A Response to TE Sam Wheatley

TE Sam Wheatley has argued that women should be ordained deacons in the church. He advances exegetical and historical arguments in favor of his position. I would like to interact with these arguments in some detail.

Romans 16:1-2 Any discussion of women deacons has to start here. I have interacted with Lee Irons on this passage in the past (see here, here, and here). I have done further research on this passage, and the conclusion I came to startles me. The ultimate question here, of course, is the meaning of the term “diakonon” in verse 1. Is Phoebe being called a “servant,” “deacon,” or “courier?” The word can mean any of the three possibilities. What is startling is that almost no one has acknowledged “courier” as a possible translation of “diakonon.” However, this is how BDAG construes the passage (see page 230). The linguistic evidence for this possibility is certainly strong. I looked up the passages in Josephus noted by BDAG, and it is incontestable that “courier” is a possible rendering of the word (see especially Ant. 7.200-201). But is it used that way in the New Testament? I would argue that BDAG’s references on the passage are quite plausible for demonstrating that Paul used the term in this way on occasion (Col 1:7 has clear contextual pointers in this direction, as does 1 Thess. 3:2). A courier can most certainly be an official position. Some couriers have more authority than others have. Timothy obviously has quite a bit more authority than just bearing a letter, as the Thessalonians passage shows. However, the exact nature of what Phoebe did is unknown beyond bearing the letter and supporting people with her financial backing. This possible translation, incidentally, would therefore negate Wheatley’s argument concerning the feminine participle modifying “sister.” Even if his argument about the participle were correct, it would not prove that Phoebe was a deacon, since a courier could also be an official position (the term “deaconess” was not in use until later). The examples that Wheatley adduces are not to the point, since the “officialness” is more than communicated by the title itself in the case of Caiaphas (how much more official does one need to be than “high priest?” The other cases adduced are similar).

The evidence in the context that Phoebe was a courier is as follows: As most commentators note, Phoebe was probably the bearer of the letter to the Romans. So she probably was the courier, anyway (commentators infer this from the commendation, and also from the fact that she is mentioned first among the greetings. One can infer from this that she would need the most immediate attention). Secondly, Paul “commends” her to the Roman church. The commendation was necessary because Phoebe would need hospitality while in Rome, the hospitality that couriers would need. Thirdly, Phoebe was a rich woman. Only a rich woman could be a “patroness” (prostatis). This means that she would have the means to travel. So, she was a courier (we would call her a secretary today!) and a patroness. She supported the ministry with her ample means, and engaged in the distribution of the gospel by bearing news and letters from one church to another. This was a special kind of service (“servant” is another possible rendering of the term), but does not prove that she was a deacon.

Miscellaneous Passages: Tabitha, Mary, Lydia (this is an especially silly example, since the passage in question refers to her conversion and to her immediately subsequent desire to help the apostles: not a word about an official deacon position! In fact, it is an excellent counter-example), the daughters of Phillip, Euodia and Syntyche, Priscilla, Nympha, and Chloe are not examples of deacons. They are wonderful examples of women who love to serve the church. They are hardly proof that women exercised the office of deacon. I wonder why he even brought them up, unless he is assuming that if a church doesn’t allow women to be deacons, then they must be preventing them from any and all ministry in the church (I don’t know if that is what he intends, since he does not make it clear why or how these passages help his case). As a point of personal privilege, I would like to point out a counter-example: I would put the WIC in my church up against any church of any denomination for the amount of work and service they contribute to the church, and not a single woman is a deacon. They work in hospitality, nursery, education, evangelism, and missions. They serve on all the committees of the church, and they keep PLENTY busy, I can assure you, yet they are not officers in the church.

Wheatley says, “Some may say these marks of Christian devotion are to be commended, but they in and of themselves do not merit titling the women who perform them either in the first century or today as deacons. That argument might hold water if Phoebe were not pointedly called a deacon of the church of a specific place, Cenchreae, with a specific task of bearing Paul’s letter to the congregation in Rome and continuing her ministry among that congregation.” It should be obvious by now that Paul does not “pointedly” call her a deacon of a specific church. This is highly in question. There are two other possibilities, and Wheatley has certainly not ruled out either one (“servant” or “courier”).

