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Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian has graciously allowed us to use the portion of his book Community 101, where he discusses why Jesus chose only male apostles, as an article on our website.  If you'd like to read all of this outstanding book, it can be purchased through your local Christian bookstore or ordered online from www.amazon.com

Dr. Bilezikian's professional life began in his native city of Paris where he taught seven years at the European Bible Institute while serving, for part of that time, as Minister of Christian Education at the American Church in Paris.  He came to the United States in 1961 to serve for five years as pastor of the Loudonville Community Church in Albany, New York.  He then joined the Wheaton College faculty where he taught for twenty years until his retirement.  Dr. Bilezikian interrupted his tenure at Wheaton to assume the presidency of Haigazian College in Beirut, Lebanon and to teach briefly at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois.

Born and raised in France, Dr. Bilezikian is fluent in several languages.  He received the B.A. from the University of Paris, the M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and the Th.D. from Boston University.  He also pursued a post-doctoral program at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In addition to numerous articles, Dr. Bilezikian is the author of The Liberated Gospel (1977), Beyond Sex Roles (1985), Christianity 101 (1993), and Community 101 (1997), all of which have gone into multiple printings and been translated in several languages.  In French translation, Community 101 was awarded the Prix Litteraire Evangelique 2001, an award similar to an American Book of the Year award.  Beyond Sex Roles had merited the prestigious award fifteen years earlier.

Dr. Bilezikian is a member of several professional theological societies and in 1972 he was a Scholar with the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies.

He became Professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus in 1992.  In his last year as a faculty member, he was honored by his students and peers who elected him Senior Teacher of the Year.  He had received this honor previously in 1981.

Dr. Bilezikian is a founding leader of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the fastest-growing and most innovative churches in the nation.  As a professional theologian and a church growth expert, Dr. Bilezikian is frequently called to lead seminars and workshops in this country and abroad.  He has been called a "most forceful advocate of the church as community on the current religious scene."   His background and expertise have made him a popular lecturer at colleges and seminaries across the country.  He is a speaker for the Staley Distinguished Scholar Lectures

Dr. Bilezikian and his wife Maria have four adult children
 


WHY JESUS CHOSE MALE APOSTLES

Taken from Community 101 pages 74-80.   by Gilbert Bilezikian

An accurate understanding of the role of the twelve disciples during the ministry of Jesus is essential for a proper understanding of ministry in the church, especially in view of the fact that this group chosen by Jesus was exclusively comprised of Jewish males.

Apart from the Twelve, Jesus had many followers who were actively involved in ministry with and around him.  Among them were the seventy-two missionaries who spoke and healed on his behalf (Luke 10:1-20) and a group of women who traveled with him and the Twelve (8:1-3).  Among all of these, Jesus intentionally selected a group of twelve men as his disciples (students), in order to make them his apostles (missionaries).  To the Twelve he committed his teaching, and he commanded them to pass it on after his ascension in order to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19).  As such, the Twelve formed the nucleus that Christ would use to build his church, the new community (16:18).

The symbolism of the number twelve is self-evident.  Jesus made clear a relation between the old covenant people represented by its twelve tribes and the people of the new community represented by the twelve apostles, with the latter taking precedence over the former (Luke 22:29-30).  The ancient nation of Israel had begun with the patriarchs, the fathers of the twelve tribes.  The new Israel, the spiritual descendants of Abraham, began with the twelve disciples.  They were the new covenant counterpart to the twelve patriarchs.  They formed the transition group between the past and the future, between the ancient people and the new community.

From the Twelve, the constituency of God's people was expanded to include followers of Christ from both the people of Israel and from all nations in order to form the universal church.  The ultimate command of Jesus to the eleven remaining disciples was to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19).  Their mission was to form a multitude of disciples like themselves.  With the launching of that mission accomplished, they would fade into the multitude.  In other words, they were to reproduce themselves as disciples so widely as to make their own ministry obsolete.  According to the book of Acts and as is evident from the history of the early church, this is precisely what happened.  The Twelve were the pioneer servant-ministers of the new community, and their lives eventually faded into anonymity.

