Tag Archives: Early Christianity

What if Jesus had a wife?

Jesus wife papyrus

Jesus wife papyrus

We in the LCA place great emphasis on scholarly reference to Scripture, so it is surprising that, amongst some, there is a resistance to the outcomes of scholarly research on Scripture.  Some weeks ago in the news was the announcement of a Coptic ancient papyrus that includes Jesus referring to “my wife”, with another section of the fragment, containing the phrase “she will be able to be my disciple”.  The Vatican declares it a fake (more a statement of faith than rigour of research) but what if it’s not?  Scholars are constantly researching those books that didn’t make it into the canon for clues to how we might interpret the Scriptures, so isn’t this new source at least worthy of consideration?

If we insist that Jesus was not married, why is that so important to us?  Would it rock our faith if it turned out to be true?  If perhaps Jesus was married would that change our theology?   What might it mean for how we viewed women in the church?   The whole of Christendom is influenced by Augustine and Aquinas who had a very limited understanding of gender, but what might their theology of gender have been if they knew that Jesus had a wife?  How would that have affected us?

Whether Jesus had a wife seems less than central to our Christian faith, but it would certainly give cause for reflection on our current relegation of women to the margins of the church.


 Added 13th Nov – From the work of Karen King, a professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who presented the findings at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. Reference

Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her so...

Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her sons Daniel and Henry, 1848.

Early Christians didn’t agree about whether they should marry or remain celibate, and the earliest claim Jesus didn’t marry is from 200 A.D., King said.

“One of the things we do know is that very rarely in ancient literature was the marital status of men discussed,” King said in a conference call with reporters. “Silence in marital status is normal.”

Only women were identified in terms of family relationships, as someone’s sister, mother, or wife, King said. The question of whether Jesus married came up later when people wanted to use him as a model for their lives, she said.

Added 13th Nov –  Further reference to Augustine’s understanding of gender – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman… I have been traveling over the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindoo woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion/ Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the church, so is man the head of woman, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages? You Christian women look at the Hindoo, the Turkish, the Mormon women, and wonder how they can be held in such bondage…

Now I ask you if our religion teaches the dignity of woman? It teaches us the abominable idea of the sixth century–Augustine’s idea–that motherhood is a curse; that woman is the author of sin, and is most corrupt. Can we ever cultivate any proper sense of self-respect as long as women take such sentiments from the mouths of the priesthood? ―


Posted by on November 11, 2012 in sociology, theology, women's ordination


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New Testament Women Church Leaders

Mary Magdalene. Illustration from the Albani Psalter, Hidesheim, 12th Century.

Were there many New Testament women church leaders?

Below is a list of posts from Margaret Mowzko (Christians for Biblical Equity, Sydney Branch) examining New Testament women leaders in some detail.  She provides reminders that women were central among the leaders of the early Church.  Certainly female leadership is supported by multiple Biblical precedents.

My favourite posts: NT Women Church Leaders.

The Chosen Lady:  The Chosen Lady in 2 John 

Euodia and Syntyche: Church Leaders in Philippi

Priscilla: Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?

Junia: Junia and the ESV

Priscilla, Lydia and Phoebe: Working Women in the New Testament

Stephanas: Man or Woman?

Various Women: New Testament Women Church Leaders


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Ratifying the ministry – a woman’s comment

Jesus blesses a pastor, who is aware of the church's existence as a ship sailing through stormy seas.

I painted this as a farewell gift to a pastor who, last year, painted himself up a step-ladder to reach Jesus on the cross – “Pray with me”.  In the painting, Jesus, from our altar’s gilt crucifix, embraces him for his ministry.

The gospel of St Matthew was written for the early Christian church, aware of its existence as a ship sailing through stormy seas.  The ceiling of the Nave of our St Matthews church has timbers accentuating this nautical reference, especially when turned upside-down as in the painting.

The upturned nave of St Matthew's Church.
The song I found myself singing as I prepared this farewell gift is “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.  … Who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send?”  [TiS #658]  Obviously this pastor answered, as did Isaiah [ch6], “Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?  I will hold your people in my heart.”

But would not this painting be as valid with a woman also being supported, encouraged and commissioned by our Lord Jesus?
Why would it suddenly be just the ministry of men, not women, that God supports, commands and encourages?

Genesis 1:27-31 puts responsibility squarely on the shoulders of men and women together.  Matthew 28:16-20 is our Christian commissioning.

The Thesis of the Doctrinal Statements and Theological Opinions of the Lutheran Church of Australia make beautiful reading until no. 11.  And the only reason no. 11 is there is as an explanation of the way we used to do things.  It isn’t right.

Theses on the Office of Ministry – DSTO, 1950


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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in theology, women's ordination


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Women as leaders in the early church

This is a concise summary of women in Biblical writings and archeological records.  It also includes a summary of the growing restriction of women’s role by the church in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Women as religious leaders

References in the Bible & early Christian writings

Topics covered in this essay:

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Posted by on March 19, 2011 in history, theology


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Why women should be ordained: one reason for each day of the week

It is widely acknowledged that the Bible and Lutheran theology stand firmly on the side of women’s ordination. The LCA’s theology commission has twice voted in favour of women’s ordination by a two thirds majority. However, long-standing church tradition, notions of male headship, and two texts (1 Cor 14:34,35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15), read without regard to context, have persuaded many that women’s ordination is contrary to the will of God. Others are opposed for fear that the move to ordaining women may unsettle the church, or even split it. Of the many arguments that may be summoned in favour of women’s ordination, seven are given here that could be regarded as uppermost, one for each day of the week.

