must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips,|
but temperate, faithful in all things. 1
Timothy 3:11 NASB
The meaning of gunikos in 1 Ti. 3:11 has been of much debate
throughout the history of the church. Conservative evangelical scholars
have adopted a variety of possibilities (some with sound biblical support)
that will be presented in this paper. The primary issue under consideration
deals with the role of certain women within the church. Based on this
verse, I do not believe that there is any justification to elevate a woman
to an authoritative role of leadership (as the early heretic Montanus
suggested-c.f. 2:12). However, depending upon the interpretation, a woman's
role as a "deaconess"/deacon's wife or a man's role as a deacon will be
affected. A brief exegetical overview will be followed by a summary of
the hermeneutical considerations. My conclusions and interpretation of
1 Timothy 3:11 will culminate the paper.
- The Greek word gunikos Feminine/Plural/Accusative-Noun)
is found in this form in 11 verses in the New Testament (Mt. 19:8; Ac.
8:3; 9:2; 13:50; 22:4; 1 Cor. 7:29; Eph. 5:25, 28; Col. 3:19; 1 Ti.
2:9, 3:11). In the NASB the word is translated "women" 6 times and "wives"
5 times (it could also be translated "widow," "bride," or "any adult
female"). Both times in 1 Timothy (NASB), the Greek word is translated
- In the lexical form (gune) is primarily translated "woman"
(95 times), "wife" (72 times) and "women" (33 times). Context must determine
which translation is appropriate
- The word occurs two other times in 1 Timothy 3 (vs. 3, 12) and context
necessitates the translation "wife."
- The general context is 2:8-3:16 where Paul is discussing, "how people
ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church
of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).
The two sections are not to be isolated or allowed to contradict (remember
the NT did not originally have chapter notations). The specific context
is 3:1-3:13 where Paul is discussing church officers (elders and deacons).
- The following versions have chosen these translations of gunikos
in 1 Tim. 3:11: (KJV-"their wives," ASV-"women," NIV-"their wives,"
NASB-"women," RSV-"the women," NKJ-"their wives," YLT-"women," NLT-"their
- The women are unmarried female assistants to the deacons (i.e.
Though this view (see George Knight-NIGNT, The Pastoral Epistles and
Robert Lewis-BibSac-V136#542-"they are unmarried women committed unconditionally
to the service of the church and who in meeting certain character qualities,
have been enlisted to aid the deacons in the outworking of their office."),
has been suggested (married women are to devote themselves to the home
(1 Tim. 2:9-15; 5:8, 14, 16; 2 Tim. 3:14-15; Tit. 2:3-5) and make their
involvement in the church a "branch" of her primary home ministry-single
women have more time to be devoted to the church (1 Cor. 7:32-35) and
meet the demands of deacon work) it carries little weight when one considers
Paul's desire for purity in the church. It is very unlikely that Paul
would provide an opportunity for unmarried couples to intimately engage
in on-going corporate ministry (see 1 Tim. 2:9; 5:6, 11, 15).
- The women are women in general in the church
The context appears to clearly rule out this option. Why would Paul
senselessly interrupt his orderly discourse on deacons (3:8-10, 12-13)
to instruct women in general in the church? His instructions to women
are found in 1 Ti. 2:9-15.
- The women are deaconesses
As mentioned in the introduction, I have already ruled out this interpretation
in relation to a third office of church leadership ruling on par with
the male deacons and elders (see 1 Ti. 2:11). Within this argument,
some believe that 1 Tim. 3:8-13 speaks to male and female deacons together
as a whole. However, this interpretation holds no weight (Why did Paul
wait until the end to mention women? Why are the qualifications in 3:11
almost parallel to those of a male deacon...is that not redundant?)
The other option is to present this class
of women as those who function as "deaconesses" without any leadership
responsibilities (John MacArthur-MacArthur NT Commentary Series, 1 Timothy
and Ronald Ward-Ronald Ward Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus,
C.E. Cerling-JETS, 19/3 (Summer, 1976), 212). There is good support
for this position:
- There is no "their" (possessive pronoun) in the Greek preceding
the word "women." This seems to rule out "their women" (used by
some biblical translators) in reference to the deacon's wives. Furthermore
there is no definite article (the) before "women" in the original
- Verse 3:11 is introduced with the word "likewise" (semnos). This
sets apart a third distinct group to be considered for an office.
Paul set a precedence for this in 1 Tim. 3:8 when he contrasted
deacons from elders.
- Phoebe in Romans 16:1 is identified as a diakonos ("servant").
