Thomas Schreiner, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes.”

By Adam Brown –

Evangelical scholar and faculty member at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Thomas Schreiner, ably and succinctly summarizes a biblical defense for women deacons in an article published by The Gospel Coalition. Here is an excerpt:

Continue reading “Thomas Schreiner, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes.””

Was Eve the First Deacon?

By Adam Brown –

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:12-15).

All complementarian churches agree that male headship in the church and in the home is biblical and important. There remains much disagreement, however, when it comes to deciding whether or not women can serve as deacons. In some complementarian churches, women do serve as deacons. In others, women do not. Which option is right? That depends, I suppose, on how we define the position of deacon.

There is surprisingly little written about the office of deacon in the Bible. Although the word, “deacon,” occurs 29 times in 27 verses of the Greek New Testament,[1] only 7 of these have any possible reference to the office of deacon in the governance of the local church.[2]

The relative scarcity of information about deacons is often supplemented by Acts 6:1-7, even though the word, “deacon,” is never employed in this chapter. This makes good sense because the Twelve (apostles) were clearly the overseers of the fledgling church and the Seven were selected to relieve them of certain responsibilities. Thus, it seems accurate to say that Stephen-and-company represent the church’s first deaconate.

While I am not opposed to the association of the Seven with the deaconate, I am persuaded that it is Eve, not Stephen, who is the worthier candidate for the title, Paradigmatic Deacon.

Reference to Eve, in 1 Timothy 2:13-15, is separated from 1 Timothy 3:8-13, the quintessential passage on deacons, by a mere 7 verses. Compare this to the 98 chapters that stand between Stephen in Acts 6 and the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3.

Indeed, Eve is part of Paul’s operating theological grid at precisely the moment he offers the clearest outline of church structure in all the Bible. By contrast, there is no evidence that Stephen ever crossed Paul’s mind when it came time to write about elders and deacons.

I wonder if many complementarians fail to identify Eve as Paul’s prototypical deacon simply because she was a woman. By contrast, Stephen fits our traditional bill effortlessly, simply because we can employ masculine pronouns in place of his name.

However, the case should be made that Eve, not Stephen, is Scripture’s definitive deacon.

To begin, it is helpful to note that Paul’s discussion about deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is located within a broader passage about church structure that stretches from 1 Timothy 2:11-3:16.


Macro-Structure of 1 Timothy 2.11-3.16


On both ends of this passage, Paul employs “household” imagery. In 1 Timothy 2:13-15, Paul justifies the role of men and women in the church by appealing to Adam and Eve, humanity’s original household. In these verses, Paul argues that the church ought to be structured along the same theological lines that established the first family unit. Likewise, at the end of this passage, Paul explains that he is writing these things so that Timothy might know how one ought to behave in the church, “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

Between these flanking references to the household, Paul outlines a simple two-part structure for the church (1 Timothy 3:1-13). This structure assigns leadership and teaching to overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and acts of service to deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13).

Since 1 Timothy 3:1-13 is bookended by appeals to the household, it follows logically that Paul is establishing a governing structure for the church that runs parallel to the family household unit. With the pre-Fall household of Adam and Eve serving as Paul’s reference point, it follows naturally that overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7) will reflect the mandate given to Adam and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13) will align with the mandate given to Eve.

This is, in fact, exactly what we see. Whereas overseers are to teach and exercise authority, there is nothing in the qualifications for deacons that would compel an active deacon, male or female, to violate the prohibitions given to women in 1 Timothy 2:12.

When we have eyes to see it, a job description that emanates from a careful study of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is exactly the kind of job description that we might give to a “helpmate” (Genesis 2:18). Deacons are to be believers, not teachers (1 Timothy 3:9); helpers, not leaders (1 Timothy 3:10); managers, not governors (1 Timothy 3:12).

All things considered, we should not be shocked that women are eligible to serve as deacons but that men are. It is not a concession – or a transgression – to appoint women as deacons, for, according to Genesis 2:18, women were created to be deacons (helpmates). Perhaps, any complementarian objections with regard to women deacons, stem from a failure to implement 1 Timothy 3:8-13 at all, or to conflate these verses with 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

With a wide-angle lens, many of our inhibitions about appointing women to serve as deacons begin to fade. A strong case can be made that Adam was the first overseer and that Eve was the first deacon. Though their household succumbed to sin, Christ is building the household of God on the very same pattern He established at Creation. Are we?

