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The Propriety of Bible Women with Authority

The Propriety of Bible Women with Authority

“The scriptures . . . offer an impressive number of examples of women exercising social or political authority without raising any questions as to the propriety of that authority.”[1]

This quote from Gordon Hugenberger, and the article it comes from, is the inspiration for this post in which I include lists of Bible women who were queens, leaders, teachers, and prophets, as well as ministry associates of the Apostle Paul. Who were these influential women?

Female Rulers and Queens in the Bible

Many queens are mentioned in the Scriptures.[2] Some queens were merely consorts to their royal husbands, but other queens, such as the Queen of Sheba and Candace, queen of Ethiopia, appear to have ruled in their own right and had considerable power. The Bible mentions these powerful women with no hint of censure.

Here are the queens and female rulers mentioned in the Bible. Let me know if I’ve missed someone.[3]

~ The Queen of Sheba, known for visiting Solomon to learn from his wisdom, and mentioned positively by Jesus in the Gospels (1 Kings 10:1ff; 1 Chronicles 9:1ff; Luke 11:31).
~ Tahpenes, a queen of Egypt (1 Kings 11:19-20).
~ Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31). Jezebel was a wicked queen with clout, and is mentioned several times in 1 Kings chapters 18-21 and 2 Kings chapter 9.
~ Athaliah, the murderous granddaughter of Omri, king of Israel. She became the sole ruler of Judah when her son King Amaziah died. (2 Kings 11:1-20).
~ An unnamed queen of Chaldea who gave her husband Belshazzar good advice (Daniel 5:10-12).
~ Vashti, the wife of Xerxes (before Esther) who was exiled because she would not submit to her husband’s undignified request (Esther 1:10-2:4).
~ Esther, the Jewish wife of Xerxes. Queen Esther was instrumental in rescuing the Jews. She was not a ruler like her husband but, as queen, her instructions were carried out by men and women (Esther 4:15-17).
~ An unnamed queen of Persia, the wife of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2:6).
~ Kandake (or Candace), queen of Ethiopia or Kush (Acts 8:27).
~ Berenice (or Bernice), queen of Chalcis, and sister and “consort” of Agrippa II (Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30).

Hugenberger has a shorter list of queens and female rulers in his article but he includes Deborah in his list: “Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, who was both a prophetess and judge (presiding elder over Israel) in Judges 4-5.” (1992:345, footnote 11) Sheerah could be added to this list. Sheerah was clearly an influential woman and probably a leader of the towns she established. One of the towns even bears her name: Uzzen Sheerah (1 Chronicles 7:24). Perhaps Miriam could also be added to this list, considering that she was a leader along with her brothers (Micah 6:4).

Female Teachers and Prophets in the Bible

The wise woman of Tekoa and the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah were respected women who held influential roles in their communities. Wise women were living repositories of oral traditions and wisdom. Hugenberger includes these women—along with Abigail, Anna and Priscilla—in a list of women who taught men either by direct instruction or through prophecy.

“. . . Abigail who taught David (1 Samuel 25), the wise woman of Tekoa who taught David (2 Samuel 14:1-20), the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah who taught Joab (2 Samuel 20:16-22), Anna who instructed all those “who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38), [and] Priscilla who with her husband Aquila took Apollos aside and “expounded to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).” (Hugenberger 1992:343-344)

To this list of women who taught, I would add King Lemuel’s mother and Huldah. The inspired teaching of King Lemuel’s mother is recorded in Scripture where it still teaches men, even kings (Proverbs 31:1ff). Hugenberger lists Huldah as a female prophet. His list of prophetesses includes: “Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, the promised women of Acts 2:17-18, and the four daughters of Philip.” (1992:344, footnote 8) These female prophets were not limited to prophesying and teaching women; they also prophesied to, and taught, men. 

Paul’s Female Ministry Associates

I’d like to include one more list. This list is of some New Testament women mentioned in connection with the Apostle Paul.

“Paul valued Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche as his co-workers in the Gospel ministry. He refers to Junia as outstanding among the apostles. He commends Phoebe as a sister, patroness and minister. He acknowledges the ministry labours of Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis. He took seriously a report from Chloe of Corinth. He passed on greetings from Claudia of Rome, and sent greetings to Apphia of Colossae. He warmly mentions no less than ten women in Roman 16. He recognised the house church of Nympha in Laodicea.  He accepted the hospitality of Lydia in Philippi. He respected the faith of Lois and Eunice. Paul valued the ministry of women and even compared his own ministry to that of a breastfeeding woman.”

Most of the women in this paragraph were ministers and leaders.

These lists show that, despite the patriarchal culture of Bible times, there were plenty of women who, because of noble birth, extraordinary ability, spiritual gifting, or for some other reason, had authoritative and powerful positions and ministries. There is no hint whatsoever that the positions and roles of these women were odd, improper, or unacceptable. Moreover, men such as Barak, Josiah’s delegation, Mordecai, King Lemuel, and Apollos, seemed to have had no problem receiving instruction and direction from a godly woman. (More about these men and others who took guidance from women here.)

It is worth noting that the ungodly women leaders and teachers in the Bible, women such as Jezebel of Thyatira, are criticised for their wickedness, but they are never criticised for being a woman in leadership.

The number of authoritative and influential women mentioned in the Bible should give pause for Christians who insist that it is scripturally unacceptable for a woman to hold an authoritative position or have a leadership ministry.


[1] This quote comes from pages 344-345 of Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8-15 by Gordon P. Hugenberger published in JETS 35/3 (September 1992) 341-360.  (A pdf of this article can be accessed here.)
Dr Gordon P. Hugenberger has been an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Gordon Conwell Seminary since 1974, and he has been the senior pastor at historic Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts since 1997.

