Whenever the topic of women in church leadership (either leading a ministry, sitting as a deacon/elder, or as Pastor) comes up… Deborah and Jezebel are part of the conversation. For those who support women in leadership positions (either fully or limited to certain positions) Deborah is their heroine. For those who oppose it, Jezebel is their chief evidence against it.
When we came toward the end of our journey with Deborah, I shared why I believe that is within God’s character to raise up women to lead, and the circumstances that surround doing so. Now, let’s explore Jezebel in the same way.
Just as much as we should embrace a true Deborah, we should be wise in discerning the presence of a Jezebel and fully aware of what she can unleash. In the book of Revelation, Chapter 2, we meet another “Jezebel”.
Bible experts seem to stand in agreement that this is not actually a woman who is also named Jezebel, but a woman who is reminiscent of Jezebel from 1&2 Kings.
A few things stick right out to me:
- NT Jezebel was tolerated. OT Jezebel was invited in by Ahab, NT Jezebel was allowed in by the people or if she came in by force they didn’t try and stop her (ultimately allowing her presence).
- NT Jezebel called herself a Prophet. Anyone can call themselves anything, but that doesn’t mean they are. A true prophet is anointed by God into that position, it is not one that they take on themselves. The fact that this exact word is used tell us that Jezebel assumed the position herself. (emphasis intentional and will be revisited).
- NT Jezebel had “her teaching” not God’s. Very clearly we are told that Jezebel was not teaching the word of God, but her own teaching. Whether this was a totally separate teaching or a corruption of God’s word, Jezebel was not teaching Truth.
- NT Jezebel’s teachings contradicted God’s Word.
- NT Jezebel was given the opportunity to repent and was unwilling. NT Jezebel is not a leader who is teachable, or correctable. Unwillingness to repent exposes pride, vanity, and a few other character flaws.
As we look at the NT Jezebel we can see the correlations to the OT Jezebel, and we can also recognize that NT Jezebel isn’t even close to being a Deborah.
We are right to be cautious of a Jezebel entering into leadership in our church or ministry. However we must be careful that we are not casting aside our Deborahs because we fear the Jezebel.
There has been a long standing “ideal” of what a woman looks like. Gentle, meek, quiet, submissive, etc. For many of us today, we envision the housewives of the 1950’s and earlier. Thus, whenever a woman is more bold, assertive, confident, out spoken, etc. she is very quickly labeled as a Jezebel. We don’t know what to do with these “break the mold” women, so instantly they are cast in a negative light. Within the last year there have been several articles on the subject. Essentially they all expose that when men and women share the same characteristics, the men are cast favorably (confident, assertive, leader) and women are cast less favorably (aggressive, bossy, controlling).
All of this is what led to the start of this series… Don’t confuse a Deborah with a Jezebel. If we understand what a true godly woman leader looks like, and we can recognize the signs of an ungoldly woman leader, then we start off at a great advantage.
A Deborah is appointed by God, a Jezebel appoints herself. It’s not their femininity that disqualifies them from leadership. What disqualifies is the condition of the heart. Ester was “called by God for such a time as this”. Jezebel took advantage of the time she was given by the people. Ester even broke the rules by going before the King uninvited, but she was successful because she was submitting to God versus seeking her own desires.
How Do We Not Confuse a Deborah with a Jezebel?
- Know the Word. You must know what the Scriptures say about leadership characteristics and qualifications, and what godly people should look/behave like in order to discern the wheat from the chaff.
- Don’t Assume. Just because she is a woman, doesn’t automatically make her a Jezebel. Take the time to investigate her leadership qualities and experience. For example, 100% of my leadership skills in the workplace were developed by men who invested into my training. Therefore, my style tends to be more direct and assertive than most women… but that doesn’t make me a Jezebel. When you get to know me, you see my heart for God and serving women well.
But what about Paul? He said no way to the ladies teaching men.
This is a big topic, and I’m not going to address the pulpit yet. That is a series unto itself. Let’s just talk about leadership and teaching in general. What do the scriptures reveal?
