern cults in Asia Minor; (3) the Christian Montanist movement in the same region a century later assigned conspicuous leadership roles to two prophetesses—Priscilla and Maximilla (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical  History 5.14-19).” From the IVP Commentary on Revelation 2:18-29. (Source)

[3] In my research for this article I came across several comments like this one: “The error of the Thyatiran church was not just that Jezebel was allowed to promote unbiblical concepts, but that she evidently held a position as a teacher over men.” (Source)
The text of Revelation 2:20ff, however, does not support such a claim. Nowhere does the passage about Jezebel indicate that her teaching men was wrong. It was the content of her teaching that was wrong.

[4] A woman in Ephesus may also have been leading people astray. (Compare 1 Tim. 2:12 with Rev. 2:20KJV). More on this here.

[5] John used the word “children” (tekna and teknia) numerous times in his three letters (e.g., 1 John 2:1, 28; 3:1-2, 7, 10, 18; 4:4; 5:2, 21; 2 John 1, 4, 13; 3 John 4.) These verses are not referring to natural children, but to “spiritual” children or disciples. [More on this in my article on The Chosen Lady in 2 John here.] John is traditionally thought to have been the author of Revelation as well as the three letters that bear his name.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month.
Become a Patron!


Further Reading

The IVP Commentary on Revelation 2:18-29, here.
A sensible article looking at the concept of “Jezebel Spirit” here.

Related Articles

Every Female Prophet in the Bible
Philip’s Prophesying Daughters
Partnering Together: Paul and Women
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Women, Teaching, and Deception
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by godly women
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.

18 thoughts on “Jezebel of Thyatira: A Female False Prophet

  1. I was suprised the man actually preached this. He was really clutching at straws with this one. There doesn’t seem to be any accountability with this kind of teaching. I won’t link to the sermon here, however if anyone does want to know what was said I will email you the link.

    I love this point, “This passage does not say that Jezebel was given time to repent of the fact that she was teaching. Rather, it says that she was graciously given time to repent of her immorality. It was the content of her teaching and her immoral, idolatrous practises that she needed to repent of.”

  2. Great article, very informative!
    I have heard so many comments and references to the Jezebel Spirit throughout the years.
    It is over used and unjustly applied to attractive well groomed, dressed women or women who dare to teach men in the church today.
    Even Spirit filled women endeavoring to serve God in any capacity still must endure the shadows cast by this one false prophetess in the church of Thyatira….so many years ago or the wicked women in Ephesus.
    This article is so uplifting and clear on these issues…..I thank the Lord for the relief and peace it has provided for me! Thank You newlife!

    1. Hi Jacqueline, It is terrible that the phrase “Jezebel spirit” is still being used against women.

      People who use this phrase tend to use it in a lazy and non-specific way, and so it’s difficult to counter such an attack.

    2. Recently, I was strongly and unjustly verbally (in writing) and abusively attacked by a young man who had posted a video on YouTube entitled, “Women’s Role in the Church”. Bottom line, he claimed that man is the head of the Christian woman; ergo, she cannot teach, etc, etc. To do so is to usurp a man’s authority over her and she must be condemned as having the spirit of Jezebel. If it hadn’t been for many other false teachings he promoted on his website, I might have just brushed him off as another wacko. After praying for the Lord’s guidance, I briefly responded. Nothing prepared me for his angry, hate filled, accusatory, condescending response; all this on his public comment site.

      I share this with you because your comment above, “This [article] is so uplifting and clear on these issues . . . .I thank the Lord for the relief and peace it has provided for me! Thank You new life!” so perfectly expresses my heart’s joy and peace after reading this article. God is so good.

      Blessings,

      Karen

      1. Hi Karen,

        As you can imagine, I also receive hate-filled, vitriolic comments from time to time. I sometimes wonder the purpose of these comments. Do people really think that abusive or patronising “corrections” from a total stranger are going to persuade me to their way of thinking? Surely it will repel me from their ideas.

        Anyway, I’m glad to say that I receive many more lovely comments, like yours, telling me that the message of our new life in Christ brings peace and healing. Thank you, Jesus!

