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 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.


[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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