Commentary on Revelation
vol. 1, pp. 286-287
“…that woman Jezebel calleth herself a prophetess…”
She “calleth herself a prophetess.” That is, she took on herself, and so gave out herself, as if she had been extraordinarily inspired by the Holy Ghost, thereby to gain more credit to her opinions.
It is marked in ancient history that there was almost never an eminent heresy or heretic, but had some special women for the promoters thereof, who oftentimes took to themselves the name of prophetesses. Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 5.16) marks it of many (which is cited in the second century). Simon Magus had his Helena; Carpocrates his Marcellina; Apelles his Philumena; Montanus had two whom he called prophetesses, to wit, Priscilla and Maximilla; and Augustine frequently mentions one Lucilla, who was a great ring-leader of the Donatists. So it is likely the Nicolaitans had such a prophetess for furthering their design [in the church of Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29)].
Four Reasons Satan Enlists Women in His Schemes.
If it be asked: Why does the devil seek thus to engage women, and to put them on the top of such designs? These reasons may be given:
1. Women are prone to deception.
1. Because often women are most easily engaged and carried furthest on in the delusion. And it is not so easy to make a man give out himself for a prophet, as a woman to take on her the name of a prophetess. This general truth we may gather from 2 Timothy 3:6-7, “For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
2. Women are very diligent.
2. Women are most eager, vehement, and diligent in pursuing what they are engaged into: even late times may teach how they may prevail and insinuate on many by their diligence, if we consider what is recorded of Mistress Hutchinson and some others, mentioned in that little Story of the Rise, Reign, and Ruin of Antinomians, Familists, & Libertines that Infected the Churches of New England.
3. Women are less suspected than men.
3. Women are oftentimes less suspected than men, and any seeming parts or abilities, which in the Lord’s secret justice they may be furnished with, is usually more admired and captivating than in men, as if it looked like a thing above nature. This same consideration occasioned a schism in Phrygia, because some had more respect to Montanus’ prophetesses than was fit.
4. Women have private access to tempt others.
4. Women also have more secret and private access to tempt and infect others, than men can have. For partly, they are less suspected. Partly, more slighted [neglected] and despised by others. Partly also, more forborne because of their sex than men would be. Whereupon often they arrogate to themselves a greater liberty and impudence in speaking when they are corruptly principled, than would be suffered in men. And lastly, there is more access for them to converse with women, and to infuse their venom in them than there is for men.
Eusebius marks this as a reason for such heretics associating with women, that thereby there might be the greater facility to seduce the simple of both sexes. Sometimes also they were helpful by their means and credit to further sect masters in their designs, and to hold them steadfast in them. Sometimes again, they were exceedingly dexterous and diligent in venting and spreading false reports upon honest ministers, and to beget a favorable opinion of those that were erroneous. All which tend exceedingly to the promoting of error and to the hurting of the truth. And we will find Augustine often complaining of the malicious reports that this Lucilla used to spread upon them, whereby the calumnies of the Donatists were strengthened. Upon which grounds and the like, we may see what the devil’s design is in seeking to engage such women in the head of such a design.
This then is the first fault charged on her, that contrary to truth, and without warrant from God, she did call herself a prophetess, even if she had not proposed any error.
Jezebel usurps teaching authority.
Her second fault is that she “teacheth.” This was forbidden (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:12). And it appears that even those prophetesses who had an extraordinary gift from God, as Philip’s daughters had (Acts 21), yet were not publicly and authoritatively to preach. For Paul commands them silence even when he is speaking of extraordinary prophets (1 Cor. 14). And we will not find in the New Testament (at least) any ground for a woman publicly to officiate in the Ministry of the Gospel as an authorized office bearer.
Jezebel seduces others to error.
The third part of her challenge is that by her teaching she did “seduce:” which is a challenge to her, even if she had been guilty of none of the former two. This, to wit, seduction and leading people out of the way of truth, does ever almost follow upon persons usurping a calling to themselves, or upon persons stepping without their own bounds and station to teach. And we will seldom find persons to run unsent in any of the former respects; but itching after some new thing, has had influence upon them, to carry them outside their bounds, as we may see in Jezebel here [in the church of Thyatira], and ordinarily through the Scripture and church history.
The particulars wherein she seduced her hearers, are two. The first is, “to commit fornication,” that is, by her asserting fornication to be no sin, she occasioned and stirred them up to take liberty therein, which possibly otherwise they would not have done. The second is, “to eat things sacrificed to idols,” that is, by propounding the indifference of meats, and pretending to Christian liberty, she induced them without all respect to scandal, to eat of these things—to the stumbling, grieving, and wounding of others that were weak and tender. Which two, are the very doctrines and practices of the Nicolaitans, as was shown in the epistles to Ephesus and Pergamos (Rev. 2:1-7; 2:12-17).
Church officers reproved by Christ for allowing false prophetesses.
But it is a different quarrel from this which the Lord has with the angel [i.e. elders of the church]. It is expressed thus: “because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel,” etc. That is, not that they countenanced her in her errors, or did hear her in her teaching, but that they suffered her, and did not impede her.