The increasing pressure put on the church and our congregations to open the Pastoral Office to women is at an all-time high and will only increase. As our society is violently tearing down long-standing institutions while shouting, “death to the patriarchy”, members of our congregations have joined this coup d’é·tat believing that they are fighting against injustice, male privilege, and gender inequality.
Now, more than ever, it is incumbent upon us to remain faithful to Christ and His commands, given to us through His authoritative Apostles, and recognize that when we read the writings of Peter, John, and Paul, we’re not reading men who passed on to the church their opinions and their personal theologies. Instead, what they wrote, they wrote as Christ’s chosen apostles, and their words bear the exact same weight and authority as Christ’s.
In the game of Chess, there are a number of standard openings employed by the best players in the world. Some Chess players are masters of the King’s Gambit, others prefer irregular openings like the Ware Opening or the Sodium Attack. Today’s postmodern progressive liberals, like chess players, have settled into a well-worn set of rhetorical arguments designed to obfuscate, blur, and attack the Biblical texts that oppose their agenda and their beliefs. It is beyond the scope of this paper to address every one of their arguments. Instead, I will focus on one of them which I’ve named the Paul-Side Gambit.
The Paul-Side Gambit has a very well-defined goal and several variations of its tactics that are designed to achieve that goal. The basic idea behind the gambit is to attack the Apostle Paul, and his credentials as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Then allege that he was a founding member of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club whose toxic Patriarchal ideals must be opposed, rejected, and subsequently ignored so that any conversations related to women’s ordination can occur without the Apostle Paul’s disruptive and unwanted voice. The tell-tale sign that this gambit has been successfully employed is when a well-meaning Pastor points out that efforts to ordain women are out of step with 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and he is told, “We’ve moved beyond those texts”. As Christians, we do not have the freedom and latitude to take such a cavalier and dismissive attitude toward the Apostle Paul. The reasons for this are going to become crystal clear in what follows.
In my research and apologetic battles against the New Apostolic Reformation and the belief by many Charismatics that God has recently restored the Office of the Apostle to the church and has raised up a new generation of apostles in our day, it became very clear that a vast majority of Christians, due to their Biblical illiteracy, do not have a proper understanding of what the apostles were and the true authority that they possessed. This lack of understanding, of course, has played into their deception and created all kinds of confusion in their churches. Oddly enough, this same lack of understanding of the true authority of the apostles, and more specifically the Apostles of Jesus Christ, is what is being exploited by those who are pushing for women’s ordination by attacking Paul and his Apostolic credentials.
Part of the confusion regarding apostles and their authority is due to the fact that apostles were quite common in the ancient world. Even in the New Testament scriptures there are other apostles mentioned than The Apostles of Jesus Christ, and to the untrained reader, it is easy to conflate all of these apostles into one big group. But here is where we must begin to make proper distinctions. BDAG gives several definitions of the word ἀπόστολος, and the first two definitions couldn’t be more different.
An ἀπόστολος can either be a messenger with or without extraordinary status. This requires the careful Bible reader to also make this distinction. This is why the ESV translation of Philippians 2:25 regarding Epaphroditus translates the phrase “ὑμῶν δὲ ἀπόστολον καὶ λειτουργὸν τῆς χρείας μου” as “and your messenger and minister to my need”. In this text, Paul calls Epaphroditus an apostle, but by using that word, he was not in any way inferring that Epaphroditus was an authoritative apostle or an apostle with extraordinary status. Instead, he merely noted that Epaphroditus was the messenger of the church in Philippi.
The second definition of ἀπόστολος is the one pertaining to the Apostles of Jesus Christ. These are the apostles who possess extraordinary status and authority. New Testament scholar Herman Ridderbos explains the nature and depth of this extraordinary status:
The material authority of the canonical writings originates in the history of redemption because in that history the unique work of Jesus Christ himself comes to light. In Christ, the one sent by the Father and the unique Son of God—and so the bearer of divine authority—God can be said to have revealed himself as canon over against the world. But the material authority of the New Testament originates in the history of redemption in another respect. For the communication and transmission of what was seen and heard in the fullness of time, Christ established a formal authority structure to be the source and standard for all future preaching of the gospel. From the beginning of His public ministry, we see Jesus intent on sharing His own power (exousia) with others so that this authority would take visible, tangible shape for the foundation and extension of the church on earth. In that connection, the apostolate in particular should be noted. Jesus surrounded himself with twelve disciples whom He “appointed that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). We are not able to examine every facet of this apostolate here, but we can establish that the apostles’ role in the history of redemption was unique and unrepeatable. Because they not only received revelation but were also the bearers and organs of revelation, their primary and most important task was to function as the foundation of the church. To that revelation, Christ binds His church for all time; upon it He founds and builds His church.