I am writing you these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

[1] Matt 20:26, 22:13, 23:11; Mark 9:35, 10:43; John 2:5, 2:9, 12:26; Rom 13:4 (twice), 15:8, 16:1; 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6, 6:4, 11:15 (twice), 11:23; ; Gal 2:17; Eph 3:7, 6:21; Phil 1:1; Col 1:7, 1:23, 1:25, 4:7; 1 Tim 3:8, 3:12, 4:6

[2] Rom 16:1; Eph 6:21; Phil 1:1; Col 1:7, 4:7; 1 Tim 3:8, 3:12

Why Have Women Deacons?


This article was originally published at For the Gospel ( Reproduced here with the written permission of the author.

By J. A. Medders –

Deacons are vital servants in the life of any biblical, gospel-centered, missional church. They aren’t grunt workers; they are mobilizers and servants in the advancement of the gospel ministry, like we see in the prototype of Acts 6.

And at Redeemer Church, we see a valid interpretation for the diaconate ministry to be open to women who meet the qualifications given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:8–11.

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.
(1 Timothy 3:8–11 ESV)


Let’s begin with the qualifications that Paul lists in verses 8–10, as he address the men.

Dignified – They are worthy of respect. People respect them, and would respect them as a leader. They are worthy of being imitated.

Not Double-tongued – This means they are not a gossip or slanderer. More pointedly, they don’t talk like Satan—they do’t have a snake-like tongue. They aren’t two-faced and insincere.

Not addicted to much wine – Paul is basically saying, “They have control with alcohol.” Greek literally, “They pay attention to their wine.” Not drunkards.

Not greedy for dishonest gain – They aren’t always looking for a quick buck, not looking for cash no matter the cost. And they aren’t involved in get-rich quick silliness. This is especially important for deacons who serve with the church’s finances and benevolence ministry.

Hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience – They hold to the pure gospel. They aren’t required to be able to teach, like the elders (v.2), but they must clearly hold to the gospel, and walk in accordance with that gospel of grace. They are still doctrinal people.

Tested – Observed, assessed, and trained by the elders—and then approved for installation. This means that there’s an actual process to becoming a deacon.


Now, let’s get to the reason you are reading this article. Is Paul talking about the wives of deacons or women deacons when the text says, “their wives,” in 1 Tim. 3:11?

A quick reading of 1 Timothy 3, comparing the elder and deacon qualifications two things jump out.

  1. Deacons don’t have to be able to teach.
  2. It looks like Paul is giving qualifications for deacon’s wives and not elder’s wives. That’s odd.

Now, the phrase, “their wives” is not the most helpful rendering of the Greek. If you have an ESV Bible, which is what I preach from, look at footnote number four. The note is showing that this phrase could, and I think, should be rendered, “Women likewise”. The Greek word translated “wives” in the text, is simply “women”. Additionally, the word “their” is not even there.

Screen Shot 2014 05 05 at 10 20 12 AM

The Greek literally reads, “Women, likewise.” The translators made an interpretive decision with, “Their wives likewise,” and like a faithful translation should, they provided the alternative translation possibilities.

So if Paul isn’t addressing the wives of deacons, Paul is giving qualifications for women deacons—and that makes a lot more sense. Why would deacon’s wives need qualifications and not elder’s wives, when elders are the overseers of the church?

Look at the qualification structure of 1 Tim. 3 The repeated likewise is important to the flow of the text. Paul is establishing two groups, male and female deacons, who will serve the church in similar ways, with similar character.

Screen Shot 2014 05 05 at 9 17 41 AM

The qualifications parallel each other. He is applying the qualifications, not to deacon’s wives, but to female deacons.

