This blog post will not be comprehensive in dealing with this question. The main reason I’m asking it is because we presented new deacon candidates at Raintree this morning for the first time since I’ve been here, including both men and women.
Because I know there are people of different backgrounds who read my blog, I also want to mention that this is not a question of equality or capability. Men and women were both created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), and are absolutely equal in value, worth, and capability. But, even with this beautiful equality, God has designed men and women for particular roles in the church and in the family.
For elder/pastor (used interchangeably in the New Testament), it’s as clear as can be that the office of elder is limited to men. And this is not for cultural reasons limited to the first century, but for universal reasons that are as true for us as they were for first-century readers (1 Tim. 2:12-14). Again, this is not at all because women aren’t capable. I guarantee you that my wife would be a fantastic elder, because she has great wisdom and discernment (more than me in most ways). But God has clearly laid out in Scripture that elders of the church are to be men. I’ll follow up this post soon with more on this topic.
This is about whether or not Scripture allows for female deacons. I’ve heard objections to these questions before that sound like this: “You’re saying if God leads a woman to be an elder, she can’t do it?!” Here’s the problem with that objection: God will never lead someone to do something that contradicts His Word, because in doing so He would be contradicting Himself!
Another clarification needing to be made is what a deacon’s role actually is. For many churches, the role of deacon is that of one of the primary leaders and spiritual shepherds of the church. But this is not how the Scripture presents the role of deacon. Deacons are servants of the church. From Acts 6 (the first installment of deacons) and other passages, we see that deacons were to take care of the physical needs of the church so that the elders and pastors could focus their time and energy on preaching and teaching the Word of God. In today’s church, this could look like helping those in need, administrative duties, facility maintenance, among lots of other things. But, the main point in this clarification is that deacons and elders were separate in their role and function within the church.
So, back to the question. To be honest, there seem to be legitimate arguments on both sides of this question. For the sake of space, though, I’m going to present why I do think Scripture allows for female deacons.
- 1 Timothy 3:11- The word translated “wives” (in many translations) is the exact same word for “women.” In fact, the word itself means “women,” but can be translated “wives,” depending on the context. Many feel that the context points toward translating it “wives,” and others think that it refers to a special group of women, specifically, deaconesses, or female deacons.
- It does not seem fitting that 1 Timothy 3:11 would give qualifications for deacon’s wives, when there are no qualifications ever given in Scripture for elders’ wives, including just before this text in the elder qualifications listed in verses 1-7. This is another argument for translating gynaikas as “women,” not as “wives.”
- It seems that if Paul was referring to wives here, he would have said “their wives” (including the pronoun), but he did not.
- In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is referred to as a “deacon.” Some will want to translate diaokonos here as “servant,” as opposed to a formal “deacon.” But of the 29 times this word is used in the New Testament, this is the only time it is used in regard to a specific church. In other words, it seems to clearly refer to an official role, not just a general “servant.” Not to mention, the description in verse 2 of Phoebe’s activities fit the role of deacon.
I realize this barely hits the surface of the discussion, but we will get into this more in depth this fall as we start the book of 1 Timothy at Raintree. The purpose of these blog post is simply to give a few of the strongest arguments for allowing women to be deacons.
Do these arguments decisively prove the case for female deacons? No. Nor do the arguments against female deacons. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of this issue, which is why I believe that this is a gray issue.
This is also I don’t think it’s necessarily right or wrong for churches to allow for female deacons, nor to limit the office of deacon to men. For us at Raintree, because we see it as a gray issue, we have decided not to keep women from this role.
And I have to say, we have some EXCELLENT female deacons.