We have looked at the key text and theology of the New Covenant, that Jesus resolves all the barriers and breaks down all the divisions which the Torah put up, and that a central barrier was the barrier of circumcision, which barred women from “drawing near” to the Temple in the same way as men, and barred them especially from serving in the Temple as priests.
In this installment, we will examine Jesus as the True Temple, but first it remains to point toward a few shadows of women serving in the Temple under the Old Covenant, foretastes of the coming of the Messiah who welcomes them into His Temple.
Jesus in the Shadows
We have already established Eve as being Adam’s equal in the Garden, in both nature and role, and part of this was Eve’s co-equality as a learner with Adam under the tutelage of the angels (Heb. 1-2; Gal. 3-4). We also note that the angels are genderless beings, yet still able to preach in the Garden (Matt. 22:30). We also note that the new humanity in Christ was eventually to surpass the angels and come to be teachers and servers in the Temple-Garden, the Church: “You have made him for a little while lower than the angels,” (Heb. 2:7). In Baptism this is (at least in principle) accomplished, and all are now counted as being “sons of God,” (Gal. 3:26-29). This is restoration to the Garden, but then also a promotion to a place above the angels for both Adam and Eve and all who are in union with Christ on the Throne.
It should be noted that those of us who accept covenant theology also accept that Israel was simply the Church under the Old Covenant, and that Jesus built a New Church in the New Covenant comprised of Jews and Gentiles who could both serve in the Temple (1 Cor. 10; Heb. 3-4, etc.), and that all the symbols and pictures of Israel in the OT are co-opted by Jesus and the Apostles and used to describe the Church in the NT. One of the implications of this is that the NT Church is to be a city and a political community just as much as Israel was, and that Israel’s civil community was actually a shadow of the Church, and that leadership roles under the OT in the civil sphere are applied to Church leadership positions within the NT Church community. Thus, when the book of Judges tells us that “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time,” (Judges 4:4), it speaks by typology to women who would render judgments in the public courts of the Church (1 Cor. 6:1-6). It speaks of her also as a prophet, one who receives God’s word and teaches the people in a public fashion (but we will examine the office of prophet another time). We are also told, concerning Deborah, that she “used to sit under the palm of Deborah” and “the people of Israel came up to her for judgment/justice,” (Judges 4:5). Now, trees symbolize the ladder to heaven (Jordan, Through New Eyes, ch. 7), of which the Son of Man is the ultimate picture (John 1:51). They also symbolize God’s presence, the altar, the people of God themselves, and God’s provision, and so we should probably see Deborah’s justice-doing beneath the palm tree as participating in each of these meanings. Trees are also associated with the restoration to Edenic paradise, a return to the Trees (Gen. 2:8-9; Rev. 22:1-2), and so Deborah is pictured as one returned to Eden to sit beneath and between the Trees of Life and Judgment to teach, judge, and bring justice and wisdom to Israel, one who teaches wisdom in the Holy of Holies in the Temple as God always intended for mankind. It should also be noted that the whole people, the “congregation” or “assembly,” were said to “come up” to her for justice just as they used to do for Moses (Ex. 18:3). She could summon and send even the general of Israel’s army (Judges 4:6), and when Israel is victorious over their enemies, both Deborah and Barak sang together before the people of God’s deliverance as equals (Judges 5).
As has been mentioned, to lead in the civil life of Israel was by type and shadow to lead in the public leadership of the Church in the NT. With this in mind, we should take note of the three leaders of Israel out of Egypt and across the wilderness. “I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam,” (Micah 6:4). Moses describes her as “Miriam the prophetess” (Ex. 15:20-21) and the Psalmist could declare that “Yahweh gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host,” and Miriam and the women singers are here parallel to “the righteous” who shall “exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” while the Psalmist summons the whole congregation to “Sing to God, sing praises to His name,” (Psa. 68:11, 3, 4). When Aaron and Miriam go up to confront Moses for taking an Ethiopian wife, their right and authority to do so is assumed in the text despite the fact that they are wielding their leadership wrongly (Num. 12:1-15). When the Torah was rediscovered in the Temple, the servants of the King were sent to “Huldah the prophetess” who declared “Thus says Yahweh” to them (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22).