[2] Many more kings are mentioned in the Bible, and most would have had a queen as a consort. We do not know anything about most of these women. It is even unclear which one of their wives was David’s queen or Solomon’s queen. However, Bathsheba, as queen mother or gebirah (“great lady”), was given her own throne next to Solomon’s.

[3] Queen Salome Alexandra was reigning queen of Judea in the years 76 to 67 BCE. She was an excellent leader, and Judea prospered under her rule. Queen Salome Alexandra is not mentioned in the Bible because her reign occurred in the time between the Old and New Testaments. More about her here.

Related Articles

Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Paul’s Personal Greeting to Women Ministers
Authority in the Church
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders at Philippi
Abigail: A Bible Woman with Beauty and Brains
King Lemuel’s Mother: The Other Proverbs 31 Woman
Deborah and the “No Available Men” Argument

Posted April 19th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Women in Ministry, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

27 comments on “The Propriety of Bible Women with Authority

  1. Don Johnson says:

    Nice list.

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Don. I’d never really thought of the queens before, but even the consort queens would have had considerable authority (cf Esther 4:15-17).

  3. Kristen says:

    “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you” certainly does seem to indicate some authority being held by Chloe. Good post, Marg!

  4. Marg says:

    Thanks Kristen. There are a few New Testament women who appear to have been the ones in charge of their households: Lydia, Nympha, Chloe, and possibly John Mark’s mother and Martha and Mary of Bethany.

  5. Judy says:

    Hi Marg,

    do you have any more examples of women in the Bible teaching from the texts of the Bible as we know it today? I’m just exploring this issue, and I’ve seen many examples of women prophesying but are there many examples showing women teaching from the texts themselves? :/ Or is that a stupid question, sorry. Did we have access to the biblical texts in the same way we do today?

    Thanks for any replies

  6. Marg says:

    Actually, this is a very interesting question and I’m glad you asked it.

    I’ll need to look into this more. But here are a few thoughts off the top of my head (in no particular order).

    I imagine that Anna would have had to be referring to (quoting) Old Testament Scriptures when she was telling everyone who was interested in the redemption of Jerusalem about the child Jesus (Luke 2:38).

    I imagine Priscilla and Aquila might have used OT Scripture when explaining Christian baptism more accurately to Apollos. But this is a very tentative speculation.

    Not really teaching, but Mary quotes many OT Scriptures in her song (Luke 1:46ff).

    The Gospels and Apostolic letters were not written until 55-100 CE. So the OT was the only Bible for the New Testament church. Needless to say that no single person owned their own copies of the complete OT scrolls, but many would have heard readings from the OT in synagogue and church meetings.

    Huldah speaks authoritatively about the book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy.)

    … Huldah 2 Kings 22: 14– 20 and 2 Chronicles 34: 22– 28 [is] a particularly curious example of spiritual leadership. Not only did she deliver an authoritative message to King Josiah concerning all Judah, but she also validated the authority of the newly rediscovered “Book of the Law of the LORD”. One contemporary scholar has remarked that Huldah’s endorsement of the document “stands as the first recognizable act in the long process of canon formation.” (John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice, Kindle Locations 145-149)

    Many women’s words are part of canonized Scripture:

    The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Ex 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.

    I’ll keep thinking about your question, Judy.

  7. Helen Davis says:

    Female rule was known and accepted in the ancient Middle East. It was the Greeks and Romans who were misogynistic– take note of the vitriolic propaganda machine against Cleopatra for example. Cleopatra was not a believer in Elohim, but she was a wise ruler and very politically savvy and her defeat was a tragedy. I might be a bit biased though since I’m still working on my alternate history series about her!

    Other than Cleopatra, many queens did rule their own domains in the Middle East. Persian queens were quite powerful, and many ruled alongside their husbands.

    It is tragic that the church is going backwards on this issue. Also, in modern times, I dare VF and their ilk to read about the ‘reigns’ of Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel and still tell me women leaders are a curse. Angela Merkel is a model of strengh and true leadership. Also, in medieval Europe, methinks there was an Isabella and Spain and an Elizabeth in England who both did very well.

  8. Wisdomchaser says:

    I would add the queen mothers, gebirah, to the list. The queen mothers of the kings of Judah are listed in the lineage of their sons. These women were influential in the court and possibly were the chief counselors of their sons. Bathsheba was given a throne next to her son Solomon.

    If nothing else, these women influenced their sons for good or bad. If a king was righteous his mother had some influence in raising him to be so. If the the king was evil and worshiped false gods I am sure the mother had some influence there also. Some people think that Mary, mother of Jesus, should be included with gebirah. I haven’t looked at the issue close enough to have an opinion on that.

  9. Marg says:

    Hi Wisdomchaser, thanks for this. It’s an excellent contribution to this topic. There is no doubt that most queen mothers had some level of authority and clout. And some had a strong influence on the royal sons.

    As I was reading your comment, Zeruiah sprang to mind. I can’t help but think that this mother was extremely influential on her boys.

    Joab and his brothers Abishai and Asahel, who were all great warriors in David’s army, are frequently mentioned as being the offspring of their mother Zeruiah. Their father’s name is never mentioned. One cannot help wondering what sort woman Zeruiah was, and what sort of influence she may have had on her sons. (1 Sam 26:6; 2 Sam 2:13,18; 3:39; 8:16; 14:1; 16:9-10; 17:25; 18: 2; 19:21-23; 21:17; 23:18, 37; 1 Kings 1:7; 2:5, 22; 1 Chron 2:16; 11:6, 39; 18:12, 15; 26:28; 27: 24.) Zeruiah was one of David’s sisters (1 Chron 2:13-16).

  10. timothy says:

    Good as usual. Marg. One note: Bernice is not Agrippa’s wife; she’s his sister.

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