The Bible sets forth an ideal and calls the ideal woman an eshet-chayil, which is the Hebrew for a “virtuous woman” (KJV) or a “wife of noble character” (NIV). This Hebrew expression occurs only three times in the Old Testament, but a study of these three passages is likely to reveal what the Bible supports as an ideal of Christian womanhood.
Oral tradition is important for an egalitarian understanding of the Bible—its origins, development, nature, and relevance—because women were among the key players in this stage of the Bible’s development.
For egalitarians, the book of Judges clearly demonstrates God’s approval of women leaders. Yet many who view women’s leadership as unbiblical dismiss the pattern of God-affirmed female authority in Judges.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
The best example of a woman in leadership over Israel is Deborah, one of the judges, all of whom were responsible for keeping the Promised Land free of foreign domination. Judges 4 is the prose account of Israel’s victory over the Canaanites from Hazor. Judges 5 is the “Song of Deborah” which tells the same story in poetic form.
Proverbs depicts the reality of its day, but provides moral principles in the context of that reality that actually challenge many of its society’s ideals. Yet both the society and moral principles depicted in Proverbs provide an interesting contrast to many cultures before and after them.
I used to think that submission was passive. It's why, working at the campus bookstore at my university, I ignored the shelves of women's studies books, sure that picking up even one would mean not submitting to God's design for me.