Jesus didn’t ordain women? — Prove it.

From Michael Otterson’s letter to Ordain Women:

I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles, either in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, or when the Church was restored in modern times. We only know that he did not, that his leaders today regard this as a doctrinal issue that cannot be compromised, and that agitation from a few Church members is hindering the broader and more productive conversation about the voice, value and visibility of women in the Church that has been going on for years and will certainly continue.

Here Otterson is confusing actual history with history as told in the scriptures, which I know he knows are truncated. Even if one believes that the Bible was put together by God, and that gnostic gospels throughout the centuries were supposed to be excluded, that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer glimpses into actual history, such as various relationships between real-world people as told from different perspectives.

With that said, a number of women in the Bible very likely received teachings directly from Jesus while not in the company of the twelve. In the Gospel of Mary (taken from a text that dates from the 2nd century), Mary is talking to the twelve about some stuff that Jesus told her about the nature of sin, and Peter complains that it doesn’t seem to match with what they were told [from Mary 9:4-8]:

4He [Peter] questioned them [the other apostles] about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?

5 Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?

6 Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered.

7 Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.

8 But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.

Basically, Otterson is acting like Peter. He cannot see Mary as Mary… he can only see her as a “woman” who cannot possibly have a similar relationship to the Savior that a man does. Levi seems to be more level-headed.

Yes, in the Bible, specifically Luke 6:13, Jesus chooses twelve men from a large group of disciples and names them as “apostles.” But there are gnostic texts that name women as apostles, too…that is, disciples who have “graduated” and could then “lead.” I suppose for some people, it’s too much of a stretch to imagine women in this position, but for others, the patriarchy of the canonized holy texts is clear, and Christianity only makes sense as an ethical religion if supplemented with additional information.

Here’s a question. Why in the Church scriptures is Junia named as an “apostle” (Romans 16:7)? This instance of a female apostle has created significant debate in other branches of Christianity bent to maintain male-only ordination…usually the argument is that Paul uses the word “apostle” to vaguely refer to a “learned disciple”; I’m curious of the talk of this passage in Mormonism.

In any event, the Church would have a lot of work to do to demonstrate that its ordination practices actually correspond to what happened during the time of Jesus (such as ordaining 12-year-olds). It is not something to be “taken as a matter of faith.” It’s an issue of historical fact, and despite Otterson saying that we know Jesus didn’t ordain women, we actually don’t know this.

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7 Responses

  1. Parker says:

    Apparently there were many reasons Jesus didn’t ordain women, and Otterson suggests he knows some, but not all of the reasons. I would have found it helpful if he would have shared the reasons Jesus didn’t ordain women.

    Without those reasons I am faced with the fact that neither in the BofM or in this dispensation do we have a record of Jesus ordaining anyone. The New Testament account of Jesus ordaining twelve men is a problem because the word *ordain* apparently has quite a different meaning than the Mormon concept of *ordain.* Because Jesus authorized (the more common usage) someone to baptize doesn’t mean that He placed HIs hands on heir head and ordained them to an office in the priesthood.

  2. Alan says:

    Right. Mormons aren’t the only ones who turn to the Bible to say it’s “proof” Jesus didn’t ordain women. But ordination is about making clergy and/or running an organization, whereas Jesus was more concerned with teaching. In this sense, he made no distinction between men and women. As the passage from Mary above demonstrates, the tale of the 12 apostles is in the context of a patriarchal time during which a co-ed group of teachers would’ve been unlikely. It was highly gendered, not because it was supposed to be that way, but because of the times. Peter’s hot-headedness toward Mary parallels Church leaders: “don’t mess with this clubhouse, little lady.” It has less to do with a power Jesus bestowed, and more to do with a power they bestowed upon themselves.

  3. Morning Glory says:

    There are more parallels between Jesus and Buddha than Jesus and the Mormon church. Buddhists take on followers much like Jesus did, and not just limited to twelve. And it is doubtful Jesus had just twelve disciples. Both took on male and female followers. No ordination. In Buddhism, when it appears a follower has mastered the material, so to speak, the follower is given “transmission” or permission to leave the teacher and become a teacher him or herself. I am not saying Jesus was Buddhist, but his pattern follows that of enlightened teachers in times past and all over the world.

  4. Alan says:

    Hi, Morning Glory. I totally agree about the Jesus/Buddha connection, and this is one of my favorite topics! In fact, in the gnostic Gospel of Mary I cite above, Jesus explains to Mary in Ch. 4 how the nature of sin is that

    There is no sin, but it is you who make sin when you do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called sin.

    27) That is why the Good came into your midst, to the essence of every nature in order to restore it to its root.

    This is a very Buddhist way of thinking about sin. And, of course, by the time of Jesus, Buddhism was already 500 years old and had traveled to Jesus’ area. (Jerusalem was not an isolated place.) Historically, it makes a lot of sense that Jesus would have interacted with Buddhists.

    Even in the canonized Bible, there are a number of passages from Jesus that are more Buddhist than Christians would care to admit, and certainly Mormons would care to admit, such as Luke 18:29-30 (the idea that leaving your family for the sake of the “Kingdom of God” is good); or Matthew 22:30 (the lack of marriage in Heaven).

