Brief ‘διακονον’ Word Study

Posted by Bob Mattes

In the battleground over women deacons, Romans 16:1 seems to be the hill on which partial and full egalitarians primarily wish to battle. In this verse and the following, Paul writes (all citations from the ESV):

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

There’s a lot we could say about the context of these verses, but the current controversy is over a single word in verse 1. Translated as “servant” in the ESV, the underlying Greek word is ‘διακονον’. My intent in this post is to look briefly at this word and its related forms with an eye to their use throughout both the New Testament and the LXX.

First the technical details of the overview. The Greek text used is the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition with McReynolds English Interlinear, the common text used for New Testament work. For the English translation, I used the English Standard Version New Testament Reverse Interlinear. The ESV is fast becoming the standard text used in Reformed and Evangelical churches, so it makes a good and contemporary choice for this study. For the LXX, I used the Septuaginta: Morphologically Tagged Edition by Alfred Rahlfs.

Some years ago, such a study would have taken many hours over several days or more. Today, computer-based tools like Logos Bible Software 3 can do the grunt work in seconds on a fast machine, freeing the student to spend their time doing the brain and grammar work. Unfortunately, Logos only runs under Windows, so even though I’m a Linux guy, I have to run Windows XP under a virtual machine by VMWare. This works very well, but I’d really like to dump Windows all together. Oh, well. On to the word study!

First, in Romans 16:1, διακονον is an accusative, singular, feminine noun. The accusative noun form only occurs four times in the NT: Rom 15:8:

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

Romans 16:1 which we’ve already seen; 2 Cor 3:6:

[God] who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

and 1 Tim 3:8:

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.

Note that Διακόνους in 1 Tim 3:8 is accusative, masculine and plural. This makes perfect sense considered with 1 Tim 3:12 since both refer to the same class of male church office holders. Those that say that 1 Tim 3:8 can be separated from 3:12, or that 1 Tim 3:8 doesn’t specify gender, miss or ignore the underlying grammatical construct. It’s male all the way.

Overall, διακόνους in all its forms occurs 29 times in the New Testament. It is only translated as “deacon” three times: Phil 1:1:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

as well as 1 Tim 3:8 and 3:12 which we’ve already seen. The word in Phil 1:1 is dative, plural, and masculine as one would expect in order to be consistent with 1 Tim 3:8 and 12. No female “deaconesses” to be found. Out of the other 26 occurrences (with immediate context provided), 18 are translated as “servant”:

Matt 20:26 – would be great among you must be your servant,
Matt 23:11 – The greatest among you shall be your servant.
Mark 9:35 – he must be last of all and servant of all.
Mark 10:43 – would be great among you must be your servant,
John 2:5 – His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
John 2:9 – (though the servants who had drawn the water knew),
John 12:26 – there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me,
Rom 13:4 – for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you
Rom 13:4 – For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out *
Rom 15:8 – servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness,
Rom 16:1 – Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,
1 Cor 3:5 – What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants
2 Cor 6:4 – servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:
2 Cor 11:15 – So it is no surprise if his servants, also,
2 Cor 11:15 – also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.
2 Cor 11:23 – Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one— *
Gal 2:17 – is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! *
1 Tim 4:6 – you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being

Clearly, none of these refer to a church office, especially when seen in context with each other. Jesus and Paul are consistent that we are all to be servants.

Seven occurrences are translated as “minister,” in particular of Christ and the New Covenant:

2 Cor 3:6 – has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant,
Eph 3:7 – a minister according to the gift of God’s grace,
Eph 6:21 – minister in the Lord will tell you everything.
Col 1:7 – He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
Col 1:23 – and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Col 1:25 – of which I became a minister according to the stewardship
Col 4:7 – faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.

and once as “attendants”:

Matt 22:13 – Then the king said to the attendants,

Returning for a moment to Romans 16:1 and looking at 13 relatively common English and Latin translations that I have lying around, 11 translate Romans 16:1 as “servant.” The other 2 are RSV-based (RSV & NRSV), which shouldn’t surprise anyone given that translation’s liberal bias (but that’s a whole other story).

In the LXX, διάκονος occurs just six times: Esther 1:10; 2:2; 6:3; 6:5; Proverbs 10:4; and 4 Maccabees 9:17 in the Apocrypha. It always refers to servants or attendants.

That’s a brief overview of the use of διακονον and its forms in the New Testament and LXX. I believe that there are several points to take away from this brief survey: 1) whenever Paul refers to ‘διακονον’ as church officers, it’s always with the plural, masculine form of the word; 2) only 3 out of 29 occurrences of the word form are translated as “deacon” in the ESV, all referring to male office holders; and 3) both the NT and the LXX are consistent in the way they use the word.

It’s no secret that I started this overview opposed to the idea of female deacons. Even so, I let the Greek grammar speak for itself. In the end, this deeper look at the underlying Greek has entrenched me even further against the idea. There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that the Scriptures are clear the only men may serve as deacons, and that this is indeed a Scripture authority issue. As I’ve already shown, the PCA Book of Church Order follows Scripture accurately on the issue.

In honor of Mary Kathryn, I’ll stop here. :-)

Posted by Bob Mattes

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61 Comments

  1. June 22, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    [...] Greek word ‘διακονον’ in the New Testament and Septuagint, which I posted on GreenBaggins. I dedicate it those at the 36th General Assembly who wanted more Scripture in the [...]

  2. Sue said,

    June 22, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    1) whenever Paul refers to deacons as church officers, it’s always with the plural, masculine form of the word;

    Circular reasoning allowed I see. :-)

  3. schreibs said,

    June 22, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Hey there!

    I thought I might write a response. I’ll be open and day that I favor women serving as deacons, and I believe that this is something that scripture also teaches.

