Posted by Bob Mattes
Seems I’m like the last to know almost anything. I found this overture while checking the latest docket for the upcoming 36th PCA General Assembly. I was a bit taken back. Upon further research, I found this post and thread over at BaylyBlog, to which this one has been added. That the Bayly’s would raise the alarm is no surprise as creeping feminism in the church is their main issue lately. However, some of the comments under the first post seem pretty defensive of the idea of women deacons. Ouch.
First, Garver took me to task for calling these people women deacons. He said:
The RPCES did not have “female deacons” – it had “deaconesses.” Deaconesses were the non-ordained counterpart and assistants to the male ordained deacons. Nonetheless, they were installed and commissioned using questions analogous to those asked of deacons and set apart by prayer.
Uh, that’s what I’d call a distinction without a difference. If it looks like, smells like, walks like, and is installed like a duck, it’s a duck, eh? But I have no problem calling them deaconesses as long as everyone understands that “deaconesses” and “women deacons” are equivalent in real-world language. More on why later.
I challenged the whole idea of women deacons in the comments on Baylyblog from the clearly written 1 Tim 3:8-13. In rebuttal (I suppose), pduggie quoted from the Tenth Presbyterian Church’s Qualifications of Deacons (pdf file). I encourage you to read the section about deaconesses starting on Page 6 before continuing here.
Now I have to say that I hold the late Dr. Jim Boice in the highest regard. Until today, I held his successor, Dr. Phil Ryken, in similar regard. Now my confidence in the latter stands shaken, as his name appears as the author of that document on deacons which takes a view of women deacons contrary to what I believe are the plain teachings of Scripture and the BCO. I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to start a war with Dr. Ryken or Philadelphia Presbytery, but simply wish to provide another look at Scripture and the PCA Book of Church Order in light of Overture 9.
What’s all the fuss about? Well, 1 Tim 3:8-12 (KJV) says:
8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
Even the casual observer will see serious Biblical issues with women deacons even in the English translation. As you can see in verse 11, there are qualifications for their wives, and in verse 12 they must only have one wife. That would be a tough barrier for female deacons, doncha think? Let’s look at the Greek.
In verses 11, γυναικας is translated as “Wives,” as it is 92 other times in the KJV. It can also mean “women,” and the local meaning is taken from context. The context here is provided in verse 12 where the same word is used, which again parallels verse 2 for elders. Seems clear and straightforward. But not necessarily for Dr. Ryken:
The strongest reason for thinking that these women were deaconesses is the way they are introduced. Both verse 8 and verse 11 contain the word likewise (hosautos), which sounds like it introduces a new office.
First, ωσαυτως (hosautos) is used a number of times in the New Testament. Our Lord was rather fond of it. From Strong’s:
5615 ὡσαύτως [hosautos /ho·sow·toce/] adv. From 5613 and an adverb from 846; GK 6058; 17 occurrences; AV translates as “likewise” 13 times, “in like manner” twice, “even so” once, and “after the same manner” once. 1 in like manner, likewise.
From the Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament:
5615. ὡσαύτως hōsaútōs; adv. from hōs (5613), as, and aútōs (846), likewise, the same. In the same or like manner, likewise (Matt. 20:5; 21:30, 36; 25:17; Mark 12:21; 14:31; Luke 13:3; 20:31; 22:20; Rom. 8:26; 1 Cor. 11:25; 1 Tim. 2:9; 3:8, 11; 5:25; Titus 2:3, 6; Sept.: Deut. 12:22; Judg. 8:8).
Syn.: hoútō, before a consonant, or hoútōs (3779) before a vowel, thus, in this manner; hó̄sper (5618), exactly like; homoíōs (3668), in like manner; kaí (2532), and, even, also, likewise; paraplēsíōs (3898), similarly, in a similar manner.
Ant.: állōs (247), differently; hetérōs (2088), differently, otherwise, taking into account the difference between állos (243), another of the same kind, and héteros (2087), another of a different kind. (Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament (electronic ed.) (G5615). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.)
The word does not introduce new topics or ideas, but rather makes a point by referring back to and drawing a parallel with an antecedent phrase or point. Check out the Scripture references for yourself. A good example is Mt 21:36 (KJV):
35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
I think that you get the point. No new topic or office was introduced in Mt 21:36 or 1 Tim 3:11. Paul was simply saying that just as the men who would be deacons must be exemplary in their conduct, so must their wives. Just as in verse 8, Paul is simply saying the the qualifications for the office of deacon are similar to those for elder. With all due respect to Dr. Ryken, he’s stretching pretty far on this point.
We can even go back to the word used for ‘Deacons’ in verses 8, 10, and 12. The Greek in those verses, Διακονους, is plural masculine. The adjectives used to describe deacons are also in masculine form. Clearly only men are in view. That’s consistent with verse 11 and the reference to their wives. While the introduction of the idea that verse 11 refers to a new class of women deacons rather than deacons’ wives introduces a number of linguistic and theological problems and violates the flow of the passage, while using the plain meaning of the verse referring to deacons’ wives is perfectly consistent within the local and global contexts.
Given the clarity of 1 Tim 3:8-12’s clear teaching against women deacons, the rest of Dr. Ryken’s related points in his paper either fall apart or become irrelevant. His conclusion on this passage:
We are left with a puzzle. By itself, 1 Timothy 3:11 is not sufficient prove that women should serve as deaconesses.
