We have looked at a few problems with the patriarchal reading of Scripture, and we will today address what is possibly the largest problem with it. Patriarchalists and hierarchical-complementarians have not taken into account the monumental change wrought by Christ in the transition between Old and New covenants. Having been influenced by a vocal and influential movement that emerged in the 1970s (called variously Dominionism, Theonomy, or Christian Reconstruction), the neo-Calvinist world has come to oppose any suggestion that the Old Testament has been canceled by the New. While there is great continuity between the Old Covenant and New Covenant in a number of ways, this has led to downplaying the radical transformation and change from the Old Covenant which Jesus brought about with the inauguration of the New Covenant.
The result of this attempt to downplay the discontinuity between covenants has been the corruption of the original context in which the Old Testament was written, opening the Church up to actually muting the testimony of the New Covenant. Try to bring up anything you believe has been altered by the NT and find Matt. 5:17-18 thrown in your face as prima facie evidence that you simply must be wrong. This hermeneutical suspicion of any change between covenants has given rise to a number of ways in which we can actually get around the weight of Jesus’s teaching, dismissing those readings as “compromised.” In this way we have actually worked to file down the New Testament so that it fits better with the Old Testament, rather than recognizing the changes for what they are and letting Jesus and the Apostles reshape our understanding of the Old Testament.
As the Person who ushered in such a new covenant, one that transcended the Old and overcame the barriers it put up, Jesus is the focal point for understanding what the New Covenant did. Thus we must start with Him in order to understand some of the things that were altered from the Old Testament.
Jesus the Hermaphrodite
We have already looked at Adam as a symbolic hermaphrodite before the creation of Eve, an “earth creature” which contained both sexes within himself without differentiation. We saw that God then divided the man into two and reunited the halves to be “one flesh” again, in a new and glorified form. This act parallels the many acts of dividing which God performed in the creation account, dividing light and darkness, land and sea, day and night, and so on. The division of creation and the division of man are parallel, and the process of reunifying the divisions of creation is the reunification of man into “one flesh.”
Jesus also goes through this process of division and reunification. He was born of God similar to how Adam was made of God. In His life He gathered a corporate body to Him and loved them greater than His own flesh, and went to the cross for them. In His death, He sank into “deep sleep” and was pierced in the ribcage, out of which (in the words of St. Augustine) poured forth the blood of redemption and the water of Baptism, the means of our cleansing and commission as people of God, the Bride and Body of Jesus.
But then He departed again, ascending into heaven to prepare for us a place in His Father’s House (John 14:1-3). The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of this house as the heavenly Tabernacle. After “making purification for sin, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” having become “much superior to angels,” (Heb. 1:3, 4). This was done so that He might “bring many sons to glory” as “founder of their salvation,” (Heb. 2:10). He “has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are types of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf,” (Heb. 9:24). The author of Hebrews tells us that His is our hope, by going ahead of us to prepare for us a place there. “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a Hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,” (Heb. 6:19-20). This word “forerunner” (prodromos) refers to a messenger who runs ahead of an army to send news or instructions to their destination. The rest are soon to follow and those at their destination ought to get ready to meet them. And just as Jesus ran before the great train of saints, so those saints are to run after Him. In chapter twelve we are told that He ran ahead to scale the mountain of God and that we are to follow, never stopping or slowing until we have gained the summit. “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith[fulness],” and at last in A.D. 70, “you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” (Heb. 12:1-2, 22-23).
Paul pictures this process as a union with Christ by the Spirit. Through Baptism we are united with Jesus. “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For we have been united with Him,” (Rom. 6:4-5). “In Him you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit [in Baptism]. who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,” (Eph. 1:13-14). Christ is the fullness of all things (Eph. 1:9-10). The Father “gave Him” “to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all,” (Eph. 1:22-23). In Christ the Father has “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Jesus,” (Eph. 2:6). In union with Christ, who ascended to the heavenly Tabernacle and the heavenly Mercy Seat/Throne, the Church has been raised to the same place, dwelling in Him as His very Body, His very Incarnation. We dwell in Him in the highest place, and He dwells with us on earth in the Church, which has been brought into the very Godhead of the Trinity. We are in Christ by means of the Spirit, and the Father dwells in the Spirit and the Son just as the Son dwells in the Spirit and the Father, and the Spirit dwells in the Father and the Son (for more on this theme, see Fairbairn, Life in the Trinity). Because He rules over all things, we rule over all things in Him. Because He fills all things, the Church fills all things in Him. Because He is the High Priest commissioned to serve in the heavenly Temple, so too the Church, and each of us as members of the Church, His Body, are all of us High Priests commissioned to serve in the heavenly Temple.
