Why Jesus did not choose a
woman among the apostles
Case study on Matthew 10,1-4; Mark 3,16-19 and Luke 6,13-16
Enlarged reflection in the light of principle 7:
the growth of understanding of what God really wants
Let us remember the
interpretation of the Catholic Church's teaching authority.
Pope John Paul II issued the
following decree in 1994:
The Declaration [Inter Insigniores of 1976] concludes
that the Church "does not consider herself authorized to admit women to
priestly ordination." To its fundamental reasons the document adds other
theological reasons which illustrate the appropriateness of the divine
provision, and it also shows clearly that Christ's way of acting did not
proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI
later explained: "The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental
constitution, her theological anthropology-- thereafter always followed by the
Church's Tradition--Christ established things in this way."
In my Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem [of 1988], I
myself [Pope John Paul II] wrote in this regard: "In calling only men as his
Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so,
he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behaviour, he emphasized
the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing
customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time."
In fact, the Gospels and the Acts of the
Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God's eternal plan:
Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. Mark3:13-14; John 6:70), and he
did so in union with the Father, "through the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:2), after
having spent the night in prayer (cf.Luke6:12). Therefore, in
granting admission to the ministerial priesthood, the Church has always
acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in
choosing twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf.Revelation 21:14) . .
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be
removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the
Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the
brethren (cf.Luke22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever
to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be
definitively held by all the Church's faithful.
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 22 May 1994.
What to say about this?
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It is good to recall the observations we
have already made during our first analysis of the appopintment of the twelve:
1. The particular context of Jesus' own preaching
explains his option to choose 'twelve new patriarchs' instead of the old
patriarchs of the tribes. The context shows it was not a
2. At least five important
features of the original call of the twelve have not been continued in later
* the number twelve
* personal selection by Jesus
apostles got power to heal the sick
* all were Jews
* all were free
If so many features were changed, why would the
male gender of the apostles constitute a permanent norm?
3. The absence of women was a purely negative fact.
From other examples we know that Jesus did not establish
permanent norms by not doing something.
Conclusion: The appointment of the original
twelve cannot be legitimately claimed to establish a permanent norm excluding
women from the priestly ministry.
were worked out more fully here.
The ministry of women is an issue for the
Church in which the full intention of Jesus is only being realised during our
Whole books have been written about this. I
recommend my own books: The Ordination of
Women in the Catholic Church and The
Women Deacons of the Early Church. Here I present a short historical
overview, comparing the women's issue with racial equality and human
Stage One. JESUS' SPIRITUAL
During the three years of his
public ministry, Jesus' words and deeds brought about a revolutionary new
reality, the extent of which could not be realised during his life time.
Though beginning his ministry among his own Jewish
nation, Jesus did not reject people belonging to other races.
As the suffering servant, he proclaimed his mission
was to bring salvation to the whole of humankind.
Jesus accepted slavery as a social fact in his day.
He did not explicitly call for slaves to be freed.
However, he always preached support for the poor,
for the socially oppressed, for the underdog. See also
our case study on slavery.
Jesus invited women to discipleship as much as men
and on the same
He entrusted the
eucharist to women as much as to men.
Stage Two. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE
IN THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH
The apostolic communities tried
to live up to the changes brought by Christ. Equality and equal rights were
acknowledged in principle. The full social implications remained large
The Council of Jerusalem officially members from all
races as equal in the Church (Acts 15,1-29).
Paul often proclaimed it as a principle: "God has no
favourites" (Romans 2,11; etc.).
"In Christ, there is no distinction
between slave and free person" (Colossians 3,9-11; etc.)
However, slavery remained a social
reality (Colossians 3,22 - 4,1;etc.) See our case study
on household codes.
Paul declared the fundamental equality of women and
men (Galatians 3,27-28). The first women were ordained deacons (Romans 16,1-2).
However, women remained in
an inferior social status and traces of prejudice are apparent in
Stage Three. CHRIST'S REAL
INTENTIONS OVERSHADOWED AND OBSCURED
BY DOMINANT CULTURES
The Fathers of the Church
frequently misread Scripture in the light of the Greek and Roman cultures.
Their thinking was formalised by the theologians of the Middle Ages and - worst
of all - enshrined in the emerging codes of church law.
The implications of racial equality were often
tested in Christian history.
After the Reformation which re-introduced some Old
Testament ideas, there have been crises in many countries. Colonised nations
were looked down upon, especially black races. Apartheid in South Africa was
endorsed by some Christian Churches.
Theologians worked out four just
titles for holding slaves: people captured in war, persons condemned to slavery
for a crime; persons selling themselves or their children into slavery;
children of a mother who was a slave.
Church lawyers and popes accepted
slavery as an institution willed by God. This was re-affirmed by Pope Pius IX as late
Under influence of Roman Law and local cultures,
prejudices against women were laid down in
Church law and practice.
Women were treated as
prone to sin and
unclean in liturgical context.
Even the ordained diaconate of women that had existed for a thousand
years was discontinued.
Stage Four. TIME OF DISCERNMENT AND
Under pressure of widespread
social reform and improved scriptural and theological studies the Church is
gradually waking up to reconsider enshrined practices. The true implications of
many Gospel principles are being rediscovered.
Starting from Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), church
leadership became more aware of the need to support social reform including the
combating of every form of racism.
The Second Vatican Council endorsed this fully in
its ground breaking decree Gaudium et
The secular liberation movements found strong
support among Catholic theologians and bishops.
After prophetic protests by many in the Church, the
Second Council denounced all forms of slavery as 'contrary to the mind of
The surge of secular feminist thought and action has
begun to be echoed in the Church.
In spite of efforts by Vatican leadership to
suppress the women issue, a vast majority of
thinking Catholics now support complete recognition of women also in the
is understandable why the election of the twelve was looked upon as excluding
women in the cultural climate of past days. The time has come for the Church to
re-examine the scriptural evidence and formally accept
that Jesus' electing only men as apostles did not constitute a permanent
© John Wijngaards
The texts in our course
Scripture Correctly were written by
John Wijngaards in 2009. Part of the contents is based on his earlier
publications, in particular:
to the Gospels (New Delhi 1970),
- God's Word to Israel
- Handbook to the Gospels
(Ann Arbor 1980),
- Historicity in the Old
Testament (Bangalore 1983)
- and Together in My Name
Illustrations in the video
clip by Jackie Clackson.