Time to Grow: Female Deacons

There comes a time to grow as a person and as a Body. I believe that this is one of those times for me. It’s been building, over the past few weeks, and although gestation may not be complete, I believe that I know what it is –

It concerns women deacons:

Γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς, μὴ διαβόλους, νηφαλέους, πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν. (1Ti 3:11)

Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. (1Ti 3:11 NKJ)

Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. (1Ti 3:11 NRS)

There is no question that the Paul sees a dichotic ministry – Elders/Overseers and Deacons. We note that in primitive Church (Acts 6), the Apostles were given to preaching and public service, but when the local community had grown, God set out deacons to handle the daily labor of the Church. This allowed the preachers to preacher and the servants to serve.

After discussing the qualifications of an Elder/Overseer, Paul moves on the Deacons. Many translations have translated γυνή as wife, but the word can be translated as woman. In other words, after giving a qualification of the male Deacons, it is possible that Paul gives the qualifications of the female Deacons.

Otherwise, you have several questions to answer –

  • Why didn’t Paul given qualifications for the wives of the Elders/Overseers? It was this position that was the ‘highest,’ rather, the ones with spiritual authority.
  • If this word was applied to the women of both offices, why would they be given qualifications but no office? Further, where is the biblical example of this?

Calvin believes that this refers to the wives of both offices – yet, we cannot find the example of that in Scripture. In Philippians 1.1, Paul addresses his letter to the leadership of the Church there, not their wives. Remember, Paul was a member of the Presbytery (Elders/Overseers), and yet he was unmarried. Considering that Paul makes allowances for the unbelieving spouses of believers, I find it difficult to accept that this use of the word applies to the wives of these office holders.

The issue that we have then, is can we find an example in Scripture of a woman with the title of deacon (διάκονον) applied to her.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. (Rom 16:1 NLT)

Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν, οὖσαν διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς, (Rom 16:1 BGT)

For a discussion on this verse as applied to Phoebe, please see Suzanne’s excellent article.

For those of you who are interested in the current debate within the Presbyterian Church in America, see this article (which was what got me thinking about this ) Between Two Worlds: Female Deacons.

Finally, because I like to text things by others, let me present a quote from John Chrysostom (Homily XI, on the Pastorals)

Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of Deaconesses.

I am ready for discussion.

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