1. Creation. Men and women are created with equal status and dignity before God, as creatures made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28). They are made as helpers to each other, as complementary partners (Gen 2:18-25), equally tasked with the responsibilities of dominion within creation and the perpetuation of the human race (1:26-28). No differentiation in the standing of women and men before God arises from the doctrine of creation.

2. New creation. Included among the systemic evils that comprise the fallen human condition are racial prejudice, slavery, and the power that men have wielded over women from time immemorial. By baptism into Christ the harmony of creation has been restored for Christians, and thereby the divisions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female, have been dismantled (Gal 3:27-29). The upheaval in the life of the church has been slow and painful as the Spirit leads people ‘into all the truth’ concerning the renewal of creation through Christ (2 Cor 5:17; John 16:13). The movement for the ordination of women belongs to a long historical trajectory with roots deeply embedded in the New Testament era.

3. Ministry. Lutherans teach that God established the public ministry for no other purpose than to proclaim the gospel purely and celebrate the sacraments according to Christ’s institution, so that people may come to and be nurtured in the saving faith (Augsburg Confession 5). Among the impediments to that purpose in more recent times is the church’s withholding ordination from women, a stumbling block to the faith of countless men and women, young and old alike. Jesus announces dire consequences for those who create scandals of such proportions (Matt 18:6-9). In the same vein, St Paul speaks of his own willingness to do whatever is needed so that the gospel may continue on its course unhindered (1 Cor 9:19-23).

4. Women as models of discipleship. In Mark’s gospel only women are shown fulfilling the roles to which Jesus called his disciples. The others failed to understand that discipleship means taking up the cross, following in Jesus’ steps, and losing one’s life (Mark 8:34-38). The widow in the temple, on the other hand, gave her last mite, which Jesus describes as ‘her whole life’ (Mark 12:44), usually translated as ‘all she had to live on’. Again, unlike the men, the woman who anointed Jesus on the head understood that his ministry led to death and burial for the sins of the world (14:3-9). In Reformation terms, this unnamed woman was immersed in the theology of the cross. Also, she was the only person who stood by Jesus in his hour of deepest need, with physical, emotional and spiritual support. The men’s eyes were fixed solely on the glory they hoped was coming their way as Jesus’ followers (8:32; 9:34; 10:35-37).

After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, angels came and ministered to (served) him, preparing him for his life of sacrificial service (Mark 1:13). Jesus’ ministry (service) culminated as he gave his life for the world (10:45). Again, in Mark only women are shown exercising a ministry that reflects Jesus’ ministry (1:31; 15:41). The word used for the ministry of angels and of Jesus is applied only to women in Mark, not to the 12 disciples.

5. The highest offices in the New Testament church are assigned to women.

(a) Apostles. The highest office in the NT church is that of an apostle (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 2:20), one who has seen the risen Lord and been called and sent to proclaim the resurrection (1 Cor 9:1). Mary Magdalene fits the description better than anyone (John 20:18). And St Paul describes Junia as ‘pre-eminent among the apostles’ (Rom 16:7).

(b) Prophets. The second highest office is that of prophet, and as in the OT era women prophesied in the early church (1 Cor 11:5; see Acts 2:16-21; 2 Kgs 22:14; Isa 8:3).

(c) Deacons. Phoebe was a deacon of the church (Rom 16:1), the word ‘deacon’ reflecting the term used for Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice on the cross (Mk 10:45). We also learn that Prisca was Paul’s co-worker (Rom 16:3; see Acts 18:26), the term indicating that she shared in his ministry equally, in terms of status and role. At Acts 18:26, where she is called Priscialla, it is apparent that she led her husband Aquila in taking Apollos aside and explaining ‘the Way of God to him more accurately’. The names of other female co-ministers of Paul are given at Romans 16:12 (Tryphaena and Tryphosa) and Romans 16:15 (Julia and the unnamed sister of Nereus).

(d) Presbyters (elders, pastors). The two texts in the New Testament that could be said to describe most accurately the role of today’s LCA pastors are Acts 20:28 and Hebrews 13:7. Pastors are called to keep watch over themselves and their flock by proclaiming the gospel and protecting their people from ravenous wolves. Among their tasks, presbyters, a synonym for pastors and elders, are called by God to offer the holy things of God to God’s holy people. The Angel Gabriel called Mary to bear in her womb and give birth to the holiest of all things, our Lord Jesus Christ. The so-called Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) has the hallmarks of a traditional call narrative. Nobody has been called to celebrate the mysteries of God in such a complete and intimate manner as Mary, the mother of God, and then offer them–Jesus’ body and blood–to the world for the life of the world. The central function of the Church’s eucharistic ministry derives its precedence from the central role played by Mary in the history of salvation. Those who serve as pastors and priests in the church draw inspiration from none other than the Lord’s mother.

6. Folly. One cannot help but cringe at the folly of the church in failing to draw fully on the ministry gifts of women. It is unnecessary to enumerate the many ways that women’s gifts for ministry have been seen to complement those of men. Some gifts are found more frequently in women than in men, and it goes without saying that some are found more frequently in men than in women. Wherever the pastoral office is closed to women, there God’s people are being denied the rich interplay of all God’s gifts for ministry, and the church is the poorer for it.

7. Cruelty. Countless women in our church have received the inner call to serve as pastors. Who but they can tell what cruel injustice is felt when they are told that they must be mistaken? ‘God does not call women to the office of the ministry’.

Can the LCA in good conscience continue to be so hard-hearted in its dealings with such women? Admittedly, together with many family members and friends, most have left our ranks and sought refuge in safer havens. But a faithful remnant remains, unwilling to see the church hijacked by fear, literal readings of two biblical texts and a tradition that has long passed its use-by date? Surely, the time has come for the church to make a stand and vote for the ordination of women.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in theology


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