Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
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Qualifications of A Deacon’s Wife
--or of A Deaconess?
: “Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.”
Comparative translations of “wives:” This remains the dominance in translator choices (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NET, WEB) while “deaconesses” (Weymouth) makes plain the translator believes that female church officer holders are under consideration.
The “women” (of NASB, NIV) is ambiguous. If it is only a reference to gender, then we seemingly have the implicit freight of “women deacons” (= “deaconesses”) being under discussion. If it is a continuation of deacon requirements, it would be his wife.
Either way the qualifications are absolutes—they are presented as characteristics that must be present. If of the wives (which is our belief, to be discussed in detail below), then the deacon’s spouse must meet these criteria if he is to be appointed. The fact that some other deacon’s wife has the qualifications does not balance out the new candidate’s wife having a lack of them.
I rather like the way one unidentified preacher puts it, “The office of an elder or a deacon is not for the purpose of developing the qualities, but because they and their wives have developed the qualifications, the men can perform the work.” In other words, I am sure he means, “perform the work” effectively and well.
An athletic parallel might convey the point effectively: You don’t normally let an athlete into a professional contest before it’s verified that he can participate ably and with skill. Similarly you don’t want a person in church office unless their background demonstrates the potential to perform it well. The qualifications are given as criteria to help us make knowledgeable and informed judgments on that potential.
It might seem strange that the wife’s traits would become envolved at all. On the other hand, the type of wife a male has will inevitably influence his interests, ability, and passion in carrying out even secular work. Theoretically, perhaps, such interaction “ought not to occur”—but in “real life” we all know it does.
Are These Deaconess?
New Testament Cases of Women
Participating in Deacon Like Activities
I have no a priori objection to these being the qualifications of deaconesses, since we read of various women in the New Testament who are described in deaconess like roles--of female agents and servants of congregations.
beginning of the study of the position of “deacon” we noted that the term was
used scripturally of both those holding a formal congregational post and those
who did not. To concisely sum up those
results . . . it was used:
Of the apostle Paul: Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23.
Of the apostle’s co-workers who taught the gospel of Christ: 1 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 6:21.
Of Timothy in particular: 1 Timothy 4:6.
Of any Christian who is of help to another: Matthew 20:26; Matthew 23:11.
Of those in the “secular” world working under the orders of a superior: John 2:5.
Of government serving the purposes of God: “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4).
Romans 16:1-2 is the most obvious text to appeal to for the application of the word deacon to a woman: “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.”
Of the ten comparative translations, the bulk retain the broad term “servant,” as in the NKJV (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, WEB, Weymouth) while a minority select either “deacon” (GW, NIV) or “deaconess” (ISV). In the NET translators’ note, “deaconess” is endorsed as a responsible substitution for “servant.” A form of the same word labeled “deacon” in 1 Timothy is the one found here in Romans 16:1, but as we already saw, it could envolve something far different than holding a formal church office. It emphasized what you did rather than what church office (if any) that you held.
Hence she could well be a de facto rather than de jure servant/deacon of the congregation just as any male could be--the congregation benefiting from something of value being done for members of the group regardless of whether they are an official church appointed representative or not. Furthermore there are situations where a woman is simply the more appropriate gender. “You can imagine, especially in Paul’s day, the need to have women who could go in and minister to women in certain circumstances that would have gotten men in trouble had they attempted to go in and minister in those circumstances.” The congregation’s taking care of elderly widows in chapter 5 is introduced by the same person as a particular example of where a female only helper would be felt as more helpful and even essential.
Even today that remains true. To give an extreme example, consider how in a medical context many women feel very uncomfortable around male GYNs. (My wife does. In all fairness, she isn’t thrilled by female ones either!) In less intimate situations the sense of appropriateness still enters the picture, though where and in what measure will vary from one group of women to another. In turn that will also severely vary due to their specific educational background, their culture, and the unique environment of their daily life.
Even granting the validity of this quite reasonable argument, in any age formal office holders can almost never do the entire work associated with their title or position. Especially when the congregation becomes substantial, it will eventually require volunteers who do aspects of volunteer service without being a formal post holder. If we can easily understand that a male could be a de facto servant/deacon without being such, why should it be difficult to see that a female might as well? Or is much of the insistence in our age—unlike many earlier ones—ideologically driven rather than an effort to do full justice to the meaning of the text itself?
That Phoebe is mentioned without any allusion to a mate and far away from her home city as well, provides us with two interpretative options. One is that she is financially well off and heir to a relatively upper class (economically speaking) spouse. Travel was neither cheap nor easy over a great distance and for a woman to undertake it would not be that common and, with likely escorts, the expenses would be even greater.
(or even in addition!) she could have been a successful businesswoman. Think
is common to believe that Paul wrote Romans from the city of
Furthermore she was deserving of their assistance if that need should arise: “assist her in whatever business she has need of you” (Romans 16:2). That they were to “go out of the way” for her further implies the special dedication to the Lord’s service that had been exhibited in her life. This does not prove that she was any formal office holder, but it surely argues that she was an impressive woman who it would have been an honor to know.
It should also be noted that Paul felt a special obligation to speak kindly of her since “she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (16:2). Hence anyone who thought specially well of Paul would automatically take it as their duty to go out of their own way to help this woman. But Paul bases his praise not on what she had done exclusively for him, but on the fact that “she has been a helper of many”—he was simply an example of a pattern of behavior that was ongoing.
