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The Charism of Apostleship

The word charism has tones of graciousness, of generosity, and of a joyful liberty. Paul speaks of different charisms, their functions and proper usages in the church. A charism is a free and gratuitous gift and it is for the building up of the community. In the first letter to Corinthians, Paul discusses in detail about the various charisms. Paul also puts apostleship as one of the various charisms operative in the church. He asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” (1Cor 12:29 NRSV).

The apostleship heads the list of charismata for the building up of the Church. The term apostle is derived from Classical Greek ἀπόστολος, meaning “one who is sent away”. The apostle is the one who is sent out to the world to spread the Good News and establish the kingdom of God in the name of the Lord. He or she is an emissary of the Lord. In the early church, the apostle needed to be some who has been with the Christ, starting from baptism to the time he was taken up. The Acts of the Apostles states, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” (Act 1:21-22 NRSV). The Apostle also needs to be one who is chosen by the Lord. That is why they pray to God, before deciding on Mathias to be the apostle in place of Judas. “Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”” (Act 1:24-25 NRSV)

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church understood the apostleship as an office. This office is, therefore, carried over to Bishops, who are the successors of the twelve apostles of Jesus. But if the above Biblical passage could apply to the office of the apostles, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could become an apostle today. Therefore, a broader understanding of apostleship could help us to understand the charism of apostleship.

The apostleship as a charism could explain why Paul uses the term for himself and others who are in the ministry of the word (1 Cor 4:9: 9:5; 15:9). He even uses the term to refer to Junia (Rom 16:7), who could be a possible women leader of the church. The word is also used by Luke for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). However, he uses this word towards the end of the book and after this usage he would always use the word apostles with elders. So probably, Luke might have noticed an increasing phenomenon of Paul and Barnabas and others being called as the apostles.

By rightly analyzing the above passages, we can very well say that, Apostleship is a gratuitous gift. It was given to the twelve apostles of Jesus as a free gift. “He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons (Mar 3:13-15 NRSV). They were called not for their own benefit and edification, but for the building up of the church. That is why apostleship can rightly be called a charism. As it is rightly quoted,

“The Apostolic office contains in itself a claim to all charismata, for the object of its ordinary working is identical with the object of these special gifts: the sanctification of souls by uniting them in Christ with God. The Apostles received the first great effusion of charismata when the Holy Ghost descended on them in the shape of fiery tongues, and they began to speak in diverse tongues. Throughout their whole missionary activity they are credited with supernatural powers by Scripture, history, and legend alike. The legend, however fanciful in its facts, is built upon the general sense of the Church. Through the Apostles the fullness of Christ’s gifts flowed on to their helpers in various measure, according to the circumstances of persons and places.”[1]

Apostleship is therefore a charism, and as a charism still continues to be freely bestowed on the individuals for the building up of the church. This charism might accompany other charisms. But anyone who is doing the apostolate of Jesus can rightly be called an apostle. That is why Mother Teresa of Calcutta is known as the apostle to poor and destitute, St. Francis of Assisi can rightly be called the apostle to the nature, etc. This apostleship also invites us to be a missionary of Jesus, to proclaim his words, even to the people who have not heard about Jesus, like St. Francis Xavier, the second apostle to India.

In my personal experience of being called to the ministerial priesthood of Jesus, I always thought about it as a free gift which is given to me for the building up of the kingdom of God. If my call was only to the priesthood, I might end up as being a mere cultic priest. Therefore, I understand that my call to priesthood is a call to be an apostle.

This apostleship can co-exist with the office. The charisms and office are often said to be in conflict. But in apostleship they can co-exist and complement each other. Having said this, I do not intend to minimize the charism of apostleship exclusively to the office or to those in hierarchy. It is a free and gratuitous gift and therefore can be bestowed upon anyone whom God choses (cf. Mar 3:13-15). God can call anyone to be an apostle. The great apostle Paul is an example of that.

Therefore, if God choses one to be an apostle, he or she should strive to be an emissary of God. This call can be to different spheres of life. One may be called to be an apostle to eco-systems, to social-service, to education, to proclamation, to service, etc. These calls are, therefore, to different apostolate. If we can give Christ to the world, we can become apostles. One needs to find out his apostleship. It calls for discernment.

Therefore, if one wants to be an apostle, he or she also needs to respond to the call very positively. As the Gospel of Mark says, “… he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” An apostle should, therefore, have the God-experience. He or she is an emissary of God, one who brings God visible in the world.

