Sunday, November 12, 2006

ALL male apostles

Some Baptist folks who emphasize "Jesus as the criterion" of Bible interpretation have become some of the leading proponents of ordaining women to the gospel ministry. Now any church is free to act in this manner as they so choose, but Baptists have traditionally held themselves free to follow what the Bible teaches. Those who believe "Jesus is the criterion" for ordaining women might consider the following.

That Jesus chose 12 ALL MALE apostles is a fact (unless some of you by your textual criticism have determined the Bible or parts of it to be a myth). This fact should not be taken lightly and should be given proper consideration. Did Jesus find it important that all the "chosen" representatives be of the male gender? If so, why? Were there no qualified women available? Was He not the visionary "social revolutionary" who bucked the status quo, but rather one who conformed to the social standards of the day? Was there some other reason that He chose ONLY apostles of the MALE gender??

Many who say they use "Jesus as the criterion" for Bible interpretation say that women should be pastors. Nevertheless, Jesus DID NOT allow women equal access to the apostleship. But some feel that He, by treating women equally, established a precedent for treating women equally as pastors. How do you deal with the whole facts of Jesus' ministry, especially relating to the case of the 12 ALL MALE APOSTLES?

Possible explanations of why Jesus chose apostles only from the male gender:
1. Only men were allowed to hold the position.
2. Jesus was not ready to confront the social mores of the His day.
3. Jesus made a practical decision based on the times in which He lived.
4. Jesus chose the twelve as individuals (and, therefore, their gender is not relevant).
5. Jesus choosing all male apostles is completely irrelevant.

The application of these (above, by number) might be:
1. No females in leadership roles.
2. No females in leadership roles if it is socially unacceptable.
3. Females in leadership roles as practicality allows.
4. Females in leadership roles with no exclusions nor exceptions.
5. Whatever.!?!.

Do the five explanations fairly represent positions held by some who call themselves Baptists? Are the five applications consistent with the five explanations?

I interpret the New Testament commands in light of practice of the New Testament church as guided by the inspired apostles. I do not suggest others do not, but not generally to the extent that I do. So while many fundamentalists and conservatives see an example as 'one way' to do it, I often see an example as 'the way' to do it. I believe mine is a more consistent approach than that of some. For example, a number of fundamentalists will agree that preachers ought to be men because Jesus chose only men, but will not agree that the church ought to be THE teaching institution for Christian doctrine and practice because Jesus instituted only the church and commissioned her to teach.

If Jesus was "nothing short of revolutionary", why would He stick with the old staid system of all male leadership? To realize that Jesus was not afraid to tackle the out-of-the-ordinary and yet see He chose only male apostles should be at least reason to proceed with caution. I see no reason for not accepting the following conclusion: Since Jesus is God, He had no reason to fear challenging the social customs of the day. It can be demonstrated that He did so on certain occasions. Since He is God, did not fear society and challenged it when necessary, the fact that He chose 12 apostles who were all male cannot be satisfactorily explained as an accomodation to society, custom, or practicality. More likely it is one more piece of evidence demonstrating that it is in the purpose of God for church leadership, under Christ, to be in the hands of men rather than women.

Like Jesus, that Paul stayed within the social guidelines is not a constant. With the matter of the slavery recorded in Philemon, he made no attempt to change the social order. But in the matter of the circumcision of Titus, for example, he did not follow the "guidelines" (Gal. 2:1-5). One might see the matter as a difference between social guidelines and religious issues (when social it didn't matter, but when religious it did), or as a difference between legal matters (slavery) or social custom (circumcision). This might be worth spinning off into a whole new topic - when and why did Jesus and the apostles follow the established order and when did they challenge it (e.g., Jesus constantly challenged the established rule of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but seems to have not often challenged Roman governmental authority)? Nevertheless, it is clear that our criterion, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, set the example when He chose to put all male leadership in His church in Jerusalem.


Eric said...

While you may be factually correct that the four gospels only name men as members of the original group of 12, I'm not sure that the theological conclusion you reach from this fact is theologically necessary. For example, Mark suggests that the disciples misunderstood Jesus' message throughout and to the very end of the gospel. Though specially chosen by Jesus, the disciples, in many ways, are not exemplary followers of Jesus; in other words, they do not model for us how to follow Jesus but serve as negative examples. In addition, the disciples completely drop from the narrative after Peter's denial at the end of ch. 14. After their blatant disappearance, it is only women who had followed him faithfully who are witnesses of the cross and the resurrection (15:40-41). According to Mark then, only these women are witnesses of the central events of Christian faith; these women, not the disciples, are the ones capable of telling the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection. They are the only witnesses! What then might this suggest about the role of women in the ministry of Jesus?