    To my knowledge, Romans 16:1 is in fact the only place where Paul uses διακονον in the feminine. This is important.

    By the way, in Greek if someone like Paul wanted to refer to a generic body of people, both men and women, that person would almost always use the masculine.

    I’m not saying that there are any women hiding in the “deacons” of 1 Tim 3:8 & 12. These two words are clearly referring to men only.

    But here’s the thing that’s interesting about 1 Tim 3.

    Consider the following parallel:
    v8 – “Διακόνους ὡσαύτως σεμνούς”
    v11 – “Γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς”

    Verse 11 is either referring to the wives of the deacons and overseers, or as women who themselves serve in those capacities. Although translations quickly give away their bias – one way or another – in the Greek either translation is legitimate:
    “Similarly, the women (serving in these capacities) should be worthy of respect”
    or, “Similarly, the wives (of these men) should be worthy of respect”

    Why does Paul spend so much time talking about the men? Perhaps the issue at hand is polygamy. He stresses “one wife.” Apparently women didn’t need the same attention, since it was not common that women were married to multiple husbands.

    Getting back to Rom 16:1, the word under scrutiny is not similar to *any* other Pauline usage of διακονον in gender. It’s because of this uniqueness that an argument can’t be made that Paul is surely not referring to the office. He may be alluding to the female deacons he might be mentioning there in 1 Tim 3:11.

    What’s more, Phoebe is not simply a διακονον, but a διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας. I wonder if there is an “ecclesiastical/political” tone here. This word often appears near themes of appointment and position (see 1 Cor 12:28).

    I don’t mean to troll or anything, but just wanted to contribute my 2 cents.

    Peace!

  4. curate said,

    June 23, 2008 at 1:51 am

    I have a few questions.

    1. Are you ladies egalitarian feminists?
    2. What is the biblical basis for egalitarian feminism?
    3. Are you committed in advance to this agenda, regardless of what the Bible teaches?
    4. Are you willing to be silent in church and learn in full submission?

    Thanks.

  5. June 23, 2008 at 6:59 am

    I commend you for an excellent study, with which I am in perfect agreement.
    If poor little Phoebe had foreseen that her small shoulders would carry the entire weight of an argument for female deacons, she probably would not have been so willing to carry that Epistle to Rome. Perhaps Paul thought that a nice little lady would be less vulnerable to police interrogation. Remember Faulkner’s Unvanquished?
    But the argument is truly flawed by one solecism: “looking at 13 relatively common English and Latin translations that I have laying around,…” I believe you meant to write “LYING around.” If one is careless in his own language, why should anyone trust his studies of another language? One competence in a foreign language rarely surpasses his competence in his native tongue.

  6. June 23, 2008 at 7:16 am

    RE #2 and 5,

    Two typos fixed. Thanks for pointing them out.

  7. mary kathryn said,

    June 23, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Ouch, Laurence. Let’s not nit-pick! I could have corrected wrong pronoun usage also, but we’re not about grammar here, are we :)

    No, seriously, Bob – I very much appreciate the hard work you put into this post, and the helpful spirit with which it is offered. And I was impressed with the dominant translation of the word as “servant” in the NT. I will say straight out that I vastly prefer the NASV, and have used it for decades. The ESV is okay if I can’t find my REAL Bible :)

    I have a few comments about the grammatical assessment. As Schreibs noted, there is no significance in the fact that Paul used the masculine form, when referring to groups of people. He would use the masculine form if all the group members were men, or if only some were men. We don’t have masculine/feminine nouns in English, so it’s sometimes hard for us to realize that they don’t have ANY bearing on true “gender.” In fact, it’s hilarious what nouns in French are feminine, or masculine. But we won’t go there.

    However, I’ll add that the only significance in the feminine form in Rom. 16:1 is that Phoebe is a woman, and she’s not in a group, so of course Paul would use the feminine. There’s nothing notable there either. I just shows that Paul was aware she was a woman.

    But the bigger impression of your work on me was this: the single word “deacon” is used in many different ways. It is a broad term. I remind myself forcibly that TO PAUL, there was only ONE WORD. It is WE who have split it into various, narrower meanings. He did not see any reason to do so. He used the same word for Phoebe as for the men in Titus. If Paul was so intent that women NOT be deacons, don’t you think he would not have been so sloppy as that? All that your efforts showed to me, is that we really cannot look to this type of word analysis for any help. We has hashed and hashed this. To me, it is still significant that Phoebe’s term is attached directly to a specific church. I want to get at what Paul was thinking, when he described her. Did he mean that she was merely a helpful person? Or had this woman done very specific, directed work for a particular church? Although I’m sure she was helpful, I see the second also.

    I apologize for the fact that I write long posts. Please ignore if you are bored. But brothers in Christ, here is my concern: I think it is very possible that the church’s failure to address this issue in an unbiased way, has produced two types of opposite trouble. First, some women have, for many years, been prevented from doing the work in the church, under the structured authority of the session, that they could have Biblically done. That’s bad enough, but the other trouble is worse. I know many women (and you know them too) who, because there is no real structure to guide them, do TOO MUCH work in the church, with TOO MUCH authority. Each church almost always has one of these – the woman who takes charge, who tells the new pastor (or the session) what should or shouldn’t be done, who makes unilateral decisions about the physical plant, who informs her husband (a deacon) what will be done next. I think this is a greater danger, and it’s very real. And it remains unchecked because the church (the men) have not organized the work of the women. I think their neglect results from fear of even touching this issue. Women who work in the church need strong male leadership. It frees them up to do the work for which they’re gifted.

    Unfortunately, I feel that both genders have succumbed to their usual vices: men have given in to fear, and shirked the work they should have done, namely correctly enabling the women’s work; and women have, in this vacuum, taken charge and usurped the work, often going past their allowance.

