A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about women and leadership within the church. I stated my firm conviction that an essential ethos of the New Testament is that there is no nationality, gender or social class distinction in the gospels – rather that all are equal in Christ. It’s a position I hold firmly to. And so I find it complexing that those who hold a complementarian view force a social class distinction within the church in one gender being above another.
It’s my experience that any conversation about women leadership turns to the subject of Junias, whom the Apostle Paul says is outstanding among the Apostles. It’s claimed that he isn’t calling her an Apostle as such, but rather she is noted as working with them. However, that is stretching the Greek text a little further than it allows.
My friend made the argument that Jesus only appointed 12 Apostles. And that the Apostle Paul considered himself one abnormally born. But, a clearer examination of the text shows that the 11 Apostles (Judas had taken his life after betraying Jesus.) held a little gambling session to appoint another Apostle in his place.
There are other accounts in the Scriptures where the terminology of Apostle is used. When Barnabus and Paul are sent out to take a message to the church, they too are called Apostles. In Galatians, James, Jesus brother is also mentioned as an Apostle – though there is no account previously that he was even one of Jesus disciples. Epaphroditus is mentioned as being a local churches Apostle. And as previously mentioned Mathias was instated as a replacement for Judas.
The final crunch though which dismisses the idea that there were only 12 Apostles is found in 1 Cor 15:3-9. Paul outlines a number of groups of people who saw the risen Lord.
- Jesus appeared to Cephas (Peter)
- Then he appeared to the 12.
- Then he appeared to over 500 brothers and sisters.
- Then he appeared to James.
- Then he appeared to all the Apostles.
- Then he appeared to himself.
I find it interesting that Paul significantly defines the 12 Apostles as *the* 12 and not as *the* Apostles in this passage. It also raises the questions as to who were all the other Apostles. One thing that is clear is that the terminology of Apostle is not withheld just for the 12 plus Paul.
Complementarians will strongly use Paul’s own 4 fold requirement for the claim for Apostleship: (1) Someone who had seen the resurrected Lord; (2) someone who had brought a church into existence;] (3) someone who proclaimed the true gospel; and (4) someone who has suffered in the service of Christ. And they add a 5th stating that they had to be appointed by Jesus. I would like to nuance their 5th point by saying their appointment has to be by God – Father, Son, or Spirit and not just through the person of Jesus. We find a clear example of this, when the church is praying and they sense the Holy Spirit telling them to set Barnabus and Paul aside to be the Apostles to where they were being sent to.
Certainly Junia could easily fit the criteria of the first 4 points. And the 5th point leads into the area of Holy Spirit gifting and calling. The Holy Spirit knows what he is doing when he anoints someone for service. It’s clear through Scripture that women were called into prophetic roles. Anna was a well-known and respected prophetess who took the baby Jesus into her arms and prophesied over him. And again we find clear cut instructions about allowing prophecy in the church and that both males and females could do so.
Within the framework of Scripture we find that God has no favourites. All are equal in Jesus. The Holy Spirit distributes gifts and callings to all, and to whomever *He* wills. There is no social distinctions in the gospel. There is no nationality distinction in the gospel. And there is no gender distinction in the Gospel.
So my question is…why do we continue to force one?