Embracing Kantian Divides in the PCA

Overture 22 is asking a question that embraces the Kantian divide. What do I mean by this somewhat cryptic comment? The overture asks for a study committee on whether a person can hold to women’s ordination as an exception while agreeing not to practice it. The Kantian divide is the idea that what we believe is in a completely different realm from what we do. Put another way, the realm of belief is not an object of knowledge in the way that the realm of what we see is. We can’t know what is “up there” in terms of belief. We can only have faith. We can have knowledge about the world that we see. That is the Kantian divide: stuff “up there” can only be believed, whereas stuff “down here” can be known. Kant wound up with the categorical imperative: It has resulted in many other divides that have been hurtful not only to the church, but even to entire fields of knowledge. It has resulted in the increasing fragmentation of knowledge.

The overture asks if we can allow someone to hold to a belief without practicing it. The very question of whether we can do that on any issue is a highly problematic assumption that is not spelled out in the overture. The Puritans would never have dreamed of separating doctrine and practice in this way. The apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that the commands for us to do something are always based on doctrine. The imperative (the command) is always based on the indicative (what has already happened in Christ). Overture 22 would separate this biblical connection, and allow us to hold a belief that we agree not to practice.

Of course, the other major example of this in the PCA is the issue of paedo-communion. Many Presbyteries allow men to hold (and even teach!) paedo-communion without practicing it. I would strongly challenge whether we can separate belief and practice this neatly and this completely. Sooner or later, the age of children allowed at the table gets earlier and earlier until they are playing footsie with their vows. It is utterly naive to think that a person’s beliefs will not affect his practice. Besides the fact that paedo-communion actually runs contrary to about 17 places in the Westminster Standards, our current practice in the PCA is Kantian, and not biblical. Kantianism is the underlying assumption of all modernist philosophy and the secular West.

Some Thoughts on General Assembly

These thoughts are not in any particular order. But I did want to address some of the issues, and try to explain them in such a way that the average ruling elder in particular would be able to understand and follow the important things that are going on.

First up is the evening of confessional concern and prayer being held on Monday night. One thing I had not noticed about it the first time I read it was that it is an RSVP event. So please remember that and RSVP if you are planning to attend. The second thing I want to say about this (a thing which isn’t entirely clear in the Aquila Report) is that this evening of confessional concern and prayer is a shot across the bow of “wake-up call” for the PCA. EDIT: I have changed this language at the request of people I respect, as it is liable to misunderstanding: what I mean by it is simply that we are concerned about the direction the denomination is going, and we are going public with that concern. This is not merely a discussion of the major issues facing the denomination at the General Assembly. This is a group of people who are seriously concerned about the direction the PCA is headed. This is the beginning of action being taken about that direction. CWAGA folk (“Can’t We All Get Along?”) and liberal progressives take note. Now, this might not be the intention of everyone who will be there, or even everyone who will be presenting. I cannot speak for them. However, the design and original intention of this meeting is as I have outlined.

The second issue I want to talk about is the Insider Movement report. The Insider Movement (IM) is a missiological trend whereby people are being encouraged to identify themselves as both Christian and Muslim. Closely associated with this is a trend in Bible translation that removes references to the sonship of Jesus to the Father in favor of other terms like “Messiah” or “highly favored one.” The intended or unintended (not to prejudge!) consequence of this action is seriously to jeopardize the Scripture’s witness to the eternal sonship of Jesus to the Father. The report exposes these errors. This is not a peripheral issue of doctrine, but one that is absolutely central to the Christian faith, as the doctrine is present in every single creed in Christendom that Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the eternal Father. If Jesus is not the eternal Son of the Father, then He cannot bear the infinite guilt of our sins on His shoulders. Why did this trend get started, you might ask? The alleged reason, according to the report, is that translators were discovering that Muslim people tend to think of biological sex being involved when they hear the phrase “Son of God.” They find that offensive, and so the move to eliminate references to Jesus’ sonship in the Bible.

The third issue is the request by Philadelphia Presbytery to have a study committee report on women’s ordination. Now, the request is specific. It is asking about whether a person can believe in women’s ordination if he is not willing to practice it in order to conform to our BCO. I should note that one of the “whereas’s” reads as follows: “Whereas, our constitution does not clearly delineate or define ‘the general principles of biblical polity or their relation to male only eldership.” I had to scratch my head on that one. I thought our BCO clearly said that the offices of elder and deacon are open to men only. The BCO is part of our constitution. So I’m not quite sure how they came up with this statement, which seems on the face of it to be completely false. To be perfectly blunt about this, if we open this question we are denying everything the PCA has stood for since its inception. This denomination was founded in part because of liberalism on women’s issues (the other major piece being the doctrine of Scripture itself; the two are intimately related, of course, because of how one has to twist and distort 1 Timothy 2 or deny its authority in order to achieve women’s ordination). So, if we open the question of women’s ordination, then we also need to open the question of Scripture’s authority, since the only way you can get women’s ordination is to deny that Scripture has the authority to prevent it.

The fourth issue I wish to talk about is theistic evolution, being brought up to the GA by means of Overture 32. There are some in the PCA who deny that theistic evolution is being taught by anyone in the PCA. I would say that such people have their head in the sand. According to a Christianity Today article, Tim Keller believes that it is the job of pastors to promote a narrative for Biologos:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

Unofficially connected with Redeemer Church (as in, he has no official connection, but has done many Sunday School seminars and the like) is Dr. Ron Choong, a man who clearly espouses theistic evolution, and opines that no one at Redeemer has had any problems with his teaching.

Fifthly and lastly, there is the issue of the Standing Judicial Commission and the lack of oversight of that commission that currently exists. No doubt many will want to point out that the SJC is often dealing with cases that are extremely complex. No doubt that is true. However, no organization or group of people in the PCA should be without oversight and accountability. Reports of Presbytery commissions have to be approved. Therefore, what the SJC does needs to be approved or rejected by the body as a whole. This is true even if there is a difference between judicial commissions and other commissions.

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

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