        Blessings

        Marg

  3. I agree that Women can be prophets, as Deborah was, and she was also a judge in Israel. The problem is that women cannot be pastors because they are easily deceived. In Timothy’s letters, Paul expressly says that women shouldn’t have leadership roles in the church, and this was for numerous reasons. One practical reason is to not incite jealousy, but the other is that women are easily lead astray by false doctrines, and don’t make good church leaders. An example is the Lutheran Church, which was one of the first to accept Female ministry, and now they outright condone homosexuality. I think Jezebel teaches the church to commit immorality, and is a spirit of rebellion against the instruction of God’s saints in favor of society’s morals. As we can see, in the story in Kings Jezebel commands Ahaz to kill a man for his garden. Ahaz is a weak man, and so he does it. The significance is, that society taught that this was OK, because Ahaz was king. But, society’s morals are often that of Satan’s kingdom, Babylon.

    1. Women are easily deceived? That is a very broad statement, and it has no basis in scripture. The Bible shows that both men and women were deceived and were deceivers. These traits are not tied to one gender. Furthermore, Paul uses the example of Eve’s deception and applies it to both men and women in the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 11:3). More on this women, Eve, and deception here: https://margmowczko.com//women-eve-and-deception/

      Judas was a traitor, but we don’t brand all men as traitors. Adam disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, but we don’t brand men as being especially disobedient. It is equally wrong to brand all women for all time as easily deceived because of one woman. Eve’s deception is not brought up again in the Old Testament or in the New Testament except for 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. (In 1 Timothy 2:13-15, Paul corrects false teachings that were being taught in the Ephesian church.)

      You are mistaken. Nowhere does Paul “expressly say that women shouldn’t have leadership roles in the church.” That is your interpretation and it embellishes greatly on what Paul actually says in First Timothy. More on what Paul says in 1 Timothy here:
      https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-212/

      Queen Jezebel was a wicked queen, but other queens and women in the Bible led and influenced their communities in a positive and godly way. Some women did a great job!
      https://margmowczko.com/the-propriety-of-women-with-authority/

      It is unwise to let a faulty interpretation of one Bible verse minimise the examples of numerous godly Bible women who taught and directed men and who were not deceived.

      Note that Jezebel of Thyatira was not told to stop leading and teaching because she was a woman. Rather, she was told to repent of her heretical and immoral teaching.

  4. I’m often amazed in the modern church how easily these issues become gender affiliated as opposed to spiritual and insightful. I found the article to be very helpful and resourceful. And gender does not disqualify men or woman from preaching or teaching the Word of God. Paul’s reference must be viewed from the time period in which it was written, with the Temple’s of Pagan god’s threatening the early churches, as the followers of these temples often infiltrated, and led astray many members.
    I believe at the heart of Paul’s statement was a deeper insight that must be spiritually discerned. If we look closely at the Genesis account, after making man in His likeness and image, God sought a “Help Meet” for Adam. One who would help Adam meet the purpose which God had created him.
    So we are told that from Adam, God made Eve, but unlike Adam God made Eve from a “rib” or the emotional center of Adam, nor do we read that He again “breathed” into her, but she was endowed with all the insight that Adam possessed. Now interesting to note is that an Omnipotent God called her a “Help”, which is the same root designation as the “Holy Spirit” to the modern day christian. Christ promised us “another helper”
    And as the Holy Spirit “influences and Woo’s” us, Eve had this same power of “influence”. So while Adam had the “Authority” from God over the earth, Eve had the “Power” of influence, thus the reason for the serpents approach to her, not because she was weak, but because she had the power to influence. Which she did, and offered to Adam, who without a second thought ate also, and we read “then their eye’s were opened”.Gifts that had gone wrong!
    Influence can be good or bad, and manipulation, well is bad! God gave Jezebel a time (season) to repent, but she did not, being drunk with power, and enjoying the masculinity of authority, she refused to submit and humble herself before God. This is a spirit, given the name Jezebel (woman), and (Balaam) men.
    But yes woman do have the power of influence which like authority if abused can become very destructive. Godly men must learn to use their authority humbly, and Godly woman must learn to use their influence to help the purpose of God’s Glory in the earth, as I believe Paul was simply saying to all of us that Name the name of Christ “What type of influence are we having?