Because we’re each in union with Him by Baptism, gender no longer stands as any obstacle as a means of access to God or as a means of serving in the heavenly Temple, the Church. The carefully constructed hierarchy of graded holiness under the Old Covenant no longer applies. Christ’s elevation above every other authority means that we are elevated above every other authority in Him, which in turn means that we have been lifted above the top of the walls and dividers which had been put in place under the Old Creation, which limited who can participate in public worship and who is eligible to be commissioned to serve as High Priest, whether we are Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Christ is the final, spiritual hermaphrodite who unites all those who have been raised to the Throne in Him together into a single Person, a single Body. By His cross He was “abolishing the Torah of commandments expressed in ordinances,” (Eph. 2:15), “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” which He “set aside, nailing it to the cross,” (Col. 2:14). This was done so that there could be “one body and one Spirit,” “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” (Eph. 4:3, 5-6).
There is no more sweeping defense of this point than Galatians 3. “For in Messiah Jesus you are all sons of God, through faithfulness. For as many of you as were baptized into the Messiah have put on the Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Messiah Jesus,” (Gal. 3:26-29).
We’ll discuss the implications of the three barriers in a moment. But first we need to introduce what Paul is talking about. Galatians was written to respond to the arguments of the Judaizers, who argued that the Torah had to be kept in addition to baptism in order to be saved. We have already seen that the Torah was the series of graded holiness and limited service of the Old Testament lay Israelite, and this limitation meant that Gentiles, women, and slaves were excluded from priestly service. The very basis of the covenant, circumcision, was exclusive to men, for example.
But now baptism has been established as the means of entrance into the priestly people, which fulfills circumcision (Col. 2:11-12). Baptism also fulfills the ceremonial washings of the Old Covenant, which were symbolic-resurrections and symbolic-recommissionings to the status of priestly people (Spencer, Holy Baptism). And as scholar Peter Leithart has demonstrated, Baptism fulfills the ordination service of the Israelite priests (Leithart, Priesthood of the Plebs).
First, Paul says that the union forged between the believer and Jesus in Baptism has the effect of making them all “sons of God.” This is the evidence which he puts forward as evidence that the barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and male and female have truly been overcome. Because the believer dwells with Christ in His Body, raised to the highest heaven and incorporated into the Son of God, every believer becomes a son of God by nature of this union with Christ, elevated to the same place as Christ, no matter their race, their station in life, or their biology.
Next, Paul establishes this point by arguing that Baptism is a symbolic exchange of the clothing. As many as have been Baptized into Jesus have “put on” Jesus. Salvation/vindication/righteousness are often pictured as being robed or clothed, and often Kings and judges are clothed by the Spirit (Judges 6:34; 1 Chron. 12:18; 2 Chron. 6:41; Psa. 35:26; 109:29; Prov. 31:25; Isa. 61:10; Zech. 3:3-5; Luke 24:49). The Old Man/New Adam typology stands in the background (Col. 2:11-12; 3:9-10). But for the Israelite, the most important pieces of clothing were the Priestly garments (Ex. 28, 39). The clothing rite of the Priests conferred investiture and ordination to serve in the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex. 28:3-4; 29:5-9; 35:19; 40:12-13; Num. 20:25-28). Paul has such investiture in mind and alludes to references to the priestly garments in Gal. 3:27 (2 Chron. 6:41; Psa. 132:9, 16; Zech. 3:1-5; Isa. 61:10). The allusion to sonship and being heirs (Gal. 3:29) is also an allusion to the priestly tribe of Levites, who served in the Temple and guarded it (Leithart, Priesthood, 106). Yahweh had promised that the Levites, who had no possessions or landed property, have Himself as their inheritance (Num. 18:20; Deut. 18:2; Josh. 13:14); they were counted as sons by adoption (Num. 3:40-51; 8:14-19; Ex. 13:11-16) and became “heirs” of God by means of their ordination rite which began with a change of clothing (Num. 8:7). Baptism, then, is a washing from uncleanness to restoration among the people, anointing to rulership in Christ as King, and investiture and ordination as High Priest/Levite to serve in the heavenly Temple in union with the True High Priest and True Levite.