That word “helper” renders προστάτις. (We’ll return to the word prostatis in our volume on Church Leadership Controversies to see how it is used to turn her into, in effect, a preacher or an elder instead of a deacon! This section was written previously and totally independently and both sections can stand on their own merits. The only thing worth mentioning here is that such a scenario presents a dilemma for the revisionist: Was Phoebe a preacher, an elder, or a deacon? Or are we going to claim that she was all three at one time even though Paul clearly separates in 1 Timothy the posts of elder and deacon?)
The language of “helper” is both
retained (NASB, WEB) and slightly modified to “provided help” (GW) and “a great
helper” (NET). The ISV substitutes the
synonym “assisted.” It is hard to
Other renderings suggest a much more active agenda than even “providing help.” Two versions speak of her as being a “benefactor” (Holman, NIV) and one of her as being “patron” (ESV). In our age people often rely on governments or corporations to provide financial backing for some important purpose or endeavor. In an earlier age individuals took on that role and to some extent even today they are know to set up special interest groups to further activities they wish to encourage.
That a well off believer might “adopt” (so to speak) a congregation and provide a repeated “helping hand” where and when needed would be far from unexpected in a first century context. Indeed Susan Mathew notes that “epigraphic evidence suggests the existence of female ‘patrons’ who took an active part in voluntary associations and guilds; patronage was a well-established institution in the first century.”
She argues that the rendering of helper does not do adequate justice to what the underlying word could easily convey to contemporaries of that period, “The lexical evidence indicates προστάτις should be translated as ‘protectress’ or ‘patroness,’ and it is misleading to translate προστάτις as ‘helper,’ since those who were in the position of προστάτις enjoyed a high position and were more than simple ‘assistants’ to others.” Even the bare words of Romans 16:2 can easily be taken to imply more than a simple helper status: “she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” Having ample funds would not only facilitate that but even make such widespread helpfulness possible in the first place.
She may or may not have been rich—as contrasted with “merely” well off--but the emphasis on how impressively much she helped inclines one toward maximizing her economic status. Jennifer H. McNeel argues the case this way by noting--as does Matthew--that prostasis is a word that can rightly be translated with a variety of terms that imply her group and societal importance:
patron, benefactor, guardian, protector, sponsor, supporter, or defender. This
most likely means that Phoebe was a woman of means and used her wealth to
support the Christian movement and assist Paul in his work. Although most
women in the ancient world depended on male relatives for support, there were in
fact some women who had resources of their own, which they could have
acquired through engaging in business or through inheritance. Women of means
were crucial to the ministry of the early church. We know of several women who
provided spaces in their homes for church gatherings, supported the mission of
the church, and provided leadership within their communities (other examples
This is the only time Paul ever used the word prostatis in any of his letters.
(This feminine form of the world is used only here, and Paul never used the
masculine equivalent.) Typically, Paul avoided patronage language. He didn’t
want to portray some Christians as “above” others. He didn’t want to portray
some believers as always beholden to or indebted to other believers. He usually
opted instead to portray all believers on a level playing field with each other in
relation to Christ as Lord. Phoebe must have provided extraordinary support and
leadership to warrant Paul’s description of her as a prostatis to many, and to
himself as well.
Clearly she was freely and generously dispensing to the benefit of whatever needs had arisen. What she did could range the field from hospitality and assistance to specific individuals . . . functioning as intermediary between them and enemies . . . or with government (think in terms of intervening with important office holders or obtaining legal representation for members and Christians new to their town) . . . and even being a major ongoing financial support of the congregational treasury.
In short, she was to be received not because of some theoretical post she held but because of what she had done. Her holding such a post is fascinating speculation, but nothing more. The abundant good she had accomplished is directly asserted fact.
Pro-Deaconesses Being Under Discussion:
Verse 11 Uses the Earlier Language of Referring
to a New, Different Church Office
In context, the wording is this way:
8 Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, 9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. 10 But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. 11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.
So it is deduced, rather reasonably, that “likewise, their wives must be” introduces a third church office.
However, this analysis is at least as strong: “Likewise deacons must be” (verse 8) means “deacons must have these same qualities as elders.” Therefore “likewise, their wives must be” (verse 11) means deacons’ wives must share the same qualities as elders’ wives.” The “likewise” in verse 11 refers not to a new office being introduced, but to the same requirements being bound on women who are spouses to elders.
This approach also avoids the problem of the very strange placement of the qualifications for the “third” church office: we have one verse discussing male deacons (verse 11) and one verse discussing female deacons (verse 12) and then the apostle somersaults back to those for males (verse 13). If a third office is in mind, wouldn’t the far more logical place to put the requirements be after the male list is completed?
Hence there are qualifications for the wife of a deacon just as there are for the deacon himself. If she fails her qualifications, he fails to meet the requirements for church office.
Pro-Deaconesses Being Under Discussion:
The Lack of Any Specific Marital Language Being Used
The Greek word referring to females in our verse pulled double duty in the Greek language as the term for both “women” and “wife.” Although this argument is true, it seems more than counter-balanced by the context: both before and after this discussion of “women,” Paul discusses the qualifications of deacons. In light of that context, one would expect the “women” to be those attached to the deacon, i.e., his wife.
