There was a respected place and position for prophets, male and female, in ancient Israel, in early Judaism, and in the first-century church. Unlike monarchs and priests who gained their place through inheritance and tradition, prophets gained their place because of their unique abilities. They heard from God and spoke for God. Their speech did not always include foretelling; nevertheless, prophets were intermediaries between divinity and humanity.
In this article, I list the women who are plainly identified as prophets in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (Hebrew: neviah; Greek: prophētis). Most are presented in the scriptures in a positive light and I’ve written a short note on each of them. These women were influential, leading figures in their communities.
Five women are identified as prophets in the Hebrew Bible, with Miriam being the first to be given this title. Miriam was the older sister of Moses the lawgiver and of Aaron the high priest. All three siblings were prophets and all three were leaders. God reminds Judah of their leadership in Micah 6:4:
“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (NRSV).
The scriptures do not record any of Miriam’s prophetic messages, but they do record a song she sings.
Then the prophetess (neviah) Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women came out following her with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted; he has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea.” Exodus 15:20-21 (italics added)
The Hebrew words behind “them” (lāhem) and “sing” (šîrū) in Exodus 15:21 are grammatically masculine. This indicates Miriam’s audience included men; she directs men and women to “Sing to the Lord …”
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. They tell us she was a prophetess and a leader, even if her prophetic actions and messages are not recorded.
I have more on Miriam, here.
Deborah is the only female judge mentioned in the book of Judges. She was also a prophetess.
Deborah, a prophetess (neviah) and the wife [or, woman] of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to settle disputes. Judges 4:4-5 CSB
Unlike many of the other judges, there is not a bad word spoken about Deborah’s character, abilities, or actions. She was an effective spokesperson for God, and her prophetic leadership extended to commanding Barak, the general of the army (Judg. 4:4-6). Moreover, she wasn’t afraid to follow up her words with actions; she willingly entered the war zone with Barak (Judg. 4:9-10).
Hebrew scholar Robert Alter notes the two roles of Deborah as judge.
The [Hebrew] word shofet, traditionally translated as “judge,” has two different meanings —”judge” in the judicial sense and “leader” or “chieftain.” The latter sense is obviously the relevant one for [the book of Judges], though the sole female judge, Deborah, in fact also acts as a judicial authority, sitting under the palm tree named after her.
Like Miriam, Deborah also sings a victory song that is recorded in scripture (Judges 5:1ff). Unlike Miriam, the Bible shows some of Deborah’s prophetic ministry in action.
I have more on Deborah, here.
We know almost nothing of the woman who Isaiah mentions in Isaiah 8:3, not even her name:
“And I went to the prophetess (neviah), and she conceived and bore a son.”
There is some debate about her relationship with Isaiah; she may or may not have been his wife. There is also debate about whether she was truly a prophet, or if she is called “prophetess” because of her association with Isaiah. However, no other woman is called a prophetess (neviah) in the Bible who did not minister as such.
Isaiah speaks about the son who the prophetess bore and his symbolic name:
“Here I am with the children the Lord has given me to be signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of Armies who dwells on Mount Zion” (Isaiah 8:18).
Prophecies were sometimes symbolically acted out (e.g., Isa. 20:1-6; Jer. 19:1ff; Eze. 4:4-8; Acts 21:10-11). This is the case in Isaiah 8 where, as Wilda Gafney points out, “the production of a child whose name is a portent of the future of Judah is a prophetic performance.”
Claude Mariottini believes the unnamed woman was “part of a prophetic guild and worked with her husband [Isaiah] by giving a symbolic name to their son as visible evidence of the message Isaiah preached to king Ahaz.”
Dr Mariottini’s article on this prophetess is here.
We read about Huldah in 2 Kings 22:8-20 and in 2 Chronicles 34:1-28 where the same account is repeated. According to the story, Josiah, the young king of Judah, has just been told that the scroll of the law (Deuteronomy) has been discovered after having been forgotten for many years. Josiah’s secretary then reads the scroll to him.
Josiah, being a godly king, is deeply concerned with what he hears. He commissions a delegation of five of his most important men with the charge,
“Go and ask the Lord on my behalf, and on behalf of the people, and on behalf of all Judah concerning the contents of this scroll that has been found” (2 Kings 22:13a CEB).
The delegation goes directly to Huldah. This indicates she was well known and respected by the king and his men. There are similarities here with King Hezekiah sending a delegation to the prophet Isaiah (in Isaiah 37:1-7), and with some of Israel’s elders going to the prophet Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord (in Ezekiel 20:1ff).
Josiah’s men speak to Huldah on behalf of the king and the nation. And Huldah replies and speaks on behalf of the LORD. Three times in her prophecy, some of which is recorded, she declares, “This is what the LORD says …”
I have more on Huldah, here.
Noadiah is mentioned by name in a short prayer spoken by Nehemiah. Nehemiah had been a cupbearer for the Persian monarch Artaxerxes I, but was now governor of Judah employed by Artaxerxes I. As governor, Nehemiah launched new policies and projects that did not please everyone. One such project was building a wall around Jerusalem.
Noadiah and other prophets were opposed to what Nehemiah was doing. The biblical text does not tell us what the prophets had an issue with, but they were clearly giving Nehemiah a hard time.
Nehemiah felt threatened, so he prays to God for help:
“My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat for what they have done, and also the prophetess (neviah) Noadiah and the other prophets who wanted to intimidate me” (Neh. 6:14).
Noadiah and two powerful men, Tobiah, an Ammonite official, and Sanballat I, the governor of Samaria, are mentioned in the same prayer. This is surely an indication of Noadiah’s status and influence. Nehemiah’s words also imply that she was a leader among the other prophets, perhaps the leader.
Despite her difference of opinion with Nehemiah, there’s no clear indication Noadiah was a false prophet. By comparison, some earlier women are clearly described as prophesying falsely and they are themselves prophesied against by Ezekiel according to God’s instructions (Ezek. 13:17-23). (Because these false prophetesses in Ezekiel aren’t identified, I haven’t written a note on them.)
In the New Testament, the prophetic baton is passed onto Anna. Anna is identified in Luke’s Gospel as a prophetess (prophētis) who spends her time in the temple in Jerusalem “worshipping with fasting and prayer, night and day” (Luke 2:36-37). She is elderly and she is single, choosing not to have remarried after her husband’s death several decades earlier. It is not clear in Luke 2:37 if Anna is eighty-four years old or if she had lived as a widow for eighty-four years which would make her extraordinarily old. Either way, she is depicted as a venerable woman of exemplary devotion.
Luke presents Anna as a counterpart to Simeon: both are elderly, pious, and guided by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:25-35). When Mary had completed her 40-day period of purification after giving birth, she and Joseph took baby Jesus to the temple to be presented. Simeon is there, recognises who the child is, and speaks prophetically to Mary. Simeon is content and happy to die having seen the Messiah, but Anna looks to the future.
Anna, also recognising who the child is, speaks prophetically to a much larger audience. She begins talking about Jesus “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38), to “the rest of the righteous remnant who longed for the Messiah,” as Ben Witherington puts it. These people who Anna speaks to, “as both a prophetess and a proselytizer for the Messiah,” surely includes men as well as women.
Ben Witherington’s article “Mary, Simeon or Anna: Who First Recognized Jesus as Messiah?” is here.
On the Day of Pentecost, at the birth of the church, Peter emphasised the ministry of prophecy:
“And in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young adults will see visions, and your older adults will dream dreams.
And indeed on my male servants and on my female servants, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18
Four of these daughters―these female servants―are mentioned in Acts 21:9: 
“Now [Philip] had four daughters, prophesying virgins.”
The feminine noun prophētis is not used here; instead, the related participle prophētousai functions as an adjective. The present participle shows that prophesying was an ongoing ministry for the women. That they were virgins indicates they had devoted themselves to ministry as Anna had done by choosing to live as a widow.
Philip’s daughters are barely acknowledged in the Bible, but several early Christian writers mention them. Eusebius regarded Philip’s daughters and their ministry as the benchmark for prophetic ministry (EH 3.37.1). In book 5 of his church history, Eusebius compares the way they conducted their ministry with the ministry of other male and female prophets (EH 5.17.3). Agabus and Judas (male prophets mentioned in Acts) and Ammia of Philadelphia (a female prophet), among others, are listed here. Philip’s daughters were renowned and respected in the early church as prophets.
I have more on Philip’s daughters, here.
There were genuine prophets and sound teachers in New Testament churches, but there were also prophets and teachers who were leading people astray. In the church at Thyatira, there was a woman who claimed to be a prophet but who was deceiving her people.
Jesus tells the church at Thyatira,
“But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess (prophētis) and teaches and deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.” Revelation 2:20-21 CSB
The example of Jezebel, despite her serious errors, “tacitly presupposes that women could be, and actually were, prophetesses” in the church. Furthermore, her example shows that prophecy and teaching can be linked (cf. 1 Cor. 14:31).
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.
I have more on Jezebel of Thyatira, here.
MORE PROPHETIC WOMEN
According to the Megillah (one of the tractates of the Talmud), seven prophetesses prophesied to Israel: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. (See Megillah 14a.13 and 14b.) These, and still more Bible women, had prophetic insight with some clearly receiving divine messages from God or his angel (e.g., Rebekah: Gen. 25:21-23; Rahab: Josh. 2:9-11; Samson’s mother: Judg. 13:1-23).
There are no books of the Bible devoted to preserving the prophecies of women, such as we have in the Major and Minor Prophets. Nevertheless, the Bible does record prophetic words from some women. The inspired songs, prayers, praises, proclamations, and teachings of Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28-31), women with good news (Psalm 68:11-12), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1-9), wailing women (Jer. 9:17-22), Mary (Luke 1:46ff), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are prophetic and are included in scripture. This demonstrates that the writers of the Bible (who were presumably all, or mostly, male) recognised the significance of the words of these prophetic women.
PAUL AND PROPHECY
Prophets responded to God―they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21 NIV)—but they also responded to situations at hand. And the apostle Paul believed their ministry was essential in the church.
Paul considered prophecy to be the most desirable of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1), and he listed prophets and prophesying before teachers and teaching in his lists of ministry gifts in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Ephesians 4:11. Paul does not specify gender in these lists of ministries in the Greek. Moreover, he specifically mentions that women prophesied in the church at Corinth, and he did not silence them (1 Cor. 11:5). (Unlike what has been commonly assumed, Paul did not have a problem with gifted women ministering.)
Because of Paul’s high regard for prophecy, it is doubtful he considered this ministry as having less influence or less authority than the ministry of teaching. Moreover, prophecy often included an element of teaching (1 Cor. 14:31). Considering Paul’s views on these ministries, Ben Witherington concludes, “So one cannot argue that prophesying—whether by women or by men—is less important, less enduring or less official than teaching or preaching.”
There would have been more female prophets in Israel’s history and in first-century churches than those identified in the Bible, but at least one female prophet is mentioned in each period of Israel’s history.
Miriam was a prophet and leader during the time of the patriarchs. Deborah was a prophet and leader when Israel was ruled by Judges. During the monarchy, Huldah was a prophet and an advisor to the king. During the exile, both women and men were condemned for prophesying falsely (Ezek. chapter 13).
In the post-exilic period, the prophetess Noadiah was prominent among a group of prophets. Then there was Anna who spoke to all about messianic hope after Jesus was born. In the church age, the daughters of Philip are mentioned in a positive light, while Jezebel of Thyatira is presented in a negative light.
It is important to recognize that there is no hint in the Bible that anyone had an issue with women prophets because of their sex. Rather, as I stated at the outset, there was a recognised and respected place for women prophets in Israel and in the first-century church. It was understood and accepted that some women, as well as some men, were gifted and authorised by God to proclaim inspired messages and to guide his people.
 These Hebrew and Greek words for female prophets are essentially the same as the words used for male prophets (navi; prophētēs) but with feminine endings.
 The wives of the prophets Ezekiel and Hosea, for example, are not called “prophetesses.”
 Wilda Gafney, Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 104.
 Wilda Gafney has an interesting take on the story of Nehemiah which she reads through the lens of colonization. Her “empire-critical reading of the Israelite prophets troubles the presumed normative prophetic corpus in which Nechemyah is lionized and canonized and No‘adyah is criticized and marginalized.”
Dr Gafney’s 2009 paper, “A Prophet-Terrorist and an Imperial Sympathizer: An Empire-Critical, Post-Colonial Reading of the No‘adyah/Nechemyah Conflict” is available here.
Because Nehemiah is depicted as the “good guy” in the book that bears his name, it’s easy to assume Noadiah is one of the “bad guys.” But it may not have been as clear-cut as that.
 The marital status of Miriam and Deborah is uncertain. Miriam is not connected with any man in the Bible except for her brothers. Lappidoth may not be the name of Deborah’s husband but a description of her character or ministry. Huldah was married or perhaps widowed. Anna and Philip’s daughters probably chose to stay single for the sake of ministry. The prophetess associated with Isaiah is the only one known to have sexual relations and children. However, this seems to have been a prophetic act (Isa. 8:1-3).
Church orders of widows and virgins, of single women devoted to Christian service, started early in the life of the church (cf. 1 Tim. 5:9-10; Ignatius Smyrnaeans 13). (I have more on official widows and virgins in a comment to Katie, here.)
 The four women are mentioned in Acts 21:9 immediately before Agabus, a male prophet (Acts 21:10-11). This juxtaposition of female and male prophets is one of several instances where Luke pairs men and women to show the inclusivity of the gospel and its mission. Luke’s gender pairs are discussed here.
 Adolf von Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, Vol. 2 translated by James Moffat (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 217. Harnack first published this work in 1902 (in German). I have a blog post about his discussion on New Testament women ministers, here.
 Ben Witherington, The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 225.
 In the Hebrew Bible, there are several references to groups, or guilds, of prophets. At least some of these, perhaps most, included female prophets. Noadiah appears to have been a leader of a guild of prophets.
© Margaret Mowczko 2021
All Rights Reserved
Excerpt of an illustration of Miriam taken from The Bible and its Story (1908) (Wikimedia)
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