Can Women Be Apostles Today?


“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” declared Sir John Dalberg-Acton, who made this remark after extensive studies of both secular and religious history. When James and John went to Jesus and requested the two most prominent seats in His kingdom, Jesus rebuked them for their preoccupation with power and told them they were thinking like Gentiles, i.e., like people who did not know God. He then presented to them a new and radical model of leadership that would be characterized, He said, not by power, but by humble service (Mark 10:35-45). They must have been shocked when He told them they were to function as diakonoi, a Greek word that referred to a lowly servant who waited on tables and with no connotations of status, importance or power.

During the first century, while apostolic ministry was characterized by service, women freely functioned in leadership, including apostolic ministry. It was only after the church institutionalized and began to think of the apostolic in terms of office and power that women began to be excluded from leadership by men who believed their gender gave them the sole right to lead and rule.

This ungodly association of the apostolic with maleness and power is still used today as a justification for excluding women from leadership in the church. The popular Spirit-Filled Life Bible, for example, without a shred of evidence, explains the prohibition toward women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as referring to “the authoritative office of apostolic teacher in the church.” The truth is that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 was written to address a particular situation concerning Timothy and the church in Ephesus and was never meant to be a universal rule for all churches everywhere.

The Choosing of 12 Was Never Meant to be a Pattern for Leadership in the Church

Nonetheless, the fact that Jesus chose 12 men as apostles has, throughout history, been used as the basis for excluding women from authoritative roles of leadership in the church. This line of reasoning, however, ends in absurdity if followed to its logical conclusion.

Consider the fact that the 12 whom Jesus chose were not only men; they were Jewish men. Should only Jewish men be leaders in the churches? Furthermore, these 12 Jewish men were instructed by Jesus to preach only to Jews. He instructed them, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). If we follow this line of reasoning, we must conclude that all church leaders must be Jewish men and that they can preach only to Jewish people.

The truth is that the calling of the Twelve was never meant to be a pattern for the calling and recognition of church leaders. In His approximately three years of earthly ministry, as outlined in the Gospels, the ministry of Jesus was clearly directed to the Jewish people. His purpose was to call God’s covenant people back into a relationship with Himself. To a Gentile woman who came seeking healing for her daughter, Jesus replied, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Even though the woman’s persistent faith resulted in the healing of her daughter, Jesus’ reply to her clearly reveals the limited scope of His earthy ministry.

This all changes, however, with the death and resurrection of Jesus. When He comes out of the tomb, the restrictions are no longer there. His disciples are now told to take the good news of what He has done to “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). A new era has obviously dawned. Jesus’ first action after His resurrection sends a clear message that any limitations concerning His female disciples have also been removed by His redemptive work.

Mary Magdalene Receives the First Apostolic Commission From the Risen Lord

During the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus appeared to His disciples at various times and on one occasion appeared to over 500 of His followers. The Gospel writers, however, are very explicit in noting that it was Mary Magdalene to whom He appeared first after His resurrection. The importance the evangelists attach to this fact indicates that it was no accidental occurrence but that Jesus purposely appeared first to Mary Magdalene in order to make an important statement to His followers.

When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, He gave her certain, specific instructions. Matthew 28:10 records His words to Mary, “Go and tell my brethren.” In other words, He sent her on a specific mission defined by the words go and tell. The Greek word apostolos, from which we get the English word apostle, simply means “one who is sent” or “one sent on assignment.” It has nothing to do with office, government or power.

Mary was a “sent one,” and as such received the first apostolic commission from the risen Lord. Because the male disciples were required to hear the initial news of the resurrection from a woman, Mary has, throughout history, often been referred to as “the apostle to the apostles.”

This commissioning of Mary by Jesus was revolutionary, since the Jewish male of this time normally began his day with a prayer that included thanks to God that he was not born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Women were barred from studying Scripture, and a rabbi considered it beneath his dignity to speak to a woman in public. Neither Jewish nor Roman courts of law would allow the testimony of women. Jesus challenged this deeply ingrained religious and cultural bias by appearing first to Mary and sending her forth as the first apostolic witness of His resurrection.

By appearing first to Mary, Jesus was cutting through all the disdain and prejudice of His male disciples toward His female disciples. He thereby declared His equal acceptance of women and affirmed the value of their ministry in His name. By appearing first to Mary and giving her the first apostolic commission after His resurrection, Jesus made a clear statement that women would be included in apostolic ministry in His church. This was revolutionary in the first century and is still so today, for there are many who still see the apostolic as being associated with maleness and power.

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SOURCE: Charisma News
Eddie Hyatt

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