Turning to Luke, I think we see some other mediating evidence. First, Mary is the first person to give voice to the promises which Jesus would fulfill. Zechariah is made dumb by his questioning, but Mary's questions are answered, and she responds with a clear and prophetic song (1:46ff). In a sense, Mary is the first disciple of Jesus in Luke, that is, the first individual to proclaim the hope Jesus represents. Second, it is not entirely clear whether the 70 (or 72) who were sent out in 10:1 were all male; is there any reason to think women were not in that circle especially considering their presence elsewhere in Luke. Third, we see such an instance in 8:1-3 in which Luke specifically mentions a group of women who travel with Jesus and the twelve, providing for them out of their own resources.

In other words, I'm not sure that the fact of the gospels having named 12 men as a special class of followers necessarily indicates to us an exclusive model of ecclesial leadership. We do not look at their professions, for example, and deem those normative. We also don't deem the number 12 as somehow a precise normative amount of leaders needed in any congregation. If number and profession aren't normative, is there much room to argue that their gender is normative?

Why then did Jesus seemingly choose only men? I would argue that he did so in line with the cultural expectations of the time. The question for us then is whether those cultural standards are of divine or human origin.

In my mind, this hermeneutical decision is at the crux of the issue of women in ministry. Both sides can militate scriptural passages to make their case; the case can be made both ways. Thus, the case for or against women in ministry is not made in stacking up scriptural citations but in discerning a theologically persuasive hermeneutical approach to the narrative of the gospels, the epistles of Paul, and the rest of the NT. In a significant way, the practices of Jesus and the early church are only one piece of the puzzle and not automatically normative for us. In other areas, we deem certain cultural practices (Paul's attitude towards slavery, the covering of women's heads, Jewish ritual purity) as cultural garments over a profound truth. With the issue of women in ministry, we must do the same thing.

Just a few thoughts for your consideration...

Anonymous said...

Having recently escaped the clutches of the Episcopalians, I can assure you that I am far more comfortable today in a church led exclusively by men.

Anonymous said...

I have never been given a reasonable answer to the role of Phoebe as a deaconess.......a female........and NOT the husband of one wife as some claim is demanded by Paul in Timothy......Yet, this same Paul is the one who commends Phoebe?????

Theonly answr is that Paul WAS addressing a local problem in a few local churches.

If it wasn't for women, we wouldn't have some local churches, at least in my experience over some 50 odd years of ministry.



PS. Even some brilliant biblical scholars such as the late F.F. Bruce accepted the role of females in the New Testament church.

Eric said...

Adding to what Jim suggests, I think Phoebe is an important test-case. If Paul follows his regular practice, he sends his letters with an individual whom he trusts to read and interpret his letters. One can easily imagine that his letter's commendations marked the carrier of the letter as his authoritative representative. Plus, I'm sure after hearing one of Paul's letters for the very first time, there were lots of questions!

Rom 16:1 suggests that Phoebe was the carrier and interpreter of Paul's letter to the Romans, his most influential work. One might also consider the controversy over Junia/Junias in 16:7.

Anonymous said...

Many men were taught mostly by mothers and grandmothers about spiritual matters. Seems odd that such men would be so profoundly molded by the Word, fed to them by women, and now those same men say, "No more." "Culture of the times"?--Sounds like God still uses men because men still let pride stand in the way of listening to women.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Anonymous: I have no doubt that men are guilty of pride, but we don't have a patent on it. I have also seen women who were too proud to listen to men, children too proud to listen to parents, employees too proud to listen to bosses, etc. But the Scriptures, not experience, must be our guide.

Pete: I'm not too familiar with the Episcopalians, as to why that experience would drive you to find comfort in "a church led exclusively by men". But again I would say the Scriptures, not experience, must be our guide.

Jim: I'm not sure what you mean when you say that "the only answer is that Paul was addressing a local problem in a few local churches." Are you saying that a local problem answers why Phoebe was a servant (deaconess) of the church at Cenchrea, or that the qualifications found in I Timothy only address a local problem? As far as a reasonable answer, I'm not sure what you've heard. It is not unusual, though a minority opinion, for southern U.S. churches who will not ordain women to be preachers to have deaconesses in their churches. Some believe that the reference in I Timothy is to the wives of deacons as deaconesses, and some even think that deaconess was a duty of the widows supported by the church. Nonetheless, I don't see that even proving deaconesses rises to proof of elderesses.

