The pattern of male leadership and headship in the community of faith began at creation. Then it’s maintained throughout Scripture:
- There were patriarchs instead of matriarchs.
- The tribes of Israel were named after men.
- The only legitimate mediators between God and people were men (i.e., priests instead of priestesses).
- God appointed kings instead of queens.
- God called men to be the focal points of His covenants with mankind (i.e., Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus).
So why do we see examples of female leadership in Scripture? What about queens, prophetesses, at least one female judge—Deborah? Were these women an anomaly? Are they examples of rebellion against God’s design, or is there another explanation? To answer these questions, with the exception of Deborah who I discussed in a separate post, let’s look at them individually.
Queens Support God’s Pattern of Male Leadership
Scripture mentions three prominent queens, and they fall into two categories:
- Jezebel (1 Kings 16–22; 2 Kings 9) and Athaliah (2 Kings 8, 11) were evil women who seized control and became tyrannical leaders. Jezebel instituted the worship of the false god Baal across Israel and persecuted followers of Yahweh. Athaliah murdered her grandchildren upon the death of her son and then seized the throne of Judah. Clearly, neither woman serves as a good example.
- Esther stands in contrast as a godly queen. She supported male leadership through her submission first to her adopted father, Mordecai, and then to her husband, King Xerxes of Persia. In doing so, God used her to save her entire people from annihilation (Esther 5:1–8, 8:1–8).
Priestesses Support God’s Pattern of Male Leadership
Under the Mosaic Covenant, only men could be priests because they were the teachers:
[The priests] may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken.Leviticus 10:11
When female priestesses are mentioned, they are associated with pagan religions such as the worship of Astarte or Baal. Wayne Grudem, co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, explains:
Think of the Bible as a whole, from Genesis to Revelation. Where is there one example in the entire Bible of a woman publicly teaching an assembled group of God’s people? There is none.Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth, p. 82
Prophetesses Support God’s Pattern of Male Leadership
No negative association in Scripture is attached to women being prophetesses. They could occupy this office for the simple reason that it was not a position of leadership. John Piper and Wayne Grudem explain:
It is instructive to note in the Old Testament that some women were prophets, but never priests. It is the priests who had the more settled and established positions of leadership in Israel. Prophecy is a different kind of gift from teaching, and when women functioned as prophets they did so with a demeanor and attitude that supported male leadership. Women who had the gift of prophecy did not exercise it in a public forum as male prophets did. The reason for this is that such a public exercise of authority would contradict male headship.Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 217
If we consider two examples of the most prominent prophetesses in the Old Testament, we see that they not only don’t conflict with male headship but actually support it…
1. Moses’s Sister Miriam
After Israel crossed the Red Sea, Moses led the nation in a song of praise (Exodus 15:1–19). Then Miriam did something similar, but with an important difference:
Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: ‘Sing to the Lord . . . ’Exodus 15:20-21
Miriam led only the women in singing, as opposed to leading both women and men as her brother had done.
What happened when Miriam challenged Moses’ leadership?
In Numbers 12:2 Aaron and Miriam claimed, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through [you]? Has He not spoken through us also?” Apparently, they thought they should have some of Moses’s authority. God quickly called the people of Israel to the tabernacle of meeting, appeared in the pillar of cloud, rebuked Aaron and Miriam, defended Moses, and gave Miriam leprosy (Numbers 12:4–10).
After Moses interceded for Miriam, her leprosy was removed. But God still commanded that she be put outside the camp for seven days (Numbers 12:13–15). Considering that Aaron engaged in the same sin as Miriam, why was she the only one punished in such a way? While it was bad for Aaron to try to usurp his brother’s authority, it was even worse for Miriam, as a woman, to do so.
2. Huldah the Prophetess
During Josiah’s restoration of the temple, the Book of the Law (Pentateuch) was discovered. When it was read before Josiah, he was grieved to discover how far his nation had strayed from following God. Tearing his clothes, he sent messengers to “inquire of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:13). Those messengers went to Huldah the prophetess.
The significance of Huldah’s response is that she did not publicly proclaim God’s Word. Rather, she explained it privately to the messengers (2 Kings 22:15–20). She exercised her prophetic ministry in a way that did not obstruct but instead supported male headship.
Other Prophetesses and Female Prophesiers
Numerous other prophetesses are listed throughout Scripture, making clear this was not an anomaly:
- Deborah, who also served as a judge (Judges 4:4)
- The wife of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 8:3)
- Anna, who spoke about Jesus’s birth in the temple (Luke 2:36–38)
- The four daughters of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:9)
In each case, however, like Huldah, there is no record of these women having the public ministries of their male counterparts.
Other women are not called prophetesses but are recorded as prophesying:
- Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet (1 Samuel 2:1–10)
- Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39–45)
- Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46–55)
But in each instance, the women prophesied under the headship of a husband or father or, in the case of the widow Anna, the temple’s own male leadership.
The New Testament Supports God’s Pattern of Male Leadership
The pattern of male leadership established at creation is maintained throughout the Old Testament and carried into the New Testament.
The Twelve Apostles Were Men
Jesus could have chosen six men and six women, but He chose all men for these important leadership positions.
The Seventy Were Men
They were sent out after the Twelve (Luke 10:1). Again though Jesus could have chosen thirty-five men and thirty-five women, but He chose all men.
Church Elders Are Men
Consider the qualifications for elders:
If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work . . . the husband of one wife . . . one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission. If a man is blameless, the husband of one wife . . . holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught.1 Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 1:6, 9
When churches have female pastors or elders, they have rejected the teaching of God’s Word. God does not recognize women in those positions, because only men can occupy the office:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.1 Timothy 2:12-14
The foundation of these verses comes from two truths:
- Adam was created first.
- Eve was deceived. While it sounds as though Adam is commended for not being deceived and Eve is condemned for being deceived, it is actually the opposite. Eve was not as much at fault because she was deceived while Adam was more at fault because he sinned knowingly.
The Real Question
Sometimes people ask: “Why can’t women be in leadership over men in the church or in the home?” It has nothing to do with talent or gifting. Some women are fantastic teachers and leaders, and they should use their skills over other women and children.
What it does have to do with is Adam’s being created first and Eve’s being deceived. Beyond that, we can’t say because those are the only two reasons Paul gave. The real question isn’t “Why can’t women?” The real question—and it is the same question we often face—is: “Will we submit to God’s Word?”
- Considering God called men to be leaders throughout the Old Testament, what application do you see this having for the church and the home?
- What can we learn from:
- The evil examples set by Jezebel and Athaliah?
- The godly examples set by Esther and Huldah?
- The inconsistent examples set by Miriam?
- Has this post caused you to view leadership roles for men and women in the church and home differently? If so, in what ways?
- What other examples come to mind that are not included in this post?