    And lastly to Mr. Curate: No; If by egalitarian you mean that all people should be treated equally, then Paul gives some support to this concept; No; Yes. My husband is an elder, and I submit fully to his headship in both home and church. He is my Greek expert :)

  8. Phil Gons said,

    June 23, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Our Mac version is in beta testing. You can give it a try at http://www.logos.com/mac. Before too long you will have the option of dropping Windows entirely.

  9. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 9:46 am

    However, I’ll add that the only significance in the feminine form in Rom. 16:1 is that Phoebe is a woman, and she’s not in a group, so of course Paul would use the feminine. There’s nothing notable there either. I just shows that Paul was aware she was a woman.

    The word deacon is not in the feminine form in Rom. 16:1. I am strictly of the opinion that women need to be their own Greek experts. This issue has dragged on too long.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    June 23, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Sue is correct in that the form in Romans 16:1 is singular, masculine, accusative. In my opinion, the gender of the noun has no bearing on its meaning in the context.

  11. Tommy Keene said,

    June 23, 2008 at 10:03 am

    I agree with Mary Kathryn: the masculine plural does not tell us anything about the gender of those described as deacons. As I often tell my Greek students: you can have a group of 300 women and 1 man, and the author would still use the masculine plural form.

  12. June 23, 2008 at 10:12 am

    [...] Second… That’s a brief overview of the use of διακονον and its forms in the New Testament and LXX. I believe that there are several points to take away from this brief survey: 1) whenever Paul refers to ‘διακονον’ as church officers, it’s always with the plural, masculine form of the word; 2) only 3 out of 29 occurrences of the word form are translated as “deacon” in the ESV, all referring to male office holders; and 3) both the NT and the LXX are consistent in the way they use the word. See Brief ‘διακονον’ Word Study [...]

  13. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Note that Διακόνους in 1 Tim 3:8 is accusative, masculine and plural. This makes perfect sense considered with 1 Tim 3:12 since both refer to the same class of male church office holders. Those that say that 1 Tim 3:8 can be separated from 3:12, or that 1 Tim 3:8 doesn’t specify gender, miss or ignore the underlying grammatical construct. It’s male all the way.

    I am confused.

  14. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Even so, I let the Greek grammar speak for itself.

    Bob, respectfully, it is clear that if you let the grammar speak for itself, then Phoebe must have been a deacon. Not only is the word masculine, but she is the deacon of a specific church. She is neither a serving woman, nor is she, in the metaphorical sense, a servant of the word. She is the deacon of the church.

    I can’t see how you can come to any other conclusion.

    Some years ago, such a study would have taken many hours over several days or more. Today, computer-based tools like Logos Bible Software 3 can do the grunt work in seconds on a fast machine, freeing the student to spend their time doing the brain and grammar work.

    I would like to see this.

  15. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Of course, the gender is feminine in that case. This helps my case enormously, since the word never refers to a diaconal ministry, but simply to “service.” Phoebe is then a servant. Phoebe is further described as a “patron” or “benefactress” in verse 2. The word προστάτις means this, although BDAG makes sure that we do not confuse this word with the Roman patron-client system. Phoebe was probably well off, and able to provide support for the apostles in their missionary journeys.

    There is also a reference to gender here, but it is confusing. Phoebe is named a diakonos (masculine) why then does this make her a servant. She is explicitly a prostatis, meaning either “leader” or “benefactor” (see LSJ) in either case, clearly not a servant.

    In fact, your arguments make it quite clear that she cannot be a serving woman of any kind. Then she must have been a deacon.

  16. Barry Waugh said,

    June 23, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    You might want to look at the several historical documents concerning the office of deacon posted on the PCA Historical Center’s home page. The debate concerning the office of deacon and how the Greek words have been used falls under the heading of “nothing new under the sun.” There are several fine documents available that thoroughly discuss this re-occurring debate. The web address is, http://www.pcahistory.org/.

  17. greenbaggins said,

    June 23, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Sue, I don’t know where you are getting your reasoning from. The feminine form of the word never refers to deacons. That does NOT mean that the masculine form always does, which your reasoning seems to imply. A quick look at the occurrences in the NT (which Bob has kindly put out for us) confirms this semantic range. Furthermore, as I have argued against Lee Irons, the genitive “of the church at Cenchreae” makes no difference either, since it can quite easily be rendered “servant of the church at Cenchreae.” So, contra your statement, we can quite easily come to a different conclusion than yours.

  18. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    GB (Lane?)

    It was not my conclusion about that the masculine term was significant. I know that the feminine term mentioned here meant “service” or “diaconate.”

    I simply want to point out that this study clearly leads to the conclusion that she was a deacon. I don’t see how it can be otherwise.

    Since she appears to be wealthy or a leader of some sort, it speaks against her being a “servant.” I would say that if we draw conclusions from this study, the overwhelming liklihood is that she was a deacon. What am I missing?

  19. rfwhite said,

    June 23, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Bob, or anyone else who cares to chime in,

    What evidence would you cite to support the idea that the diaconate is an office that involves authority over others, which presumably entails others obeying those in the diaconate?

  20. greenbaggins said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Sue, you are missing the detailed argumentation I have levelled against Lee Irons’s conclusions (which you seem to share).

    http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2008/06/16/romans-161-and-women-deacons/

    http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2008/06/16/response-to-lee-irons/

    http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/rejoinder-to-lee-irons/

  21. greenbaggins said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Dr. White, I would go to the evidence of 1 Timothy 2:12, where managing the children and household is a pre-requisite for being able to manage the deaconal ministries of the church. The other bit of evidence is that the apostles were doing this work in Acts 6 before the deacons were doing it. Plainly, it was a matter of authority.

  22. mary kathryn said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Sue – Unfortunately, I do not have time right now to learn Greek. I was assuming that both Bob and Schreibs (#3) knew what they were talking about.

