What the Bible Really Says About Women in Ministry
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Old Testament Scripture References

Four righteous women are called by the title prophetess. The Hebrew word for prophet is “nabi.” The same word with a female ending is “nabiah,” thus prophetess.

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.” Joel 2:28­­–29.

Peter preached that the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, a few days after Jesus’ ascension, was fulfillment of a prophecy in Joel. Peter said, “But this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: Yea and on My servants and on My handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:16–18

Notice that the phrase all flesh is immediately defined afterward by several merisms which establish that the Spirit will be poured out on everyone who belongs to God. Daughters and handmaidens are specifically mentioned. The prophecy of Joel 2 includes male and female, old and young, rich and poor. “My Spirit” upon “My servants” clearly means all of the people of God. The phrase “they shall prophesy” therefore also refers to all God’s people upon whom the Spirit is poured out. Joel prophesied that these would receive the empowerment of the Spirit, and Peter, under the inspiration of the same Spirit, added that they will speak words given to them by God to speak. The Old Testament prophecy, fulfilled from the time of the apostles will last until the final judgments upon the earth, as the final three verses of Joel 2 makes clear, and as Peter reaffirmed by including these verses in his sermon in Acts 2. Peter’s Pentecost sermon sets the normal mode of operation for ministry in the church. Even Gentiles are not excluded, as Peter would later come to fully realize (Acts 10:34).

Women Prophets, Ministers and their ministry:


Judges 4:4 and chapter 5. She judged the people of Israel. She held court under the Palm of Deborah … in the hill country of Ephraim. The Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. She did not decide cases merely by her own wisdom, but she would give them a word from God. She gave Barak words from the Lord and with that command; Barak was able to lead Israel to victory. Many point to this example and try to assert the supposition that Deborah was used, because a man wouldn’t go. However, a full examination of the account reveals that a man did go, but the Word of God still came through the ministry of Deborah, the prophetess. God did not use Deborah, because He was without “better” resources; God used Deborah, because He chose to. Since all that God does is unquestionably perfect, there is no other logical conclusion than that she was the best choice to be the chief minister over all of Israel.


Huldah’s prophecies are recorded in 2 Kings 22:14-20,

King Josiah was repairing the temple, which Manasseh had closed, and a copy of the Book of the Law was discovered. Josiah wanted to inquire of the Lord about what was written. He called Huldah, the prophetess because she was a faithful and true spokesperson for the Lord. She also served in the presence of men prophets during her time. (2 Chron. 34:22–28). Again, the ministry of the prophetess was not a one-time “desperation move” by God, but a call to a chief position placed on a woman for ministry. In Huldah’s case, she was summoned by Josiah, clearly the most righteous of all the kings in Israel’s history. It was in the wake of a great revival, when the people were purifying themselves for worship and service. More individuals were entering into service than had been available for hundreds of years. And God, through righteous King Josiah, chose a woman for the chief position.


Miriam was Moses’ sister. Part of her ministry was to lead the people in singing and dancing. The Holy Spirit inspired her with words of the song of deliverance immediately following the Exodus, perhaps the most monumental event in the Old Testament history of Israel (Exodus 15:20).

“I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). Notice that the three are listed in order of command, but no disclaimer or extra note is attached to Miriam’s name. No explanation was necessary.

Isaiah’s wife: “And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said Jehovah unto me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:3).

There are also two negative examples of a prophetess in the Old Testament.

Noadiah: Nehemiah 6:14. Grouped with male false prophets with no distinction of gender. Condemned on the basis of false prophecies, not on the basis of gender.

Jezebel: False prophetess rebuked because of her message and lifestyle. Gender is not mentioned as a consideration of condemnation.

Conclusion:  Old Testament Scripture does not forbid women in positions of ministry; in fact, it is just the opposite.

Women in positions of ministry sometimes functioned “under” the authority of man (Miriam and the wife of Isaiah) and sometimes superior to the position of a man (Deborah and Huldah).

Women in leadership are not used “just” as “emergency fill-ins,” or because there are no men available. God uses women in leadership, because He calls them to the position, just as He does men.

New Testament Scripture References:

The Greek word for prophetess means a proclaimer of divine revelation.


The elderly prophetess of the northern tribe of Asher. Anna served the Lord in the temple and met Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. She praised God and told others about Jesus (Luke 2:36).

The Four Daughters of Philip were prophetesses.

“And on the morrow we departed, and came unto Caesarea: and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters, who prophesied.” (Acts 21:8–9).

Paul dealt with proper order in the church. 