Eric, I appreciate your lengthy reasoned response, though I do not agree with some of your deductions. I wonder about a few statements, such as "may be factually correct that the four gospels only name men as members of the original group of 12..." and "Why then did Jesus seemingly choose only men?" Are you suggesting that it may not be factually correct that the Apostles were 12 men, or that there may be more to it than it seems?

To me proving that women have a place of prominence and importance in a church (which I have not questioned) is not the same as proving they should be ordained as elderesses. Ultimately if, as you say, whether the cultural standards of Jesus' day are of divine or human origin is the crux of the issue of women in ministry, what do you believe about those standards of that day -- divine or human? And, further, if those standards are of human origin and yet Jesus did not challenge them, what does that say to us in our own time?

Anonymous said...

Robert, I was saying that Phoebe was a common fact, and not just a fluke. Paul was addressing a local issue in Timothy and mentioned only men. There is nothing in scripture to exclude a woman in the role of pastor. Timothy doesn't do it for me.

Even so, the group I belong to does not accept women in ministry...........yet!



Eric said...

I agree with the bulk of NT scholarship that we have to make a careful distinction between the gospel records and the "historical Jesus." It is one of my biblical convictions that we ought to read the gospels as theolgical compositions, not disinterested historical annals. What makes the gospels the word of God is not that they recorded each and every step of Jesus' ministry in correct order but that they frame their theological convictions in powerful narrative form. When it comes to this issue, I think it matters little whether or not Jesus "actually" chose 12 disciples; I believe he did, but this fact by itself does not tell us how we are to live.

This actually impinges a great deal upon this question and was my main point in my original response. How can/do these narratives function as normative for us? In other words, do the gospels provide theological and/or practical guidance for our lives? How do we distinguish between normative patterns and cultural patterns?

You are correct in assuming that I would deem the ancient view of women as a human device not a divine mandate. And I would argue that Jesus and the early church does speak against the facile, patriarchal division of women and men. To be sure, Jesus and his early followers are not modern-day feminists, but neither do they simply acquiesce to the cultures of their time.

Furthermore, I agree with you that the simple presence of women is sufficient grounds for a theological decision on the role of women in church life, for the same reason that I think the gender of the 12 has a negligible effect, on its own, on our polity.

Finally, I think we have to consider whether we believe that God's spirit can move the church in new directions. Thus, can the spirit today be callling us to a more inclusive vision of church leadership?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Jim: Thanks for the explanation. I suppose it was not that what you wrote was unclear, but because I supposed I know something about the things you believe, that I did not expect that was what you were saying. By what exegesis do we arrive at the fact that Paul's instructions to Timothy concerning bishops/elders and deacons only apply to a local issue (especially when he charged them to "teach no other doctrine", 1:3), and what does Paul's instructions to Titus at a different locale (all the cities in Crete) speak to the question?

Eric: Thanks for further explanations that help me understand from whence your position. I see that we have very different presuppositions.

While I can accept your proposition that the gospels are "theological compositions, not disinterested historical annals", I doubt I can agree with the extent to which you mean it. If we accept the gospels as the words of God written by men inspired of God, then we cannot give as much credence to "disinterested historical annals". Nor is there any reason to reject their historicity because they do not record "each and every step of Jesus' ministry in correct order". Once we move from an objective standard of reference, the "historical Jesus" actually becomes whomever we feel He should or could be. From my standpoint of believing Jesus to be all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, the eternal Son of God who by Him all things were made (and without him was not any thing made that was made), I guess I have quite a problem believing His actions, even in appointing 12 apostles, "matters little". Concerning God's spirit moving the church in new directions, we probably could agree on the words, but with different meaning and emphasis. I believe "the church" needs to move in new directions, as in different from some of the ones in which we are moving. I do not believe the truth to which the Spirit guides us varies in any way from the truth recorded in the Scriptures, so I would not expect God's Spirit moving something new, as in different from what the Bible teaches. If I accept the Bible as a whole, and the New Testament in particular, as God's objective revelation, I cannot reinterpret the Jesus of that Bible based on other historical information about Him not found therein.

Eric said...

