What is the role of Women in the Church?

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This is a loaded question! I know that no matter how I answer this question, there will be those who will take issue with me. However, I am not nearly as concerned about how others might judge me as I am about the manner in which I will be judged by God.

Because of the feminist movement in our culture our perception of male and female roles has been altered. The Scriptures (which we are being told are archaic) establish a role which is not politically correct.

1 Corinthians 11:3 (NASB)

" But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ."

This is not a popular view of the male female role, therefore, we are told, it is to be rejected. Therefore an emotionally charged issue has been created by those who have an agenda.

When we talk about male female roles, we must first understand that no one in the church that I know of believes that males are superior to females. The two highest I.Q. scores of all time were obtained by women. We are not talking about equality, or tradition, or chauvinism. When we come to a subject like this we must concern ourselves with, what do the Scriptures say?

Our questioner really asks two questions, what is the woman's role in the church, and can a woman serve as a deacon? I will handle the 2nd question first. Can a woman serve as a deacon?

I believe that there are basically only two verses in all of the New Testament, both of which are indecisive, upon which a position may be formed to affirm that the New Testament talks about women as deacons.

The first one is found in Romans 16:1:

Romans 16:1(NASB)

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. . ."

The word translated by the NASB as "servant" comes from the Greek word diakonos. (diakonos) {dee-ak'-on-os} It is translated by the King James Version as – minister 20 times, servant 8 times, deacon 3 times. Diakonos means:

1) one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master, a servant, attendant, minister

1a) the servant of a king

1b) a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use

1c) a waiter, one who serves food and drink

So….the question here in Romans 16:1 is, was Phoebe a "deacon," in the sense that she occupied an official office in the church, or was she a "deacon" in the sense that she was one who served the church as millions of women have through the centuries without occupying an official office?

From this verse alone it is impossible to come to a conclusion. Since words must be defined by their context, and the word "deaconos" literally means a servant, attendant, or minister, it is inappropriate to force a conclusion or an interpretation on this verse. We know for certain that she was a "servant," for the church at Phillippi. That's all we know.

Phoebe is the only female in the entire New Testament to whom the term "diakonos" is applied. Throughout the history of the translation of the Bible into English, only one version (the RSV of 1946) transliterates the term as "deaconess." The NIV, which is not a "translation" in the truest sense of the word places "deaconess" in the marginal notes.

Remember, translations do not determine the meaning of words in the New Testament. The only thing you can say for certain about the way different translations translate words is that they reflect the understanding of the translating groups. To properly understand a Bible word, and its' definition, one must consult the Bible!

Therefore, based upon Romans 16:1 alone, there is no reason to believe that the New Testament church had an official "office" known as deaconess. There simply is not enough evidence to come to such a conclusion.

The only other passage in the New Testament that could possibly be used to support woman as deaconess is found in 1 Tim. 3:11.

1 Timothy 3:11 (NASB)

"Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things."

This verse is found in the qualification list of elders and deacons. It is asserted by some that this is then the qualification list for deaconesses. The word translated "women" in this verse is also commonly translated "wives." This passage then could easily be referring the qualifications of the elders and deacons wives.

Since there is not a single definitive passage in all of the New Testament which talks about a "deaconess" as an official office in the New Testament church, one might ask, is there any evidence that such an office existed in the New Testament church to be found in sources outside the Bible?

The answer is NO. For over 300 years there is a total lack of evidence for the office of a deaconess. After 300 A.D. as the church slipped deeper and deeper into apostasy with regard to church organization and structure, we do find the office of deaconess. We also find the official office of "bishop" being applied to one elder, who had rule over several congregations, which is in direct violation of the New Testament teaching with regard to congregational autonomy. Nothing after the 3rd century would help us to understand how the New Testament Christians understand church organization and structure.

Therefore, no one can say for certain that the office of deaconess existed in New Testament times, and anyone who asserts that a woman may serve as a "deacon" today does so without Biblical authority.

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