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:34–35).

Does God’s word contradict itself? No! Never! Helpers in the faith means “fellow workers.” Would Paul teach against women preaching or teaching in the church and still use and encourage women to ministry in the church? Obviously, he would not. Paul had helpers in the faith, all of whom he complimented equally.

“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” (Rom. 16:1–4).

(Notice Priscilla’s name mentioned first. This probably means that she was most prominent and capable in ministry.) Succourer means someone set over to help, a female guardian, and prophetess, caring for the affairs of others and helping them with their resources.

“That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.” (1 Cor. 16:16) Paul called Priscilla his helper in Christ. And he instructs everyone to submit to his helpers.

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven” (1 Cor. 11:3–5).

What was proper dress in that culture? It was proper for women to have their heads covered. It is culturally improper, or unwise for women to dress like a man, have the style of a man’s haircut, wear men’s shoes, etc. Why? Because it sends the wrong message. Paul expressed the same idea about the head covering. Yet Paul spoke of women praying or prophesying without distinction. He considered it normal behavior.

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26–28).

So why would God call women to ministry when wives should be subject to their husbands?

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (Gal. 3:13).

What curse? The curse in Gen 3:13–16:

“ And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

In Christ, God restored the relationship that Adam and Eve shared before the fall.

“And the man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23).

Order in the home is biblical and correct. The wife is not below, nor greater than, the husband; she is his equal. He is not to dominate over her but to love and protect her. She is not to be trampled upon by him and ordered around as though she has no intellect. She lovingly and willingly serves her husband because she loves him. He protects and provides for her and the household. If need be, he will lay down his life for her because he loves her, even as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her/it.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;” (Eph. 5:22–25).

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:34–35).

In that culture, the women were generally uneducated. Women and men (therefore wives and husbands) were segregated in worship services. Paul corrected wives who were undisciplined in their manners in church. They were out of order, disturbing others by yelling across the building to their husbands. Paul spoke to the wives, telling them that if they wished to ask questions, that they should ask their husbands at home. The context of this verse in this chapter is proper order and preventing confusion. The Scripture must be interpreted in context.

Proper interpretation of Scripture will not contradict other Scripture, nor establish a “square peg” interpretation, which then must be fit into a “round hole” of systematic theology. The proper rules of hermeneutics must never be twisted to agree with what we already believe. In these cases such beliefs are usually founded in tradition rather than direct exegetical study. Our theology must be changed to match the Scripture, not the other way around. It is unfortunate that some submit themselves to eisegetical gymnastics in a futile attempt to validate what they have “always heard” or thought. It should be further noted that such violations of Scripture are often weak arguments from silence, pointing to what the Scripture does not say, rather than what it does say.

Anyone seeking to dominate another person can be ugly.

“I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:8–14).

This Scripture shows proper order in the home between husbands and wives. Silence does not mean “muteness.” This is reference to the manner or spirit of which life is lived is lived. Wives are to be under the authority of their own husbands. Yet God is above the husband … if “any” conflicts with God, then one must obey God rather than “even the husband.” Yet obedience to God must be in a proper spirit of reverence.

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement” (1 Peter 3:1–6).

“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3:1–13).

Consider the context of this Scripture. Paul is not disputing whether the office of bishop should be a man or woman. He is instructing concerning the lifestyle and example of leadership. Note that the word “wives” in verse 11 is the ordinary word for women. In this case, Paul is giving instructions for women deacons, according to the context of qualifications for deacons.

Examples of women used by God to accomplish his work:

The wise woman:

She led/saved a whole community of God’s people from the wrath of David and Joab.

“Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee. And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear. Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter. I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the Lord? And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy” (2 Sam. 20:16–20).

Abigail: A wise wife/woman of influence.

“And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal. And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord. I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days.” (1 Sam. 25:23–28).

God told Abraham to do as Sara said concerning Hagar.

“Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Gen. 21:10–12).

There was also a time when Abraham should not have listened to Sara (Gen. 16).

Lydia was prominent in the church at Phillippi:

“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.” (Acts 16:14–15).

Shunammite woman:

She was sensitive and responsive concerning the prophet Elisha’s needs. Notice her great influence in partnership with her husband.

“And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him.” (2 Kings 4: 8–12).

Women were visited and given messages by angels (e.g. Hagar: Gen. 16:7-14, 21:14-19; Samson’s mother: Judges 13; Mary, the mother of Jesus, Luke 1:26­–38; the women at the tomb, Luke 24:1–10).

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