The Leadership of Women in the Church?
Question: Can women meet the qualifications for the offices of elders or deacons?
Regarding women serving as elders and deacons, it is essential to observe the mandatory qualifications for these roles:
"This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, ... Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, .... Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." (I Timothy 3:1-12, see also Titus 1:5-9)
Please note that a "bishop must be". These are not "nice to have" qualifications, but mandatory ones. One of these essential prerequisites is that an elder must be the husband of one wife. Not only does this rule out adulterers and polygamists, but it eliminates women. How can a woman be the husband of one wife, since such homosexuality is condemned elsewhere (Romans 1:21-32)?
Regarding women serving as deacons, it is true that the phrase "must be" is formatted in italics in most versions. This indicates that the words are not explicitly present in the original, but the translators thought they were implied. In this particular case, they are necessarily implied, since Paul says "likewise deacons - reverent, etc." The word "likewise" necessitates that the qualifications and role for deacons are similar to those for elders, but in what way? The qualifications are different. The roles are different. The similarity lies in the necessity of both. Just as elders "must be" certain things, deacons "likewise must be" certain things, although the qualifications and roles are different. The translators did well in this case by noting the common necessity for candidantes to satisfy their respective qualifications.
That being said, the argument against women serving as elders also applies for deacons, because Paul says, "Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." This is a mandate. Therefore, how can a woman meet this qualification?
Some argue that verse 11 gives qualifications for female deacons, or "deaconesses". The potential for this argument arises from the ambiguity of the Greek word for "wives". In fact, there was no unique word for "wives" in Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written. The word translated as "wives" in KJV and NKJ is really the word for "women". In Greek, you have to look at the context to determine, whether "women in general" or "wives" was the intended meaning.
In this particular case, if Paul intended to give qualifications specific for female deacons and male deacons, why does he not refer to women deacons and then to men deacons, or to women and then men? He only refers to women and deacons. He does not treat them as parallel qualifications with one set specific to women and the other set specific to men. Instead, he gives qualifications to the women, and then he gives more to the deacons. The lack of parallel treatment in the context suggests that the subjects were not parallel. Instead these are to be understood as requirements for the women of deacons, or their wives.
Admittedly, Phoebe is called a "deaconess" in Romans 16:1 (KJV); however, this does not necessarily mean she filled a special female office of "deacon". This becomes clearer when one understands a little about the Greek word for "deacon", which is "diakonos": Our word "deacon" is a direct copy of their Greek word, a transliteration. Most of the time it is translated as "servant", or "minister". It was a generic word that was used to refer to someone who serves, or takes care of another. On some occasions, it refers to a special office, or position within the church, whose primary purpose is to serve the church in some special way.
(Notice how elders and deacons are recognized separately from the other saints at the church in Philippi - Philippians 1:1-2. Also notice the reference to "position of bishop" with its special "work" - I Timothy 3:1-2. Deacons are again parallel to elders in this context, so they also maintain positions with special works. This conclusion is necessary because of the implication of the adjoinging word, "likewise" in I Timothy 3:8).
That being said, we must ask ourselves if the context of the entire Bible supports Phoebe being a female deacon, or a female servant of the church. Was she a special servant, or an ordinary servant as all Christians are to be? This is the only other passage to suggest such a special role. Since it stands alone without backing, and it could be translated either way, why would one translate it in this special way, unless they had a preconceived notion to do so? In fact, most translations indeed translate the word here as "servant", instead of "deaconess".
Question: "Can women teach other men, or speak to a general assembly as an evangelist, preacher, or minister?"
Regarding women teaching men publicly as evangelists, please note that this is strictly forbidden in Scripture:
"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (I Timothy 2:11-14)
Not only are women not "to teach or to have authority over a man", but they are to "learn in silence with all submission". This prohibits them teaching publicly. Please notice that this was not based on the culture of Paul's time. His reason sprang from the order established by the creation and the fall of man ("For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.") This aspect of women's role is just as universal as women giving birth.
Paul gave similar instruction to the Corinthian women to not speak out during the assembly (I Corinthians 14:34-35). Again, Paul equates these statements to the "commandments of God", which all spiritual people are to "acknowledge" (I Corinthians 14:37).
Question: "What are women to do for the church?"
Even though women do not take public leadership roles, this has little to no impact on what they can do for the Lord and for His people. Please notice the qualifications that Paul gives for widows who are to be taken into the permanent care of the church:
"Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work. But refuse the younger widows; ... Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully." (I Timothy 5:9-14)
These are great things that women can accomplish! Look at the tremendous impact that one woman had on the early church - Acts 9:36-42. Women can do great things that have powerful influence on many people. Why do you think deacons' wives have qualifications too? Why do you think elders and deacons must have wives? There is something that wives provide to these men - their wives make them whole and complete in some way, such that the men are unfit to serve otherwise.
Question: Since men and women have different God-given roles and works, does that make either inferior or less valuable?
"Does this make them inferior in any way?" Absolutely not! No religion has done more for the women of the world than Christianity, but that's no reason. ... Unless you consider Jesus inferior to the Father, there is no inferiority in the role of women compared to that of men:
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:5-7)
Jesus was in the same form as the Father, and Jesus being equal to the Father was not something to be taken - He already had it! However, He submitted Himself to the Father and became as a man. Was He inferior to God? Paul says not, even though Jesus was in submission to God and remains in submission to God (I Corinthians 11:3).
Moreover, Jesus submitted Himself to His apostles, when He picked up a towel and washed their feet at the last supper (John 13:1-17). By doing so, He left us a clear example of true greatness. Greatness is not in superiority, or extent of rule. True greatness is spiritual, exhibited by humility, love, mercy, and willingness to serve others in need. Christ left the greatest example when He died on the cross.
If we see men as being superior to women, just because men are given the responsibility of primary and public leadership, then we are still thinking as carnal, immature, pagan Gentiles:
"Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.'" (Luke 22:24-27)
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 18:1-4)
As long as we strive for greatness in the eyes of men, we will fail to grasp the true nature of Christ's kingdom, and we will by no means find entrance.
Also, please recall these roles are temporary:
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28)
There is no prejudice according to race, gender, or class in Jesus. All are one in Jesus. Moreover, we know that men and women lose their gender identity in the resurrection. They are instead like angels (Matthew 22:23-33), given new bodies (I Corinthians 15:35-58)! How can there be inferiority when there is no essential, transcendent difference?
Women and men are both essentially valuable:
"Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God." (I Corinthians 11:11-12)
Neither can exist, or does exist without the other, although we all originate from God. Please recall, it was "not good for man to be alone" at the beginning. He was incomplete being alone. It was only after God gave Eve to Adam that God declared that all things were "very good" (Genesis 2:18-21; 1:27-31)
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