1 Timothy 3:8-13 speaks of the qualifications of the deacons of the church. Wheatley offers the following arguments in favor of verse 11 referring to “deaconesses:” 1. the “likewise” at the beginning of the verse sounds like verse 8, which also introduces a new office; 2. the absence of a definite article or possessive pronoun makes it less likely that the deacons’ wives are meant; 3. there are no separate qualifications for the wives of elders in 3:1-7 (why would deacons’ wives be singled out?). It is fascinating to me that Phil Ryken’s commentary on this passage argues for the translation “wives” and not deacons. The reason that is fascinating is that Ryken has shown at least some signs of sympathy for the position of having deaconesses! Tenth Presbyterian Church commissions deaconesses (the difference between “commissioning” and “ordaining” is not clear to me). Ryken was certainly in favor of this practice. Ryken’s answer would be along the following lines: the term “woman” not only does not seem “sufficient to designate an office in the church,” but also the term appears in the very next verse, where is most certainly means “wife” (p. 131). The instructions are also quite brief. One would expect a longer treatment of the qualifications for deaconesses.

I would add the following arguments: 1. the possessive pronoun or definite article is not always needed to indicate possessiveness. Paul could simply be saying “the wives of deacons” without necessarily saying “their wives.” But it comes to the same thing. 2. The term “likewise” does not have to have the semantic import that Wheatley gives it. The emphasis could simply be that there are requirements “likewise” for the family members of deacons. 3. The wives of elders are explicitly mentioned in verse 2, and certainly hinted at in verse 4. Why a specific commandment about dignity, lack of slander, sober-mindedness, and faithfulness should be predicated of the wives of deacons and not of elders is not known for sure. However, the following points could be suggestive: 1. Paul would surely not be implying that the wives of elders should lack the things that deacons’ wives should have. In other words, we could easily infer that Paul means for these qualities mentioned in verse 11 to be true of elders’ wives as well. 2. Another possible explanation is provided by Ryken as “the privacy of diaconal work.” Diaconal work often involves the private economical status of many people in the congregation and community. This is not something to blab about. Of course, discretion is necessary among elders’ wives as well. However, there is a difference, possibly, in that elders’ shepherding matters are not as uniformly to be kept quiet as diaconal matters are.

1 Timothy 5:9-16 does not lay out qualifications for an office. The issue here is which widows will be enrolled, or “cared for,” as verse 16 makes perfectly plain. So, his conclusion that “1 Timothy 5:9 regards a group of women set apart for service in the church for the purpose of leading in service and ministry to younger women” is not accurate. Certainly, the older women are to help the younger women. That much is evident from the passage. But “set apart for service in the church,” implying an office, goes well beyond the text. The passage in Titus 2 does not add any evidence for official offices, either.

In the third section, Wheatley argues that certain passages portray women as equal and vital partners in the Christian mission (p. 7). However, this equivocates on the phrase “equal and vital partners.” Equal in what way? Equal in the sense that they have the same standing before God as co-heirs of the kingdom of God? I would certainly grant that. Equal in the sense of working just as hard, side by side? I would certainly grant that. Equal in the sense of sharing the same office with the apostle? I would certainly NOT grant that! By this argument, women should be elders and ministers. So, Wheatley does not avoid the slippery slope argument quite as well as he thinks he does! His argument here would prove too much, by his own statements, since he is not arguing for women elders or ministers. His point concerning women being the first witnesses to the resurrection (p. 9) is not to the point, either. Christianity certainly improves women’s standing among men as co-heirs of the kingdom of God. This is quite different from the question of office.

I will deal with the historical arguments adduced on pp. 10-13 in a separate post. For now, it should be clear that there is no biblical basis for proving that the New Testament approves of women deacons. I might add that there are strong negative considerations that must come into play here as well: the office of deacon is one of authority. Otherwise, why would they need to be men (!) of the Holy Spirit, as Acts 6 specifically spells out? There is no treatment of Acts 6 in the whole of Wheatley’s paper, and it is not difficult to find out the reasons why. Firstly, the first deacons were all men. Secondly, they had to be men of authority, because they had to be men full of the Holy Spirit. If there is authority wielded by deacons, then the strictures of 1 Timothy 2:9-13 come into play. The office of deacon is one of authority, and such authority cannot be wielded by women over men in the church. Incidentally, Acts 6 also puts the axe to the argument that women were needed, in the early church, to serve the diaconal needs of other women. Here in Acts 6, it is quite plain that men were seeing to the food needs of women.

Feminism and the Church

The fifth tooth of the wolf is feminism. This post will be very politically incorrect, I realize, but it must be said. The other caveat I would issue here is that the church, in reacting against feminism, should not denigrate the gifts God has given to women, and should be actively looking for ways in which women can use their gifts in proper settings. Sometimes it seems as if the attitude towards women in conservative churches is more focused on what women cannot do, as opposed to encouraging women to do what they should do.

