Women play vital roles in the storyline of the Bible. Like men, they are included as role models, villains, and heroes. Women as the latter, however, seldom find themselves highlighted in sermons, lectures, or lessons. This limitation is linked to tradition, culture and misunderstanding of various Biblical texts. Since so many are unfamiliar with some of the noble women of the Bible, here is a sampling of some women who played vital roles in scripture.
EVE - Made in the Image of God, Genesis 1.27; 2.18; 3.
Her name means life and as the first women is our prototype. Scripture says she was made in the image of God and as such she is clearly a full child of God. Over the years, many myths have arisen about her. Such things as the myth that she was "cursed", that she "caused" sin, and that she is eternally and forever subordinate (less than) the human male because she was called "helper."
The truth is that she was created first in the image of God as human (Gen.1.27) and then as "woman" (gen. 2.18). She is apparently the only complete story of the creation of woman in the entire Middle Eastern creation corpus. The fact is that the bible contains two creation accounts, but strangely it only the second one that people usually mention because it has the story of the rib, the temptation, and the expulsion. The hierarchy is there with Man firmly in first place and Woman a dim second. Yet, the first account says "male and female" God created humans in the "image of God". The truth is that the first account answers the question "How did we get here?"
The second story illustrates an answer to "What did we break our relationship with God?" The story is so familiar to us that we do not really hear it anymore. The Serpent (the symbol of evil) tempts the Woman to Sin, the Woman then tempts the Man and the Man willingly participates. When God finds that they have broken the rules, the Man points the finger at the Woman and said "the Woman made me do it!" Thus, woman was cursed with things like childbirth, sex, and menstruation, etc. for her wanton sinfulness. Her days were forever to be under the heel of the Man and she will pay for her sin into the millionth x10 generation of females....
The truth will set you free...woman was created as a "helper" but was not subordinate. The Hebrew word there is the same word used to describe God in Ps. 30.10 and 54.4. The meaning is more clearly that of "partner". Woman was not cursed. Cursed were only the ground and the serpent (Gen.3.14). Both the man and the woman received penalties for disobedience but not a curse. She is not in a perpetual state of subordination or doomed because of the error of the Garden.
SHEERAH, the City Builder (1 Chron. 7.24)
This little known figure was a daughter of Ephraim and the grand-daughter of Joseph. It is thought her name may mean "ear" and thus her parents may have prayed she would always listen to God. She was responsible for building Upper and Lower Horan (Beit-Ur) and Uzzen-Sherah. The first two cities were known to have played vital roles in the military, transportation, and economic activities of the region from ancient times. The Beth Horan sites were the location of the famous "Long Day" of Joshua 10.10. Consider what is being said here that a from these ancient times "built cities". This infers someone who had the financial resources to establish, support, or maintain a community. This infers perhaps someone who had the knowledge and ability to arrange construction according to her own plans. This infers someone who had the respect of others and who was recognized as someone who should not be forgotten in chronicling the history of the region. Her name might have meant "ear" but plainly she was someone that others heard and responded to themselves.
HULDA, Prophet and Woman of the Word (2 Kings 22.2; 2 Chron. 34)
Prophets in the world of the Old Testament functioned as a link between the human and the divine. They were given special visions, proclamation, they acted as messengers, and the called to repentance. In Judges 6:34 they are seen to be "clothed" with the spirit of God. In the reign of Josiah (in the mid 600's B.C.E.) as the temple was being rebuilt, a scroll was found and the scroll was taken by the priest to the prophet Hulda. The NIV Study Bible notes here that they did not know "why they did not seek out Jeremiah or Zephaniah" without ever seeming to ask if that was even necessary. It was obvious that here was a prophet who was seen to be just as capable as those better known prophets. She was not a "prophetess" but a Prophet who lived in the area where the faithful had returned to live close to the house of God (the Temple). For centuries the southern gate was known as the "Hulda gate" and hosts of the faithful would have passed through it over the years.
PHOEBE, A Church leader from Conchrea (Rom. 16:1-2)
Paul called her a "sister", a "deacon" , and a supporter of the work. Many versions translate the word "diakonos" and "diakona" as servant, refusing to give her the title "Deacon." Deacons all began as "servants" and when they term is used of a man it is translated "Deacon" and as a "servant" if a woman. The same word, however, is used in Phil.1:1 (the only book dedicated to church leaders " all the saints...the bishops...the deacons"). John of Chrystrom in his Homily on 1 Tim. 3.11 wrote: " he is speaking of those women who hold the rank of deacon "(cited in Ordained Women of the Early Church: A documentary History, pg. 19). Origin (185-253) wrote"...this passage teaches two things...women are to be considered ministers...in the church, and that such ought to be received into the ministry." Some translations interject the term "deaconess" even though this is totally inappropriate and not the form of the word used. It is not until the 6th century that wide spread gendered ministry emerges and a special class called "deaconess" develops in response to the Church's making the role of clergy and the priesthood for men only.
JUNIA - Chief among the Apostles (Rom 16.7)
Through the first seven centuries of the church the word "Junia" was clearly understood to be referring to a woman. Not until much later is this ever questioned. In the mid-to-late 1800's scholars begin to translate the scriptures and write commentaries and label this as a masculine name which they translate as "Junias" because if this person is an "apostle" than it must be a man! This translation anomaly continues into the mid-1900's and than scholars such as Epp, and others, begin to rediscover this forgotten woman of the New Testament and leader in the early Church. The name is not found anywhere in the masculine "Junias" form - but the female name Junia is found in many, many places. Some new scholars, intent on keeping women in their "place", do a fancy side-step by claiming the term "apostle" here is not the same term as applied to people like Paul and other men. Yet Zodhiates, in his Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, and other similar sources, indicates the term used here is the same used by Paul in many other places, including 1 Cor. 9:1 when he says "I am an apostle..."
Other women are the better known: the Wise Women of Tekoa, Abel, Abigail the Mediator, Hannah, Ruth, Noami, Esther the Every Woman, Deborah the Judge, Mary the Mother, Mary the Student, Mary the Witness, and Rhoda, Lydia, Dorcas. Women of every style, interest, and skill who are shown clearly in the scripture but are made invisible in most sermons or teachings.
Further Reading:Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, dancer, seductress, queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel (1998)
Epp, Eldon Jay. Junia: The First Woman Apostle (2005)
Madigan, Kevin and Caroly Oslek. Ordained Women in the Early Church: a documentary history (2005)
Torjesen, karen Jo. When women were priests (1993)
Hudson, Marilyn A. "The Three Faces of Eve." The International Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (October 1991):3-4.
Moore, Michaels. "Wise women" or Wisdom Woman?: A Biblical study of Women's roles. Restoration Quarterly. 35.3 (1993)1147-58.
Synan, Vinson. "Women in Ministry: a history of women's roles in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement." Ministries Today (January/February 1993)44-49.