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Published Date: September 14, 2023

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The Empowerment of Brazilian Christian Women Through Biblical Examples

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The world of Brazilian women is highly diverse and faces certain challenges depending on their social and geographic contexts. When we talk about Brazilian evangelical women, we include a wide range of contexts: women from urban and rural areas, river and quilombola1 communities, women from high and low social classes, housewives, entrepreneurs, domestic workers, university students, black, mixed-race, indigenous, white, and Asian women. However, in terms of predominance, when we analyze these demographics, we find that black women form the majority among evangelicals in Brazil, giving the Brazilian church a “black, female, Pentecostal face.”2 Another study indicates that nearly half of Brazilian homes are led by women.3

Amidst this diversity, we wonder if the most widely consumed Christian books in Brazil contribute positively to the spiritual formation and education of women in this context. In the book Excellent Wife by American author Martha Peace, a bestseller in Brazil about the role of women, the author recommends that women make every effort not to work outside the home: “Staying at home and organizing a clean and well-managed household is the most biblical emphasis of the ministry God has given to a wife,” and “the occupation of a wife should be defined as maintaining an orderly and clean home and being organized in relation to grocery shopping and meals.”4 In some cases, if the husband dies, the author’s first recommendation is for the church to support the woman so that she can continue to stay at home with the children. Does this recommendation fit the reality of the Brazilian context described above?

Brazilian evangelical writer Jacira Monteiro, in her book Estigma da Cor (The Stigma of Color), goes into detail about this disconnect: “[…] black women have always had to work. During slavery, while white women could stay inside their homes, taking care of their children (with the help of black nannies), black women had to work in agriculture. After the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, women had to work in the city—in any job they could find—to help support the household.”5 Monteiro criticizes the emphasis of so-called biblical womanhood that restricts women to the home and marriage. This theology of biblical womanhood portrays women who work outside the home as less biblical, even though many women have never had the option to not work. She sees the “culture of rich, mostly white women” communicated through books and Christian media as an “elitist femininity, imported from the United States.” Monteiro concludes: “Women can indeed study, work, and contribute their gifts to the flourishing of society.”6

While conservative Christian literature imported from other countries may seek to remove women from the public sphere, the reality of evangelical practice in Brazil shows something different. Brazilian anthropologist Juliano Spyer, who spent eighteen months in a low-income neighborhood in Salvador, Brazil, for his doctoral field research, observed that the adoption of evangelical Christianity in impoverished areas empowers women: “. . . the adoption of evangelical Christianity generally expands the sphere of action for women beyond domestic life and child-rearing responsibilities to also include formal work and participation in public spaces. Formal work offers the kind of financial security that traditionally depended on the presence of a partner.”7

Although the literature that reaches Brazil may not always provide realistic or healthy support for women in their daily lives, women continue to find guidance and great role models in the most read book in Brazil and the world—the Bible. Specific characters and texts have played a crucial role in inspiring and instructing evangelical women. I believe that we should continue to emphasize the diverse characters and texts to remind women of the different roles they can find in the divine history of Scripture. We need fewer books on “biblical” womanhood and more Bible.

Entrepreneurial Women in the Bible

Around half of Brazilian “micro-entrepreneurs” or small business-owners are women.8 The majority of these women become entrepreneurs out of necessity,9 with 87 percent10 of them motivated to seek financial independence in order to have more time to spend with their children and family. This desire to manage businesses arises from their aspiration to break the long-standing paradigm between home and employment. These women are not alone, and their experiences are reflected in the Bible.

Consider Lydia, popularly known as the first convert in Europe.11 The Bible describes her as a seller of purple cloth (Acts 16:14). After her conversion, she invited Paul and his travel companions to stay at her house. Researchers debate her social status, and many believe that Lydia was a freedwoman (former slave). Craig Keener suggests that Lydia was not an artisan but a merchant, and that purple dyes or dyed fabrics could have been shipped to sell in Philippi for her business. She was likely part of an upwardly mobile urban class.12 Regardless, Lydia’s occupation allowed her to have a house large enough to accommodate Paul’s group. Purple was a luxury item, obtained either from crushed mollusks or from the madder plant. It is possible that Lydia was a freed slave who worked as a representative for her former owners.13 In Brazil, where names inspired by biblical characters are extremely common, more than 88,000 women have been named Lydia since before the 1930s.14

Priscilla, alongside her husband Aquila, is another significant entrepreneur. Luke explains that Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila “had the same occupation” and were “tentmakers” (Acts 18:3). Keener suggests that the term “tentmaker” may be more encompassing, involving work with leather in general. It was not uncommon for women to be artisans, and many worked in small shops with their husbands.15 James Dunn believes that Priscilla and Aquila’s family enterprise provided them with great opportunities to travel and use their residences (in different places) as meeting places for Christians. Verses like Romans 16:3–5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 indicate that the couple had churches in their homes, in Ephesus (Acts 18:18–28), and later in Rome (Romans 16:3–5), where they were likely the leaders. Therefore, their entrepreneurial venture directly contributed to missionary work. In Brazil, more than 220,000 women have been named Priscilla since 1930.16 Just like Lydia, Priscilla from Scripture may have influenced the use of her name.

The woman of valor (often translated in Portuguese as “virtuous woman”) described in Proverbs 31 has been consistently held as a standard of biblical womanhood in various Brazilian churches that women should strive to achieve despite Tremper Longman III’s warning, “The description is an ideal and should not be used as a standard by which to measure and critique women.”17 The idea is precisely that: “A woman of valor, who can find her?” (Prov. 31:10). No one can because she does not exist. The book of Proverbs, originally addressed to young men, places the woman of valor in contrast with the “strange woman” to be avoided.