You could look at Paul’s section on deacons and summarize the teaching as:

  • Male deacons addressed (1 Tim. 3:8–10)
  • Female deacons addressed (1 Tim 3:11)
  • Male deacons addressed (1 Tim. 3:12)
  • Male and Female deacons addressed (1 Tim. 3:13)

What about when Paul says that deacons must be the husband of one wife? A few things are at play here. First, the Greek word for deacon can be masculine or feminine. Paul uses the plain word for women to address the women, and the normal word for deacon to address the male deacons—so it wouldn’t be confusing. Additionally, it is seen through church history that women deacons tended to be older widows. But these principles for women deacons should still be considered, but not mandated since it isn’t in God’s Word. But we ought to apply the principle. Women deacons, they must be faithful to their husbands—they must be one-husband kind of ladies, who manage their tasks in the household well. The Proverbs 31 Woman’s character and actions don’t fly out the window in the diaconate. They matter. They are for the purpose of godliness and for glorious service in the life of the local church.

We think that Paul is teaching about women deacons, and that the Bible has the office of deacon open for women. I want to show you other places in the Bible where it seems to be the case, and throughout Church History.


Paul writes at the end of Romans:

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” (Romans 16:1–2 ESV)

Phoebe is called a servant, the same Greek word used for deacon in 1 Tim. 3 and Philippians 1:1.

The ESV text has a footnote on the word “servant”—it could say deaconess, or really deacon, since the Greek word can be masculine or feminine. But it would make sense to say deaconess since the context reveals Paul is writing about Phoebe, a woman. But that alone doesn’t mean she is a deacon.

Paul could just be calling her a servant, but the context does seem to say that she is a deaconess. Why? Because Paul mentions a specific church, “of the church at Cenchreae.” That structure, when used in the rest of New Testament is noting a specific person in an official office.

Dr. Svigel, at Dallas Theological Seminary, says:

First, Paul describes Phoebe as a ‘diakonos of the church at Cenchreae,’ specifying her function as diakonos to that specific church. This may seem insignificant until we realize that whenever the Greek phrase “________ of the church” is used in the New Testament and the earliest Christian literature (where “________” is a personal designation or title), the personal designation refers to an office, not just a generic function (Acts 20:17; Eph. 5:23; Jas. 5:14; Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; Ignatius, Trallians 2.3; Philadelphians 5.1; Polycarp 1.1; Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.2.6; 2.4.3; 3.9.7; Martyrdom of Polycarp 16.2; 19.2). Therefore, if Phoebe is merely a “helpful assistant” of the church at Cenchreae in Romans 16:1, this is the only time the construction is used this way in the earliest Christian literature.”[1]

Phoebe is great deacon, an official servant from the Church at Cenchreae.

Now, this is all of the Biblical evidence for women deacons. I don’t think the exegetical waters are muddy. I think it is more than safe to say there is room for women to be deacons. However, this is all of the New Testament’s cards on this matter.

So, what is the best way to resolve this matter?

A few things must be said. I don’t think this is an issue of division or argument. This isn’t an essential doctrine. Having women deacons, or not, doesn’t compromise the integrity of local church like having women pastors/elders does. “According to Paul, women can serve as deacons because a diaconal ministry is supportive and does not involve teaching or exercising authority over men. The office of elder or overseer is restricted to men, for qualifications for pastoral ministry include being able to teach and to lead (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9)—the very two activities prohibited for women, according to 1 Tim. 2:12.” [2] Now, of course women aren’t prohibited to teach (Titus 2:3–5). What Paul means in 1 Tim. 2:12, which Schreiner references, is that women are not to be the teaching authority (preaching to the church), or the leadership authority (governing/overseeing) in the local church, which is reserved for the pastors.

The teaching of the New Testament is limited on deacons and one could take it either way. Great scholars and pastors land on both sides of this discussion. Dr. Russell Moore, one of my heroes, doesn’t think women should be deacons. While, Dr. Tom Schreiner of Southern Seminary thinks they can.

He says:

It is also quite likely that women served as deacons in the early church. The NRSV reflects this view in identifying Phoebe as “a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” (Rom. 16:1 NRSV). The reference to a particular church after the term “deacon” suggests that an office is in view… Whether women are identified as deacons in 1 Tim. 3:11 is disputed, but there are a number of reasons to answer in the affirmative.

  • First, the word “likewise” suggests that Paul continues to speak of deacons.
  • Second, the qualifications listed are remarkably similar to what is required for male deacons (1 Tim. 3:8).
  • Third, a reference to wives is improbable, for then Paul would be addressing the wives of deacons and saying nothing about the wives of elders, which is quite unlikely because elders had greater responsibility than deacons.
  • Fourth, it is evident from an early period in church history that there were female deacons.[3]

There is much room for charitable disagreement and co-laboring for the Kingdom on this matter.