The special significance of the apostolate in the divine plan of redemption is shown in many ways in the New Testament. The apostles are said to have been taken into the redemptive counsel of God about the sending of His Son. According to Acts 10:41, Peter said that from out of an entire nation God chose certain people (i.e., the apostles; cf. Acts 1:22, 26) to be witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, and in that way the apostolate was actually a part of God’s redemptive activity in the fullness of time.
Peter describes the significance of the apostolate in the history of redemption in more detail in Acts 10. According to Peter, the apostles are to give an authoritative and exclusive testimony in the world; they are to vouch for the truth and significance of Christ’s redemptive acts. The uniqueness of the apostolic office is also displayed in the expression “apostle of Jesus Christ.” Recent research has shown that the formal structure of the apostolate was derived from the Jewish legal system, where one person could be given the legal power to represent another person. The representative who had such power of attorney was called a shaliach (apostle), and so unique was his relationship to the one he represented that the shaliach was regarded as that person himself. Therefore to receive an apostle was to receive the person who sent him. Jesus applied this formal structure to His apostles when He said, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40; cf. John 13:20). In another place Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I also am sending you” (John 20:21). Thus in an entirely unique and exclusive sense, Christ entrusted the gospel of the kingdom to the apostles because He commissioned and empowered them to represent Him. They were His instruments and organs in the continuation of revelation. They share in the mission of Christ himself, and together with Him they constitute the rock, the foundation, and the pillars of the church (Matt. 16:18; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 2:20). 2
The extraordinary status of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, a status that did not apply to ordinary apostles, is that they could speak on behalf of Jesus because Jesus gave them that extraordinary level of authority. Therefore, to receive them is to receive Jesus Himself. This, of course, explains why the writings of the Apostles of Jesus Christ became part of the scriptures. What they said and wrote had the same authority as the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament.
A quick survey of of Paul’s epistles reveals a consistent pattern that is unmistakable, Paul constantly referred to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, and by doing so he not only assumed that he was an extraordinary apostle he intentionally communicated that he was an extraordinary apostle and was writing with the authority of Jesus.
By way of comparison, the Apostle Peter, whose apostolic credentials are never questioned, also uses this exact same language for himself at the beginning of his epistles:
When Paul’s apostolic authority and credentials were questioned and impugned by the Judaizers who had deceived the churches of Galatia, Paul begins his epistle to the Galatians by reminding them of his extraordinary apostolic authority. “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead”. (Galatians 1:1)
Not only did Paul strongly assert that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ who could speak and write with the extraordinary authority of Jesus, but he was also meticulously careful to distinguish when he was giving a command from Christ as opposed to giving his own personal opinions. This is most notable in 1 Corinthians 7:10–12
It is also significant that the Apostle Peter recognized the Apostle Paul’s status as an extraordinary apostle by acknowledging that Paul’s writings are scripture. “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:14–16)
There is much more scripture that could be brought to bear on the topic of Paul’s status as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. However, this is sufficient for our task. Let’s now consider the question of women’s ordination in light of Paul’s ability to speak with the authority of Jesus, himself.
