Deborah: Judge, Prophet, Or Both


The other day I thought I had outsmarted leading complementarian, John Piper. What about Deborah, I asked myself? Surely there is no way to deny that God appointed and equipped the Old Testament female judge to lead both men and women (mostly men I would add) within the Israelite Army. She is a figure us egalitarians hold onto tightly. In a time that patriarchy cruelly wrapped its chains around the bodies and souls of females, God chose a woman to lead His chosen people and defeat their enemy.

What can John Piper say about Deborah? I should have known the complementarian would have an answer. Does he not always have an answer? When my husband is annoyed with me he often says, “Jory always has an answer.” I am starting to see his point. This is pretty annoying. Of course, I say, “That’s what makes me a good writer babe.” Unfortunately, this is what makes John Piper a good writer too.

In an article entitled “The Womanliness of Deborah,” Piper argues that Deborah was never actually raised up by God to be a judge, but received this position as sort of God’s “last resort plan” because the Israelite men at that time were too wimpy and ungodly to lead.

Piper states, The question arises, where are the elders and priests whom God had appointed to judge the people (Exod 29:9; Num 11:16-25)? The only priest mentioned in the book of Judges is apostate (Judges 17-18). The elders after Joshua’s time are corrupt or foolish (Judges 2:7, 10; 8:14-16; 21). Likely, the people resorted to Deborah because she had both the word of God and personal integrity, a rare combination in those days (See article).

John Piper seems to always forget that God is all-knowing and that He knew little baby Deborah before she was born, as He knows all of us before we are born (Jer. 1:5).

Piper writes. When we come to Judges 4:4-5, we are presented with a variation in the cycle. We are not presented with the call or rise of a warrior. Rather, a woman is introduced and a state of affairs is described. Deborah is the only significant character in the book of Judges whose call is not described and who is not said “to arise,” the formulaic description of a deliverer-judge, as with Othniel (3:9), Ehud (3:15), Gideon (6:14), Tola (10:1), and Jair (10:3). This suggests that because “to arise” was not written in the Old Testament text, Deborah was not a “real” judge.

My question to Calvinist, John Piper would be, “If Deborah was in fact playing the role of “judge,” did God not predestine her to be a judge before she was even born?” I am almost certain he would answer by saying what he said in his article, The first thing the text tells us about Deborah is that she is a prophetess. A prophet is one who receives and communicates words directly from and for God (Exod 4:15-16; 7:1). 

To which I would say, “Ok Mr. Piper, for the sake of argument lets go with your logic since somehow you have convinced a lot of Christians that you, a man, know best about biblical womanhood.”

I beleive Piper would agree that God’s Word is clear that He raises up female prophets to prophesy over both men and women in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, so lets begin there. According to Strong’s Greek, a prophetess (????????, ????, ?) is a woman to whom future events or things hidden from others are at times revealed, either by inspiration or by dreams and visions AND prophecy (?????????, ??, ?) is the gift of communicating and enforcing revealed truth.

I have to wonder Mr. Piper, how does a modern day female prophet (one who simply delivers God’s Word) actually do that in the complementarian church? Does she only deliver prophesy to children and other women? If there are in fact God-called and appointed prophetess’ should not men hear God’s message to His people too?

Further, if in theory you agree John, why is it OK for women to prophesy God’s Word, but not teach from the Bible (God’s Word) to men? Perhaps I am just a silly confused woman, but somehow I think these thoughts may have crossed the minds of many other Christians who have learned to tap into “special revelations” found within the realm of common sense.

While John Piper and the rest of the gospel coalition try to figure out new “biblical” ways to keep women captive to the curse of patriarchy, Jesus is doing a new thing. He is pouring out His Spirit on all people, and burning God-inspired messages in the hearts and minds of His daughters. How tragic that many women have no platform to teach, preach, and prophesy.

As for me, I will prophesy here on my blog and permit other women to prophesy on here too. Good thing I am a product of the charismatic movement and I am accustomed to fundamental Christians thinking I have fallen off the Bible wagon!

In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Act 2:17

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  • I’ve always thought it strange how Piper seems to hold a very high, uber-Calvinist idea of God’s sovereignty while continually resorting to the language of defeat and retreat in relation to God every time things don’t line up with his ideas about gender. For a sovereign deity, his god seems to play catch-up a lot, suffer “tactical defeats” (as though a sovereign God needs to be at war with anything!), and generally seems rather weak and uneven in his intentions. The more he tries to strengthen men the more he appears to weaken his own god.

  • That’s some very wishful thinking on Piper’s part. Judges 2:16-19 describes the call of all the judges, and it sounds just like Judges 4:1-3. What they won’t do to try to diminish her!

  • Hi Jory! How I love your questions and your logic! I often find that complementarian theology leaves me with more questions than answers. I’ve read the commentary about Deborah and Barak from many complementarian Bible teachers, and I’m puzzled by the conclusions that are drawn. For example, in Piper’s explanation of the text Deborah is praised for making sure to adhere to gender roles; however, in another commentary Deborah is condemned for her victory song, as the commentator declares that Deborah was arrogant and did not mention how she had been a dutiful wife and mother. It’s baffling!
    I have 3 observations/questions
    1) Deborah says the she arose (Judges 5:7)
    2) What made Barak significant enough to be in the hall of faith (Hebrews 11:32)?
    3) Where are the “palm trees” in the complementarian circles, where men gather around to acknowledge and here what God is saying through His daughters?

    • All GREAT points Leah! So, I beleive that Deborah really did arise and that she really was called and appointed by God to be both a judge and a prophet; hence a prophetic judge (how cool is that)? I am not sure what made Barak significant enough – good question! Also, there are no “palm trees” in complementarian churches unless you count the the vacation bible school week construction paper palm trees for the kids. 😉

  • Jory, I just came across this and LOVE it.

    It’s so remarkable to me that a man like John Piper cannot see that Deborah is one of a pattern of women who were called again and again to lead over men. Miriam (who is listed as a prophetess in Hebrew), Deborah, Huldah, Anna… these are all examples where, in spite of the CURSE of patriarchy… God still raises up women to break through throughout the whole witness of Scripture.

    Deborah is a “judge” – a שָׁפַט, the same word used to describe all the other judges. She’s the leader. Period. If God is somehow so weak that God couldn’t find a man… and had to use a WOMAN as a “last-resort”?! Come on, Piper… that’s pathetic.

    And Piper’s exegesis on “prophesy” is lacking… in 1 Corinthians 14:3 – Paul identifies the role of a prophet: for edification of others, exhortation, and consolation. If you can find me someone who edifies through Scripture, exhorts others (in the context Paul is talking about; giving of the word), and consoling… and yet somehow isn’t a “teacher”? Well… your move, Piper.

    Thanks you!

  • For some reason, I am just now reading this. Just to be fair, “The Womanliness of Deborah” wasn’t written by John Piper, but by Barbara Mouser. Piper most likely agrees with everything she wrote, but it is interesting to note this was not written from Piper, but from a woman. It took me forever to figure out who wrote this because I used it in my project this summer. CBMW doesn’t always post who writes what – so it can be convoluted and difficult to figure out. You make some really great arguments against it, and I find it absolutely unbelievable they totally discount her as a leader or a judge like other judges.

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