The letter to the Hebrews presents the action of Baptism as the destruction of the Holy Place in order to bring the Holy of Holies and the Courtyard together under a single tent. The author describes the Tabernacle in some detail (Heb. 9:1-7) before commenting that the fact that the High Priest could only enter once a year, and not without blood (v. 7). “By this,” the author writes, “the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the Holy Places [Holy Place and Holy of Holies] is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age),” (vv. 8-9a). There were two tents in the Tabernacle, the tent that enclosed the courtyard, and inside this was another tent which enclosed both Holy Place and Holy of Holies. The author of Hebrews plays with what the Tabernacle symbolizes by speaking of the Holy Place as symbolic for the present age, that is, the Age of Jew and Gentile separated, the Age of Circumcision. The Tabernacle symbolized the cosmos and the ordered structure of the world:
Cosmos Tabernacle Society
World Courtyard Gentiles
Land Holy Place Israel
Sanctuary Holy of Holies High Priest
Thus, when Hebrews says the first section symbolizes the present age, he means that the Holy Place symbolizes the Jewish nation in contradistinction to the excluded Gentiles. Because of this, he can write that “According to this arrangement” the Torah cannot “perfect the conscience of the worshiper,” but can “deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation,” (vv. 9-10). When Israel was swept aside in A.D. 70 it put an end to the symbolic Holy Place and Israel, resulting in a new arrangement, an undivided house.
Cosmos Tabernacle Society
World Courtyard/Holy Place Old Humanity
Sanctuary Holy of Holies Christ/Church as High Priests
The old divisions were swept aside and the curtain blocking entrance to the Holy of Holies would stand open, so that the world could behold God’s glory and any who had been baptized could enter and serve in the heavenly Holy of Holies, in union with Christ who serves there. As Leithart notes, “In the remodeled house, the dividing curtains are rent and the wall of separation broken, so a single baptismal doorway opens into an undivided house (cf. Heb. 9). Whereas priestly “baptism” once marked out an inner ring within the community of circumcision, ordination and circumcision are now enfolded into Christian baptism,” (Priesthood, 151).
Through His unique sacrifice and His entry into the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus has shaken the Old Covenant house, and baptism temporally and geographically extends His disruption of heaven and earth. By its very form, baptism conjugates the Old rite, administering the once-for-all priestly bath to those outside the lineage of Aaron, and thus enacts the promise and threat of Shiloh: formation of a new priestly house crowned and enthroned together with Melchizedek, the dissolution of priestly gradations within the seed of Abraham, the end of geneological qualifications for priests, and the replacement of the divided sanctuary. As first-century Jewish converts, once divided into priests and laymen (cf. Acts 6:7), were baptized, a homogeneously priestly people emerged. Baptism formed a new Israel out of the old, molding her into the eschatological race of the Last Adam, the kingdom of priests. It is the efficacious sign of the clothing change of heaven and earth, destroying antique Israelite order and remapping the terrain. (Leithart, Priesthood, 197).
In this way Baptism broke down the barriers of Jew and Gentile. But there are two more barriers it overcomes.
Slave and Free
By raising the baptized person up over every power and authority on earth or in heaven, uniting them with Christ enthroned in heaven, all slaves that underwent Baptism were likewise raised above their masters and all who believed they could control them. This had the effect of allowing slaves to serve in the priesthood, entering into the Holy of Holies to serve there. Any slave was therefore free to serve in the covenant community as equals to any other, evaluated on the basis of their lives and not on their social station outside of that community. F. F. Bruce notes, “This could mean, for example, that someone who was a slave in the outside world might be entrusted with spiritual leadership in the church, and if the owner of the slave was a member of the same church, he would submit to that spiritual leadership,” (Commentary on Galatians, 188-189). If the slave had an unbelieving master, the slave was in an enviable position of modeling Christ’s own servitude as a means of evangelism (1 Pet. 2:11, 18-23). If the master converted or was already a believer and spent any time among the community of Jubilee in which slaves were freed and the chains of oppression broken (Isa. 61:1-2), it would not have been unlikely that Christian masters would have released their slaves in the seventh year (Deut. 15:12-15). This is essentially what Paul requested of Philemon when he returned his runaway slave Onesimus: “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, as a beloved brother. … So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me,” (Phil. 1:16-17). “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ,” (1 Cor. 7:22). This made slavery as an institution unsustainable, and it reveals that Paul’s long-term strategy was the eventual abolition of the practice entirely by gospel subversion (Wright, Colossians and Philemon).
