Phoebe the Deaconess

The apostle Paul mentioned Phoebe the “diakonon” in Rom 16:1. The word is both the masculine and feminine version of the Koine Greek word for deacon, or servant.

PhoebePaul wrote to Timothy in I Timothy 3:11 that deacons should be mature, etc., and then he said, “Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.” The “likewise” indicated that the women deacons were to have similar qualifications to the men deacons.

Compare the Apostle Paul’s use of the term “likewise” or “in like manner” in:

Rom 1:27 “The women likewise abandoned the proper use of the body…”

I Cor 7:3 “Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

I Cor 7:4 “The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife.”

I Cor 7:22 “For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord’s freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ’s bondservant.”

Titus 2:2-5 “that aged men be temperate, grave, sober-minded, sound in faith, in love, in patience: that aged women likewise be reverent in demeanor, not slanderers nor enslaved to much wine, teachers of that which is good, that they may train the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sober-minded, chaste, workers at home, kind, being in subjection to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed: the younger men likewise exhort to be sober-minded…”

Those who object to women holding the office of deacon have translated “women” in I Tim 3 as “wives [of deacons]”; Koine Greek does not distinguish between the words “woman” and “wife” (as in many languages), so the context has to dictate which applies. Why would Paul require deacons’ wives to be temperate and mature, but not require elders’ wives to be temperate and mature, when elders were usually designated as having a higher calling than deacons (elders were to teach and shepherd, whereas deacons were to serve)?

On another note, the responsibilities of deacons are never clearly outlined in Paul’s writings, or anywhere in the New Testament. Commentators assume that the seven men chosen to serve the widows in Jerusalem were deacons, but they are never designated as such (Acts 6). This is another argument for the fact that the New Testament was never intended by God, the apostle Paul or anyone, as a blueprint or plan for how the local congregation was to be organized and function for all time.

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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19 Responses to Phoebe the Deaconess

  1. The reference to woman is for the wives of elders and deacons, who are men like Jesus and His Apostles.

    • Might be and might not be their wives. IN this context Paul said “likewise the women also…” meaning “Everything I said about the men applies to the women also…”

      • One would not be consistent to interpret “women” as deaconesses in 1 Tim. 3:11 and not translate “woman” as deaconess in 1 Tim. 3:12 when the “woman” is clearly the wife of the deacons.

      • No it does not say “likewise the women also”, but “Likewise, women”.

        On top of all this, the Greek for “women” in 1 Timothy 3:11 is extended word for woman referring to a wife just as the word “woman” in 1 Timothy 3:12 is extended and certainly refers to the wife of a deacon. The case is closed and your proposition is clearly refuted.

  2. brent bacon says:

    12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

    The deacons question is pretty much solved in these two verses/.

    • Mark says:

      Hi Brent,
      Keep reading: “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”

      • brent bacon says:

        That pertains to the wife of an elder. The wife must have the same qualities of the husband- for that shows the husband manages his household and his marriage in a Godly way. She must not be a gossiper or a bad influence upon a congregation that the husband is overseeing. She must be dignified.

        Nowhere does it say that a woman can be a deacon or an elder- not even if you try to twist it- it doesnt make sense the way you put it- if you just read.

        We dont have women elders or deacons- and wont. Period, enough on that one.

    • Gary Cummings says:

      The logic is that a male deacon is to be faithful to his wife, likewise a female deacon is to be faithful to her husband.

  3. Gary Cummings says:

    The Greek word in relation to Phoebe means deacon. The “ess” was added and is not in the Greek text. There are women who are deacons, prophets, and elders in the NT. In addition , Priscilla was a teacher as much as her husband Aquila was. ,The gifts of the Spirit ars given to believers, without distinction to gender.

  4. brent bacon says:

    Pheobe was a servant- it was only translated into Deacon by a couple of translation- the vast majority have it as servant. Which we are all called to be servants of the local church- even children can be servants.

    • Gary Cummings says:

      If Phoebe is merely a servant , then the males with the same office are merely servants and nothing more. The same Greek word is used for both. Phoebe was a deacon, just like some of the men were. Get over it.