- Paul referred to other women as co-laborers with him in sharing the Gospel. So clearly some women were teaching. It can be argued that the women were teaching other women, or that the women were teaching alongside their husbands as a couple which meant that the woman was teaching men directly. In either case, this clearly demonstrates that “women not teaching” was not a blanketed command for every city, every woman, every time period.
- Paul’s letter to Timothy addressed a non permittance of women teaching and usurping authority over men. The first thing to note is the use of the word “usurp”. Usurping authority is taking authority by force, it was not given to you… you were not elected… you were not appointed. Jezebels are usurpers, who seek to take an authority not appointed to them. Deborahs lead with an authority that is appointed or anointed upon them.
- Why would Paul write this in his letter to Timothy, if he also refers to women later as “co-laborers”? For that, we need to understand what was happening in Ephesus at the time. Historically we learn that Ephesus was a city full of Jezebels. In the pagan religions, it was most common for women to be the chief priestess. When Christianity came to town, these priestesses wanted to keep their position and assumed authority over the men in the early church. They were not students of the Word, and therefore they would go about saying things they should not. (Remember, Jezebels mislead and twist the scriptures).
Paul’s warning to Timothy about the women was the recognition that these women were not equipped leaders, called leaders, or appointed leaders. Therefore he did not permit them to teach anyone. They needed to be quiet, students of the Word, in full submission. When you read through his letter to Timothy, there is no clear indication that it is ok for these women to teach even other women.
Scripture can not contradict itself. We can’t have a blanket statement from Paul that women can’t teach, then by his own words refer to other women as co-laborers in the mission field of sharing the Gospel. We can’t have Paul’s restriction at the same time as Titus 2:3-5 which compels women to teach other women, or Proverbs 31 that tells us that “wise instruction” was on the Wife of Noble Character’s tongue. What the scriptures reveal by sharing with us Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, etc. and even Jezebel is that there are some who are godly leaders to be embraced and celebrated; and then there are those who are not.
But what about Eve, she was easily deceived.
After Paul tells Timothy women can’t teach, he continues in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 blames it all on Eve. He says she was the deceived, she became a sinner. Some translate this to essentially mean: Eve was created second, and a woman, who was inferior and more susceptible to the Devil’s schemes. Therefore she sinned, and then caused Adam to sin. If Eve can be deceived, so can any woman.
From a logical standpoint, I have a problem with this interpretation. First, because Adam was commanded by God not to eat this fruit, and he did it anyway. He knew better. Second, because once caught in his sin Adam’s first instincts were not to own his mistake but to blame Eve. Adam even blames God as he hurls out the phrase “the woman you gave me”. As a parent, in jest, when one of my kids has misbehaved… I have said to my husband “That child of yours…”. When we speak in this way we are indirectly blaming the behavior on the other parent. So was Adam in his word about Eve. I highly doubt Paul was writing this sentence with the implication that Adam was without fault, and Eve was totally to blame.
And, I’m not alone in that belief. Biblical scholars have also suggested that the reason Paul included this in his letter was to right a wrong. The gnostic teachings in Ephesus at the time had been incorrectly teaching that Eve was created first and that Adam was the first to be deceived. Not only do I agree that Paul was correcting misinformation, I contend it was an example to Timothy of why he was not permitting the women of Ephesus to teach.
Ultimately we can not elevate a few pieces of scripture from 1 Timothy above the rest of Paul’s writing about women, nor the rest of the New Testament. Context is key here. Which always brings me to the question of… If not here, then where?
The Scriptures, in my belief, do support at least in general terms that women can be leaders with in the church and ministries. What exact positions or offices can be held by women is another conversation. Which women are right for leadership can be determined by testing them against the Word, identifying if she is a Deborah or a Jezebel.
Tomorrow, we are going to move forward in this conversation on leadership by looking at the term “Helpmeet” used to describe the woman’s role in the marital relationship. What exactly does that mean, how was it defined then versus now. We may even explore the topic of Co-Laborers tomorrow or the day after. Then I’m taking a break to rest my mind for a few days and write on other topics. During this time, I’ll be in prayer over whether or not we return to this series to further discuss women’s roles in the church or if it is time to move on.