This is the same Greek word used for deacons in 1 Ti. 3:11. It is
very probable that Phoebe, who was entrusted with a important task,
was a deaconess.
- There was no NT word in the Greek language for deaconess at the
time. However, the word does appear later in post-biblical literature
(diakonos), the First Council of Nicea, (A.D. 325). Since Paul
had no options available, he was forced to go with the generic term
for women (gunikos) to distinguish them from the male deacons.
Furthermore, this is why he was forced to go with the masculine
form of the word in Romans 16:1.
- If this refers to character qualifications for deacon's wives,
why does Paul not give any qualifications for elder's wives (in
either Timothy or Titus)? Surely one would be more concerned with
their conduct as the wife of a pastor/overseer/elder of the church.
- There were deaconesses in the early church (though they were never
considered to be equal in status with the male diaconate). Though
deaconesses began to demise near the end of the first millennium
(Western church-8th century, Eastern church-10th century), we do
have mention of "deaconesses" in the early church (the Syrian Didascalia
Apostalorum (third century) and the Apostolic Constitutions (fourth
century). Earlier than this, the only evidence comes from a questionable
document written by a secular authority (Pliny, governor of Bithynia
in his letter to Trajan) in A.D. 111.
- The women are wives of the deacons
against the views for deaconesses:
- There is no definite article (the) or possessive
pronoun (their) before the word "women" which would qualify these
women as wives. But this argument goes both ways. Why didn't
he say, "Women who serve as deacons?" (That one is more difficult
to explain!). Additionally, the verse is sandwiched between information
on male deacons. Why would he have to add "their?" Doesn't the context
clearly specify them as "their wives?" In reference to the definite
article, Paul in this whole section refers to people anarthrously
(without the definite article). See 3:2 (husband, wife), 3:4 (children),
3:8 (deacons) and 3:12 (deacons, husbands, wife and children). The
only exception is 3:2 where the definite article is before "overseer."
Omission of a definite article in 3:11 is not a case for deaconesses;
it is a case for consistency in Paul's grammatical usage.
- Verse 11 begins with the word "likewise."
This argument holds no ground. It can simply mean that deacon's
wives were to be dignified similar to their husbands (Strauch says
"likewise actually works for all...views" (except #2). When Paul uses
the word "likewise" (hosautos) in the Pastoral Epistles it does
not always refer to an office, it simply indicates the change of
focus to a new people group (1 Ti. 2:9, 5:25; Tit. 2:3, 6). If the
"likewise" refers to a new office (deaconesses), verse 12 (returning
to male deacons) would have to be viewed as an after-thought in
Paul's mind. But that verse contains important qualifications, qualifications
required for elders as well (1 Ti. 3:2, 4; Tit. 1:6).
- Phoebe was identified as a deaconess in
Romans 16:1. First, the Greek word under consideration
(used 29 times in the NT-based on the lexical form diakonos) is
always translated "servant" (with the exception of three obvious
occurrences when it speaks of the office-Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8,
12). There is no contextual evidence in 16:1 to suggest that diakonon
be translated "deaconess." Second, Paul forbid women in the
church from holding leadership positions of authority (1 Tim. 2:12).
Third, Phoebe's reception in Rome had nothing to do with
her office. She was to be "received...in the Lord in a way worthy
of the saints." Paul urged the church to receive her as a "saint,"
not as a "deaconess." Paul's whole point is that she is worthy to
be served because of her service, not because of her office. Fourth,
Paul description of Phoebe's service is not that of deacon-like
like duties, but rather faithful service. When Paul says, "For she
herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well,"
he is most likely speaking of her service to him as a "servant,"
not a "deaconess" (some argue that prostatis means "ruler" or "leader"
(which it can), but it can also mean "patron" or "helper." Context
must determine. If we think Phoebe was a "ruler," are we to believe
that she exercised rule over an Apostle ("she herself has also been
a helper (prostatis) of many, and of myself as well"-Rom. 16:2)?
Finally, diakonos is used of (Christ-Rom. 15:8) other servants,
clearly identified with a church and Bible translators never refer
to them as "deacons." Additionally, what we know about these
individuals makes it very unlikely that they were deacons (see 1
Tim. 4:6-Timothy, Col. 1:7-Epaphras). Therefore the word diakonos
in reference to an individual does not necessitate a reference to
the office of deacon/deaconess.
- There was no NT word available for "deaconess."
Yes, but this never stopped Paul in the past. Often in the
Pastoral Epistles and elsewhere Paul shows a readiness to create
his own words to meet his pressing needs. If he was speaking of
a different office (deaconesses) he probably would have come up
with a different word to prevent confusion. Also he could have put
the feminine article (tas) before the word (diakonos) to prevent
any misunderstanding. He used a specific title for the office of
"overseer" (3:2) and "deacon" (3:8, 12), why not a specific title
here-especially if they were church officers?