So what helped Redeemer Church arrive at our conclusion?

When we are uncertain what the Bible teaches, not because of the Bible, but because of us—we should consider Church History. Historical Theology shows us what Body of Christ before us has done. This practice may not always lead us in the right direction, but it may help us see more clearly. We should always hold exegesis and texts in our hands, and Church History as a voice in the background.

For me, the historical evidence here is overwhelming.


In A.D. 111 Pliny, Governor of Bithynia, reported questioning, under torture, two women who called themselves deaconesses concerning Christian rites. He arrested them as Christians, they said they were deaconesses, and he tortured them.[4] So right at the end of the Apostolic Period, there are deaconesses in the church. These are churches that were planted by the Apostles and those were disciples by the Apostles.

Early Church

We find evidence of deaconess in the second, third, and fourth centuries.

Here is a quote from the third century from the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, a guidebook written for church plants, based on the teaching of the apostles.

Let the deacons be in all things unspotted, as the bishop himself is to be, only more active; in number according to the largeness of the Church, that they may minister to the infirm as workmen that are not ashamed. And let the deaconess be diligent in taking care of the women; but both of them ready to carry messages, to travel about, to minister, and to serve…Let every one therefore know his proper place, and discharge it diligently with one consent, with one mind, as knowing the reward of their ministration.”[5]

And again:

Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations towards women. For sometimes he cannot send a deacon, who is a man, to the women, on account of unbelievers. Thou shalt therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad. For we stand in need of a woman, a deaconess, for many necessities; and first in the baptism of women…”[6]

Here we have those who were discipled by the Apostles, installing women deacons in local church. They even wrote a prayer for the installation of women deacons:

O Eternal God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of man and of woman, who didst replenish with the Spirit Miriam, and Deborah, and Anna, and Huldah; who didst not disdain that Thy only begotten Son should be born of a woman; who also in the tabernacle of the testimony, and in the temple, didst ordain women to be keepers of Thy holy gates,—do Thou now also look down upon this Thy servant, who is to be ordained to the office of a deaconess, and grant her Thy Holy Spirit, and “cleanse her from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,” that she may worthily discharge the work which is committed to her to Thy glory, and the praise of Thy Christ, with whom glory and adoration be to Thee and the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.”[7]

Greg Allison, professor of Historical Theology at Southern Seminary, in his book, Historical Theology, writes about a generous deaconesses at the church in Constantinople. “Olympias, a widowed deaconess of the church in Constantinople, leveraged her immense wealth to become a generous patron of the church. She donated many of her estates to the church, supported the ministries of such church leaders as John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus, ransomed exiled captives, sustained a community of 250 virgins, and cared for the poor.”[8] And a woman named Salvina, Jerome tells us, served as a deaconess under Chrysostom’s ministry. “Salvina, however, consecrated her life to deeds of piety, and became one of Chrysostom’s deaconesses.”[9]

When Chrysostom preached on 1 Timothy 3, he echoes the same exegetical approach of Dr. Schreiner. Paul isn’t talking about women in general, he’s talk about church leaders. “Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of Deaconesses.”[10]


When I see all of this evidence, I can’t help but echo Spurgeon, who said, “Deaconesses, an office that most certainly was recognised in the apostolic churches.”[11] Spurgeon never gave a defense, as far as I can tell, for women deacons; he merely stated it as if it were a known fact. “It would be a great mercy if God gave us the privilege of having many sons who all preached the gospel, and many daughters who were all eminent in the church as teachers, deaconesses, missionaries, and the like.”[12]


He too saw women deacons in God’s Word.

For deaconesses were appointed, not to soothe God by chantings or unintelligible murmurs, and spend the rest of their time in idleness; but to perform a public ministry of the Church toward the poor, and to labour with all zeal, assiduity, and diligence, in offices of charity.”[13]

Modern Day: John Piper, Mark Dever, Tim Keller, John MacArthur

When Piper was leading Bethlehem through clarifying church structures and changes he purposed a re-structuring of the deacons, including women deacons.

