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Women Leaders In The Bible

A report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 19, 1996, reviewed the ministries of several women who preach to large groups of men and women. One of these was Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. The report noted that these women “draw their inspiration from the many female preachers and prophets, some nameless, in the Bible.”

Let us look for a moment at the women in Scripture who are frequently held forth as examples for women preachers today. The foremost Bible example of a woman leader is DEBORAH. Why did God make Deborah a judge in Israel (Jud. 4:4-5)? The answer is not difficult. The men in Deborah’s day were very weak and cowardly. This is seen in the fact that Barak, the captain of the armies of Israel, refused to go into battle unless Deborah went with him. The woman had to remind him that God had said it is time to fight; the woman had to encourage and challenge him to go; yea, the woman had to go with him!

“And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go” (Jud. 4:8).

Deborah clearly realized that this was not right nor natural, and she told Barak it would not result in his honor. “And she said, I will surely go with thee; notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; FOR THE LORD SHALL SELL SISERA INTO THE HAND OF A WOMAN...” (Jud. 4:9).

Obviously it was a period in Israel’s history during which God could find no man to do His will, so He used a brave, willing woman. We can praise God for women like Deborah
who are willing to be strong when the men are weak. This has often happened, both in secular and in church history.

The problem in Deborah’s day was spiritual apostasy. When God’s people turn away from Him, He renders men powerless against their enemies and removes wisdom from their hearts. It is a judgment upon apostate people. We can see this very thing today in apostate North America and Europe. In general the leaders are weak and seem entirely lacking even in common sense. They cannot control their little children and women rule over them (compare Is. 3:12). This is God’s judgment because of the apostate condition of professing Christians. In Deborah’s day Israel was in bondage to their enemies only because of their apostasy from the true God and His Scriptures (Jud. 4:1-2). This was why the men were so weak. God had removed their power as He did from sinful Samson.

“Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself. ... And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the Lord” (Amos 2:14-15).

Someone might ask, “If God called Deborah to judge in Israel of old, perhaps He would call a woman to lead in a church today?” This cannot be so, because God’s Word has expressly forbidden the woman to teach or usurp authority over men in the churches (1 Timothy 2:11-12). We must rightly divide the Word of Truth. We do not get our instructions for church work in the Old Testament; we get them from the New Testament. That is very basic.

What about the DAUGHTERS OF PHILIP? They were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9). Doesn’t this mean that women can preach to men in exercising their gifts of prophecy? Not at all. That is strictly forbidden in 1 Timothy chapter two. The fact that God gives ministry gifts to women does not mean they are free to take authority in the church or to ignore the apostolic injunction against preaching to or teaching men.

As a missionary in South Asia in the 1980s, I wrote a gospel pamphlet entitled The Unknown God. The message was taken from Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill in Acts 17, an appropriate message to the idolatrous people of that part of the world. Some months after we began publishing this illustrated pamphlet I was approached by a female missionary who began to reprove me for the pamphlet and for what she considered to be an overly negative approach to the Gospel. I was heading to the barber shop one fine afternoon when I saw her coming toward me on her bicycle. She had collared me before to correct me about this or that thing, so I did the only brave, manly thing I could think of -- I tried to duck into the barber shop before she could catch me! Alas, though, I was too slow. She caught up to me and proceeded to take me to task as we were standing on the city street. She didn’t like the direct approach of condemning idolatry and preaching repentance. I reminded her that this was exactly what the Apostle Paul did. She countered that Paul was probably in the flesh when he preached that message. (I guess she knew that bit of information by revelation or vision or something!) I told her that Paul most certainly was not in the flesh when he preached the message recorded in Acts chapter seventeen by divine inspiration. I also told her that if God wanted to correct me, He would use a man to do it.

She said, “Have you not read of the daughters of Philip who were prophetesses?”

I reminded her that when Paul was staying at Philip’s house, God brought a male prophet from another city to prophesy to Paul instead of using Philip’s daughters.

“And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:8-11).

When I had made this point from the Word of God, this missionary lady got back on her bicycle and peddled away.

There is no doubt that God gave the gifts of prophecy to women. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, had promised that God would do this: “And on ... my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:18). But the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who gives the gifts, has placed restrictions upon the exercise of those gifts. 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 are Holy Scripture. Immediately after forbidding the women to speak in church meetings in 1 Corinthians 14:34, the apostle Paul warned that those who ignore this instruction are not spiritual. “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).

Some will no doubt ask, “Why does blessing appear to be upon the ministries of some women who preach and teach to men?”
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First of all, God sometimes blesses the ministry of His Word in spite of the errors of the minister. In such cases, though, the minister (whether it be man or woman) will only receive personal reward for the labor inasmuch as it was done according to the Word of God (1 Cor. 3:6-15; 2 Tim. 2:5).

Second, many times that which appears to be God’s blessing is not. The Mormon Church is one of the fastest growing “churches,” but it is apostate and preaches a false gospel. The same is true for the Roman Catholic Church, which is the largest “church” in the world. Whatever apparent blessings these “churches” have is a deception, because it is not from God. The Bible warns repeatedly of the danger of spiritual delusion. There are false gospels, false christs, false spirits (2 Cor. 11:3-4). Jesus warned of the multitudes who will stand before Him in the judgment and will boast of their spiritual accomplishments, but He will say to them, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:23). The devil poses as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15).

My friends, the bottom line is that the Bible, God’s holy Word, forbids the woman to teach or to usurp authority over the man. He forbade this 1,900 years ago, and He forbids it today.

Beware of being influenced by the rebellion of the hour.

“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 Tim. 2:11-14).

“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 says 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. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:34-37).