    However, hubby sitting on the couch says that there is a feminine form, used by both Josephus and Pliny (BAG). More on this issue later – hubby is going to do some Greek diggin’. More on that below.

    Sue, your points about Phoebe are well-made. Thank you.

    And thanks, Barry, for the link above. I read BB Warfield’s 1889 article in its entirety. Because I’ve heard of Warfield all my life as a great theologian – one of the Reformed pillars -I was surprised to find that he assumes the office of deaconess to be a Biblical one. The article is aimed not at deciding that issue, but at admonishing the church to carefully administer the work of deaconesses, so that it is not done in a careless, unregulated way. On p. 10, he describes the dangers of not duly structuring the deaconesses, much as I described them myself, above.

    Warfield says:
    “Woman’s work does not wait to be organized. Women have already organized their own work in the church ; and with a zeal and success which shame the prevailing apathy of
    Christian men, women have worked out for themselves a whole series of insti-
    tutions which, while the church sleeps, may perchance grow fatally to over-
    shadow its official and authorized agencies. To shut our eyes to the dangers
    inherent in these gigantic voluntary associations would be as silly as it might
    prove to be suicidal.”

    Okay. Since I can’t learn Greek in one evening, my hubby Adam has helped me with his understanding of why “diakonos” in Rom. 16 is feminine in its function:

    (ref: AT Robertson, p. 252) This class of nouns are called koinon nouns. They include Greek words like God, deacon, donkey, and child. These nouns are also called common-sex nouns. Although the form of the noun itself will not look different whether it’s masculine or feminine, it will have a different article in front of it. However, articles are not always present. In the Roman 16 case, there is no article present, but the word diakonos is feminine because its antecedent is feminine – Phoebe, a woman. Romans 13:4 is another example of diakonos being used in the feminine this way. It is feminine because its antecedent, which is “authority,” is a feminine noun.

    Adam also calls this a specious rabbit-trail, because it is not helpful to our debate. It’s just ticky Greek grammar.

  23. schreibs said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Re #10 – Yes, the form is masculine, but the antecedent is feminine. Therefore the word is feminine.

    There is one important factor that everyone should understand: διάκονος in koine Greek does not have a feminine morphology. This is another very strong argument that Paul is referring to female deacons there in 1 Tim 2:11. He simply says “women,” since “women serving as deacons” is akward and draws undue attention to an issue he doesn’t wish to speak on and pollutes the parallelism with v8.

    Here’s another argument for “servant” in Rom 16:1 referring to an office.

    Consider Erastus from later on that chapter, v. 23:

    Ἔραστος ὁ οἰκονόμος τῆς πόλεως
    Erastus, the public director of the city
    (nominative, nominative, genitive)

    compare Rom 16:1:
    Φοίβην … διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς
    Phoebe, the “servant” of the church in Cenchrea
    (nominative, accusative, genitive)

    The differences between the two being that the entire phrase with Erastus being the subject of a sentence, and thus nominative, while Phoebe is also “a sister” and the phrase is interrupted with a relative clause.

    Now, with Erastus we are certain that this “οἰκονόμος” is a regulated office. So, if Paul were referring to Phoebe as a deacon, deacon being a similarly regulated office, not of the city, but of the church in Cenchrea – he would have worded it with the exact formula that he uses there in v. 1.

    This repetition of a formula in such proximity, in the same letter closing is what we might call an “exegetical slam dunk.”

  24. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    You wrote,

    Phoebe is then a servant. Phoebe is further described as a “patron” or “benefactress” in verse 2.

    1. She is a servant or she is wealthy.

    2. She is called deacon (feminine) or a deacon (masculine).

    3. She is a deaconess (diakonissa) or a deacon/servant (diakonos).

    I have to quit now, but I think the posts that I have read here all lead to the strong liklihood that she was a deacon. However, I will quit now. I just was rightly concerned to read here a whole post based on the feminine gender of the word diakonos. I notice that this word is incorrectly tagged at Zhubert. Someone should let them know. Really one should depend on software.

    Likely a woman of status would be given as much status in the church as she had had elsewhere. I don’t see the apostles attracting leading women to the church by promising to restrict their leadership roles from what they had previously had in society. Likely they were wealthy and influential benefactors. One could hardly ask them to reduce their influence to do good by having no leadership status.

    This is quite a fascinating study but I leave you to it.

  25. mary kathryn said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    #21: Lane – so, if the president of the US is cleaning his bathroom, and decides he needs to be attending to matters of state instead, and nabs his maid to do the bathroom…does that mean that the maid then inherits the authority that the president had? Of course not. She doesn’t have presidential authority, just bathroom authority :) And it seems to me that a woman in Prov. 31 had lots of authority over her household, and her children, and her maids, and the land. Her husband was in the gate, where he exercised his authority as well.

  26. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    I am sorry but the fascination continues. Run your reasoning by me again.

    A Yes, the form is masculine, but the antecedent is feminine. Therefore the word is feminine.

    How does this make the word feminine?

    compare Rom 16:1:
    Φοίβην … διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς
    Phoebe, the “servant” of the church in Cenchrea
    (nominative, accusative, genitive)

    How is Phoebe Φοίβην nominative?

    Where is the relative clause? Here is Young’s literal version.

    “And I commend you to Phebe our sister — being a ministrant of the assembly that [is] in Cenchrea — ”

    Mary Kathryn,

    I am so sorry to have said what I said. Let’s just say that someone should study Greek.

    There is a word for deaconess. It is diakonissa, I think. I don’t have any reference books with me. But it was used in the early church but not in the Bible.

    Frankly, the discussion of grammatical elements here is way too concoluted for me to follow. However, everything that has been presented, once the genders are straightened out, does lead to the conclusion that Phoebe was a deacon of some kind.