The revision aims to unite men and women in one body of deacons. We believe that God calls men to bear the primary leadership and teaching office in the church (elders) but that he calls both men and women to a broad array of ministries including the body of deacons elected by the congregation. In the present structure the main governing board is a Council of Deacons distinguished from a Committee of Deaconesses. The revision would replace the Council of Deacons with a Council of Elders, made up of men, and would create one body of deacons including both men and women. The deaconess committee would no longer exist.[14]

A quick glance at Capital Hill Baptist Church’s site and Redeemer Presbyterian’s website shows that Mark Dever and Tim Keller hold to women deacons.

And, to my surprise, John MacArthur also sees the exegetical and historical reasons for women deacons.

The office of deaconess is clearly implied. The “likewise” in verse 11 ties the qualifications of these women to those already given for the offices of overseer and deacon. In verse 11, Paul did not refer to those women as deaconesses because diakonos has no feminine form.

During the first few centuries of the church, the role of a woman servant (diakonos) was to care for fellow believers who were sick, for the poor, for strangers passing through, and for the imprisoned. They also were responsible for helping baptize and disciple new women converts and to instruct children and other women.[15]


Given the exegetical evidence and the historical evidence, I think it is absolutely honoring to Christ to have women serve as deacons. If you still feel uncomfortable with this notion, it can’t be because of the Bible or because of Church history—it’s probably your history.

If you grew up in a church where the deacons ran the church, they had the governing authority and not elders, and if this church were installing women deacons, it would jolt your system because it would basically mean, in your frame of reference, they were installing women pastors, women overseers. And that contradicts the New Testament.

Bad ecclesiology brings bad fruit. And sometimes we don’t realize we are still lugging around some of that spoiled fruit in our mental baskets, making us basket cases in corners of our theology. I could say more on this matter of church structure, but we can save that for another day.

In closing, we are never to bring creative license to the church of Jesus. He died for her. He let his flesh be ripped open on the cross, and he rose from the dead to forgive all of our sins and to give us new life, and to call the Church to himself. We don’t treat the church lightly. We don’t bring a new spin to Christ’s Bride and Body; we follow Christ’s word for Christ’s Bride.

In a culture that treats women in sinful ways, it is in the Church of Jesus Christ where they can be powerful servants for the cause of Christ. Maybe we should join our brothers from the Early Church and pray great things over and for our women deacons.

Deacons exist for the fame of Jesus; unclogging what would hinder the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom (Acts 6). Toilets, sure, and so much more than toilets. Yes! So much more!

Praise the Lord for deacons, male and female.

  1.  ↩
  2. Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 774.  ↩
  3. Ibid, 772–773.  ↩
  4. V. M. Sinton, “Deaconess,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 262.  ↩
  5. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., “Constitutions of the Holy Apostles,” in Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies, trans. James Donaldson, vol. 7, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 432.  ↩
  6. Ibid, 431.  ↩
  7. Ibid, 492.  ↩
  8. Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 25–26.  ↩
  9. Jerome, “The Letters of St. Jerome,” in St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. W. H. Fremantle, G. Lewis, and W. G. Martley, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 163.  ↩
  10. John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. James Tweed and Philip Schaff, vol. 13, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 441.  ↩
  11. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 13 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1867), 589.  ↩
  12. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 51 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1905), 259.  ↩
  13. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).  ↩
  14.  ↩
  15.  ↩

John MacArthur: “Deacon is a word that can refer to a man or a woman.”

By Adam Brown –

At the 2010 Shepherds’ Conference, John MacArthur was asked the question, “What does the Bible say about deaconesses?”

MacArthur’s answer was that deacon is a word that can refer to a man or a woman. While his understanding of deacon is slightly different than Southshore’s understanding of deacon (see Southshore’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 here), MacArthur makes the point that there is no reason to limit the role of “deacon” to men.

To hear his full answer, watch this video:


John Piper: “Were Women Deacons? Probably Yes.”

By Adam Brown –

In 1987, John Piper was a founding member of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The mission of CBMW “is to set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.” As a key step in advancing this mission, CBMW drafted the Danvers Statement, which the elders of Southshore have officially embraced as our own view on manhood and womanhood.

According to CBMW, Piper played a leading role in the articulation of CBMW’s mission and the drafting of important statements, such as the Danvers Statement:

Under Piper’s leadership, the group drafted a statement outlining what would become the definitive theological articulation of “complementarianism,” the biblically derived view that men and women are complementary, possessing equal dignity and worth as the image of God, and called to different roles that each glorify him.

