Yesterday I posted on the subject of women leadership, and also posted links to some reposted posts from Matt Colvin’s old Fragmenta blog. Matt has since reposted some further old posts, a couple of which dovetail nicely into some of the points that I made in my post on women’s leadership.
Within my post I argued that there is no reason why we should be at all reticent to speak of Junia in Romans 16:7 as a female apostle. It is by far the most natural reading of the verse. Although we have no evidence of other female apostles, I believe that a better understanding of ordination and Church offices within the Bible will help us to appreciate why: a) Junia can be spoken of as a female apostle; b) why we should not be that surprised that we do not see other female apostles being mentioned; c) how this is quite consistent with women not teaching or exercising authority over men.
Matt, taking two articles by James Jordan on eldership and maturity as his starting point, provides some insights that help to unlock this particular subject. One of the key observations in Jordan’s approach concerns the place of deacons:
Modern Presbyterianism has invented the office of deacon. The deacons are a group of men, they say, who handle the physical side of Church life: maintaining the property, carrying out works of charity, and controlling the money. This notion is based on Acts 6, taken out of its Biblical context.
In reality, and this is pretty obvious from the Bible as a whole, a deacon is an assistant and/or apprentice elder. Joshua was Moses’ deacon; Elisha was Elijah’s deacon; Gehazi was Elisha’s deacon; Baruch was Jeremiah’s deacon. The Twelve were Jesus’ deacons, and after they became elders, they enlisted other men as their deacons.
The deacons of Acts 6 took care of physical needs under the oversight and direction of the elders, the apostles. The diaconate is not a separate office, but the training ground for the office of overseer. Elisha “poured water on the hands of Elijah” (2 Ki. 3:11). According to 1 Kings 20:21, Elisha “ministered to” Elijah. The Twelve fed the 5000 while Jesus taught them, and then cleaned up the loaves and fishes.
If the elder is the Jedi Master, the deacon is his padawan. The deacon is the assistant and the apprentice of the elder. In the case of someone like Elisha we see that Elijah is given a commission in 1 Kings 19:15-17. As part of his task, Elijah has to be anointed as the prophet in his place. Elisha becomes the padawan of Master Elijah, serving his needs and supporting his mission.
In many respects the two become a single unit, Elisha represents Elijah and participates in his mission. Elijah never personally performs the first two items on the to-do list that God gave him in 1 Kings 19:15-17. It isn’t until 2 Kings 8-9, a while after Elijah’s ascension, that these tasks are performed – by Elisha. When Elijah ascends, Elisha receives a double portion (the lot of the firstborn) of Elijah’s spirit, and continues Elijah’s mission. As Master Elijah’s padawan, Elisha doesn’t receive a distinct commission of his own, but serves as a helper, and later successor, to Elijah in the performance of his.
Taking up Jordan’s observation, Matt remarks:
…calling a man a διάκονος is rather like calling him an “assistant”: such a title ordinarily involves attachment to some other person or institution, whose ends the διάκονος is devoted to: “Is Christ a διάκονος of Sin?” (Gal. 2:17). Within the church, the natural assumption is that a deacon is an assistant to an elder, which fits with the pattern Jordan identifies with the prophets and their pupils. We might also note that the qualifications for the two offices (given in the pastoral epistles) are virtually identical, for this very reason.
The point that the deacon is one who is closely attached to another person or institution is crucial for our purposes here. The diaconate is not a self-standing office, but an office that receives its rationale and character from the person or institution with which it is aligned and which it serves and helps.
Matt relates this to Jewish practice:
But first, let me reiterate the historical background. The Jews of Jesus’ day had an institution in which the laying on of hands (semikah) could effect the authorization of a new Rabbi by an existing one. The act was conceptualized according to the OT pattern established by Moses, who laid his hands on Joshua. Because the verb samakh denotes a forceful leaning, not a mere laying, the metaphor is that of pressing one’s personality and power into one’s emissary. The Rabbis state that (y. Meg. 74a) “a man’s shaliach is as if he were the man himself” – so that Eliezer of Damascus had full authority to ask Rebekah’s hand for Isaac, without her parents needing to worry that Abraham might rescind the offer.
He also, contra Jordan – on this point I side with Matt – argues that those traditionally understood to be deacons in Acts 6 are not deacons, but elders, representing the people, rather than the apostles. The apostles do not lay hands on the Seven, but the people. The Seven do the work of the people, as the representatives of the people, they do not represent and directly serve the apostles in their mission. From that time onwards, the book of Acts speaks of the apostles and the elders.