    But, in all sincerity, I cannot unravel who thinks or knows what about Greek grammar, likely because the posts are written by two separate people, and I did not realize that at first.

    Clearly I am crashing a private party and I should just let it go. So sorry for intruding.

  27. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    convoluted not concoluted! so sorry. I am feeling a little concoluted.

  28. rfwhite said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Re: 21, following up on diaconal authority and GB’s comment, since you infer diaconal authority from household management, how do you think we should construe women’s household management in 1 Tim 5.14 with women’s faithfulness in all things in 1 Tim 3.11? Let me put my question this way: if the women of 1 Tim 3.11 are wives of deacons, is Paul’s point that the wives of deacons must be good managers of their households just as their husbands are? If not that, then what?

  29. David Gray said,

    June 23, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    “Sue” I don’t see the apostles attracting leading women to the church by promising to restrict their leadership roles from what they had previously had in society.

    “Paul” Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

    This whole discussion shows the course of things when the Reformation understanding of sola scriptura is abandoned.

  30. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Mary Kathryn,

    I am going to look up your reference on diakonos being koinon. As you say it is not relevant in the sense that we can only think of it as feminine because Phoebe is feminine – the word is identical to the masculine. However, I am not sure that the discussion makes sense to me. Especially since there is diakonissa feminine. However, I shall look it up.

  31. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    David,

    Hilda taught five bishops well before the reformation.

  32. David Gray said,

    June 23, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    >Hilda taught five bishops well before the reformation.

    A lot of things happened well before the reformation. Still all in all I think I’ll opt for Paul not Sue…

  33. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Mary Kathryn,

    Thanks for this! I see that it is a word that is both masculine and feminine depending on context. It is labeled feminine for the purpose of deciding how the pronoun would agree with it, if there were a pronoun. However, as all agree, this makes no difference to the argument. It is a grammatical function of the word and does not communicate semantic content. So the emphasis put on the feminine gender in this post seems to be unwarranted and a distraction to the main point. (Diakonissa is the word used for a group of women later who were deaconesses.)

  34. rfwhite said,

    June 23, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    To #28, let me add that, if G. Knight (e.g.) is correct in his NIGNT cmmentary that the women of 1 Tim 3.11 are wives who are assistants engaged with their deacon husbands in diaconal service, what, if anything, would this necessarily imply for the authority of those wives?

  35. schreibs said,

    June 23, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Sue, I’m glad that you picked up on my mistakes. I counted a few of them as soon as I hit submit. I shouldn’t post while talking with my family ; )

    1) The word “deacon” in v. 1 is feminine because it follows a feminine participle (a construct in English which might appear as a relative clause). Saying the word is masculine is unintelligible, since it would not match its participle (the participle is also feminine).

    2) What I meant to say, is that “deacon” never appears in a feminine “morphology”, since it is only has second declension (masculine) endings. Thus the masculine and feminine of the word “deacons” would appear the same, letter by letter. The only way to distinguish the gender is through context. In nearly all cases, the context is clear. (As it is here in v.1 – feminine.)

    –Incidentally, if the church created a new word for female deacons, they simply were improvising language, something that Paul, at the time, did not see necessary.

    3) “Phoebe” is not nominative, but is accusative – being the object of the the verb.

    Even so, the points I was trying to make are these:

    1) Paul may be using “women” in 1 Tim 3.11 as a one-word parallelism with v8 to coordinate with male deacons. There is no one word in Greek that would communicate “female deacons.” Paul would have had to have made a word up, which here he did not think necessary to do.

    2) Due to the evidence we have from Erastus in 16:23 (in the very same letter closing), we have clear evidence that this genitive construction was one used by Paul to identify people bearing “office.” (see comment 23)

  36. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Schreibs,

    I have been a bit muddled about the whole grammatical thing myself. The word has a masculine form but has feminine forms which accord with it making it functionally a grammatical feminine. But, it is the identical word.

    It simply seems to me that there is no argument for saying from the text that Phoebe was not a deacon. We cannot prove exactly what she did and I don’t want to press the point further. It really can’t be settled one way or another for sure.

    The interesting thing is that women were coworkers and leaders in the sense that there were people who were identified as being of Chloe, Nympha, etc. These women seemed to interact with the apostles as if they were involved in the primary events of the church, and not only events for women.

    Taking Deborah and Hulda, it seems overall, that women were better off in some eras, than they are now under a restriction that says they can hold no office.

    Well, I must not interfere any more. It just makes me sad. I don’t want to be a minister myself, but a female in leadership is always someone I am drawn to as a mentor. I am also happy that I have known, or known of, many great egalitarian men like Gordon Fee and Richard Longenecker. I appreciate the books of N.T. Wright, Bauckham, Epp, etc. and it is an encouragement to me.

  37. schreibs said,

    June 23, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Dear Sue,

    I do agree that from this text alone there is not much by way of argument one way or another, but I would insist that there is no argument here that Phoebe was surely *not* a deacon.

    I wrote the following in response to an argument against her office based on a previous use of “deaconing/service” in 15:31:

    Paul gives a prayer request there at the end of chapter 15 (vv. 31-32).

    Pray that my service (ἡ διακονία μου) will be acceptable (εὐπρόσδεκτος).

    Then in 16:1 he asks that the Romans accept (προσδέξησθε) Phoebe, the “servant” (διάκονον).

    Given that it’s not merely “deacon/service” that matches here, but the root of these verbs as well, I find it *highly likely* that Paul’s emphasis falls on Phoebe.

    As Paul often does, he puts his foot in the door first, and then makes his “big ask.”

    There certainly is a link between 15:31 and 16:1, but I would say that the emphasis is on the latter, and that Paul had Phoebe in mind as he penned 15:31-32.

