Miriam, a female church leader

The Blogger at Church Discipline wrote this piece some time ago, and I am just now getting around to posting it. My fellow blogger quotes,

“O My people, what have I done to you?
And how have I wearied you?
Testify against Me. For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:3-4 NKJV)

Further, the post reads,

This association with water comes from the bible itself, for those of a more mystical bent Numbers 20:1-2 presents a more interesting picture, Miriam dies and the water stops. Right after the song of Miriam the bitter water is made sweet, manah comes from heaver and Moses draws water from a rock. And of course Exodus 2:1-10 where she is associated with the river.

Going to numbers 12, this passage is often used against women teachers. However it says the exact opposite. God asserts quite clearly in 12:6-12:8 that he is directly sending Miriam visions and dreams. He contrasts that with the sort of direct conversation he has with Moses. And there is no question he considers Moses superior but the important thing in establishing female leadership that God is purposely tasking her with teaching. That is while this information is of lower quality than what Moses receives she most certainly is the recipient of revelation meant to be passed on to the people.

There is a lot of Jewish practice that is specific to women. Moses during the 40 years lays down laws that apply specifically to woman, but not in anywhere near enough detail for these instructions to be carried out. Also there are many other blessings and prayers that are woman’s only, and presumably Moses wouldn’t know these. That is Jews have very extensive customs and laws regarding duties including those that are exclusive and/or generally performed by woman (example menstral ritual purity and separation of dough) and mostly they are passed and taught by women to women. It would not be unreasonable that Miriam as the woman in the triad was the source of these. Especially given Aaron as the third this makes sense, i.e. Moses would have difficulty teaching things he was forbidden to actually do. So we could have Moses handles laws for the community as a whole, Aaron handled the rituals specific to priests, Miriam handled the rituals specific to woman.

So lets be clear on numbers 12. Being subordinate doesn’t mean that one is not a leader. In fact in most denominations everyone is subordinate to some agency. In the Catholic church deacons to priests, priests to bishops, bishops to cardinals, cardinals to the pope and the pope to the councils (usually council of cardinals). I’d offer the story of Korah (Numbers 16) as a quick example that what happened to Miriam was because she was opposing Moses not because she was female. God himself states (Numbers 12:6-10) that it is because of his special relationship with Moses that Miriam and Aaron should not speak against Moses. There is no hint that what happened to Miriam is because she is a woman and the same thing happens to a male. So I think this proves that God did approve of Miriam as a leader, just not as one coequal to Moses. Everyone is subordinate to Moses, including Miriam, because he is a servant.

I am not telling you any more, but it is worth the read.

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8 Replies to “Miriam, a female church leader”

  1. Oh, I’m not talking about gender inclusive words!

    Take the case of Phoebe…. every place where the word Diakonos is used to describe men it is translated minister, but in Rom 16:1 it’s translated servant, giving her a different status.

    There’s lots more too!

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