Friday, July 4, 2008

What About Women Elders and Deacons? Part 2

Elders and deacons in the early church were people who already served the church in a certain capacity according to gifting and were then recognized for it. They also were not limited to these roles or labels. For example, Stephan is considered to be the first deacon, but we know that while he aided the elders and served many, he also preached the gospel publicly and performed signs and wonders with authority.

"And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8)... "they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke..." (Acts 6:10).

So just because one serves others, does not preclude them from leading, preaching, or teaching. One can both be a "foot washer" and a bold leader in the church. That is the beautiful counter-cultural, counter-worldly possibilities of the redemptive gospel, where authority and service is shared and determined by giftings, not "status" or the amount of power you can exercise over another. We submit ourselves to others, cooperating with each other, and all ultimately [should] submit to Christ.

"Requirements" for Elders and Deacons.

Paul leaves Timothy on in Ephesus and Titus on in Crete to appoint elders and deacons and to combat widespread false teachings. Paul wants capable believers to fulfill these roles. Desired attributes for elders and deacons are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

The words for "elder/bishop" is presbyter/epikosmos and are masculine, as is the word diakonon, the word for deacon. Before "elder" became a leadership role in the church, it literally meant, "the aged" or "the elderly." However, the ministry of elders did not require a candidate to be literally old, but older or more mature in the faith. This is how the term elder was coined. Similarly, diakonon is masculine and literally means "servant" or "minister." This was a fitting title for this specific leadership role within the church because of Christ's admonishment found in Matthew 20:25-28:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

It should be noted that diakonon became an "official" word among Christians referring to a specific ministry/leadership role within the church and not just anyone who serves others, for ALL christians are called to become servants. But the mark of leadership in the Church should be through SERVICE to others, not the ability to control others and give orders.

presbyter and diakonon, while masculine in nature, are used in the early church, much how ekklesia and adelphos are used. Ekklesia, a feminine noun, means church or more literally, "the called out ones." Even though this word is feminine, we know that when ekklesia is used in scripture it includes men, too. Adelphos, masculine, is translated as brethren, and was also used to include both women and men when speaking of believers. We will see in the another post that Phoebe was called a diakonon, in it's masculine form, even though she is clearly a woman.

Presbytera, the feminine of presbyter, appears in 1 Tim. 5:2, while the masculine form occurs in the preceding verse (5:1). If 1 Tim. 5:1 refers to an elder who is to be entreated as a father (as indicated in older versions), then verse 2 refers to a woman elder who is to be entreated as a mother.

This next commentary I found through a commenter of CBE.

In 1st Timothy Chapter 3 and 5:17-19, Paul outlined in detail the office of the presbyter (elder). "After completing his list of qualifications for bishops and deacons (I Tim 3:1-10), he continued by including the women when he said, "qunaikas hosautos" or "women likewise." Hosautos links the entire list of qualifications into one single theme. It links the deacons with the bishops in verse 8 and then links them to women in verse 11. The usual translation for presbyter (elder) is "older men" and "older women" but the Greek word is the same one used for elders everywhere. If consistency is to be maintained, then "presbutero" and "presbuteras" should be translated as men presbyters and women presbyters. A more nearly correct translation would be, "Do no sharply rebuke a male presbyter, but appeal to him as a father, to the young men as brothers, women presbyters as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity."

Catherine Kroeger, a bible scholar, speaks about the existence of female elders in the early church"
"Titus (2:3-5) also gives a list for those who hold the title of presbytis, the  feminine word that
corresponds to the masculine presbytes. In some versions presbytes
is translated elder,
while the feminine term in the next verse is rendered "old woman." Though often translated
as "old woman," presbytis was used in early Christian literature to denote female presbyters

(Lampe, Patristic Greek Lexicon lc 2B).
There is a qualification list for these women: reverent
in life style, not slanderers or addicted to much wine. They must be hieroprepeis (worthy of
the priesthood), again an indication of fitness for a special office.They were also to be
"teachers of good things.""

While Paul admonishes older women to teach younger women, he does not limit their teaching.
In a world where the sexes were segregated in nearly all aspects of life, even in the home
(separate entrances and rooms for each sex), naturally women would be teaching women more
than they would men. But this is not because women teaching men is inherently wrong, but it
was just not practical in this culture. However, women could easily gain entrance to certain
sectors of society and bring the gospel to places that men could not always, such as leper colonies
and other places where the poor and sick were kept, including men.

