Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Jezebel of Thyatira: A Female False Prophet

Jezebel of Thyatira: A Female False Prophet

Image is of a Jezebel butterfly (Pixabay)

I wrote this article in response to a question about using the example of Jezebel, a false prophetess in the church of Thyatira, as a basis for disqualifying women from teaching in the church. In the article I provide a brief explanation of biblical prophecy and mention Bible women who were prophets. I also look at what it says about Jezebel in Revelation 2:20ff, and what her example brings to the discussions of women in ministry.

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.  Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’  Revelation 2:20-25

The letter to the church at Thyatira[1] is the longest of the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor.[2] A considerable portion of this letter is devoted to a warning about a woman symbolically referred to as “Jezebel”. Queen Jezebel, in the Old Testament, promoted the idolatrous and immoral worship of Baal.[3] Jezebel of Thyatira, in the New Testament, also promoted idolatry and immorality, but she regarded herself as a Christian prophetess.

Female Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament

True prophets are people who are inspired by the Holy Spirit and speak for God, or speak about God. Their speech may or may not include foretelling.

Several female prophets are mentioned in Bible. Miriam and Deborah were recognised and respected as both prophets and leaders (Exo 15:20 cf Mic 6:4; Judg 4:4). Huldah the prophetess helped to bring about a spiritual revival in Judah (2 Kings 22:13-14; 2 Chron 34:21-22). Anna the prophetess ministered in the Temple and spoke to everyone –  presumably men and women – who were “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38). Noadiah (Neh 6:14) and Isaiah’s wife (Isa 8:3) are also called prophetesses. There was a recognised place for prophetic women leaders in Israel.

Moreover, the inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exo 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture. They have been recorded in the Bible and thus have the authority of Scripture. (Many Christians consider Scripture as having the highest level of prophecy and authority.)

Female Prophets and Prophecy in the Church

With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the ministry of prophecy became more widespread among God’s people than in Old Testament times.

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy … Even on my male servants/ministers and on my female servants/ministers, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”  Acts 2:17-18

In the early church, prophets provided guidance (Acts 13:3-4; 16:6), instruction (1 Cor 14:31), strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Cor 14:3).  It was not unusual for women to prophesy and be prophets (cf 1 Cor 11:5).[4]  Philip’s four daughters, who were well known and respected in the early church, were female prophets (Acts 21:9).[5]

Paul considered prophecy to be the most desirable of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:1); and he listed prophets before teachers in his lists of ministry gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. Because of Paul’s high regard for prophecy it is doubtful that he considered this ministry as having less influence, importance, or authority than the ministry of teaching. Moreover, prophecy often included teaching.

False Prophets and Teachers in the Church

There were genuine, inspired prophets and sound, gifted teachers in the early church, but there were also impostors. The New Testament contains many warnings about false prophets and false teachers. Many of these warnings came from Jesus himself. Some of the false prophets and teachers in the early church were men, and some were women.

Jezebel was a false prophet and a false teacher who, it seems, had been teaching the “deep things of Satan” (Rev 2:24). Because she was a wicked prophet and teacher, Jezebel cannot legitimately be used as a precedent to ban godly women from being prophets or teachers.

It is important to note that there is nothing in the passage about Jezebel that suggests that, because she was a woman, she should not have been teaching. This passage does not say that Jezebel was given time to repent of the fact that she was teaching. Rather, it says that she was graciously given time to repent of her immorality. It was the content of her teaching and her immoral, idolatrous practices that she needed to repent of.[6]  It may be difficult for us to imagine, but sexual licence was not an uncommon problem in the early church.

It is likely that Paul’s prohibition of a woman teaching a man in the Ephesian church[7] was also aimed at silencing a wicked, false teacher.[8]  Some say that this prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 – the only verse in the entire Bible that says that a woman is not allowed to teach a man – was a universal and timeless prohibition against every woman from teaching any man. But this assumption overlooks the fact that Priscilla, a woman, along with her husband Aquila, taught Apollos, a man, in Ephesus. Moreover, Priscilla and Aquila were beloved friends and respected ministry colleagues of Timothy, and especially of Paul; and they hosted and led a church that met in their home in Ephesus (cf 2 Timothy 4:19).

Women Church Leaders: Then and Now

In Revelation 2:23 the Son of God says that he will kill Jezebel’s children with pestilence. The word “children” is commonly used by John in each of his three New Testament letters to describe Christian believers, disciples, and church members.[9] It seems that Jezebel was not only a self-proclaimed prophetess and false teacher, she was also a church leader who led her own “children” (i.e. disciples and church members) astray.

Nowhere in Revelation 2:20ff does it indicate that Jezebel’s gender was an issue. [See endnote 4.] Jezebel is never criticised for being a woman in ministry. This passage, and others, indicate that churches in NT times did not have a problem with women being prophets, teachers, or leaders.  Jezebel was just one of several women in the NT who were leaders.

While Jezebel is an example of a bad leader, many other women are mentioned by name in the context of good ministry and house church leadership. These other women serve as precedents for women in contemporary church leadership.

