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2. The Bible and the Ministry of Women—Part 2 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
The Bible and the Ministry of Women—Part 2
 [This article is excerpted from the author’s book Must We Be Silent?]
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference


    In part 1 of this discussion, we examined the questionable claim that there were “women priests” in the Old Testament. We also looked at the new interpretation by proponents of women’s ordination that the biblical teaching of “priesthood of all believers” eliminates gender-role distinctions.  In the course of the discussion we considered the case of women prophets like Miriam, Huldah, and Deborah. In this present article, we shall consider some other innovative claims by advocates of women’s ordination—namely, the claim that there were women leaders and apostles in the New Testament.
Jesus and the Ministry of Women

    What does pro-ordination book Women in Ministry have to say in response to the fact that Jesus did not ordain any women among the twelve apostles? The authors offer two sets of arguments.
    First, “within the social restraints of his day, Paul and the early church (like Jesus) did not act precipitously.”[1] Or as another writer states: “Custom here may have been so entrenched that Jesus simply stopped short of fully implementing a principle that He made explicit and emphatic [i.e., the inclusion of “women, Samaritans, and Gentiles”]. . . . However, at this time this may have been an ideal awaiting its time of actualization.”[2]

    Second, they argue that if opponents to women’s ordination insist that Jesus’ example of ordaining no women apostles should be followed, by the same logic, Gentiles should also be excluded from the category of apostles, since Christ never ordained a Gentile. “While Jesus treated women and Gentiles in a way that was revolutionary for His day,” argues one writer, “yet He did not ordain as one of His disciples either a Gentile or a woman. But this pattern was no more normative for the future roles of women in church leadership than for future roles of Gentiles.”[3]

    These arguments are flawed. First, it would appear that our Women in Ministry authors are simply echoing the commonly accepted paradigm that women were second-class, unjustly oppressed people in the rabbinic writings (and some argue, by implications, the Old Testament). But as other thoughtful scholars have pointed out, “such a position can be argued, citing various chauvinistic rabbinic sources, but it does not appear that all rabbinic data fit this paradigm, and it is even more questionable if the O[ld] T[estament], as a whole, can be portrayed as anti-women. More work needs to be done on this.”[4]

    But even if we assume that the “entrenched custom” of those days was oppressively anti-women, there is still no valid justification to assume that Christ acquiesced to the injustice of women. Thus, with respect to the argument that the “entrenched custom” of those times would not have permitted Christ and the early church to have acted “precipitously,” we must point out that such a view, in effect, charges our Lord Jesus Christ with insensitivity or false accommodation to the “injustice” women suffered in His day. How could this be, when Scripture teaches that Jesus never yielded to sin (Hebrews 4:15)? “Sin” surely includes the sin of gender injustice. The Gospels tell us that Jesus never hesitated to correct His culture when issues of right and wrong were at stake. His treatment of women also contrasted sharply with that of the rabbis of His day. One knowledgeable scholar perceptively writes:

“We can contrast Jesus with the rabbis as seen in the Talmud and Midrash. Jesus does not behave the same way. Women come to Him and He helps them directly. He heals them (Mark 5:25-34). On occasion He touches them (Mathew 8:14, 15). He talks to them individually, regularly in private and sometimes in public (John 11:17-44). On one occasion He even talks to a woman when both of them were unaccompanied (John 4:7-24). He teaches women along with the men (Luke 10:38-42). When He teaches, He speaks of women and uses womanly tasks as illustrations. On occasion, He makes use of two parables to illustrate the same point, one drawn from the activities of men, the other from the activities of women (Luke 15:3-10). He never shows disrespect to women, nor does He ever speak about women in a disparaging way. He relates in a brotherly fashion to women whom He knows. He has some women traveling with Him to serve Him (Luke 8:1-3). Finally, He calls women “daughters of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), explicitly according them a spiritual status like that accorded to men. One might add that after His resurrection Jesus appears to women first and lets them carry the news to the men (John 20:11-19; Matthew 28:9, 10).” [5]

