Hello everybody, and welcome in to episode 156 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading Romans 16 today and our focus is on should there be women deacons, or deaconesses? We are a daily 10 minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Thanks for listening! Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan\
Today we will look at a somewhat controversial question: should the church have female deacons, or deaconesses? The reason the question arises is because of today’s passage, and a important person in the church named Phoebe. We don’t know much about Phoebe, because she is only mentioned ONCE in the Bible:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. 2 So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also. Romans 16:1
But that mention is a very prominent. Phoebe is obviously quite important, and is travelling about as a minister – Paul commands the church in Rome to receive her, welcome her and assist her in the mission she is on. The word there that is translated as ‘servant’ in the CSB is the same word used for deacon or minister, so many people think that Phoebe was a deaconess. Here’s John Piper with four reasons why he believes she held the office of deaconess in the early church:
Were Women Deacons?
Probably yes. There are four observations that incline me to think that this office was held by both men and women.
- The Greek word for deacon can be masculine or feminine in the same form. So the word itself does not settle the issue.
- In the middle of the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Paul 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I completely agree with Piper here. I do indeed believe that the Bible limits the role of the senior leaders in the church to men, it is quite clear that there were many women in ministry roles in the early church – such as Chloe, Phoebe, and others that are listed in Romans 16. My wife and I named two of our daughters after these crucially important ministers in the early church: Chloe and Phoebe. Let’s read our passage, and listen out for all of the names of women that Paul gives a first century shout out to!
Thomas Schreiner, a Baptist theologian, concurs with Piper, and believes that the early church had deaconesses, like Phoebe:
“Scholars debate, however, whether she held an office…is Paul commending Phoebe because she served in a variety of unofficial ways in the church at Cenchreae? It is impossible to be sure, but for several reasons it is likely that she held the office of deacon. First, 1 Tim. 3:11 probably identifies women as deacons…second, the designation ‘deacon of the church in Cenchreae’ suggests that Phoebe served in this special capacity, for this is the only occasion in which the term ‘diakonos’ is linked with a particular local church. Third, the use of the masculine noun ‘diakonos’ also suggests that the office is intended…women deacons were probably appointed early, especially because other women needed assistance from those of their own sex in visitation, baptism, and other matters…” Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 787.
Ultimately we see in Romans 16 that women were critical in the life of the early church and held several important roles. We also knew that a group of women travelled with Jesus Himself and took care of His needs and the needs of the disciples:
Afterward he was traveling from one town and village to another, preaching and telling the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary, called Magdalene (seven demons had come out of her); 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward; Susanna; and many others who were supporting them from their possessions. Luke 8:1-3
We would do well to remember and honor these wonderful female saints in the early church!
Bible Memory verses for the month of June: Daniel 6:23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to take Daniel out of the den. When Daniel was brought up from the den, he was found to be unharmed, for he trusted in his God.
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