We are at the final stage of deacon appointments! The elders and I are very excited about having such a committed deacon team for the coming year. Please don’t forget they need your help. As the Lord leads your heart to serve, seek out a deacon and get involved!
As many of you are aware, there is an interesting debate among evangelical churches about whether or not women should be appointed to the office of deacon. The elders and I are persuaded that the bible teaches that women CAN serve as deacons in the New Testament. For those interested, we thought it might be helpful to provide the reasons we became persuaded of this, and to give you an opportunity to ask any follow up questions you may have.
The debate really hinges on two primary issues: 1) what is the best translation of the greek word gynē in 1 Tim 3:11 and 2) is the office of deacon a “ruling” office (which Paul says women may not hold in the church in 1 Tim 2:12)? Let’s look at these one at a time:
Women or wives? The best translation of the greek word gynē in 1 Tim 3:11.
To be clear, translators are divided on this issue (see our ESV vs. the NASB) and whether you prefer wives or women (the word can mean both things) is ultimately a judgment call between different lines of evidence. In John MacArthur’s new book Biblical Doctrine, he discusses the issue of female deacons in his section on Church Government. Below is his summary of why the word is better translated women than wives, and represents a concise statement of the evidence that ultimately persuaded me in favor of female deacons.
“1 Timothy 3:11 indicates that the office of deacon was available not only to men but also to women. There Paul writes, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” (NASB). Some interpret this verse as referring to the wives of deacons, but such is unlikely for at least three reasons.
First, though some English translations insert it, Paul does not place a possessive pronoun (“their”) before the word “women” (or “wives”). Consequently the grammar suggests that the women addressed in 3:11 are relationally distinct from the men addressed in the previous verses.
Second, the apostle does not address the wives of elders in the same context (3:2-7). If Paul’s intention was to elaborate on the behavior of a deacon’s wife, it seems strange that he neglected to address the wives of elders along the same lines. However, if the women addressed in 3:11 are deaconesses, and not the wives of deacons, then Paul’s pattern makes perfect sense. The apostle did not need to address women in his articulation of elder qualifications for the simple fact that there are no female elders. However he did address women in 3:11 because there are female deacons.
Third, the description of Phoebe in Romans 16:1 provides a likely example of a woman who served as a deaconess. There Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [a form of diakonos] of the church at Cenchrae.” It appears that Phoebe served in some recognized capacity within her local congregation, prompting Paul to draw attention to her. If so, she is likely a New Testament example of a deaconess. Like their male counterparts, deaconesses are to be above reproach in all their behavior (a point implied by Paul’s use of the term “likewise” in 1 Tim 3:11). Specifically, they “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.”
To add to this, the phrase “in the same way” or “likewise” in 1 Tim 3:11 introduces a parallel sentence structure to 1 Tim 3:8 with the enumeration of similar characteristics to those already stated in 3:8-10. This seems to imply that Paul’s intent was to clarify that women deacons are to be held to standards similar to their male counterparts.
Are there other ways of explaining the grammatical and syntactical evidence I have just presented? Yes. But as stated before, it doesn’t come down to what is possible, but to what seems more likely. In light of this, it is our conclusion that the evidence seems heavily weighted in the direction of translating the word gynē as women rather than wives. This then, provides a direct New Testament example of Paul providing guidelines for women serving in the office of deacon.
But isn’t the office of Deacon a ruling office?
To cite complimentarian New Testament scholar Andres Koestenberger “Many conservative churches are hesitant to appoint women deacons because deacons often have a governing role. They fear that having women deacons may suggest theological liberalism, since Scripture does not permit women to serve in governing positions (see esp. 1 Tim. 2:12; 5:17). However, the problem here is not women deacons but the unbiblical understanding of the role of deacon.”
The primary distinction between the office of elder and deacon is that elders are given the responsibility to govern (1 Tim 5:17) and teach the church (1 Tim 3:2), functions that only men may exercise (1 Tim 2:12). They are the guardians and custodians of the church’s doctrine (Titus 1:9), and the shepherd-overseers of God’s people (1 Peter 5:2-3). Deacons however, are never given the charge to assume these duties, but to labor as faithful servants (1 Tim 3:13).
This is why we don’t have “Deacon Meetings” or a church polity that requires deacons to function with levels of authority that are biblically reserved for elders. At West Hills Evergreen, responsibility for oversight of deacon ministries remains with the church elders with deacons being granted the freedom to serve the church and utilize church resources in a manner consistent with the church’s leadership.
Still have questions about women deacons? Feel free to send me an email and we can set up a time to talk. Hopefully this answered some, if not all, of your questions concerning how we arrived at our decision to encourage both men and women to serve our church in the office of deacon.
 MacArthur, John. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Biblical Truth. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017), 772-773.