One other caveat should be given here, and that is that not all forms of feminism are the same. Not all feminists, for instance, would agree with every point of Sittema’s description. There is definitely a range of opinions on these matters. All these caveats aside, there is no doubt that the feminism Sittema describes is very dangerous to the church.

Here are the points that Sittema summarizes from James Dobson’s analysis of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. In other words, this appears to be fairly mainline feminism. For those of us used to kinder, gentler forms of feminism, this may come as something of a shock. But this is their agenda: 1. Marriage is the enemy for women, since men are by definition oppressors. 2. The family is to blame for violence suffered by women. 3. The sex of a baby is something imposed on them from birth, and is not biological (i.e., it is entirely a social construct, and is therefore oppressive). 4. The language of “wife, husband, son, daughter, sister, brother,” etc. must be changed to “parent, spouse, child, and sibling.” 5. The government needs to mandate that household responsibilities be divided 50/50, and so must the military also. 6. Abortion is a mandated right for all women. 7. The homosexual agenda walks hand in hand with feminism in its redefinition of traditional roles and sex. 8. All patriarchal religions must be oppressed. 9. The Bible is not authoritative when it oppresses women by forbidding teaching roles to them over men. If the Bible does not speak to modern women’s experience, then it has no authority there. 10. Traditional Christian doctrines need to be redefined, including the doctrine of man, God, sin, redemption, and Christology, to be more favorable to women.

One can quickly see, first of all, that what many of us would regard as “radical” feminism is actually more mainstream. This is what the world council on feminism has said.

Second of all, one can see that if feminism has its way, then the Bible’s authority will be completely undermined. I have seen two approaches to the Bible in feminism. The first approach is to deny the Bible’s authority. This is actually the more honest approach. The other approach (especially with passages such as 1 Timothy 2) is to “interpret” the passage to make it mean pretty much the opposite of what it actually says. This is done by the so-called “evangelical feminists,” who still want to cling to the authority of the Bible. As Ligon Duncan said, if one can make “I do not permit a women to teach or have authority over a man” to mean “I do permit a women to teach or have authority over a man,” then one can make the Bible say absolutely anything.

Sittema suggests four ways of fighting feminism in the church: 1. Teach the Biblical model of gender relationships. 2. Don’t over-react. We must remember that there are a range of views. Just because someone might say something like one of the above 10 points doesn’t mean that they believe all of them. 3. Use women and their gifts in the church. He quotes the memorable dictum “cults are the unpaid debts of the church.” If the church were to encourage women to use their gifts to the best of their ability, and in the right setting, then feminism would not have much room to make inroads into our churches. 4. Honor marriage, family, and motherhood within the church. Show the church how much the Bible praises these things, and what a high calling these are for women. I would add 5. Be sympathetic towards women who really have been abused by men. This should never be tolerated, even though our definitions of “abuse” will be different from the feminists’ definition. We would not regard keeping men as elders and deacons in the church as a form of abusing women, for instance. But verbal and physical abuse of women does happen, and we should never become soft on such abuse just because we’re reacting against feminism.

Women’s roles/deaconesses in the PCA revisited

Posted by Bob Mattes

Things have been a bit busy since returning from the 37th PCA General Assembly. A lot of the post-assembly talk has centered on the the overtures considering women’s role in the church. You may recall that last year, Philadelphia Presbytery put forward an overture to study the issue of deaconesses in the PCA which was rejected by the Assembly. As I reported in this post, James River and Susquehanna Valley Presbyteries submitted identical overtures calling for a more general study committee to study the role of women in the church. Although this apparently was thought more palatable than an outright call for deaconesses, most commissioners saw through the thin veneer.

The Overtures Committee debated these overtures at some length. I tip my hat to TE Phil Ryken who chaired the committee this year. Although his church, 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia, has deaconesses, you would never have guessed that from his moderation of the debate. TE Ryken did an excellent job of keeping things moving and on track.

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Masculine Logic and Feminine Logic

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. The man will say, “I can’t believe how illogical that woman is. She can’t see one single step in the argument.” The woman will reply, “I can’t believe that he is so slow that he can’t see what is so blindingly obvious to ANYONE who could put two and two together.” To quote someone famous, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Men think in a line, step by step, usually. Of course, everything in this post is pretty general, and has lots of exceptions. But men are, in general, linear thinkers. They like things spelled out in order. Skipping steps usually makes them uneasy, not to say discombobulated.

