During a recent conversation with my granddaughter, the subject arose regarding the androcentric essence of the Bible and the God who inspired it — a God who, so my granddaughter opined, relegates women to a lower or lesser status. In response, I would argue first that the Bible is replete with women and illustrates the fundamental and profound part they play in God’s Word. In Proverbs, for example, Solomon’s exposition on wisdom uses the feminine pronoun throughout (chapters 8-9).
Second, while men and women have a shared humanity, they are also unique. God’s gender design of male and female is binary and complementary, rather than uniform. This reveals something essential about the nature of God, a fact supported by Scripture:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27, NIV).
Finally, I submit that the Bible must be read within its cultural context and that it is presented so that we humans may better understand and relate to it in terms of the concept of God. Clearly, God has no gender. God is Spirit (John 4:24) and operates from an eternal framework, as opposed to we humans, who operate within worldly boundaries and a here-and-now perspective.
Put another way, wrapping our human brains around the idea of an omniscient Creator is beyond our capacity. And so we rely on faith — God’s gift to us, built on the inspired, or “breathed,” Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and presented to us in language we can relate to.
The purpose of this writing is to bring the reader’s attention to several of the countless women of remarkable faith and courage who make only cameo appearances in Scripture, but were chosen by God for a specific purpose. Without them, God’s Word would be incomplete.
The Bible, of course, is a sacred book. It can, however, be read as a memoir or novel. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, many plot twists, and extraordinary characters. Despite its deeply patriarchal point of view, many of those characters are women of both the Old and New Testaments.
Most of us can easily rattle off the names of prominent biblical women: Eve, Sarah, Mary (mother of Jesus), and Mary Magdalene (the most famous of the many women disciples of Christ). So many others often go unrecognized for the pivotal role they played in carrying out God’s intentions and delivering His message. These are the women warriors of the Bible. We will take a closer look at several of them (Ruth, Deborah, Lydia, and Priscilla) and how God used them to advance the kingdom.
If you have not read the story of Ruth, I fervently recommend it. It is short (only four chapters) and enlightening. Ruth is a love story, a story of devotion, loyalty, commitment, and faithfulness. Ruth, being the great-grandmother of King David, played an essential role in the lineage of Jesus Christ. In addition to its many themes, the book of Ruth (who was an outsider — a Moabite or gentile among Israelites) teaches that there are no outsiders. We all count in the eyes of God, and our faithfulness is rewarded with God’s grace.
Because of a famine in Bethlehem in Judah, an Israelite, Elimelech, takes his wife, Naomi, and their two sons to live in Moab, a pagan nation. The sons eventually marry Moabite women. After the death of her husband, and later her sons, Naomi and her two daughters-in-law start back to Bethlehem.
Only Ruth continues the journey with Naomi, declaring her unconditional faithfulness to Naomi, her people, and her God: “Where you go, I will go . . . your people will be my people, and your God my God” (1:16, 17, NIV). Ultimately, Ruth is “covered” by and marries Boaz, her kinsman redeemer (closest relative bound to carry on the family name) and bears a son, Obed.
Because of her faithfulness, courage, and a warrior’s perseverance, God honored Ruth by giving her a place in the lineage of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (for more on the lineage of Christ, read Matthew 1:1-25).
The only female military leader in the Bible is Deborah — a warrior’s warrior, you might say. Deborah was a judge and a prophet (Judges 4:4). During that time, the Israelites were under the barbarous rule of Jabin, a Canaanite king (vv. 1-3).
On God’s word to her, Deborah sends for Barak from the city of Kedesh and tells him he must lead ten thousand men to Mount Tabor to fight Jabin’s army under the command of Sisera. Barak agrees only if Deborah accompanies him. So, along with Barak, she leads the army, prophesying that Barak would not have credit for the victory because “the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (vv. 9, 17-23, NIV).
Deborah’s prophecy comes to pass when Sisera is killed by Jael, a woman. Jabin is destroyed, and the Israelites emerge victorious (vv. 23, 24). Another notable example of the influence and significance God invests in women.
Lydia makes a brief appearance in several verses in Acts. Still, much has been gleaned from those verses that underscores her faithfulness and God’s hand in her life and destiny.
We don’t know exactly what led Lydia from her home city of Thyatira (now a city in West Turkey) to Philippi in Macedonia, where the apostle Paul was also led through a vision (Acts 16:8, 9). This was a serendipitous meeting designed, no doubt, by the Holy Spirit, as Macedonia was the first European region where Paul preached the gospel — and where Lydia became the first documented Christian convert.
In Acts 16, Luke presents Lydia as a woman of significance, a businesswoman who accumulated a good deal of wealth from selling purple cloth. In those days, purple dye was hard to come by, and only the rich could afford purple garments.
Lydia is described as a God-worshipper (a Gentile who followed Jewish tradition without becoming a full convert). Hearing Paul, Lydia converted to Christianity along with her entire household, and she opened her home to Paul and a number of apostles (vv. 14, 15, 40). Lydia is an outstanding example of the spiritual gifts of hospitality and generosity. Her financial support, leadership, courage, and faithfulness were instrumental in establishing and growing the church in Philippi.
The last notable underrecognized woman is Priscilla. She stands out as a woman warrior on a number of fronts. She was fearless as a fellow worker with Paul and risked her life for him. She opened her home to the apostles, which became the site for teaching the gospel (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19).
Priscilla epitomizes women as partners in marriage. In keeping with the historically patriarchal tone of Scripture, Priscilla is never mentioned independently of Aquila, her husband. Conversely, she is recognized, along with Aquila, in terms of her commitment to teach the message of the gospel (Acts 18:26), her initiative, faith, and courage. This speaks to her agency and the extensive sphere of influence.
Archeological and textual evidence give credence to Priscilla’s intellect and knowledge, and as a number of scholars propose, to alleged authorship of Hebrews. Theological discussions on that subject aside, Priscilla was unquestionably an outstanding woman of her time — and a stellar example for ours.
These are only four women out of hundreds who are underrecognized for the most part, but nonetheless amazing women of the Bible. Their faith and fortitude, and God’s leading, propelled them to unparalleled heights.
My purpose in this article is not to offer a dissertation on the lives of these women, but to bring to the forefront their essentiality to Scripture. Perhaps I can also whet the appetite for a closer and more intentional reading of the Bible, where you, too, may discover things and people you may not have known.
This article has been adapted from Agape Review. Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.
R. S. Raniere has written short stories and poetry, and one of her stories has been self-published in the anthology The Heritage Writers. She has also published a poem in Atlanta Review. R. S. has been writing a blog titled Spiritual Reflections and is writing and submitting to other Christian publications. She lives in Newnan, GA.