These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

Psalm 68 celebrates the movement of Israel from Egypt (v. 7) to Sinai (v. 8) and then victory in Canaan (vv. 9-14) whereupon God ascends to the throne on Mount Zion (vv. 15-18).

Paul uses Psalm 68 to describe the ascension and enthronement of Jesus in Ephesians 4:8. Jesus, released from the grave, ascended to the throne and gave gifts to the church through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 68:11 reads: “The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those who bore the tidings.” In the ancient Greek translation, the word “bore the tidings” is the same word as in the New Testament that describes “preaching the gospel” (euaggelizomenoi). They preached the good news.

In Hebrew, unlike in the Greek translation, that word is feminine. In other words, the Psalm envisions a great company of women who declare the good news! In the light of Paul’s application of Psalm 68 to the ascension of Christ, we may hear an echo of the gifting of women to preach the gospel.

New Testament

Why did Jesus choose only male apostles? This is a good and important question.

It seems rather obvious that twelve is a number that reflects Israel’s twelve patriarchs, the twelve sons of Jacob. Twelve male apostles underscores continuity with Israel and also the renewal of Israel.

The twelve apostles were free Jewish men, and the apostleship before Pentecost was limited to those categories. However, Pentecost changed this. While the twelve retained a unique honor in the Christian community, after Pentecost the gifting of apostles, prophets, and evangelists (preachers of the gospel) also extended to slave as well as free, Gentile as well as Jew, and women as well as men. The pouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, enlarged the community of gifted leadership from free Jewish men to even enslaved Gentile women.

The gifts given to the church in Ephesians 4 include apostles (Junia was an apostle, Romans 16:7), prophets (Philip’s daughters were prophets, Acts 21:9), and women preached the gospel (the men and women who were scattered went preaching the word, Acts 8:2-4).

Pentecost shifted the dynamics. Those once excluded were now included, and those once unchosen were now chosen. Slaves, Gentiles, and women were now empowered and gifted to participate in the mission of God.

History

C. R. Nichol, a renowned and beloved conservative among Churches of Christ, published an important book in 1938 entitled God’s Woman.

Nichol advocated for female deacons from 1 Timothy 3, underscored that women prayed and prophesied (taught!) in the public assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 11, and affirmed that women have the right to teach men in a Bible class when the church gathered. While he also taught a kind of patriarchy, he did not believe this eliminated the female voice from the assembly or excluded them from teaching men. His book, with a few exceptions, was well-received. But its views did not win out in the end, and most Churches of Christ silenced the female voice in the assembly and in teaching men (including, teaching eleven year old baptized males).

2 Responses

  1. As I read through the different contributions on this topic, my conspiracy antennas start to itwich. As contributors, you have made up your mind, it seems, that within churches of Christ we should greatly expand the role of women. if that is what you want to advocate, just come right out and say so.
    The hiding behind, statements about Julia being an apostle (Really??? Are you not at all aware of the issues behind the phrasing??) and women praying and prophesying in the assembly (Which is not yet part of Paul’s topic, and apart from that, is nowhere to be found in the context, AND in contradiction with what Paul writes in 1 Cor 14, where “you” have already made the assumption that these were either unrulywomen or the wives of the prophets).
    If that is where YOU, as a group of authors/scholars want to go, make those choices in the congregations where you work/attend/have influence. That is one of the amazing things about the autonomy “we” profess to hold dear: Just because some great names in our fellowship assume something, does not mean you need to try and influence “the rest of us, ignorant as we might be thought to be about the Biblical languages etc. and almost ‘guilt’ “us” in to making changes.

    I love a good back and forth. I hate to be made to feel ignorant, unwilling to learn new things. And the way the pieces are written, that IS how you make readers like me feel.

    No, Julia was NOT an apostle, she was highly regarded among the apostles – totally different application of the same words.
    No, 1 Corinthians does not teach that women were actively praying and or prophesying in the assembly of the believers. Paul has not even gotten to the assembly problems, so to force that meaning into the text “jus ain’t right…”

    As a ‘fellowship,’ we have unity issues. And throughout the history of the restoration movement we seem to have developed a talent for coming up with more and more stuff to divide about.

    If, as a local congregation, you want to have a female elder, preacher – YOUR choice. You do not need to defend it to me or anyone else. If you, as a congregation decide that you should not have a kitchen in the building, fine and dandy.. You do not need to defend that decision to me or anyone else.

    But do not call me ‘sinner’ when I cook breakfast for a group of members the morning we start doing a bunch of work on the building we own (Takers on THAT concept, owning a building? – I’m not in favor of it, because it eats too much of our resources which should be used to evangelize and help those in need – but I digress).

    Do not cal me ANYTHING when I strongly disagree with your conclusion on the role of women within the congregation. I lived in a country where we had a queen. No issues. I even worked for a female supervisor – gasp for some. But female elders is not a Biblical concept (neither are paid preachers, but again, a digression). Female preachers? Same…

    Paul commends a large number of women for working with him in the spreading of the gospel. Working with him as fellow missionaries – speaking, proclaiming the message of a risen Christ to unbelievers. Our congregation supports a FEMALE missionary – wholeheartedly. She works with a lot of kids, with a lot of young women, both in and outside of the congregation. In places where men better not be seen (red-light district, abuse-shelters). Places where a man would never have the impact she has. Any takers for SUCH roles in your congregations, or is the microphone in front of the auditorium where all of this needs to be solved?

    Paul encourages older women to teach younger women how to be good wives and mothers. How many of the women in your congregations are involved with such mentoring? Or again, is the microphone in the front where the issue lies?

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