Women, on the other hand, are usually more intuitive. They don’t have a problem skipping steps in the argument, and jumping right to the conclusion. They couldn’t always tell you how they got there, but they often come up with these amazing leaps that seem almost superhuman to most males. Sometimes men call this a sixth sense, or a woman’s intuition.

Men need to realize that a woman is not necessarily being illogical when she makes the leaps. It is merely that the woman doesn’t feel she needs to spell out all the steps by which she arrived at her conclusion. Of course, sometimes the woman jumps to the wrong conclusions because she left out a few key distinctions/steps/factors that might have changed the conclusion. This is where the man can patiently explain to the woman how to reach the proper conclusion.

Women, by contrast, can help men increase the speed of reaching the conclusions, because sometimes it is important to reach a conclusion quickly, and spelling out all of the steps is not always necessary or desirable. Women also need to understand that men may not be slow and stupid just because they can’t move at the dizzying pace of intuition that the woman can.

The difference is probably due at least in part to the way the brains are set up. In the womb, the boy receives a washing of testosterone that disconnects parts of the brain from one another, making intuitive leaps more difficult. The girl in the womb does not receive this, and so the connections are much more instantaneous. God’s marvelous design is evident here, because men and women therefore complement each other very well. Sometimes the linear thinking of the male is more helpful (for instance, in engineering, where 98% of engineers are male). One does not want steps left out of the process in building a bridge! On the other hand, intuition is often extremely helpful in relationships, where one often needs the ability to read between the lines to be able to put oneself in the other person’s shoes. Women are often much better at this than men, who often can’t seem to put 2 and 2 together fast enough to be able to make the necessary leaps. So, men and women, rather than calling each other stupid, simply need to realize that there is often a different kind of logic at work, neither better or worse than the other, but often suited better to different tasks. Men and women, if they realized this better, would be better able to communicate with each other, and help each other in the areas where they are stronger.

I Didn’t Know He Had a Blog

But you should check out Voddie Baucham’s blog. He has gotten a fair bit of press lately for standing up for complementarian values in the face of a hostile media. He is Reformed Baptist, and seems to me a very sane voice in today’s world. He has a powerful message here on theodicy.

My Wife Reviews a Book

Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives

I asked my wife to read this book and give me a book review of it, and she willingly and graciously assented. So, these are her words, only lightly edited.

There are no pet issues, feel-good fuzzies, or cultural buzzwords in this book. It is not a book for the shallow Christian, yet it is understandable enough for any who desire to grow and benefit from it. This book is solidly biblical, very challenging, extremely practical, and amazingly conservative. In short, it is the book for women I have long bemoaned that all the others aren’t. This woman must have read the Puritans, or at any rate, she knows their God. This book will make you think, but not overwhelm the “non-intellectual” types. Here are some quotations I found helpful:

My husband and boys can’t be my idols. I can’t pin all of my hopes for the future on their personal successes. It’s not fair to them, and it keeps me from placing my hope for the future in God’s hands. I must be a steward of my roles of wife and mom, not an idolater who looks to her husband and children for her sense of personal achievement. The same is true for you in whatever calling God has given you. Jesus must be our source of identity.

Instead of seeing ourselves as connected to Christ at all times, we tend to view our relationship with God in terms of intersecting moments during the day. We think that the more times our lives intersect with God, the more “spiritual” we are. In this paradigm, God goes on his way and I go on my way until we intersect at another corner later that day, week, month, or year. Instead, we need to think of ourselves walking with Jesus continually, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you are a believer, Christ is with you, in you, holding you together at all times. The goal is for us to be aware of that reality and live in light of it, for Christ warns us that apart from him we can do nothing (see John 15). (Taken from pp. 96-97)

A New Book for Women

A book that goes against culture, especially feminism, is always a cause for celebration. The author has a blog, entitled Radical Womanhood, that is well worth checking out.

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

Scriptural Basis for the PCA BCO on Deacons

Posted by Bob Mattes

I posted on the 36th General Assembly proceedings on deaconesses here without duplicating Lanes or TE Aquila’s posts on the subject. My initial thoughts on the issue of female deacons/deaconesses can be found here on GreenBaggins. I wanted to comment in this post on an item in both Overture 9 and the Overtures Committee minority report.

