25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women


Some Christians have a narrow view of what godly women can be and can do.  They believe their view is based on what the Bible shows us about women.  They have even named their view “Biblical Womanhood”.  These Christians seem to think that godly women are limited to being wives and mothers and homemakers.  Or, at the very least, they think that these are the primary, and most important, roles for women.  Is this what the Bible really shows us?

The following list is of roles and activities of real-life Bible women, roles other than that of wife and mother.  I am not making any recommendations or judgements one way or the other about these roles and activities.  All I hope to show is that they are “biblical” and that not all Bible women were as restricted – or as passive – as we are sometimes led to believe.  It is important to note that all these women are spoken about positively in the Bible, no matter what we might think of them or their actions.

(1) Disobey authorities and jeopardise your own safety by rescuing young children from danger: Shiphrah and Puah (Exo. 1:15-22), Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter (Ex. 2:5-10), Mephibosheth’s nurse (2 Sam. 4:4).  (More on the women who protected Moses here.)

(2) Stay single and help your brothers lead Israel: Miriam (Micah 6:4).

(3) Think and act quickly and rescue your husband from imminent death: Zipporah (Exo. 4:24-26), Michal (1 Sam. 19:11-17), and Abigail (1 Sam. 25:1ff).  (More about Abigail here.)

(4) Dress like a prostitute and have sex with your father-in-law so that you can have legitimate children . . . and be praised for it: Tamar, an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Gen. ch. 38, esp Gen. 38:26; Ruth 4:12; Mat. 1:3).

(5) Commit treason against your own people in order to help Israel, and cut a shrewd deal to rescue your family: Rahab (Josh. 2:1ff; 6:22-25).  (More about Rahab here.)

(6) Petition for your legal rights of inheritance, and have your story told on three separate occasions in the Old Testament: Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milka and Noah, a.k.a. Zelophehad’s daughters (Num. chs. 26-27; Num. ch. 36; Josh. 17:3 cf 1 Chron. 7:15).

(7) Lead and judge Israel, and give orders to the general of the army: Deborah (Judg. chapters 4-5). (More about Deborah here.)

(8) Kill the generals of enemy armies by driving a tent peg through their skull or decapitating them: Jael (Judg. 4:17-22; 5:24-27), Judith (Judith 13:6-10).

(9) Mortally wound the leader of an army that is attacking your city by being a crack shot with a millstone: a woman of Thebez (Judg. 9:53; 2 Sam. 11:21).

(10) Be noticeably more spiritually astute than your husband: Samson’s mother (Judg. 13:1ff). (More about Samson’s mother here.)

(11) Successfully negotiate with a military general for the deliverance of your town, as well as being a living repository of oral lore: The wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah (2 Sam. 20:14-24).

(12) Make the first move in securing a husband for yourself by going to him at night and uncovering his “feet”: Ruth (Ruth 3:7).

(13) Be a prophet and a royal adviser: Huldah (2 Chron. 34:19-33; 2 Kings 22:8-20; 23:1-25).  Several female prophets are mentioned in Bible: Miriam (Exo. 15:20), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36-38), Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9). (More on female prophets here, and on Philip’s daughters here.)

(14) Build towns: Sheerah (1 Chron. 7:24); or help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem: the daughters of Shallum (Neh. 3:12).  (More about Sheerah here.)

(15) Be a queen: Sheba (1 Kings 10:1ff) and Candace (Acts 8:27).  (More queens mentioned in the Bible here; more about Candace here.)

(16) Win a beauty contest to become queen and then risk your life by devising and implementing a scheme to rescue the Jews: Esther.

(17) Give your mistress vital information that will result in her husband, yet another army general, being healed of leprosy: the young slave girl taken captive from Israel (2 Kings 5:2ff)

(18) Be involved in agriculture or industry: Various women (Gen 29:9; Ex 2:16; Josh 15:17-19; Ruth 2:8; Acts 16:14; 18:3).  (More working women in the Bible here.)

(19) Lead formal, public displays of celebration or mourning: Miriam (Exo 15:19-21), Jephthah’s daughter (Judg. 11:34), the wailing women in Jeremiah (Jer. 9:17-20).  (More about celebrating and wailing women here.)

(20) Say prophetic prayers and praises that have the authority of Scripture: Miriam (Exo. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Mary (Luke 1:46ff), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff).

(21) Teach theology and inspired messages: King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1ff), Anna (Luke 2:37-38), Priscilla (Acts 18:26).  (More about these Bible women who taught here.)

(22) Have theological discussions with Jesus about worship and the resurrection, etc: the Samaritan woman, the first indigenous Samaritan evangelist (John 4:19-25, 39) and Martha (John 11:20-27). (More here and here.)

(23) Travel with Jesus and support his ministry from your own resources: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, etc (Luke 8:1-3 cf Matt. 27:55-56).  (More on the many Galilean women who traveled with Jesus here.)

(24) Be a co-worker and labourer in the gospel with the apostle Paul: Euodia, Syntyche, Junia, Phoebe, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, etc.  (We don’t know if any of these women were married or had children.)  (More on the women associated with Paul here and here.)