We must understand that apostleship is a charism and as a charism it is a gratuitous gift and should be used for the building up of the community. “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13 NRSV). If one calls himself or herself as an apostle of the Lord, he or she must strive to build up the body of Christ.

[1] accessed on 3 August 2012; available from; on Internet

* The above article is reproduced from my notes. No plagiarism purposefully intended.  


Unbind Her. Let Her Go Free.

(A Study of 1 Corinthians 11.2-16)

 2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.
 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband1 is the head of his wife,2 and God is the head of Christ.
 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head,
 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head — it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.
 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil.
 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection1 of God; but woman is the reflection2 of man.
 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man.
 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.
 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of1 authority on her head,2 because of the angels.
 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.
 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.
 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled?
 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him,
 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
 16 But if anyone is disposed to be contentious — we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

1 Introduction

In the text of my study, Paul comes across as a strong proponent of male domination and patriarchy. But a careful study of Pauline letters will reveal that Paul was not so anti-feminist as any would think him to be. In his letter to Galatians he writes, “there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3.28). But as we read ahead, the same Paul would again argue that women should be silent in the church (1 Cor 14.33-36).[1]Even in the same letter, Paul writes to Corinthians as women having equal right in the marriage relationship. The text of study also uses the creation stories described in the book of Genesis.

Paul uses arguments from theology, nature, reasoning and custom to bring home his point that women should wear veil while they are praying or prophesying. These arguments are questioned in today‟s world of science and technology. But women are still covered in the society. They are chained up. Jesus asks us as he asked after raising Lazarus from death, “Unbind her, let her go free.”(Jn 11.44)

In my presentation I shall follow the following pattern. After studying some exegetical issues and the context of the text, I shall critically analyze the text and do a contextualized study of the text.

2 Exegesis of the text

As I shall do an exegetical study of the text, I shall deal with main exegetical issues concerning women. However, other difficult texts could be explained in short.

2.1 Traditions

Paul uses this word only once in the whole of the epistle. However, he uses the words like ‘hand over’ to mean the same. The verse shows that Corinthians have been faithful to the traditions passed on to them by the apostle. Corinth was a community that understood and misunderstood Paul. They understood and accepted Paul and his teachings. But they thought that the freedom they received made them above law. That is why Paul makes an explicit statement in the next verse that he “wants them to understand’ properly.

2.2 Symbol of Authority (exousian echein)

This phrase is a disputed one. The word “exousian‟ is used only in the active voice in the Greek literature. Therefore the authority mentioned here should be an active authority of woman over her own head and not a passive one of someone else authority over her head.

This phrase could be explained in two ways.

1. Since woman is the glory of man, she should take responsibility of her appearance in public worship.

2. Because women are on Paul‟s side that they do not want to uncover their hair while praying.[2]

2.3 Because of the angels

The early Christian community was aware of the presence of angels during the time of worship. These angels acted as overseers of the worship. They reported to God anything that was defiling the holiness of God.[3] That is why women have to be extra cautious while they are in public worship. There is also a reference of „sons of God‟ getting married to the daughters of the human beings in the book of Genesis (Gen 6.2). Therefore, there are also opinions that this could also be another cause of using this phrase here.

2.4 Headship

The Greek equivalent for head is kephale. This is the word used more often in the passage of my study. Septuagint uses this word as a translation of the Hebrew word rōś. The word head is used in two meanings – physical head as well as head in the metaphorical sense.

2.4.1 Head as Physical Head

This is a common usage. Paul uses the word to mean this when he says, “Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head…” (V.4), “but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled…” (V.5), “For a man ought not to have his head veiled…” (V.7), etc. The

2.4.2 Head in the Metaphorical Sense

Paul also uses head in the metaphorical sense. He uses the word, not only here but also in other places like when he describes Christ as the head of the Church (1 Cor 12.21; Rom 12.20), in the metaphorical sense. Therefore it is apt to think over the metaphorical meanings of head. Head in the metaphorical sense could have three meanings. Head as Symbol of Authority

This is the most commonly understood meaning of kephale. When someone is described as „the head of a tribe or nation‟, it would mean that he/she is the authority over that nation or tribe. However, this is doubtful whether Paul used the word „kephale’ with the meaning of authority because in Septuagint the word „rōś’ is never translated as „kephale’ to mean authority. Instead the word used for authority in Septuagint is „arche’ or its derivatives.[4] The non-biblical scholars like Philo or Plutarch also did not use the word„kephale’ to mean authority. Even when the metaphor is used to mean authority, it is used to express the relationship of an individual to a group and not to an individual to another individual as Paul would write here. Head in the Meaning of Source or Authority

This meaning is attributed to head in certain phrases like “the head of the river.” However, this meaning has virtually no support in the Septuagint.[5]This meaning was attributed in the text due to the following reasons.