    Anyhow, Jesus didn’t have just 12 disciples, but multitudes (men and women)…the question is rather how many “apostles” he had via “ordination.” The Mormon Church clearly has latched onto “12 men.”

    Now, here is where I disagree with you in terms of no ordination from Buddha.

    Global Buddhism is currently undergoing a similar discussion in terms of ordaining women, except the issue is that when female ordination was established by the Buddha (the first nun was actually his aunt — his foster mother), it was established in such a way that nuns are “lesser” than monks. In American “import” Buddhism (as opposed to that brought by immigrants), this is dropped, but globally, those who want to follow tradition and lineages are grappling with this gendered hierarchy…. and in the case of Tibetan Buddhism, where a female lineage has been broken, the Dalai Lama is interested in resolving the issue.

    If you’re interested, I’ve written on Buddhism and feminism, and it’s actually more formative to my thinking than Mormon feminism, because I find Mormonism to lack the kind of material basis from which to make ethical claims (not only due to its patriarchy, but issues of colonialism/race/less experience as a global religion).

  5. Parker says:

    Philip McLemore wrote a piece for Sunstone magazine several years ago, Jesus as Yoga (I think was the title). Christ’s teachings and behavior, as Phil presented it, makes more sense from an Eastern tradition than does the typical Western interpretation and overlays.

  6. Morning Glory says:

    Hey Alan

    Thanks for the information.

    You are right, for instance, there is no female Dalai Lama, and as far as I know, no female has had the title, “Rinpoche.”

    I am somewhat new to buddhism, my teacher being a former nun under Kalu Rinpoche and Trungpa Rinpoche. I heard her speak of transmission, but never ordination. However, that doesn’t mean anything. I am aware of lineages in Tibetan buddhism, as well as much of the ritual, and of course, the initiations into certain practices. Some of these are close enough to organized western religions that its enough to keep me away from officially “signing up.”

    As far as ordination, though, I don’t think the Buddists see themselves as having a supernatural power from G(g)od like the Mormons do, or the Catholics, for that matter. Does that make a difference, in your opinion? Is it all about the word is being used? Transmission versus ordination? Are they the same thing? Are they different?

    Also, in studying Buddhism, one becomes aware that teachings of Jesus, such as, “Dying for my sake,” parallels the, “Die before your Die,” of Buddha. And “Few there be that find it,” is about enlightenment attained in this life, but not referring to salvation in the hereafter. Those teachings really confuse Christians.


  7. Alan says:

    My sense is that “transmission” is about having a direct lineage of teacher/student relationships from the Buddha onward. Since monks/nuns don’t reproduce, “transmission” is a kind of alternative kinship model… the passing of the flame from one candle to the next. It’s not essential in all branches of Buddhism to have face-to-face transmission (that is, it’s theoretically possible to attain enlightenment without help), but I believe that “ordination” as a monk or nun is generally seen as central as a means of reaching enlightenment faster.

    A lot of faiths have a monastic / lay divide, which the monastics take vows of chastity and so on — and spirituality is drawn from removing oneself from the world, and reflecting about the divine (e.g., Abrahamic faiths), or enlightenment (Buddhism). Meanwhile, the lay world does the business of living in the everyday, and as a result, loses track of what “truly matters.”

    This setup didn’t make sense to a lot of people who believe the everyday is what matters (family, etc). And this was actually a central issue to the Protestant Reformation — people felt that the Catholic priests in their claim to be closer to God — was problematic, especially because it seemed like priests had built themselves up as a higher class of people. Other issues included the invention of the printing press so that the Bible no longer had to be in Latin, and so on, so that the “power” of the priests was torn down. Something similar happened in the medieval Indian context, in which “dharma” came to be seen as just as applicable to the duties of the everyday person, rather than the wealthy Brahmin caste holding all the cards to nirvana. When Buddhism came along, monastics were expected to drop all pretenses of class, and rely on lay people (for food, clothes, etc), which facilitated a mutual relationship.

    Anyway, my point is that this monastic / lay divide is important to an historical understanding of “ordination.” Enter Mormonism in 19th c. America, a time of a “Great Awakening,” when folks were annoyed with the fragmentation caused by Protestantism (basically, without the god-ordained hierarchy, churches split every which way). What emerged were “Restorationist” faiths that wanted to restore Christianity to a time when God was supposedly intervening in human history directly (like the time of the “divine right of kings”). They kept the “everyday” element, or salvation for the masses, but wanted the hierarchy, too. So, Mormon ordination became a thing where the leader was a mouthpiece for God, and lesser leaders had pieces of the power.

    The gender element is a whole other topic. Over the centuries, women have been seen to “naturally” be more part of the “world” due to pregnancy, menstruation, etc…so, faiths privileged maleness as more ethereal. This is true in Buddhism (righteous women were to be reborn as men); and in Christianity, God is a He. In Mormonism, there is Heavenly Mother, but She is basically relegated to the role of making babies while God does all the talking. But Mormons have trouble seeing patriarchy because of their belief of “being in the world” as a good thing. (Does that make sense?) Catholicism has plenty of “apostates” who want to ordain women, whereas Mormon culture seems to me to have far fewer. And a lot of Protestant faiths already ordain women…

    These topics could go in so many directions, but I’ll stop here.

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