Paul realised the revolutionary nature of the Christian life. The world into which he was born had, as all societies do, its established hierarchies. In Judea a male Jewish rabbi held a position of more privilege than another man, whist men held more privileged positions than women, although social class was also a differentiation. Gentiles were not allowed to eat with Jews, and Samaritans were to be shunned. Into this world came the message of the Messiah. Paul is clear about the significance of this.
To the Gentiles he proclaims: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” He criticises the Corinthians for the way they have been discriminating against the poor. He makes it clear to Philemon that Onesimus, his slave, is his equall when worshipping God and needs to be treated as such. He could not have put it plainer to the Galatians:
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And so we are. The poor God will, we are told, exalt, and the mighty shall be put down from their high positions; the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It was no wonder that Jesus was crucified by the authorities. If this had been a secular message it would have been seen now as communism, but it is not a secular message, it is a call to hope and redemption to us all.
But as part of that, it seems plain that one of the things that was supposed to mark Christian communities was a want of hierarchical differentiation. Grace is free, it cannot be merited and you and I cannot earn it. If we are “good” that is the outworking of Grace and the hope that is in us, it is not because somehow we are earning salvation. Yes, we run the race, as Paul did, because each and every day we wrestle with sin and with our fallen natures. But there is nothing we can do to win Grace.
The twelve Apostles were all Jewish men, and that was to be expected. Thy represented the twelve tribes of Israel. But long ago the Church decided there could be more than twelve bishops and that they did not need to be Jews. Why then, in this revolutionary new life in Christ did they need to be men?
It seems clear from Scripture that they were not all men. Despite centuries of men (interestingly usually from the Reformed traditions) claiming that there was a man called “Junias” who was an Apostle, it is clear that there was no such man, rather there was a woman of that name. As C451 has written on this I will say no more, except to wonder why, even now, men are at such pains to mansplain that the word “Apostle” does not, here, mean what it usually means. It’s a wonderful example of circular logic and goes like this: “we (men) know that all Apostles of the sort of Apostle that Peter was, are men, so, given we have to accept that Paul called this woman an apostle, that word cannot mean here, what it usually means.” Honestly, you could not make it up – except of course, they have. Oddly, when “Junias” was the preferred reading, no one thought anything other than that “he” was an apostle of the usual sort.
What cannot be disputed is that women prophesied in the early Church: Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied; women in Corinth prophesied (albeit that some didn’t wear head coverings, an issue to which I will return in a later post); and we know that prophesy in the early church had an educational function. We see from Acts, as my next post will outline, how truly the early Church lived up to the revolutionary idea that all were equal in Christ, and I will leave to a third post further reflections on the role of female “Apostles” in Paul’s church, and the issue of how, by concentrating on a particular interpretation of a few verses, that revolutionary insight was watered down by later generations. But for now, I’ll stop here.