Prophetesses in the Bible — Who are the women prophets in the Bible?
Who are the women prophets in the Bible? The answer is given in this brief study in two parts. First, a list of the eleven women prophets or prophetesses is summarized and a table listing the various prophetesses is provided. Second, a brief explanation of each prophetess is provided.
Prophetesses in the Bible
There are only eleven women that the Bible specifically called a prophetess. Nine of them were true prophetesses. They are: Miriam (Exodus 15:20); Deborah (Judges 4:4); Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22); wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3); Anna (Luke 2:36-38); and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9). Two of them were false prophetesses: Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14) and Jezebel (Revelation 2:20).
Over half of these prophetesses (six) appear in the New Testament. Four of the prophetesses are virgin daughters. Three of the prophetesses are wives (Deborah, Huldah, and the wife of Isaiah). One is known as a widow named Anna. The marital status of the other prophetesses is unknown. The Bible provides the most information about the prophetess Miriam. Here is a table that summarizes this information.
Who Are the Women Prophets in the Bible?
Now let us discover what else the Bible teaches us about these prophetesses.
Miriam (Exodus 15:20)
The first prophetess mentioned in the Old Testament is Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21; Numbers 12:1-15; 20:1; 26:59; Deuteronomy 24:9; Micah 6:4). She was the sister of Aaron and Moses. Their father was Amram (1 Chronicles 6:1-3). Miriam was the oldest of the three (Exodus 2:1-4). For more information about her age, visit “What is the relationship of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam?”
The first passage in which Miriam appears is Exodus 15:20-21. The passage tells us that the Israelite women celebrated the defeat of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. In this passage, we are told Miriam was a prophetess who led these women in celebration. We are also told that “all the women” followed her playing timbrels and dancing. Miriam was a leader of women. Earlier in Exodus 2:1-10, we read of Miriam as a young girl watching out for her baby brother, Moses, and arranging for Moses’ mother to be able to care for her son.
Miriam’s Hebrew name, miryam, means “bitterness” or”rebellious.” This is a fitting name for her because Numbers 12:1-15 reveals that she opposed her brother Moses and God rebuked her for opposing him. Here is God’s rebuke:
Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward,
“Hear now My words:
If there is a prophet among you,
I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision.
I shall speak with him in a dream.
Not so, with My servant Moses,
He is faithful in all My household;
With him I speak mouth to mouth,
Even openly, and not in dark sayings,
And he beholds the form of the LORD.
Why then were you not afraid
To speak against My servant, against Moses?” Numbers 12:5-8 (NASB)
Then God punished Miriam, and not Aaron, by making her leprous (Numbers 12:10). Apparently, Miriam was defiant and suffered the consequences. She was healed only after Moses prayed for her.
The next time Miriam is mentioned in Scripture is in Numbers 20:1. On this occasion she died. She was only months away from entering the Promised Land. She died because she was one of the many not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Apparently she believed the bad report given by ten of the twelve spies in Numbers 13:25-14:45. She is not named among those who would be allowed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:1-2, 30, 38; 26:65).
Finally, we learn nothing new from the last two passages in which she is mentioned in Scripture (Deuteronomy 24:9 and Micah 6:4). Her name is stated but no new information is given.
In summary, Miriam was a true prophetess in the beginning but she ended in dishonor due to a lack of submission to Moses. Apparently she did not trust God to safely lead Israel into the Promised Land. From Miriam’s life we learn that we need to be in submission to authority and trust our God in all circumstances. Just as Miriam led the nation of Israel in praise and worship with song after the Lord conquered the Egyptians, so women today should encourage other women to worship and praise the Lord.
Deborah (Judges 4:4)
The next prophetess mentioned in Scripture is Deborah (Judges 4:4-5:15). She was the wife of Lappidoth and a judge of Israel.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. Judges 4:4 (NASB)
Judges 4:4-7 describes Deborah’s communication with Barak in which she told him that God wanted him to wage war against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army.
Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun.” ‘I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” Judges 4:6-7 (NASB)
Judges 4:8-9 states that she went with Barak after he asked her to join him. In Judges 4:14, we learn that she told Barak when to engage in battle. The rest of Judges 4 describes the battle that followed and the great victory that God gave Barak. Judges 5 is a record of the lyrics of a duet sung by Barak and Deborah.
In summary, Scripture speaks positively of Deborah. She was a wife, a true prophetess, a ruler or judge, a warrior, and a singer.
Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22)
The prophetess Huldah appears in only two passages. The first is 2 Kings 22:14.
So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter); and they spoke to her. 2 Kings 22:14 (NASB)
Here we learn that she was the wife of Shallum. Huldah was important because she provided guidance to King Josiah after “the book of the law” was found (2 Kings 22:8-13). After the law was found, the king asked Hilkiah, the high priest, to give him advice. Consequently, Hikiah found her and asked for help. 2 Kings 22:15-20 and 2 Chronicles 34:28 record her message to the king. After her final words of advice she disappears from the pages of Scripture.
In summary, Huldah must have had a great reputation for her knowledge of Scripture and spiritual relationship with God. Otherwise, why would the high priest seek her godly advice for the king? It is apparent she was a godly woman. Her moment in Scripture, although very brief, reveals that she had a good reputation. Scripture indicates that she was an example of a godly woman — an example for every woman and man.
Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14)
Noadiah, the prophetess, is found only one time in Scripture and that is in Nehemiah 6:14. In Nehemiah 6:10 we are told that Shemaiah had warned Nehemiah that Sanballat had planned to murder him. Then Shemaiah urged Nehemiah to flee to the temple for protection. But according to Nehemiah 6:12-14, Nehemiah knew he was liar. Nehemiah 6:12-14 then reveals Nehemiah’s conclusion about Shemaiah.
Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me. Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me. Nehemiah 6:12-14 (NASB)
Nehemiah 6:12-14 reveals that Shemaiah was a false prophet and Noadiah was a false prophetess. That is all that we know about Noadiah. That is the only information Scripture reveals about her.
Wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3)
The wife of Isaiah was also a prophetess according to Isaiah 8:3. Here is Isaiah 8:3-4.
So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry out ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.” Isaiah 8:3 (NASB)
Some believers may be disappointed that God decided to not reveal her name. But this is an important lesson for everyone. The opportunity to serve the Lord in any capacity is not an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Our names do not need to be mentioned in the bulletin or on the church website. People do not need to hear your praises sung or be reminded that you are a “teacher” (prophets do not exist today). Pride disqualifies anyone who seeks to be a prophet or a prophetess of God (1 Timothy 3:6). Simply understood, Isaiah 8:3 refers to a nameless prophetess of God who ministered for Him. We do not even know what she did for God other than her support role as Isaiah’s wife.
In summary, the wife of Isaiah was a true prophetess and wife of the prophet Isaiah. Why did God not name her? Maybe so that she would not overshadow her husband. Only God knows her name. How fitting it is to serve the Lord in ministry and to be content simply with whatever praise comes from Him.
Anna (Luke 2:36-38)
The prophetess Anna appears only in Luke 2:36-38. The events described in these verses occurred after Mary and Joseph arrived in the temple for the dedication of Jesus.
And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38 (NASB)
This prophetess was the daughter of Phanuel. She had been married for seven years and then her husband died. She remained a widow until the age of eighty-four. All that time she faithfully served in the temple night and day while she waited for “the redemption of Jerusalem,” that is the coming of Messiah.
In summary, Anna was a true prophetess. Her life reveals that God may use an older, godly woman if she is willing to serve the Lord. It is also obvious that God answered her prayer to see the Messiah. God allowed her to remain alive until she saw Him.
Four Daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9)
Acts 21:8-9 introduces us to four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.
On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. Acts 21:8-9 (NASB)
Just as God did not give us the name of Isaiah’s wife, who was a prophetess, God does not give us the names of these four virgin daughters.
In summary, we have discovered that there were prophetesses of God who were virgins, some were married, and others who were widows. Some were young and one was eighty-four years of age. That is, God will not reject a woman because of her age. If a woman is willing to serve God, she may used if it is God’s will.
Jezebel (Revelation 2:20)
The final prophetess mentioned in Scripture is named Jezebel. She appears in Revelation 2:20.
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. Revelation 2:20 (NASB)
We do not believe the name Jezebel was the real name of this false prophetess. Not only was she a false teacher, notice that she also falsely called herself a prophetess. She was not a prophetess of God. Jezebel describes the spiritual character of the woman. She was as wicked as the Jezebel in the Old Testament (1 Kings 16:31; 18:4, 13; 19:1-2; 21:5-25; 2 Kings 9:7). This Jezebel taught sexual freedom. The passage in Revelation 2:20-22 is instructive for us today. Just because a so-called Christian woman encourages believers to engage in sexual sin, does not mean she should be believed and her advice followed. False teachers teach error. This false prophetess taught error. This is all that we know about her. Revelation 2:21-22 reveals that God planned to punish her for her false teaching and punish her followers for accepting her false teaching!
In summary, Jezebel is the second false prophetess in Scripture. It is obvious from Revelation 2:20-22 that she had a following who believed her. It is obvious that she appeared to be a godly woman, or Christians would have avoided her. Verses 20-22 reveal she had a following. This means that what a so-called prophetess teaches is more important than what she claims to be. If she teaches error, then she is not a true prophetess. She is a liar.
We have discovered that the nine true prophetesses mentioned in Scripture ranged in age from their youth up to eighty-four years of age. Some were virgins, some were married and one was a widow. They appear in both the Old and New Testaments. It is obvious that God used women who were willing to serve Him regardless of age or marital status.
But what is most impressive is that God only named four of the true prophetesses but named both of the false prophetesses. Of the four, very little is said about three of them. Why did God the Holy Spirit only name four true prophetesses? The answer is humility must be the mark of any servant of God. Numbers 12:3 says that Moses was the most humble man on the earth during his life. That is, God seeks humble servants. While the spiritual gift of prophetess does not exist today since the canon of Scripture is closed, God still seeks humble servants (men and women) to serve Him. For more information about the role of women in the church visit “Role of Women In The Church.” If you are interested in knowing how to identify a true teacher visit, “How can we know if a prophet is true or false?” We will close with this convicting statement about Saint Francis of Assisi.
When someone asked Saint Francis of Assisi why and how he could accomplish so much, he replied: “This may be why. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the earth and said, ‘Where can I find the weakest, the littlest, the poorest man on the face of the earth?’ Then He saw me and said, ‘Now I’ve found him, and will work through him. He won’t be proud of it. He’ll see that I am only using him because of his littleness and insignificance.”
– C. Reuben Anderson
1. Roy Zuck. The Speaker’s Quote Book. Kregel Publications. 1997. p. 202.
Suggested Links:What is the relationship of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam?
Role of Women In The Church
Passions of the Heart – Simeon and Anna
Who was Jezebel? — Who was Jezebel in the Bible?
What does tolerate mean in Revelation 2:20? – They tolerated Jezebel
False Teachers & Their Followers
How can we know if a prophet is true or false?
How To Know A False Prophet