Can Women Be Deacons?

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In 1 Timothy 3:11, we read, “In the same way, women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” In context, the word “women” (Gr. gynē) refers either to women deacons or deacons’ wives. Translations are non-committal: the NIV has “the women,” with a footnote, “Probably women who are deacons’ wives or women who are deacons.” The NASB likewise has “women,” with a footnote, “either deacons’ wives or deaconesses.”

On the whole, “women deacons” is more likely, for the following reasons:

  • The absence of qualifications for overseers’ wives: why would Paul give qualifications for deacons’ wives but not for overseers’ wives?

  • the phrase “in the same way” in 1 Timothy 3:11 most likely indicates a transition from one office to another, as it does in 1 Timothy 3:8 (from elders to deacons);

  • the parallel sentence structure and similar characteristics in verses 8 and 11 (including the lack of article before “women”) also suggest two distinct but related offices;

  • the absence of qualifiers such as “their” in the Greek: note that “their” is added, e.g., in the NIV, suggesting that the translators felt this is needed in English.

Note also that Phoebe is most likely identified as a woman deacon of the church at Cenchrea in Romans 16:1 (affirmed by complementarian commentators such as Douglas Moo [NICNT] and Thomas Schreiner [BECNT]). Paul’s mention of women deacons coheres well with his earlier prohibition of women serving in teaching or ruling functions over men (1 Tim. 2:12) and his lack of mention of women elders in 1 Timothy 3:1–7.

Since being a deacon does not involve teaching or ruling, women as well as men are eligible to serve in this capacity. Note that there is no requirement of marital faithfulness in the case of women deacons (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2, 12), presumably because male marital infidelity was common while female infidelity was not, and possibly also because women deacons were not necessarily expected to be married (some may have been widows or single).

Many conservative churches are hesitant to appoint women deacons because deacons often have a governing role. They fear that having women deacons may suggest theological liberalism, since Scripture does not permit women to serve in governing positions (see esp. 1 Tim. 2:12; 5:17). However, the problem here is not women deacons but the unbiblical understanding of the role of deacon.

In fact, this is a great opportunity to show that those who are conservative on the so-called “women’s issue” are not against women in ministry as is sometimes alleged but that they affirm the legitimate ministry of women. Why should male deacons be affirmed, acknowledged, and recognized for their service but not women who render the same kinds of service? Also, by resisting to appoint women deacons, the church deprives itself of valuable ministry.

For a fuller treatment of women deacons, see my commentary on 1–2 Timothy and Titus in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12 (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan). See also “Hermeneutical and Exegetical Challenges in Interpreting the Pastoral Epistles,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 7/3 (Fall 2003): 4–17; and “The New Testament Pattern of Church Government,” Midwestern Journal of Theology 4/2 (2006): 43-56.


  1. It should be pointed out that the word office is not used in the original Greek in 1 Timothy 3 either for the bishop or the deacon. Our concept of a deacon as someone who holds an official position i.e. an office comes from translations which were made at a time when the church had digressed to an institution with lots of official positions. That is not what the term meant in the first century. The words translated deacon described a work to be done not an office to be held. If you read the history of the early church you will find that women were often appointed to do gender appropriate work such as caring for sick women. It is our misunderstanding of the words translated “deacon” that have led us to conclude that these are officers of the church who sit on the church board of directors. That is foreign to the way that the early church understood the two words translated by our English word “deacon”.

    • I take your point, Joe, but notice that in 1 Timothy 3:1, for example, the term episkope is used, which is an abstract noun different from the masculine episkopos (“elder”). Thus there does seem to be a biblical basis for conceiving of the “office of elder” as distinct from the actual person serving in that office.

  2. I am always amazed as to how little research people do when it come to our Lords work. Yes women can be deacons, it is very plain. Yes men must be a husband of one wife but that has nothing to do with the women. I would encourage everyone to first let the scripture interrupt itself. Therefore go back to the original Greek that reads like this in 1 Timothy 3:11 “women as same grave, no thru-cast, sober, believe in all”. I trust the true words of our Lord will lead you to the right conclusion. May our Lord richly bless you as you first seek his face.

  3. Well, I believe what the Bible says about the deacon being a man of one wife. How can a woman be a wife of one wife? Not so. Good discussion, but women need to know their place in the body of Christ. If a woman can sit on the deacon board then a man can sit on the mother board. Be blessed everybody.

  4. This is an endless argument to those who don’t want to believe in todays world the Bible has not changed, so many interpretations,verses translations! This is the difference. I am a woman of God, I have the qualifications of deacon, to some and yet I know that this is not the role of women in church. As the world says, we can do all that men do, the Bible clearly does not teach this. We can be servants in so many other offices in the church, but, since we are told not to we want to be deacons. How about all the other places of servanthood, ie. missionaries, evangelist,etc. When someone tells someone else “you can’t this seems to cause rebellion in the heart.
    sincerely in Christ.