- No qualifications are provided for elder's
wives. This is an argument from silence and assumes that
1 Tim. 3 is a formal list. In listing these qualifications in 1
Ti. 3, Paul was developing an ad hoc list related to specific problems
in Ephesus. The list in Titus is similar, but partially different
in some qualifications. Most likely, deacons' wives were listed
because the deacon's responsibilities (visitations, etc.) directly
involved their wives more than an elder's role (there is sound biblical
support that an elder's wife cannot directly support the elder in
the work of teaching and leading, however the same is not true for
the duties of a deacon and involvement of their wife). It is also
common for Paul to go on "parenthetical tangents" in his writings.
I believe the thought of deacons' wives came to his mind at the
spur of the moment when he considered the role of a deacon. He spoke
of the wives in one verse and then concluded well by combining the
general context of deacon's qualifications (3:8-12) and the specific
context of deacon's wives (3:11) together in 3:12.
- There were deaconesses in the early church.
We know that there were deaconesses in the church in the
later centuries, but it is debatable if they were present in the
first century. Regardless, church history tells us nothing about
this verse. The post-apostolic church fathers were neither divinely
inspired nor inerrant in their practices. Therefore, the existence
of deaconesses in later centuries is not proof that this office
has apostolic sanction. Church history scholar, Roger Gryson, concluded,
"The beginnings of a feminine diaconate are indeed in shadow and
darkness, and difficult to perceive with any exactness."
for this position:
- Barring the slim exception in Romans 16:1, there are no references
to deaconesses in the whole Bible. Basing a theology on one verse
(and a very debatable verse at that) is unwise.
- If 3:11 does speak of a third office, one would expect more detail,
especially since women were involved in the heresy in Ephesus mentioned
throughout the letter. Would their requirements be lighter? Furthermore,
all three lists (1 Ti. 3:2, 12; Tit. 1:6) in the Pastoral Epistles
for an office speak of marital fidelity (as does the widow list
in 1 Ti. 5:9), but no comments are made for this supposed category
- The word gune, is always translated "wife" in 1 Timothy 3. Even
context in the next verse (3:12) demands this translation. o Why
did Paul not greet the "deaconesses" in Philippians 1:1 (beyond
1 Ti. 3, the only other occurrence of the word "deacon")? Why would
he slight this office of women?
- Often people claim that women are specifically needed to oversee/help
the affairs of other women, hence the biblical office of a "deaconess."
This may be true from a practical argument, but not a biblical argument.
It is germane to note that when the Apostles needed individuals
to care for the Hellenistic widows, they appointed 7 men (Ac. 6:3).
- The specific qualifications seem indicative of the deacon's wives
role in minor assistance to their husbands. Also, their qualifications
do not call for them to be "tested" and "above reproach" (elder/deacon
qualifications) since, unlike their husbands, they are not elected
to an office.
- The context, both before and after 3:11, is the qualifications
of a male deacon. The character of a man's wife and children are
essential to evaluate his ability to manage his household. The issue
is "character," not "office." His wife should not receive any more
consideration for an "office" than his children.
- Since verse 11 is sandwiched between Paul's discussion of male
(3:12) deacons (3:8-10, 12-13) it seems natural that he is speaking
of their wives. Anything else would be an awkward switch of discussion.
Verse 11 simply goes with verse 12 and spells out what should be
true of a deacon's home life. After giving the qualification of
his wife (vs. 11), Paul goes on to discuss the deacon's fidelity
to his wife and control of his children (in some ways then, like
an elder's children, they have qualifications too), concluding with
the summarizing statement of overall family/household control (vs.
- "The arguments for such an office, and for Phoebe being the only "deaconess"
ever named in the New Testament are few and far from convincing." (Bob
Deffinbaugh-Was Phoebe a Deaconess? Personal Paper, www.bible.org?)
ß "It seems more likely that the wives of deacons are covered by the
requirement that the deacon should superintend over his own household."
