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No Female Deacons.

Proponents for female deacons use 1 Timothy 3:11 to argue for female deacons. Here is a brief exegesis of that passage arguing against this interpretation.

In verses 11 and 12, Paul describes the domestic qualifications for deacons: Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.

He begins with the qualifications of the deacon’s wife. The word translated women in the NASV may also be translated “wives.” This term has been understood in three ways: wives of deacons, a sub-class of female diaconal assistants, or deaconesses (female deacons).

           Grammatically any one of the three is permissible. As noted the term may be translated “wife” or “woman.” Moreover, this verse is related to verses 2 and 8 by the term likewise. As elders and deacons must possess certain qualifications, the women must as well. Therefore, Paul is designating a third class. Hence, grammatically he could be referring to any of the three interpretations.

With respect to the sub-class of formally designated female assistants, there is no biblical evidence for such a formal structure. We have shown the relationship of the three offices in the Old Testament to the three offices of minister, elder and deacon in the New Testament. We will see in chapter 5 that there was a class of widows designated to be on the list, but their qualifications are given there. The concept of a fourth office is foreign to anything in the Scripture. With respect to the other two options, there are clear arguments in the text that compel us to interpret this term as wives.

There are certain things in the text that suggest that Paul is not talking about women deacons. First, note that although the reference to women is grammatically separated by “likewise”, the verse is sandwiched within Paul’s discussion of deacons. If Paul were going to establish that women should serve as deacons, would it not make better sense place the reference after verse 12 and then refer to both in verse 13. Or he could have repeated the phrase from verse 10 with respect to women, “Let the women who serve as deacons be reverent.” In other words, he easily could have written in a way that would have made clear that he was talking about female deacons.

Second, if he were discussing the qualifications for a female deacon, he would have given a more comprehensive list of qualifications, while in fact a number of deacon qualifications are omitted. He repeats three required of male deacons, dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate. He requires male deacons to possess all three of these qualifications and the elders are also to be dignified and temperate—not gossips would be implied in above reproach. Notice, however, that he omits some very important qualifications for deacons. It is not adequate to say he assumes them, when he does not assume for deacons what he says is required for elders. At least six elder qualifications are repeated for deacons: respectable, husband of one wife, temperate, free from the love of money, mange house and children well. But the list in verse 11 omits important qualifications for deacons: not greedy, moral purity, doctrinal integrity, domestic qualifications, and the need for testing. It is very significant that he does not discuss the matter of greed, which is particularly important with respect to the work of the deacon. Note, as well, the missing reference with respect to family life. Now you might say that that is not important because the woman does not lead the household, but in the other place where the Apostle Paul gives qualifications for a woman in the church who was to be placed on the list, he gives domestic qualifications. “Let a widow be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man” (5:11). Even as an elder and a deacon must be a one-woman man, the widow must have been a one-man woman. This omission would be quite strange if he were speaking of female deacons. Moreover, there are no provisions for testing or proving of the gift of service. Both the office of elder and deacon require maturity and testing, as does the widow placed on the list (5:10), surely a female deacon would need to be tested. Furthermore, there is no requirement for doctrinal maturity.

Of course there are the broader theological arguments that we must never forget, because Scripture interprets Scripture. The New Testament offices parallel the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king. In the Old Testament, a woman was never placed in any of those offices and in the New Testament there is no example of a woman in any of those offices.

Some will object with Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Romans 16:1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” The proponents of female deacons assert that we have here an example of a female deacon. The word translated “servant” is the word translated “deacon” in verse 8. The term, however, is often used to mean servant (Matt. 20:26; 22:13; Gal. 2:17; 2 Cor. 6:4; 11:23; 1 Tim. 4:6). We can illustrate that a word may be both a reference to a New Testament office and be used in a broader way as well from the word “apostle.” The word ‘apostle’ has a technical meaning, absolutely necessary to our theology of Scripture, referring to the twelve apostles and the Apostle Paul (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 1:1). But it is also used more broadly to refer to those sent out by the church on some special mission. Most often the term is then translated “messengers” (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil 2:25). When Paul says that Phoebe was a servant of the church, he means that she faithfully served the saints in Cenchrea. For this reason, the church in Rome ought to minister to her needs.

                        Another argument against women being in the office of deacon is the matter of authority. Paul teaches in chapter 2 that a woman is not to exercise authority in the church. It stretches the imagination to say that the person who makes decisions about the property of the church and handles church funds–determining who gets aid or interest free loans; and recommending the budget to the elders– does not exercise authority in the church.

                        Having shown that Paul is not referring to a class of women who assisted the deacons or to female deacons, we conclude that Paul is writing about the qualifications of the wives of deacons. There is, however, one argument offered against this interpretation. That is that Paul fairly consistently uses the definite article (the) with the word woman when he is writing of wives. There is, though, a good reason why Paul does not use the definite article here. Remember that the term likewise places the word women in a list with bishops and deacons. Paul does use the definite article with either bishops or deacons. Therefore, since the term women is part of the list he omits the definite article.

                        Therefore, I conclude that women are not authorized to serve as deacons.