  5. Your position in this matter may have been arguable had Paul not written verse 12 of 1 Timothy. I’m afraid, as others have pointed out to you, that verse 12 completely undermines your reasoning.

  6. Your arguement for women being deacons does not hold water. This is what you wrote. What about 1 Tim 3:12 – Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
    As this is the same requirement for Elders/Overseers this would seem to preclude the office of Deacon from being fulfilled by a woman, yet it ignored by a surprising number of people. Do you know what preclude means? You use conjecture with worldly reasoning to alter the plain meaning of God inspired scripture to arrive at your chosen conclusion. You wouldn’t happen to be involved with evolution are global warming, would you? This is the first and the last time I will be at this website

  7. The clearest and least forced reading scripture is that both men and women are encouraged to serve God and the church. Paul acclaims both. However, in terms of titled positions, Christ chose all male apostles (and to argue that Christ was conforming to culture is blasphemous – he turned the world on its ear and he would have appointed women to that office had it been the plan of God. THe Holy Spirit, part of the same Godhead as Jesus Christ, wrote in Timothy that it was the order of creation that caused men to the rules and women the followers. The wording of all qualification summaries for elder and deacon and teacher of men is male only. The desire to usurp authority and titles has been the byword of the day. Woman can evangelize, prophesy, be hospitable, instruct one-on-one, and lead worship as Miriam did as long as they are under Godly male authority. Anything else is disorderly.

  8. I’m cetainly glad to see that we still have some good conservative christains in this forum. I attend a church that is having this discussion now and it is very heartbreaking.The bible is our guide and it was written by men of god that was inspired by Jesus.We don’t need a theologine to tell us what the bible means I promise if you will read it and pray about it God will show you what it means. God Bless

  9. Today churches are blessed to have the release of women serving in the position of women deacons in various departments within the ministry.

    Acts 6:3 shows there was a need for some members to take care of the member’s physical need {to serve table} which I believe men may do it, but women may do it better, as we saw in the case of Steven, though he was chosen to be part of those to serve table, but God has something else for him {see Acts 7}.


  10. I would like to know the proper way communion should be served in the Baptist church. Our Pastor gives the deacons theirs in the back and I don’t think that is unity.

  11. Please explain “husband of one wife”… does this refer to plural marriage as in the lifestyle of some Mormans; harems, or to a divorced person??? Does divorce preclude the office of deacon??? It seems that there is one husband/wife relationship even if one is divorced? Persons are no longer married to another.

  12. This for Bill:
    Did you also receive the Baptism of the Holy Ghost with tongue of fire?
    Do you speak in tongue?
    The first intention of the book of acts is historical before being doctrinal.
    The context of choosing seven men is normal because of the time they did it.

  13. Isn’t the word used in verse 11 the Greek word pronounced goo-nay, which means “wife”, and not “women”?..

  14. Glenn, have you read Kostenberger’s commentary on this? He acknowledges that I Tim 3:12 restricts male deacons to those who are the husband of one wife, but he also argues that v.11 refers to women deacons who would not be married, and therefore there is no need to argue that they be wives of one husband.

  15. What about 1 Tim 3:12 – Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
    As this is the same requirement for Elders/Overseers this would seem to preclude the office of Deacon from being fulfilled by a woman, yet it ignored by a surprising number of people.

  16. Good, succinct treatment of the issue, but would you address Acts 6:3 and the instruction to pick seven men? While the specific reference to the diaconal office is lacking here, it seems pretty obvious to me that Acts 6 is the establishment of the office of deacon. I’ve been intrigued with the argument you (and others) advance regarding 1 Timothy 3, but the masculine qualification in Acts 6 has tipped the balance for me toward male-only deacons. I’m open to a different reading, though, if you have one.

  17. I wonder if there’s another reason why marital unfaithfulness isn’t addressed. Perhaps it’s at least in part because husbands’ unfaithfulness wasn’t considered a serious offense in the surrounding culture, whereas wives’ unfaithfulness was. Paul, then, is pointing out that husbands’ faithfulness is paramount for serving God in this capacity with less of a need to point out the same sort of thing for women. It would be like assuming a homosexuality prohibition 100 years ago, as opposed to now when it’s a prominent issue that needs to be addressed.


  1. Samshua » Blog Archive » Women Deacons? - [...] Andreas Kostenberger writes something on the validity of women deacons in accordance with Paul’s letter to Timothy. A while…

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