To approach the matter from a different angle, the lack of undeniably clear “marital” language being used in connection with her can also be used against considering her a deaconess:
One must ask why, if this [deaconess] view is correct, Paul does not say in
verse 12, “...and she must be the wife of one husband” or something like that. In
other words, the fact that he jumps right back to addressing male deacons--and
refers to their being monogamous--without saying anything about the women
[being monogamous as well]--seems very strange. The strangeness disappears,
however, if you take the view that throughout this section Paul is simply speaking
as if he only has men in mind.
If it had been considered proper to have unmarried female deacons, why was it absolutely required that male ones have that status?
Pro-Deaconesses Being Under Discussion:
The “Duplication” of Requirements for Male Deacons
Although not explicitly introducing this as an argument, Arichea and Hatton seem to have it in mind when they speak of how these women’s qualifications are “parallel” to those earlier provided for male deacons. Three are specified:
Positively, the women are to be “reverent:” Yes, this Greek word is identical with the term found of deacons in verse 8 but a different category is being introduced—women—and that is true regardless of whether the women are wives or deaconesses. Is there some genuine reason why this would be expected of deaconesses and not deacons’ wives? This is true of all the other illustrations: They are just as logically applied to the wife as to the female occupant of an office parallel to that of the male.
Negatively, the women are to be not “slanderers:” In verse 8 there is the prohibition of being “double-tongued” and this is presented as a “parallel,” presumably with the connotation of a virtual equivalent. Technically this isn’t quite true: Many slanderers are “double-tongued” but there are also those who will spread the vile lie without any effort to say one thing to one person and something different to someone else. Not even when encountering the person they are criticizing! (Though it may take the form of, “We know what you have been doing!” rather than laying out a specific accusation.) They are the opposite of double-tongued. They are consistent, though consistent in evil.
Even so if they aren’t a literal match these certainly are a match in regard to the general type of person and behavior being condemned.
Positively, the women are to be “temperate:” A “parallel” is found in the deacons’ being “not given to much wine” (verse 8). Hence these women are also to be “temperate” in it use.
One obvious problem is that wine isn’t even mentioned. Furthermore the Greek term doesn’t specifically “zero in” on how one treats one particular potential temptation (alcohol) but it targets one’s over all attitude toward life. The word carries the connotation of the serious, self-controlled individual who acts in a responsible manner in all areas of life. (See the discussion of translations when we reach this entry in verse 11’s analysis.) Obviously this interlocks with avoiding the kind of consumption that undermines such self-control. But it is far from merely equivalent to “not given to much wine!” It covers vastly broader ground!
Luke T. Johnson points to all of these as perceived parallels and ones we haven’t yet examined as well:
Negatively the women are not to be trouble-making liars. “. . . ‘Not be gossipers” being viewed as “matching ‘not be duplicitous.’ ” This equals the “not slanderers” and “not double-tongued” in the NKJV. This falls neatly into our discussion of the “slanderers” parallel above.
Negatively they are to avoid alcoholic excess. “Sober” in his translation is used for the NKJV’s “temperate.” This, he says, “matches not devoted to wine in the case of deacons.” (Actually his translation is not “over-fond of wine” rather than “devoted” to it--but the point is the same either way.) As noted in the prior list, the qualification of “temperate” includes this but also a much wider behavioral framework as well: the connotation of the serious, self-controlled individual who acts in a responsible manner in all areas of life.
Translating it as “sober” provides the opportunity for an alcoholic parallel. However this reflects the meaning of the Greek word only if we use the other definition of the English word “sober,” which refers to taking life seriously rather than flippantly; having a concern for how our behavior affects others rather than being unconcerned.
Positively they are to be “dignified.” Matching the identical wording of deacons in his translation. In the NKJV it is rendered “reverent” and we dealt with this when discussing the Arichea and Hatton list of possible parallels.
Positively they are to be spiritually loyal. “. . . ‘Faithful in every respect’ matching ‘hold unto the mystery of the faith.’ ” In the NKJV the comparisons are between “faithful in all things” and “holding the mystery of the faith.”
Once again, we return to a theme that is clearly relevant to all the other similarities as well: Since the requirement would be quite logically applicable to either “wife” or “female deacon,” it really doesn’t advance the cause in the least. Indeed, as to these specific examples, one can’t help but wonder whether there is any way he could be considered qualified for church office if his wife didn’t share these qualities!
Pro-Deaconesses Being Under Discussion:
The Lack of a Similar Requirement for the Wives of Elders
Here is a brief survey of remarks defending this approach:
* “If it is deacon’s wives, it is hard to imagine Paul not making the same comments about the wives of the overseers and indeed making that comment first.” Yet when it comes to verifying qualifications--“let these also be first tested” (verse 10)--we learn that this is true of both offices only when deacons are introduced into the picture. Hence there is precedent for introducing elder information in the deacon list. To us it may well seem odd, but it clearly wasn’t to the apostle!
