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.         


  1. Timothy said,

    June 20, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Good work and you have provided good defense. After reading the interchange and being at GA next week, I wonder if any head way will be made in the fight against ordaining women as deacons. It seems like there a lot of people with their minds already made up, and given that Covenant Seminary seems to be for the position of women deacons, how long before the denomination goes for the idea?

    Just some concerns I have about it.
    Teaching Elder Timothy Hammons
    Palmetto Presbytery
    Grace Presbyterian Church
    Aiken, SC

  2. schreibs said,

    June 23, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    I’ll go ahead and post my response to this one on your most recent post.

  3. schreibs said,

    June 23, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Paul gives a prayer request there at the end of chapter 15.

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

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

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

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

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

    Paul could be building up to using the word he had in mind for Phoebe, perhaps because she bore the similarly named office.

    I’ll add this comment also on your most recent post on the issue.

  4. February 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    […] 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 […]

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