One of the problems for those of us who hold Scripture as the final, if not the only, true authority, is that we so often fall short of the letter of the law. Which can put us back, squarely, in the camp of the scribes and Pharisees, prisoners of the law, sinners for even thinking that we can break free by just doing everything mentioned in the law.

Most if not all Christians have no problem, for example, eating pork or shellfish (contra Leviticus 11:7 and 11:12 respectively), though they are forbidden as unclean in the Old Testament. There goes my bacon and your lobster. But I’m not doing away with my BLTs just yet. Although Jesus tells us “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18), we also know that the Law has been fulfilled in Him, and that it is not necessary to evoke our righteousness by what we eat or other wordly manifestations.

It gets somewhat harder, however, to disregard what appears to be a plain teaching from Paul in his first epistle to Timothy, specifically when he provides the attributes desired of deacons (1 Timothy 3):

8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

The plain text meaning clearly indicates that it’s men only as deacons. Yet, lurking just beneath the surface is the thought that, perhaps, just perhaps, Paul wrote from a male perspective because of where and when he wrote. Throughout Scripture, we read of “men” when what could have been written was “people”, or “men and women.”

Working against this, however, is the very specific language that clearly states deacons to be men, and only men. Paul could have used “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife.” But he didn’t, and this settles it for me. Deacons, then, should be men in order to be truly faithful to Scripture.

But wait, the sceptic writes. Since we don’t follow every single one of the admonitions in Paul’s writings, let alone in the Gospels, how can anyone get hung up on whether women should be allowed to be deacons? There is not a good reply, except to state that we should not fall into that legalistic trap that ensared the Pharisees, where every minute point of the Law was considered to be of equal weight.

Women deacons are a fact of life in today’s churches; we have them at my Baptist church, with the clear approval of a majority of the congregation. I’d rather we did not have them, but I can not in my heart of hearts stand up and chastize the congregation for not being 100% faithful to Scripture. After all, even a strong Five-Pointer like R.C. Sproul, in the Reformation Study Bible, notes that “The ‘women’ [i.e., ‘wives’, in Timothy 3:11] are probably either the wives of the deacons or themselves deacons” (p.1755). Is having a woman as a deacon a sin? Only if you define sin as interpreting Paul’s epistles.

In which case, to quote something that Paul wrote to the church at Rome (3:23), we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” May you be so pure as that your worst sin be limited to tolerating a woman who is a deacon.

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One comment

  1. Marcus Brown · · Reply

    I would argue that Scripture doesn’t provide a wealth of information about the qualifications for the diaconate. What’s worse is that the order suffered a slow death for many centuries, especially during the Reformation. It’s only been in recent years that it’s been restored, and then only properly in a few denominations.

    Too many churches treat the diaconate order as something akin to an elected church board member, functioning primarily in the role of a decision-maker, which is a mis-understanding of the role of a deacon.

    I don’t know what the Baptist understanding of the diaconate is, but I don’t think using the Timothy passage a prooftext really established the diaconate as an order for men only.

    There are several other passages in which Paul writes about the diaconate where it’s less clear if such a restriction exists.

    The closer you look at the practice of the early church, the more evidence you find that women functioned in the office of deaconness more frequently than might be expected.

    I’d be curious what you do with Paul’s commendation of Phoebe in Romans 16.

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