1. The verse 8 refers to the creation theology of woman coming from man.

2. Christ is referred as the head of the man, because Christ is the second Adam and therefore the source of new creation.

But these arguments are weakened by the facts that the concept of headship has nothing to do with historical origins but with the current state of affairs, with contemporary relation between Christ and man, man and woman, God and Christ – particularly in the context of worship.[6]If the source theory is what Paul has in mind, when he speaks about the prominence of man, the present development in the scientific field would have proved it wrong. Head in the Meaning of Prominence or Foremost

When I speak about someone as being the „head of the cycle rally‟, it does not mean that he or she is the authority or source of the rally. Here the word „head‟ would mean prominence or priority of the person mentioned because he or she has a prominent place. The same meaning could be attributed to the person who is the head of a group. The idea of authority may be implicit, but it comes from the position as the prominent person. The President of India may be referred to as the head of the nation, because he or she is the most prominent person in India. He or she has authority but that authority comes from his or her position.

Moreover, this meaning of kephale as the most prominent and representative is more attune with the theme of shame and glory, the apostle speaks about. The whole passage has to do with attire and appearance and not with subservience or origination. By being the ostprominent person in the patriarchal society man is the head of the woman, because he represents the woman who is usually confined to the house.

2.5 Glory

Glory (doxa) and honour is the main theological function of the text. A man who prays with something hanging down from his head disgraces his head who is Christ while a woman who prays with nothing on her head disgraces her head who is her husband. A man should not cover his head, for he is the image and reflection of God (Gen 1.26-27). But a woman should cover her head while praying and prophesying for she is the glory of man. Paul argues that man‟s glory should not be seen in the presence of God. The idea of woman as the glory of man is also presented in wisdom literature (Pr. 11.16). Man is glorified or dishonoured by the behavior of his wife. It is man who is living a more public life in the patriarchal society, while women are mostly confined to the houses. That is why women should wear proper dress in the public. Otherwise she will bring dishonour to herself and her husband.

The glory of woman is her hair. Therefore, shaving is disgracing for a woman. In the ancient society only adulteress women were shaved off their head. Paul also argues that hair for women is like cloak for men. Cloak was considered to be a symbol of glory for men. Therefore hair is the symbol of her glory.

2.6 Head Covering

Paul says that men should not cover their head, but argues that women should cover their head while praying and prophesying. It is not exactly mentioned what type of headcovering he means.

Though Paul suggests that men should not wear anything on his head we have evidences that the high priest used to wear some type of a headwear while he offered sacrifices in the temple. We also see Jewish men wearing „kippa’ on their head. Probably this custom of wearing kippa was not so common then. As prophet Jeremiah speaks, „the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads‟ (Jer14.4). This clearly shows that men covered their head only in shame and to avoid public disgrace.

Women, on the other hand, are asked to cover their head (akatakaypto te kephale) as sign of chastity and modesty. It was not a sign of subservience. Paul was probably concerned about the attention a woman drew while praying in public. In most probability women were most concerned about their newly found equality and freedom. The isis cult that was prevailing in those times also might have encouraged women to uncover their head and untie their hair while praying and prophesying in order to make a magical effect. Paul was obviously not happy with this practice. Probably there arose a problem because rich women dressed their hair elaborately, while poor women had no time or money to do so. Paul also argues from the point of view of nature that hair is given to woman as a covering. Therefore it is natural for a woman to wear a veil.

2.7 Source

Paul argues that man was not made from woman, but woman from man. His arguments are based on the creation theology of genesis[7]. Though this idea is questioned with the development of the science, it is still valid under the umbrella of patriarchal religion and patriarchal theology. The idea that woman is created for the sake of man and not man for the sake of woman also comes from this patriarchal understanding of the text. Some scholars have argued that idea of headship as the source also supports this theme. We have already proved that this is not acceptable, because creational reality is not the main theme of Paul at least in this text. Moreover in verse 11 Paul revokes the same creational reality to prove the equality between the genders.

3 Context of the Text

It is also apt to study the context and the validity of the text, to understand the text properly.

3.1 Different Opinions on the Validity of the text

The structural analysis of the text would suggest that the passage is an interpolation by another author. The chapter 10 is concerned about the food offered to idols and the following passage of the text in chapter 11 is concerned about the abuses at Lord’s Supper. Therefore, if we remove the passage from the text, it would only support the structural unity of the text. The same arguments above could also be put forward to prove that the text is a separate letter from Paul which an editor inserted into this letter at a later time.