    1. Hi Derek,

      I agree that the instructions about Jezebel should not be seen as a gender issue, but one that all of us can learn from. I also agree that gender does not disqualify men or women from preaching or teaching the Word of God.

      I have heard people say that Eve as “help” is a similar word to the Holy Spirit as “help” and yet I have not found this to be the case. I’ve written about this here: https://margmowczko.com/holy-spirit-eve-helpers/

      All the occurrences of the Hebrew word used for Eve as “help” is at the bottom of this page: https://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/

      All the occurrences of the Greek word used for Eve as “help” is here: https://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper-in-the-septuagint/
      And here: https://margmowczko.com/every-verse-that-contains-boethos-in-the-septuagint/
      None of these verses mentions the Holy Spirit.

      I’m not sure why you say that Jezebel enjoyed the “masculinity of authority”? The Bible gives us plenty of examples of women who had some kind of authority: an authorisation that had nothing to do with masculinity or wooing. Here are some Bible women who had authority: https://margmowczko.com/the-propriety-of-women-with-authority/

      1. Well I’m sure that the many references are insightful. And yes we do “know in part”, but perfect love is the key. Our numerous translations are helpful when viewed in the broader scope but our love for God and our love for one another will do away with our limited understanding.

        1. Yes, love covers lots of failings, and it fulfills God’s law. 🙂

  5. Thank you for your article on Jezebel our son is rapt in the teaching of Pastor Steven Anderson and has sent us a few of his messages, we are not enamored with his teachings and the last one we received he called ALL WOMEN WHO PREACHED IN CHURCH wicked Jezebels. And particular berated Joyce Meyer even down to her hair style, but having listened to her on a number of occasions I find her teachings exhort people to a closer walk with God not the opposite. I have tussled with this since listening to this sermon we were sent because I occasionally bring a message at our church. (Asked by the Pastor to do so) which incidentally is a Baptist church. So thank you for the things you have said.

    1. Oh no! There are few people as ill-informed as Steven Anderson. I’m so sorry your son believes his ideas. 🙁

  6. Not once in Rev 2:20-25 does John complain that a woman teaching men was the problem. He could have shut the whole thing down by telling the church not to allow women to teach, but he did not, instead, he focused on the false content of her massage and evil deeds.

    Which points out another interesting fact that the church in Thyatira allowed women to teach in their church in the first place and thought nothing of it.

    I also find it interesting that Rev says Christ will strike her children dead. It is clear that children refers to her “followers.”

    2 John 1:1 refers to the children of the Lady Elect. Meaning this was a woman with followers under her leadership and John approved.

    1. 🙂 Yes, I mention the Lady Elect (or the Chosen Lady), who is another church leader, in footnote 6.

  7. Thanks for the insightful article Marg. As I read your article and some of the responses I continue to wonder how it is that people can focus on one person or one verse and ignore the context of the verse or ignore so many other examples that would contradict that claim. I thought of all the times men were mentioned as being false prophets or teachers throughout the OT and the NT (e.g. Ezk 13, Mt 7:15, Jer 23:16, Acts 20:28-30. So many warnings were issued against following their false teaching, yet seldom are they mentioned. Anyway, thanks again for the article and the work you do!

  8. Hey Marg – thanks for your research on Jezebel 🙂

    In my work, I’m referring a bit to OT Jezebel at the moment and had completely forgotten the NT one.

    Probably because of my lapse, when I hear people talk about Jezebel and sexual immorality, the OT reference seems very weak, as her behaviour was abusive, but sexual sin is far from being at the forefront. (As opposed to her corruption, manipulation, and violence.) Aside from the Baal worship, which I imagine most readers would skim over, the most relevant thing seems to be her application of makeup before her death. I can imagine anyone wanting to look their best in that situation.

    Ahab’s behaviour seems just as bad – he distances himself via Jezebel and others, but is entirely complicit. These days we’d say he was using “flying monkeys” to do his work. So in the light of the OT, “Jezebel” insults seem to be very gendered.

    Perhaps the history of those insults really comes from Rev? Not from Kings, as I had assumed.

    1. I don’t believe “Jezebel” was the Thyatiran woman’s real name. It was most likely a pseudonym designed to associate her with Ahab’s wife who enticed the Israelites to worship Baal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

Loading

Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?

Archives