The Apostolic Shaliach
In his second post, Matt examines the case of Timothy, questioning whether he was the bishop of Ephesus, during the period of Paul’s ministry, as tradition has suggested. He argues that Timothy’s ministry does not seem to have been the geographically bounded ministry of a regular pastor. Rather, Timothy is Paul’s ‘shaliach’, the one who personally represents Paul where Paul himself cannot be. As such, Timothy participates in the exercise of Paul’s apostolic ministry. He is the co-author of epistles (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1), Paul’s personal emissary (Acts 19:22; 1 Timothy 1:3), and the one who served Paul, so that Paul could give himself to his primary task of preaching without any distraction (cf. Acts 18:1-5).
Here we see that Timothy participated directly in Paul’s exercise of his apostolic power. Paul and Timothy are a pair, bound together in a single apostolic mission. On occasions the distinction between them is made plain – only Paul is the apostle proper – while on others their alignment is stressed – Timothy is a co-worker, helper, and sharer in Paul’s calling. Relative to the churches to which they were ministering Timothy was to be treated as a bearer of Paul’s own authority. However, relative to Paul, Timothy was a subordinate, without an independent commission of his own, but rather a share in Paul’s.
The relationship between Paul and Timothy is exceptional close, and Paul speaks of Timothy as his son. This language is not merely that of emotional closeness, but of representation: the son represents the father, his authority, presence, and interests. It also points to a relationship similar to that which pertained between Old Testament leaders and prophets and their shaliachs. In Numbers 13:16 we see that Joshua’s name was given to him by Moses, who also lays his hands on Joshua in Deuteronomy 34:9. A similar relationship exists between Elijah and Elisha: Elisha receives a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit, the inheritance appropriate to the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:17), and, as Elijah is taken into heaven, Elisha addresses him as his ‘father’ (2 Kings 2).
Timothy is sent. This is the hallmark of an apostle or shaliach — indeed, both nouns have their roots in the respective verbs “to send” (Hebrew shalah and Greek ἀποστέλλω). Phil. 2:20: “I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Τimothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state.” Paul sends Timothy to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 16:10, stating that he is to do the same job as Paul himself: “If Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do . Therefore let no one despise him.” Timothy’s work is the same as Paul’s. On several other occasions, Paul mentions that Timothy is doing “the work of the Lord” or is a “fellow-worker with me” or a “fellow-worker with God.” I would suggest that these terms should be taken as vivid expressions of the shaliach role, first of Paul, as an apostle sent by God or Christ to do Christ’s work, and then by Timothy, who, sent by Paul as Paul’s own shaliach, is likewise engaged in the same work as his master, and is thus, as it were, a second-order shaliach of Christ. (My wife wisecracks: “Yeah, he [sc. Christ] is so important that his secretary has a secretary!”) He is referred to by Paul as “my fellow worker” in Rom. 16:21. 1 Tim. 4:6 refers to Timothy as a διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, a servant of Christ Jesus. It is unclear whether this is a more general appellation, or refers to his role as the delegate of Christ’s delegate. Nonetheless, the point is clear: Timothy is Paul’s plenipotentiary emissary, not a local pastor. He stands on one side with Paul as Christ’s representative, not on the other side with the Seven and other elders as the Church’s representative.
He proceeds to observe:
That Timothy is a virtual copy of Paul is underlined by 1 Cor. 4:16-17: “I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.”
The charge to imitate Paul is accompanied by the sending of Timothy towards the fulfilment of this end, as the son is the pre-eminent imitator and representation of the father. As a participant in his father’s ministry, and Paul’s right hand man, Timothy had immense authority to wield, even being given the commission to choose and appoint church officers as Paul’s representative. As the apostolic ministry was temporary, upon Paul’s death, Timothy would cease to be the Apostle’s apostle and would presumably have become a bishop.
Woman as Deaconess in Genesis 2-3
How does this relate to the question of Junia, with which we started? To address this question we should return to Genesis 2. In Genesis 2, God creates man and woman. However, the order of events here is significant. God creates the man first, and gives him the task of guarding and keeping the garden (v.15). He gives him the commandment concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is the law that Adam has the duty to uphold (v.16-17).