With all due respect, there’s no puzzle. A straightforward reading of the Greek makes it clear that deacons are limited to men. Rather than not being “sufficient” in favor of women deacons, verse 11 definitively proves that women should NOT serve as deaconesses. Dr. Ryken concludes his section on women deacons:
The practice of the Presbyterian Church in America may come close to what the Bible teaches. Only men are ordained to the office of deacon. The elders are encouraged to “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.” The church permits congregations to commission women to the ministry of deaconess. At places like Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, deaconesses carry out service identical to that of the deacons. Apart from ordination, the only difference between them is that some diaconal needs call for uniquely masculine or feminine ministry. [My bold]
Again with respect, I cannot find a single place in the BCO that backs up the bolded section above. Clearly Tenth Pres must, since they are using women deacons now. Wow.
The 10th Pres paper refers to Romans 16:1:
To summarize: New Testament women carried out diaconal ministry. One, at least, was called a “deaconess.”
So what about Romans 16:1?
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,
The word for servant there, διακονον, is the feminine form of the word, and in context is best and correctly translated as ‘servant,’ as it is 8 times in the KJV, compared with deacon only 3 times and never “deaconess.” On this subject, the Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, says:
The only possible reference to a woman as a deacon is Rom. 16:1, 2, although the word diákonon may just as well be translated “servant.” In this regard we must note that the story of the early church significantly begins with the inclusion of women in the apostolic meetings for prayer (Acts 1:14). Their presence and activity are clearly illustrated by the references to Tabitha (Acts 9:36), Mary the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:14), Damaris (Acts 17:34), and Priscilla (Acts 18:2). The story of Sapphira (Acts 5:7f.) implies the comparatively independent membership and responsibility of women within the Christian community. Priscilla illustrates their active evangelism (Acts 18:26). Attention is expressly called to the “multitudes” of women converts added to the church (Acts 5:14). In Phil. 4:2, 3 Euodias and Syntyche (both women) are spoken of as fellow laborers of the Apostle Paul, and in 1 Cor. 1:11 Chloe is mentioned as having reported to Paul the condition of the church at Corinth. In Rom. 16:1–3, 6, 12, 13, 15 we have numerous salutations to women. Nevertheless, aside from the normal and expected involvement of women in a wide range of church activities and auxiliary ministries, they are never found to be holding ordained offices or engaging in the work of those positions. (Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The Complete Word Study Dictionary : New Testament (electronic ed.) (G1249). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.)
That’s a pretty thorough survey and directly opposes Dr. Ryken’s point in his paper. So, although women were very active in the church, as they should be today, they neither held ordained offices or formally engaged in the work of those offices. This is perfectly consistent with BCO 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 bold]
I’ll close this portion by observing that in Acts 6 where deacons are first appointed, only men are chosen for the office. Acts 6:3 (KJV) is quite explicit:
Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
The tasking was to find “seven men,” not “seven people.” The underlying Greek is definitely masculine. Surely there were women fit to serve at that time, but they were excluded from the office. Seems to me that God was pretty clear on what He wanted. In writing BCO 9, the PCA was faithful to our Father’s explicit desires.
In light of all this, the Baylys have proposed a sort of “compromise.” They suggest:
If those pushing women deacons in the PCA were simply to call them “deaconesses” and make it clear that the implementation of the calling would be hedged about with clear lines of demarcation between deaconesses and deacons–all centered on the issue of reserving to men only the exercise of substantive authority over men–many of us would make common cause with them.
I think that separating the term “woman deacons” from “deaconesses” is a bad idea. First, it goes against common English word construction. Female lions are “lionesses,” female actors are “actresses,” eh? Such a break in English word construction simply sews confusion, which rarely serves the glory of God. Second, the PCA already has Women in the Church (WIC) which is all about actively involving women in service and the life of the church, and, amongst other things, fulfills the intent of BCO 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.
Note that the BCO says nothing in this paragraph about “commissioning” or ordaining or creating new parallel offices for anyone, again opposing Dr. Ryken’s assertion. That paragraph only says that all of us should be about the work of our Father. Indeed, I believe that WIC suffers from a lack of enthusiastic support from many Sessions and Presbyteries. Reviving support for WIC seems to be the orthodox approach to opening service opportunities for women in the PCA. That women should be active in service and the life of the church seems to be one of Dr. Ryken’s main concerns, and one with which I agree wholeheartedly. I simply believe that we already have mechanisms in harmony with the plain teaching of Scripture and the BCO to effect that end.
There is a lot going on with liberti with the leadership training, and being 2 months away from organizing as a church and ordaining our own elders, deacons, and deaconesses, home meetings going through different seasons, receiving people into covenant, gearing up with staff transitions and new office space, and generally gearing up for this coming year… Whew……… Please pray for your pastors, elders, staff and everyone in training. We are excited and also overwhelmed. [my bold]
That’s clear enough. And whatever other words they use, they did just that at their particularization service as the pictures here (images 12, 13, and 14) show. Of course, this was in full view and one must assume approval of the Presbytery commission overseeing the particularization. In doing so, I guess that they simply followed the lead of 10th Pres. Sometimes one has to wonder if the whole world has gone crazy.
To wrap up, I am absolutely in favor of women being active in service and the life of the church. As Dr. Zodhiates showed in his survey of the NT quoted earlier, women have been active since the beginning. On this Dr. Ryken and I agree. I further believe that WIC has been one underused means of encouraging women to be deeply involved in the life and work of the church. Unlike ordaining or “commissioning” women as deaconesses, which I have tried to show is in direct opposition to Scripture and the BCO, WIC glorifies God by honoring His Word.
Despite the length of this post and time taken to put it together, I don’t have any intention of diluting my work against the Federal Vision with this issue. Others have already taken up this battle. I simply wanted to review the applicable Scriptures and BCO sections, thereby encouraging the Overtures Committee and Committee on Constitutional Business to recommend an alternative motion to Overture 9, such motion to uphold the plain teaching of Scripture and the BCO, and that the 36th General Assembly approve such an alternative. May God grant us individually and collectively the wisdom and the strength.
Posted by Bob Mattes