“By their gender”: the flawed label of women teachers, preachers, and pastors as false prophets

 

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God made gender to be a good gift to benefit creation and humanity, but today’s scene within and without the church has used it to browbeat females into submission and deny them their political rights and spiritual authority that comes from God. One of the arguments often made against women is that, since they’re female, should they preach, teach, or pastor, they are “false prophets.” That is, one cannot trust their message because they have stepped “outside the boundaries of their roles” and therefore, outside of the scope of God’s will and blessing.

Scripture does affirm that there are false prophets in the world, that there were false prophets in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament and that false prophets still exist today. And yet, we’re told in Scripture that such false prophets are not called “false” because of their gender, but because of their message and the fact that it does not come from God.

To examine this claim, let’s examine false prophets in the Old Testament and New Testament.

False prophets In the Old Testament

Jeremiah 5:31 tells us that the prophets of Israel were speaking falsely about God:

The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule by their own power;
And My people love to have it so.
But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:31)

13 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’”

14 And the Lord said to me, “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in My name, whom I did not send, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not be in this land’—‘By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed! (Jeremiah 14:13-15)

The prophets were assuring the people that they would have peace and prosperity, stability in the land, but the Lord says, “I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them” (v.14), “whom I did not send,” and “the prophets prophesy lies in My name.” Clearly, then, these individuals are false prophets. They weren’t sent by God, and any prophet who isn’t sent by God is invalid, illegitimate, and has no spiritual authority. These prophets were false not because of their gender, however, but because of their message.

28 Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken. (Ezekiel 22:28)

Ezekiel 22:28 condemns Israel’s prophets because they said “Thus says the Lord God,” but the “Lord had not spoken.” Again, Ezekiel 22:28 is confirmatory in that the prophets are called false because of what they say, not because of their gender.

The prophet Micaiah and false prophets(1 Kings 22)

1 Kings 22 tells us of a prophet by the name of Micaiah who was considered by the king of Israel to be false because he would speak gloom instead of peace and prosperity: “There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8). Micaiah told the king of Israel that “23 Therefore look! The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has declared disaster against you,” (1 Kings 22:23), telling the king of what was to come and confirming that the 400 prophets present were lying. And, sure enough, the king of Israel was injured and later died after the battle (1 Kings 22:34-37).

As Micaiah prophesied, the king died, thereby condemning the 400 prophets that told him all would go well in battle. Again, the story of Micaiah and the king of Israel confirms that there are more false prophets in the world than one would believe.

False prophets in the New Testament

The New Testament discusses false prophets in the same vein as the Old Testament, with the NT writers referring to their spoken words and claims as that which indicted them rather than their gender.

In 2 Peter 2, we see Peter compare the prophets of the Old Testament to teachers in the church of the first century:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

“False prophets” and “false teachers” are in the same vein, Peter says, but what he does here is try to show a connection between the Old and New Testament. The context of false prophets is the Old Testament, as he discusses “prophecy of Scripture” in 2 Peter 1:20). “Scripture” here refers to the Old Testament, for the New Testament hadn’t been written in its entirety at the time of 2 Peter 2. The Old Testament prophets, then, are given great mention by Peter, and he specifically focuses in on false prophets. We’ve already seen above that the Old Testament confirms that there were false prophets in the OT days.

And yet, Peter says that teachers today are akin to the false prophets, are in a similar role to the OT prophets. This is something we shouldn’t overlook, because it tells us that those in positions today that are designed to tell the people what the Lord has said in His Word (teachers, preachers, and pastors) are operating as modern-day prophets. In case you were wondering, Peter answers this question with certainty.

The issue with the teachers in 2 Peter 2, or, rather, the modern-day prophets, wasn’t their gender but their message: they were teaching falsely, leading people astray from the truth and thus, from the gospel and their salvation. 1 John 4:1 tells us that “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Last but not least, we have the words of Jesus with regard to false prophets:

15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)

Jesus’ words here in Matthew 7 on trees and fruit is not about physical trees and what type of fruit they grow — though Jesus does use this as an analogy. Rather, the trees and fruit point to “false prophets” mentioned in Matthew 7:15. Jesus is saying that if a tree is good, it cannot bear bad fruit, meaning that a good tree will bear good fruit because that’s the way it is. It is contradictory to nature for a good tree to bear bad fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit because, again, that is contrary to how nature works. So, bad trees bear bad fruit and good trees bear good fruit. Therefore, prophets who are from God will “bear good fruit,” speak words about God that come to pass, that are true. Bad prophets are the ones who lie about God, and their lies result in nothing happening. Their words have no effect, don’t come true, and never surface in reality.

“By their fruits you will know them,” Jesus says. He doesn’t say “by their gender,” but rather, “by their fruits.” Would to God that we would start to see women teachers, preachers, and pastors as true or false based on the content they say and not their gender.