Thanks for the response and conversation. It would be far more enjoyable to carry on this conversation in person but at least this blog permits us to share our ideas.

At no point did I suggest that we reject the "historicity" of the gospels; the gospels are not akin to fairy tales concocted solely from the imagination of its author. What I am suggesting is to read the gospels purely from a historical perspective misses the point entirely. What makes the gospels the word of God is not their careful attention to historical detail but their conscious efforts to communicate the will of God and what that means for us. In other words, the content of the gospels is not historical knowledge but theological. Some may not separate the two, but I think this is one of the insights of postmodernism that is exactly correct. For us as humans, there is no such thing as knowledge outside of some epistemological context. Thus, in our search for knowledge, we must be profoundly cognizant of the epistemological rules under which we are working.

Thus, when I say that the appointment of the 12 "matters little," I mean that that bare fact does not automatically indicate how we ought to live. Our interpretive, hermeneutical, and theological responsiblity is to make sense of what truth(s) are communicated by the appointment of the 12.

Finally, on the movement of the spirit, I would argue that the Bible does not "speak" without human interpretation. Therefore, what the spirit effects and has effected many times in Christian history is a change in our understanding, our interpretation of scripture. Perhaps then is the spirit today drawing us to read the scriptural mandate about women in ministry in new ways.

One more thing: you write, "I cannot reinterpret the Jesus of that Bible based on other historical information about Him not found therein." I would suggest that we cannot be help but do so. We approach scripture with distinct cultural contexts; language itself is constantly in flux, and it is the primary medium for our interaction with scripture! From the very earliest moments of the church, the philosophical and cultural contexts were mined for how might illuminate the gospel. We still do the same today.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Eric, et al., I had 5 paragraphs of discussion for your consideration, but I lost it in "cyber-world". Seems I always fail to back-up at the most inopportune times! :-(

I'll try to get back with you tomorrow. Have a nice night.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Eric, I agree concerning conversations and am also glad this blog permits us who are unable to meet face-to-face to discuss Biblical (and other) topics.

I did not intend to imply that you believe the gospels are "akin to fairy tales", but also recognize there is quite a gap in our presuppositions with which we come to the Scriptures. I do not believe that we should read the Gospels "purely from a historical perspective", but I do read the Scriptures accepting them as historically correct. If there were no effort or intent to communicate the will of God to us, the Bible would be no different from any other book. Personally I believe that the Bible is neither a history book, a science book, nor even a systematic theology. Nevertheless, I accept it as historically correct, scientifically accurate and the basis on which all theological knowledge rests.

I agree that the bare fact of the appointment of the 12 does not automatically indicate how we ought to live. Nevertheless, I believe that what I’ve written in the blog includes some of the truth communicated by the appointment of the 12, and that it is consistent with the faith and practice of the New Testament church.

Anonymous said...

I would like to suggest two books:
The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood, Dr. Margaret Thrall (SCM Press, 1958). Obviouslt directed to the Anglican situation, but applicable to all. SHe talks about the suppositions made by so many based on Gen 3:16.

On this text specifically, one must read, The Message of the O.T. by H.L. Ellison, Paternoster Press, 1969 and page 20 in particular. He further submits that grace has overcome the male dominance over women and restores woman's proper authority.



R. L. Vaughn said...

I don't think Thrall's writing is online, but this link contains a review of D. A. Carson's view of I Corinthians 14:34-35. According to Carson, his interpretation of the passage was first proposed by Thrall in her commentary on 1st & 2nd Corinthians.

Carson's full text can be found here: "Silent in the Churches": On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33B-36

As to Ellison, I haven't read his comments on Gen. 3:16, and would probably more likely agree with a Gill or a Henry than with him. I would be curious to know, since he says grace has overcome the male dominance over women and restores woman's authority; (1) does he mean grace restores it only to those who enter the covenant of grace by the new birth, and (2) does that restoration in any way mitigate or remove the sorrow associated with child-bearing?

Anonymous said...

