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.)
(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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The (im)Propriety of Bible Women with Authority
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Protecting the Weaker Sex
“Busy at Home”: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today?
15 reasons why I support women in church leadership
“Every Old Testament Woman” facebook page here.