Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Is it only men who can represent Jesus?

Some Christians believe that, because Jesus is a man, only men can represent Jesus. More especially they believe that church leaders somehow represent Jesus to their congregation, and, because Jesus is male, women cannot be church leaders. This article looks at some of the flaws in these beliefs, and it answers the question: Is it only men who can represent Jesus?

Jesus Christ as a Human Being

Jesus left heaven and came to earth as a human being – a male human being. However Jesus’ maleness and masculinity is not emphasised in the New Testament.[1] Jesus is rarely referred to in the Greek New Testament as an anēr (adult male); he is most commonly referred to as an anthrōpos (a human being). Most verses which speak about Jesus’ salvation ministry emphasise his humanity without referring to his gender. This emphasis on Jesus’ humanity is lost in many English translations which translate anthrōpos into the English word “man” instead of “human being” or “person”. Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 15:47; Philippians 2:7-8, and 1 Timothy 2:5 are just a few of many verses about Jesus where anthrōpos is translated into English as “man” instead of “person”.

Is it only men who can represent Jesus?The message of the New Testament is that Jesus became the Saviour of humanity because he became human and died for our sins; not because he became a male human.[2] Jesus is just as much the Saviour and Redeemer of women as he is of men.[3]

Jesus’ Gender-inclusive Teaching

Jesus is also just as much the Teacher of women as he is of men.  When Jesus taught the crowds, he did not give certain instructions to men and other, different instructions to women, nor did he teach about so-called “gender roles”. Nowhere in the New Testament does it state that some of Jesus’ teachings and virtues are more appropriate for men than for women. Nor is the example of Jesus’ life and ministry somehow more applicable to men just because Jesus was male.

Both men and women are called to follow Jesus and attain to the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). As a Christian woman, my greatest desire is to follow Jesus closely and have Christ fully formed in me (Gal. 4:19). Jesus is my Lord, my Saviour, my Teacher, and he is my role model.

The Presence and Representation of Jesus Christ during Communion 

Some Christian denomination teach that the person officiating at a Communion service represents Jesus Christ, and, because Jesus Christ was male, the person officiating must also be male. These churches believe that Communion is a kind of re-enactment of the Last Supper,[4] and the person officiating at Communion is taking the part, or place, of Jesus.[5]

Jesus led the first Communion meal, however I cannot see that a person officiating at subsequent Communion meals needs to represent Jesus Christ.  The notion that a church leader represents Jesus is especially problematic for denominations, such as Roman Catholicism, which teach that the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Why have a person represent Jesus when Jesus’ actual body and blood is thought to be present?

Other denominations believe that Jesus is present during Communion in a spiritual way. If Jesus is truly present at Communion why do we need someone else to represent him? This doesn’t make sense.  Moreover, as someone who has a relationship with the real Jesus, why do I need anybody else to represent him to me?

Christians who know the real Jesus – the ultimate High Priest and mediator – do not need someone else to play the part of a priestly mediator. It is not Christians who need someone to represent Jesus to them, it is non-believers.[6] Christian men and women are called to be ambassadors – representatives – of Jesus Christ to non-believers, and help bring them to God (2 Cor. 5:19-20a).

Conclusion

Being “Christ-like” has nothing to do with gender. All Christians should be demonstrating the virtues of Jesus and emulating his qualities.[7] Both men and women should be imitators of Christ and endeavouring to live according to his teachings, while encouraging others to do the same by example. As Christians, we do not need another person to represent Jesus to us or act as some sort of priestly, mediatory figure. We do not need someone acting the part of Jesus when we already know and have the real Jesus.


Endnotes

[1] Masculinity covers a wide spectrum of personalities, attitudes, values and behaviours. While it is difficult to define what comprises masculinity, some Hierarchical Complementarians state that the main masculine qualities are courage, honour, and duty. Perhaps men are generally more concerned with honour than women – though Jesus was not concerned about his personal honour (Phil. 2:7); however, many women have proven that courage and duty are not tied to masculinity.

