Archive for the 'Deacons' Category

Should churches have female deacons?

Friday, September 25th, 2015

(image courtesy cliparthut)

By Spencer D Gear

We can be in personal discussion among Christians or in an Internet interaction, but raise the issue of women in ministry among evangelical Christians and you can expect to get some strong views both ways. Mostly I’ve heard the anti-women in ministry view defended most vigorously. Certainly, conservatives are opposed to women pastors.

Two prominent Christian leaders disagree

Leading California pastor, John MacArthur, uses 1 Tim 2:8-15 as his foundation for this conclusion:

Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. That is true not because women are spiritually inferior to men but because God’s law commands it. He has ordained order in His creation—an order that reflects His own nature and therefore should be reflected in His church. Anyone ignoring or rejecting God’s order, then, weakens the church and dishonors Him (MacArthur 2013).

N T Wright, who teaches at St. Andrews University, Scotland, takes a different perspective. He concludes with this understanding of 1 Tim  2:8-15, after an examination of this passage:

How then would I translate the passage to bring all this out? As follows:

8So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. 9In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence (N T Wright, ‘Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis’, 2004).

I visited a Christian forum on the Internet where there was a thread on ‘female deacons.’[1] Some argy-bargy was there to read between traditionalists who oppose female deacons and those who are open to another view from Scripture. The latter are sometimes called progressives. I would prefer to use the terminology, ‘They let the plain meaning of Scripture speak for itself’ when interpreted in context.

The topic began with a comment about the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) convention adding to paragraph VI that stated that ‘the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture’. The person could only speculate why this change was necessary but said it was now ‘time to add [that] the office of deacons is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. I base this on 1Timothy 3:10-12’. The person brought this up because a local Southern Baptist Church (SBC) has female deacons and he considered this to be wrong. He said he was interested in any Scripture that would cancel this anti-female deacon Scripture and what we know about these verses.[2]

Others chimed in with these kinds of messages:

bronze-arrow-small It was a common thing for women to be teaching women and children. The person attended a ‘very traditional Baptist church’ where women sang, had exclusive Bible studies among women and were engaged in activities that pertained to children. ‘But when it comes to the main sanctuary, it is only men at the pulpit’. Why? ‘Everyone knows’ that is what the Bible teaches, or more specifically, ‘it is what Paul teaches’.[3]

bronze-arrow-small They can be in leadership roles according to Romans 16:1-2, but they cannot teach over the assembly, based on 1 Tim 2:13-14, 1 Cor 14:40 [Is this meant to be 14:34?] Women can be in leadership because Scripture allows them to be equal in worth to men (Gen 2:23). But this person insisted that women cannot be pastors according to 1 Tim 2:9-12. The view was that this maintained the divine order of accountability as articulated in Eph 5:21-33. The role of ultimate headship has been assigned to men (1 Cor 11:3). Women [cannot] be pastors, but they can have words of instruction in the church (1 Cor 14:26). This was a similar kind of ministry to that of Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the OT and Anna in the NT as well as the four daughters of Phillip who prophesied. However, it’s important to note that they didn’t teach in an official capacity over the assembly.[4]

bronze-arrow-small ‘Paul said women cannot preach in the church, but they can serve in other ways’. If you want to be upset with anyone, get upset with Paul. He is the one who wrote those letters and was influenced by God to do it.[5]

bronze-arrow-small Women can be elders in the Baptist church I attend, but it’s usually with their husbands. However, ‘the men teach the men and the women teach the women. This is how it ought to be’. It is not that women can’t teach men and men can’t teach women because we can learn together. When it comes to being authoritative over each other in certain aspects of gender, this is the way it is because men and women are not alike.[6]

bronze-arrow-small ‘We should take the Bible for what it says. If it says women are not to do certain things then they should not’.[7]

Then came …

Archaeology, tombstones & women presbyters

(image courtesy Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome)

It was pointed out that in the first four centuries of the NT era, archaeology has found grave sites that confirmed there were women presbyters. ‘One tombstone reads, (don’t remember the names in order) ___ the daughter of Lois the presbyter’.[8] He stated that in many areas around the Mediterranean Sea, there have been discovered paintings of women in leadership positions and inscriptions in churches and on tombstones. These women are named and their positions are that of bishops and deacons. His view was that ‘archaeology demands that we reconcile what we have from Paul with the evidence’.[9]

What is the evidence from archaeology? ‘As far as the statement that there is no tradition of women priests, there’s good evidence from archaeology and iconography, in areas of what is now the former Yugoslavia, and southern Italy, that there were women presbyters, leaders of Christian communities in those places, in the early centuries. And a presbyter is what we would call a priest today’ (Johnson 2010:98).

Aisha Taylor, a Roman Catholic, researched the archaeological evidence for women’s leadership in the early centuries of the church. She found that

there are iconography pieces all throughout the Mediterranean region … and they are not only mosaics[10] and frescos.[11] They are also inscriptions on tombs and artwork. They are on catacomb walls and on church walls, in very holy places. One of these is in the Catacombs of Priscilla.[12] It’s a second century fresco and it pictures a woman presiding at Eucharist, which is a role reserved specifically for priests, and only for priests. Another example is the fourth-century inscription on a tombstone in Jerusalem where it says in Greek, “Here lies the minister and bride of Christ, Sophia the Deacon, a second Phoebe.” This is also important in that it relates to the biblical person of Phoebe, a New Testament woman, who Paul references as a deacon. And the other important thing about that is the word for deacon, diakonos, is the word that’s used for Paul’s ministry as well. So it really shows an egalitarian form of ministry in the early church. These women had the same ministry as Paul….