* In a similar vein is the remark that the omission of elder wife qualifications while specifying them for deacons raises “a good question and I have not really heard a compelling answer to it.” A presentable argument unless both lists are intended to contain the same core prerequisites that candidates for both offices must meet . . . with, at most, only minor differences. Remember how we noted that the introductory remark to the qualifications of deacons is “Likewise deacons must be” (verse 8) and that most naturally means “deacons must have these same qualities as elders.” Likewise = the same as = the requirements are identical.
Similarly “likewise, their [deacon] wives must be” (verse 11) means deacons’ wives must share the same qualities as elders’ wives.” “Likewise” surely requires a comparison to a similar group of women--those found in the discussion of how elders must each have “one wife” (verse 2). Hence either both groups of women are married women (wives) or they are female holders of the office just mentioned--elders or deacons. Either these deductions seem required or neither statement tells us anything about the preceding office at all--even though the “likewise” requires a reference to it.
* A third comment: “We have a possible difference between the deacon and the elder. There are no female elders. This is probably why there is no requirements about the wife. The office of elder is limited to men.” Hence if deaconesses are under consideration, that is powerful supplemental evidence that women were never intended to serve as elders. Will feminists “purchase” the post of deaconesses at the price of excluding female elders? It really does seem incredibly hard to “prove” the deaconesses without excluding the female elders.
The sounder interpretation seems clearly that neither official church appointed female deacons nor female elders are intended. Furthermore even on a de facto / unofficial basis it is conceptually far easier to imagine deaconesses (servants) existing than leaders (elders).
Evidence for Deacons’ Wives Being Under Consideration
Pro-Deacons’ Wives Being Under Discussion:
The Otherwise Odd Placement of the Qualifications in the Text
A definite oddity if this is a listing of deaconesses requirements (): Why is it interposed in the middle of those male deacons must meet (verses 10, 12). Would not the logical place--the “natural” place--be after that list is completed? Wouldn’t it be a rather strange decision to place it here? Would it not be an oddly “awkward” placement?
Furthermore since we have this in a context where both before (verse 8) and afterwards (verse 12) clear mention is made of male deacons, would not the most natural interpretation be “a woman attached to the deacon”? Why introduce a completely different “type” of woman?
But if that is true there are only two options. The obvious and only appealing one is that their wives are under discussion. Theoretically, it could simply mean “the women they are living with” and marital status is not under consideration at all: They might either be married to them or they are simply living together without marriage. Does anyone really believe Paul could possibly have that in mind (1 Corinthians 7:1-2)? Hence we are forced back to the idea of wives of deacons being under consideration.
In making our evaluation of the issue we also need to remember that the Greek term used is the one Paul normally uses--clearly uses in the current context--even with wives in mind. Richard C. Barcellos explains:
The question that we must bring to 1 Timothy 3:11 is this: Why the
change in translation in some English versions from “wife” in 3:2 and 12 to
“women” in (e.g., ASV 1901; NASB 1977; NASB 1995) and what does Paul
intend by the word Γυναῖκας (Gynaikas)? Because I have not spoken to the
various translation committees of these versions, I do not know why they made
the change. [RW note: The change is also found in: New American Bible
(Roman Catholic), New Century Version (with a note that it could refer to wife or
serving as deacon), New Revised Standard Version (also with a note that it could
refer to either), Revised Standard Version (without an interpretive note), and,
intriguingly, the old literalistic standby of Young’s Literal Translation.] There
are, however, good reasons to translate both uses of the word the same. . . .
If a form of γυνή (gynē) is translated “wife” in 3:2, , 5:9, Titus 1:6,
Ephesians , and Colossians for contextual reasons, could it be the same
for 1 Timothy ? I think the answer is yes and here’s why. It is clear in 3:2
that Paul is referring to the wife of an overseer. The context of the use of γυνή
gynē) makes this clear. The same could be said of 1 Timothy 3:12, 5:9, Titus 1:6,
Ephesians , and Colossians 3:18. Though our interest is in 1 Timothy 3:11,
these texts give us a flavor for Pauline usage and intent. . . .
Every time a noun form of the word for “deacon” (vv. 8 and 12) or a
participial form (v. 13) is used in 1 Timothy 3 it is always masculine and plural.
When Paul talks about overseers he refers to them in the masculine gender. He
does the same thing for deacons.
In other words, we would expect the apostle to continue to use the same language with the same meaning throughout his discussion of church office holder prerequisites--i.e., of wives.
That still leaves the question of why are there qualifications for deacons’ wives at all? Good or bad, the simple reality is that our spouse reflects upon us. If our husband is an idiot, we are going to be embarrassed and have to find a way to avoid the shame of being associated with such a male when interacting with friends and foes. The same is true in reverse: If our spouse is a troublemaker, for example, how can her behavior do anything but make us look the worse both in the eyes of our brethren and to hypercritical outsiders?
Call it “right” or call it “wrong.” It is. (More on this in the next section.)
