A. No, for two reasons. First, deacons were servants of the congregation and women could easily fill the role of deacon without violating cultural norms. But elders were foremost teachers and leaders. First Century Christians would never have accepted women as elders. Indeed, few women would have been qualified to be elders, due to lack of education or exposure to the world. The same cultural conditions that dictated that women not teach and that women not ask questions in the assemblies made eldership an impossibility.
Second, there is no reasonable basis to be found in the scriptures to subject women to men. If women can’t be elders, then that would be the only place where women are subjected to men purely due to their sex. If this is fundamentally, eternally wrong, why did God make Deborah a judge over Israel?
Q. If there truly is neither male nor female in Christ, why did Jesus only appoint male apostles?
A. Everett Ferguson argues that although “Jesus transcended society’s conventions in this treatment of women, it is notable that the Twelve and the Seventy were only men.” But Ferguson fails to consider alternative explanations for Jesus’ preference for male missionaries, such as the nature of Jewish society.
The respect shown by Jesus toward women cannot be overstated. Indeed, C. F. D. Moule states that in light of First Century patriarchal culture, Jesus’ behavior toward women is so extraordinary as to prove scripture’s supernatural authenticity. The Phenomenon of the New Testament (Napierson, IL: Allenson, 1967), page 65.
There are numerous examples, ably catalogued by many authors. Perhaps the most telling is Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, a conversation that violated numerous social conventions of the day. It was unimaginable for a Jewish Rabbi to discuss deep matters of religion with any woman-but to speak at length with a Samaritan woman-and alone! It was unheard of. Clearly, Jesus behaved toward women in a manner inconsistent with then current culture. And yet even His behavior was limited by culture. After all, Jesus could not take on the task of educating all the women in the Roman Empire. He could only educate those women that He came into contact with; and He did so.
But Jesus could not prudently appoint women as apostles. The same cultural limitations that dictated against female elders even more so dictated against female apostles. The apostles were destined to lead the first church formed in Jerusalem. Osburn, Women in the Church 2, p. 126, comments,
True, Jesus did not include women among the twelve, but the logistics of women being in that role were simply impractical and would have scandalized and obscured Jesus’ true mission.
N. T. Wright points out that Jesus’ choice of 12 apostles is no coincidence. He was obviously, consciously paralleling the 12 tribes of Israel, symbolizing that the community he was founding would be the new Israel. As the apostles stood for the 12 sons of Israel, they had to be men. And this is, to me, the most likely explanation.
Moreover, the church struggled with accepting Gentiles, and it continued Jewish ritual practices for many decades — even under apostolic leadership. The Jews of First Century Jerusalem would never have accepted women apostles, and many would have rejected the faith and been lost rather than submit to a woman overseer. The fact that the apostles were to lead the first congregation also explains why Jesus could have female disciples (e.g., Luke 8:1-3) but not apostles.
Just so, Jesus did not travel Palestine freeing slaves from their masters. Rather, Jesus freed both the slaves and their masters from sin and taught them to treat everyone with respect. Jesus went far beyond the culture of the day, and yet even Jesus was to some extent limited by the culture in which He lived. We should not allow those cultural limitations to become a part of our 21st Century doctrine.
Q. If there really is “neither male nor female,” then doesn’t your position approve homosexual “marriages”?
A. Paul is calling for a return to ways things were before the Fall of Man, that is, to Genesis 2.
(Gal. 1:4) [Jesus] gave himself to rescue us from the present evil age … .
The “evil age” began in Genesis 3, with the Fall of Man. God made man and woman, but He made them differently, to complement one another and to complete what was lacking in one another. Thus, “neither male nor female” contradicts the domination of women by men that began in Genesis 3, but not the original design of God that the two become one flesh, be fruitful, and multiply. God never meant for two men to become one flesh, and Paul certainly does not teach otherwise in Galatians — how could he do so while teaching that Christianity is about undoing the curse of Genesis 3?