As historically accurate as it is, the scenario described above raises a contradiction that should not be left unresolved.  The mission of the Twelve was to lay the foundation for the establishment of a new community that would comprise men and women from all races and all ethnic groups.  Yet the initial nucleus of this new community was not at all representative of its future constituency, for Jesus had pointedly chosen twelve Jewish men.  In view of their prospective mission, it would seem to have been appropriate for Jesus to select a diversity of people, one that would reflect his intention for the composition of the new community.  A typical mix would have included three Jewish men, three Jewish women, three Gentile men, and three Gentile women.  Yet, Jesus deliberately selected a shockingly exclusive group of people--twelve male Jews--thus excluding both Gentiles and women.

At several points, the Gospels provide an explanation to this paradox, especially in that section where Jesus commissioned the Twelve by giving them his authority and sending them away to preach and heal (Matt. 10:1-8).  The Gospel writer chose this precise point to interrupt the narrative and introduce formally each of the Twelve by name.  The instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples for the conduct of their mission were then closely linked to the list of their names.

It comes as a shock that the first instruction about outreach given by Jesus to the newly commissioned disciples was one of sharp exclusion.  He strictly forbade them to go among the Gentiles or to enter any town of the Samaritans (v. 5).  Their ministry was to be strictly confined to Jewish people (v. 6).

The juxtaposition of the nominal identification of the Twelve with the prohibition for them to minister to anyone but Jews suggests that they had been selected by Jesus with this restricted mission in mind.  Indeed, the narrative establishes a close connection between the identity of the twelve disciples and the boundaries of their immediate ministry.  By linking the names of the disciples with Christ's command to minister to Jews only, the Gospel writer suggests that the disciples were chosen in function of this ministry.  They were Jews who would first minister to Jews.

Obviously, this limited ministry of the Twelve was only intended as an interim phase of their life mission.  It was a short- term outreach effort, contained within the time frame of the earthly ministry of Christ.  Soon after this incident, Jesus described his mission as one of worldwide outreach (Matt. 13:37 -38).  And before his ascension, he recommissioned the same disciples to take the gospel to all the nations and, more pointedly, to carry their witness from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).

In other words, once the work of redemption had been achieved through the death and resurrection of Christ, the exclusiveness that had favored the Jews during Jesus' earthly ministry was lifted, and he could now draw everyone to himself into the new community (John 12:32).  However, the historical process of God's progressive revelation required that, in chronological sequence, the gospel first be preached to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16).

The Jewish cultural environment within which Christ ministered with his first disciples was dominated by Judaism, the religion of the scribes and Pharisees that had developed after the Jews' return from the Babylonian exile.  On many issues pertaining to belief and practice, Jesus was in violent disagreement with the teachings of Judaism.  Yet, he had no choice but to work from within this environment to launch his worldwide ministry.  He generally handled his differences with Judaism in one of three ways.

The first was direct confrontation about issues such as temple worship, tradition of the elders, legalism, Sabbath rules, etc.  Those clashes became so threatening to the vested interests of the leaders of the people that they finally obtained Christ's sentencing as a rebel and his execution (Luke 19:47; 20:19; 22:2).

On other issues, Jesus was less adamant and more willing to make concessions.  He sometimes backed away from clashing over matters of lesser importance to his program and went along with established traditions, but not without giving God's people the benefit of his own perspective (Matt. 8:4; 17:27; etc.).

Finally, Jesus chose the way of provisional accommodation for the sake of future implantation.  He went along with undesirable situations in the sure knowledge that things would change after his resurrection.  This strategy counted on the effect of delayed action--not to rock the boat for the present but prepare for the big change at the right time (Matt. 10:27; 12:14-16, 38-40; 13:24-30; 16:4; Mark 9:9-10; John 2:20-22; 4:21-23; etc.).

It is evident that the appointment of twelve male Jews as Jesus' first disciples falls into this third category.  Since the first wave of the disciples' ministry was exclusively directed at Jews, it was inconceivable that anyone else but Jewish men could have been appointed to this task.  Gentiles were generally held apart if not in contempt, and women were not deemed worthy of being instructed or of participating in Jewish public life, much less of being delegated as instructors to the people (Luke 7:6-7; John 4:9, 27; Acts 10:28).  Therefore, under those conditions, it was inevitable that the first missionaries of the Christian movement should be Jewish males.  Had Jesus included Gentiles and women among the Twelve, he would have forfeited the future of the movement at its inception.

