The Role of Women in Public Life

By Barrett Duke
Nov 8, 2007

The question about the role of women in the political life of our nation is an important and certainly timely one. I do not believe that the Bible prohibits women from serving at any level of public life. The Bible’s instructions about the proper roles of men and women apply to the church and the family. The Bible does not speak directly to differing roles of men and women in public life.

Some people have developed principles from the Bible’s instructions about the proper roles of men and women in the church and family and applied them more broadly. Depending on the setting, the application of these principles has varying degrees of validity. In the church and in the home, the Bible teaches clearly that God has appointed the man to serve as the primary leader. In these environments the issue of spiritual headship figures prominently. As one moves further from roles where the exercise of spiritual authority is involved, it becomes more difficult to apply these principles.

Public service is essentially a secular role. While a person can certainly express spiritual opinions in that setting and can influence public policy related to spiritual activities, there is little, if any, assertion of spiritual authority. Some people choose to apply the biblical model of male headship to all activities in life, including public service, as a means to reinforce the biblical teachings on the proper role of men and women in the church and the family. The Bible does not prohibit this, but neither does it require it.

In fact, there are a number of biblical examples of women providing key leadership roles in the public life of nations. Consider the very affirming depiction of Deborah’s role as a judge in the book of Judges (Judges 4-5). The Bible says “the Israelites went up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:5). It even says that Barak refused to meet Sisera on the battlefield unless Deborah accompanied him (Judges 4:8). Some may note that the text does not explicitly state that God established Deborah in her role as judge and conclude that she did not occupy that role with the same divine authority as the other judges (cf., Othniel, Judges 3:9-10). But Deborah is not the only judge where the divine appointment language is not used. It is also not used for Shamgar (Judges 3:31), Tola (Judges 10:1-2), or Jair (Judges 10:3-5). It is evident that the divine appointment language is not needed to validate for the reader the divine appointment of the judges. Interestingly, the book of Hebrews singles out Barak’s accomplishments without mentioning the role that Deborah played, but this is understandable in light of the passage’s emphasis on the heroic and spectacular (Hebrews 11:32-33).

Some people have claimed that God calls women to leadership when He can’t find a willing man. Certainly, the vast majority of examples of leadership in the Bible are male, but that should not be interpreted to mean that women should be excluded from leadership in public life if a man can be found to do the job. The Bible gives no hint that Deborah was a judge because adequate male leadership could not be found. Indeed, we can be glad that Deborah wasn’t afraid to exercise leadership, since she is the one who summoned Barak and told him that he needed to obey God’s command to fight Sisera (Judges 4:6).

The Bible is clear about the leadership role of men in the home and in the church. Neither the example of Deborah nor any other female leader in, or outside, the Bible should be used as a means to undermine that design. In the same regard, God’s design for male headship in the home and the church does not require the exclusion of women from leadership in public life, where spiritual headship is not involved. Such extrapolation carries the biblical teaching about the role of women beyond the Bible’s own application.

18 Comments

1 On Sep 10, 2008, at 8:08pm, Keith Jones wrote:

I recently rode with some other pastors to a meeting. I was surprised that one cited Isaiah 3:12 as a prohibition on women in public office.
Here’s the verse from HCSB: “Youths oppress My people,  and women rule over them. My people, your leaders mislead you; they confuse the direction of your paths.”
  The pastor stated, “Every time a woman in the Bible was a prophet or judge or ruler, it was a curse from God.”
  I compared translations (KJV, NASB, NIV, The Message)
  It seems to me that given the background of this passage (God ‘taking Judah’s leaders to court’ for their leading the people into sin) that the verse is either 1) stating the actual course of affairs or 2) using sarcasm to compare the leaders to children and women. [The New American Commentary, Vol. 15A p. 149 tends to confirm this last.]
  Bottom line-I agree with you. The Bible does not speak authoritatively either way on the role of women in government leadership roles.

2 On Sep 11, 2008, at 3:33am, Shadrach wrote:

I don’t know if this comes as a result of Voddie Baucham’s interview on CNN, but if so, I think you missed the point.  With Palin and others who serve the public as a ‘Christian evangelical’ figure, are we going to affirm her in abandoning her family roles?  I haven’t heard a single person say that they think Palin can be a biblical mother and wife while being VP (and possibly Pres.).  I believe that to be the crux of Voddie’s message.  We are being hypocritical as evangelicals if we affirm a woman’s role in the home, but support removing women from that role.  You can’t have it both ways.