I think the evidence is very convincing and one of the reasons is because of the large number of archaeological finds around the Mediterranean. In almost every major Christian community in the early church, you’ll find images of women as priests, bishops or deacons. And that’s convincing evidence. The other pieces that are important are the inscriptions on tombstones. People wanted future generations to remember these women as leaders in the church. They put them in the holiest places they could: in churches and on tombstones….

We know that in the first nine centuries in many places in the church, women were serving in ordained deacon roles. The scholarly evidence shows that there are sixty-one inscriptions and forty-one literary references to women deacons in the church.

One of the foremost scholars on women’s ordination is John Wijngaards. He was a former Roman Catholic priest and he actually left the priesthood over women’s ordination. In 2006, he published his book, Women Deacons in the Early Church,[13] so evidence is getting out there’ (Aisha Taylor 2010:92, 93). The claim: No women deacons in NT

What about this line of reasoning?

There were no women deacons. Scripture does not show us any. It of course speaks of the qualifications for being a male deacon and we know of Stephen’s being chosen to be a deacon, etc., but nothing about women as deacons. Unfortunately, and as has been noted, the root word (diaconos), meaning a “servant,” can be translated either as deacon or deaconess. But we know from history what deacons did and what they were considered to be …. and we also know what deaconesses were and what they did. When Pheobe (sic) is called a diakonos, therefore, we know that it means a deaconess, not a deacon, because we know that there was a difference, both from scripture and from history.[14]

I will be challenging that judgment below.

Another became quite aggressive with what I regard as an incoherent argument. He asked if another believed it was suitable for women to hold authority in the world and not in the church. Are there two sets of standards? If so, that’s hypocrisy![15]

Then there was one who pointed to Gal 3:26-28 and the egalitarian nature of the body of Christ,

‘In Galatians 3 … Paul says:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

If there is no “male or female”… how can we then decide that what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2 [this refers to 1 Tim 2] is a rule for women specifically to be silent in church and for authority to be held over to men? And what authority? Is Christ not the Head? Either Paul contradicts himself, or he is speaking to [a] specific incident.

If we are all “one in Christ” where is the distinction?[16]

What kind of response would that elicit? The rejoinder came that there are three persons with three absolute roles in the Godhead. The Father’s role is not the Son’s and the Holy Spirit doesn’t complain about the Helper role or not being the commander in chief. That role is the Father’s. This person pointed out that the issue was context, context, context. His complaint was with Christians who practise eisegesis and don’t care about the context. He blamed this on the influence of a modern/postmodern world that affects the minds of Christians so they are afraid to affirm the importance of context. He also blamed ‘extreme eisegetical (sic) conservative Christians’ for hindering sound exegesis.[17]

The reply to this emphasis was: ‘I’m glad you mentioned context, because in the original context 1 Timothy 2:11-12,’ ‘woman’ can be translated as ‘wife’ and ‘man’ for ‘husband’. He was prodding: ‘Just some food for thought’.[18] This back and forth continued:

If God gives a woman the ability and blessing to speak His Word through her, via the Holy Spirit, which we all are told we are to possess once born again, should we not listen?
Does the Holy Spirit silence a woman simply because she is a woman?[19]

Biblical evidence: A woman as deacon

 

(image courtesy Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome)

Is there no evidence of any female in Scripture being designated as having the ministry of a deacon? My investigations of Scripture lead me to the following understanding:[20]

Talking of what Paul wrote, I do not know why we are arguing over whether a woman can be a deacon in the church when there is a clear example of a female deacon in the early church in Romans 16:1 (NIV), ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.’ What was Phoebe’s ministry (Rom 16:1)? Paul states, ‘She has been helpful to many, and especially to me ‘ (Rom 16:2 NLT). So Phoebe, a female deacon, was ‘helpful to many’ and especially to a male – Paul. What that ‘helpful’ meant, we are not told directly in this text. K Hess points out that in Rom 16:1, the role of a female deacon is ‘left undefined’ (Hess 1978:549). Hess is careful to point out the difference between doulos (slave) and the feminine, diakonia (serving at table). This

is important for our understanding of diakonos. doulos stresses almost exclusively the Christian’s complete subjection to the Lord; diakonos is concerned with his service for the church, his brothers and fellow-men, for the fellowship, whether this is done by serving at the table, with the word, or in some other way. The diakonos is always one who serves on Christ’s behalf and continues Christ’s service for the outer and inner man; he is concerned with the salvation of men. Hence, Paul can see himself as a servant of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23), a servant through whom the Christians in Corinth had come to faith (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the church (Col. 1:2 5)….

