Assertion: A male-only diaconate is not only correct, but importantly correct.
Denial: Women are not permitted to be deacons in Christ’s church. It is no unimportant matter that they’re barred from the diaconate.
Even among conservative evangelicals, there is debate about whether women are permitted to be deacons. There is no such debate about the pastorate (those who do argue that women can be qualified elders are not submitted to Christ’s Lordship, like many ornery, braying asses).
Why does the debate about the diaconate exist? Some who argue for female deacons do so because they’ve been infected by feminism and are strategically taking what they can get, playing a long-game to erode the integrity of the church. But such men are not conservative evangelicals.
Why are there truly conservative, evangelical men, truly faithful and pursuing faithfulness, who argue for women deacons? The reason is that the explicit text citing the qualifications for the diaconate is linguistically unclear, or at least much less clear and more ambiguous than texts pertaining to the eldership.
1 Timothy 3:8-13 reads:
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.10And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
(King James Version)
The key verse is verse 11, which says that “their wives [must] be grave…” The Greek word translated as “wives” is Γυναῖκας. In Greek, the same word is used for “wives” and “women”. Only context tells you which way to read it (see 1 Corinthians 11).
Some argue that verse 11 provides a parallel qualification list for the office, and so Γυναῖκας ought to be understood as “women” and specifically female deacons holding an equivalent office as the male deacons.
Others are unsure whether to read Γυναῖκας as “wives” or “women”. If it ought to be translated as “women”, they think it is possible that that means Paul affirms deaconesses, holding parallel office to male deacons. And, so, they conclude that the linguistic ambiguity makes it a tertiary issue, adiaphora, over which we can disagree, even within the same church, and not break fellowship.
In contrast to these two takes, it is my contention that the case for a male-only diaconate is clear and necessary, and important beyond the realm of tertiary matters.
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul prohibits women from exercising authority over men. They are not to be leaders of men. They cannot, therefore, be officers over men. With that as the ground, women prohibited from holding office over men, and men commanded to lead, Paul then moves to make plain what kind of men are qualified to lead. Men are to lead, and these men are to be qualified. This applies both to the office of elder/pastor/bishop and the office of deacon.
This reading of 1 Timothy 2-3 is perfectly consistent with what we see in Acts 6, where the office of deacon has its origin. The apostles were pastoring the church in Jerusalem. But their ability to dedicate themselves to oversee the congregation through prayer and the teaching of the Bible was threatened by practical, administrative needs that arose. Specifically, there was an issue with the feeding of widows in the church. This was a problem specifically dealing with ladies in the church. Did the apostles instruct the church to select godly women to address the problem? No. They instructed the church to choose Spirit-filled, godly men to address the need.
Acts 6:1-7 reads:
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.4But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.5And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
Though there was a need to care for women in the church, only men were selected. This job that, for the sake of godliness in the assembly, needed to be done, became the responsibility of these seven deacons. If it failed to get done, it would be their fault. If it would succeed, it was their duty to lead and organize members to get it done. If there were any questions pertaining to the feeding of the widows, members were to come to these deacons, keeping the elders free to focus on their duty in Word and prayer.
Deacons are officers in the assembly whose job it is to ensure that the physical needs of the assembly are well-addressed. They are in charge. They lead in these matters. They organize and instruct and command.
Doctrinally, Paul establishes that this office is for men only. Descriptively, Luke tells us that men only were chosen in Jerusalem.
And both passages are consistent with the light of nature. The natural order testifies that it is good and right for men to lead, for men to wield authority, for women to encourage that leadership and to obey and submit to it insofar as it does not require rebellion against God. Nature itself testifies that women are to follow the leadership of good men, as they give particular attention to caring for and nurturing children, those who will be future men and women. Men are the leaders, the grafters, the fighters. Women are the helpers, the nurturers, the beautifiers, and glorifiers.
Acts, the Epistles, and Nature, all three as sources of Divine revelation, are in agreement. That makes it a clear issue.
Because the issue is a matter of the natural order, it is a matter of fundamental importance. Only when a people are conformed to the natural order of God’s world will that people be appropriately fruitful in God’s world. It is contra nature for a woman of God to take up office over His people.
Isaiah 3:12 reads:
O My people! Their oppressors are children,
And women rule over them.
O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray
And confuse the direction of your paths.