[2] I have suggested reasons why Jesus came to earth as a male towards the end of my article entitled, “Is God Male or Masculine?” here.

[3] For example: The salvation of women is obscure in the King James Version of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature . . .”  This masculine bias is unwarranted as 2 Corinthians 5:17 is completely gender neutral (or gender-inclusive) in the Greek.  [More about gender-inclusive translations, especially the NIV 2011, here.]

[4] The Last Supper is recorded in  Luke 22:7-20; cf Matthew 26:17, 26-29; Mark 14:22-25.

[5] See also 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:20-34.Christian denominations who regard their clergy as priests, believe they act “in persona Christ” during Communion or the Eucharist. Paul Jewett writes:

“. . . if the priest acts ‘in persona Christi,’ not ‘in masculinitate Christi,’ then ‘NATURAL resemblance’ between Christ and the priest, it would seem, does not entail PHYSICAL, that is SEXUAL resemblance, but a resemblance which is natural to the SPIRITUAL order with which the worshiping congregation has to do. And in this order there is neither male nor female, even as there is neither Jew nor Greek. We would, therefore, conclude that since the Word was made flesh, as the apostle John has declared him (John 1:14), we rightly heed those who, in the flesh, symbolize his presence as they speak and act in his name. But we see no reason to add to what the apostle said by insisting that the Word was made MALE flesh, for both male and female are equally bearers of the divine image. And since God created humankind in his image, male AND female, we can only conclude that women as well as men should be ordained to the priesthood, because femaleness, like maleness, is a fitting symbol (sacramental sign) of Deity.”
The Ordination of Women: An Essay on the Office of Christian Ministry (Jewett’s use of caps.)

[6] I am aware that I represent Jesus in certain situations. For instance, when I go into public schools (where only a few students and teachers have a genuine knowledge of Jesus Christ and Christianity) I know that how non-believers regard me may have a bearing on how they regard the church and its leader – Jesus Christ.

Posted January 2nd, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

16 comments on “Is it only men who can represent Jesus?

  1. It so helps me to think of Jesus as a person. Thanks for this and many other important truths — Once again, great work.

    • Marg says:

      Melody, I guess I do think of Jesus a person who is male, but I see his saving work as FULLY available to all humanity – applicable to all men and women equally. I do not think this is apparent when anthropos is continually translated as “man”. And in fact, some churches have taught, perhaps some still do, that the wife is saved through her husband. I think it’s called Covenantal Representation. I personally know of a Christian woman who was told by her minister that she was “saved” through her non-Christian husband.

      Kristen, I completely agree. We do not need anyone to represent Jesus to us in any context, because he is with us and within us.

  2. Kristen says:

    Good points– especially about communion. But even when not participating in communion, Jesus is right there with us whenever we gather. Jesus said, “wherever two or more are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of you,” so we don’t need anyone to represent Him to us in any church gathering, since we have Him right there!

  3. […] New Covenant women have the same potential as their brothers to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ and to be sharers in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3-4).  Both men and women can represent Jesus Christ. […]

  4. […] Is it only men who can represent Jesus? […]

  5. Don Johnson says:

    Marg wrote: “In fact, nowhere in the New Testament does it state that some of Jesus’ teachings and virtues are more appropriate for men than for women.”

    There is one teaching by Jesus that was only appropriate for men, but it serves to prove the point of Jesus being an egalitarian. In the generation before Jesus, Hillel the Pharisee taught that a husband could divorce his wife for “Any Matter” based on an apparently extra word “matter” in Deu 24:1, while Shammai the Pharisee taught that this was not the case. In other words, Hillel interpreted this Scripture to claim that men had an inherent advantage in obtaining a divorce, only a husband could get a divorce for no reason at all. This is what is being discussed in Mat 19:3-12. Matt 19:3 has a group of Pharisees asking whether Hillel’s “Any Matter” divorce is in the Torah. Jesus does not get around to answering this specific question until Matt 19:9 when he says that if a husband does divorce for no good reason, then the divorce is invalid.