The Garden is the prototypical sanctuary, the place of worship. The parallels are numerous. As in the temple of Ezekiel, the Garden is the source of a river that waters the earth (Genesis 2:10; Ezekiel 47). Like the Holy of Holies, the entrance to the Garden comes to be guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24; Exodus 26:1). As in the sanctuary, the garden is the site of the sacramental food, the forbidden food of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the life-giving fruit of the Tree of Life. Adam was given the task of guarding and keeping. These tasks correspond to the task of the priests (the lexical parallels are worth observing in this context), who had to do the service of the tabernacle and temple, tending and maintaining the Table of the Presence, the Golden Lampstand, and the Altar, and also had to guard the holy place and things from trespass.
After Adam has been created and commissioned, God declares Adam’s need for a helper in his ministry in the garden-sanctuary (the use of the noun סמך to refer to the ‘helper’ in the Targum Onkelos is very interesting for our purposes, given its relationship to the verb used for the laying/leaning on of hands [e.g. Deuteronomy 34:9]). Eve is created and then brought to Adam to be his helper. The attentive reader may observe a parallel between the way that the Levites are brought to Aaron to minister to him in Numbers 3:5-7 and help him to fulfil his commission.
The pattern of Genesis 2 is thus that of the divinely commissioned priest in the sanctuary, who has a liturgical helper brought to him, in order to help him to fulfil his commission. The role of the liturgical helper is not an autonomous office, but is a participation in the ministry of the commissioned priest, under his leadership. As the priest, the man is the one who ultimately is accountable for the fulfilling of the charge, not the liturgical helper. When the task isn’t achieved, it is the priest who will be called to account. Adam is the priest and Eve is his deaconess.
The Fall is a failure in the sanctuary. Adam did not guard the holy things from trespass. He stands by while his liturgical helper took the lead, under the instigation of the serpent, and then blames her when it is done. He does not teach the law as a priest should do. The law was not delivered to Eve, but to Adam alone, and it was his duty to play the priestly role of giving authoritative teaching to Eve in regard to the holy things. Eve, being misled by the serpent, and seeing that Adam is saying nothing, is confused. She is going by hearsay. She has not heard the law for herself, and must rely on the word of others. As Adam fails to oppose the false teaching of the serpent, Eve is deceived and takes of the forbidden fruit. She takes the liturgical lead in the distribution of the holy food, and Adam goes along with it. Integral to Adam’s sin was that he listened to the voice of his wife and followed her lead, rather than upholding the law and doing his duty as a priest (Genesis 3:17).
The most basic difference between male and female prior to the Fall in the story of Genesis 2-3 is not a biological one. Procreation is not mentioned in Genesis 2-3 until after Adam and Eve have sinned. The fundamental difference between male and female in the fundamental text for the biblical understanding of male and female is the difference between Adam as the commissioned priest, and Eve as his deaconess. An understanding of this is fairly important for understanding the logic of what comes next in the account of the Fall itself.
Once this has been grasped, we will see that the ordination of women strikes at the very heart of the biblical teaching about male and female. At the heart of the human task in Genesis 2-3 is not procreation, but the running of the sanctuary – the task of worship. To ordain woman as leaders over men in worship is to get the first lesson about the sexes wrong, and in effect to repeat the sin of the Fall.
Paul’s Use of Genesis 2-3
Unlike far too many Christians today, the early Church knew their Old Testament. Hence, Paul could point to the pattern of Genesis 2-3 and the hearers and readers of his epistles would grasp the logic, logic that would have been blindingly obvious to anyone familiar with the Old Testament. When dealing with the differing roles of men and women within the life of the Church, Genesis 2-3 is Paul’s first port of call. In 1 Corinthians 11:3-9, he writes:
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.
Paul’s point is fairly plain: it is not right for a deacon to act the part of the priest. The role of the deacon is defined relative to that of the priest. The woman was created as the minister to and co-worker for the man, helping him in the fulfilment of his charge. While the man is defined relative to God, who commissioned him, the woman is defined relative to the man, as whose helper she was created, and who named her (Genesis 2:23, much as Moses named Joshua in Numbers 13:16). Man is the head of the woman, as the deacon is under the headship of the elder.
All of this means that a distinction needs to be made between the way that men and women dress and act in worship (Matt discusses Paul’s teaching regarding headcoverings here). As in the case of the apostle and his serving apostle, the serving apostle can represent the apostolic authority in his actions, as he participates in the ministry of the one he is deacon to. However, only the lead apostle can image the apostolic authority. This is the logic that Paul applies to male and female here. Only the man images the authority of the divine commission in relation to the primary worship task of humanity; the woman participates and can represent this authority, but she cannot be treated as though she possessed the divine commission in the manner that the man can.