That being said, I’m voting for Palin. (not so much McCain)

3 On Sep 11, 2008, at 11:37pm, Barrett Duke wrote:

Thanks for your comments. On the Isaiah 3:12 passage, I agree that Isaiah was not speaking literally here. I doubt seriously that literal children were oppressing God’s people. Isaiah is certainly getting at something that characterized these people. The same must be true for his reference to women. After all, while Isaiah was a prophet, the nation was ruled by male kings. He is probably saying that they were filling a typical female role of submission rather than the typical male role as leader. The nation needed leaders. Isaiah was talking about the kind of people who were leading, not their gender.

4 On Sep 13, 2008, at 12:32am, Shadrach wrote:

I still don’t think this is really the point.  I agree with you about the Isaiah issue and do not see any prohibition of women in political leadership in the Bible, but we have to make a decision.  When it comes to a female, public figure that is representative of evangelicals, are we supportive of her abandoning her biblical roles?

Which ever way you go, you need to be consistent so that we do not further the appearance of hypocrisy.

5 On Sep 14, 2008, at 11:33am, Jacky wrote:

I am happy and bless by God! This days of election where unify us more as christians. Awesome! This unity of mind,spirit and soul will be our light for the world and they will see Christ in us!
God has unified us in this dificult times so the World can see Him!

God Bless America!!!!

6 On Sep 23, 2008, at 9:13pm, David Pat Pace wrote:

I must strongly disagree with you on your conclusion.  I do note that you state this is just your opinion and so I take it as that and not Biblically based.
The Bible is very clear in 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.  No where in that does that say that a woman is head of ANYTHING.  The Bible also says in I Timothy 2:12 that a woman is not to teach or USURP AUTHORITY over the man.  Then in Titus 2:5 it says a woman is to be “a keeper AT HOME”.  There are other places also, but this should be sufficient to say that a woman who professes to be a Christian has no place in leadership over men.  That includes the Church, the family as well as in public life.  You can believe whatever you choose to believe and you can add to the scriptures if you want to do so, but as for me and my family we will just follow God and His word.

7 On Sep 29, 2008, at 8:54am, liam wrote:

I agree with you David…

Let us not forget the law of the father as told in Genesis 19 - Lot’s daughters are offered by their father to an angry mob to be gang raped, Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt for looking behind her and both daughters have sex with their father, each becoming pregnant and delivering healthy children. The lesson in Timothy 2:12 that a woman is not to teach or USURP AUTHORITY over a man is yet another affirmation of God’s desire for patriarchal domination.

8 On Oct 3, 2008, at 7:29pm, Maria wrote:

I am so confused. I am a full time worker and my husband don’t mind me bringing home a paycheck.
I fact bigger than his. I,am a boss to 7 men. I think that is called leadership isn’t it?. I got the job because I had the most knowlwdge and experience on programing of robots. If it were up to men that work at the same place I wouldn’t be were I am.They don’t like me leding,but guess what.their wifes work because they are no capable of supporting their home by themselves.
So, you want wemen to help, but you don,t want them to be important is that IT?

9 On Oct 3, 2008, at 9:24pm, David Pat Pace wrote:

Maria, Just because you are doing something does not make it right.  Let’s say a person says they are gay, yet they claim to be a Christian.  They can claim it, but in works they are denying it.  Titus 2:5 makes it clear that a woman is to be a “keeper AT home” and if she does not she blasphemes the word of God.  I know society has said it is ok to leave the place that God has ordain, but that is what God’s Word says.  Many women choose to disobey that, just like many women have chosen to cut their hair off as well as many men grow their hair long as well as some men refuse to provide for their family.  None of those things are right, but people do them.  You and your husband have to decide if you want to obey God or do what ever you want to do.

10 On Oct 16, 2008, at 9:39pm, Jay wrote:

The Bible speaks of causing others to fall by your own actions and words. Your mind has analyzed the Bible, in the way it does. Very normal, some women must work,husbands leave,sexual abuse, spousal abuse happens. Your child needs are they placed over a divorce. No debate needed, for most it is common sense. Did you have a very financially well off family?
Please Take Care, God Bless,

Jay

11 On Oct 16, 2008, at 11:53pm, David Pat Pace wrote:

Jay, I understand your point when a women is caught up in an abusive relationship and the resulting divorce.  However, that does not change what God said.  The problem we have today is that women CHOSE to leave the home and follow a career.  That is not what God said for them to do.  Can they do it? Yes.  Is it right for them to do it? No.

