Celebrating Women Leaders in Biblical Times

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women leaders in bible

Honoring Women’s History Month, we celebrate women in roles as Women in Ministry. While people still debate what Paul meant in a few passages, there is strong evidence throughout Scripture that God intended women to take a leadership role.

Here are 10 examples of Women Leaders in Biblical Times:

1. Judge – Deborah

Judges 4 and 5 tell of the great leader Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, who dwelt under the Deborah-palm between Ramah (er Rm: see at Joshua 18:25) and Bethel (Beitin: see at Joshua 7:2) in the tribe of Benjamin, upon the mountains of Ephraim. She was not only a judge, but also a prophet. Some try to argue that God called Deborah only because Barak refused to go to battle without her (Judges 4:8-9). But that ignores the fact Deborah held court before this male military leader came on the scene (Judges 4:5).

2. Exodus Leader – Miram

When the children of Israel miraculously crossed the Red Sea, Miriam was one of the first to pick up an instrument and lead in worship (Exodus 15:20). But this wasn’t her only ministry role. Micah 6:4 names Miriam as a leader of the nation, along with Moses and Aaron. Miriam was the first woman in the Bible to be given the title prophetess.

3. Reformer – Huldah

In 2 Kings 22, King Josiah finds the long-lost Book of the Law. Knowing the kingdom was in need of revival, he gathered some of the most trusted prophets. Although there were more prominent prophets on the scene at the time, like Jeremiah and Zephaniah, it’s interesting that Huldah the prophetess had a leading role in the restoration.

Huldah had a school for women in Jerusalem, whom she taught the word of G‑d insofar as it pertained to Jewish women, mothers and daughters.

4. Queen – Esther

A whole book of the Bible tells the story of this fearless leader. Esther risked her own life to save the lives of the Jewish people. Esther’s birth name was Hadassah. She was of the tribe of Benjamin and lived during the time Israel, was orphaned and raised by her older cousin Mordecai; yet, still she became one of the most beloved Queens and women of the Bible.

And each year at Purim, Jews everywhere still reflect on Esther’s story.

5. Disciple – Mary of Bethany

While the twelve male disciples of Jesus are more familiar to most, Mary of Bethany was one of many women who followed Jesus (Luke 8:1-3). Sitting at the feet of a teacher, or rabbi, was a privilege normally reserved only for men. In the Gospel of John, a Mary appears in connection to two incidents: the raising from the dead of her brother Lazarus and the anointing of Jesus.

The identification of this being the same Mary in both incidents is given explicitly by record and in Luke 10:39 we find Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, assuming the posture of a student of the Lord.

6. Witness – Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Lord (John 20:14); although often confused with Mary of Bethany. The story of Mary Magdalene contains four different episodes, Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Jesus, Mary at the crucifixion, Mary prepared Jesus’ body for the burial, and Mary witnessed the resurrection.


Mary has been incorrectly portrayed as a prostitute for reasons such as she was confused with a woman from another story. Mary was described as having a serious illness which many linked to her sexuality and she is represented as a sinful woman, compared with Mary of Nazareth. Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of a serious illness.

It was Mary Magdalene who received the task of proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection to the other disciples, specifically the men. She was the first person Jesus sent with the message of hope. Some say this makes Mary the first apostle, or “sent one.” As Jesus taught throughout the country he was accompanied by a group of men led by Peter and a group of woman-led by Mary Magdalene.

7. Businesswoman – Lydia of Thyatira

Upon arriving in Philippi, Paul first went to the Jews but he found no synagogue.

He did find women praying at the river.

Lydia of Thyatira (Greek: Λυδία) is a woman mentioned in the New Testament who is regarded as the first documented convert to Christianity in Europe. The believers later gathered at the home of this businesswoman and made Lydia perhaps the host of the first Christ gathering making her also an Early Church leader (Acts 16:40) by offering hospitality to Paul and Silas (Acts 16:14-15).

Lydia, is most known as a merchant of purple cloth, which is the likely reason for the Catholic Church naming her “patroness of dyers”, and perhaps uses the color purple for high ceremony.

8. Deacon – Phoebe

Little is known about Phoebe except that she held the title of “deacon” (Romans 16:1). But many scholars believe Phoebe’s role was to take Paul’s letter to the church in Rome where she would have read it to the believers and even answered questions they may have had. What an amazing responsibility!

Paul describes Phoebe via three accolades, nouns translated in the King James Version (KJV) as “sister,” “servant,” and “succorer.” The New International Version (NIV) changes the last two to “deacon” and “benefactor.” However, Phoebe seems under-recognized today as a full minister.

Paul’s introduction equates her with other leaders in the early movement. She worked with men who traveled, evangelized and planted, and led churches; but translations indicate a gender bias that diminished this woman’s influence.

9. Teacher – Priscilla

Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, was a business owner in Corinth who gave Paul lodging and perhaps a job. She was also a great teacher (Acts 18:26). It’s of note that Luke lists Priscilla first, which may indicate she was the lead teacher of the two.

Priscilla must have been a spiritually mature woman, whose gifts equipped her for leadership. Her name actually precedes Aquila’s four out of the six times they are mentioned in the New Testament, probably signifying her greater abilities as a leader or the fact that her family may have hailed from a higher social strata than his.

Whatever the case, Priscilla’s role in instructing Apollos and leading the early church is remarkable.

10. First Female Prophet – Miriam

Miriam played an instrumental role in protecting Moses during infancy (Exodus 2:4-8). Later on, and during the years of slavery, her task was to communicate to the people messages of hope and deliverance. She may have taught, encouraged, and corrected the Israelites when they got weary of waiting.

She also played a major role at the Exodus. After the Lord delivered the Israelites by destroying the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, Miriam took the timbrel (tambourine) in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances praising the Lord in song for His miraculous deliverance (Exodus 15:20,21). She was inspired by God with the words of the song. And it is still true today!

At that time, she was probably more than 90 years of age (Exodus 7:7).

Any daughter of God has the full rights and privilege to declare His Word, testify to His salvation, and prophesy by His Spirit.

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