The work of a deacon finally developed into a special office, whose beginnings can be traced already in the NT (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). In the course of the church’s history the office developed a standardized form, though its precise form is not clear from the NT. Nor was it evidently universal in the church. Originally all the manifold functions exercised in the church could be called “services” or ministries (1 Cor. 12:5). Hence, the various office-bearers (apostle, prophet, etc., cf. Eph. 4:11 f.) were “servants”, diakonoi, of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5; Col 1:25). But in the more specialized sense the concept was narrowed down to the material care of the church, which was closely linked with the office of the bishop (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1-7, 8-13; 1 Clem. 42:1 f.; Ignatius, Mag. 2:1; 6:1; Trall 2:1). This means that for the “servant” there was always a task for spirit and body expressed by his role in public worship, care of the poor and administration. The service of God and of the poor were, after all, a unity, as the agape, the common meal implied. Originally it was obvious that all the “servants” stood in a brotherhood of service, but the concept was increasingly eroded by the growth of a hierarchy with its different grades….

The NT knows also the work of the female deacon, but her role is left undefined (Rom. 16:1; perhaps also 1 Tim. 3:11. The position is still recognized in some churches today. It was closely connected with that of the widow (Hess 1978: 548-549).

However, according to a leading Greek lexicon, the ministry of being a deacon is that of a ‘servant of someone’ or ‘helper’ and may include women (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:183-184). Thayer’s lexicon gives that meaning as ‘one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master; a servant, attendant, minister’. When used of a deaconess, it refers to ‘a woman to whom the care of either poor or sick women was entrusted’ (Thayer 1962:138).

In Romans 16:3 (NIV), Paul discusses the ministry of ‘Priscilla (female) and Aquila (male), my co-workers in Christ Jesus’- possibly a wife and husband duo. In 5 mentions of Priscilla/Prisca and Aquila in the NT (Acts 18:2-3, 18, 26; Rom 16:3 and 1 Cor 16:19), we know that this female and male couple (perhaps a missionary husband-wife team) ministered with Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:18) and then he left them at Ephesus (Acts 18:19).

Then Apollos was speaking boldly in the synagogue at Ephesus and needed some further instruction. Priscilla and Aquila heard him and ‘invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately’ (Ac 18:26 NIV). This woman Priscilla was involved in ministry to a man. She was not ministering to women as indicated here; a man was included.

In some of these examples in the Greek text, Priscilla precedes Aquila in the naming of them (see Ac 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3). It is uncertain why Priscilla, a female, is mentioned before Aquila, a male, in a male-dominated culture. Donald Moo indicated that ‘scholars have suggested that she may have been the more dominant of the two, the more gifted, the one who brought most money into the marriage, or the one who was most significant in their “home-based” ministry’ (Moo 1996:919, n. 11).

To the church at Corinth, Paul in his first letter was able to say, ‘The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord and so does the church that meets at their house’ (1 Cor 16:19 NIV). The inference is obvious: The husband-wife team was engaged in ministry in a house church – in their own house. There is no indication that Priscilla was involved only in ministry to the women and children in that house church.

I commend to you the article, ‘The Neglected History of Women in the Early Church‘ (Christian History Institute), by Catherine Kroeger. One of the points she makes is:

Paul also mentions Phoebe in Romans 16, “a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” [Rom 16:1 Interlinear]. He calls her a prostatis or overseer [Rom 16:2 Interlinear]. This term in its masculine form, prostates, was used later by the Apostolic Fathers to designate the one presiding over the Eucharist. And Paul uses the same verb, the passive of ginomai (to be or become), as he uses in Colossians 1:23 [Interlinear]: “I was made a minister.” In the passive, the verb sometimes indicated ordination or appointment to an office. Thus one might legitimately translate Paul’s statement about Phoebe: “For she has been appointed, actually by my own action, an officer presiding over many.” The church in Rome is asked to welcome her and assist her in the church’s business.

Becoming impatient

One fellow became rather intolerant towards those who close down women in ministry: ‘See what i mean OZ. Oh women can teach the word of God just not in church, ahh what? the church is God’s children, no its not, ahh what?’[21]

I urged him[22] to be more tolerant towards those who maintain the conservative line with silence of women in ministry. We need to provide the counter evidence.

In Brown’s Greek word studies from the NT, Hess did an extensive investigation on the meaning of diakonos (deacon, servant) that I’ve quoted at length below.

What was Phoebe’s ministry (Rom 16:1)? Paul states, ‘She has been helpful to many, and especially to me ‘ (Rom 16:2 NLT). So Phoebe, a female deacon, was ‘helpful to many’ and especially to a male – Paul. What that ‘helpful’ meant, we are not told directly in this text. K Hess points out that in Rom 16:1, the role of a female deacon is ‘left undefined’ (Hess 1978:549). Hess is careful to point out the difference between doulos (slave) and the feminine, diakonia (serving at table). This

is important for our understanding of diakonos. doulos stresses almost exclusively the Christian’s complete subjection to the Lord; diakonos is concerned with his service for the church, his brothers and fellow-men, for the fellowship, whether this is done by serving at the table, with the word, or in some other way. The diakonos is always one who serves on Christ’s behalf and continues Christ’s service for the outer and inner man; he is concerned with the salvation of men. Hence, Paul can see himself as a servant of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23), a servant through whom the Christians in Corinth had come to faith (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the church (Col. 1:2 5)….