Paul also instructs older men to teach younger men, but we would never conclude that this limits
older men from teaching the entire congregation when they gather. It is common sense that
older men would be natural mentors to younger men and older women would be mentors to
younger women. This, however, does not mean they have nothing to offer the opposite sex when
teaching the Gospel or using their gifts in midst of the entire body.

Also, every other passage dealing with presbyteros in the pastorals is taken to refer to
officeholders, including two passages in this same chapter of 1 Timothy (5:17, 19).

The main reason cited for excluding women from serving as deacons and elders is the phrase
mias gunaikos andra translated in most English versions as "husband of one wife," which is
viewed as a
requirement for eldership and deaconship. Since women cannot be the "husband of
one wife,"
it is assumed that only men are permitted to perform these roles within the church.
People who use the "husband of one wife," clause to exclude women from this role, must also then use it to exclude single men, remarried men, widowers, and men without children or men with only one child or still young children. These admonishments from Paul are not so much qualifications are they are disqualifications for people certain scenarios, i.e., men with multiple wives, rebellious children, and so forth, not that they have to HAVE a wife and children, but IF they do, this is what is acceptable. "The husband of one wife," clause seems not to be a qualification, but a disqualification for polygamist men.

The options of "husband of one wife"--

A man must be presently married to one wife, in other words, he cannot be a polygamist, Polygamy was common among MEN in Roman, Greek and even Jewish culture. It is the only gender-related "requirement," and since men were the only ones allowed to have more than one spouse, it is natural that Paul would only direct it to the man. The rest of the qualifications are all in gender-neutral language in the original Greek with words like tisi, which means person or one. Although most English translations use the the pronoun "he," the original greek uses the word "one."

We know polygamy existed in the culture. When people were converted it was from that culture, and the problems of the culture were promptly imported to the church.

If one maintains that a man MUST be married in order to serve as an elder in the church, this is problematic for a few reasons. One Paul, who was notoriously single, would be excluding himself from this office, even though he refers to himself as an elder in Philemon 1:9. Where Paul applies it to himself ("I Paul, the elder"). Many English versions simply translate this verse as "I Paul, the aged" or " an old man," but the word in the Greek is presbyters, the word Paul regularly uses to describe a leadership role in the church. In the context of this verse, he is appealing to the church to heed his words because he is an elder, not just because he is literally old. Plus, Paul views singleness as an asset to ministry, not a hindrance. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul wrote that he wished everyone could be like himself, celibate and single, so they could serve the Lord without distraction or divided interests. Would Paul wish everyone to be this way and yet forbid the ones who were single from filling such a key leadership role?

Catherine Kroeger also believes the husband of one wife clause was meant specifically to disqualify polygamous men from serving in this capacity.

"The direction that a male elder have only one wife appears to serve as a specific
disqualification for those with multiple wives. It is not necessary, however, for an elder to be married at all. Indeed, the Apostle Paul maintained that his singleness gave him far greater freedom to further the cause of Christ (1 Cor 7:32-35)."

The next posts will look at women deacons and elders throughout church history and Phoebe, who Paul calls a deacon. Forgive me for the length, but it's been quite a while since I've posted anything of substance. :)


Michelle said...

Welcome back, Tia :)

This is fascinating and explains inconsistencies I've wondered about for years. Not only that, but it just seems to jive with the heartbeat of the NT in general. I especially like the explanation of the whole "husband of one wife" because I swear to you when I first started reading my Bible at 14 I was thinking, "well, Paul wasn't married, and he WROTE this???" In other words, it's either LITERAL or it's not, and what do we do with that?

(warning - rabbit trail) I've been thinking about something for some time that I'd like to address. One of your commenters wondered why "we" (not sure who "we" are) start nitpicking and digging through language and history,etc, anytime we don't like something the Bible says or it is offensive to us in some way. As if to imply that those are the only times we do that (am I making sense?)

I just wanted to throw out there (and sorry this is getting long) that there are many passages in scripture which require this depth of study and consideration, not just the ones certain people "don't like". Lots of things bring up questions that are worth "chewing on". :)

I offer as an example my recent preoccupation with a three word phrase from scripture: "God is love". This is not a controversial or social/PC topic, but is it really that straightforward? or do we need to dig a bit deeper? Who does God love? How does He love them? Can we portray God as TOO loving? Does He love with partiality, or not? Can we insert the word "God" in I Cor 13 every time we see the word "love", and if so, how does that change the view of Him we may have been previously taught? Is love the single attribute of who God is and all else just falls into that, rather than exist as separate qualities - His mercy is love, His wrath is love, etc? What ramifications does all this have on our other theological ideas? Was Jonathan Edwards right or wrong? What about other famous people whose word/view we've taken?

I know I'm WAY off topic here but I just want people to understand that many of us are digging into scripture, into language and historical context and such... not just to change things "we don't like" but to investigate whether our view of God and this life with Him is in line with who He is, or not. This is not an exercise of lessening the value of scripture, but of lifting it UP because we want so much to understand the God speaking to us through it.

Hope I might my point and didn't just ramble us off topic, totally. Anyway, I respect what you are doing here, Tia. thanks.

Michelle said...

sorry, I don't know why that posted twice (blush)

Tia Lynn said...

I fixed it for you! :)

Yes, Michelle, I totally agree. I am always surprised that when anyone digs into the scriptures and looks at all possible meanings and interpretations, it gets pinned on "not liking what the text plainly says." This totally disregards that if we took the text for what it plainly says without consideration of time, place, intent, culture, and circumstance, that the bible would flatly contradict itself and contradict the character of God, that HE Himself revealed in Christ. Yet, when we do dig into those factors, the picture becomes clearer, God becomes deeper and bigger, and the bible becomes a tool that points us to God and listening to the spirit, not the finish line and a god/idol in and of itself.

Terry said...

You already know that I am fairly neutral on this particular issue in the sense that I don't think scripture is as cut and dried as some say it is.

As for the "husband of one wife": I've always understood that to be a warning against bigamy/polygamy. Are there really churches that use it as a way to keep women from service, or even single men? By the way, even among the most rigid I think it's understood that a remarried widower qualifies as the husband of one wife.

Tia Lynn said...

The husband of one wife clause is interpreted in a myriad of different ways, depending on one's theology. There are absolutely churches that use to "husband of one wife," as a way to disqualify women from being an elder or deacon, however, most of those churches do not stand on that phrase alone, but use 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as their primary "big guns" to keep women out of the "highest" levels of ministry.

Michelle said...

Churches I've been in have used this verse to disqualify women - Yes, absolutely. They also used it to disqualify a man whose first wife had left him and the family, he'd faithfully raised his children in the faith and had remarried a Christian woman much later. He was not allowed to teach a sunday school class, much less anything else.

musicmommy3 said...

That is SO sad. (about the dad) That's where legalism really hurts.

Don Pratt said...

Tia, I've learned so much from these posts. Thank you.

I look forward to the next.


Tiffany said...

Hey, I found your page while I was looking for pictures of the church elders for my class on the book of Acts. I just want to say I think it's awesome what you're doing- being willing to ask questions and seek. You know what Jesus said, "Seek and you will find." I pray He answers all your questions. He is the answer-He will not leave you confused. I admire your courage and I know God takes delight in those who yearn for more knowledge, for more of HIM. Thanks for the blessing in the middle of homework. :)

Faithful_Spot said...

So, I don't know if you'll ever see this, but I've been reading your posts. I just want to say thank you SO much for writing this! It's simple enough for me to read, yet still in-depth.

I'm a 20 year old girl, and these thing have always bothered me. I wanted SO badly to follow God with all of my strength, but there has always seemed to be a disconnect with who I thought I was, and who "the Bible" said I was.

Anyway, I have a suggestion. I was wondering if you might put all of these posts that have to do with women serving in the church in a separate place so that people could read through all of them?

Daniel said...


I am currently studying what the Bible truly says about women elders. I found your blog post interesting and have a couple of questions.

1) I could agree with "qunaikas hosautos" or "women likewise" referring back to the qualifications, but the sentence doesn't end there. Verse 11 continues, "Likewise also their wives must be dignified, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in every respect." This seems to indicate that "hosautos" (likewise) isn't referring to the previous qualifications listed or to qualifications for women elders/deacons, but to deacon's wives. If it were to refer to deaconesses or women elders, why is "gune" (women or wife) used instead of the feminine form of "episkope" or "diakonos" in verse 11?

2) The word "presbutes" doesn't seem to be linked with a church office. I only find the male form used in Luke 1:18, Titus 2:2 and Philemon 1:9. It doesn't seem then that this is relevant to women elders or deacons. Is there something I am missing?

I am really trying to figure this out, I want to follow what the Bible says.

Thank you,