    Thus Jesus made the rules on marriage and divorce equal. He made 7 corrections to what the Pharisees taught in Matt 19:3-12 all of them in the direction of gender equality.

  6. Marg says:

    The Pharisees asked “Is it lawful for a husband . . .” (Mat 19:3), so Jesus answered their question by teaching what is lawful for a husband. However, as you indicate, Jesus directed his explanation towards promoting equality and unity between husband and wife, male and female.

  7. […] Some Christians do have the function and role of congregational leadership, however it is an unscriptural view that divides believers into priestly clergy and non-priestly, non-ministerial lay people.  According to the New Testament, all believers regardless of gender, race or social status are priests.  Our main roles as priests is to corporately worship God with spiritual offerings, declare his praises and represent God to the world (1 Peter 2:5,9; cf John 4:24; Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15).   As already stated, Christian believers do not need another person to act as a mediator between themselves and God.  We do not need any priest other than Jesus Christ, our High Priest. […]

  8. […] Is it only men who can represent Jesus? […]

  9. Linda Cooper says:

    Marg, I’m Roman Catholic and have been searching & discussing with others lately about ordination of women in our church. Last week I listened to a learned female speaker on Catholic Radio speaking against it. We Catholics (and maybe others) think of Jesus as the “bridegroom,” and His church as the “bride” so, according to the speaker, the “bridegroom” must be male. I could find no argument to counter that SPECIFIC point.

    But my struggle & search ceased when I read your words “…Roman Catholicism, which teach that the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Why have a person represent Jesus when Jesus’ actual body and blood is thought to be present?” Hiding in plain sight!

    I now realize that the bridegroom will be truly present no matter who officiates at the Supper of the Lord, be it male or female!

    Thank you.

  10. Marg says:

    Thanks for your comment, Linda. Yes the bridegroom is present! 🙂

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that the bridegroom and bride is a metaphor of Jesus Christ and the Church. As a metaphor it is unwise to read more into it than intended.

    Love, sacrifice, unity and purity are some of the themes that are emphasised in Ephesians 5:25-32. [More on this here.] I think emphasising gender (which is something that Christians involved in gender debates sometimes do) is reading too much into the bride-bridegroom metaphor.

    Jesus is male; but the Church isn’t really female, especially as it consists of men and women, and boys and girls.

  11. Linda Cooper says:

    Thanks again, Marg, for nudging me to look further. The bridegroom/bride as metaphor was worth looking into.

    It was another eye-opener to realize that Jesus never “identified” himself as bridegroom (although there is plenty of disagreement out there,) He only “compared” himself to a bridegroom when telling a story/parable, or making a point.

    What I’m leaning toward is: Maybe the correct metaphor is God/Children, not bridegroom/bride. More research required.

    Thanks again for your great insights.

    Linda

  12. Jamie says:

    maybe this is a little off topic but I see Jesus in women. Sometimes I feel like the teaching in church about how to be Christ-like, men should be told that women are good examples of how Jesus was. Women pray, requests on all the prayer chains taken to the throne for the needs of others (so lovingly & so insightfully) are usually made by women, and when I see the elderly cared for, it’s done by daughters, sisters, wives and female workers, in the schools I see the loving & teaching of children accomplished 99.9% by women … when God guides my eyes to notice someone putting their needs last due to love for another, “someone” is more often a she. Women live their whole day helping their family to treat others with love and do what is right.

    • Marg says:

      Jamie, I know what you’re saying, and I wonder about this myself. I think, generally speaking, women do find it easier to be more selfless than men, and yet Jesus taught husbands to be give themselves up for their wives, just as he gave himself up for his beloved Church. This is a big ask!

      All followers of Jesus are called to be like Jesus, and I see aspects of Christ-likeness in many of my brothers and sisters, and yet they do not act as official representatives of Jesus to me.

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