What is a prophetess in the Bible?

A prophetess is a female prophet. The role and responsibility of prophets and prophetesses is to speak forth the Word of God. The Greek origin of the English term prophet, prophetes, reveals this meaning: pro means "forth or before" and phetes means "to say or to speak." Thus prophets and prophetesses are to say whatever message God has given them before the person or people for whom the message is intended.

Sometimes, the message is a comforting encouragement (Haggai 1:13). Sometimes, it is a convicting warning (Jonah 3:2). From time to time, it is a prediction of far-off future events (Zechariah 2:10–12). Each time, the prophet or prophetess is responsible to share only and exactly the words the Lord has given them (Deuteronomy 18:18). Samuel was taught to share the message in full, even if it was an uncomfortable truth that might not be well received (1 Samuel 3:17–18). When Jeremiah tried to stop sharing God's messages, he said, "If I say, 'I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,' there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot" (Jeremiah 20:9). Thus prophets and prophetesses bear great responsibility in relaying God's Word to its intended audience.

God declared, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit" (Joel 2:28–29). In this statement we notice that God specifically mentions daughters who prophesy and His Spirit being poured out on female servants. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God used female prophetesses to relay messages to His people.

The first woman to be identified as a prophetess in Scripture is Moses' sister Miriam in Exodus 15:20. Her words were recorded in Scripture as she led the women in worship after God's miraculous rescue at the Red Sea. The female judge who ruled over the Israelites, Deborah, was introduced first as "a prophetess," then "wife of Lappidoth," and finally in her role as "judging Israel at that time," perhaps implying that her primary role and legacy by which to be remembered was as a prophetess who spoke the Word of the Lord (Judges 4:4). Many of those words are recorded in Judges chapter four; Judges chapter five is exclusively the Holy Spirit's inspired words spoken by Deborah and Barak. When Judah's King Josiah read a recently found copy of the Torah and realized the extent of his people's sin, he asked his advisors to "Go, inquire of the LORD for me" (2 Kings 22:13; 2 Chronicles 34:21). Well-known male prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah were both contemporary and local, and yet these men sought the insight of the female prophetess Huldah to discern God's will for the king and the nation (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22). Her response is both recorded in Scripture and confirmed as coming true within the lifetime of those who heard it. The prophet Isaiah's wife is also identified as a prophetess in her own right, although no words of hers are recorded in Scripture (Isaiah 8:3).

In the New Testament, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, "was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord'" (Luke 1:41–45). Here, Elizabeth spoke forth God's message to her cousin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, thus fulfilling the role of prophetess.

Months later, when Jesus was brought to the temple for His circumcision, His parents encountered Anna, a prophetess. "She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:37–38). This woman faithfully spoke God's Word about Jesus being the Messiah every day as she devoted the last years of her life to serving in the temple.

On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon male and female followers of Jesus, "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). Peter explained this phenomenon to the crowds in Jerusalem as one of the ways God's promise in Joel 2:28–29 was being fulfilled. He said, "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17–18). While Paul was visiting Caesarea, Philip the Evangelist's four unmarried daughters prophesied (Acts 21:8–9). In the church in Corinth, women were regularly prophesying before the congregation, which is why Paul addressed customs of how to do that properly within their cultural context (1 Corinthians 11:5–6). Throughout history, God has used His Spirit to relay messages to female prophetesses who were responsible to speak forth His Word to the people.

Unfortunately, there have been false prophets and prophetesses as well. Nehemiah 6:14 mentions the prophetess Noadiah who tried to use fear to prevent Nehemiah from following God's will. Ezekiel recorded about Jerusalem, "And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, 'Thus says the Lord GOD,' when the LORD has not spoken" (Ezekiel 22:28).

Simply put, a prophetess was a female prophet, a woman called by God to declare His revelation to His people. In the Bible, the "office" of prophet and the gift of prophecy were given to both men and women.

Related Truth:

Why do women seem to have a small role in the Bible?

Who was Huldah the prophetess in the Bible?

What is a prophet in the Bible?

What is the key to recognizing false teachers?

Do we have prophets in the church today?

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