12 On Nov 2, 2008, at 11:17pm, Diane wrote:

It sounds to me as if David wants to “pick and choose” what to believe in the Bible.  He wants to have his point of view be “right” rather than base a decision on the entire words from God.  He also sounds as if he would be rather “domineering” because he thinks that’s Gods’ plan.  I certainly disagree with his thinking. If it were ONLY Gods’ plan that women were not to work, then where are the men who are to take care of widows, etc and children and those women who would not be able to take care of themselves and their children?  David needs to read up a bit more of God’s word instead of taking only what he wants to, just to prove his point!!

13 On Nov 4, 2008, at 7:34pm, David Pat Pace wrote:

Diane, I am sorry you do not like what I posted, but it IS based on the whole Bible, not selective parts like you are using.  God’s word is clear on the roles of women and the roles of men.  You use the word “domineering” which indicates that you have a problem with the role God has given you and you think men want to “domineer” you.  That is what the militant feminist movement have convinced many women in this country, but the Word of God warns us of how in the last days people will turn their back on God and it is clear that that is happening.  My wife is not “dominated” by me, she just understands headship and she follows Titus 2 as a godly women.

14 On Dec 17, 2008, at 3:08am, abdel wrote:

firstly I want to thank you for the great essay that you wrote and secondly what I wanted to say that I’m muslim and our woman is under the presure of the religion that she must folows the rules and wearing the scarf is one of the probles that a woman could faces a preservative woman who wears the scarf can’t finds good jobs ;doesn’t alowed to enter some special institutions and so many other problems so my point is that we need to change our mentality toward the preservative woman and gives her equal right with the “open minded woman”

15 On Jan 23, 2009, at 2:53am, Sandra F. Mesa wrote:

David Pat Pace is right. He’s quoting god’s word.I think the issue here is in what context do we define “The Keeper of the House.” This is too generalized. Or rather how do you or how has the Holy Spirit revealed that too you. It has to be a balance.  Do we women make sure the house is spotless and everyting is perfect? Or do we just make sure the house is running the way it’s suppose to according to our role. These are defined by all the Biblical truth’s.  I think a man’s headship (not mankind) is often misunderstood. Because god said that it’s not good for man to be alone so he created woman. The Lord revealed to me that men need women for support, encouragement, communication and every other important thing you can think of. As long as the communication between spouses is clear and your following the spirit of god and his word things will work out.

16 On Jan 26, 2009, at 9:21pm, David Pat Pace wrote:

Thanks Sandra.  The fact that men and women have different roles is not a demeaning thing, it is how God estbalished the home.  The women is not inferior, just a different role than man.  Also I agree that the women is the completer of the man as well as a helpmeet.

17 On Jan 27, 2009, at 12:53am, Sandra wrote:

The problem comes when a woman
grows up in certain cultures (dominance, rape etc. or even at times religion). Even growing up in a home where your parents don’t know the lord, but are generally good parent’s causes problems.(role of male and female.) I am very supportive of my husband just as he is supportive of me. God, said to live with his wife in understanding and love. He knew our imperfections. I think corporate America is tricky. God has shown our family his plan. I think it’s all in perspective and god’s leading. Me and my family have been involved in ministry /13 years. God told me we would do mighty things for him. It just so happens that I worked before I had children an got married. My children are older now (high school)and we are rearranging our future and I will be finishing my DDS. We help those in Central America along with my husband( as an engineer and translator, along with musical gifts.)God’s plan. Husband and wives should pray and follow god’s leading.

18 On Jan 27, 2009, at 6:29pm, David Pat Pace wrote:

Sandra, You have liberty to to do what you feel is right, but you can not violate the scriptures. I think you know that and I am not saying you are.  What I am saying is that sometimes our desires to do something for God, we make emotional decisions and those decisions conflict with the Bible, but we convince ourselves that “God told me” when in reality we are just doing what we want to do and God allows it because He loves us and is long suffering.  What we must do is seek God and which ever way God leads us, it WILL not conflict with the scriptures.

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