Female Apostles or Female Apostates?

Octavia, Daughter of GodFor me this was the misprint of the week, at least: I was reading a print copy of The Week, a weekly news magazine, and found in it a review of the book Octavia, Daughter of God, which sounds like an interesting story of an early 20th century cult in Bedford, England. Actually I can’t help wondering if this Panacea Society has now become the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: a matriarchal community of pedantic ex-Anglicans obsessed with doilies, and still in Bedfordshire. Or is the author Jane Shaw, a British Anglican priest who is now Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the real Archdruid Eileen?

The review mentions how the cult’s founder, who called herself Octavia, started by recruiting “twelve female apostates”. Really? Well, these twelve were very likely apostates from the true Christian faith. But I don’t think that is what the reviewer intended. Indeed there is another review of this same book online from the Literary Review, which is extremely similar to the one in The Week but not identical – it lacks the mention of doilies. And the wording in the Literary Review is

soon Octavia had recruited twelve female apostles and many more resident members, establishing a religion with its very own Garden of Eden in the streets of Bedford.

So, female apostles, or female apostates? Or does some sub-editor not know the difference?

Someone else who might not know the difference is David Devenish, whose book Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission is being promoted through a series of extracts on Adrian Warnock’s blog. In the extracts Devenish answers the question “Are there apostles today?”, and in one of the posts he lists among biblical apostles “Andronicus and Junias”. He repeats the name “Junias” in a later post, showing that this is not just a typo. But he shows no sign of being aware that scholars now agree that this name found in Romans 16:7 is in fact a female one, “Junia”, as in NIV 2011 and explained in a note on the verse in the NET Bible. If Devenish accepts Andronicus as an apostle (which the NET Bible does not), then he needs to accept that the woman Junia was also an apostle.

Devenish argues that there are apostles today, and I agree with him. But can there be women among them? I don’t see why not. Even if the positive example of Junia is discounted, I can see no scriptural argument against them – after all, their ministry is not one of teaching or of leading churches.

But, as I discussed last week in my post Addicted to Arguing? How to persuade others, the best way to make my point on a matter like this is to tell stories. And I have one to tell here. Recently I met an American lady who calls herself an apostle, indeed uses that as a title, Dr Rebecca Murray. Her web page says that

As a Pastor to Pastors, she operates in the apostolic and prophetic realms.

She is also co-pastor of a church in Virginia, USA. And she is a wonderful lady with a huge vision and the gifting to make it a reality. If anyone doubts whether female apostles exist today, they should meet Apostle Rebecca.

0 thoughts on “Female Apostles or Female Apostates?

  1. No, the Panacea Society are still there, down the road in Bedford…

    I think I can safely and without contradiction (apart from the Panacea Society) say “Heretics”.

    I tell you what, if I’d made up an imaginary religious society it would be more plausible.

  2. Thank you, Archdruid. I wasn’t aware that the Panacea Society actually still existed. Their belief in a Quaternity rather than a Trinity is certainly heretical, and that’s before reading any further. But then a heretic is not the same as an apostate. Which class do druids fall in? I am drafting a post discussing whether heretics should be burned. I also note that you don’t deny being Jane Shaw.

    Gordon, Devenish defines the roles of apostles today as

    church planting, laying good foundations in churches, continuing to oversee those churches, appointing the leaders, giving ongoing fatherly care to leaders, and handling difficult questions that may arise from those churches.

    No sign of teaching in that list. “Teacher” is a separate category in the five-fold list of ministries (Ephesians 4:11). As Jack Deere notes, as quoted by Devenish, the apostle Paul functioned in many if not all of those five ministries. That does not mean that all apostles today must do the same.

  3. Just a few thoughts:

    (a) “Apostle” just means “messenger.” Arguing over gender for being a messenger runs into some serious issues, both because angels are messengers and they have no gender (technically), and if that is disagreeable, at least because Mary was a messenger after seeing Jesus outside the tomb.

    (b) Even if apostles did teach, which I think they do of necessity (how do you spread a message without teaching it?), I have always been of the persuasion that “wife” is meant in the Timothy discourse, instead of “woman” generally. And just from what you have shared, I have not seen Dr. Murray as anything close to disrespectful over and against her own husband.

    I think part of the issue surrounding the debate is actually that we equate “apostle” as having some kind of exclusive status, which is not the case. Jesus’ apostles are rightly referred to as “The Twelve” for a reason, because “The Twelve” were certainly special in that regard.

  4. Michael, thank you for your sensible thoughts. Dr Rebecca Murray works alongside her husband Paul, also considered an apostle, but she is more prominent perhaps because he is busy running a business.

  5. Splitting hairs I think Peter. I’d be interested to know how one could lay good foundations and handle difficult questions, (to take only two from the list) without teaching how to do it 🙂

  6. No, Gordon, making sensible distinctions between different ministries.

    It was the Pharisees, and their modern Jewish equivalents, who extended the biblical prohibition on working on the Sabbath to include such trivial matters as carrying a mat and pushing a light switch, when surely the commandment was about working to earn one’s living. Similarly, if the rule that women should not teach is to be applied generally today, it is surely about formal teaching ministry and not about letting slip a few words that might be called teaching while answering questions or during a conversation about something different.

    I accept that “laying good foundations” might include initial teaching before local leaders have been appointed. But church planting should really done by multi-gifted teams, led by someone with the gift of an apostle but including someone else gifted to teach under the apostle’s guidance.

  7. Thank you, Sidefall. I had seen Julian’s post. There are certainly some similarities between apostolic ministry and the role of an Anglican bishop, but I wasn’t really trying to comment on the women bishops issue. As for careerism, I don’t think that is the motivation for women or men in current apostolic ministries, but then I don’t know all of them.

    But it was interesting to see Stephen Walton’s comment on Julian’s post which mentions the Panacea Society and Jane Shaw. I don’t know much about Jane Shaw but I did find an article by her arguing for women bishops from as early as 2002. So perhaps her book about Octavia is in part a manifesto along the same lines – although I hope she doesn’t want to turn the Church of England into a copy of the Panacea Society! But then I can’t really comment without reading the book.

  8. Peter, it was that comment that I wanted to draw your attention to. A curious coincidence that the Panacea Society has popped up twice recently in this bit of the blogosphere.

  9. Yes, curious. Stephen Walton commented before I wrote this post, but I hadn’t read his comment. But maybe Stephen had also seen a review of Jane Shaw’s book which had just come out I think.

  10. Sidefall, that’s interesting. It seems odd to me if Jane Shaw really omitted from the book all reference to her personal and financial links to the Panacea Society. But I note that Jane has written her own comment on the Guardian review, clarifying issues that probably should have been clarified in the book. This Prophecy Project was not something wacky, but, she writes,

    a research project of the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University. It … funded postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and researchers who worked on a series of books and articles on the history of Joanna Southcott and related prophetic movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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