The work of a deacon finally developed into a special office, whose beginnings can be traced already in the NT (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). In the course of the church’s history the office developed a standardized form, though its precise form is not clear from the NT. Nor was it evidently universal in the church. Originally all the manifold functions exercised in the church could be called “services” or ministries (1 Cor. 12:5). Hence, the various office-bearers (apostle, prophet, etc., cf. Eph. 4:11 f.) were “servants”, diakonoi, of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5; Col 1:25). But in the more specialized sense the concept was narrowed down to the material care of the church, which was closely linked with the office of the bishop (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1-7, 8-13; 1 Clem. 42:1 f.; Ignatius, Mag. 2:1; 6:1; Trall 2:1). This means that for the “servant” there was always a task for spirit and body expressed by his role in public worship, care of the poor and administration. The service of God and of the poor were, after all, a unity, as the agape, the common meal implied. Originally it was obvious that all the “servants” stood in a brotherhood of service, but the concept was increasingly eroded by the growth of a hierarchy with its different grades….

The NT knows also the work of the female deacon, but her role is left undefined (Rom. 16:1; perhaps also 1 Tim. 3:11. The position is still recognized in some churches today. It was closely connected with that of the widow (Hess 1978: 548-549).?

According to a leading Greek lexicon, the ministry of being a deacon is that of a ‘servant of someone’ or ‘helper’ and may include women (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:183-184). Thayer’s lexicon gives that meaning as ‘one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master; a servant, attendant, minister’. When used of a deaconess, it refers to ‘a woman to whom the care of either poor or sick women was entrusted’ (Thayer 1962:138).

Here are the two links I was thinking about.[23] I recommend that you listen to the interview with N T Wright. However, the first article is an excellent overview.

  1. Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis. Note his explanation of 1 Tim 2.
  2. Why I support women in ministry‘ (an interview with Wright).

As Wright points out, 1 Corinthians cannot be referring to the absolute silence of women when the church gathers (as traditionalists want to interpret 1 Cor 14:33-34). How do we know this? First Corinthians 11:3 teaches that ‘every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head’. These women were not praying and prophesying with their mouths closed.
In addition, 1 Cor 14:26 (NIV) tells us what should happen when the church gathers (which is a long way from most churches today): ‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up’. It does not say, ‘each of you, except women.’
We need consistent exegesis and interpretations.
There is some interesting information about women in ministry in ‘Women teachers in the early church‘ (Rev Kathryn Riss).

What about women’s ministry in the Old Testament?

A person asked about Deborah and I raised the person of Huldah, Old Testament ministries by women.[24]

(image courtesy datab.us)

 

I have had anti-women in ministry, males and females, use Deborah as an example of someone who was not in a leadership position in the church. I have a fairly standard answer:

I must be reading a different Bible to yours. Judges 4:4-6 (ESV) states,

‘Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgement. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun’.?

Therefore, Deborah, the prophetess, most certainly had a leadership role in judging Israel.

Second Kings 22:15 says of Huldah, the prophetess, that ‘she said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord. . .”’

The OT prophetess was a public person who heard the voice of God and delivered it publicly to God’s people, Israel, and to individuals. She was a ‘thus says the Lord’ person in ministry.

My conclusion is that there were definitely prominent women in active ministry to men in the Old Testament.

Ambiguity of office of deacon

A person gave a detailed and engaging comeback:

Where I may quibble is in the ambiguity of the office of deacon. In Acts 6:1-6, the deacons were appointed for a very specific reason. Allow me to dwell in the land of literary analogy here, but I see the deacon / deaconess role as one of physical service, the hands of the church whereas elders were the mouth of the church. The Apostles were pretty clear in their pronouncement that they were to preach and / or teach over addressing the physical needs of the widows in this Acts passage.

From what we later read in qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13), there isn’t really a way to glean that there was any teaching or preaching requirement placed on them. So yes, in that sense, there is a bit of ambiguity. However, implicit in the aspect of being hands is that there would be some “teachable moments” in their service, the most obvious lesson being taught through love and selfless sacrifice of comfort in their service.

For the record, I find that the “wives” of translations like the ESV should probably be translated “women” based on various commentaries I have come across. This makes sense from a contextual viewpoint and would be a clear Scriptural approbation of the deaconess role.

So, if we then take the preceding passage about elders and the Titus passage about eldership into view, it really begins to clear up.

Elders are required, in both cases, to be able to teach. This requirement is not covered with deacons because they’re not teaching in a more formalized position of overseeing a local church. I would draw a line between what the Apostles did in preaching or even my pastor does now in preaching, for instance, versus what I do when I sit down to talk to someone about the gospel. Even though both are technically teaching / preaching, there is a difference in the office of what’s being done. This is consistent with Paul’s orderly instructions for prophesying and speaking in tongues, because something being done in church requires some structure.

That said, women teaching and / or preaching is a different discussion than this discussion of female deacons. I actually hesitate to lump the two together because I find the case to be much murkier for female preaching and teaching.