    On why Christ never ordained a Gentile, the Bible provides an answer. He chose twelve Jewish apostles because in God’s divine wisdom, the church began among the Jews, and it was all Jewish at the beginning (“salvation is of the Jews,” John 4:22; cf. Romans 3:1, 2; Acts 1:8). Seventh-day Adventists understand that the 70 weeks determined for the Jews (Daniel 9:24 ff.) still had several years to run. There were no Gentile leaders in the church in Christ’s day, but there were many qualified, spiritual women. The New Testament actually does report some Gentile apostles (2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1—Silas [or Silvanus], and Timothy), but not one female apostle (we’ll look at Junia later). Thus, those who attempt to present a “Gentile” argument to counter the absence of women apostles among Christ’s followers apparently fail to understand Christ’s prophetic priority of beginning His mission with the house of Israel (cf. Matthew 10:5, 6).

    If Jesus had wanted to demonstrate that women had full access to all leadership roles in the church, He could easily have chosen and ordained six men and their wives as apostles, since the wives of apostles frequently accompanied their husbands (1 Corinthians 9:5). But He did not. Christ could have chosen and ordained at least one of the women who were actively involved in His ministry, traveling to the places He was teaching, and supporting Him and His disciples with their own money (see Luke 8:1-3). But He did not. He could have ordained His Own mother, since she already had Heaven’s certification as “highly favored” (Luke 1:28, 30). But He did not. He could have chosen and ordained Mary, just as He commissioned her to bear witness to His resurrection (Mark 16:9 ff.; John 20:11 ff.). But He did not. Christ could have ordained the Samaritan woman as an apostle, since she defied several “cultural” stigmas (a woman five times divorced, living unlawfully with a man, and a Samaritan) to become a powerful and successful evangelist (John 4). But He did not. Instead, after spending all night in prayer (Luke 6:12), Christ appointed twelve men as His apostles (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19). Why?

    Was it because He did not want to act “precipitously” in light of the “restraints of His day”? Was it because He lacked the courage to stand against gender injustice entrenched in His culture? Or was it because women were not capable or qualified? No. Jesus did not ordain even one woman as an apostle because He understood the headship principle He Himself had instituted at Creation, and He submitted to its authority.

The Apostolic Church and Women

    One author in Women in Ministry writes: “While women may not have immediately received full and equal partnership with men in the ministry of the church, evidence of women in leadership roles in the early church is sufficient to demonstrate that they were not barred from positions of influence, leadership, and even headship over men.”[6]

    Here is a paradox. How may women not “immediately” have “received full and equal partnership with men in the ministry” and yet at the same time exercise “leadership and even headship over men”? It can be only one or the other. Either they served as leaders (elders-pastors) or they did not. By inserting the word “immediately” without telling us how much time elapsed before women allegedly received the “equal partnership,” is the writer attempting to marry Biblical faith with feminist egalitarianism? The New Testament shows that women were actively involved in soulwinning ministry but never served in the headship roles of elder or pastor.

    Contrary to the suggestion that women could not “immediately” receive “full and equal partnership with men in the ministry,” the New Testament writers note the active role of women in Gospel ministry. We read about the significant contributions of Mary, Martha, Joanna, Susanna (Luke 8:2, 3; Acts 1:14), Tabitha (Acts 9:36), Lydia, Phoebe, Lois, Eunice, Priscilla, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Euodia, Syntyche, and Junia (Acts 16:14, 15; 18:26; 21:8, 9; Romans 16:1-4, 6, 7, 12; Philippians 4:3). Yet these women were not ordained to the role of apostle, elder, or pastor, not because of any “social restraints” against which the early believers chose not to act “precipitously,” but because the New Testament church understood that the Creation arrangement of headship precluded women from exercising the leadership function of apostle, elder, or pastor in the worshipping community.

Women Leaders of the New Testament Church?

