Women in Biblical Leadership Roles

In the first century congregations women were very active, and that is because they followed the example in what is called the Tanak, or the so-called “old testament.” Churchmen “put them out” by the third century and they have been in a type of “bondage” ever since, limited in what they were permitted to do in a male-oriented organization. Biblically, God can call whoever he wants, to do whatever he wants and women have always been seen as an equal partner, her rights guaranteed by the Torah. Women served at the tent of meeting in Exo 38.8 and at the Mishkan in 1 Sam 1.22. We will find them listed as Temple musicians in 1 Chron 25.5-6 and members of the choir in Ezra 2.65. Women brought sacrifices, made Nazarite vows, attended festivals and had to appear every seven years before the Lord to hear the Torah read in Deut 31.10-13.

In Herod’s Temple there was a segregated area called the Ezrat Nashim meaning court of the women. However, the Torah never makes any distinction of this court and it was given no special status in Jewish practice. There were no prohibitions regarding women moving from this court. That came later in Rabbinic writings. There was no women’s court in the first Temple or the pre-Herodian second Temple. Women functioned in the synagogues, she prayed daily the same prayers as men, was counted as part of a minyan, which is a least ten people needed to say certain prayers. Women studied along with the men. Prov 31.10-31 creates the picture of a liberated and empowered woman. In the Tanak (old testament), 48 men and three women are mentioned as prophets, MIriam, Huldah and Deborah. Deborah was also a judge and taught the people, and judged the cases that were brought before her in Judges 4.5. Later, Sarah, Hannah, Abigail and Esther were added by the rabbis. Joel 2.28 says that the Holy Spirit will come upon women to be prophets. He was not going to anoint them and then tell them to be silent!

Now throughout the Torah, the primary role of a Torah observant woman was a wife, mother and keeper of the home. This is a very important role and it certainly had authority and teaching assigned to what they did. She was exempted from many commandments that were to be performed at acertain time of the day or year. Her duties as wife and mother were more important and could not be neglected. She should not be expected to drop a crying baby at the time something needed to be performed. For instance, if she was required to go to the Temple for festival, but couldn’t because of a sick child, she did not have to go. This exemption later became a prohibition, preventing women from participating in worship or religious life, but that is not how God designed it. Many of the Torah commandments centered around the home where her role was important, and in many ways, more important than her husband. We see women prophets, teachers, and judges in the Tanak.

Eph 4 talks about many leadership functions, and the first one is the “Shaliach” or apostle. An apostle is one who is sent, an emissary on behalf of the one sending them. Paul mentions a female apostle in Rom 16.7 named Junia. Churchmen were so opposed to this that they wrote that this name was really a male and even changed the name to Junias, which is the male form of the name. We have found out over the years the churchmen will stop at nothing to change the Scriptures to fit their false doctrines.

A prophet is one who was called to speak forth the truth of the word of God in an inspired message, not necessarily foretell the future. Both men and women filled this role in the Scriptures. The first reported female prophet in the Brit Chadasha (renewed covenant) was Hannah in Luke 2.36-38. Luke also mentions four female prophetesses in Acts 21.8-9. In Acts 21.10 it says that Paul stayed with them “many days” so he must have approved of them. Paul also writes about women elders and teachers. In Titus 1.5 he talks about elders, or zekanim. In TItus 1.6-9 he listed the qualifications. Then in Titus 2.2-5 he resumes the qualifications (after a rabbit trail) and says that older women (elders) are “likewise to be” and then lists some qualifications. Interpreters have chosen to use older men/women instead of elder, but they are clearly talking about male and female roles in leadership, using the Greek female forms of the word when applicable. Additional duties were given to these female elders in relationship to the women in the congregation because they were more qualified to serve them (Titus 2.4-5). He expected these female elders to be teachers and encouragers. These were leaders and elders, not harmless, sweet older women as the churchmen would like you to believe. Another function filled by women were evangelists. They proclaimed Yeshua as the Messiah, they told others about his resurrection; the woman at the well in John 4 excited a whole city. Men as well as women were dragged off by Paul because they were” announcing the good news” or preaching the gospel in Acts 8.3-4.

Women were also used as “Shammashim” or deacons. These were people who served as an intermediary in a transaction, an agent or a courier. hey carried out tasks for the congregation. Rom 16.1-2 names a shammash, or deacon, called Phoebe, who was very important to Paul and he wanted her treated as such. Most scholars say she was the one who carried the letter to the Romans to them. 1 Tim 3.8-10 makes no reference to gender when talking about these servants.

To say the least, the Scriptures are clear about the roles of women in the body of Messiah and that they filled important roles in the believing community. Many of the current attitudes about women in the ministry comes from male-dominated religious hierarchies that have imposed their own bias into the word of God. They don’t even believe that the Torah is for a believer today, even though the Scriptures clearly teach a Torah-based faith in Yeshua, so it is no wonder that they get this concept wrong, too.

There is so much more that we could get into on this concept, but hopefully this wiil give you a stsrt in the right direction. For more information on this subject, we refer you to our study called, “Temple 201-Women and the Temple” Parts 1-3 on this website. There is also an article on the Internet called “The Status and Role of Women in the First Century Messianic Community” by Mark. R. Ensign. Also a book called, “Sketches of Jewish Social Life” by Alfred Edersheim can be very useful.

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