No More Male and Female
We find that Paul’s baptismal strategy applies just as much to the barrier of male and female as it does to Jew and Gentile and master and slave. In Christ, by baptism, women who were once excluded from serving in the Temple can now do so because “you are all sons of God,” regardless of gender, because “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” (Gal. 3:26, 27). We are all, regardless of gender, sons of God in the Son of God, commissioned to enter into and serve in the Holy of Holies with the rest of the Church. As odd and uncomfortable as it might feel for some of us, this means that women stand equally able and qualified to serve as deacons, elders, pastors, and bishops if called to that office. All are now sons of God. All are now High Priests.
Under the Old Covenant, the sign of the covenant was circumcision and thus women were excluded from the outset. They could only possess the crumbs from God’s Table by clinging to the household of the men who were circumcised, and they were disqualified from serving in the Temple for lack of the proper tackle, so to speak. The priestly ordination rite put the priest under a four-fold circumcision, smearing blood on the right ear, thumb, and big toe (Lev. 8, esp. v. 23) alongside the circumcision of their manhood. But now Baptism fulfills all four circumcisions, commissioning and ordaining all the baptized for priestly service in the heavenly Temple, the Church, where God dwells. This does not mean we all become elders and pastors, but it does mean that the Spirit can call whoever He wishes to serve in that special capacity. “There is one body and one Spirit” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” who “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Eph. 4:4, 5-6, 11-12). Notice how they are spoken of in genderless terms. The weaker and stronger members of the body in 1 Cor. 12 are spoken of merely as those who differ in the gifts of the Spirit, not an ontological, gendered strength or weakness: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. … For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit,” (1 Cor. 12:4-7, 11, 13). For this reason, Wilson is simply wrong to assert (on the basis of no exegetical work), “At issue is baptism, not ordination,” (Why Ministers Must Be Men, 13). But as we have seen, to the contrary of Wilson’s assertion, baptism is ordination (Leithart, Priesthood of the Plebs). Even Luther was force to admit that the priesthood of all believers meant that “a woman can baptize and administer the word of life by which sin is taken away, eternal death abolished, the prince of the world cast out, heaven bestowed; in short, by which the divine majesty pours itself forth through all the soul…When women baptize, they exercise the function of priesthood legitimately and do it not as a private act but as a part of the public ministry of the Church which belongs only to the universal priesthood,” (Luther’s Works, vol. 40:, 25, 23). Despite this claim, he still attempted to prevent women from being ordained on the basis of social convention, though this creates a serious tension in his thought.
Once again, Baptism levels the playing field and raises up all those who have been excluded, oppressed, and maligned. To then deny them what their Baptism grants them, equal standing in Christ and His Body, is to re-gender what God has ungendered and to undo baptism once again. Paul’s direct quotation of Genesis 1:27 in Galatians 3:28 and claim that it no longer applies doesn’t mean an end to biological or psychological differences, but that both sexes have been regrafted into a single Body, Christ and the Church, and knit back together into a single person, a New Man, a New Adam who stands not as an “earth creature” with both present in the same body, but in the ascension and through Baptism this New Man now stands as a “heaven creature” which has both male and female, masculine and feminine, present in His resurrection Body. The union of Christ and Bride, Head and Body, individual and corporate, makes Jesus the New Hermaphrodite, the resolution of all the divisions of the Old Creation. Jesus was revealed the “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth,” (Eph. 1:10). “He Himself is our shalom, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two,” (Eph. 2:14-15). This “new man” is a new anthropos (humanity, human race), not a new male (aner); Christ builds a new humanity in Himself by reconciling and uniting all divisions in Himself, first by raising up those baptized above all other authority, over the walls of the divisions, and then sweeping those divisions away and coming down to an earth swept clean and made new to dwell with them (Rev. 21:1-4) as the implications of this are worked out in history before a final restoration.
I’m sure this has been a lot to take in, but it was necessary to take the time to explore it. Many will be suspicious of the conclusion that women are permitted to serve in the pastorate, and will appeal to a few places in the New Testament that would seem to support their position. It is to these passages we will now be turning.