These examples, scattered and ignored though they might be, indicate that there were women who foreshadowed by symbol and typology that the long-awaited promise would finally come to pass: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit,” (Joel 28, 29). We are now in a place to look at Jesus’s own ministry.
The Holy of Holies Tabernacled Among Us
Scholars are rediscovering the importance of the Temple for understanding Jesus’s ministry. Wright notes that the “Temple was the focal point of every aspect of Jewish national life” and that its “importance at every level can hardly be overestimated,” (New Testament and the People of God, 224). Given this, the fact that Jesus reorients all of Israel around Himself as the True Temple takes on a much greater significance (John 2:19-21; Perrin, Jesus the Temple; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God). When John declares that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His Glory, Glory as only the Son from the Father,” (John 1:16), he is saying that the Glory of Yahweh’s Presence in the Holy of Holies has at long last stepped out from behind the veil and has tabernacled in human flesh. Thus, Jesus’s call for people to follow Him is the means by which He is building up a new Temple around Himself (1 Cor. 3:9, 16-17; Eph. 2:19-22; Rev. 3:12; 21-22), a Temple without the dividers and barriers of the former Temple under the law.
But once again, I do not think the full implications of this have been examined with regard to women. The fact that Jesus is the Temple, the Holy of Holies come forth in the flesh, means that His dealing with, addressing, communing with, and embracing of women means that they too are welcomed into the Holy of Holies to serve Him. The woman with the hemorrhage of blood who runs through the crowd and touches the hem of Jesus’s robe shows, therefore, that women need no mediation to come before the Mercy Seat/Throne (Matt. 5:25-34). While the Twelve male disciples abandoned Jesus, the women disciples remained with him to the end: “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering [diakeneo] to Him,” (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40). This is the same word used by Matthew earlier, in the wilderness temptation: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering [diakeneo] to Him,” (Matt. 4:11; Mark 1:13). These women were serving the same function as the Angels, serving and ministering in the Holy of Holies, acting as angelic-priests. These women had taken on the role of the angelic tutors in ministering before the Glory-Presence of Yahweh, as had always been God’s intention, and is the same word Paul used for his own role, and the roles of others, as ministers of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; 6:21; Col. 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7). A number of women followed Jesus with the rest of the disciples (a larger group than simply the Twelve) and ministered to Jesus, and supported his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). A sinful woman came forward at a party and drew near the Holy of Holies in the flesh and anointed His feet with tears and ointment (Luke 7:37-38).
One of the most common reasons for denying women the ministry is that Jesus did not appoint any women as the Twelve disciples. One pastor, Toby Sumpter, writes, “One of the strongest arguments against the ordination of women for ministerial offices in the church may in fact be an argument from silence, or better, an argument from absence.” Did you catch that? One of the strongest arguments for refusing women the ministry is the silence of the Scriptures on the matter. As we have just seen, however, women ministered to Him as ministers/priests in the Holy of Holies, just as the angels in the heavenly sanctuary. And as we shall see, Paul had no problem with women serving in ordained positions, and in fact knew a number of women who did serve in these positions.
So if neither Jesus nor Paul had a problem with women performing ministerial functions, why then did He appoint twelve men to serve as disciples set apart from the others? He did so because He came to set up a New Covenant with a New Torah, a New Israel, and thus He needed twelve New Tribes as the foundation of His work in this regard. His reason was typological. The wall of New Jerusalem has “twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb,” (Rev. 21:14). This was why, incidentally, another man was appointed to the Twelve when Judas betrayed them (Acts 1:15-26). The typology of the New Israel was what was important here, not the biological reality of maleness per se. When we examine apostleship next in this series, we shall see that several women served in this position.