This is related to the Trinity. The Son is sent by the Father, and is the image and representation of his authority. This should alert us to the fact that this is not all that should be said about the role of men and women: Peter Leithart makes some very helpful observations on this front. We should also notice that Paul immediately goes on to make counterbalancing statements in verses 11-12:
Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
Paul’s point here in relation to the role of men and women is twofold. First, men and women cannot be rendered independent. The relationship between priest and deacon, with the priest as the commissioned one and the deacon as the one helping the priest to fulfil his commission might suggest that the priest could just dispense with his deacon, should he so choose. Paul’s claim is that cannot be the case: the woman is essential for the man. Second, even though there is a clear differentiation between male and female that excludes women priesthood, for instance, there is also a clear yet asymmetrical reversibility in the relationship between them, whereby the woman takes the priority over the man in certain respects. I would once again direct you to Leithart’s insightful remarks on this matter, remarks that cut to the heart of the problem with many complementarian views in this area.
Paul once again refers to the logic of Genesis 2-3 in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, in a part of the text that seldom receives the close attention that it deserves:
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.
Once we appreciate the biblical logic underlying Paul’s position, we will begin to see that egalitarian arguments that focus on quibbling over the fine grammatical details of verses 11-12 are really missing the powerhouse of Paul’s argument, which is found in verses 13-14. The importance of Genesis 2-3 in Paul’s argument is further underlined by the manner in which he draws women into the story of Genesis 3, where the curse is attended by a promise of salvation in the context of childbearing (see Tim Gallant’s discussion of this verse here). Genesis 2-3 is absolutely paradigmatic for Paul’s thinking on such matters.
It might be worth drawing a connection between our earlier discussion of the role of Timothy and the teaching of 1 Timothy 2. If, as we have argued above, Timothy is not just a pastor in a particular geographical region, but is the personal emissary of Paul himself, what we see in the book of Timothy are not just some pointers on how a local pastor and his congregation can raise their game, or correctives to some local abuses, but something of the fundamental logic and pattern of church life, the pattern according to which churches must be founded. Paul’s authority is vested in Timothy and it is crucial that Timothy gets these things right and knows the reasons why he is doing what he is doing. You can’t rip this logic out of the Bible without gutting the whole thing.
Junia as Apostle
By means of this long discussion of Genesis 2-3, we finally find ourselves back with Junia. The key point that we have observed is that the man is the priest, and the woman is his deaconess. In contrast to deacons, who were sharers in ministry, helpers, and apprentices, the deaconess is not an apprentice to the priestly role. The woman does not become a man. However, Jordan suggests that we need to recognize the role of the ‘elderess’ here and here. Within the church there is a crucial ministry that older women can exercise in relation to younger women, a ministry that, while under the authority of the leading man, can parallel his role (e.g. Titus 2:2-6 – Titus teaches the younger men, the elder women teach the younger women).
As we have seen, the deacon/ess was intimately identified with the mission of the one that they served. As a deaconess, in many situations the wife can represent and act with her husband’s authority in his absence, much as Timothy could represent Paul’s authority in the places to which he was sent. The deacon is not able to do everything that the one that he serves can: there are some tasks that are only proper to the leader in such a relationship. For instance, Aaron couldn’t get a serving Levite to perform his liturgical duties for him, as it was his duty to represent and image God’s authority in that activity, and the serving Levite was not able to image God’s authority in the manner that Aaron could.
My argument is that Junia was a helping apostle to her husband, Andronicus’s apostle, representing his authority in particular situations. Andronicus and Junia would have come as a unit, just like Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, or Paul and Timothy. Just as Timothy could share in Paul’s apostolic ministry and act as an extension of Paul’s own ministry as his right hand man, even putting his name to epistles with Paul, so Junia helped Andronicus in the performance of his apostolic task.