The only way I see to “circumvent” the above would be in finding things too ambivalent to make a decision upon; which would make the roles of elder and deacon essentially one in the same. That seems problematic from the standpoint of the clear juxtaposition of Acts 6:1-6 to the Apostles, and the fairly reasonable resemblance of the apostolic role to the elder role. Many Baptists seem to have confused the two, as most Baptist churches I know appoint deacons who oversee. I find this to be in error.[25]

That was a thoughtful piece of input. My response was:[26]

You have given the example of the practical ministry to those in need, according to Acts 6:1-6 as being that of deacons. I hope you noticed that the noun, ‘deacon’ (feminine form) is in Acts 6:4 (Interlinear), ‘But we to prayer and the diakonia of the word’. However, in Acts 6:2 (Interlinear), the verb is used for ‘serve (deaconize) tables’. So one can be a ‘deacon’ of the word of God and a ‘deacon’ in serving those in need. How about that?

It seems to me that this person has defined ‘deacon’ in a much narrower view than that of the NT. If he considered the word study of diakonos above that I quoted by K Hess, he would note that Paul was a deacon and this is the specific language:

Paul can see himself as a servant (diakonos) of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23), a servant through whom the Christians in Corinth had come to faith (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the church (Col. 1:25)’.?

In Col. 1:23,[27] Paul states, ‘of which I became a diakonos’ (minister, servant, deacon). First Cor 3:5 asks, ‘What, therefore is Apollos and what is Paul? Diakonoi (plural), i.e. servants/deacons/ministers, through whom you believed’. Second Cor 3:6, ‘Who also made us competent diakonoi (plural) of a new covenant’. In the context at 2 Cor 3:3, Paul uses the verbal form diakoneo, ‘Having manifested that you (Corinthians) are an epistle deaconized (ministered to) by us….’ Then we have the verses that affirm that they are diakonoi (plural) of Christ (2 Cor 11:23); in 2 Cor 6:1, Paul describes his colleagues and himself as ‘working together’ and then in 2 Cor 6:4 he states, ‘in everything commending ourselves as diakonoi (plural) of God’. Paul states in Col 1:24 that he rejoices in what he has suffered for the Colossians, but in the next verse, Col 1:25, he states, ‘of which I became a diakonos‘.

So, a deacon (diakonos) has a much broader understanding in the NT than that of serving with practicalities to those in need as in Acts 6:1-6 (Interlinear).

Therefore, your statement needs to be questioned: ‘In qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13), there isn’t really a way to glean that there was any teaching or preaching requirement placed on them’. Yes there is, when we understand the broad use of diakonos in the NT that I have described above. Paul and Apollos were deacons through whom the Corinthians came to believe (1 Cor 3:5 Interlinear). Are you suggesting the Corinthians believed without any preaching / teaching by Apollos and Paul?

To both the Ephesian and Colossian Christians, Paul declares he is a servant (diakonos) of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23). Surely there is a speaking, teaching, preaching role in being such a deacon of the gospel? That is what is affirmed in 1 Cor 3:5.

I quibble with the narrow definition of deacon that does not involve a speaking, teaching function as that is not what I find in the breadth of illustrations of its use in the NT. However, ‘to deaconize / serve’ is the Greek infinitive used in Acts 6:2 (Interlinear), ‘to serve tables’. Yes, this Acts 6 passage does speak about gathering the disciples and not neglecting the word to serve at tables (Acts 6:2), but that is addressing a local issue and does not deal with the breadth of meaning of ‘serve’ (diakonos – noun or verbal forms). However, Acts 6:4 (Interlinear) affirms they were diakonos of the Word. So the breadth of meaning here indicates serving at tables and serving with the Word.

I want to note that our understanding of the role of pastor today seems to have evolved to a role that does not seem to be evident in the NT church. The pastoral ‘position’ today seems to be closer to that of a formalised teaching elder. But I have no problem with that gifted person being male or female. I especially recommend to you the interview with N T Wright on women in ministry (above). See also my articles:

cubed-iron-sm Must women never teach men in the church?

cubed-iron-sm The heresy of women preachers?

I want to say that my position is in no way influenced by feminism in Australian society. My understanding is based on exegesis of the biblical text in context. I find there are biblical inconsistencies when we close down women in teaching ministry to all people.

(image courtesy cliparthut.com)

 

I speak from personal experience as one who was a die-hard traditionalist in women-only as teachers in the evangelical church. I was a difficult nut to crack as my Baptist church was rigid in its adherence to men-only in the teaching ministry – except for teaching other women and children. And have a guess where else? On the mission field! The mission field would be in sad shape if it were not for women who were in teaching ministry on the field – teaching to men and women. Some of my family is from the Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren) denomination which is staunchly anti-women in ministry. I have known outstanding Brethren women teachers on the mission field who come home on furlough and were not allowed to do in the local church in Australia what they could do overseas. It’s called hypocrisy!

Strange emphasis

This one came from out of left field:

A deacon is a servant of a priest. They do not preach or assume authority in any traditional Christian church unless they are men working in place of the vicar. This is presumably the case with the early Christians.

Every traditionally secure church has rejected female leadership under explicit canon law- the Scriptures simply do not allow it.[28]

That is not my understanding of Scripture.[29]

That is not what I have gleaned from exegesis and exposition of the NT. I’ve attempted to expound a biblical view in this article. Paul was a deacon who preached and assumed authority but his ministry was also designated as that of a diakonos (deacon/servant).
I think this person introduced some personal presuppositions that intruded into his response here, especially in his view of ‘servant of a priest’ and ‘men working in the place of the vicar’. He wants to associate the vicar with early Christians. Where is such a concept in the NT?