In 1 Corinthians 14:33–38 the Apostle Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, an apostle with extraordinary authority, so much so that he has the authority to speak for Christ Himself, states:
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” (1 Corinthians 14:33–38)
Gregory J. Lockwood, author of the Concordia Commentary on 1 Corinthians has much to say about this short, yet crystal clear portion of scripture and its implications for us today. We would be wise to consider his analysis:
The apostle’s command is simple and clear: let the women be silent in the congregational gatherings (14:34)! Paul’s injunction for women covers any kind of authoritative teaching of God’s Word—the leading role in speaking or teaching when the church assembles for worship. Just as clear is the parallel in 1 Tim 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach.” Here in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul may be focusing primarily on women’s participation through tongues-speaking and prophecy. This is confirmed by his use of λαλέω, “to speak,” throughout chapter 14. After frequent references to speaking (λαλέω) in tongues and three references to speaking prophetically (λαλέω again, 14:3, 6b, 29), practices which must be regulated in an appropriate way (14:27–32), he now adds this further regulation, commanding the women not to “speak” (λαλέω, 14:34) in church…
It should go without saying that the apostle’s prohibition should not be construed literalistically, so as to make Paul’s injunction wider in scope than is justified by the present context. Paul is not saying that women should be totally silent and not join in parts of the corporate worship such as the “amen” (14:16), the psalms and hymns, or the confessions and responses…
Paul hastens to add that this prohibition is not some arbitrary imposition of his own authority. Rather, it is grounded in the divine will. The passive form of the verb ἐπιτρέπω, “to permit,” in the phrase “it is not permitted” (οὑ … ἐπιτρέπεται, 14:34) indicates that God is behind the command, as does the final clause in the sentence, “as the Law also says” (καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει, 14:34). Behind the apostle’s word (cf. 1 Tim 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach”) stands the word of God…
Finally, Paul clinches his argument with an appeal to a “command” (14:37) of the Lord Jesus (cf. Paul’s earlier appeal in 9:14 to Jesus issuing a specific command: ὁ κύριος διέταξεν). Anyone claiming prophetic or spiritual discernment should recognize that to defy Paul at this point is to defy the Lord himself (14:37). Paul’s injunction that women should be silent in church is no light matter. It may not be dismissed as a temporary concession to a first-century congregation influenced by Jewish patriarchy. Nor is the authority of the command at all dependent on the prevailing culture; … this command of the Lord is countercultural, even in its first-century setting, not a response to or a result of culture. So far in this epistle Paul has used the word “command” (ἐντολή) only in 7:19, where he places great emphasis on the importance of keeping the divine directives: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but [what counts is] keeping the commandments [ἐντολῶν] of God.” Now, in his only other use of ἐντολή, “command,” in the epistle, he insists that what he is writing about women’s subordination at public worship is a divine command to be accepted in the obedience of faith.
Most likely Paul is reminding the Corinthians of a command which came directly from the Lord Jesus himself and impressed itself on the memory of the disciples (although it was never recorded in the gospels). Similar examples of unwritten sayings of the Lord are found in Acts 20:35 and 1 Thess 4:15 (cf. Jn 20:30; 21:25). Alternatively, the phrase “the Lord’s command” (1 Cor 14:37) could be synonymous with “the Law” (14:34) and “the Word of God” (14:36), thus underlining Paul’s earlier appeal to the opening chapters of Genesis. In that case, the injunction rests on the written text of Genesis, which expresses the words, will, and action of the Lord. 3
It is painfully clear from this single text that the Apostle Paul’s prohibition that forbids women from preaching and teaching in the Church is not the result of his opinions, preferences, a capitulation to the culture, latent misogyny, male privilege, or a subscription to toxic patriarchy. Instead, Paul is not the one barring women from the pastoral office, Jesus is. Let that sink in. Paul unequivocally states that Jesus Christ commands women to be silent in the churches. Which churches? Answer: all the churches of the saints! Therefore, to oppose the Apostle Paul, this text and its cross reference in 1 Timothy 2 is to oppose and disobey Jesus Christ. Consider the magnitude of this fact. Jesus in John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus then says in v23–24. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” It is no small thing to refuse to obey Jesus’ commands because in so doing we are also disobeying the Father as well. As Christians and as pastors we are not called to disobey and oppose the commands of our Lord and God. Instead, we are called to proclaim, guard, and obey them. There are no two ways about it and, yes, this issue is that simple. Conclusion
The Paul-Side Gambit is now a tactic that you can identify and knockdown. Its fundamental strategy of undermining the authority of the Apostle Paul in order to silence his voice regarding the question of women’s ordination simply cannot be permitted to stand. The reason for this is that contrary to the false and slanderous accusations of those using this gambit, the Apostle Paul was not recording a prohibition based on sinful biases. Instead, Paul was speaking with full apostolic authority within the office of Apostle of Jesus Christ, and the commands he wrote were true commands of the Lord Jesus which we have no freedom to ignore or contradict.
Arndt , William et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 122. ↩︎
Ridderbos, Herman N.. Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (pp. 30-31). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
Lockwood, Gregory J., 1 Corinthians, Concordia Commentary (Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 2000), 508, 511–512. ↩︎
Pastor Chris Rosebrough is a bi-vocational theologian and is a recognized voice in Confessional Lutheranism. Pastor Rosebrough is the Captain of Pirate Christian Radio and the host of Fighting for the Faith. Fighting for the Faith is a Christ-Centered and Cross-Focused daily apologetics internet-radio program with a global audience.