But What About Women Deacons & Elders?

by TL K. | September 04, 2013

That is my question to the blogosphere today. But first let me share my thoughts on this as a Bible teacher.

Not many are called specifically by God to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers. Keep in mind that apostles today are likened to missionaries. Prophets are often prophetical preachers. Pastors should be shepherding but too often are more like business executives and administrators, who are still expected to be busy teaching and preaching, as well as doing the works peculiar to evangelists. And there are many who are called teachers who have not been called by God to be teachers but are good talkers and have read lot about what scholars say on this or that subject. Many who are called teachers today can only teach on one subject and know nothing about how to properly study the Holy Scriptures within context, grammar, history, etc. All of these issues are another subject and are important ones, even including where women should be fitting into these areas.

But, what about women elders and deacons? Not all men are called to the “five fold ministries”, and neither are all women. In general fewer women than men are called and appointed by God to the above ministries in the Body of Christ. This is often due to the simple fact that women in their younger years become more involved in raising children than men do. And the five fold ministries are more life consuming than other ministries. So, what about women becoming elders and deacons?

Biblically, in 1st Timothy 3 ANYONE may desire the work of overseeing. Is anyone really anyone? Or does Paul change his mind immediately and say BUT that anyone must be a man, who is married, married only once, have only one wife and not two, never divorced, and have children who behave well? The phrase in Greek mias gunaikos andra literally means “of one woman man”. What on earth that means has been disputed for centuries. All over the world believers have debated whether or not it means an overseer: must be a man, or a man who is married, or a man married only once, or a man who only has one wife and not two, or a man who has never divorced, or an idiom for faithfulness in marriage. Add in verses 4-5 and it must then be a married man who has children who behave well. So first we have Paul being dyslexic in a really extreme way and then Paul is being really extremist toward single believers and those who cannot produce children. So which is it? Does this sound like sane thinking?

In my opinion the problem arises from trying to read everything from a literal point of view and not being able to differentiate metaphors, idioms and such from clear statements. One easy clue that there is a problem is when an initial statement of ‘anyone may desire’ is canceled out by a subsequent unclear description of “one woman man”. The first description of the qualities of a potential ‘overseer’ are “anyone who desires the work is desiring a good thing’. This ‘anyone who desires’ must then fulfill certain moral characteristics in verses 2-3. These moral characteristics are: blameless, faithful in marital relations (“one woman man”), showing self restraint, clear thinking, showing good behavior, hospitable, able to instruct, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for money, instead gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous. Then this ‘anyone’ must also be one whose activities fit 3 additional qualifications: they manage their personal home lives well, they have been a believer long enough to be mature, they must have a good reputation in the community. Are there any of those qualities and activities that a woman could not fulfill?

The personal interpretation of this phrase, “one woman man”, has been used by many to exclude women from service in local churches. One question that helps clear the air a bit is that if there are women shown to be apostles (Junia - Romans 16), women prophets (Miriam, Huldah, Deborah, Anna, the four daughters, and several more), women evangelists (the Samaritan woman at the well), women teachers (Priscilla – Rom. 16:3, 1 Cor. 16:19) why wouldn’t there be a place for women to serve in ministries less expansive and responsible such as elder (overseers) and deacons? We do know that Phoebe is named a diakonos (deacon) of the church at Cenchrea. So if the ministry considered the least responsible and the least expansive in responsibility has a woman named as serving in it why not a woman serving as an elder when the qualifications are very close to the same, the primary difference being one of maturity?  As well, if a woman is named as serving in the most responsible and expansive ministries such as an apostle, prophet and teacher, why not those services with the lessor responsibilities?

When we add into the equation that in the Greek the word specifically referring to women elders in overseeing churches includes women (1 Tim. 5), then what is the problem? Presbu is a word in Greek meaning those who are older. Older men are presbutes. Older women are presbutis. A presbuter is an elderly man or woman in service. A council of elders in service including both men and women is presbuterion. It calls to mind our transliteration of the word presbuter into the English presbytery, which means a body of church elders and ministers. Also, consider the Presbyterian churches built upon the concept of elder run churches.

So, again, what about women elders and deacons? How can we get the message across that women overseeing a church’s organization or women serving in the smaller ministries of a church is acceptable?