Pro-Deacons’ Wives Being Under Discussion:
The Lack Of a Distinctive Title for the Post
Why doesn’t Paul simply call them “deaconesses” if that is what they are, invoking a feminine form of the word he has been using to describe the males? Of course one can answer this with the assumption that such usage did not exist in that age--the terminology had not yet come into existence. Yet if “elders/bishops” and “deacons” were readily available to describe males, surely Paul could have “invented” the usage if he had women in general (rather than wives) specifically in mind!
other hand it can be argued that even when we explicitly find a woman who is
regarded as a “servant” of a congregation--be it on a de facto or de jure basis--it is still the “male” word “deacon” that is
invoked and not a specifically female form of it. This can be seen in the case of Phoebe when
As I was
doing my final proof-reading of this section I came across a discussion of when
the terminology of “deaconess” finally came into existence. Professor of Religion Joe E. Lunceford of
There was no feminine word for ‘deacon’ in use when the New Testament
books were being written. The feminine form διάκονiσσα (“deaconess”) does not
show up for another two or three centuries. Even after it did show up, it was
frequently used in parallel with διάκονον. The point is that the author of 1
Timothy did not have at his disposal a word specifically denoting a female
deacon. Of course, had it been otherwise, we have no way of knowing how it
would have affected this passage. I would speculate, however, that if such a word
had been available, it would have appeared in this passage.
Was not Paul literate enough--without even introducing the fact that Divine inspiration could have motivated him--to have invented the feminine usage if it truly represented what he was trying to say?
Before we pass along further, one additional digression would be appropriate: Dan Duncan provides some interesting thoughts about why the qualifications of a wife would be introduced in the context of deacons rather than elders and his remarks certainly make sense:
You would think that if the elder has the higher position, it’s the higher
authority that the elder’s wife would be mentioned and not that of the deacon. I
think the reason is probably to be found in the fact that the wives of deacons
would accompany them on visitation to help with the material needs of the
congregation. And so, to my mind that makes good sense because as noted
earlier, deacons are involved in providing for the material needs and attending to
people physically, and in certain situations, that involved women, such as
attending to the widows of the church or attending to the young widows . . . [In] a
situation such as that, it would be advisable to have wives accompany the men, or
it might be best for the women to go and attend to the females in the church who
are sick. There are many services in the church, which women are better adapted
to than men.
When elders are dealing with female members of the congregation--or with husband / wife problems--there are varied situations in which their involvement would be appropriate as well. In some cases present along with the husband and in other cases talking specifically with the wife alone in helping her with her family difficulties. (The presence of a male can hinder certain types of discussions due to embarrassment and such like.) What kind of woman would be ideal in such a situation? Does not 1 Timothy provide a useful set of criteria in defining such a woman?
More on Whether
Wives Of Both Elders and Deacons Are Under Consideration?
We have argued earlier that though presented in the form of two separate lists, a close comparison of elder and deacon prerequisites strongly pushes us toward the conclusion that this is actually a joint list of what is required for both positions. Although Archibald Allison does not go quite so far as to assert this, he argues the far narrower case that this qualification must be of that nature:
The word “their” is not in the Greek text. It is not unusual in the Greek language to omit an article or demonstrative pronoun. However, in verse 11 Paul may have had a good reason to leave out the word “their.” If Paul had used the word “their,” most readers would refer the qualifications in verse 11 to the wives of the deacons only because Paul is talking about deacons in the immediate context.
By leaving out the word “their” Paul refers not only to the wives of deacons, but also to the wives of overseers (ministers and elders). In other words, in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 Paul gives the qualifications for both overseers and deacons.
In the midst of that, specifically, in the midst of the qualifications for deacon, the apostle says that the wives of both overseers and deacons must have certain qualities which he lists in verse 11. This interpretation also fits with the fact that both verses 8-9 and verse 11 share the main verb in verse 2 and thus are grammatically dependent upon verse 2.
Wives Must Be “Reverent” ()
[ Qualification 1 If Of Deaconesses ]
Comparative translations: The same Greek word is given as a qualification of elders (3:8) and the translation preferences remain essentially the same here. “Reverent” is only retained by one version (WEB). Then there is “worthy of respect” (in Holman, NIV), “of good character” (in GW), and “serious” (in ISV). All match what is used of elders’ prerequisites.
was used by three translations in regard to elders (ESV, NASB, NET); here the
NASB prefers “men of dignity.” In regard
This is the same Greek word used in verse 8 of deacons, and it expresses a characteristic that would surely be appropriate for either deacons and their wives or for deaconesses if that post existed as a separate position. In either case, the person’s life was to manifest a straight-forwardness in which “what you see is what you get:” good intentions, reliability, steadfastness in carrying out any task. Respectful, restrained.
Wives Must Be “Not Slanderers” ()
[ Qualification 2 If of Deaconesses ]
Comparative translations: While this language
continues to be used in four translations (ESV, Holman, WEB,
It is not going to do any good for the reputation of a deacon if his spouse is known as a troublemaker. He may be as effective as a human being can in carrying out his duty, but anyone that knows about her will, sooner or later, be muttering, “you do realize that he is her husband.” However much feminists may resent the concept, it has historically been a duty of the husband to keep his wife “in line.” (What feminists typically overlook is that, historically, one of the major responsibilities of the wife has been to do her best to keep her husband “in line” as well. They have been counted on as the “civilizer” of unruly males.)
The spouse becomes an excuse to demean the husband. Yes, it’s mean, cruel, and even heartless. But the person who wants a tool to belittle you is being given a particularly large “bludgeon” to hit you over the head with.