Some would also argue that the text is an answer to the Corinthian women. They argue that Paul is really supporting the Corinthian women who wanted to use some sort of covering on their head while praying and prophesying in public. Their male counterparts were not in favour of this idea of Corinthian women. Men wanted the women to be free and experience the same freedom of men by removing their veil. In this dispute Paul seems to be supporting women. The idea of women having authority over their head[8]could be the result of this.

Whatever may be opinion about the validity of the text, there seems to be some sort of problem in the Corinthian community and the writer is addressing that problem.

3.2 Context of the text

The context of the text, i.e. the context to which the text was addressed is not known now. However, we could infer certain things from the available material. Corinth was a more complex society. As I have already mentioned, it was a community that understood and misunderstood Paul. Some of their qualities which could be inferred from the text are as follows.

3.2.1 Egalitarian Society and Radical Freedom.

Corinth was a community that had understood Paul and his radical concepts of equality and freedom. Paul had already preached to them about the equality of men and women in the Lord.[9] He also preached to them the law-free gospel. Corinthians were quick to grasp these ideas of Paul. They strived for an egalitarian society. They looked for a society which did not differentiate between genders. The idea of women having untied hair or unveiled head would have sprung up from such a thought pattern. There were women who kept short hair and men who kept long hair. These practices were associated with homosexuality and lesbianism in the Hellenistic world.[10] So obviously Paul did not want Christians to be associated with those people. Paul writes to them that though all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial (1 Cor 10.23).

3.2.2 Over-realized Eschatology

The over-realized eschatology was another problem in Corinth. Paul had preached that Parousia would be imminent. Corinthians, realizing that they were already in the eschatological era, started to act accordingly. The over-realized eschatology had its problems in marital relationships (ref 1 Cor 7). The egalitarian society they were striving for was also due to this understanding. When the idea of eschatology was misunderstood, Paul had to remind them that they should wait for the Lord to act.

3.2.3 Ecstatic Worship of Oriental Divinities

The Christian community at Corinth was in contact with other oriental cults. There were cults prevalent at Corinth which promoted the egalitarian concept and gave freedom to women on what they should wear. Women at these cultic activities used to present themselves in unbound hair in order to make a mystical effect while they prayed. Probably the Corinthian community had understood their freedom and equality along theses lines.

3.2.4 Homosexual tendencies prevailed

There were sexual perverts in the community (ref 1 Cor 5). AI have already mentioned the hair style had something to do with the sexual preferences. Paul did not want any of such perverts in the community. He also did not like to have any such concept to be sealed on Christianity.

3.2.5 Growing Gnosticism

There is no evidence that suggests that Gnosticism was already present at Corinth. But from the letter of the apostle it is clear that the idea of Gnosticism was already gaining momentum. The law-free gospel that Paul proclaimed was already being misused.

4 Critical Analysis of the Text

I shall now attempt to do a critical analysis of the text.

4.1 Theological

Paul’s argument for veiling is based on the creation theology as found in the book of Genesis. But Paul conveniently uses two different stories of creation. He states that woman is created from man and for the sake of man (Gen 2.18-24). He uses the other creation account to state that man is the image and likeness of God (Gen 1.26-28). These two texts come from two different traditions, namely YHWHist and Elohist. So Paul‟s combining of these two texts are questionable though such combinations were not uncommon among midrashic interpreters.

Paul while using the creation theology, has conveniently forgotten that Adam, who is crated in the image of God, is both male and female (Gen 1.26-27). So if God has created them male and female in the image and likeness of God, how can Paul attribute that only man is the glory (doxa) of God?

4.2 Liturgical

As I have already mentioned the high priest used in the Jerusalem Temple used to wear a head-wear when he offered sacrifices. Being a faithful Jew and coming from a strong pharisaic tradition, it is impossible that Paul did not know of these customs. Another notable point is that the text is not against women speaking in the public worship, rather about the attire they should wear while they were praying.

4.3 Natural

The nature no more suggests to us that the length of the hair is in accordance with the sex. Women with short hair and men with long hair are no more unnatural. Hair style is no more a maxim but a fashion statement. Paul‟s argument that „women is from man‟ is now considered as fictional.

4.4 Sociological

Paul speaks of a classless society in Gal3.26-28. This teaching was part of Paul‟s law-free gospel. But how could this egalitarian society be realized? The patriarchal Paulseems to have fallen back when it comes to the real matter in this passage. Otherwise howcan Paul argue that women are created for the sake of men? It is also not clear how in the Lord can women and men be equals when there seems to be so much of restrictions put?