In Genesis God placed the woman in subjection to the man. It was the woman who was decieved, we should not forget that. Has time changed the Word of God. I don't think so. What God said yesterday is still good for today, including the 10 commandments which Paul says are our school teacher.
This brings up something I've been thinking about, in today's world men are not what they were, medicine say that men are losing their testosterone earlier and earlier in life. They are becoming more feminized. And I believe that is what the Feminine Movement was out to do.
If Eve could be decieved then any woman can be decieved, if she is not a faithful and obedient Christian, deceived by a lust for power, place and "be as gods." MOre and more women are entering business, politics and in every work place, mechanics, truck drivers, house painters, you name it, they want to be there.
As I watch TV commercials I see men as pictured the dodo and the woman as the smart one. Men shown as being klutzie or inept while the woman knows everything. In the TV and Hollywood movies now the heroines can fight just as well if not better than the hero. Women want to take a position that God did not mean for them to inhabit. It may be them who will tear down our world. Women with their soft hearts( and a soft heart can sometimes be a very good thing) tend to lean toward socialism, and that will bring about the old Social Gospel that Hillary Clinton was brought up under in the church she attended in her youth.
We never hear a woman referred to as an Apostle and as far as I know as a Disciple. When after the resurrection Christ appeared to the women He told them to tell the Apostles to meet him on the shores in Galilee...Matt.28:11 and it says "the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them."
When the two met Him on the road after the resurrection and had their time with him then hurried back to Jerusalem they went to where it says that there they "found the eleven gathered together and them that were with them." The eleven are those who were chosen as apostles and the others were followers, disciples, I suppose.
No one is referred to as being in the room where the last supper was first introduced...on the twelve and Judas He got rid of before He introduced the Supper. In John 17:6 He says that,"I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word." I do not believe that th word "men" here is generic. It is specific for he was in the room with them praying for them.
Enough! I fear that the women of this modern day are being decived into thinking that they are born to lead. They lead a lot in the home and should but subjection is not what modern women think it is. The woman can only be in true subjection if the husband is in true subjection the Christ...he is to love his wife "as Christ loved the church."

R. L. Vaughn said...

GOOD to hear from you Bro. Fountain. Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bro. Vaughn and God Bless(and to me that word means Satisfy)
I have just one more thing to say about this, concerning Phoebe...we need to understand what the original texts says and it uses the word for "servant" it is a word that can be used for all of us for we are all servants of God. But remember why deacons were elected ... so that the Apsotles could pray and study and the deacons could take on the social part of the work...our churches have blown up the roll of the deacon until they run the churches.... they are servants at the table of the Lord, the social table,i.e. seeing that people fed and clothed and well as seeing to the care of the pastor, minister... so there were female servants... Phoebe served the people...go back and read about her. She was a servant of God who served the people. I would not be opposed to female deacons (deaconesses) if we were back to the old meaning.
Words carry very definite meanings..both in English and in Greek or any other langauge... Take a look at "Bless" , happy is good but think "Satisfy" "Bless the Lord O my soul" think in terms of Satisfy the Lord O my soul" wouldn't you rather do that for then He will be happy. Then there's my favorite the interchanging of"ought" and "must".
They are not the same. "ought" is the dong of a duty. "These things ought ye to have done" He spoke to the Scribes and Pharisees, it was their duty to do what they said they had done. "Must" is a Divine Imperitive. Humans really cannot use it...consider, "Ye must be born again." Only God can say that. It is an absolute necessity if we are to be saved. You can say that you must go to the store but you don't really have to, not ever, you could send someone else.
Consider the words, don't just read and take it at it's immediate English words for even they can get complicated. And use the Oxford Dictionary of the English will tell you when the word was first used in the language and how it was used and the changes in its meaning since the first use. So then you look at what it meant in 1611 and use it that way and not how it changed over the years to something else.
Sorry, don't mean to preach but this is what it means to study to show youselves approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed." Study takes time.

amity said...

Pardon me for jumping in so late with a question. My understanding of the passage about Eve being deceived was that her guilt was less than Adam's. Adam was NOT deceived, for God had given instructions to him directly, which he directly disobeyed, so his guilt is more culpable.
Is that a credible interpretation?

Also on the question of women preachers, there seems to be a current of thought implicit that barring women from the ministry somehow diminishes their status or importance to the church? If that is the contention of some, I would disagree. I do not believe preachers per se have a position of authority over the church that seems to be ascribed to them. They are servants of the church and as such equal to anyone else. There are other ways for women to serve. All are equal.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I think yes to both.

Eve was deceived, but Adam was not, evidently knowing fully the consequences of his actions. It is always Adam who is blamed with plunging his descendants into sin.

Preachers have a gift and a ministry. They are not of greater importance than anyone else in the church. Other men who are not preachers have their gifts and women have their gifts. All are a part of the body, having differing gifts for the edification of the body.