(25) Host and run a house church: Lydia, the first Christian convert in Europe (Acts 16:40), Nympha (Col 4:15), Priscilla with Aquila (1 Cor. 16:19), the Chosen Lady (2 John 1ff).  (More about these women here.)

Our culture and customs in western society today are vastly different to the culture and customs of the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world of Old and New Testament times.  Differences in culture are factors that must be considered when trying to extract biblical principles from the text for application today.  Not everything that was done in the Bible has a universal, timeless, or useful application.

What is a timeless principle is that both men and women should be taking their lead from Jesus.  We should be emulating his character, displaying and using the fruit and gifts of his Holy Spirit in order to actively bless our families and the church, and to further God’s kingdom.  Moreover, we should be doing this in a broad variety of ways.  We should be careful that we don’t limit and stifle people or promote passivity.

I am not a biblical woman.  I am a follower and servant of Jesus Christ, and I am being conformed more and more into his image.  Bible women are not my primary role models – Jesus Christ is.

What are some other roles and activities of biblical women that can be added to this list?

© 7th of September 2013, Margaret Mowczko

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Posted September 7th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, , , ,

51 comments on “25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women

  1. Have your story of one daring and costly act for Jesus be told forever every time the gospel is preached. (Matthew 26:6-13)

  2. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women “What is a timeless principle is that both men and women should be taking their lead from Jesus.  We should be emulating his character, as well as displaying and using the fruit and gifts of his Holy Spirit to actively bless our families and the church, and to further God’s kingdom.  We should be careful that we don’t limit people or promote passivity.” […]

  3. Brittany says:

    Proverbs 31 woman was a successful business woman.

  4. Brittany says:

    Dorcas made clothes for the poor.

  5. Marg says:

    Thanks Harriet and Brittany.

  6. Ellayne says:

    This is wonderful! :) Whenever people try to press “traditional biblical women’s roles” on me, I always bring up women like Deborah, Jael, Abigail, and Rahab. Thank you for compiling this list!

  7. Marg says:

    Yes, the proponents of “Biblical Womanhood” seem to focus on a few “wifely submission” verses and they downplay the significance, or avoid altogether, the many verses about real-life biblical women.

  8. Marg says:

    I really should have included Mary of Bethany.

    (26) Forget about the housework and cooking (the less necessary things) and sit at Jesus’ feet with the other disciples learning about the Kingdom of God (the better, more necessary thing) Luke 10:38-42. (See also John 12:3.)

  9. Kate says:

    I love the last one you added! #26 all the way!

  10. Chuck Bronson says:

    How about urging your upright, suffering husband to curse God and die – Job 2:9?

  11. Marg says:

    Yeah, not the kind of example I’m looking for. I’m looking for examples of Bible women who made a positive impact on society and their family (even if their methods seem odd to us today.) There’s plenty of good Bible women.

  12. Nadine says:

    Marg…love your comments.

  13. TL says:

    great list. A long time ago I did a search on how many women were praised for being wives and bearing children, in the OT and the NT. I was surprised at the difference between the OT and the NT. After Jesus was born there was little to no emphasis on women striving to bear children, or praised for bearing children. Occasionally in the OT, but most of the time in the NT, we don’t even know if the women mentioned were married or had children. Go figure!!! :)

  14. Marg says:

    Kate: How could I have left her out? I love Martha and Mary and see a little bit of myself in both of them . . . a tiny bit.

    Nadine: Thanks. :)

    TL: For sure. Having children and raising “godly seed” (Mal. 2:15 (NRSV)) seems to have been very important before Jesus – the ultimate “seed” – was born. In the New Testament, ministry seems more important than motherhood.

  15. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Women at New Life […]

  16. Osheta Moore says:

    This is a fantastic list. I’m bookmarking it so I can read those passages and be inspired whenever I don’t feel “biblical” enough. What I loved (and you mentioned this in your comments) is that they all had a profound, positive influence on society and the Church without necessarily fit into our western, Conservative expectations. Thank you for taking the time to put this list together and your encouragement to be followers of Jesus in our womanhood over “biblical”

  17. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women. […]

  18. Marg says:

    Thanks Osheta. It was my pleasure. :)

  19. Aleah says:

    Thank you for this! I needed this reminder today.

  20. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women […]

  21. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women […]

  22. […] And 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women, which is a heck of a lot better than it sounds and quite possibly the best article I’ve read all year. […]

  23. Marg says:

    Some new suggestions for the list:

    From April via Twitter:
    “For the Samaritan woman I’d also add her role as an evangelist.”
    April’s post on the Samaritan woman is here.

    (I’ve now added that the Samaritan woman was the first indigenous Samaritan evangelist into the original list.)