It is for these reasons, that Piper’s voice is so important to us in the discussion about women serving the local church as deacons. Piper’s complementarian credentials are uncontested. His commitment to the equality and functional distinction of men and women in the home and in the church is well documented.

Of course, just because Piper affirms women deacons does not necessarily mean that this is the only way to interpret 1 Timothy 3:8-13. However, Piper’s interpretation does suggest that committed complementarians can, with good reason, conclude that this passage does invite women to serve as deacons.

Perhaps the clearest articulation of Piper’s position comes from Appendix 2 in the Seminar Notes from Piper’s May 1, 1999 Session 1 presentation of “Biblical Eldership.” Here is an excerpt from that resource:

Were Women Deacons?

Probably yes. There are four observations that incline me to think that this office was held by both men and women.

1. The Greek word for deacon can be masculine or feminine in the same form. So the word itself does not settle the issue.

2. In the middle of the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13Paul says, “The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” This could be the wives of the deacons, but could also be the women deacons. The latter is suggested by the fact that no reference to women is made in 3:1-7. Since women were not candidates for the eldership in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:12-13) because of its authoritative function in teaching and oversight, the absence of the reference to women in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 would be expected. But this confirms the probability that the reference to women in 3:11 is to women deacons, not merely to wives of deacons.

3. The deacons were distinguished from the elders in that they were not the governing body in the church nor were they charged with the duty of authoritative teaching. So the role of deacon seems not to involve anything that Paul taught in 1 Timothy 2:12 (or anywhere else) which is inappropriate for women to perform in the church.

4. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is very probably called a deacon. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon(ess) of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.”

It appears then that the role of deacon is of such a  nature that nothing stands in the way of women’s full participation in it. Within the deaconate itself, the way the men and women relate to each other would be guided by the sense of appropriateness, growing out of the Biblical teaching of male and female complementarity.

Follow this link for the full appendix concerning deacons.

Thabiti Anyabwile: “I’m Complementarian, BUT… Women Can be Deacons”

By Adam Brown –

The first article that I commend to you is by Thabiti Anyabwile. As an active speaker, writer, and pastor with The Gospel Coalition, Anyabwile takes a very irenic approach to this divisive issue. Below are some excerpts from his article entitled, I’m Complementarian, BUT… Women Can be Deacons:

I believe answering the question “What meaningful role can and should women play in congregational life?” is as important a practical and spiritual question we can consider. It’s a question that affects at least half (usually much more) of our congregations. It’s a question that touches directly upon gospel-ordered congregational life. It’s a question that potentially restricts or broadens Christian freedom for women in our churches. It’s a question that either employs or unemploys the gifts the Lord himself sovereignly grants to our sisters.

The Lord has given me the privilege of being in a range of settings, witnessing a range of approaches on the question of women serving as deacons. All of these churches would in some way define themselves as “complementarian,” yet they had differing views of how sisters could serve.

First Timothy 3:8-13 contain some key instruction on this matter. For me, the issue turns in part on verse 11: “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV). . . Both the NIV and ESV contain marginal notes for the word “wives,” indicating the term may be translated “women.” So, the text could either have in view the wives of deacons (if you accept the supply of “their” in the verse), women deacons, or women who assist deacons but are not themselves deacons. Because “their” is not explicit in the text, and the word “likewise” seems to indicate another category in the list, I lean with many others in understanding this verse to refer to women deacons or at the least women who assist deacons.

I’ve been a member at churches that do not have elders but are governed by a group of deacons. If the church does not have elders and deacons perform the teaching and oversight responsibilities biblically belonging to elders, then women should not serve as deacons. . . But having said that, the more important “fix” to such a situation is not to restrict women from serving in what may be a permissible area of service in the church, but to conform the church itself to the New Testament pattern of governance. We shouldn’t restrict women in an effort to maintain irregular governance; we should conform our governance of the church to the word of God and deploy women to serve wherever and whenever appropriate.