Longman explains that much of this passage is devoted to the woman’s business abilities. She is an artisan (v. 13, 22), “like the merchant ships” (v. 14). She “considers a field and buys it; with her earnings, she plants a vineyard” (Prov. 31:16). It is interesting how the entrepreneurial ability of the woman of valor is highly praised in this passage, serving as an inspiration for many Brazilian women who depend on their ventures and creative strength to survive.

Women Musicians

Praise is an essential field of religious involvement for women in Brazil. When I was part of a Pentecostal church, my greatest aspiration was to be a worship leader. Many of the women I aspired to be like were involved in gospel music. In fact, the influence of music is so significant that among the top ten Brazilian Christians with the most followers on Instagram, there are only two women—the pastors and singers Cassiane and Ana Paula Valadão.18 In these spaces, women found a place where they can teach and preach through their music ministries. According to Elsen Portugal, music ministries encompass “primarily verbal actions, performed to exhort or reprimand the congregation, explain the reason for using a specific song, lead the congregation into the presence of God (and thus into ‘true’ worship), or even to make the Spirit of God fall upon the congregation in power.”19

Many women have a role of spiritual leadership in Brazilian Pentecostal churches, where the worship is understood as one of the primary means of “bringing the presence of God” to the worship service. In these spaces, women are seen almost as prophetesses.

These women are not alone. In the Bible, another important leader was Miriam, the prophet and sister of Moses. The prophets were considered spokespersons for God, acting as intermediaries. Miriam was also involved in music. The Bible describes: “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing” (Ex. 15:20). In Micah, she is mentioned alongside her brothers as those sent by God to lead their people in the desert: “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). In Brazil, more than 70,000 women have been named Miriam, and more than 12,000 women have been named Miria, most likely as a direct reference to this Miriam.

Another significant character is Deborah, a judge and prophetess who led the people during a difficult time. Although she does not play instruments, her song with Barak takes up an entire chapter in the Bible: “Awake, Deborah, awake! Awake, awake, break out in song!” (Jdg 5:12). In Brazil, more than 313,000 women have been named Deborah.

Other Women

There is not enough space here to talk about other inspiring women, some of whom lived in extremely difficult times, like Anna (Luke 2:36–38), Mary (Matt. 1:18–25), Ruth (Ruth 1:4), and Shiphrah and Puah (Ex. 1:15). Others held public leadership positions, such as the wise woman from the city of Abel-Beth-Maacah (2 Sam. 20:16).

The diversity of women in the Bible, who were mothers, queens, traders, wise women, and midwives, reminds us how God can use us, Brazilian women and women everywhere, with our different gifts and even in the most challenging circumstances—not because of who we are, but because he is a wonderful and kind God who created us for his praise and takes care of the needy. May we always turn to the Bible for references of what it means to be a biblical woman, whatever our context.

  1. A quilombola is an Afro-Brazilian resident of communities established by escaped slaves in Brazil. They are the descendants of slaves who escaped from slave plantations that existed in Brazil until abolition in 1888.
  2. Mulheres negras são maioria entre evangélicos, aponta Datafolha,” Instituto Humanitas Unisinos, 14 January, 2020, .
  3. Ana Vaz, Clarissa Batistela, “Pesquisa revela que 48,7% das famílias são chefiadas por mulheres: ‘Mãe empreendedora’, diz moradora de SC”. G1 Santa Catarina, 23 January 2022.
  4. Martha Peace, Esposa Excelente: Uma Perspectiva Bíblica (São Paulo, SP: Editora Fiel), 100-102.
  5. Jacira Monteiro, O Estigma  da Cor: Como o Racismo Fere os Dois Grandes Mandamentos de Cristo (São Paulo: Quitanda, 2021), 74.
  6. Monteiro, 86.
  7. Juliano Spyer, Povo de Deus: Quem São os Evangélicos e Por Que Eles Importam (São Paulo, SP: Geração Editorial, 2020), 133.
  8. Mulheres são 46,7% dos MEIs do Brasil, segundo pesquisa do Sebrae,” Portal Norte, 09 December 2022.
  9. Vinícius Botelho, “Empreendedorismo por necessidade dificulta crescimento de negócios liderados por mulheres.” Jornal da USP, 28 April 2022.
  10. Cecília Soter, “Mães são maioria entre as mulheres empreendedoras no Brasil.” Estudo da Rede Mulher Empreendedora (RME), Correio Braziliense, 12 May 2023.
  11. Larry Richards, Sue Richards, Angie Peters, Every Woman in the Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. 1999), 203.
  12. Craig Keener, “Excursis: Acts and First Person Usage in some Ancient Historians, 3.V.4,” Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Vol. 3, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).
  13. Craig Keener, Comentário Histórico-Cultural da Bíblia: Novo Testamento, (São Paulo, SP: Vida Nova, 2020), 441.
  14. All data on names throughout this article derive from the research performed by IBGE, beginning in 1930.
  15. Keener, Comentário Histórico-Cultural da Bíblia: Novo Testamento, 452.
  16. https://www.ibge.gov.br/censo2010/apps/nomes/#/search.
  17. Tremper Longman III, Proverbs: Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 516.
  18. It is important to note that although they are pastors, they are not egalitarian. In this instance, the pastorship is understood as something pertaining to the couple (each of their husbands are also pastors). Ana Paula Valadão in particular is outspoken about her constant unidirectional submission to her husband.
  19. Portugal, “O Louvor Musical: O Novo Sacramento?” Revista Batista Pioneira. 7, no. 2 (2018): 299.