    The above section shows some of the inconsistencies in Women in Ministry. On one hand, the authors argue that social restraints precluded women from “equal partnership with men in ministry.” Yet they proceed to argue that New Testament evidence suggests that some women actually exercised “positions of influence, leadership, and even headship over men.” As evidence, an impressive roster of women is listed: Phoebe, Junia, and women at Philippi—Euodia and Syntyche, etc.[7]

    One of the greatest weaknesses of the book is that while it helpfully provides an inventory of prominent women in the Bible (and in Seventh-day Adventist history), showing that women indeed functioned in spheres of genuine, significant responsibility in soulwinning ministry, Women in Ministry proves the exact opposite of what it sets out to demonstrate. Despite the significant ministry of these New Testament women, not one of them is ever described as apostle, elder, or bishop, whether ordained or nonordained (we’ll look at Junia and Phoebe shortly).

    How could the apostle Paul, having established his normative doctrine of headship (God’s creational arrangement of functional role distinctions within the partnership of spiritual equals) proceed to violate it in his actual practice? Whenever in doubt, we should supplement our study of the descriptive components of the practice in Bible times (which mention women and the significant roles they played) with an analysis of the prescriptive teaching of Paul that formed the foundation of what he and the early church practiced. Otherwise, we may give the impression that Paul was merely operating with reference to culture rather than being guided by transcultural norms. But as passages such as Ephesians 5:21 ff., 1 Timothy 2:11 ff., and 1 Corinthians 11 show, Paul did in fact establish general parameters (which he already found in the Old Testament Creation accounts) for women’s roles in the church.[8]

    In short, not only Paul’s practice, but also the principles underlying the patterns of established churches should be part of the investigation. Paul’s norms regarding women’s roles in the church are foundational; questionable inferences about what may have been the case are not.

Junia: A “Female Apostle”?

    Much is made in Women in Ministry about Junia being a “female apostle.”[9] This claim is based on the apostle Paul’s description of Andronicus and Junia as “my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7, KJV, emphasis mine).

    There are two problems in this text. First, does the name Junia have a feminine ending (proving Junia was a woman), or does it have a masculine ending (proving Junia was a man)? This is a grammatical problem arising from the Greek language. In Romans 16:7, the ending for the name of Junia in the Greek is -an, which would be the direct object (accusative) form both for men’s names that end in -as (like Elias, Zacharias, Silas, Thomas, or Cephas) or women’s names that end in -a (like Martha, Joanna, or Lydia). Therefore it is impossible to tell from the Greek ending alone whether the person described by the apostle Paul is Junias (male) or Junia (female). This explains the varied opinions among the church fathers. For example, whereas Origen (died A.D. 252) referred to the person as Junias, a man, Chrysostom (died A.D. 407) referred to this person as Junia, a woman. Church historian Epiphanius (died A.D. 403) sees the person as a man. Thus, grammatically and historically, both genders are possible.

    But let’s assume that the person Paul refers to is a woman by the name Junia. Does Romans 16:7 require us to believe that Junia was a female apostle? This is the second problem confronting interpreters. The answer hinges on how one understands the phrase translated “among the apostles” (en tois apostolois). In the Greek the phrase is ambiguous. Does it mean that Andronicus and Junia were numbered among the apostles (as the NIV has it, “They are outstanding among the apostles”), or does it mean that their reputation was well known by the apostles (as the KJV puts it, they are “of note among the apostles”)?

    How do we resolve a problem in which the Greek allows both interpretations? This is where one’s hermeneutical principles of interpretation are revealed. The historic Adventist approach is to (1) interpret an obscure passage by a plain passage in Scripture, and (2) look for any applicable precedents in Scripture, noting that one Scripture will never contradict another.

