Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Can Women be Deacons?

Yes and no. It depends what you mean by the term. The office of deacon is seen by some as an equivalent to the Biblical office of ruling elder (e.g. many Baptist congregations), and by others as merely someone who offers a temporal service to the Church in an official capacity, e.g. a caring ministry. If it were the latter, then there wouldn't be a problem with women being deacons, but the Biblical office of deacon is something different and something which most modern evangelicals don'’t even think of: a role of oversight over others who carry out temporal ministries, e.g. caring for the old and sick.

1. We are told in Acts 6:1-5 that the office of deacon was an office "over this business" of distributing food to the widows, which later expanded into other temporal ministries. This is an office of oversight exercised by men, and early Church history (which needs to be used to understand some of these vageries and corroborate our interpretations of different words) shows that it was indeed an office of temporal oversight exercised by men, with others (typically widows, hence 1 Tim. 3:11) exercising the caring ministry under them.

2. When the office was instituted in Acts 6:1-5, all seven deacons were men; not one was a woman.

3. The qualifications for the office in 1 Tim. 3:8-12 are addressed to men. Women are seen as distinct from the deacons ("their" is not in the original, by the way), so clearly the deacons are something other than women - presumably men? They are "the husbands of one wife [who rule] their children and their own houses well".

4. What about Phoebe in Romans 16:1? The office of deacon should not be confused with the Greek word 'διακονος' (diakonos). Phoebe is a 'διακονοςs' at the Church in Cenchrae. This word means a servant, typically one who serves at tables. It is used in that sense throughout the NT, often translated as 'minister' or 'ministry'. It refers also to the specific office of deacon.

Given that the office is referred to as a male one, which 'διακονος' is Phoebe? A deacon, or a servant? It must be a servant. The translation 'deacon' is misleading. All the best translations translate it as 'servant'.

On a positive note, women can and should be active in temporal ministries under the oversight of deacons.

(For more information see this article by Brian Schwertley and also an opposing one by Christian Adjemian. Both of these are well worth reading. I guess I fall between these two opinions.)

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