Furthermore—whether as wife to an elder or deacon—she is going to obtain certain information that is not well known, if known at all. Her husband has overtly “shared’ it—either unintentionally (because it seems totally innocent in itself) or because it is a situation where a wife’s perspective might be useful. The perceived facts can also come by both what is said and how it is said and how things are emphasized or de-emphasized. Even if it is merely speculative in nature, if the wife is of a rabble-rousing mentality, it would be like providing extra gasoline to an arsonist. They could both destroy the unity and cohesion of the church and destroy its reputation among outsiders as well. If there is anything close to a pattern, outsiders will hear of it!
Wives Must Be “Temperate” ()
[ Qualification 3 If of Deaconesses ]
Comparative translations:” Widely retained (NASB, NET, NIV, WEB,
Elizabeth George seems to be summarizing the concept well when she suggests five aspects to being “temperate:”
not addicted to alcoholic beverages (or anything else),
controlled in our actions and words,
mild and calm in our emotions
lacking in extremes and extravagance, and
serious in our behavior.
A person does not have to be grim-faced, but they do need to have a reputation for responsible behavior. This is the kind of person who you can count on to do what they say. To fulfill their promises—or to provide you a good reason why they couldn’t. To not “blow a gasket” just because something is going the wrong way. And there will be “reputational drag” inflicted even when it is the spouse and not the deacon himself who is causing the problem.
Wives Must Be “Faithful in All Things” ()
[ Qualification 4 If of Deaconesses ]
Comparative translations:” Although the “faithful” is retained in a respectable number of renditions (ESV, NASB, WEB), some prefer to modify the final words to “in every respect” (NET) or “in everything” (Holman)
alternative for “faithful” is to substitute “trustworthy” in a variety of
specific contexts: “trustworthy in
everything” (ISV, NIV), “trustworthy in every way” (GW), or “in every way . . .
Some attempt to take this requirement to mean that she must be a Christian. That she needs to be a Christian has an inherent logic to it. As one individual expresses the argument:
Would God give qualification for service in his kingdom to someone not in his kingdom? How could He expect an unbeliever to accept and maintain them? He would not! By the very fact that He has stated qualifications that must be met by the deacon’s wife, we must conclude that she must first be a child of God.
She could not understand her husband’s sacrifice and service, if she were not a faithful Christian. How else could she be expected to encourage him; contribute the sympathy; and make the sacrifices that will be required of her? God has not called to “special service” those who have never answered the gospel call to service.
Some of the language here is very misleading: to speak of how “God has not called to ‘special service’ ” the wife is not relevant to the situation—it is her husband who is called to special service and not her. Likewise, “Would God give qualification for service in his kingdom to someone not in His kingdom?” Again, she isn’t being called to service—her spouse is. (The objections obviously have far more relevance when lodged against a woman seeking the alleged post of “deaconess.” There one is seeking a post of special service!)
What the underlying point surely is is that her full support and reliability in encouraging (and even assisting) the spiritual work of her husband is required. Even the most cooperative of non-believing spouses would find it virtually impossible to provide it. Not out of ill will but, to use the idiom of my generation, “they are not on the same wave length.” There must be a unity of shared idealism to make any project work in which either will have a significant impact upon the other’s success. Reword the above quotation to reflect the “good idea that is trying to break out” and he makes a very fine point. Her spirituality is far more a practical and functional necessity of the husband holding church office than just a formal or official requirement.
Our immediate text requires her to be “faithful in all things.” Not “faithful” in one thing (being obedient to the Lord) but “in all things.” Hence the emphasis is on her total reliability. Her spouse can put complete and utter faith in her reliability--for whatever she has committed to do she will do everything in her power to accomplish it. She will be “faithful in all things” that she sets out to do in support of her husband and the needs of the congregation.
Deacons Must Be “Husbands of One Wife” ()
Comparative translations: The largest number
retain this reading (ESV, ISV, Holman, NET, WEB), varying only between
“husband” and “husbands.” Two interpret
it explicitly as prohibiting polygamy by speaking of “husbands of only one
wife” (NASB) or “must have only one wife” (GW).
Others make it assert the need for sexual fidelity by speaking of
“faithful to his wife” (NIV) and “true to his one wife” (
Here we again encounter the question of whether the text requires marriage or only prohibits the polygamist. All we said in the context of this qualification when it is mentioned in regard to the post of elder is also relevant here as well.
Their Family Overseer Role
The First Element:
The Quality of their Leaderhip--
“Ruling Their Children and Their Own Houses Well” ()
Comparative translations of “ruling:” Only two retain either “rule” (
translations of “well:”
high favor (ESV, GW, ISV, NIV, WEB), while others arguably intensify the
qualitative element the term carries by speaking of “good” (NASB, NET),
“competently” (Holman), or “wisely and well” (
“Ruling” envolves having authority over. It includes that feminist hated principle of “the husband is the head of the wife” (Ephesians )--but also anyone else in the household who he has responsibility for. If it is horrible “patriarchy” for the husband to have authority over the wife . . . and if that principle is to rejected as unjust and improper . . . why isn’t the “patriarchy” over the children also abhorrent? And if we are to twist honorable terms into stigmas, what label of censure is to be applied to wives when they exercise authority over their children?
And, Biblically speaking, wives are supposed to have authority over the children just as the husbands do. “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord” (Colossians ). “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Ephesians immediately insists that this is to fulfill the Ten Commandment demand that one “honor[s] your father and mother” (verse 2).
