Can a Woman be an Apostle?
At one of our weekly BRI Yeshiva lectures this question was posed by a young lady member of the BRI student body. There was a wide variety of opinion from the class concerning not merely the question of female roles in the Messianic Community (including that of the office of apostle) but regarding apostleship in general.
As the Rebbe of the BRI/IMCF Yeshiva, my concern with the answer to this question was more theologically centred in the triune nature of God.
For, the dimension of triunity as the character within Deity demands an equal complementary arrangement in fellowship between the sexes — not merely in “church life” but in all areas of life. What the principle of divine triunity demands in the relationship of man to woman is the recognition and existence of an equality (in real terms) of partnership.
Partnership. Not hierarchy!
The psychological and emotional differences between the sexes (and some of these are quite profound) must complement one another, particularly is this the case when we accept each other as equals. After all, as my rabbi so often articulated “in the beginning Adonai made man male and female.” Rav Shaul would have agreed wholeheartedly with him. “In Messiah there is… no male or female.” And Shaul’s later theology, released from its crude anti-Hellenist under-standing, actually granted a liberty to women that went way beyond the first century immoral Rabbinic male chauvinist practices which the Judaisms of his time bequeathed to the Roman world, and thus ultimately to the western church.
- Stephen’s martyrdom left undeniable scars upon Paul’s psyche and changed his pericopic view of life completely. (Pericopic: An extract or selection from a book, especially a reading from a Scripture that forms part of a church service.) As we shall soon see Shaul’s view on females occupying the office of apostle were revolutionary.
So, as to the original question, the simple answer is “yes” and “no.”
There is no more certain folly amid the Pentecostal churches in the world today (next in line to the belief that we are not saved unless the evidence of that salvation is substantiated by the gift of tongues) than that God is busily appointing apostles to direct Pentecostalism with power and authority.
Well, their teaching cannot be substantiated by Scripture! And I make no apology to the Pentups for my statement! For, there are particular signs and indications that accompany an apostle and unless an “apostle” so-called is able to match up his ministry with these specific identifying signs or characteristics they must be seen to have disqualified themselves as far as the rank or office or gift of apostle is concerned, no matter if they correspond 9 outta 10. It is absolutely imperative they must qualify by ALL the characteristics laid down by none other than God Himself!
And just what are these signs or identification marks of an apostle?
First of all we need to gain an educated grasp of what Paul wrote to the Messianic assemblies/Messianic synagogues under his apostolic care.
“But to each of us Grace is granted and measured by the gift of Mashiach. Thus it says, ‘As he ascended on high, he led the captured away into captivity; he gave gifts to men.’ But what does ‘he ascended’ mean, except that he also went down into the lower parts of the earth? The One who descended is the very One who ascended far above all the heavens to fill the universe” (Ephesians 4.7-10 New Berkeley).
It is interesting from the point of view of the Jewish thoughtform to note that Paul is here quoting from Psalm 68.18 which describe spoils taken in battle by a warrior king. This spoil is then used by him to administer his dominions. However, Paul takes enormous liberty with both the MT and LXX texts of Psalm 68.18 by changing the second person singular to the third person singular and then substituting “receive” (LXX) or “take” (MT) with the idea of “give” or “apportion.” This substitution by Rav Shaul intentionally reverses the meaning of the original inspired record. Notes Professor Longenecker, “That this is neither an incidental nor an accidental variation is evidenced in that the apostle builds on this idea of Christ giving gifts to men… and without this reading his argument would have been considerably truncated – if not impossible altogether” (Richard Longenecker,Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 1975, 124).
Still, while Paul as an apostle is creating a text-form to support his conclusions concerning gifts in the Messianic Community of Faith, we need to realise he often took advantage of Targum renderings and, in fact, one of these
Targums (on Psalms 68.18 and located in the Peshitta) conforms exactly to Paul’s Ephesian quotation (H. StJ. Thackeray, Relation of St Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, 1900, 182; M. Wilcox, The Semitisms of Acts, 25).
Paul continues, “And he himself gave some, on the one hand, as apostles, and, on the other hand, as prophets, and still again some as bringers of good news, and finally, some as pastors who are also teachers, for the equipping of the saints for ministering work with a view to the building up of the Body of Mashiach, until we all attain to the unity of the Faith and of the experiential, full, and precise knowledge of the Son of God, to a spiritually mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Messiah, in order that we no longer may be immature ones, tossed to and fro and carried around in circles by every wind of teaching in the cunning adroitness of men, in craftiness which furthers the scheming deceitful art of error, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things” (Ephesians 4.11-15 Greek).