    From Ann via a personal message:
    “I would add Rebekah to this list as well. Rebekah was willing to ‘take a curse’ for her deception so that she could facilitate God’s purposes in ensuring that Israel (Jacob) received his father’s blessing. I believe the apostle Paul affirms her actions in Romans 9:3-4 as he adopts Rebekah’s words as his own: ‘For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel (namely, Jacob.)’ Just 7 verses later, Paul refers to the twins as ‘Rebekah’s children’. Rebekah, Paul, and Jesus are the only ones in the Bible (that I know of) willing to ‘take the curse’ for Israel.”

    I think this is very interesting and worth thinking about. Anne has written about Rebekah here.

  24. Marg says:

    Here’s another biblical woman and her biblical role

    (27) Give away your, and your son’s, last meagre meal to the prophet Elijah – even though there’s a severe famine – because that’s what God has personally directed you to do. Take care of Elijah and have your flour and oil never run out, and then have your only son be brought back to life by the prophet: The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24 cf Luke 4:35-36)

  25. sara says:

    fun read. you need to fix your reference to Abel Beth Maacah–2nd Samuel 20, not chapter 10. :)

  26. Marg says:

    Thanks Sara. It’s fixed now. :)

  27. Anne Vyn says:

    Marg, I would send you a link to a fuller explanation on my Rebekah reflections : http://definingmatters.blogspot.ca/2013/07/the-inspirational-obedience-of.html

    Blessings to you and thanks for all the work you are doing!!
    We are hoping to start a CBE chapter here in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, very soon :)

  28. Nicola says:

    God gave me a brain so it stands to reason He wants me to have it, and He wants me to use it.

  29. Marg says:

    I agree, Nicola. :)

  30. […] I don’t know what God has in store for my life, but I know from reading scripture that there is more than just one example of what it means to be a woman. I know that Jesus defended women who chose to be unconventional. I know that we are never called to be “biblical women” and “biblical men”, but to make disciples of all nations. […]

  31. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women […]

  32. Bethany says:

    Jehosheba! She rescued her nephew Joash when her step-mother Althaliah ordered that all the king’s heirs be murdered. She smuggled him out of the palace and hid him in the Temple of the Lord for six years when Althalia ruled the land. In doing this, she saved the royal line of the Messiah! (2 Kings 11) Women of valor!

  33. Marg says:

    Thanks for this, Bethany. She is definitely a woman of valour!

    2 Kings 11:1-3; 12:1 NIV: When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land. . . . In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba.

  34. […] 6. 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women […]

  35. […] don’t know what God has in store for my life, but I know from reading scripture that there is more than just one example of what it means to be a woman. I know that Jesus defended women who chose to be unconventional. I know that we are never called […]

  36. Adrienne says:

    This is such a wonderfully eye-opening list. It’s incredible how most of the women that are mentioned by name in the Bible are so cool. ;) I do have a question though. What led you to include Judith in the list when her book is not in the Bible? I would like to know your thoughts on this.

  37. Marg says:

    Hi Adrienne, Judith is not mentioned in any of the modern Protestant Bibles, but the book that bears her name is in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament.)

    Greek Orthodox Christians regard the Septuagint as inspired, and the first English translations of the Bible, including the first few editions of the King James Bible, contained the apocryphal books of the Septuagint. Moreover, the Septuagint was the Old Testament that Paul and other New Testament people were familiar with.

    I personally do not consider that the Septuagint, or the book of Judith, are especially inspired, but they still have some value for modern Christians. They have a place in our history.

  38. […] Interesting posts here: 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women and The (im)Propriety of Bible Women with Authority. […]

  39. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women […]

  40. […] For a book that was written within a patriarchal culture that subjugated women to a lower caste, the Bible is rife with tales of women of valor. […]

  41. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women […]

  42. Jodi says:

    Thank you for your article Marg and the great conversations! I’m preparing to begin facilitating Bibliodramas, these authentic roles of women in the Bible are spurring me on!

  43. […] 25 Roles for Biblical Women […]

  44. […] Similarly, the idea that men and women are limited, or restricted, to separate spheres also has no real biblical […]

  45. […] 25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women […]

  46. bruised reed says:

    Thankyou for your articles Marg – thoroughly blessed by them. A small point re Priscilla in (21) – the reference should read Acts not Luke. Also, surely ‘the Shunammite’ (cf. 2 Kings 4:8-37,8:1-6,Heb 11:35) deserves a guersney in your list?

    • Marg says:

      I agree about the “prominent woman” in Shunem (as she’s described in 2 Kings 4:8.) She was the protagonist, while her husband seems passive, in the the passages you cite.

      Thanks for spotting the typo. I’ve corrected it now.

  47. […] The instructions in Titus 2:4-5 were appropriate for the young wives in Crete at that time, but these instructions do not define these women, or women in general.  Nowhere do the authors of the Bible attempt to define “womanhood”.   Rather, the Bible shows that at least some women, even in Ancient times, were involved in all kinds of ventures, ministries and roles. […]

  48. […] The purpose of this article is to show that women can have a humble and submissive attitude and still use their intelligence, influence, initiative, and individual abilities without artificial limitations. This becomes evident when you use real Bible women as examples of submission, rather than the idealised, romanticised, or overly domesticated versions of womanhood promoted by some churches. […]

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