1 Tim seems to imply that same responsibility and privilege when
it speaks of how “the younger widows [should] marry, bear children, manage
the house.” Although the bulk of
translations stick with “manage” a few make it even
more emphatic: “rule the household” (WEB) and “rule in
domestic matters” (
The thoroughly debased society is pictured in Romans 1:30 as one in which even the proper family ties are gutted since they are “disobedient to parents”—not just one but either or both. Similarly the future time in which life will be “perilous” (2 Timothy 3:1) will include the rejection of this secondary status: the children will be “disobedient to parents”—yet again including both of them (verse 2).
not explain why this is set up as a standard, but in regard to elders we read
of how an elder must have his “house” and “children in submission” (3:4). And the explanation provided there seems
inescapably valid for deacons as well: “for if a man does not know how to rule his
own house, how will he take care of the
But this family obligation does not end upon appointment; Paul assumes that this quality leadership in the family will continue even after taking church office. The work one does for the church is important, but the maintenance of quality within our family relationships is equally so. God doesn’t want us to make our families a kind of “human sacrifice” on the altar of church service. Neglect of duty in either area is wrong and improper. It is, if you will, “negligence of duty”--the duty that exists in both spheres.
Their Family Overseer Role
The Second Element:
The “Subjects” of their Leaderhip--
“Ruling Their Children and Their Own Houses Well” ()
translations of “their children:”
retains the reference to “children” (ESV, Holman, GW, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB,
translations of “their own houses:”
When we use
“house” we think of the physical building rather than the family that dwells in
it. Hence it is not surprising that we
find only one effort to retain that usage (WEB). “Household” (NIV,
Note also the stress on their “own” household. It is not his job to run some one else’s. He may give advice—when appropriate or called for--but his actual authority is circumscribed to the immediate family/extended family.
We usually think of “households” as a synonym for “family”--in terms of mother, father, and children. Although such could exist in the first century (as in the parable of the neighbor in Luke 11:5-8), anyone of moderate prosperity or better had ones that included various others as well. We are unquestionably edging back into a broader definition even today. As I write these particular words I have my daughter and two grandchildren living with me. We are family related and an extended family as well, but the older language of “household” does fit remarkably well. A large number of “households” now include even more distantly related kin.
In prosperous and better households, there would also be servants or slaves. Distasteful as slavery is to the modern mind, masters were at least required to provide lodging and food. Hence desperate souls would even sell themselves into slavery to assure that they had at least that much.
a case such as
The Reward for Being a Good Deacon:
“Those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves
a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus”
Comparative translations of “served well as deacons:”
versions surveyed either remained with “served well” (NASB, NET, NIV, WEB) or
made the microscopic alteration to “serve well” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV).
There can be a profound difference between holding a position and being effective in it. Every working person is well acquainted with that reality. One person does the job ably, will help you work out any problems (if they can), and knows what they are talking about. But then you have the “walking disasters” who fail in either their knowledge or their ability to deal with difficulties and differing temperaments.
The Peter Principle first appeared in 1969 and came out in a revised edition in 2011. I’ve never read it (business matters being far from the top of my literary interests), but I do remember a choice quote that was attributed to it: “People rise to their level of incompetence.” Having demonstrated it, they go no further. This is the kind of person who does not “serve well” in whatever religious or secular activity they are engaged in.
If a deacon (or elder) is “not working out well,” one hopes that he will recognize the problems and seek advice and counsel from others as to how to eliminate or minimize whatever the hindrances may be. In a “worst case scenario,” the solution would be to resign. If age or physical disability is finally catching up to us, we should obviously give that option serious consideration. But it is also worth considering if we are having other kinds of ongoing difficulties that we seem unable to fix after a reasonable period of time.
Of course resignation would be far from inappropriate if the problem is caused by others who are crippling (or trying to) your ability to perform your duties. Elders and deacons have a “work” to do; if interference is sufficiently keeping you from doing it, you have no obligation to remain “a punching bag” for widespread dissent and rabble rousing. In all fairness, this is a very “situational” judgment: in other cases one might want to double down on holding the position and doing it well even under such adverse circumstances because what would result due to your resignation would make it even more difficult for the congregation to ever be what it should be.
Comparative translations of “a good standing:” This remains the most common reading (ESV, Holman, NET, WEB),
but the nature of the “standing” is also modified to “honourable”
Serving well as a deacon should gain us a wider recognition and respect than we had when we initially began our service. We have shown our determination, our skill, our prudence, and our insight as various problems have arisen and we successfully found a way to deal with them. We have justified the congregation’s trust in us. We should take pride in that . . . and if the congregation has any kind of half-way decent common sense it will as well.
Note my cynicism in how I worded that last sentence. Sadly many congregations are as likely to be backbiters and underminers as praisers. In such cases we can at least have the confidence that we will enjoy “a good standing . . . in the Lord’s sight.” And that is even more important.
Alternatives: Some take the language as indicating that they might gain “promotion” to the post of overseer due to their good service as deacons. But holding that office is textually hinged upon their desire to have the office and their meeting the qualifications for it. Prior service in a “lower” office is not mentioned or required at all. Furthermore the wording “a good standing” carries the inherent connotation of prestige being gained—not promotion being given.
