Monday, June 15, 2015

Should Women Be Deacons?

In preparation for an upcoming Sunday school lesson, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what the Bible has to say about deacons. It actually has far less to say than I would like. Primarily, there is Acts 6, which some people debate whether it is about deacons or not and 1 Timothy 3. One of the big debates is whether 1 Timothy 3:11 is referring to the wives of deacons or to women deacons. The word that is translated as “their wives” could also be translated as “women,” so there is some thought that Paul is giving qualifications for three distinct groups, pastors, deacons, and deaconesses.

First, let’s be clear that the Bible makes it clear that women should not be preachers. Not only does 1 Timothy 3 talk about pastors being the husband of one wife, 1 Timothy 2:12 declares, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Since one of the qualifications of a pastor is to be able to teach, it would be impossible for a woman to fulfill the role of pastor and abide by 1 Timothy 2:12.

But what about deacons? Deacons have no requirement to teach men or to teach at all, so 1 Timothy 2:12 doesn’t come into the discussion. In Acts 6, the church was instructed to select seven men, but that doesn’t necessarily rule out the selection of women later, only that men were to be selected at that time. Besides which, some people see Acts 6 as the selection of a board of elders. Then there is Romans 16:1, where Phebe is called a servant (deacon) of the church.

Not every use of the word that is translated as deacon is referring to the office of a deacon in the church. So calling Phebe a deacon may or may not be referring to her serving in that office. Most other uses of the word are clearly not referring to the office of deacon. Given what little the Bible tells us about the office of deacon, I think we have to look at the 1 Timothy 3 passage to get the answer, since it is the passage that most clearly defines the office.

Let’s suppose that Paul intended to give qualifications for three different groups. First, there is the long list of qualifications for a pastor. He then moves into those of deacons, but separates male deacons from female deacons. For men, he says that they must be grave, not double tongued, not drunkards, not greedy, hold the mystery of faith in pure conscience, proven, blameless, one woman men, and rule their house well. But for the women he says they must be grave, not slanderers, sober, and faithful in all things. How do we explain this much shorter list for the women. If the women he is talking about are intended to do the same task as the men, then why give them a separate list of qualifications? Some might argue that the women must meet the same qualifications as men. If that is the case then the men deacons must also meet the qualifications of a pastor, since the same likewise that would link the women’s qualifications to that of the men would like the deacons qualifications to the pastors’. Since that isn’t the case, then the qualifications for women are less stringent than those of the men. For example, a female deacon doesn’t have to be proven and how she rules her house doesn’t matter. If it matters for men, why doesn’t it matter for women?

It appears to me that the better explanation is that the translators got it right. He isn’t setting up an office of deaconesses here, but he is talking about the wives of deacons. Why should it matter what the deacons wives are like? Because when a Christian wife is submissive to her husband, she serves right beside him. Suppose a deacon is carrying out the classic task of deacons, which is to carry food to widows. Don’t you think he might take his wife along with him? Perhaps not every time, but part of the time. Don’t you think he and his wife will discuss the situation he finds there?

Even though the role of a deacon is not the type of leadership role some people have made it out to be, it is still a leadership role within the church. A deacon serves, but he also leads others in service. In church work, I believe the Lord intends for men to take on that role, so I don’t believe that the Lord intends for women to be deacons.