Former first lady Michelle Obama recently spoke to an Indiana crowd about training up our children to be resilient, work hard and become our next generation of leaders.
“Our kids need to know we cannot cherish them to death,” she said. “Put in the work. Be accountable. You will fail too, but you will learn that you are more than able.”
Sage words that Christian families likewise want to impart as we train up our children in the way they should go. However, what of our daughters, who sit in congregation seats, waiting to hear the same kind of, “work hard, lead well” mantras that they hear from secular sources?
They can take heart. There are plenty such Scriptures, never mind if they have yet to hit the pulpit on a regular basis.
There’s Priscilla, whom Paul called his co-worker (Romans 16:3); and Junia, whom Paul called his fellow apostle (Romans 16:7); and, Esther, whom God called to defy the rule of patriarchy to stand up in defense of the entire Jewish nation (Esther 4:14).
There’s also Huldah, the prophetess, who, with the authority of three “Thus saith the Lord’s,” schooled King Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:14-33.). The King, a priest, a scribe and three other men, on behalf of their whole nation, wanted an authoritative word from the Lord about their current political situation and for that authoritative word, they went to a woman (2 Kings 22:12-20).
There’s Tamar, whom Judah credits for shoving his bad leadership back in his face to the tune of, “She is more righteous than I …” (Genesis 38:26).
There’s also Abigail, who cool-headedly neutralized a contentious situation with King David, by dismissing her husband’s wishes and handling the situation herself. King David did everything she said and thanked her for intervening (1 Samuel 25).
Our girls can know with confidence that a lack of hearing about strong women from the pulpit does not represent what the Bible has to say to and about women.
If they are hit with the “girls don’t lead” mantra in church circles, they should get clear on that matter as well. That mantra often traces back to a time when Paul tells Timothy that he does not allow women to teach men. (1 Timothy 2:12)
Margaret Mowczko, a prolific writer on the topic of women in the Bible, notes that Paul’s word for “allow” (epitrepō in Greek) connotes “withholding permission in an ad hoc, or specific and limited, situation.” Mowczko encourages people to check this out for themselves here.
“If we do, we will find other uses of the verb epitrepō, like when Moses allowed (epitrepō) a certificate of divorce (Matthew 19:8), or when Jesus allowed (epitrepō) demons into a herd of swine (Mark 5:13). Moses was not “allowing” certificates of divorce for all circumstances and for all time, nor was Jesus “allowing” demons to enter into swine for the rest of history. His allowance was for a certain situation with specific parameters. That’s why He used the word epitrepō.”
When Paul shushed those particular women from teaching, it was a good move for the situation at hand. They were posing a problem. The early church was having a hard enough time steering clear of pagan influences and these women were more driven by the goddess Artemis than by their new faith in Jesus.
That said, generally shushing all women now and forevermore is, at the very least, not taking the specific, limited situation of Paul’s choice of epitrepō verbiage seriously.
All of Scripture is God-breathed and for our edification (2 Timothy 3:16). Yanking Paul’s epitrepō out of his sentence to Timothy and inserting instead a blanket doctrine is in fact yanking at God’s Scripture and doing what? Giving it a hand? From us?
Our girls should know the Author of the Bible’s reaction to anyone adding to His word: He does not like it (Deuteronomy 4:2). Our best bet is back off from rewriting any of God’s words, letting His epitrepō be epitrepō.
Which is to say, dear daughters, please lead. This is not a secular vision of what women can do, it is a scriptural rundown of what women have done. If you hear rumors to the contrary associated with the Bible, please see the Author and revisit what He wrote about you.
“In those days I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy …” (Joel 2:28).