    On the basis of this “time-honored” Adventist approach, one should recognize five relevant facts: (1) Paul’s doctrine of headship was established on the Creation order (1 Timothy 2; 1 Corinthians 11; Ephesians 5). (2) Jesus Himself ordained only males as apostles, pointing back to the Old Testament patriarchs as foundations of the “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). (3) Every known apostle in the New Testament was a male—Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14, 4), Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6, 9), Silvanus (or Silas) and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6), Titus (a Greek—2 Corinthians 8:23), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). (4) While women played significant roles in the early church’s soulwinning ministry, none of them is known to have served as apostle, elder, or bishop. (5) The apostle Paul, who worked closely with these active women, taught that the headship function of elder or overseer could be held by only a person who, among other things, was the “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).

    The above considerations lead me to the conclusion that the ambiguous phrase “among the apostles” (en tois apostolois) should be understood as “of note among the apostles” in the sense that Junia was well known by the apostles, not that she was numbered among them. No New Testament evidence supports the idea that the woman Junia mentioned in Romans 16:7 was an apostle, nor is there any New Testament evidence that the man Andronicus mentioned in the same text was an apostle. The most plausible and Biblically consistent understanding is that both Andronicus and Junia were well known and appreciated by the apostles as Christian converts prior to Paul’s own conversion.[10]

    Unlike the interpretation in Women in Ministry, [11]  this interpretation does not violate clear and plain Biblical teaching on headship, the example of Jesus Christ in appointing only males as apostles, and the fact that all the known apostles mentioned in the New Testament are males.

    My conclusion is that Junia, even if a woman, could not have been an apostle. Any assertion that Junia was a “female apostle” is speculative and arguably false.


[1]    Richard M. Davidson, “Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture,” WIM, pp. 281, 282.
[2]    Jo Ann Davidson, “Women in Scripture,” WIM, p. 176. Davidson is citing Evelyn and Frank Stagg’s response to her questions: “Why did Jesus select twelve male apostles? . . . Why only Jewish men?”
[3]    Richard M. Davidson, “Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture,” WIM, p. 294, n. 111.
[4]    See Richard Hove, Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1999), pp. 104, 105, n. 35, where he cites rabbinic texts that speak quite positively about women.
[5]    Stephen Clark, Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in Light of Scripture and the Social Sciences (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980), pp. 241, 242.
[6]    Richard M. Davidson, “Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture,” WIM, p. 282.
[7]    Ibid. Richard Davidson points to the work of Jo Ann Davidson and Robert M. Johnston for support.
[8]    For a detailed critique of Richard M. Davidsons chapter in Women in Ministry, refer to Samuele Bacchiocchi’s “Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture,” in Prove All Things, pp. 65-110.
[9]    Robert M. Johnston, “Shapes of Ministry in the New Testament and Early Church,” WIM, p. 47; cf. Richard M. Davidson, “Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture,” WIM, pp. 282, 294, n. 113; Jo Ann Davidson, “Women in Scripture,” WIM, p. 177; Vyhmeister, “Epilogue,” WIM, p. 434.
[10]    We can only refer to them as apostles in the general usage of the word apostolos, meaning a “sent one.” In this sense, both Andronicus and Junia could be conceived of as missionaries—dedicated individuals engaged in the soulwinning ministry of the early church.
[11]    Robert M. Johnston lays the foundation for the speculative interpretation that Junia was a “female apostle.” While acknowledging that the phrase in Romans 16:7 (“among the apostles”) is ambiguous, Johnston believes that it is “more probable” to take it to mean that Junia was “numbered among the apostles.” He gives the following interesting reasons: “(1) It is the most natural way to take the Greek; (2) Ancient commentaries, when not ambiguous, such as that of Chrysostom, understood it that way . . . ; (3) Paul, who was always anxious to defend his apostleship, would not have spoken of the apostolic opinion in such a way as to seem not to include himself; (4) The first option [i.e., Junia being “well known by the apostles”] is not usually taken when the person in question is thought to be a man named Junias” (Johnston, “Shapes of Ministry in the New Testament and Early Church,” pp. 54, 55, n. 11). Readers should understand that the above weak reasons are the sole basis for the belief by the authors of Women in Ministry that Junia was a “female apostle.”