Read part 2 of this series here.
One of the most common points of pushback on complementarianism to prove that it is biblically permissive for women to be pastors is, “What about Deborah, Priscilla, Phoebe, Esther, the women at Jesus’ tomb?”
In an effort to undermine what God has made perfectly clear in His Word, egalitarians often bring up women of the Bible to prove that women today can and should be pastors, ministers, and teachers of men.
In a previous article, I explained the difference between the egalitarian and complementarian view and which is biblical. 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, and Paul’s letter to Titus make perfectly clear that women are not qualified to teach and lead the body of Christ. Of course, God uses women in many other wonderful and God-glorifying ways, and He has all throughout Scripture. But to use examples of these women to prove an unbiblical, egalitarian point is to make God a liar.
These women of the Bible are highly esteemed. All throughout Scripture, God uses women like Esther and Mary Magdalene and their biblical, feminine roles to bring glory to Himself. He uses them to be gifted teachers and leaders, but never over men and never in the context of the Church. No matter what egalitarians might say, there is no single example of this in Scripture.
In this two-part series, we will unpack the stories of these women to learn what their roles were and how God used them for His glory.
Ironically, Deborah’s story is not one of glorification of women in leadership roles over men, but it is a shaming of men who would not step up to lead. Her story is actually a story that is pro-male leadership.
“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.”–Judges 4:4
In Judges 2-3, when a judge was mentioned, the author specified that the Lord “raised [him] up.” These judges were appointed by Him. It’s interesting, though, that with regards to Deborah, she was described as “judging Israel at that time.” Of course, we know that God is sovereign over all things, but it appears that Deborah’s role is one mentioned in the negative.
“…and the people of Israel came to her for judgment.”–Judges 4:5
Deborah was not a judge who judged publicly, as men would. The people of Israel came to her and she judged them privately. Today, women have the liberty to go to their pastors or leaders privately and discuss their concerns and even correct them. Note that this is very different from teaching men in a leadership role.
“She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, ‘Has not the Lord, the God of Israel commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor…’”–Judges 4:6
Here, we see Deborah actually encouraging male leadership. “Has the Lord not commanded you?” she asks. This indicates that God has called Barak to lead as judge, but Barak was being disobedient. So God used Deborah to shame Barak by giving him orders.
“And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’”–Judges 4:9
Deborah is rebuking Barak for refusing to take initiative and obey God in leading the people as judge. She warns him that his disobedience to God will not bring him glory. We learn later on in verses 17-22 that another woman, Jael, will get the glory for killing Sisera — bringing shame to Barak.
To say that Deborah is a good example of why women should be allowed to teach men is a poor example and only reveals biblical illiteracy. Just by reading Judges 4, it is evident that Deborah was not in her position to empower women and violate God’s design in His creation of man and woman. She was there so God could use her to rebuke Barak and encourage him to lead as God had called him to.
In Romans 16:1-2, Paul commends Phoebe to the Church of Rome for being a good servant of her own church:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”
The Greek word for “servant” here is diakonos, meaning “servant or minister.” Some translations say “deacon.”
In Acts 6:2, the verb form diakoneo, or “to serve,” is used to describe the ways in which deacons are to serve in their church, including waiting tables. Verses 2-4 give a clear distinction that deacons were not preaching the Word but serving others.
It is clear that Phoebe was not teaching men or leading men, she was simply serving in the local church, perhaps as a Titus 2 woman would, and Paul commended her for it.
This is something to which all Christian women should strive: fulfilling their biblical roles well, serving the Bride of Christ through obedience to Him, and submitting to the Lord’s using them as an example to the Church as He brings glory to Himself.
In part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss the roles of Esther, Mary, Mary Magdalene, the women at Jesus’ tomb, and Priscilla, and how they too brought glory to God.
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