Note: This blog has appeared on my website as a “starter blog” since 2009. Now that I have a more developed blog, it is being added to my main blog site with the rest of my blogs.
“A female apostle?”
“Women can’t be apostles!”
“I thought women couldn’t even speak in church!”
Statements like this are frequently, if not almost always, uttered when people find out that I am an apostle. Responses range from shock and horror to surprise and delight as people begin what is often a complex journey with the concept of female leadership in the Christian church. As it is no shock to state that male patriarchy has often won out within cultural Christianity (separating it from that which is true), many still read statements about women (not to mention other things) into the Bible that simply aren’t there. As a result, those of us who walk in this call often face a lot of repeated questions which pertain to the who, what, where, when, and why of our calling from God.
In order to establish the question as to whether or not a woman can be an apostle, we have to clarify a few other things first. The first thing we must do is establish whether or not the office of apostle is needed, active, or present for this modern day. As there are many who theorize the office of apostle (and the five-fold ministry by extension) was exclusively for the first century, only to establish the church, we must take a little time to examine whether or not this theory is indeed found in the New Testament. Surely if people make such a grand statement as to say the five-fold ministry is no longer in place anymore, there must be Biblical backing for it, right? There must be some verse that points to it, something that validates such a point, right?
Nope. There is nothing ANYWHERE in the New Testament which states that the five-fold ministry would cease at the end of the first century. There is nothing to bespeak a belief that the five-fold ministry represents an “era” of church history and would one day be replaced by only part of the ministry offices. If we read Ephesians 4:11-16, we in fact see the opposite become true: “It was He Who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him Who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (NIV) If the expressed purpose of the five-fold ministry is to prepare God’s people for works of service, to grow up the body of Christ in faith and knowledge to maturity, to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, to no longer be tossed to and fro by deceptive teachers, and to be built up in love as each part does its work, then we can see God has established an important and expressed purpose within the five-fold ministry that must be accomplished before it can cease. As nobody can look me in the eye and tell me the church has received such maturity (it’s a joke if anyone thinks it has), or that the church has even begun to scratch the surface on the essential stated purposes of the five-fold ministry, this means all five offices must still be essential for church leadership. As the apostle is mentioned within the five-fold ministry, it is only reasonable to understand and conclude that apostles are still alive and active today, serving their purpose as the foundation, along with prophets, for the church, of which Christ Jesus is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).
So thus we have established that there is still an apostolic office and apostles in today’s church. This begs the question, how do we know a true apostle from a false apostle? Is there criteria, or can just anyone be an apostle? Can anyone come along and claim to be one who reveals the mysteries of God? Naturally anyone can claim it (just as with anything else) but not everyone can prove it. God has, within the Word, established the criteria for one claiming to be an apostle, even in our modern times. According to the Scriptures, the criteria is as follows:
1) The word “apostle” in and of itself means a delegate, an ambassador, a messenger with a special message, or one who is sent forth with orders (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). This means one who is an apostle has been sent by Christ with the special message of His Gospel revelation. It is different from the general call all disciples have to share the good news of the Gospel with others in that the apostle serves as God’s ambassador. Right here, in this understanding, we’ve set a high standard. An apostle is one who is directly sent by God endowed with a special message from Him. The office is received by grace and the individual has the power to represent Christ. We see in the Scriptures that He was the first apostle, sent to represent the Father (Hebrews 3:1. John 12:46-50).
2) The apostle is directly called to be an apostle by God Himself. One cannot receive an apostolic call from a church representative or from ordination. One can not be “promoted” to the apostolic office; it is a calling, not a step up on the corporate church ladder. Apostles are not just a minister, but also a witness to the grace received through Christ. To receive this experience, one must have an experience with the resurrected Christ unto their calling (1 Corinthians 1:9, Galatians 1:1, Acts 26:14-18).
3) An apostle must receive from Jesus Christ through the revelation for a certain level of instruction (Romans 1:5, Galatians 1:11) and sent by Christ for the work of the Gospel (Ephesians 3:1-7). The apostle makes known the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
4) Apostles must have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15).
5) The ministry of the apostle is proven by their ministry: through their teaching, preaching, and work of the Gospel (1 Timothy 2:7).
What about the criteria for an apostle established in Acts 1:13-26? Notably, the criteria set forth there was to replace Judas among the twelve and they set forth a criteria to establish an individual who could testify of Jesus’ resurrection. Their requirement was that an individual had followed Christ from John’s baptism to His ascension (Acts 1:22). If we are going to be fair, not even all of the original twelve met the criteria set forth to replace Judas, if we are going to use this standard for apostleship. It would also leave out the apostle Paul, who we know was an apostle called directly by Christ. This criteria was established to define an individual who would be added to the apostles of the Lamb; but Paul’s experience for apostleship introduced the criteria for apostles of the new covenant, as found above. To argue modern apostleship is impossible on the grounds of Acts 1:13-26 is to display a lack of proper understanding in New Testament ministry.
Now we will focus on the more specific issue of women in the role of the apostle, as it is clear we can establish both the validity of the apostolic role for modern times and signs which accompany a true apostle. The Bible mentions approximately twenty apostles or individuals who functioned in an apostolic role in the Bible – which right there means at least eight other individuals aside from the original twelve were apostles in the first century church. Would you believe that the Bible mentions by name a female apostle? Yes, it is true. Her name is Junia, and she is mentioned in Romans 16:7: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (KJV) Junia was an apostle of note among the apostles – in other words, she was well-known for her apostolic work – and clearly commended in this passage by the apostle Paul. In and of herself, Junia has an interesting story; for many centuries, her name was deliberately altered in translations of the Bible to lead readers into thinking she was male. It was just too much for many male Bible translators to fathom that God would call a woman to such a position in the body of Christ, and also severely proved their own system of male power and control to be unscriptural.
The very fact that a female apostle is mentioned by name in the New Testament should be in and of itself enough to prove that women are called to the apostolic office. We also see women such as Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18; also proven to be an apostle in the New Testament apocrypha) and Priscilla (Acts 18:26, Romans 16:3) who fulfilled apostolic duties. Mary Magdalene meets the criteria to be an apostle as we find in Paul’s experience; and she has been rightly spoken of as “the apostle to the apostles” in church history. Seeing women in this role clarifies the issue that women can indeed teach, preach, and lead in Christianity (even the men!); individuals who claim otherwise are both inadequate students of Bible study and of church history. I acknowledge approaching the Scriptures in a contextual application and understanding what is said beyond a translational understanding takes time; but we must recognize that we are responsible for what we say the Bible says if we take it out of context when there is adequate information to prove the contrary of our statement. The acceptance and proof of female apostles isn’t a matter of mere opinion or disagreement; it is a part of Christian leadership establishment, a part of what God ordained and commissioned and who is anybody who thinks they can do better than God? The Bible alone can prove the “Jesus only picked men” argument totally false – not to mention the vast resources we now have of first century history which can do likewise – and the Bible therefore raises up the work of female apostles as notable to disprove the arguments of those who would like to keep us out.
It’s been said that when women gather together to pray, mighty and amazing things happen. I can only imagine what will happen when female apostles gather together and realize the importance of the apostolic deposit placed within them. We’re not playing church; we’re not here to sit idly by; we are here to stand with our great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), those female apostles who have gone before us and continue our call as history makers in this place and time.
Copyright (c) 2009 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.