    Paul could be building up in his prayer request towards using the word he had in mind for Phoebe, perhaps because she bore the similarly named office. This is an argument for her office.

  38. Sue said,

    June 23, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    I do agree that from this text alone there is not much by way of argument one way or another, but I would insist that there is no argument here that Phoebe was surely *not* a deacon.

    Yes, this would be my point as well. You are right that the connection with 15:31 is quite striking. There is a lot of wordplay here, because he also opens chap. 16 with συνίστημι then παρίστημι and finally προστάτις from προιστημι.

    “That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea and that my diakonia which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints. …

    I stand Phoebe with you, being a diakonos of the church at Cenchrea, that you accept her in the lord, worthy of the saints, and stand beside her because she has stood before many even me.”

    Interesting just to look at Paul’s style.

  39. mary kathryn said,

    June 24, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Sue, I’m interested in your rendering of Rom.15:31- 16:2. Is that your own translation from the original, or someone else’s? It seems the connection among these verses is even more striking because for Paul, there was no chapter division. That is an interesting thought.

    I agree that there is no crystal clear proof here that Phoebe WAS a deacon, but it certainly offers no proof that she was not one.

    As per above, you are welcome Sue, but it’s my husband who did the Greek work :)

    But to get back on track, it’s our concern in this thread to evaluate whether the PCA BCO is in conformity with Scripture and with NT diaconal practice, as Paul gave it to us.

    I do not think we can gain much progress by a grammatical study, fun as it is. It may be more helpful to look at the practice of the church, of what the women did, what they were commended for. But we’ve discussed many of those passages before. And it seems from my reading of Warfield that the 2nd/3rd century church quickly messed up all these offices for women, and the female diaconate (if you want to call it that) lost its first identity.

    This is a difficult study. But, IMO, the way that the modern church has constructed the office of deacon, women cannot hold it. The office itself has been changed from what it was in the NT, I believe. The solution for the PCA, apparently, has been to relegate women to a lower office, “deacon’s assistant.” This is not really Biblical, but I suppose is better than nothing at all.

  40. Les Prouty said,

    June 24, 2008 at 7:27 am

    Sue, you wrote, “Likely a woman of status would be given as much status in the church as she had had elsewhere. I don’t see the apostles attracting leading women to the church by promising to restrict their leadership roles from what they had previously had in society. Likely they were wealthy and influential benefactors. One could hardly ask them to reduce their influence to do good by having no leadership status.”
    Sue, are you suggesting that the early NT church should have placed women (and men I suppose) in office based on their social status? It sounds like you would call being a “servant” in the church something beneath someone like Phoebe. Is that right?

    And Mary Kathryn you wrote, “The solution for the PCA, apparently, has been to relegate women to a lower office, “deacon’s assistant.” This is not really Biblical, but I suppose is better than nothing at all.”

    Mary Kathryn, your comment sounds similar to Sues. Do you really think that being a “deacon’s assistant” is being “relegated” to a lower office? Your comments sound like a hierarchy approach, not humble service–male or female.

  41. Sue said,

    June 24, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Mary Kathryn,

    I don’t really think that I can help. Clearly the grammatical study does not prove anything. Phoebe could have been a deacon. But, for me, Junia could have been an apostle, and Chloe, the leader of a house church.

    I grew up in a very traditional church, but ended up attending an Anglican church. However, when this particular church moved away from allowing women to be ordained, under the influence of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I left.

    So, you can see that my views will be labeled as liberal. However, I grew up in a very conservative setting but in a family where traditionally the women learned Greek.

    Now, I honestly believe that men ought to treat women as full equals. I do not agree with the exegesis of 1 Tim. 2:12. The whole thing is a real shame. Sorry, I can’t help much.

    Have you read the history of Clara Barton, who founded a school but was not eligible to be the head of the school because she was a woman. She eventually founded the American Red Cross, and was responsible for medical supply trains reaching the battle zone in the civil war. Of course, she had authority over men, but it was a domain where that was acceptable. Women are fully capable and gifted of God. And they are not better or worse than men at exegesis and spiritual leadership.

    The real clincher is why the status of women has dropped so much since Deborah was a judge. Is this kind of Christianity really freeing for wmen or are they better off without it.

  42. Sue said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:09 am

    yes, that was my attempt at a concordant translation of those verses, at Schreibs suggestion.

  43. mary kathryn said,

    June 24, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Sue – yes, our views are rather different, but you should not think that I judge you. I’ve enjoyed our conversation. My best friend and roommate from Covenant College went on to be an ordained Pres. minister. We are still friends.

    I’ve never felt that, from God’s view, the difference in roles in the church was because of talent or ability. Certainly many women are capable of leadership. I’ve always considered that it was a system put in place by God so that his church would run more smoothly. The sexual tension between the genders would, I think, make for difficulties in the church, if both were in authoritative positions – look what it does in the world! And also, it could feasibly place a wife in authority over her husband, if she were his elder/pastor; that would make his headship a difficulty. But these are just my thoughts and opinions.

    However – I agree with you that, in spite of the patriarchal systems of ancient days and the feminism of our era, some women in the past enjoyed a larger role of service in God’s kingdom.

  44. Trost said,

    June 24, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    This kind of Greek fighting is kind of like watching the Monty Python fish-slapping dance sketch. If you feel convicted that your parsing of what Paul was writing is more accurate than the contrary consensus of the majority of Christian history, knock yourself out. When do we get the Acts 1:20 Pandora’s Box of church authority?

  45. Sue said,

    June 24, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Trost,

    I rather think you are right on that. :-) A very good way to describe it.

  46. June 24, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Trost,

    I love Monty Python and your analogy. That’s why I looked at the broad brush across Scripture rather than dissecting or creating false parallels. Taking Scripture as a whole, however, doesn’t help the egalitarians. All their textual rearranging, reassigning, and redefining is lot like a certain Anglican bishop who has suddenly discovered what theologians have missed for 2000 years. I think not.