(Homer Kent-Commentary, The Pastoral Epistles)
- "It seems doubtful to this writer that Paul used the word deacon
in the official sense when speaking of these women. Phoebe was a helper
of the church but not a member of an order of deaconesses. The women
mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:11 are probably the wives of the deacons who
helped the men with their work." (Charles Ryrie- Bibliotheca Sacra,
#457, Jan 58-63)
- "The fact that no special and separate paragraph
is used in describing these necessary qualifications, but that these
are simply wedged between the stipulated requirements for deacons, with
equal clarity indicates that these women were not to be regarded as
constituting a third office of the church...endowed with authority equal
to that of the deacons." (William Hendrickson-NT Commentary, 1 Timothy)
ß "In spite of this weight of scholarly opinion, we are still inclined
to favor the idea that the reference is to "their wives." (Ralph Earle-Expositors
Bible Commentary-1 Timothy)
- "If we accept the interpretation that
the women are "deacons' wives," then we see that verse 11 is not an
awkward interruption of thought in the midst of male deacons' requirements...Therefore,
we can conclude that Paul is referring to wives who help their deacon
husbands." (Alexander Strauch-Emmaus Journal, Vol. 1:3, Fall 1992, 199)
- "The office or ministry of deaconess...is poorly attested in the New
Testament. Only two passages (Rom. 16:1; 1 Tim. 3:11) might suggest
the office of deaconess, but both are obscure." (Wayne House-Bibliotheca
Sacra, #581, Jan 89)
- "Verse 11 looks like an interlude, and some have
suggested that it points to an order of deaconesses. Although such an
order is not impossible, the primary reference is probably to deacons'
wives (as the NIV)." (D.A. Carson-The New Bible Commentary)
- "One has to be cautious today about shifting how the church should
look just because of society's critical evaluation of us. The world
has always been critical of the church; and, although we don't wish
to cause unnecessary offense, we must never violate our conscience nor
our understanding of Scripture. I may be well wrong with my interpretation
of this particular issue (that 3:11 does not refer to "deaconesses"),
but I am sure of one thing: the only arguments that will convince me
otherwise must resonate with the Word of God." (Daniel Wallace-Personal
- Based on the evidence, I favor the view which suggests these women
were the wives of deacons. They were not deaconesses nor were they elected/appointed
to an office of leadership like their husbands. Rather, the qualities
are specifically (and ultimately) identified as a means to evaluate
a man's character in managing his own household well (as based on the
context in the section).
- Since the elder's wife is not specifically mentioned earlier, I believe
the deacon's wife needed special attention due to the responsibilities
of her husband and her potential minor assistance in some areas. One
can easily see the upheaval if a deacon's wife was not above reproach
in the four qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:11 (gossip, faithfulness, temperance,
dignity) since the work of a deacon involves finances and assisting
- I do not believe the text is limiting feminine "deacon
work" (i.e. areas of practical service) only to the deacon's wife, but
rather assuming they will have some minor role due to the proximity
with their husbands.
- Furthermore, I have no problem with a special
set of women (in a non-office setting...related/not related personally
to the deacons...under the authority of the deacons) that can minister
to other women and needy people in the church (like those in the early
church who visited the sick, distributed provisions among the poor,
aided women in baptismal ceremonies, visited Christian women in pagan
households, assisted the ill, comforted the lonely, visited those in
jail and prayer). Without any doubt, there are practical, spiritual
and emotional needs women can meet better than men. However, I believe
that Paul is not referring to this ministry in 1 Timothy 3:11 and we
should not call this particular group of ladies "deaconesses" (anything
else is acceptable!) to prevent confusion.
Are The Women in 1 Tim.3:11?
Desired Character (No Office or Service)
Women in the Church
Wife (Non-leadership Office)
Regardless of which major heading above is chosen, there is considerable
overlap between the specific categories as the position becomes further
If the interpretation carries one to
believe that the role is an office or that the women (wives or not)
function similar to the male deacons, the women should likewise be
voted into office.
All of these options are worthy of consideration
and supported by conservative evangelical scholars with reasonable
support, except two ... first, it is difficult to suggest that the role
of deaconess is an official church office of leadership (what I mean
by the designation "Leadership Office") on par with deacons (some
say that Deaconesses are an office, but not in a leadership capacity--that
is much different). Second, context makes the third option (every
woman's character) very unlikely as well.
Another point to consider is the essence
of male deacons. Some (not I) believe that they are merely servants
in both function and essence, whereas they do not constitute the leadership
of the church alongside elders.
Regardless of what we choose to call
them, women throughout church history have provided special service
needs within the church and should continue in those valuable roles
today where they can supplement, compliment and even exceed what the
male deacon could provide (ministry to the sick and widowed, hospitality,
fellowship functions, women baptisms, etc.).
"Deaconess" Title (Major Assistant)
Qualified Lady (Assistants)
of the Deacon's Qualifications (Minor Assistants)
Wife (Non-leadership Assistants)
of the Deacon's Qualifications (Not Assistants)