Can women serve as deacons in the church?

Question: "Can women serve as deacons in the church?"

Scripture is not completely clear whether a woman can serve as a deacon or not. The statement that deacons are to be “men worthy of respect” (1 Timothy 3:8 NIV) and the qualification “the husband of but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:12) would seem to disqualify women from serving as deacons. However, some interpret 1 Timothy 3:11 as referring to women deacons because the Greek word translated “wives” can also be translated “women.” Paul likely here refers not to deacons’ wives, but to the women who serve as deacons. The use of the word “likewise” as an introduction in verse 8 suggests a third group of leaders in addition to elders and deacons. Also, Paul gave no requirements for elders’ wives when outlining the qualifications for eldership. Why would he then list qualifications for deacons’ wives? If it were important for the wives of leaders to behave in a certain way, it is logical to assume he would be more—or at least equally—concerned for the elders’ wives since elders are in a more prominent position in the church. But he makes no such demands on elders’ wives.

Romans 16:1 refers to Phoebe with the same word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 3:12. It is unclear, though, whether Paul is saying Phoebe is a deacon or whether he is just saying she is a servant. In the early church, women servants cared for sick believers, the poor, strangers, and those in prison. They instructed women and children (Titus 2:3-5). Phoebe may not have had the official designation of “deacon” but Paul thought enough of her to entrust her with the tremendous responsibility of delivering the epistle to the Romans to the church in Rome (Romans 16:1-2). Clearly he saw her not as inferior or less capable, but as a trusted and valued member of the body of Christ.

Scripture does not give much support to the idea of women serving as deacons, but it does not necessarily disqualify them either. Some churches have instituted the office of deaconess, but most differentiate it from the office of deacon. If a church does institute the position of deaconess, the church leadership should ensure that the deaconess is in submission to the restrictions Paul places on the ministry of women in other passages (such as 1 Timothy 2:11-12), just as all leadership is to be in submission to the church authority structure and ultimately to our supreme authority, Christ Jesus.

Recommended Resource: Women and Men In Ministry: A Complementary Perspective by Saucy & TenElshof.

Related Topics:

Women pastors / preachers? What does the Bible say about women in ministry?

Can a man who is married to a divorced woman serve in church leadership?

What is the duty / role of a pastor's wife?

What does the "husband of one wife" phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2 mean?

What does the Bible say about women leaders in government? Should a woman be President?

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Can women serve as deacons in the church?