  47. mary kathryn said,

    June 24, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Les,

    At first, I missed reading your post. Let me answer you. Perhaps you can see now that Sue and I do hold different views. I might be convinced that women could be deacons, if the office were not an authoritative one. Sue (I believe) thinks that women should hold all offices. That’s a significant difference.

    I do not think that there is any shame in holding a lesser office. Pastor, deacon, deacon assistant, cleaning woman — they all have honor. But, if a person is called and equipped for one office, but is not allowed to serve in that office, and is told, “No, you must serve in this lower office instead,” then I do think that could be called being relegated. I’ve made this point before. The honor of any office should be zealously guarded, not for pride or greed, but for the honor of the office. It is not vanity for a person (even a woman) to ask the honor of the office to accompany the office, and to accompany the work.

    Gentlemen, for a very long time the attitude of many male church leaders has been to allow the women to do as MUCH of the diaconal work as they can. The male leadership seems to feel satisfied, however, as long as the women aren’t given a title. They feel righteous in that letter of the law. I feel this is hypocrisy. I will not apologize for women’s asking for the honor of the office, if they are doing the work of the office. No one would criticize a man for demanding that honor; they would think he was defending the office itself. But it is assumed that women are being dissatisfied, whiny and pushy.

    Once again, my solution is not that women get the office, but that the men IN office do their own work! 70-year-old women should not get broken hips from carrying church furniture, just because the deacons were too neglectful to do it. (This happened in February in a church I know.) I’m NOT saying that regular church members cannot do service in the church too, but they should not be doing it INSTEAD of the deacons.

  48. schreibs said,

    June 24, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    @ 44, 46

    Unfortunately, I consider this issue to be quite serious – and although a great many exegetes disagree with these positions, I believe it’s very worth pursuing dialogue.

    I also believe that the abuse and degradation of women is, in general, by far a more serious threat to the witness of the church than “feminism.”

    The church has sometimes held misguided beliefs: say, from the end of the patristic era to the Reformation (that’s 1000 years from Augustine to Calvin). As a matter of fact, Presbyterians themselves don’t have a uniform track record in other serious issues such as slavery. Exegesis went back and forth and “abolitionists” did plenty of “fish-slapping.”

    I’m not arguing for the existence of some sort of male-domineering conspiracy, but simply that over the ages the church has suffered from layers of biblical misunderstanding, as God predicted to Eve in the garden, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This was not God’s intended design, and grace undoes the curse. No one in the church “lord’s it over” another.

  49. rfwhite said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Mary Kathryn, while not everyone who “demands” honor are due it, but you are certainly right that we should render honor to whom honor is due. The shame is ours when we don’t.

  50. rfwhite said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Sorry: not everyone who demands honor IS due it.

  51. June 24, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Mary Kathryn,

    Once again, my solution is not that women get the office, but that the men IN office do their own work!

    Amen!

    I’m NOT saying that regular church members cannot do service in the church too, but they should not be doing it INSTEAD of the deacons.

    Amen again!

    Officers (and others) in the church not shouldering the full responsibilities of their duties should be addressed directly when seen. We are all to serve to our utmost ability in order to properly glorify God. Men should not assume office if they are not willing to discharge it fully to the glory of God.

  52. Towne Tomae said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Schreibs (#48):

    Precisely why we should never attempt to derive our doctrine from historical example. This matter must and will be handled exegetically.

    I should also say that your line of argumentation is not at all helpful. You are painting with the proverbial broad brush in a not so subtle attempt to seize the high ground for your own ill-defined position.

    Particularly egregious is the way in which you reference the very real abuse and degradation of women, not to address that evil, but simply to erect a rhetorical device employed to sneak by the implication that exclusion from office is itself abusive and degrading. It would be one thing to make that claim outright where it could then be argued. But as a mere rhetorical maneuver you have demeaned a world of very real suffering.

    Then you are all over the mat with accusations left and right, aft and fore. The Church “sometimes” held misguided beliefs. We are astounded at the news! Where does this get us? Presbyterians were inconsistent? Again, with the news! Even abolitionists are demeaned by setting them off in quotes, as if to limit their sincerity or authenticity. Is there no end to your slander?

    I might also ask what is meant by “layers of biblical misunderstanding”? This is but another undefined accusation.

    In closing, I do stand impressed of your optimism, to say that “no one lord’s it over another in the Church”, but reality speaks otherwise and with a very loud voice. We are still very much in our sins in this mournful flesh. Would that it were otherwise, but not till our Saviour returns.

  53. June 24, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    shriebs,

    I also believe that the abuse and degradation of women is, in general, by far a more serious threat to the witness of the church than “feminism.”

    The problem with that statement is that, while any abuse is inexcusable, abuse is a bigger problem in egalitarian denominations than complementary ones. Dr. Ligon Duncan has accumulated publicly available statistics that show this very clearly. He will be posting them in an article shortly. They may already be on the CBMW site already but I don’t have time to look for them.

    Egalitarianism produces basically one of two male responses: anger or passivity. Both destroy relationships and tarnish any witness for Christ. We can easily see this since no denomination that has gone egalitarian has kept the gospel of Christ. I’ve seen this for myself both in the PCUSA and the military chaplaincy. The reason is simple–as I’ve said before, complementarianism is a Scriptural authority issue. If you can twist the Scriptures to support egalitarianism, then there’s no limit to what you can change Scripture to teach.

    Unfortunately, I consider this issue to be quite serious

    We take it very seriously as well. The PCA is the largest bastion of complementarianism left in the Christian world. Many of us have and will work diligently to keep the PCA true to the Scriptures as long as God is pleased to enable us to do so. That’s the reason that I personally started blogging, and why I continue even though my schedule makes it difficult.