The operant phrase in Philadelphia Presbytery’s Overture 9 reads:

Scriptural teaching bearing on women’s eligibility for election and ordination to the office of deacon and recommending, if necessary, changes to the BCO in keeping with any findings proceeding from the study of Scripture;

And in the minority report from the overtures committee concerning Overture 9:

Is the Book of Church Order more, or less, restrictive than the Scriptural teaching bearing on the role of women in the diaconal ministries?

I thought that I’d help answer these questions by showing the direct connection between the BCO and the applicable Scriptures. Perhaps that will help some folks who think that they need a study committee to look at a handful of verses that we can all read for ourselves.

First, there’s a direct connection between 1 Tim 3:12 (all citations ESV):

Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. [my emphasis]

and Acts 6:3:

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. [my emphasis]

And BCO 7-2:

7-2. The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are elders
and deacons. Within the class of elder are the two orders of teaching elders and ruling elders. The elders jointly have the government and spiritual oversight of the Church, including teaching. Only those elders who are specially gifted, called and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders. The office of deacon is not one of rule, but rather of service both to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only. [my emphasis]

BCO 9-3:

9-3. To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment. [my emphasis]

and BCO 24-1:

24-1. Every church shall elect persons to the offices of ruling elder and
deacon in the following manner: At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active male member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. [my emphasis]

Here you can see that Scripture commands deacons to be men only, and this guidance is followed exactly in the BCO. Nothing more or less.

Further, both the Scriptures and the BCO cover the issue of providing outside help to the diaconate. We find 1 Tim 5:3-16:

3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows.

corresponding nicely to BCO 9-7:

9-7. It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and
appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need.

No disconnects, just unity of thought and approach between Scripture and the BCO. So what about Phoebe and Rom 16:1?

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,

The word for “servant” in that verse is ‘διακονον’ in the Greek. I cover this in some detail in this post, so will not duplicate all that here. Bottom line is that as far back as the Geneva Bible in 1560, Phoebe has been called a servant in accordance with good translating practice and the context of the verse. I will post a fairly comprehensive word study on the word ‘διάκονον’ and its close relatives in both the Greek New Testament as well as the LXX in the next few days. To get a sense for Paul’s usage in the meantime, look at Romans 15:8 and tell me if Christ is called a deacon:

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,

or 2 Cor 3:6 if we all are:

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.

Or the well-known Matt 20:26 for Christ’s usage of the word:

It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,

Are we all to become deacons? Of course not. I picked these particular uses of the word because they are very similar to the context in Romans 16:1. There’s no real case to be made here for female office holders.

Yet, some still disagree and think that Phoebe may have been a deaconess in the office-holding sense. Though I and other complementarians disagree with such a mistranslation, let’s assume for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that the details of this verse are unclear. Making Phoebe a deaconess here would make Paul inconsistent in his teaching on the role of women in the church. It certainly wouldn’t square with very clear verses like 1 Tim 3:12, 1 Tim 2:12, and 1 Cor 11:1-24 just to name a few. Roll Luke’s Acts 6:3 in as well. According to the analogy of faith, if one verse or passage isn’t clear, then we turn to others that are clear. Those standing on Rom 16:1 in hopes of finding deaconesses would do well to consider this basic Reformed principle and seek clarity from Scripture rather than the feminist culture.

None of this is rocket science. The majority report of the Overtures Committee cited these portions of the BCO. For those that want a Scriptural warrant, I have cited several clear Scriptural teachings in this and my previous post.

I’ll repeat here something that I posted on my blog earlier tonight. If we treat Scripture like a wax nose to accommodate the culture, we fall for the same lie that Eve swallowed in the garden: “Did God really say…” This deaconess thing is a Scripture authority issue, pure and simple. 1 Tim 3:12 by itself should be clear enough to settle this issue for those that hold to Scripture’s absolute authority. If we decide to try to conform Scripture to the world for whatever reason, we trade the gospel for a lie.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Rejoinder to Lee Irons

First, I thank Lee for addressing the issues exegetically and irenically. Hopefully my response will be in the same spirit. Part 1 of his response is here, and part 2 is here. I will deal with the arguments seriatim.