According to Paul, and arguing his case from a Targum current in his day, Messiah having won the battle over sin, death and the Dark Lord has now ascended with the spoil and upon his ascension has begun dispensing gifts to his Body-management by which he will manage the nucleus of the Messianic Kingdom of God (which is the Messianic Community, his mystical Body). These ministry gifts to the Messianic Community of Faith (the “church,” or called out assembly —ekklesia) are in the form of persons.
PLEASE NOTE THIS AGAIN.
Paul tells us plainly enough that these “five” ministry gifts were in the persons of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers (if “pastor/teacher” are separate giftings to separate persons). Whatever the case they were themselves the GIFTS to the mystical Body of Masiach! (Cf the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12.8-11). Again, these gifts — at least in the days of the apostle Paul — were operating from a base of victory, not struggle and defeat. And Paul further informs us in this passage that the purpose of the five ministry gifts was to carefully prepare God’s special people for several things.
- To serve (i.e., to do the work of the ministry)
- To build up the Body of Messiah
- To bring unity
- To know the Son of God
- To become mature
- To measure up to Messiah’s fullness
Not only was this the case, but the gifts (in the form of persons) were given to solve certain problems as the passage under consideration so indicates:
- Immaturity (“no longer infants”)
- Ignorance (“tossed back and forth”)
- Deception (“deceitful scheming”)
They were also given to promote a real outgoing concern toward others as well as growth. Without love and growth the
Messianic Community will always fail to fulfill its destiny. Where there is no spiritual growth, and all things being properly considered, there may not be a genuine gift.
The Greek word from which we get “apostle” is apostolos. This is a person sent forth by Messiah with authority and it is used 81 times in the Messianic Scriptures (the so-called “NT”). Consider — Paul was an apostle. What he ought to be emulated by all claiming to be apostles.
What did Paul accomplish? He founded congregations, for one thing. And he taught those congregations which he founded. He established them in sound doctrine and in sound practice (Acts 13-14; 15.36; 18.22-23; 21.17). Indeed, his assemblies (really, Messianic synagogues) were proof of his ministry (1 Corinthians 9.1-3). Teaching is therefore an integral part of being an apostle.
Paul most assuredly exercised considerable care, as well as authority, over his congregations (2 Corinthians 11.28). He commended them (1 Corinthians 11.2). He even rebuked them (1 Corinthians 11.17; Galatians 1.6ff). He instructed them in specific areas of conduct (1 Corinthians 5.5; 16.1; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-15). He expected them to obey his commands (2 Corinthians 12.14ff; Philippians 2.12; 2 Thessalonians 3.12,14). He taught and exercised authority over assemblies he himself did not found (Rome and Colossae). While he does not reprimand or rebuke either of them he does however give specific instructions (Colossians 4.1ff). But not only was this the case, Paul also exercised several spiritual gifts (Acts 14.8ff; 19.11; Romans15.18-19). He calls signs, wonders and miracles “THINGS THAT MARK an apostle” (2 Cor 12.12 Greek).
As an apostle he exercised all the other ministry gifts:
- Prophet (Acts 13.1; Romans 11.25; 1 Corinthians 14.6ff; Acts 20.22ff; 27.22ff). In the NT sense of prophet he also consoled, edified, exhorted (1 Corinthians 14.3and the contents of all Paul’s letters).
- Evangelist (1 Corinthians 9.16-18).
- Pastor (Acts 15.36; 20.17-37; 2 Corinthians 11.28).
- Teacher (as per all his letters).
Paul was not alone in his office of apostleship.
The 12 original apostles of Yeshua have gained a special place in the Messianic Kingdom. Certainly, differences aside, they were foundational to the Messianic Community and this is admitted by Paul (Ephesians 2.20). John tells us their names are recorded in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21.14).
There were other apostles too, in the spiritual NT Community — not just Paul and the Twelve.
Some are recorded for posterity:
- Barnabas (Acts 14.4,14),
- James (1 Corinthians 15.7; Galatians 1.19);
- Silas (Acts 15.40; 16.19ff; 17.4ff; 1 Thessalonians 1.1; 27);
- Silvanus (=Silas? 2 Corinthians 1.19; 1 Thessalonians 1.1; 2 Thessalonians1.1),
- Andronicus (Romans 16.7),
- Junia (Romans 16.7),
- Titus and two brothers (2 Corinthians 8.16-24),
- Timothy (by implication, 2 Corinthians 1.19; Philippians 2.19-24; 1 Thessalonians 1.2; 2.7),
- Apollos (by implication, 1 Corinthians 1.12; 3.4-5,22; 16.12),
- Clement (Philippians 4.2),
- Euodia (Philippians 4.2),
- Syntyche (Philippians 4.3).