  54. Ron Jung said,

    June 25, 2008 at 7:40 am

    If there is a question about whether the texts allow for women deacons (or deaconesses), would it be prudent to determine the practices of the early church? If I recall, there were deaconesses functioning in the church in a role distinct from the deacon’s role. Elders were ordained at 30, Deacons at 25 and Deaconesses at 40 (seventh ecumenical council). Food for thought.
    Ron

  55. June 25, 2008 at 8:07 am

    Ron,

    I thank you for that thought, but the early church wasn’t necessarily a model to follow in many areas. In the OT, how long did it take the Israelite to make that golden calf after God visibly and powerfully rescued them from the Egyptians? The NT church wasn’t any better. Consider Jesus’ letter to the seven churches in Revelation. Elements of the early church also originated the assumption and veneration of Mary movement. Marcion pioneered the cafeteria Scriptures approach. I could go on. Seriously, the Scriptures are our only rule for faith and practice, not the practice of others.

  56. Les Prouty said,

    June 25, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Mary Kathryn (#47), thanks for your response. I surely could have misunderstood your earlier comments. I agree that if someone is called and equipped (obviously must be both) for an office that person should be afforded the opportunity to serve. Obviously in this discussion the issue is whether or not a woman CAN be called (though even equipped) to the office of deacon. I nod to you that you are open to women maybe being deacons. If you mean by that holding the office of deacon, then I would respectfully disagree.

    If you mean by that women may do diaconal ministry, then I heartily agree. Many women do that now. As others have said, our BCO provides for that. Unfortunately many, if not most, PCA churches do not actually use the BCO provision to “select and appoint” godly men AND women to assist the diaconate. Maybe I am wrong about that. I have not done a survey. But in my 16 years on a seession, I have never seen it formally done. But this discussion certainly has me thinking about it more.

    You are also surely right that

    men IN office do their own work! …I’m NOT saying that regular church members cannot do service in the church too, but they should not be doing it INSTEAD of the deacons.

    You example of the 70 year old woman is shameful for the men!

    Thanks for your response.

  57. Ron Jung said,

    June 25, 2008 at 9:15 am

    reformedmusings,
    I agree that scripture is our sole authority in all faith, doctrine and conduct. All your examples are clearly wrong BECAUSE scripture plainly teaches against idolatry (whether it be a calf or Mary) and cherry picking etc. But if Pheobe is called a servant/minister/deacon wouldn’t the practice of the early church shed some light on what they thought of women and the office of Deacon?

    As I said above, women (single or widowed of at least 40 years of age) held an office called “Deaconess”. This was distinct from the office of Deacon, in that Deaconesses served in works of mercy, the discipling of other women, and assisting the Elders with the baptizing of women.

    It seems that the early church (and practices that continue in the East) maintain gender differences better than we do.

    Ron

  58. mary kathryn said,

    June 25, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Bob, and others – I think Ron’s points about early church practices are pertinent. If Paul had said plainly, “Women may NOT be deacons,” then the early church deaconesses would have been a clear violation of Scripture. But this is not the case; he didn’t. With Phoebe, and the descriptions of other women (both singly and in groups) in the NT doing diaconal work, and then ALSO the early church practices, it seems much more likely that the early church was simply following a form given already by Paul.

    As I talked with Adam last night, I said this: Paul does not give a clear dictate forbidding women from serving as deacons. That means one of two things: 1) he didn’t have to tell his churches, because they already knew clearly that women were NOT to be deacons, or 2) he didn’t have to tell his churches, because they already knew clearly that women COULD be deacons. When I look at it that way, and I note the work of women described in his letters, I lean strongly to the second option. If Paul and everyone else had already established that women were prohibited from the office, then I believe he would have aggressively addressed these women’s actions as sinful. Instead, he commends them.

    I know that the liberal denominations around us, and the great fear of the “slippery slope” theory of deaconesses leading to elderesses, many men will not budge on this issue, simply for the sake of safety. But I will add that I believe some of the ‘slippery slope’ effect is created by the male leadership themselves. How many PCA churches do you know, where the office of deacon is looked at as a stepping stone to the eldership? This is very common. It’s considered a training ground for elders. This is not a Biblical pattern. The two offices, and the talents accompanying them, are very distinct. I think part of this slippery slope effect is a result of this system that the male leadership have set in place. (Now, don’t get grumpy at me for saying “male leadership” – that’s the only leadership we’ve got!)

  59. Romantic Fool said,

    July 17, 2008 at 6:01 am

    Mary Kathryn said: The sexual tension between the genders would, I think, make for difficulties in the church, if both were in authoritative positions – look what it does in the world!

    I’d just like to say that I love the niavety and innocence of that sentiment. I want to live in Mary Kathryn’s world!

    If only sexual tension in the church was restricted to that between genders!

    Unfortunately it isn’t and so the whole argument falls.

  60. Yishav said,

    January 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    It’s to sad for my Lord G-D to hear these Ladies in rebellion against G-D plans!Women cannot be Spiritual Leaders. Men have been explaining to you, but you don’t attend what they say. Why people don’t want to obey what G-D says in the Bible? There are too many bad mistranslation from Greek or From Old Hebrew. Many Bibles you are using ladies have been mistranslated for Centuries! People don’t want to accept the TRUTH, they just want to hear what they want only for their own convenience and not for the Plans of G-D! That’s is to be separated from G-D to easy which It’s called “Paganism” or simply “Apollos” and they obey what Satan wants!
    It’s to be rebellious to G-D ladies! It’s for your own good, if you don’t want it then you refused the G-D of Israel as your Lord!

  61. April 14, 2012 at 6:39 am

    [...] would suggest i look at then? thanks! Here is an article that does a word study in the Greek: Brief ‘ Scott PCA North Carolina "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in [...]


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