In teaching this course on Women, Mary, and Jesus, I have been working my way through some crucial texts as the biblical and historical context for what we read about Mary and about women in the earliest churches. Here’s a thought that keeps coming back to me: How biblical are our churches when it come to what women can do?
I ask this quite often as I’m studying: What did women do in the Bible? Is it not the case that what women did then is the paradigm for what women do now? (If we are guided by the Bible.)
1. Miriam was a prophet — Exod 15:20-21 — and she led Israel and the women in worship. She rebuked Moses for his relationship with the Cushite woman (Num 12:1-16). She failed to discern God’s special vocation for Moses. She’s seen by Micah as part of the original triumvirate (Mic 6:4).
2. Deborah was a prophet, a judge (political leader of Israel), and a “mother” of Israel — maybe maternal leader, maybe biological mother (see Judg 4:4; 5:7). She sings a prophetic song of interpreting Israel’s history and God’s ways in the world (Judg 5). (Did she write Psalm 68?)
African Bible Commentary: “Her achievement should put an end to debates about whether women can provide leadership” (300). Leadership, the writer says, is God’s “gift and gender-neutral”.
3. Huldah, surrounded as she was by Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habbakuk, is the one to whom Josiah sends Hilkiah and Shaphan to discern the ways of God when he hears the words of the book of the covenant read. She indirectly authorizes the text as God’s word by affirming it, and she prophesies the grace of God for Josiah himself.
Women lead the nation, women prophesy, women lead in worship, women rebuke other leaders, women interpret events in history to discern the redemptive will of God, and women confirm texts as Scripture/Word of God. Women make mistakes by critiquing God’s appointed leaders — Miriam sure did — but they are not stopped in their ministry. If God gifts, God’s people should recognize the gifts.
There’s more in the Bible; this is enough. Do texts like these perhaps put limits on “restrictive” texts in the NT (1 Cor 14; 1 Tim 2), are they simply exceptions, or are they OT stuff that became “old-fashioned” by the time of the NT?
I sometimes hear how the restrictive-texts folks are just doing what the Bible says but I wonder who is really doing what the Bible says. I’d say that a biblical church will empower gifted women to prophesy, lead, rebuke,and interpret history. They’ll do more, but at least these things they’ll permit.