Excerpts from Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Chapter 4 (see also: Wayne Grudem, Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key, chapter 7)
Egalitarian Claim 4.1: DEBORAH: Deborah's Leadership In Israel (Judges 4) Shows That God Can Call Woman To Leadership Roles.
ANSWER # 3: The Text does not say that Deborah ruled over God's people or taught them publicly or led them militarily.
It is important to examine the text of Judges 4 to see exactly what Deborah did and did not do:
1. She gave "judgment" (Hebrew mishpat) to the people privately when they came to her. When the text says that "Deborah...was judging Israel at that time" (Judges 4:4), the Hebrew verb shaphat, "to judge," in this context does not mean "to rule or govern," but rather has the sense "decide controversy, discriminate between persons in civil, political, domestic and religious questions." 5
That is evident because the next verse tells how she was "judging": she "used to sit...under the palm tree of Deborah" and "the people of Israel came up to her for judgment."
This is not a picture of public leadership like that of a king or queen, but private setting of disputes through both arbitration and judicial decisions.6 If we decided to take this as an example for today, we might see it as justification for women to serve as counselors and as civil judges. But the text of Scripture does not say that Deborah ruled over God's people.
2. Deborah is never said to have taught the people in any assembled group or congregation. She gave private judgments when people came to her (Judges 4:5).
3. Deborah was never a priest, but in the Old Testament, it was the role of the priests to teach Scripture to the people. God told Aaron, as instruction for himself and for the priests to follow him, " and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses" (Leviticus 10:11). And God spoke of His covenant with Levi, from whom all the priests descended,
True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 2:6-7)
4. Deborah refused to lead the people in military battle, but insisted that a man do this (Judges 4:6-7, 14). In fact, Tom Schreiner points out that Deborah is the only judge in the book of Judges who has no military function.7
When Linda Belleville claims that Deborah "united" the tribes of Israel and "led them on to victory," 8 her assertions are contrary to the text of Judges 4, which says that Deborah prophesied that God was commanding Barak, not Deborah, "called out Zebulun and Naphtali," and that "10,000 men went up at his heels" (v.10), not Deborah's.
It says that "Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him" (v.14), not Deborah. It says that "the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword" (v.15). Belleville actually speaks of the army of Israel as Deborah's troops ("her troops"),9 but the Bible contains no such language.
Belleville claims that Deborah "led them to victory," but the Bible says no such thing. Belleville is inserting into her reports of Scripture things that are not there. Deborah encouraged the male leadership of Barak, and the Bible says several times that he led Israel to victory. 10
5. Deborah functioned as a "prophetess" (Judges 4:4). In this role, she delivered messages from God to the people, but this is a different role from the governing role of a king or the teaching role of priest. (See Egalitarian claim 4.2 on women serving as prophets.)
5. BDB, 1047,2.
6. The NIV is alone among standard translations in rendering Judges 4:4 as "Deborah...was leading Israel at that time." This is a rather loose paraphrase rather than lexically supported translation, since the meaning "lead" is not given for shaphat in BDB, 1047-48. Other standard translations all translate the verb shaphat in Judges 4:4 as "judging" : ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, RSV, and NRSV. The Septuagint agrees, translating with krino, "to judge."
7.Schreiner, "The Valuable Ministries of Women in the Context of Male Leadership," in Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (1991), 216.
8. Belleville, "Women in Ministry" (2001), 93
10. Sarah Sumner similarly makes an inaccurate claim about what the Bible says when she writes, "Deborah is commended for leading ten thousand men into a battle against King Jabin and his army" (Men and Women in the Church, 109). Contrary to Sumner's claim, the Bible says that Deborah spoke to Barak, and Barak led the ten thousand men.