Summary: Presenting the case for selecting deaconesses, defining the role of those men and women who serve in the capacity of deacons.

“Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” [1]

Paul did not write the missives included in Scripture in order to generate controversy among the churches of the Twenty-first Century; nevertheless, his letters have managed to challenge the professed people of God repeatedly in this day late in the Age of Grace. In particular, his statements defining the role of women among the churches [e.g. 1 TIMOTHY 2:9-15] challenge modern cultural perceptions. In the text today, we encounter yet another controversial passage challenging contemporary cultural norms, just as they challenged ancient cultural norms.

The text for this day has in great measure proved controversial among contemporary Christians because we modern believers are too often guilty of imposing our own cultural views on what God has caused to be written. Rather than accepting that the Word of God is to inform our modern culture, we imagine that we can impose our own preferences on the instruction God has provided in His Word. Consequently, we filter what has been written through our cultural lenses, unaware of the distortions we force upon the Word. It appears that we modern Christians are more concerned with our perception of the Word than with the intent of the Author of the Word; we are more focused on what the Word means to us than we are on what the Word means. The truth of this charge becomes abundantly evident in most Bible studies whenever a leader asks, “What does this verse mean to you?” I cannot stress too strongly—it is immaterial what the verse under consideration means to you, to me or to any other individual studying the verse. What matters is what God intended when the Spirit superintended the writing of the verse; and discerning the intent of Him who gave the Word is the task of the wise student of the Word.

Evangelical Christians are not immune to reactionary thinking. Too many contemporary church practises arise out of ecclesiastical reactionism. In light of laissez-faire attitudes prevailing among far too many of the professed saints of God, in far too many instances we undoubtedly react against what because we deem what is written to be excessive or intrusive—we whine that it is too hard to obey the Word! In other instances, we are blinded by the accumulation of “things” or by the acquisition of wealth; thus, we are no longer capable of viewing matters from God’s perspective. Often, fundamental Christians react against the casual dismissal of righteousness by those of a progressive bent—there seems almost to be an attitude within evangelicalism that says, “If liberal Christians are for a particular action, we are against it.” Reactionary thinking can be—and often is—as errant as the excess that prompted it in the first place. In the effort to recapture what is imagined to be the high ground, the reactionary overshoots the goal and hardens in an extreme position relative to that previously occupied.

Let there be no misunderstanding—I do not believe women should be elders, nor do I believe they should occupy the office of a deacon as it is currently understood and practised. This says more of our theological confusion than it does about the complexity of the Word. If we view the offices as outlined in the Word, we will avoid much of the debate swirling around church governance. If we do business as usual, we will continue to meet the same issues that drain the energies of the churches about us. To the Word and the God who gave it.

WOMEN, WIVES OR DEACONESSES? — As mentioned, the text presents a controversy among contemporary Christians. The original language, when translated literally, simply states, “Women—in like manner…” [2] There is no definite article in the original tongue, leaving the translator to interpret what Paul could have meant. The English Standard Version, which I use, understands that Paul was giving instructions for the wives of those appointed as deacons. “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” [1 TIMOTHY 3:11]. In this understanding, the translators are joined by a number of other translators, including such noteworthy translations as the venerable King James Version, the New English Bible, [3] the New International Version, [4] God’s Word Translation, [5] the New International Reader’s Vision, [6] the NET Bible [7] and the Holman Christian Standard Version. [8]

Because Paul does not specifically state what women are under scrutiny, a growing number of churches have concluded that he must have meant to include women as deacons. Again, some contemporary translations have adopted this same view, including such recent efforts as The Message [9] and The Revised English Bible. [10] Representative of these translations, one would read, “Women in this office must likewise be…” [11]

Other translators have simply adopted the reading as presented in the autographs, simply referring to “women,” including, in some instances, a footnote indicating that the reference may possibly be understood as referring either to wives or to female deacons, depending upon the translators' preference. Among the translations adopting this rendering are such efforts as the American Standard Version, Wuest, [12] the New Revised Standard Version, [13] the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, [14] Today’s New International Version, [15] the New Century Version, [16] the New International Version (2011) [17] and even the Catholic New American Bible. [18]

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