Deborah the prophet and leader found in Judges 4 and 5 often gets pulled into the question about women in leadership in the church. This is not, it seems to me, the main point of Judges 4 and 5, but it is at least a subtext. Deborah and Jael get the credit for the victory, and Barak is definitely largely forgotten.
Here are some things to consider first
- It is hard to build a theology of church and leadership based on narratives – for example should every church have the same structure as found in Acts 6? Or is that describing how they handled their situation and maintained their missional priorities?
- The office of Elder or Pastor is a standing leadership position that seems best to be seen as a matter of God giving gifts and the church recognizing those gifts. In this way they correspond more to the office of the priesthood that was established in Israel.
- The prophets did not have any real institution, or established procedure of selection, or term of office, or place to work. The OT has kings and priests who were institutional leaders. The Prophets were simply called by God – and usually to bring a challenge to the failures or lukewarmness of the people of God. Thus it is hard to apply the precedent of a prophet to that of pastor or elder.
- There is little commentary in the text, although her husband is named (i don’t recall the wives of prophets being named except in the case of Hosea and Gomer – but that was part of the story.). She also notes that women will get credit when Barak wants her to be part of the battle.
- The initiator of action and the one who drives home the point of the victory are women – Deborah and Jael
- It seems the best we can say that that God chose Deborah to be a prophet (the word has a feminine ending in the Hebrew. The other references to “prophetess” are Miriam (Ex 15:20) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).
If you ask the question: Does God ever call women into leadership? The answer is yes. Does God give gifts to women, the answer is also yes. The best we can get from Deborah on the question of women in ministry, is to take note of her and other women in leadership, and keep this in mind as we read the NT documents on church leadership.
Any teaching that says that women are only called to domestic duties ignores a lot of scripture – even that Proverbs 31 Woman that is extolled on mothers day (she runs a business or maybe a couple of them.) I Corinthians allows women to “pray and prophesy” if by their head covering or hair style they demonstrate respect for the established order of the church and family. Priscilla seems to be the equal of Aquilla in the book of Acts – and usually mentioned first.
But any teaching in women in ministry has to deal with passages that seem to restrict the role of women from certain offices. (The restriction it seems to be is itself limited to “leading” the church – so it pertains to the office of elder or overseer.)