It would be wonderful if the contemporary church could reclaim the custom of the NT churches and trust godly and gifted women, as well as men, as prophets, teachers, and leaders.


[1] Lydia, the first Christian convert in Europe, and possibly the first leader of the church in Philippi was originally from Thyatira.

[2] Jezebel was the wicked wife of King Ahab. (See 1 Kings 16:31; ch 18; ch 21; 2 Kings ch 9.)  Jezebel, like Balaam, was a foreigner who enticed the Israelites into idolatry and immorality (Num 31:16 cf Rev 2:14).  Promiscuous sex often accompanied idolatrous religious rituals.

[4]  “The power and influence of this Jezebel, a self-styled prophetess  at Thyatira, must be viewed in light of three facts: (1) women prophesied  freely in early Christianity (see, for example, Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1  Cor 11:5); (2) women often played major roles as priestesses in contemporary  Roman and Eastern cults in Asia Minor; (3) the Christian Montanist  movement in the same region a century later assigned conspicuous leadership  roles to two prophetesses—Priscilla and Maximilla (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical  History 5.14-19).” From the IVP Commentary on Revelation 2:18-29.  (Source)

[5] Eusebius described Philip’s daughters as “mighty luminaries” and ranked them “among the first stage in the apostolic succession.” Eusebius, History of the Church 3.37.1
Eusebius also quoted Papias, an early church writer alive at the time of Philip’s daughters. Papias said that people travelled great distances to visit these prophetesses and listen to their accounts of the early church. (F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1951) [More on Philip’s daughters here.]

[6] In my research for this article I came across several comments like this one: “The error of the Thyatiran church was not just that Jezebel was allowed to promote unbiblical concepts, but that she evidently held a position as a teacher over men.”  (Source)
It is so unjust that 1 Timothy 2:12 is used to cloud every other verse about women and ministry.  Nowhere does the passage about Jezebel indicate that her teaching men was wrong.  It was the content of her teaching that was wrong. [One of my shorter articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.]

[7] Paul wrote 1 Timothy when Timothy was looking after the church at Ephesus.

[8] This woman in Ephesus may also have been leading people into immorality and idolatry.  (Compare 1 Tim 2:12 with Rev. 2:20KJV). More on this here.

[9] John used the word “children” (tekna and teknia) numerous times in his three letters. (E.g 1 John 2:1, 28; 3:1-2, 7, 10, 18; 4:4; 5:2, 21; 2 John 1, 4, 13; 3 John 4.)  These verses are not referring to natural children, but to “spiritual” children.  [More on this in my article on The Chosen Lady in 2 John here.] John is traditionally thought to have been the author of Revelation as well as the three letters that bear his name.

Further Reading:

The IVP Commentary on Revelation 2:18-29 here.

Related Articles

Gnosticism: The “Deep Things of Satan”
Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers

A Collection of Articles on NT Women Church Leaders
A Collection of Articles on Paul and Women 
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Women, Teaching and Deception
Philip’s Prophesying Daughters

Posted June 30th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Bible Women, Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, Women in Ministry, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

25 comments on “Jezebel of Thyatira: A Female False Prophet

  1. Geraldine says:

    I was suprised the man actually preached this. He was really clutching at straws with this one. There doesn’t seem to be any accountability with this kind of teaching. I won’t link to the sermon here, however if anyone does want to know what was said I will email you the link.

    I love this point, “This passage does not say that Jezebel was given time to repent of the fact that she was teaching. Rather, it says that she was graciously given time to repent of her immorality. It was the content of her teaching and her immoral, idolatrous practises that she needed to repent of.”

  2. Sarah says:

    Footnote 5 is interesting, I’ll have to see if my library has that book.

  3. Marg says:

    Sarah, you can check out chapters 30, 31, 37 and 39, which contain info on Philip’s daughters, online here. The chapters are very short. This translation is a little different to the one I used above and I am thinking of revising my footnote.

  4. Jacqueline says:

    Great article, very informative!
    I have heard so many comments and references to the Jezebel Spirit throughout the years.
    It is over used and unjustly applied to attractive well groomed, dressed women or women who dare to teach men in the church today.
    Even Spirit filled women endeavoring to serve God in any capacity still must endure the shadows cast by this one false prophetess in the church of Thyatira….so many years ago or the wicked women in Ephesus.
    This article is so uplifting and clear on these issues…..I thank the Lord for the relief and peace it has provided for me! Thank You newlife!

    • Marg says:

      Hi Jacqueline, It is terrible that the phrase “Jezebel spirit” is still being used against women.

      People who use this phrase tend to use it in a lazy and non-specific way, and so it’s difficult to counter such an attack.

    • Karen says:

      Recently, I was strongly and unjustly verbally (in writing) and abusively attacked by a young man who had posted a video on YouTube entitled, “Women’s Role in the Church”. Bottom line, he claimed that man is the head of the Christian woman; ergo, she cannot teach, etc, etc. To do so is to usurp a man’s authority over her and she must be condemned as having the spirit of Jezebel. If it hadn’t been for many other false teachings he promoted on his website, I might have just brushed him off as another wacko. After praying for the Lord’s guidance, I briefly responded. Nothing prepared me for his angry, hate filled, accusatory, condescending response; all this on his public comment site.

