Help with 1 Timothy 3:11

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Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
I recently got into a debate with someone on Facebook regarding 1 Timothy 3:11. In his opinion, this passage allows for women to be deacons, and many others such as Mark Dever would agree. The KJV, ESV, HCSB and other translations render this passage something like this, "Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things." This translation would seem to indicate that Paul is referring to the wives of deacons. Other versions, such as the NASB and the NIV 2011 would render it something like, "Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things." Some have interpreted this to mean that Paul is including women among those who are eligible to be deacons. The debate revolves around the Greek word gune, which can be interpreted as "woman" or "wife." Those who argue for "woman" point out that in all other instances where gune is translated as "wife" there is a possesive pronoun accompanying it, therefore since there is not a possesive pronoun in this passage, it must be translated as "woman" or "women." My question is 1. Which is the correct way to translate this word?, and 2. Even if "women" is the correct translation, does this passage actually allow for female deacons?
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
In greek, the word for 'wife' and 'woman' is the same. So it is based in the context how it is to be interpreted/translated. So Bill what does the context say, does it lead to women or wives?

Anyone want to comment on why wife/woman there is accusative [direct object] (as well as all the descriptions of her/them)?
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Much of the diaconal work in the early church - and it should still be the case if we are being biblical - was the provision of welfare for the poor Christians and maybe some others.

I wonder if the "women" being referred to here are women, e.g. who had the cooking skills necessary, and who assisted the male, office-bearing deacons in their task of providing meals and/or clothing for the poor (?)

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers,[b pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1-4, ESV)

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. (Acts 9:36-39)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I would have to say, firstly, that it would be an odd insertion. Do these need to be "special-qualities" of especially the "women deacons?" Do they not need the former qualities, or do they need them plus the latter? Do the men need to be the latter, or not?

V12 continues like this: "Let the deacons be the husband of one wife." Full stop. Does the "deaconess" need any such qualification? In a polyandrous culture, can she have two husbands? If she is one of two or more wives, can she be a deacon? Wouldn't these be natural questions, if Paul made such a clear statement concerning the men?

Why does Paul call these "women" and not "deaconesses?" It's not as if there wasn't a feminine form, as Rom.16:1 has often been brought forth as a text that sets forth an example of one such "officer," Phoebe, there referred to as a "servant," literally "διακονον." But here, where it would have been a clear statement of the fact of such an office, the word is absent.


This expression may very well refer to the "wives" of both kinds of officers, an observation that makes obvious sense in the context (to which Calvin agrees as the sense). Whereupon, Paul returns to the deacon one more time (v12) to say of them what he had formerly said of the elder (and left off of the deacon qualifications vv8-10). v13 indicates both the high-value of the deacon, valuable in-and-of itself and for its potential in forming and identifying men who may "rise" to elder-office, that needs men of "good standing" and "boldness." There is no room in the eldership for "obtaining" such qualities. They must be present already is some degree in those who would be selected.

The traditional rendering is preferable in every way, other than to the modern "democratic" attitudes that favor leveling of all distinction and order--whether in creation, or any society even ecclesiastic. I do admit, however, that the alternative has had its defenders going back in history, and not just in the 19th and 20th centuries.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
I certainly don't hold to the "deaconness" view, but was wondering if these were non-ordained female helpers of the deacons, under the authority of the male diaconate.

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (I Tim 2:12)

If a woman was ordained to the office of the diaconate she would have a place of authority in the church, over the other men, women and children, which would contradict what the Apostle says in the above verse.

I think you've basically answered my point about female helpers in the negative, Bruce. Thanks for the insights.
 

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
The traditional rendering is preferable in every way, other than to the modern "democratic" attitudes that favor leveling of all distinction and order--whether in creation, or any society even ecclesiastic. I do admit, however, that the alternative has had its defenders going back in history, and not just in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Thank you, Rev. Buchanan, you have been most helpful. One more question though, what do you make of the assertion that in EVERY other instance of the word gune being translated as wife, there is a possesive pronoun accompanying it, and since there is no possesive pronoun present in this passage, it MUST be translated as "women."
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
My pastor sees this as an additional requirement that applies to deacons. If they are married, it must be to someone of discretion and good reputation because she is likely to be privy to the sometimes sensitive needs that are at addressed by the deacons.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
I might question the practicality of trying to argue either position starting from the 1 Timothy 3 passage. You'll just talk around each other. The best arguments for either side come from elsewhere, and it is those positions that determine how one interprets the admittedly uncertain language in 1 Timothy.

If you want to defend a male-only diaconate, you need to establish:
1. The male headship principle in Scripture and that' it's still applicable today
2. That the role of the diaconate falls under such headship
and only then...
3. That passages speaking directly about deacons are consistent with and supportive of a male-only understanding

Liberals and certain others, mostly with a lower view of Scripture, deny #1.
Some evangelicals, including some in groups like the PCA, deny #2.
Hence their interpretation regarding #3.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Thank you, Rev. Buchanan, you have been most helpful. One more question though, what do you make of the assertion that in EVERY other instance of the word gune being translated as wife, there is a possesive pronoun accompanying it, and since there is no possesive pronoun present in this passage, it MUST be translated as "women."
It probably shouldn't have a possessive, if the sense of the single term covers both the wives of elders and deacons. Otherwise, one looks to the immediate antecedent for the presumptive reference, and might overlook the serial nature of the passage. I could accept an argument that "Their" could/should be left out of our translations. But that only forces the question back one step, demanding of the reader the work of separating what looks like a "universal" statement (if "women") or quasi-universal (if "wives" without a reference). The context implies some kind of reference, so is it to an implied noun, i.e. generic or specific "office?" Or to the officers already mentioned (not "office" in the abstract)?

In this case, all the language states is "Wives," which is immediately inclusive--all wives? not sensible in the context; it would be even more odd if he meant "Women" universally, or even women in the church. So wives/women pertaining to what/whom? Related to church officers is the most reasonable conclusion. I'll put it this way: these wives of the ordained would be among the most likely candidates for fulfilling special women-to-women roles in the church. But the fact is that the biblical faith does not establish such an office--it must be read-into the materials that are there. The honest liberals recognize this, and dismiss Paul and the rest of the apostles as locked into the prejudice of their time. In the main, it is evangelical collaborators who are looking to find a way to be respectably modern and still hold on to something that looks and sounds like biblical authority.

Consider 1Cor.9:5 as a truly relevant text shedding light on this one. μὴ οὐκ ἔχομεν ἐξουσίαν ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα περιάγειν, ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ Κυρίου καὶ Κηφᾶς; In other words, for an officer not to have a wife, and even occasionally to travel with them, all the way up to the apostolic office--this was typical. For Paul to make reference to the qualities of these women would not have been extraordinary at all. In fact, it probably indicates that among the attributes of an officer, having a wife with these qualities should be seen as eminently commending them to the church.

And Jack has a good analysis of how the whole question should be approached. What is the framework for discussion? Are we starting with a biblical mind, regarding fundamentals?
 
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