Junia’s role would not merely have been one of being Andronicus domestic help so that Andronicus could be involved in full time ministry. She would have personally performed acts by which Andronicus discharged his duty as an apostle. While she could not play the role of imaging God’s authority, and taking the lead in worship, she was able to represent and minister Andronicus’ apostolic authority in other respects, most notably in teaching, overseeing, and evangelizing women. When she performed such tasks she was doing the work of an apostle, and she would be associated in the very closest of ways with the role of the apostle, even to the extent of being rightfully termed an apostle of types herself. She was an apostle’s apostle, or a helper apostle. She wasn’t merely externally affiliated with an apostle, but participated in and personally enacted his authority and discharged his ministry in certain contexts. Given how integral she was to Andronicus’s discharging of his apostolic ministry, it was perfectly natural for Paul to say that Andronicus and Junia were of note among the apostles, no less than it would have been for Peter to make the same statement of Paul and Timothy.
This may seem incredibly speculative, and to an extent all claims about Junia must remain speculative. However, we are not without supporting evidence for this understanding. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul writes (Young’s Literal Translation):
have we not authority a sister – a wife – to lead about, as also the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
Here Paul speaks of the apostles (and his mention of Barnabas in the context suggests that he is not merely referring to the narrower circle of the Twelve) as if they were exclusively male (οι λοιποι αποστολοι). This fits well with our picture: only males were apostles proper. The men led about their wives as co-workers. This wasn’t an egalitarian form of apostolic ministry, but one in which the husband took the lead. However, nor was it one in which the wife was merely the drudge of her husband, but rather one in which she participated as a fellow-worker in his ministry.
The wives of the apostles who travelled with them would, like other apostolic helpers, have ministered to their material needs, as Timothy enabled Paul to take a break from tent-making to give himself wholly to preaching (as Acts 18:1-5 suggests). However, they would also have ministered with them and, more importantly, in their names. Andronicus and Junia would be a husband-wife apostolic team, each discharging certain parts of Andronicus’s apostolic duty.
Writing at the beginning of the third century, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 3.53.3) writes:
But the apostles in conformity with their ministry concentrated on undistracted preaching, and took their wives around as Christian sisters rather than spouses, to be their fellow-ministers in relation to housewives, through whom the Lord’s teaching penetrated into the women’s quarters without scandal.
Putting to one side Clement’s suggestion concerning the celibacy of the apostles, we find support here for a picture in which many threads are brought together. For Clement, the apostles’ wives were genuinely sharers in their ministry and not merely support staff. Their work was focused upon housewives, fulfilling the apostolic commission delivered to their husbands in that particular context.
The question at the heart of the women’s ordination debate is that of whether women are permitted to teach and exercise authority over men. A female apostle is commonly assumed, by persons on both sides of this debate, to imply a figure who does exercise such authority (although there have been some who have praised Junia as a women, while giving no ground to this supposed implication – Calvin and Chrysostom being examples here).
What our lengthy discussion has provided us with is a clear biblical framework within which a form of female apostleship, or at the very least, participation in the discharging of apostolic ministry, can be articulated. By virtue of a firmly established, clear, and repeatedly stated biblical logic this female apostleship can be seen to exclude the exercise of leadership over men. This approach to female apostleship provides a better account for why apostleship seems to be treated as if it were exclusive to men in certain contexts, and why Junia is the only female apostle mentioned. It removes any tension between Romans 16:7 and the biblical teaching concerning the leadership of men in the context of worship, while permitting us to maintain the most natural reading of Romans 16:7.
Implications for Complementarians
Before concluding, however, it is important that we recognize that this reading, if it is correct, presents a challenge not merely to egalitarians, but also to most complementarians. I have argued above for the possibility of a deep participation of a wife in the authority and enacting of her husband’s ministry, as his personal representative. Although the wife cannot exercise teaching authority over men in the context of worship (although there is no reason whatsoever why she can’t instruct men in an informal context), she can often represent the authority of her husband in relation to others. When ministering to women, the apostles’ wives were not merely undertaking their own personal ministries, but were exercising apostolic authority on behalf of their husbands in that context. I believe that the implications of this for our churches are worth reflecting upon.
How far this represented authority extends may not be immediately clear, but it should be explored. For instance, in the Exodus Moses led out the people, but Aaron and Miriam were his right and left hands (cf. Micah 6:4), in a similar manner as some have regarded the relationship between the Father and the Son and Spirit. Miriam’s role seems to have extended to the liturgical realm, as she led the women in worship (Exodus 15:20-21). While the overall leadership role belongs to the man, there are also women leaders in the Church under their authority. I see no reason why male lead priesthood need rule out elderesses leading the women in their worship and service under and as a representation of the priests’ authority. In fact, I see good reasons why this is something that ought to be encouraged, not least as it would highlight both the distinction between the sexes in the task of worship, and their full participation within it.