4.5 Appeal to Customs

It is quite common among us to fall back on customs and traditions when a certain behavior pattern cannot in other ways be justified. Paul seems to be doing the same here. He falls back on customs and traditions of the patriarchal society as a last resort (V.16). It is inthe interest of the patriarchal society to keep these traditions alive so that they can continue to exploit women

5 Text in Today’s Context

After critically analysing the text, let us now consider what the text has for today‟s generation.

5.1 Eschatological Dimension

Today we know that kingdom of God is a gift as well as a task. The equality that Paul speaks in his letter to Galatians and Corinthians also remains a task because we are stillliving in this patriarchal society. Kingdom of God is already and not yet. Therefore, it is our duty to strive towards the kingdom values of freedom and equality.

5.2 Modern Societies

Modern societies have come a long way to achieve this equality. Women today are almost powerful as men. But that is only a very less percentage of women. Many women still live under the patriarchal suppression. They need to be liberated. Women are not for the sake of men doing all menial jobs, cooking and nursing. They are the glory of God as men are. They are the glory of creation.

5.3 Ecclesial Dimension

Though Paul speaks about the equality of men and women in the Lord, it is still not yet achieved. The veiling during the public worship may not be practiced in many of the churches now. But still the women are not given equal status with men. They are still veiled in the eyes of the community. They are not visible.

5.4 Indian Context

India has a very peculiar context of women. The women in India still undergo a lot of trauma. They are invisible in the main society. I‟m not denying the fact that there are many powerful women in our country. But majority of the Indian women are still suffering under the hands of men.

The Indian church also needs to appreciate the work done by women. They have worked equal to or sometimes more than their male counterparts in proclaiming and spreading the gospel. Women need to be liberated, they need to be uncovered, if we want to call our church as the body of Christ.

6 Conclusion

Paul proclaimed a law-free gospel. His idea of radical freedom and equality was probably misunderstood by the Corinthians. Therefore, he needed to clarify them. In the present day context, his arguments for veiling may not find valid stand. But he undoubtedly says that women and men are equal in the Lord. But this equality is not achieved by mere imitation of each other as some try to do even today. This is achieved rather through mutual respect and reverence while accepting that men are men and women are women. Female is beautiful and sublime. What is feminine need not to be thrown away to be liberated. Empowering of women should take place in feminine style.

Let them be…
Not as objects but as subjects…
Let them be …
Not as masculine but as feminine…
Let them be…
Not out of compassion but out of their existence…

Covering head may not be an issue today. But society and the church is still a long way to accept women and their public roles. We have covered them in our minds, in our homes, and in our society. They are still chained up in the custom, in tradition, in The Book, and in the society.

Today Jesus asks us, “Unbind her, Let her go!”[11]


1. Kirk, A. Martha. Women in Bible Lands. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1998. 2. Perriman, Andrew, Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul, Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998

3. Dorinisch, Loretta, Paul and Third World Women Theologians, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1999.

4. Byrne, Brendan SJ, Paul and the Christian Woman, Homebush, NSW: St Paul Publications, 1998.

5. Schotroff, Luise, Let the Oppressed Go Free: Feminist Perspectives on the New Testament, trans., Annemarie S. Kidder, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press.

6. Baumert, Norbert S.J., Woman and Man in Paul: Overcoming a Misunderstanding, trans., Patrick Madigan, S.J, and Linda M Maloney, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996.

7. Levine, Amy-Jill, ed., A Feminist Companion to Paul, London: T&T Clark International, 2004.

8. Collins, Raymond F., “First Corinthians” in Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 7, ed., Daniel J. Harrington, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1999.

[1]Some scholars argue that the latter part is attributed to Paul because of a certain Greek literary style in which the quotation marks were not used.

[2]This will be explained later at number 3.1

[3]We find angels as overseers in the book of Job.

[4]E.g. Judg10.18;11.8-9, the word used for Jephtah as the head of the tribe in Codex Vaticanus & Codex Sinai is arche where as in Codex Alexandrinus it is kephale

[5](Is. 9.14-15)

[6] Andrew Perriman, Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998), 40.

[7]Creation stories in Gen 1&2

[8]exousian echein, V.10. This verse actually supports this theory.

[9]Gal 3.26 & 1 Cor 11.11

[10]I wonder why then the artist who portrayed Jesus presented him as having long hair. One possible

answer to this would be the presence of Nazarenes who were offered to God. Such people usually kept long hair.

[11] Ref. Jn 11.44

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