Theologically, the significance of Jesus' twelve apostles standing in judgment over the nation in lieu of the twelve patriarchs would have been completely lost with the inclusion of women or Gentiles among them (Matt. 19:28).  On a more practical level, the yet unregenerate hierarchical and competitive instincts of the core disciples, who fought among themselves to be first and greatest, would have stampeded any Gentile or woman among them out of ministry (Mark 9:33-34; 10:35-37).  Prejudice was so ingrained that, several years after the launching of the church at Pentecost, Jewish believers were surprised that Gentile believers could receive the Holy Spirit and become Christians without first becoming Jews (Acts 10:45; 15:5).

Jesus' selection of the disciples bears witness to his patience and flexibility.  He was willing to accommodate temporarily with the strictures that were imposed on him by the historical realities of the Jewish culture within which he ministered.  But he also knew that the day would come after his resurrection when the floodgates would open wide for full inclusion in discipleship and, therefore, in the ministry of the new community of all its members, regardless of race or gender (Matt. 28:19).

In the meantime, while Jesus acted with deference toward the sensibilities of his cultural milieu so as not to jeopardize the future of his mission, he was able to express his even greater commitment to the new community that he was dying (literally!) to create.  So, if it was inexpedient for him to appoint women as part of the Twelve, he did the next best thing.  He encouraged a group of women followers to travel with him and the Twelve and to minister alongside them on their itinerant mission (Luke 8:1-3).

As for the Gentiles, although Jesus could not integrate any of them among his first disciples, he ministered to them both within and outside of Jewish territory (Matt. 8:5-13; 15:21-28).  After his resurrection, he commanded his disciples to recruit other disciples among the Gentiles, thus making the call to discipleship a universally accessible ministry (28:19; Acts 9:36).  In this manner, he prepared for the full and unrestricted participation of all, regardless of gender or racial origin, in the work of ministry.

This new openness for universally accessible ministry was emphatically recognized by the church on the very day of its inauguration at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18).  The great paradigm shift from old to new covenant did not occur at the beginning of Christ's earthly ministry but at its end (1 Cor. 11:25).  History turned upon itself with the death and resurrection of Christ and with the subsequent coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.  The first utterance made immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit concerned a radical change in ministry roles.  With the apostles at his side, Peter formally proclaimed that, because of the new era inaugurated by the coming of the Spirit, ministries that had been previously restricted were now universally accessible to all believers without distinctions of gender, age, or class.  In obedience to the Great Commission, which Christ had entrusted to them a few days before, the disciples, represented by Peter, declared the empowerment of all believers to participate in the foremost ministry of the church as God's prophets and proclaimers of his gospel (Acts 2:16-18).

Consequently, anyone who claims today that women should not participate fully in the ministry of the church because Jesus' apostles were male simply does not understand the scriptural dynamic of the change that occurred from old covenant to new and instead tries to force on the church, Christ's new community, the standards of ancient Judaism.  The argument that women should be barred from some church ministries because Christ's apostles were all men represents a regression to preresurrection conditions.   Consistent adherence to this rule would require that not only women be excluded from ministry but also Gentiles, since Jesus and his apostles were Jews.   Church leadership and ministry should then be only assumed by Jewish men.

To put it otherwise, to be consistent, Pope John-Paul II's contention that all priests should be male because Christ's apostles were male also requires that all priests be Jews because the apostles were Jews.  Moreover, consistency also requires that priests be married, since the apostle Peter, the Pope's alleged predecessor, and other apostles were married ( Matt. 18:14-15; 1 Cor. 9:5), and since only married men with families could become overseers (1 Tim. 3:2, 4).  But thanks be to God that the New Testament declares all considerations of race, class, and gender irrelevant to the life of the church because of Christ's gift of oneness to the new community (Gal. 3:28).


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