This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy. He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and incur the same condemnation as the devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.
Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. They must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons are to be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
-1 Timothy 3:1-13
Here we have qualifications for elders and deacons, who are men. These are church offices or officials. These paragraphs describe and prescribe the character and qualifications of elders and deacons, who are male.
These passages in 1 Timothy suggest that elders and deacons are men, who may be married and who may have children.
- Ministry is for everybody, male and female, young and old, newbies and old timers.
- Jesus says everyone gets to minister. The priesthood of all believers is a real thing, from the heart of God.
- The ministry offices of apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, and evangelist are for the equipping of the saints, to do the work of the ministry.
Instead of this, we mostly seek ministry from the few gifted and official people. And we who are ambitious to minister seek to be in the small class of ordained ones so that we can be the few that minister to everyone while giving lip service to equipping the saints, if at all.
How do deacons and elders fit in to all this? Deacons are servants, and elders are overseers. Deacons lead ministries (services) and elders give oversight to the church.
1 Timothy 3 is about men who are elders and deacons in the church.
The easiest way to understand that 1 Timothy 3 is not talking about women deacons, is to look at the context. Paul is writing about elders and deacons and describes them as men. Men who may have one wife. Men who are “a one-woman man”.
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…
Deacons are to be husbands of one wife…
There is controversy over verse 11:
Wives, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything.
Over half of our modern translations go with \”Women\” instead of \”Wives\” in verse 11. The NRSV, for example has verse 11 like this:
Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.
Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.
The argument is that Paul switched to mentioning women deacons here. These are the NET Bible notes:
Or “also deaconesses.” The Greek word here is γυναῖκας (gunaikas) which literally means “women” or “wives.” It is possible that this refers to women who serve as deacons, “deaconesses.” The evidence is as follows: (1) The immediate context refers to deacons; (2) the author mentions nothing about wives in his section on elder qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7); (3) it would seem strange to have requirements placed on deacons’ wives without corresponding requirements placed on elders’ wives; and (4) elsewhere in the NT, there seems to be room for seeing women in this role (cf. Rom 16:1 and the comments there).
The translation “wives”—referring to the wives of the deacons—is probably to be preferred, though, for the following reasons: (1) It would be strange for the author to discuss women deacons right in the middle of the qualifications for male deacons; more naturally they would be addressed by themselves. (2) The author seems to indicate clearly in the next verse that women are not deacons: “Deacons must be husbands of one wife.” (3) Most of the qualifications given for deacons elsewhere do not appear here. Either the author has truncated the requirements for women deacons, or he is not actually referring to women deacons; the latter seems to be the more natural understanding. (4) The principle given in 1 Tim 2:12 appears to be an overarching principle for church life which seems implicitly to limit the role of deacon to men. Nevertheless, a decision in this matter is difficult, and our conclusions must be regarded as tentative.
These notes articulately explain the text. Highlights are mine.
Can women be deacons? Maybe. Phoebe in Romans 16:1 was functioning as a deacon. But we cannot interpret ‘women’ 1 Timothy 3:11 as ‘deaconesses’ based on Romans 16:1. The context tells us that it should be ‘wives’.
This word about women appears abruptly in the instruction about deacons (3:8-13). It is possible that it refers to the wives of deacons. If so, however, it is hard to explain why there is no similar exhortation to the wives of bishops above. It is improbable in the context that it applies to all women in the congregation. Most likely, Paul addresses women deacons here. This would keep the verse from being an intrusion. Also in the original language there is no article “the” before women, as there is in English. Thus “women” is used adjectivally, “women who are deacons.” There is no official title for them like “deaconesses” because the New Testament Greek does not assign a female gender to the word used for deacon.
Although it is true that nothing is said concerning the wife of an elder, one cannot base too much on this argument from silence. It must be remembered that the list of requirements in 1 Timothy 3 are not formal lists but are ad hoc in the sense that they are directed at countering specific problems in the church at Ephesus.
Deacon’s wives participate in their husband’s ministries in a way that elder’s wives do not. Deacons do not teach or rule in the church, but just lead in serving; so their wives can easily serve along side them and be involved in their ministry more so than if their husband is serving as an elder.
The Seven deacons chosen in Acts 6 were all men. But their ministries involved serving widows. Seems pretty reasonable that their wives would have been involved with this service.
The grounds for closing off the office of deacons to women is weaker than barring them from being elders. But in 1 Timothy 3:11 Paul is listing qualifications of the wife of a deacon. To interpret 1 Timothy 3 using Romans 16:1-2 is problematic because basing an office on one verse is weak and flips an exception to being the rule.
Are women forbidden from being deacons? No. Are deacons described as being men in 1 Timothy 3? Yes. Does Paul talk about wives of deacons in 1 Timothy 3? Yes.
1 Timothy 3 describes elders and deacons. Deacon’s wives are mentioned.
A man is disqualified from being a deacon if his wife undignified, a false accuser, a drunkard, or untrustworthy. A man who has a wife that is any of those things can not serve as a ministry leader. And it would make logical sense that a woman who has a husband that has these problems should not extend herself into ministry leadership either.
My notes on women vs wives in the translations:
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