Several weeks ago, I wrote some summary posts of my views regarding women and worship. (I may have to make up a word to describe that topic; no matter what terms I use, I can think of objections to them) The last one was Women in the assembly of the church.
From that post, I had several people question what I said about deaconesses in the church. That merits some additional explanation from me. Let me try:
- I wish the word deacon had never become common. It’s a transliteration of the word diakonos, but isn’t consistently used. Of 29 occurrences of diakonos in the New Testament, most translations use “deacon” for only 3 of them. That’s not helpful for our study.
- Jesus used diakonos to refer to servants, exclusively as far as I can tell.
- Paul used the word to refer to himself in 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 6:4; Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23, 25. He used it to refer to Christ in Romans 15:8 and Galatians 2:17; he used it for the authorities in Romans 13:4. In other passages he uses it to refer to Tychicus, Epaphras, and Timothy as servants/ministers.
- In Philippians 1:1 there is a reference to overseers (elders) and servants/ministers (deacons?).
- 1 Timothy 3 seems to describe an official position in the church which is what we typically consider as deacons.
- The use of diakonos to refer to Phoebe in Romans 16:1 is sometimes considered to be deaconess, sometimes minister, sometimes servant.
- 1 Timothy 3:11, in the discussion about deacons, talks about “the women.” This could be deacons’ wives. This could be deaconesses. It is introduced by the same phrase as in 1 Timothy 3:8 “In the same way…”; that leads me to think this is a description of a position held by women as deaconesses.
- We should remember that this role is a role of service. There is no indication that deacons “held authority” in any way. Some people point to the men in Acts 6, but it’s worth noting that the word diakonos is never used to describe these men.
To be honest, most of our churches don’t know what to do with deacons, except take their picture and put it in the church directory. In some churches, deacons play the role of committee chairmen for the various committees in the church. (I do find it interesting that many will insist we have deacons, using 1 Timothy 3, but don’t see a need for a list of widows like we see in 1 Timothy 5)
It’s interesting to note that the early church used men and women as servants (diakonos), ministering to the different genders accordingly. Male deacons tended to males, female deaconesses tended to females.
All of this leads me to leave the door open to deaconesses. Share with me your thoughts!