Many years ago, I was a witness to a degrading statement about women in ministry. In a conference about women in ministry, several women were discussing the problems they face when they say that God has called them to preach. One woman in particular spoke about all the criticism and the words of disapproval she had received from other pastors. During the discussion time, one pastor told the woman, “If you don’t like the heat, go back to the kitchen.”
In his mind that pastor thought he was saying something positive to the woman, that is, that she was taking heat and encountering a lot of opposition by church members because she was saying that God had called her to preach. However, the underlying message of his words was very degrading, that women belong in the kitchen.
In a recent article by Bob Smietana published in RNS, Smietana reports that John MacArthur, a well-known evangelical pastor, was asked about the role of women preachers in the church. In response, MacArthur said that a denomination that accepts women preachers “has lost faith in the authority of the Bible.”
When MacArthur was asked about Beth Moore, a well-known Southern Baptist Bible teacher and preacher, MacArthur replied, “Go home.” MacArthur’s words are offensive because he is saying that a man’s place is in the pulpit while a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
MacArthur believes that “women are not allowed to preach” because allowing women to preach is a denial of biblical authority. However, MacArthur’s statement that “women are not allowed to preach” contradicts the very teaching of the Bible.
One of the marks of true prophets was the call they received from Yahweh to be a prophet. As men and women called by God, the prophets spoke to Israel and Judah on behalf of God. The Hebrew word nabiʼ [נָביא] is translated “prophet” in English, but its literal meaning is “the one who is called.”
The English word “prophet” comes from the Greek word prophetes, which means “one who speaks for another, “an interpreter of the will of a god,” and “a proclaimer.” The Greek word prophetes translates the Hebrew word nabiʼ. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word “prophet” is applied to both men and women.
When MacArthur said that “women are not allowed to preach” because women preachers is a denial of biblical authority, it shows that he probably has never done a careful study of Psalm 68.
Psalm 68 is a song composed to celebrate a great military victory by the army of Israel. Below I offer a few translations of Psalm 68:11 in order to explain how women in Israel were involved in proclaiming good news.
New International Version (NIV 2011): “The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.”
The Jewish Publication Society (TNK): “The LORD gives a command; the women who bring the news are a great host.”
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB): “The Lord gave the command; a great company of women brought the good news.”
English Standard Version (ESV): “The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host.”
The Hebrew word hamebasserôt that appears in Psalm 68:11 is derived from a Hebrew word basar which means “to proclaim good tidings,” “to preach.” The word occurs 30 times in the Old Testament and it is generally used in the context of “to bring news, especially pertaining to military encounters.”
Schilling, in his article on bśr wrote: “The use of bśr in Ps. 68:12 (Eng. V. 11), which speaks of ‘female messengers of victory in great number,’ represents a definite transition from secular news of victory to news of victory in the sphere of salvation history grounded in Yahweh” (p. 315). These women who proclaimed the good news of God’s salvation probably acted similarly to the women who greeted Saul and David when they came home victorious after defeating the Philistines.
The most amazing lesson from Psalm 68:11 is that when “The Lord announced the word,” it was a group of women who proclaimed it. And what they proclaimed was the good news of what God had done for his people.
There are many people today who deny that God calls women to proclaim the good news. What the Bible reveals is that when God calls, women are ready to proclaim the good news of God. God called Deborah and she answered the call and preserved the story of the great deliverance in a song. God gave Huldah a message to teach and she taught that message to the men of Josiah who came to her to know the word of God. In Psalm 68:11 the Lord announced the word and many women, “a great host,” proclaimed that word to the people of Israel.
“The Lord announces the word, a great company of women brought the good news.” People do not have the right to say that, when the Lord announces his word, women do not have the right to proclaim it. The women mentioned in Psalm 68:11 proclaimed the good news of what God had done for his people.
In societies where patriarchy is the norm, in general, the roles of men and women are defined according to gender. Men are the leaders in the community and rule over the affairs of the nation. They carry out the duties that maintain and promote the life of the society in which they live. Men serve in politics, fight wars, and are in charge of the legal and religious affairs of the nation.
The Bible, however, provides a few clues that in one important position that was characteristically dominated by males, women also were visibly active in exercising their work, a work that had an important religious significance in the life of Israel. The area in which both men and women were actively serving God was in their work as prophets. To be a priest, one had to be born into a priestly family. However, a woman could be a prophet because in Israel, a prophet was a person chosen by God to speak on his behalf. A man or woman was endowed with the Spirit of God and sent to speak God’s message to the community as God’s representative.
There are many women in the Old Testament who were called by God to preach, they were nabi’, “the called ones.” There were many women who were prophets, they were the “interpreters of the will of God.” Here is a short list of these amazing women:
In my post “Prophecy and the Spirit of God,” I deal with God’s promise that in the new dispensation “your daughters shall prophesy”: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28-29).
The prophet Joel spoke of the pouring of the Spirit on all flesh in the coming day of the Lord. According to Peter, what happened on the day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Those gathered in Jerusalem were Jews and proselytes who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover and Pentecost.
The implication of Joel’s words is immense. To prophesy, to have dreams, and to see visions are things associated with the work of the prophets and the fullness of God’s spirit. So according to Joel and according to Peter’s interpretation of Joel’s prophecy, the Day of Pentecost was the day when all of God’s people became prophets. Now, people everywhere, men and women can proclaim the gospel of God’s love and offer a message of hope and salvation in the name of Christ.
Thus, the calling of women in the Old Testament to be prophets was not a fluke. It was part of God’s plan to save humanity. With the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the idea of gender, age, and social status is eliminated; now both men and women can prophesy.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Joel’s prophecy and the outpouring of the Spirit reveal that God is no respecter of persons. God calls men and women to the prophetic ministry.
Beth Moore, don’t go home. God needs you in the public square proclaiming the message of hope and salvation in the name of Christ.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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O. Schilling, “bśr” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 2:315. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975.