What is ‘every traditionally secure church’? Is that meant to exclude Pentecostal charismatics? Is that meant to exclude traditional evangelical churches and women in active teaching ministry to men on the mission field where there are not enough ‘men in ministry’ to cover the need?

In addition, take a read of Romans 16, where we have these women in ministry:

  • ‘Phoebe, a deacon/servant of the church in Cenchreae’ (Rom 16:1);
  • ‘Greet Priscilla and Aquila, fellow-workers (sunergoi) of me (Paul) in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 16:3). Priscilla is the woman and she is named before the male (possibly her husband), Aquila, indicating she might have had the more prominent ministry. She and her husband were ‘fellow-workers’ with Paul. She was not relegated to teaching only women and children as nothing of that kind of restriction is mentioned here.
  • Rom 16:3 states that Priscilla and Aquila had a church that met in their house. Imagine that – a woman and a man leading a house church!
  • Rom 16:7, ‘Andronicus and Junias, my relatives … outstanding among the apostles’. Junias is a female and is an apostle among the larger group of apostles (beyond the 12).
  • Rom 16:12, ‘Tryphaena and Tryphosa, the ones labouring in (the) Lord’. We are not told exactly what this ‘labouring’ was, but it does not say, ‘labouring, except for labour among a group that includes men and women’. In Douglas Moo’s commentary, he notes that these two ‘were probably slaves or freedwomen and may have been sisters’. He noted that both names, as Lightfoot noted, are found at about Paul’s time for servants in the imperial household’ (Moo 1996:925, 925 n. 53).

Husband of one wife

Image result for husband and wife clipart public domain

(image courtesy acclaimimages.com)

 

This kind of emphasis often comes up in a discussion of men and women in ministry: ‘1 Timothy 3 gives a list of requirements for being in the leadership of a church. One of them was being a man of one wife. That should automatically rule out female preachers and deacons’.[30]

This was another view by one who abandoned the traditional line. His claim was that only males were legally permitted to commit adultery in the first century through an addition to marriage. Therefore, Paul had no reason to affirm “a woman of only one husband” as that is all that could have existed at that time in the NT world. The person stated that sexism has no place in the body of Christ. He would list Bible verses, do the exegesis, and discuss history, but he has found men are more interested in telling women what not to do that the men have little interest in the truth. These men are interested in power.[31]

One response was: ‘How would you explain Paul’s clear reference to Phoebe as a deaconess? What about women speaking instructions to the church in 1 Cor. 11:5?’[32] He continued:

I know extra-biblical writings aren’t inspired, but it does suggest accepted practice in the early church. Pliny wrote there were female deacons in the church at Bithynia. (G. H. R. Horsley, ed., New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1979 (North Hyde, N.S.W.: The Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, 1987), 122.)

That would have been just after John’s death, timewise. If they’d been there even a few years they’d have been operating in that office while John the Apostle was living. [33]

Another chimed in,

Yes, the husband of one wife, not two or three wives. There were Jewish men in the assembly who may have had more than one wife because they were coming from Judaism, where polygamy was allowed. It would not be necessary to make this rule for women seeing that women were never allowed, even in Judaism, to have more than one husband.[34]

Should this rule out women preachers? I wrote:[35]

The 1978 edition of the NIV for 1 Tim 3:12 is translated, ‘A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and household well’. The latest edition of the NIV renders this verse as, ‘A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well’. Why the change? It is because the Greek word translated ‘wife’ is gune and it can mean either wife or woman. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning as ‘woman … of any adult female’ or ‘wife’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:167). A&G support 1 Tim 2:11ff as referring to a ‘woman … of any adult female’. So the meaning is that ‘a deacon must also “be faithful” to his own wife [1 Tim 3:2] and must manage his children and his household well [1 Tim 3:4]’ (Fee 1988:89).
This letter was written to Timothy who was in an Ephesian culture (see 1 Tim 1:3) where there were false teachers. Ephesus was a provincial capital in Asia Minor where the Temple of Artemis (Diana) was located. This cult of Artemis was a syncretism of various religions but was a cult of ‘Oriental fertility rite, with sensuous and orgiastic practices’. We don’t know the fuller details of how this cult influenced the false teachers in Ephesus but Paul was concerned to root out the error that was infiltrating this new church (Fee 1988:40).

Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1 Tim 3 Paul is addressing the need to deal with faithfulness of a man to his woman/wife in a sexually promiscuous culture. We must not impose our understanding of ‘husband of one wife’ on this text (are bachelors prohibited from being church leaders?) when ‘man of one woman’ or ‘faithful to his wife’ could be better translations.

It is sometimes difficult for us to get to the core of what was happening in the culture of the first century and not to impose our understanding of marital fidelity onto the text, based on our 21st century perspective.

It’s time for a logical fallacy

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)Fallacies index

I’ve encountered it over and over where Christians can’t deal with the heat of discussion so they use logical fallacies to divert attention from the hot topic under discussion. That’s exactly what Mike did with this reply to me:

I did deal with Deborah. By dealing with all Judges spoken of. They were sent to fight. They have nothing about them to translate to preacher. Maybe we should take from them to put fleeces in our yard to determine what God wants us to do. Gideon did it. As far as we know, no blacks were Judges. Should we then conclude only whites can be preachers?

