Ministry (24): Why Jesus chose twelve men

Yes, Jesus called only men to be Apostles. But this does not answer the question of why a ministry cannot also be conferred on women. Because His choice had absolutely nothing to do with that. Christ Himself says so quite clearly.

The Catechism of the New Apostolic Church leaves no doubt about this: “Everything that church is and will ever be is founded upon the word, work, and nature of Jesus” (CNAC 6.3). It is also clear: “Jesus Christ Himself directly gave His church only one ministry, namely the Apostle ministry” (7.4). And finally: “From among His disciples, Jesus Christ chose twelve men and appointed them as Apostles” (7.4.2).

Exclusively men: this is what Matthew 10: 1–4, Mark 3: 13–19, and Luke 6: 13–16 recount. Does this mean that Jesus Christ thought women to be unsuitable to act as ambassadors in His stead? He never said that. In fact, He did not provide any reasons for the choices He made. And yet His own words show what He actually wanted to say by electing the twelve Apostles.

A sign of new beginnings for the people of God

“The Lord is there.” With these words the book of Ezekiel ends (48: 35). This is the name of the end-time city. Its twelve gates are named after the patriarchs of the people of Israel. This is the spiritual, geographical, and political rebirth that the book of Isaiah speaks of in chapters 2, 4, 11, 32, and 35—the renewal through the Messiah: “He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11: 12).

The sign was given by Jesus Christ with the calling of the twelve Apostles. He makes this clear to His disciples: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19: 28). And this is how He is then understood, for example when the Revelation of John says of its end-time city, New Jerusalem: “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21: 14).

Not daughters but sons

The calling of the Twelve is a sign, as Judaism already knew it from the ancient prophets. The Apostles stand for the twelve sons of Jacob and thus represented the entire nation of Israel. By instituting this circle, Jesus shows how far-reaching His message was to become and that He would fulfil the promises of restoring a new people of God.

The role models that God’s people identified with were the sons of Jacob, the patriarchs, and therefore only men. If Jesus Christ had also called women into this circle, His contemporaries would not have recognised the number twelve and would not have understood His sign. His choice therefore had nothing whatsoever to do with the question of whether a ministry could be conferred on women, but was symbolic in the cultural context of the time.

Despised as witnesses

“You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). This is how the risen Lord outlined His mandate to the Apostles. At that time, however, this could only be done with men because of the societal conditions and the cultural obstacles women faced.

For one thing, the preaching began among the Jewish population and took place in the synagogues at first. Examples of this are found in Mark 1: 39 and from Mark 6: 1 onwards, as well as in Acts 13: 14 and 17: 17. Only men were permitted to speak in the synagogues. Female Apostles would not have had a chance.

And secondly, only men were allowed to testify in Jewish courts. At that time, women alone hardly had a legal status. They were treated as inferiors and their testimony was disparaged. The Apostles responded to the Easter message of the women accordingly: “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24: 11).

Contrary to all cultural conditions, however, the risen Christ showed Himself first to women, making them principal witnesses.This had implications for early Christianity. Women played a much larger role than is often thought. This is what we will explore in the next part of this series.

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Andreas Rother
ministry, Doctrinal statements