Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes.

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TylerR's picture

Editor

The bit from Pliny's letter to Trajan (ca. 110 AD) is particularly persuasive. I remember being quite surprised when I first read it, many years ago, and saw the reference to female deacons. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

If you allow women to be deacons and there are both men and women serving as deacons, can they then serve as chairperson of the deacon board?

Bert Perry's picture

In my view, the key issue is authority.  The authors do (rightly) note that a lot of what deacons do these days seems to be the purview of elders, at least in part, but if you're going to be leading things like the distribution of alms to widows in churches where there are competing parties, you've got to have some level of authority to say "no" or "yes".  Hence we would infer that we ought to have men in that position.

Complicating things, IMO, is that "diakonos" and "gyne" have a range of meaning that makes it easy to make mistakes.  Does the former mean servant (the status of huge portions of early church members) or the church office?  Does the latter mean "woman" or "wife"?   We miss a lot of these things because our language now uses different words for those distinctions; ancient Greeks (like modern Germans, Spanish-speakers, Hebrew-speakers) inferred it from the context.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

If you allow women to be deacons and there are both men and women serving as deacons, can they then serve as chairperson of the deacon board?

Our church is (male) Elder-led with female deacons that serve alongside male deacons.  My wife is the deacon in charge of benevolence, we have another woman deacon that runs the nursery/young kids program, and another woman deacon that oversees the counting of the money/offerings.  Our male deacons oversee taking care of the church building and spearhead outreach ministries of the church.   The Elders are the ultimate authority over these ministries that are led by deacons.  

Ron Bean's picture

It has been my observation that churches in which deacons have some sort of perceived authority, women deacons are not permitted. I've seen deacons who are in reality elders. In churches where deacons serve as servants to the body, usually under the oversight of an elder(s), women deacons are permitted.

Practically, I don't consider someone who serves me (waits on my table) as having authority over me.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Josh S's picture

I have mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I see nothing about the role of a deacon that is inconsistent with the biblical vocation of womanhood. I think a godly woman could do the duties of a deacon without violating either the commands or underlying principles about femininity in the Scriptures. And yet, I still find the positive case for female deacons to be rather underwhelming. At best, it seems possible. I'm not sure it's even probable, and definitely not certain. That makes me uncomfortable. Another practical consideration is that my church comes from a movement that has traditionally not had a good handle on the role of a deacon. They're usually quasi-elders that do hold a decent amount of authority in the church. Therefore, accepting women into the diaconate could easily cause confusion and send the wrong message. And in an age of gender confusion, that's a big deal to me.  

Josh Stilwell, associate pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Des Moines, Iowa.

T Howard's picture

According to Schreiner, in all of the NT, the only possible / maybe reference to an actual female Deacon (with a big 'D') is Rom 16:1? That seems really thin evidence for female deacons.

The other textual evidence is 1 Tim 3:11, which is again debatable.

And the Pliny reference isn't really helpful either because we don't know if Pliny truly understood what a Deacon (big 'D') was compared to just a Christian woman who served others.

pvawter's picture

T Howard wrote:

According to Schreiner, in all of the NT, the only possible / maybe reference to an actual female Deacon (with a big 'D') is Rom 16:1? That seems really thin evidence for female deacons.

As far as this point goes, the only possible references to actual make Deacons is Acts 6, correct? And even that identification is disputed by some. Unless you're aware of another reference that I can't think of right now.

T Howard's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

T Howard wrote:

 

According to Schreiner, in all of the NT, the only possible / maybe reference to an actual female Deacon (with a big 'D') is Rom 16:1? That seems really thin evidence for female deacons.

 

 

As far as this point goes, the only possible references to actual make Deacons is Acts 6, correct? And even that identification is disputed by some. Unless you're aware of another reference that I can't think of right now.

Well, 1 Tim 3:12 is pretty clear that deacons are men. I don't know how you can understand, "Let deacons each be the husband of one wife," to refer to female deacons. Acts 6 gives us an example of the first deacons being selected (which were all men) and 1 Tim 3:12 is explicit that deacons are men. On the other side, we have an obscure and debated reference in Rom 16:1, and we have a debated reference in 1 Tim 3:11.

pvawter's picture

T Howard wrote:

Well, 1 Tim 3:12 is pretty clear that deacons are men. I don't know how you can understand, "Let deacons each be the husband of one wife," to refer to female deacons. Acts 6 gives us an example of the first deacons being selected (which were all men) and 1 Tim 3:12 is explicit that deacons are men. On the other side, we have an obscure and debated reference in Rom 16:1, and we have a debated reference in 1 Tim 3:11.

Yes, 1 Tim. 3:12 indicates that deacons are men. Is anyone saying they're not?

I was simply pointing out that your previous objection that the only possible reference to an actual "big D" deaconess was Phoebe in Rom. 16, but I'm not aware of any actual references to any actual "big D" deacons except possibly Acts 6. If a lack of undeniable references to deaconesses is a knock against that position, it would seem that the lack of any undeniable references to deacons would be just as problematic. I'm not arguing for deaconesses per se, I just think that argument cuts both ways.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Well, 1 Tim 3:12 is pretty clear that deacons are men. I don't know how you can understand, "Let deacons each be the husband of one wife," to refer to female deacons. 

Is anyone arguing that the wife of v. 12 is a deaconness? I don't recall that. The question is whether the "women" if v. 11 is the wife of v. 12 or a separate office of deaconness.

It is also possible to have deaconness as a practical matter in the church without establishing them as a biblical office, along the same lines as a church clerk, a treasurer, a SS superintendent, a janitor, or some such.

T Howard's picture

pvawter wrote:

Yes, 1 Tim. 3:12 indicates that deacons are men. Is anyone saying they're not?

I was simply pointing out that your previous objection that the only possible reference to an actual "big D" deaconess was Phoebe in Rom. 16, but I'm not aware of any actual references to any actual "big D" deacons except possibly Acts 6. If a lack of undeniable references to deaconesses is a knock against that position, it would seem that the lack of any undeniable references to deacons would be just as problematic. I'm not arguing for deaconesses per se, I just think that argument cuts both ways.

There is a reference to "big D" deacons in Philippians 1:1, which is a plural masculine dative. Granted, the plural masculine could include women as well as men (similar to αδελφοι, or "brothers"). And, my point was that there is NOT a lack of references to male deacons given Acts 6 and 1 Tim 3:12, unlike with women deacons.

T Howard's picture

Larry wrote:

Well, 1 Tim 3:12 is pretty clear that deacons are men. I don't know how you can understand, "Let deacons each be the husband of one wife," to refer to female deacons. 

Is anyone arguing that the wife of v. 12 is a deaconness? I don't recall that. The question is whether the "women" if v. 11 is the wife of v. 12 or a separate office of deaconness.

I don't recall that either. Thus, that wasn't what I was arguing against in citing v. 12.

Quote:
It is also possible to have deaconness as a practical matter in the church without establishing them as a biblical office, along the same lines as a church clerk, a treasurer, a SS superintendent, a janitor, or some such.

Agreed.