The leaps progressives make to fight for women ordination into the priesthood is absurd. Were priests in the temple women? No. Does NT clearly and prescriptively say in 1 Tim 3 the. I overseer is to be a husband of one wife?[36]

My reply was: ‘That’s a red herring logical fallacy. This kind of fallacious reasoning leads to a breakdown in logical conversation. That’s what you have done with this kind of response’.[37] A fellow challenged me on this. His view was that I didn’t deal with the arguments on this Christian forum. It isn’t a university and discussions are ‘pretty fluid’ and his claim was that I ‘come across as pompous and conceited. Plus, like I said, it looks like you cannot deal with his argument and that you are trying to deflect from that’. His view was that in the time it took to respond to his two posts I could have responded to the one promoting a logical fallacy. He was trying to be helpful in how I ‘come across’ and the need to be ‘gentle and helpful’, both ways, and that I ‘appear disrespectful to those on the outside looking in’.[38]

Off topic for the sake of communication

I, therefore, decided to take a lot of time to respond to Mike, who promoted the logical fallacy,[39] and to take up the challenge that I did not answer Mike’s questions. Now to his points:

1. Deborah was a prophetess (Judges 4:4) who judged Israel. You say that judges in the OT were sent to fight, inferring that Deborah was one such fighter. However, that is not what Judges 4:5 states. She sat under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She questioned Barak, ‘Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you…’ Then in Judges 4:14, Deborah said to Barak, ‘Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?’

Without a doubt, Deborah, the prophetess, had a speaking and leadership role in Israel. It is true that Deborah was not a preacher but she had a public speaking role as a prophetess. We cannot claim silence for Deborah. She was eminently a public person and with a vocal dimension to her ministry.

2. Your statement, ‘Maybe we should take from them to put fleeces in our yard to determine what God wants us to do. Gideon did it’, is unrelated and irrelevant to our discussion. This is one example of a red herring fallacy. We are not discussing a public speaking role. If you want to use Gideon, perhaps you should go to Judges 6:22-24 for Gideon’s public speaking example where the angel of the Lord ministered to him and Gideon said, ‘”Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die”. Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, “The Lord is Peace”‘. We are dealing with public speaking issues. Here Gideon is speaking to the Lord God.

We are not discussing what God wants us to do, so the ‘fleeces’ episode (Judges 6:36-40) is a red herring.

3. You say ‘no blacks were judges’. How do you know and what has that to do with eminent public speakers in the OT? Zilch! Hence it is a red herring fallacy.

4. Should only whites be preachers? That’s a horribly racist suggestion and an irrelevant spin off from our discussion. It’s another red herring.

5. Your claim is, ‘The leaps progressives make to fight for women (sic) ordination into the priesthood is absurd’. Firstly, I’m not a ‘progressive’; I’m an exegete of Scripture. I have no other thoughts in mind but to determine what the Scriptures state. I’m finding that the leaps traditionalists make to ignore the archaeological evidence from the early centuries (that I’ve documented above) that female deacons were presbyters, bishops and deacons, is amazing. To skip over this evidence causes me to ask, who are the ones being ‘absurd’?

6. ‘Were priests in the temple women?’ Not to my knowledge! But are there ‘priests’ in the Protestant church today? Just because there are examples of male-only ministries in the OT, does not exclude the eminent females in ministry in the OT such as Miriam,[40] Deborah and Huldah. Let’s not overlook Anna, the pre-crucifixion prophet (Luke 2:36), an eminent female in ministry.

7. You perceptively ask: ‘Does NT clearly and prescriptively say in 1 Tim 3 the overseer is to be a husband of one wife?’ Some translations use ‘the husband of one wife’ (1 Tim 3:2 ESV) but the ESV has a footnote at this point, ‘Or a man of one woman; also verse 12’. The latest edition of the NIV translates as, ‘faithful to his wife’ (1 Tim 3:2 NIV). The NRSV translates as, ‘married only once’ (1 Tim 3:2 NRSV).

Commentator and Greek exegete, Gordon Fee, notes that there are at least 4 options in the meaning of this phrase, which the CF.com poster only wanted to interpret one way. Fee states that the options are:

a. Require that overseers be married as the false teachers were forbidding marriage and that Paul urges marriage for wayward widows (1 Tim 5:15; cf 2:15).

b. It could prohibit polygamy with its emphasis on ‘one wife’, but polygamy was rare in pagan society.

c. It could be prohibiting second marriages. This is supported by much data including ‘all kinds of inscriptional evidence’ that praises women who were married.

d. It could refer to marital fidelity. The New English Bible translates the phrase, ‘faithful to his one wife’ (1 Tim 3:2 NEB). So it refers to living an exemplary married life in a culture where marital infidelity was common. It was assumed it would happen in that culture.
Fee concludes that the fourth option, ‘the concern that the church’s leaders live exemplary married lives seems to fit the context best – given the apparently low view of marriage and family held by the false teachers (1 Tim 4:3; cf. 3:4-5)’ (Fee 1988:81).