      I share this with you because your comment above, “This [article] is so uplifting and clear on these issues . . . .I thank the Lord for the relief and peace it has provided for me! Thank You new life!” so perfectly expresses my heart’s joy and peace after reading this article. God is so good.



      • Marg says:

        Hi Karen,

        As you can imagine, I also receive hate-filled, vitriolic comments from time to time. I sometimes wonder the purpose of these comments. Do people really think that unsolicited abusive and patronising “corrections” from a total stranger are going to persuade me to their way of thinking? Surely it will repel me from their ideas.

        Anyway, I’m glad to say that I receive many more lovely comments, like yours, telling me that the message of New Life brings peace and healing. Thank you, Jesus!



  5. Brandon says:

    I agree that Women can be prophets, as Deborah was, and she was also a judge in Israel. The problem is that women cannot be pastors because they are easily deceived. In Timothy’s letters, Paul expressly says that women shouldn’t have leadership roles in the church, and this was for numerous reasons. One practical reason is to not incite jealousy, but the other is that women are easily lead astray by false doctrines, and don’t make good church leaders. An example is the Lutheran Church, which was one of the first to accept Female ministry, and now they outright condone homosexuality. I think Jezebel teaches the church to commit immorality, and is a spirit of rebellion against the instruction of God’s saints in favor of society’s morals. As we can see, in the story in Kings Jezebel commands Ahaz to kill a man for his garden. Ahaz is a weak man, and so he does it. The significance is, that society taught that this was OK, because Ahaz was king. But, society’s morals are often that of Satan’s kingdom, Babylon.

    • Marg says:

      Women are easily deceived??? That is a very broad statement, and it has no basis in scripture. The Bible shows that both men and women were deceived and were deceivers. These traits are not tied to one gender. Furthermore, Paul uses the example of Eve’s deception and applies it to both men and women in the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 11:3). More on this women, Eve, and deception here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/women-eve-and-deception/

      Judas was a traitor, but we don’t brand all men as traitors. Adam disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, but we don’t brand men as being especially disobedient. It is equally wrong to brand all women for all time as easily deceived because of one woman. Eve’s deception is not brought up again in the Old Testament or in the New Testament except for 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. (In 1 Timothy 2:13-15, Paul corrects false teachings that were being taught in the Ephesian church.)

      You are mistaken. Nowhere does Paul “expressly say that women shouldn’t have leadership roles in the church.” That is your interpretation and it embellishes greatly on what Paul actually says in First Timothy. More on what Paul says in 1 Timothy here: http://newlife.id.au/tag/1-timothy-212-in-context/

      Queen Jezebel was a wicked queen, but other queens and women in the Bible led and influenced their communities in a positive and godly way. Some women did a great job!

      It is unwise to let a faulty interpretation of one Bible verse minimise the examples of numerous godly Bible women who taught and directed men, and were in no way deceived.

      Note that Jezebel of Thyatira was not told to stop leading and teaching because she was a woman. Rather, she was told to repent of her heretical and immoral teaching.

  6. Derek says:

    I’m often amazed in the modern church how easily these issues become gender affiliated as opposed to spiritual and insightful. I found the article to be very helpful and resourceful. And gender does not disqualify men or woman from preaching or teaching the Word of God. Paul’s reference must be viewed from the time period in which it was written, with the Temple’s of Pagan god’s threatening the early churches, as the followers of these temples often infiltrated, and led astray many members.
    I believe at the heart of Paul’s statement was a deeper insight that must be spiritually discerned. If we look closely at the Genesis account, after making man in His likeness and image, God sought a “Help Meet” for Adam. One who would help Adam meet the purpose which God had created him.
    So we are told that from Adam, God made Eve, but unlike Adam God made Eve from a “rib” or the emotional center of Adam, nor do we read that He again “breathed” into her, but she was endowed with all the insight that Adam possessed. Now interesting to note is that an Omnipotent God called her a “Help”, which is the same root designation as the “Holy Spirit” to the modern day christian. Christ promised us “another helper”
    And as the Holy Spirit “influences and Woo’s” us, Eve had this same power of “influence”. So while Adam had the “Authority” from God over the earth, Eve had the “Power” of influence, thus the reason for the serpents approach to her, not because she was weak, but because she had the power to influence. Which she did, and offered to Adam, who without a second thought ate also, and we read “then their eye’s were opened”.Gifts that had gone wrong!
    Influence can be good or bad, and manipulation, well is bad! God gave Jezebel a time (season) to repent, but she did not, being drunk with power, and enjoying the masculinity of authority, she refused to submit and humble herself before God. This is a spirit, given the name Jezebel (woman), and (Balaam) men.
    But yes woman do have the power of influence which like authority if abused can become very destructive. Godly men must learn to use their authority humbly, and Godly woman must learn to use their influence to help the purpose of God’s Glory in the earth, as I believe Paul was simply saying to all of us that Name the name of Christ “What type of influence are we having?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2009–2017   Margaret Mowczko | Powered by WordPress