To my brothers serving in churches without elders and with ruling deacons, for the blessing of a well-ordered congregation, for the liberty of our sisters, and for the flowering of gospel ministry, re-examine why you currently neglect so clear a New Testament office as elders, which was established in all the apostolic churches (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). And test yourselves to see if the failure to obey the Lord’s word on elders gives opportunity for denying our sisters an opportunity to serve their Lord and their churches as deacons. Structures do matter. Sometimes the wrong structures prevent spiritual growth, service, and gospel advancement.

Please follow this link for the entire article.

Complementarian Churches Should Appoint Qualified Women to Serve as “Deacons”

By Adam Brown –

I am devoted to complementarity. By this I mean that even while I affirm the full equality of men and women, I believe that God created humanity in two genders, male and female. Gender-blindness, therefore, is not a biblical option. There are not twelve genders, seven genders, three genders, or just one homogenous gender. There are two genders. As the Word of God says:

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).

Thus, I affirm Southshore’s Elder Summary Statement on Manhood and Womanhood:

God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and each gender equally bears God’s image. As such, men and women are equal in value, nature, and personhood. Men and women share equally in the responsibility of benevolent dominion over the animal kingdom and the created order. Men and women also share equally in Jesus Christ and in salvation through the Gospel. At the same time, the gender distinction between men and women is a part of God’s design for humanity. Adam was created to exercise leadership and Eve was created as a helper fit for him. This man-woman distinction has implications for the functional role of men and women in the home and in the church.

There are many brothers and sisters in Christ who would also agree with this Summary Statement who have, in my opinion, misapplied complementarity by becoming more restrictive than the Bible when it comes to the position of “deacon” (which can also be translated “servant” or, in the case of Southshore, “steward”). According to 1 Timothy 3:8-13, deacons are servants, helpers, believers, and managers. They are not teachers and governors. Therefore, aside from our own traditions, it does not seem right to me to prohibit women from serving as a deacon (steward) in the local church. In my opinion, in our zeal to guard 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we go too far when we restrict women in their service to the local church beyond the biblical limits of teaching men and exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12).

To show that this is not an unreasonable biblical interpretation, I invite you to read  articles by other complementarians who hold to the same position with regard to women deacons. The accusation that I, or they, do not hold to a high view of the Scriptures is, in my opinion, an unfortunate tact to take on this issue.

I will be posting these articles by other complementarian pastors over the next many days. Whether you agree or disagree with the appointment of women deacons (stewards), I ask that you read them carefully and prayerfully. For those who agree, may you find encouragement that this is a viable biblical position. For those who do not agree, I beseech you to be charitable in your admonishments and, perhaps even, open minded in your considerations.

In all things, let us agree that we all desire to be submissive to the Word of God and to implement this Word with fidelity. For, in the end, we all must give an account to Christ our God. I most certainly do not want to be reckless with the Scriptures, for I know that the burden of accountability falls all the more to the male elders and teachers of the local church (Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1). Thus, this is not a topic that I take lightly.

Our goal must always be to seek to understand the Word, do the Word, and then teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I believe that appointing women stewards is faithful to this charge.




Instruction 7: Appoint Qualified Servants

By Adam Brown –

God’s vision for the structure of the church is quite simple. Overseers are entrusted with headship under Christ, and with headship comes the responsibility to teach and exercise authority (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Servants are called to help the overseers in the implementation of ministry (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Herein lies our seventh instruction for the church: Appoint qualified servants.

The two foundational planks to this instruction come in the parallel verses, 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:11:

3:8: Διακόνους ὡσαύτως σεμνούς, μὴ διλόγους, μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας, μὴ αἰσχροκερδεῖς.

(Deacons, likewise, must be dignified, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.)

3:11: Γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς, μὴ διαβόλους, νηφαλίους, πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν.

(Women, likewise, must be dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded, faithful in all things.)

Notice the word for word symmetry of these two verses:

Διακόνους // Γυναῖκας (Servants // Women)

ὡσαύτως // ὡσαύτως (likewise // likewise)

σεμνούς // σεμνάς (must be dignified // must be dignified)

μὴ διλόγους // μὴ διαβόλους (not double tongued // not slanderers)

μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας // νηφαλίους (not addicted to much wine // sober-minded)

μὴ αἰσχροκερδεῖς // πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν (not greedy for dishonest gain // faithful in all things)

Six observations about the comparison of 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:11:

  1. By his carful attention to their shared grammatical structure, it would seem that Paul expects these two verses to be read in light of one another.
  2. The women (Γυναῖκας) in 3:11 are put in a parallel position to the male servants(Διακόνους) at the head of each respective clause, making them equivalent subjects syntactically.
  3. The word “likewise” (ὡσαύτως) in 3:8 introduces the male servants as a group that is distinct from the male overseers of 1 Timothy 3:1-7. In the same way, the word  “likewise” (ὡσαύτως) in 3:11 introduces the women as a group that is distinct from both the male overseers and the male servants. Thus we have three groups: (1) male overseers; (2) male servants; and (3) women.
  4. What is true of the male servants in 3:8 is true of the women in 3:11. Both groups are to be identically qualified. Both must be dignified. Both must be careful with their words. Both must be sober. Both must be trustworthy with material resources.
  5. Qualifications imply certain tasks. For example, male overseers are expected to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and to keep their children submissive (1 Timothy 3:4-5). These qualifications suggest that male overseers are expected to teach and exercise authority. Neither of these qualifications is given for the male servants of 3:8 or the women of 3:11. Thus, even while we have three demographic groups (male overseers, male servants, and women), there seems to be two functional positions in view. Male overseers lead while male servants and women help by serving.
  6. There is nothing in 3:8 or 3:11 that contradicts 1 Timothy 2:12, which reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” Thus, there is no inherent contradiction between 1 Timothy 2:12 and the view that qualified women should be permitted to serve alongside qualified men in the role of servant in the local church.

Of course, the passage is more broad than these two verses. If we fill in the passage, might we discover that women are prohibited from serving as servants in the local church? Let’s take a look.

First Timothy 3:9 tells us that servants are to be BELIEVERS, not teachers: 

They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

Both men and women are equally called to hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Contrary to 1 Timothy 3:2, this qualification does not suggest the role of teacher, but rather of believer. Thus, both men and women are appropriate candidates for this verse.

First Timothy 3:10 suggests that servants are to be HELPERS, not leaders:

And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.

These servants are to be tested before being permitted to serve. Context suggests that it is the male overseers who exercise authority over the servants, by both qualifying them for service and then overseeing their ministry. There is no indication from this verse that servants in the local church will be exercising authority. Thus, both men and women are fit to serve in this manner.

First Timothy 3:12 envisions servants as FAITHFUL MANAGERS, not governors:

Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.

Male servants are to demonstrate their faithfulness by being one-woman men. They are also to demonstrate their managerial acumen by how they organize their children and their own household. Whereas male overseers are to keep their children submissive (1 Timothy 3:4), it is not explicit that same expectation applies to male servants. This might have to do with the necessity of male overseers to exercise authority in the local church. By contrast, male servants are to be good managers, without the same call to authority.

This verse is clearly directed to the male servants. The question is whether or not it can also be applied to the women mentioned in 3:11. Fidelity in marriage is true for both men and women. Thus, on the level of principle, women are also to be one-man women (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:9). Moreover, women are called to be good managers of the home (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:14). The words for “manage their own households” (προΐστημι. . . τῶν ἰδίων οἴκων) in 3:12, is not the same as the word for “manage their household” (οἰκοδεσποτεῖν) in 5:14. Nevertheless, both mean to “rule the household,” which is a task given to men as well as to women. Thus, even while the verse is primarily directed to male servants, the principles espoused are also applicable to women without any risk of contradicting 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

First Timothy 3:13 encourages servants to be MEMBERS in good standing with confidence in their salvation in Christ:

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.

There are two ideas in this verse. First, those who serve well are a ready addition to any local church. Other members in the church recognize their good contribution, which gives these servants a good standing. Second, good service contributes to a person’s assurance of salvation. By serving according to the Scriptures, these servants make their election sure. Both of these concepts are equally appropriate for men and women.

Having surveyed 1 Timothy 3:8-13, it seems best to appoint qualified men and qualified women to serve as servants in the local church. As servants, these men and women are not to teach or exercise authority. Thus, the church is not in contradiction to 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Rather, these men and women are appointed to help the male overseers to do the work of the ministry. Servants are believers, not teachers; helpers, not leaders; faithful managers, not governors. And, by serving, they establish themselves as members in good standing with much confidence that their salvation is real.

* Note: At Southshore, we call these servants, “stewards.”