Apostolic succession and women’s ordination

Paper for CTICR

John W Kleinig

In the paper on a Case for the Ordination of Women it is claimed that ‘it is hard to detect in the New Testament the start of a historical succession of male apostles’ (note 12, p 5-6). This point is amplified on page 14 where we read: ‘the (the apostles) do not represent the first of a historical succession of male clergy originating during Jesus’ earthly ministry and perpetuated by the laying on of hands.’

This confuses four sets of questions.

1. Was there a historical succession of apostles or not? Quite clearly, the apostles had no successors in the apostolic office. Historically, the office of the apostolate ended with the death of the last apostle.

2. Was the office of the elder/teacher/pastor derived scripturally and doctrinally from the apostolic ministry of word and sacrament? It quite clearly was. That is the claim in our Theses of Agreement.

3. Was there a succession of ‘clergy,’ people who were ministers of word and sacrament, in the NT and the early church? I would argue that there was such a succession. This is indicated by the following pieces of evidence.

  • The appointment/ordination of elders by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:23 and Paul’s command to Titus to do so in Crete in Tit 1:5
  • The reference in 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6 to the ordination of Timothy by Paul and the elders of the church with the laying on of hands
  • The reference to 2 Tim 2;1-2 to the training of competent ‘men’ (anthropous) as teachers and their authorisation to hand on the teaching that they had received
  • The status of elders as co-members with the apostles in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4
  • Paul’s co-authorship of most of his letters with his fellow pastors and his use of the apostolic ‘we’ to include them in his ministry and his authority
  • The summary in 1 Clement 42:1-2: ‘apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus; Jesus the Christ was sent from God. So Christ is from God, and the apostles from Christ. Both came to pass in good order by the will of God. So having received their instructions, and having been reassured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in the word of God, they set forth in the conviction of the Holy Spirit, preaching that the kingdom of God was about to come. So as the preached from country to country and from town to town, they appointed their first converts (first fruits), after testing them by the Spirit, as bishops and deacons of those who were to believe.’

4. Were the elders/teachers/pastors whose office was derived from the male apostolate males only or taken from both sexes? It is quite clear that men were teachers. But the issue is whether women were included in the ministry of word and sacrament in the early church.