In part 1, Lee addresses my response to Strimple’s 3 exegetical arguments. My response to the first reply is relatively simple: Strimple does not argue that the feminine participle coupled only with διάκονος means an official office. This is clear from the Scripture texts that Strimple uses. In John 11:49, it is the high priest being talked about. In Acts 18:12, it is the proconsul. Why artificially limit the examples to offices, is my point? The feminine participle, coupled with “daughter of Abraham” does not indicate an official office, and yet the construction is precisely the same. Lee and Strimple are then artificially limiting the evidence under scrutiny. The fact is that the feminine participle plus noun does not equal an official office. The other examples of the verb “to be” plus deacon, on the other hand, are not parallel, since no participle is present in 1 Timothy 3:8, and the verb is an imperative in 1 Timothy 3:12. Furthermore, the construction in Philippians 1:1 is not the same because the participle does not directly apply to the elders and deacons, but simply to the saints. There is certainly no evidence of female elders and deacons in Philippi. In view of all the preceding argumentation, the construction of feminine participle plus noun will not bear the weight that Lee wishes to put on it. I have not over-simplified, in other words. Lee has actually misread Strimple’s argument.

With regard to the second argument about the conjunction καὶ, the answer is also relatively simple: the conjunction means that something different is being said (unless you are dealing with a hendiadys, which none are claiming here) about Phoebe in the word διάκονον. Since “sister” does not equal “servant” by anyone’s imagination, the construction could just as easily say that Phoebe is a sister, and also a servant as it could say that Phoebe is a sister, and also a deacon. The one is as equally probable as the other. Therefore, no exegetical weight can be given to it: it fits in either construction equally well.

Thirdly, with regard to the genitival construction, there is no such grammatical construction as “genitive of official recognition.” It could be a genitive of source, genitive of object, or genitive of source, and probably a few other options. Personally, I lean towards genitive of object: she is the servant of the church at Cenchrea, a church which is the object of Phoebe’s servanthood. So again, the genitive construction cannot possibly bear the weight of Lee’s and Strimple’s construction, since it can just as easily (and far more simply) be saying that Phoebe was a servant of a church. Furthermore, the additional meaning that διάκονον has is not opposed to the fact that she is a lay-member. In other words, “sister” does not equal “lay-member.” Therefore, the word “servant” does not have to be something in addition to lay-memberhood, but can be something additional to the fact that she is a believer. I deny that I am taking an atomistic approach to the words. I, like Lee, am looking at the grammatical construction of the text, and trying to reason out what weight can be put upon certain constructions. The charge is atomism is irrelevant in this case, because we are both talking about the feminine participle with the word “servant,” the function of the conjunction within its context, and the genitive of the church.

Moving on to Lee’s second post about the contextual concerns, there are two main issues: does the “amen” at the end of the chapter indicate that Paul is going on to a completely new idea? Is it the road-bump that Lee calls it? I don’t believe it is. Paul very often inserts a benediction in the middle of his work, and then comes back after the small digression to what he was talking about before. We can see this in Ephesians 4:6-7, and especially Romans 9:5-6, which even includes the word “Amen,” after which Paul goes right back to what he was talking about before. In Romans 16, therefore, the amen does not supply such a road bumpto there being a connection between the “service” of 15:31 and the “servant” of 16:1. I fully realize that the chapter starts the chapter of greetings. However, what I do claim is that Phoebe was first because of the similarity of service. That leads us to the second issue, which is the nature of Paul’s service to Jerusalem.

There is simply no evidence as to the exact nature of this particular service. Rather, it seems to be a general term for everything which he has done for Jerusalem, many of which things would be off-limits to other men, let alone women. Rather, the connection between the two usages lies in the simple idea of “service,” each doing what each person is supposed to do. Reading deaconal ministry into 15:31 is not acceptable hermeneutically. I fully grant the point that Phoebe might very well have been the courier for the letter. However, that is not proven, nor would she need to have an office to be a courier of a letter. The reason Paul would have needed to provide such references was simply so that the church would receive the letter as from Paul himself. Quite frankly, the commendation of Phoebe as a servant of the church is an even higher recommendation than an office would be, especially given the fact that the “ebed Adonai” was held in such honor in the Old Testament.

The point about the word “helper” or “patroness” does not matter much, in terms of the difference in the semantic domain. The word does not help the case for “deacon” because the patroness would be using her own money to help out Paul, rather than being a dispenser of other people’s money, in the case of a deacon. Lee’s argument seems to imply that there is an overlap of function between “patroness” and “deacon.” This is simply not the case. A patroness would by definition have money of her own to spend. A deacon could be dirt poor. There is no necessary overlap whatsoever. Supporting a missionary out of one’s own pocket does not in any way mean that one is a deacon. It simply does not follow. This interchange has certainly been stimulating to me, and has forced me to read the text ever more carefully. I hope Lee has been equally stimulated.         

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