by Jim West
That there were prophets in the Old Testament world is undeniable. The great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were brilliant theologians and expert interpreters of the will and Word of God.
Besides these well known prophets there were also prophets in Ancient Israel who are not quite so well known. Obadiah, Nahum, Joel, Habakkuk were some, to name just a few.
There were also women prophets, known as "prophetesses". This fact is not very well known among some Christians. But the following passages are evidence not only of God's willingness to use women to speak His word; but proof that He did use women to proclaim His will.
"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances."
"Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she judged Israel at that time."
2 Kings 22:14
"So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter); and they communed with her."
2 Chronicles 34:22
"So Hilkiah, and they whom the king had commanded, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter;) and they spake to her to that effect."
"Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and also the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear."
"And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said Jehovah unto me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz."
Yet in spite of the Biblical evidence some refuse to believe that God has used women to deliver His word. Others suggest that this was merely an Old Testament event which has nothing to do with the Christian Church.
So, in order to clarify the position of the early Church on women, we shall look at a few texts which demonstrate that women did indeed take part in the ministry of the Word in the New Testament period.
"And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe ofAsher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity)."
We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
So there is evidence from the New Testament itself that supports the fact that women had a part in the ministry of the Word. So why do so many suggest that they didn't then and therefore they should not now? Because of a simple misreading of Paul.
Yet Paul himself says that women prophesy! Read 1 Corinthians 11:5
"But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.".
It seems patently ridiculous to suggest that women did not prophesy when Paul here tells them that when they do so, they should not do so with bald heads!
Yet others suggest that since Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." he obviously meant in relation to speaking the Word of God. But the context of both the Corinthian letter and the historical situation of the Corinthian Church will not allow this false reading. First, as has already been pointed out, Paul requires women to have hair on their heads when they speak publicly. This so that they will not be confused with the many prostitutes in Corinth who, in order to be easily identified, shaved their heads. If Paul said in Chapter 11 that women should have covered heads when they prophesy; and then here 3 chapters later says women should not prophesy, then he has involved himself in an insurmountable contradiction.
On the other hand, if one understands the historical situation at Corinth one knows why Paul says here what he does. In Corinth during the worship service the women would interrupt the speaker by asking their husbands questions. Paul simply says here that they should wait until they get home to ask questions so that they do not disrupt the speaker.
One final text used to support the incorrect notion that women have not part in the ministry of the Word is found in 1 Timothy 3:11: "Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things." The reference is of course to deacons and bishops. Yet the Greek text should be read here not "wives" but "women"; so that the text actually gives here the qualifications for women bishops and deacons as well as the requirements of the male deacons and bishops. The KJV itself recognizes that this is an independent paragraph when it places "their" in italics- pointing out to the reader that this word is absent from the Greek text. Thus the verse should read " Even so the women should be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things".
Yet, in spite of the Old and New Testament evidence, some people still maintain that women did not and should not proclaim the Word. Such folks are unaware of the Biblical evidence. Yet if they are aware of the Biblical evidence and choose to ignore it to maintain their views then we ought not despair- for if they will not listen to God on the subject they most certainly not listen to us.
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