Can a woman be an apostle?
What was the ministry of Prisca and her husband Aquila whom Paul refers to as “my fellow workers [labourers]”? (Acts 18.2,18,26; Romans 16.3; 1 Corinthians 16.19) What about the two Godly women Euodia and Syntyche? (Philippians
4.2,3). Junia was a woman too BUT most translators of the NT (and usually male at that) alter it to read Junias (masculine — Romans 16.7).
So much for unbiased biblical scholarship! With regret to the sacred text, male Christian scholars are still men who are men who are men who are… However, while all the above are pertinent factors to the qualifications in being an apostle the fifth point is the most important. It is also the most often overlooked.
- To qualify as an apostle one must have had contact with Messiah — to have SEEN Mashiach — after he rose from the dead.
In other words an apostle must have been an eyewitness to the Lord’s resurrection. All newly ordained apostles had to be “eyewitnesses with us [original apostles]” (Acts 1.22).Paul’s legality in proclaiming himself an apostle was validated in his staggering vision of the living resurrected Yeshua on the road to Damascus (1 Corinthians 9.1). Further, it was his meeting with the Jewish Messiah which was “A SEAL of my apostleship” (1Corinthians 9.2).
We might also add for the spiritually dull of mind, that this awesome vision of Yeshua on the Damascus Road can in no way be likened to some prissy Tooth Fairy visiting a well-known televangelist “healer” and sitting on his bed in the wee small hours of the morning claiming to be “Jeeeesuuuus” — loud pious Pentecostal protestations to the contrary notwith-standing. Such drivel and nonsense strains credulity and insults the intelligence. It also treats the authentic Lord Yeshua with an insidious sense of virulent contempt.
There are other marks of an Apostle. Apostles were considered by the world as “despised” (1 Corinthians 4.10), deemed “not fit to be numbered” and certainly “last” on any important list of estimation (1 Corinthians 4.9), contemptuously regarded as “the off scouring of all things” and “the filth of the world” (1 Corinthians 4.13). They were often reviled and “went hungry, thirsty, naked, buffeted, not owning their own home, self employed [nobody would give them work], persecuted, defamed” (1 Corinthians 4.11-13). The apostle Paul added that these dire situations and horrendous circumstances were not “an exception to the rule” (as it were) but that these conditions remained “unto this day.”
Flashy cars, big bank accounts, extravagant plush new offices, solid gold toilet faucets, and “Jump For Jesus” trampolines in some whoopee heavenly Sweet Melody Bible Land stands in stark contrast to Luke’s description of apostolic hardship in NT times. “And they [the apostles] departed from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5.41).
It seems almost superfluous to say it but no one alive today lived in the first century and could thus be witnesses of his resurrection unless they have been reincarnated at this time (and they still wouldn’t have any memory of the event, in any case).
Now let us consider the final point. It is perhaps the most surprising of all. At the beginning of this exposition we posed the question, “Can a woman be an apostle of Yeshua Messiah?” We answered both “yes” and “no.”
Yes, because in the first century, as we have already plainly seen from the records of the Messianic Scriptures them- selves, there were women apostles in the entourage of Paul — and no today because… There is only ONE APOSTLE who is recognised by God the Father in His spiritual Community and that is, of course, YESHUA haMashiach — Yeshua the Messiah.
“Wherefore, brethren, set-apart ones for God and his service, participants in the effectual summons from heaven unto salvation, consider attentively and thoughtfully the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Yeshua” (Hebrews 3.1).
There is no one alive today who was alive in the days of the Fifth Procuratorship of Judaea and who could have been an eyewitness to Mashiach’s resurrection victory.
Historically, Messiah commended the Ephesian Christians for exposing false apostles for what they really were — liars, deceitful workers, secret representatives of the Dark Lord himself (Revelation 2.2). Intriguingly, this last reference is located in the prophetic Apocalypse. Messiah is commending believers who, in the last days of a dying planet Earth, are returning to the biblical revelation to try and test those who claim to hold a modern apostolic office.
And it is apparent to all who enthusiastically judge the NT to be the sacred Word of God that they ALL fail to measure up to the qualifications, signs and characteristics pertaining to the office of apostle.