Some believe that the “good standing” refers to what God thinks of them: By their exemplary service they have gained greater status in His eyes. Both this and our initial suggestion of greater stature in the eyes of the congregation would fit the text far better than the idea of “encourage and justify promotablity.”
Comparative translations of “great boldness:” Although both words are retained by some (NASB, NET, WEB),
others prefer to substitute for the second word either “assurance” (ISV, NIV)
or “confidence” (ESV, NASB). Oddly the
GW takes out any emphasis on the degree of boldness by speaking of how
we will simply “have confidence” (GW).
However one words it, it deeply involves our having greater confidence in what we are doing. New folks in any job are likely to be uneasy. When we have demonstrated time and again that we know what we are doing, not only do others have greater trust in our judgment and talents, but we ourselves do as well.
A. C. Hervey notes that “(παρρησίαν)
[is] very common in the New Testament (compare Acts , 29, 31; Ephesians ;
Philippians , etc.), where it is
especially applied to boldness in preaching the gospel of Christ. This seems to imply that
On the other hand, surely the degree of personal skill also plays a major role in what he does. Should he neglect fine skills that he has merely because his official post is subordinate to another one?
To approach the subject from a different angle, wouldn’t it be a responsibility of the elders to encourage him to make the best use of his talents--whatever they may be? Some make rigid lines where they were never intended to be set in concrete. Dick Blackford wisely and correctly reminds us that common perception may not represent scriptural reality: “Some have made a ‘rule’ that elders are over the spiritual affairs of the church and deacons are over the physical. It must be remembered that deacons are under the oversight of the elders (1 Peter 5:2). They assist wherever needed. While there are physical and spiritual matters, the Bible does not limit their work to one or the other.” Their talents and elder decisions would shape their lines of endeavor.
Comparative translations of the boldness being “in the faith:” Most keep this wording (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, WEB) and this language most naturally suggests great boldness or confidence in the Christian faith. In its reliability and certainty.
Of course, in reality these two approaches would naturally interlock, one leading to the other: If your personal faith is strengthened, how can you avoid having greater confidence in expressing that faith to others as well?
Comparative translations of “which is in Christ Jesus:” The reference to “in Christ Jesus” is retained by
virtually everyone (ESV, GW, Holman, NET, NIV, NASB, WEB). The exceptions are “in the Messiah
Jesus” (ISV) and “which rests on Christ Jesus” (
Our greater confidence is not in some secular talent but in our spiritual ability to serve the Lord well as either an elder or a deacon. We have grown in our assurance that we can do so. By looking back at our accomplishments,we recognize that we have established a “track record” that prepares us well for whatever may come in the future.
 [Unidentified Author connected with the Loop 287 Church of Christ], “The Wives of Elders and Deacons,” at: http://www.lawofliberty.com/sermons/Resources/thewivesofelders.pdf. (Accessed: September 2016.)
 J. Ligon Duncan III, “What God Wants In Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13),” at: https://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/what-god-wants-in-deacons (preached: August 2004; accessed: July 2019.) He takes the post of “deaconess” to be a woman filling a de facto rather than an official office: “It refers to the women who assist the deacons. . . .” “Why We Need Deacons And What Kind of Deacon Do We Need? (1 Timothy 3:8),” at: https://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/why-we-need-deacons-and-what-kind-of-deacon-do-we-need. (Preached: August 2002; accessed: July 2019.)
 Susan Mathew, Women in the Greetings of Romans 16:1-16: A Study of Mutuality and Women’s Ministry in the Letter to the Romans, in the Library of New Testament Studies, volume 471 (London, England: T & T Clarke/Bloomsbury, 2013), 74.
 Ibid., 76.
 Jennifer H. McNeel, “Who Was
Phoebe?,” part of The Text in Context website,
at: http://thetextincontext.com/romans-16-who-was-phoebe/. (Dated
 For a discussion of whether she was wealthy see Mathew, 77-78.
 Mathew, 79-80.
 Bratcher, 32.
 Luke T. Johnson, Writings, 393.
 Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” 368.
 Scott Lindsay. “1 Timothy 3:8-13.”
 Arichea and Hatton, 76.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 228-229.
 Witherington, Letters and Homilies, 241.
 Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 3:8-13.”
 Jim Erwin, “1 Timothy 3:8-13: Godly Servants,” at:
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2015/03/01/1-timothy-38-13-godly-servants/. (Dated March 2015; accessed: August 2019.)
 Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 3:8-13.”
 S. Lewis Johnson, “The Office of the Deacon.”
 Richard C. Barcellos, “1 Timothy 3:11: ‘Women’ or ‘Wives’?,” at:
https://www.rbap.net/1-timothy-311-women-or-wives/. (Accessed: July 2019.)
 Dunagan, Commentary.
 Dan Duncan, “Elders and Deacons.”
 Allison, “Deacons (Part Three).”
 Elizabeth George, A Woman’s High Calling: 10 Ways To Live Out God’s Plan For Your Life (Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2011), 60.
 Rich Cather, “1 Timothy 3:8-16.”
 A. C. Hervey, “1 Timothy.”
 Dick Blackford, “Is The Preacher A Deacon?,” Guardian of Truth magazine, at: