Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

female rulers, queens, teachers and prophetesses in the Bible

“The scriptures . . . offer an impressive number of examples of women exercising social or political authority without raising any questions as to the propriety of that authority.”[1]

This quotation from Gordon Hugenberger, and the article it comes from, is the inspiration for this post in which I include lists of Bible women who were queens, leaders, teachers, and prophets, as well as ministry associates of the apostle Paul. Who were these influential women?

Female Rulers and Queens in the Bible

Many queens are mentioned in the Scriptures.[2] Some queens were primarily consorts to their royal husbands but other queens, such as the Queen of Sheba and Candace, queen of Ethiopia, ruled in their own right and had considerable power. The Bible mentions these powerful women with no hint of censure.

Here are the queens and female rulers mentioned in the Bible. Let me know if I’ve missed someone.[3]

~ The Queen of Sheba, known for visiting Solomon to learn from his wisdom, is mentioned positively by Jesus in the Gospels (1 Kings 10:1ff; 1 Chronicles 9:1ff; Luke 11:31).
~ Tahpenes, a queen of Egypt (1 Kings 11:19-20).
~ Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31). Jezebel was a wicked queen with clout and is mentioned several times in 1 Kings chapters 18-21 and 2 Kings chapter 9.
~ Athaliah, the murderous daughter of either Omri, king of Israel (2 Kings 8:26; 2 Chron. 22:2), or of his son Ahab (2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chron. 21:6). She married Jehoram, the king of Judah. After his death and then the death of their son King Ahaziah one year later, Athaliah became the sole ruler of Judah for six years in around 841–835 BC (2 Kings 11:1-20).
~ An unnamed queen of Chaldea who gave her husband Belshazzar good advice (Daniel 5:10-12).
~ Vashti, the wife of Xerxes (before Esther) who was exiled because she would not submit to her husband’s undignified request (Esther 1:10-2:4).
~ Esther, the Jewish wife of Xerxes. Queen Esther was instrumental in rescuing the Jews. She was not a ruler like her husband but, as queen, her instructions were carried out by men and women (Esther 4:15-17).
~ An unnamed queen of Persia, the wife of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2:6).
~ Kandake (or Candace), queen of Ethiopia or Kush (Acts 8:27).
~ Berenice (or Bernice), queen of Chalcis, and sister and “consort” of Agrippa II (Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30).

Hugenberger has a shorter list of queens and female rulers in his article but he includes Deborah in his list: “Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, who was both a prophetess and judge (presiding elder over Israel) in Judges 4-5.” (1992:345, fn 11) Perhaps Sheerah could be added to this list. She was clearly an influential woman and probably a leader of the towns she established. One of the towns even bears her name: Uzzen Sheerah (1 Chronicles 7:24). Perhaps Miriam could also be added to this list, considering that she was a leader along with her brothers (Micah 6:4).

Female Teachers and Prophets in the Bible

The wise woman of Tekoa and the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah were respected women who held influential roles in their communities. Wise women were living repositories of oral traditions and wisdom. Hugenberger includes these women, along with Abigail, Anna and Priscilla, in a list of women who taught men either by direct instruction or through prophecy.

“. . . Abigail who taught David (1 Samuel 25), the wise woman of Tekoa who taught David (2 Samuel 14:1-20), the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah who taught Joab (2 Samuel 20:16-22), Anna who instructed all those ‘who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:38), [and] Priscilla who with her husband Aquila took Apollos aside and ‘expounded to him the way of God more accurately’ (Acts 18:26).” (Hugenberger 1992:343-344)

To this list of women who taught, I would add King Lemuel’s mother and Huldah. The inspired teaching of href=”https://margmowczko.com/the-other-woman-in-proverbs-31/”>King Lemuel’s mother is recorded in Scripture where it still teaches men, even kings (Proverbs 31:1ff). Hugenberger lists Huldah as a female prophet. His list of prophetesses includes: “Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, the promised women of Acts 2:17-18, and the four daughters of Philip.” (1992:344, footnote 8) These female prophets prophesied to men and taught men.

Female Ministry Associates of Paul

I’d like to include one more list. This list is of some New Testament women mentioned in connection with the Apostle Paul.

Paul valued Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche as his co-workers in the Gospel ministry. He refers to Junia as outstanding among the apostles. He commends Phoebe as a sister, patron and minister or deacon. He acknowledges the ministry labours of Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis. He took seriously a report from Chloe of Corinth. He passed on greetings from Claudia of Rome, and sent greetings to Apphia of Colossae. He warmly mentions no less than ten women in Roman 16:1-16. He recognised the house church of Nympha in Laodicea.  He accepted the hospitality of Lydia in Philippi. He respected the faith and teaching of Lois and Eunice. Most of the women in this paragraph were ministers and leaders.

These lists show that, despite the patriarchal culture of Bible times, there were plenty of women who, because of noble birth, extraordinary ability, spiritual gifting, or for some other reason, had authoritative and powerful positions and ministries. There is no hint whatsoever that the positions and roles of these women were odd, improper, or unacceptable. Moreover, men such as Barak, Josiah’s delegation, Mordecai, King Lemuel, and Apollos, seemed to have had no problem receiving instruction and direction from a godly woman. (More about these men and others who took guidance from women here.)

It is worth noting that the ungodly women leaders and teachers in the Bible, women such as Jezebel of Thyatira, are criticised for their wickedness, but they are never criticised for being a woman in leadership.

The number of authoritative and influential women mentioned in the Bible should give pause for Christians who insist that it is scripturally unacceptable for a woman to hold an authoritative position or have a leadership ministry.

Footnotes

[1] This quotation comes from pages 344-345 of Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8-15 by Gordon P. Hugenberger published in JETS 35/3 (September 1992), 341-360. (A pdf of this article can be accessed here.)
Dr Gordon P. Hugenberger has been an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Gordon Conwell Seminary since 1974, and he has been the senior pastor at the historic Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts since 1997.

[2] Many more kings are mentioned in the Bible, but, in most cases, it is not clear if they had a queen. It is even unclear which one of their wives was David’s or Solomon’s queen, assuming they had one woman as a recognised queen. However, Bathsheba, as queen-mother or gebirah (“great lady”), was given her own throne next to Solomon’s.

[3] Queen Salome Alexandra was reigning queen of Judea in the years BCE 76 to 67. She was an excellent leader and Judea prospered under her rule. Queen Salome Alexandra is not mentioned in the Bible because her reign occurred in the time between when the Old and New Testaments were written. More about her here. A more nuanced article is here.

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Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
The Queen of Sheba and 3 Other Powerful Female Rulers in the Bible
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21 thoughts on “The Propriety of Bible Women with Authority

  1. Nice list.

  2. Thanks Don. I’d never really thought of the queens before, but even the consort queens would have had considerable authority (e.g., Esther 4:15-17).

    1. Notice how when ever the queen wanted to do something she went before the king

      1. That may be true for consort queens such as Esther, but it is not the case for regnant queens such as the Queen of Sheba and Candace of Kush (Ethiopia).

  3. “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you” certainly does seem to indicate some authority being held by Chloe. Good post, Marg!

  4. Thanks Kristen. There are a few New Testament women who appear to have been the ones in charge of their households: Lydia, Nympha, Chloe, John Mark’s mother and Martha of Bethany.

    I’ve written about Chloe here: https://margmowczko.com/who-was-chloe-of-corinth/

  5. Hi Marg,

    do you have any more examples of women in the Bible teaching from the texts of the Bible as we know it today? I’m just exploring this issue, and I’ve seen many examples of women prophesying but are there many examples showing women teaching from the texts themselves? :/ Or is that a stupid question, sorry. Did we have access to the biblical texts in the same way we do today?

    Thanks for any replies

  6. Actually, this is a very interesting question and I’m glad you asked it.

    I’ll need to look into this more. But here are a few thoughts off the top of my head (in no particular order).

    I imagine that Anna would have had to be referring to (quoting) Old Testament Scriptures when she was telling everyone who was interested in the redemption of Jerusalem about the child Jesus (Luke 2:38).

    I imagine Priscilla and Aquila might have used OT Scripture when explaining Christian baptism more accurately to Apollos. But this is a very tentative speculation.

    Not really teaching, but Mary quotes many OT Scriptures in her song (Luke 1:46ff).

    The Gospels and Apostolic letters were not written until 55-100 CE. So the OT was the only Bible for the New Testament church. Needless to say that no single person owned their own copies of the complete OT scrolls, but many would have heard readings from the OT in synagogue and church meetings.

    Huldah speaks authoritatively about the book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy.)

    “… Huldah 2 Kings 22: 14– 20 and 2 Chronicles 34: 22– 28 [is] a particularly curious example of spiritual leadership. Not only did she deliver an authoritative message to King Josiah concerning all Judah, but she also validated the authority of the newly rediscovered “Book of the Law of the LORD”. One contemporary scholar has remarked that Huldah’s endorsement of the document “stands as the first recognizable act in the long process of canon formation.” (John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice, Kindle Locations 145-149)

    Many women’s words are part of canonized Scripture. The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Ex 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture.

    I’ll keep thinking about your question, Judy.

    1. My understanding of Pheobe’s role in delivering Paul’s letter to the Romans is that she would have been expected to read and explain it publicly. Essentially she was Paul’s representative, not just a delivery person. So I would say she definitely taught men on the Scriptures. She is also described as a deacon.

      1. Hi Chris,

        Phoebe is a woman I have a special interest in. As you say, it is possible Phoebe was the first person to read Paul’s letter to the Romans aloud. She was also likely to be the first person to provide commentary on it (apart from Paul’s instructions to her.) So she definitely taught both men and women in Rome, even if the scriptures don’t plainly state this. Phoebe, most likely, taught men and women in her home town of Cenchrea too.

        Diakonoi (“deacons”) in the mid-first century church were quite unlike deacons today in many churches. Diakonoi were at the front line of ministry, and at least some (most?) taught. The Didache indicates that diakonoi were teachers.

        As a relatively wealthy woman, indicated by the description “patron (prostatis) of many” in Romans 16:2, Phoebe would have owned a largish home and may have been the host and leader of a house church. I believe Phoebe was a leading figure of the church in Cenchrea, possibly the leading figure.

        I have more on her here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/phoebe/

  7. Female rule was known and accepted in the ancient Middle East. It was the Greeks and Romans who were misogynistic. Take note of the vitriolic propaganda machine against Cleopatra for example. Cleopatra was not a believer in Elohim, but she was a wise ruler and politically savvy, and her defeat was a tragedy. I might be a bit biased though since I’m still working on my alternate history series about her!

    Other than Cleopatra, many queens ruled their own domains in the Middle East. Persian queens were quite powerful, and many ruled alongside their husbands.

    It is tragic that the church is going backward on this issue. Also, in modern times, I dare VF and their ilk to read about the ‘reigns’ of Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel and still tell me women leaders are a curse. Angela Merkel is a model of strength and true leadership.

    In medieval Europe, methinks there was an Isabella in Spain and an Elizabeth in England who both did very well.

    1. What about the qualifications of overseers and deacons in the epistles of Timothy and Titus, since I didn’t see paul mentioning women on it.
      And if that is what we think women can exercise authority over men then that it’s wrong, cause paul not only talk about women but he taught about Adam being created first and not Eve. I hope my statement didnt confuse you.

      1. Hi Aja,

        1 Timothy 2:12 is not talking about an ordinary or healthy kind of authority. No one, man or woman, should have this kind of control over a fellow believer.

        I have a short article about the Greek word translated as “usurp authority” in the King James Bible, here:
        Authentein, in a Nutshell
        I have a longer, more technical article here:
        The Meaning of Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 with a Brief History of Authent– Words

        I have an article about Adam being created first here:
        The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
        And here:
        1 Timothy 2:12, the Created Order, and Bible Men who were Guided by Godly Women
        And here:
        Adam was created first and this means …

        And I have an article about Paul’s qualifications for overseers here:
        The Role of Overseers in First-Century House Churches
        And about overseers and deacons here:
        Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders

        But perhaps the best article that explains Paul’s attitudes about women ministers in the first-century church is here:
        Paul’s Female Coworkers

  8. I would add the queen mothers, gebirah, to the list. The queen mothers of the kings of Judah are listed in the lineage of their sons. These women were influential in the court and possibly were the chief counselors of their sons. Bathsheba was given a throne next to her son Solomon.

    If nothing else, these women influenced their sons for good or bad. If a king was righteous his mother had some influence in raising him to be so. If the the king was evil and worshiped false gods I am sure the mother had some influence there also. Some people think that Mary, mother of Jesus, should be included with gebirah. I haven’t looked at the issue close enough to have an opinion on that.

  9. Hi Wisdomchaser, thanks for this. There is no doubt that most queen mothers had some level of authority and clout. And some had a strong influence on the royal sons.

    As I was reading your comment, Zeruiah sprang to mind. I can’t help but think that this mother was extremely influential on her boys.

    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 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).

  10. Good as usual. Marg. One note: Bernice is not Agrippa’s wife; she’s his sister.

    1. Thanks so much Timothy. It’s hard to keep track of all the Herods, Agrippas, and Berenices. I’ve made the correction.

  11. Appreciate you compiling this list of amazing women and their significant contributions. It is impressive!

    1. Thanks, Anne.

  12. Hi Marg, do you have any articles about the role of the Christian women in the bible as I know there are many but in a cultural sense such as taking care of the home and children? Also, are there any women priests in the bible?

    1. Hi Lisa, I have a few articles on Titus 2:4-5 here.
      https://margmowczko.com/category/titus-2/

      This one might be a good one to start with.
      https://margmowczko.com/busy-at-home-how-does-titus-24-5-apply-today/

      No Christian minister, man or woman, is called a “priest” in the New Testament. The idea that ministry to fellow believers is acting as a priest is not found in the New Testament.

      The Greek word that is sometimes understood as “priest” is presbyteros. However, this Greek word is more commonly, and more accurately, translated as “elder.” Sometimes it’s rendered as “presbyter.”

      Here’s an article about the nature of ministry in the New Covenant.
      https://margmowczko.com/old-testament-priests-new-testament-ministers/

      Here’s an article about whether women were “elders” in the New Testament.
      https://margmowczko.com/women-elders-new-testament/

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