Therefore, the meaning of ‘husband of one wife’ is not as straight forward as it seems at first glance. There is the additional factor that ‘until the reforms of Justinian[41] [for Hebrew women], a Jewish man might legally have more than one wife at a time, a practice that may be in view in the stipulation that an elder should be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:12). Polyandry [a woman having more than one husband], however, was not possible for a woman, and adultery was punished harshly’. As for Greek women, the extant Greek literature defines Greek women according to their sexual function: courtesans,[42] concubines[43] for the daily pleasure of the master, wives to bear legitimate children and keep house. Wives were neglected socially and sexually (Kroeger 2000:1278-1280).

Conclusion

On the Internet, the topic of female deacons led to a negative conclusion. Although most supported the service ministries of women to practical needs as deacons, but not in the teaching role. There were a few, including myself, who tried to show that the nature of the ‘deacon’ ministry – without a preaching / teaching dimension – cannot be supported by exegesis of the biblical text.

I showed this in relation to Paul’s ministry where diakonos was used also to apply to more than ministry to practical needs. There is also a post-NT period when women were engaged in ministries of elder, deacon and bishop. The archaeology of the first few centuries AD demonstrates this through paintings in catacombs and on inscriptions on tombstones.

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[44] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Fee, G 1988. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). W W Gasque (NT ed). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hess, K 1978. Serve, Deacon, Worship, in C Brown (ed), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3, 544-549. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Johnson, A 2010. Roman Catholic Woman Bishop, in M E Fiedler (ed), Breaking through the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women Religious Leaders in Their Own Words, 96-99. New York, NY: Seabury Books.

Kroeger, C C 2000 Women in Greco-Roman world and Judaism, in C A Evans & S E Porter (eds), Dictionary of New Testament Background, 1276-1280. Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

MacArthur, J 2013. Can Women Exercise Authority in the Church? Grace to You (online), August 29. Available at: http://www.gty.org/blog/B130829/can-women-exercise-authority-in-the-church (Accessed 24 September 2014).

Moo, D J 1996. The Epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Taylor, A 2010. Former executive director, Women’s Ordination Conference on the archaeological evidence for women’s leadership, in M E Fiedler (ed), Breaking through the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women Religious Leaders in Their Own Words, 91-96. New York, NY: Seabury Books.

Thayer, J H 1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes


[1] Christian Forums.com, Christian Communities, Baptists, ‘Female deacons’, August 26, 2015. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/female-deacons.7904366/ (Accessed 23 September 2015).

[2] Ibid., Larry Smart#1.

[3] Ibid., Crowns&Laurels#9.

[4] Ibid., Poor Beggar#3.

[5] Ibid., Mr.Stepanov#7.

[6] Ibid., Goodbook#13.

[7] Ibid., mizzkittenzz#88.

[8] I have not located this statement in an online search.

[9] Christian Forums, ibid., Hank77#23.

[10] A mosaic is ‘a picture or pattern produced by arranging together small pieces of stone, tile, glass, etc.’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v mosaic).

[11] A fresco is ‘a painting done rapidly in watercolour on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colours penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v fresco).

[12] They are in Rome. ‘The Catacombs of Priscilla sit on the Via Salaria, with its entrance in the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Priscilla. It is mentioned in all of the most ancient documents on Christian topography and liturgy in Rome; because of the great number of martyrs buried within it, it was called “regina catacumbarum – the queen of the catacombs.” Originally dug out from the second to fifth centuries, it began as a series of underground burial chambers, of which the most important are the “arenarium” or sand-quarry, the cryptoporticus, (an underground area to get away from the summer heat), and the hypogeum with the tombs of the Acilius Glabrio family)’ (Catacombs of Priscilla, available at: http://www.catacombepriscilla.com/index_en.html, accessed 25 September 2015).

[13] The full details for author and book are, J N M Wijngaards 2006. Women Deacons in the Early Church: Historical Texts and Contemporary Debates. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company (Herder & Herder).

[14] Christian Forums.com. ibid., Albion#33.

[15] Ibid., Bluelion#6.

[16] Ibid., 98cwitr#74.

[17] Ibid., mikedsjr#76.

[18] Ibid., mikecwitr#77.

[19] Ibid., 98cwitr#80.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#107.

[21] Ibid., Bluelion#114.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#116.

[23] Ibid., OzSpen#118.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#119.

[25] Ibid., Striver#122.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#125.

[27] All verses in this paragraph are from an Interlinear version of the Bible.

[28] Christian Forums.com, ibid., Crowns&Laurels#123.

[29] Ibid., OzSpen#126.

[30] Ibid., classicalhero#26.

[31] Ibid., LaSorcia#48.

[32] Ibid., Poor Beggar#27.

[33] Ibid., Poor Beggar#28.

[34] Ibid., Hank77#37.

[35] Ibid., OzSpen#129.

[36] Ibid., mikedsjr#136.

[37] Ibid., OzSpen#138.

[38] Ibid., John Robie#148.

[39] Ibid., OzSpen#152.

[40] See Ex 15:20-21 (ESV).

[41] Justinian was an important late Roman and Byzantine emperor who reigned from AD 527 – 565 (The Ancient History Encyclopedia 2009-2015. S v Justinian I).

[42] A courtesan was ‘a prostitute, especially one with wealthy or upper-class clients’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v courtesan).

[43] A concubine was ‘chiefly historical (in polygamous societies) a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife or wives’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2015. S v concubine). In contemporary society she would function like a mistress.

[44] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’, 4th rev and aug ed, 1952 (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.