Apostles to the apostles

A few days ago, Rachel Held Evans challenged male bloggers to respond to John Piper’s depiction of Christianity as a “masculine” religion. That’s why I wrote yesterday’s post about Huldah, a female prophet to whom the Jewish high priest, a male, turned for direction after rediscovering the Book of the Law.

There are many of examples of women in God’s story that contradict Piper’s claim, and today I want to look at one more.

It’s well known the 12 disciples were men. Piper makes much of this point, though J.R. Daniel Kirk has shown how Piper obscures a vital element of the gospel by doing so.

It’s also well known that in Jesus’ darkest hour, his female followers stayed close to him, while his male disciples scattered.

The women who followed Jesus feature prominently in the resurrection as well. Each gospel tells the story a little differently. In two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke), it’s the women who announce the resurrection to the remaining 11 disciples. (In John’s account, the women tell Peter and John about the empty tomb, but they don’t seem to realize why it’s empty.)

The women’s role is much more than a matter of being in the right place at the right time. According to Matthew and Mark, an angel gave them the task of announcing Jesus’ resurrection.

In the New Testament, an apostle was someone who had a direct, personal encounter with the Messiah and who, on the basis of that encounter, proclaimed the good news, teaching it with authority. The disciples are often referred to as “apostles.”

Now back to the women at the empty tomb. They are the first witnesses to Jesus’ triumph. They bring the good news of resurrection to the male disciples.

Given that Jesus’ resurrection lies at the very heart of the gospel (as Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15), we can put it even more bluntly: women proclaimed the gospel to the apostles so they could proclaim it to others.

God chose women to be apostles to the apostles.

Not exactly what you’d expect from a “masculine” religion.

To be fair, the four resurrection accounts differ — and not just in trivial ways. According to Mark, the women run in fright. They tell no one what they’ve seen because they’re terrified.

What accounts for the difference? Each writer shapes the story to serve his own purpose. Each has a slightly different point to make, so each freely modifies the details as needed.

This shouldn’t cause us to lose confidence in the reality of the events they’re describing. But it should give us pause to remember: the Bible has a context. It has a cultural backdrop. Each book had an original audience to which it was speaking.

No book presumes to say everything that could be said about everything. The Bible does not seek to give us the final word on every matter.

Multiple perspectives, multiple viewpoints live together within its pages — which should give us pause when we read something like, “I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” It may be — in fact, it is very likely — this was a specific word to a specific community dealing with a specific situation. To apply it to every church in every situation is to steamroll over the rest of the Bible, including the parts where women are apostles to the apostles.

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