Pacific Coast Pastor Ashley Wilkerson: Bible translators changed Scripture to diminish women leaders

Ashley Wilkerson is co-senior pastor of Pacific Coast Church in Tacoma, Wash.
Ashley Wilkerson is co-senior pastor of Pacific Coast Church in Tacoma, Wash. | YouTube/Ashley LeRoy Wilkerson

Ashley Wilkerson, senior co-pastor of Pacific Coast Church in Tacoma, Washington, which she leads with her husband JonFulton Wilkerson, has drawn criticism for suggesting that Bible translators altered Scripture to diminish evidence that women served as apostles, deacons and even pastors in the early church.

Online chatter about Wilkerson began with a clip posted online last month from a sermon she taught at a women's conference last November at Trinity Church Miami called "Lead Like a Woman."

"Prisca, Mary, Phoebe, Junia, Tryphena and Tryphosa — their names are my favorite to say — many others that were apostles, leaders in the early church. Some of which, their names have been changed in Scripture because we understood, we thought, 'Oh no, they can't be women apostles.' Yeah, they were," Wilkerson said in the clip posted by The Holy Nope, a ministry of Reformation Frontline Missions run by Austin Keeler to "make Jesus unavoidable."

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"I'm not telling you this so you distrust Scripture. I'm not talking about that. I'm calling you to dig deeper because sometimes it gets muddled in our culture," she said.

Reacting to Wilkerson's argument, Pastor Carl A. Hargrove, associate professor of pastoral ministries at The Master's Seminary, dismissed her sermon as "imaginations of a mind with an unbiblical agenda."

"The imaginations of a mind with an unbiblical agenda posing as spiritually enlightening. Women apostles, some whose names were changed to hide the truth??!!" he asked on X incredulously.

When asked to elaborate on his response to Wilkerson's argument in an interview with The Christian Post, Hargrove said Wilkerson has "no evidence" of her claim.

"Well, she has no evidence of names changed, of women who are apostles. She obviously didn't put it forth, even to make such a claim and put forward the evidence, there is none," he said.

"The unbiblical agenda is her role as a pastor when 1 Timothy 2 clearly states that that is a role for a man. And the issue, as some people may say, is cultural or even specific to issues at Ephesus are not true because Paul takes the argument all the way back to creation itself in order. Obviously, the issue is not one of capabilities, but simply order of God's design," he said.

The role of women in ministry has been debated for centuries. While prominent Christian denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and Presbyterian Church in America, don't permit women to serve in pastoral teaching roles, others, such as Wilkerson's Assemblies of God and many Mainline Protestant denominations, allow women to serve as lead or teaching pastors or priests.  

Wilkerson, the daughter-in-law of megachurch Pastors Rich and Robyn Wilkerson, defended her position in an interview with CP.

She described the theology of her three-year-old church as consistent with the Evangelical tradition coming out of the Assemblies of God denomination.

She maintains that while she has no problem with Scripture and believes God's Word is infallible, translators aren't.

Wilkerson said she was inspired to dig deeper into research by the work of Beth Allison Barr, an American historian who's currently the James Vardaman Endowed Professor of History at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

In her April 2021 book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, Wilkerson said Barr "gives a beautifully articulated evidenced-based explanation."

"I don't feel the need to respond at all to untrue and unfounded claims. I would encourage all people interested in this subject to research the history of the translations for themselves. The evidence is irrefutable if you're willing to look," she told CP before sharing an excerpt from Barr's book.

It was Paul's women in Romans 16 who finally changed my mind. On a whim, I asked one of the students to open their Bible and read Romans 16 out loud (at a Christian university I can always count on at least one student to have a Bible in hand). I asked the class to listen and to write down every female name they heard.

It was a powerful teaching moment — for the students and for me. I knew women filled those verses, but I had never listened to their names being read aloud, one after the other.

Phoebe, the deacon, carried the letter from Paul and read it aloud to her house church.

Prisca (Priscilla), whose name is mentioned before her husband's name (something rather notable in the Roman world) as a coworker with Paul. Mary, a hard worker for the gospel in Asia.

Junia, prominent among the apostles. Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Paul's fellow workers in the Lord. The beloved Persis, who also worked hard for the Lord. Rufus' mother, Julia, and Nereus' sister. Ten women recognized by Paul.

Seven women are recognized by their ministry: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphaena, Try-phosa, and Persis. One woman, Phoebe, is identified as a deacon.

Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek write that Phoebe 'is the only deacon of a first-century church whose name we know.' 

Another woman, Junia, is identified not simply as an apostle but as one who was prominent among the apostles.

Here I was, walking my students through compelling historical evidence that the problem with women in leadership wasn't Paul; the problem was with how we misunderstood and obscured Paul. Here I was, showing my students how women really did lead and teach in the early church, even as deacons and apostles.

Junia, I showed them, was accepted as an apostle until nearly modern times, when her name began to be translated as a man's name: Junias. New Testament scholar Eldon Jay Epp compiled two tables surveying Greek New Testaments from Erasmus through the twentieth century. 

When asked why the Apostle Paul would have referred to Junia as an apostle, Hargrove suggested that Paul was using the word in a generic sense.

"An apostle can also just be one who is sent, and that's the basic meaning. One who is sent out. There are people today that will say they are apostles today. But the problem with using that term is how are you using [it]? Are you saying you're an apostle as Peter and Paul? Then, if so, there are certain qualifications. Do you have the attesting signs and wonders of an apostle? Were you a witness of the Lord Jesus Christ as an apostle? Have you been commissioned by Christ to be an apostle? Are [you] commissioned through Christ and the local church to be an apostle? So that's the problem with claiming apostolic office today," he said. "Now, if a person says, 'Well, I'm an apostle' simply in the sense that one who is sent out to do the Lord's work? Sure. Because that's the general sense of it. But we have to understand it in its context."

Hargrove insisted that his response to Wilkerson should not be seen as misogynistic because he is simply defending the Gospel.

"People use terms today, and they throw them around without any real reference to understanding them or the context in which they're used. How often do we hear today, someone would say, 'Well, that's your position, you're obviously racist.' Racism has lost its real sense of the gravitas that it should have because we throw it around without considering the context or the weightiness of the issues at hand," he said. "So a person can say 'misogynistic' all day. Their issue is not with me. Their issue is with Paul and with the Scripture. Deal with what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2 and the fact that his argument goes all the way back to creation, not just a localized case."

Wilkerson said the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal denomination, adopted a position paper in August 2010 challenging the position that women should not hold leadership positions in the church.

"The Assemblies of God has been blessed and must continue to be blessed by the ministry of God's gifted and commissioned daughters. The Bible repeatedly affirms that God pours out His Spirit upon both men and women and thereby gifts both sexes for ministry in His Church. Therefore, we must continue to affirm the gifts of women in ministry and spiritual leadership," the paper said.

"Surely, the enormous challenge of the Great Commission to 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Matthew 28:19) requires the full deployment of all God's Spirit-gifted ministers, both men and women."

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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