  5. brent bacon says:

    If women are not to lead a man in any way during worship- how can they be a deacon or elder??

    I Corinthians 14
    34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is [n]improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 [o]Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?

    Titus 1
    5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint[a] elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe[b] and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

    No mention of women here at all.

    1 Tim. 2:11 (NET)
    2:11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness.

    But the most important verse that debunks your thought:
    1 Tim. 2:12 (NET)
    2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet.

    How to be an elder or deacon and follow that passage as a woman- impossible.

    • Gary Cummings says:

      The mere possession of a penis is not a qualification for any church office. Phoebe was a deacon, there were female elders (presbytes), Junia was listed as an apostle in Romans 16, and a disciple had daughters who prophesied. Prophecy is preaching God’s will, not channeling the future or reading tea leaves. Paul said in Galatians, that “There is no male or female in Christ.” in his earliest letter (Galatians). This should set the general tone in Paul’s approach to women in ministry. There were specific situations in Corinth where some disruptive women were forbidden to speak, this would apply to disruptive men as well.

    • Mark says:

      Hi Brent,
      The I Cor 14 passage is speaking about the wives of the prophets interrupting their husbands to ask questions as they spoke. The word for women and wives is the same word in Greek (gune), as it is in French, German and many other languages. The context has to determine whether the word is being used for women in general or for wives in particular. So in I Cor 14 he is not talking to women who are unmarried, because he says, “If they have a question, let them ask their husbands at home.” Which husbands? The husbands who were speaking in the assembly. Not husbands who were unbelievers who did not attend the assembly, and not husbands who did attend the assembly, but who were not knowledgeable enough to teach. He was only speaking to the wives of the teachers, who could ask their husbands questions at home.

      The I Tim 2 passage is speaking to a society that did not permit women to go to school or learn or study anything. Paul says they are not to teach (because they haven’t yet learned), but they are to learn or study quietly. (One of the problems in societies where women are not permitted to go to school at all, is that once they gather together in any gathering, they tend to chatter through the entire service. Anyone who has visited one of these societies is familiar with this phenomenon. Kari Malcolm Torjesen speaks of this when her mother would teach in mid-century China in the book, Women at the Crossroads). When the apostle Paul said that women were to learn this was the first time any writer of antiquity (that I know of) recommended that all common ordinary women (in a group) be educated in any way.

      The apostle Paul was not saying that all women everywhere can never teach after they have learned and studied. The apostle Paul was following the example of Jesus, who treated women as equals, and told Martha that Mary had chosen to learn and study from him, which was better than to be scurrying around serving him.

  6. brent bacon says:

    it was junias- iounias.
    The early church fathers are not in agreement about the gender of Junia. There even seems to be evidence that strongly suggests Junia was a male. Commentaries differ on the gender. Translations differ on how Romans 16:7 is to be rendered into English. There are different uses of the Greek word “apostello” and it cannot be conclusively demonstrated to which categorical use of the term Junia should fit into. Even if Junia were an apostle in the sense of having seen the risen Lord it doesn’t mean she was in authority in the Church. Therefore, for someone to conclude that Junia was a woman apostle in full authority in the Church cannot be maintained from the Scriptures.

    To say Junias was a woman means you think Paul was a liar and a hypocrite- which means he was not inspired by God.

    Galations 3
    Galatians 3:25-29
    New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a [a]tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is [b]neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you [c]belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s [d]descendants, heirs according to promise.

    To come from that thinking women are supposed to be head of worship or the to lead men is a real misreading. It means that all are open to his salvation- no matter who you are.

    Women are to be silent in worship and not lead men. It is written many times.

    What translation do you read?

    I use the New American Standard- the most literal translation.

  7. Gary Cummings says:

    I read the ESV, along with the 2011 NIV. To balance I also read the God’s Word Translation. To back up my studies I read the Greek NT, not so well as I once did.
    One error is to use a literal dated translation which does not take the cultural context into mind with translating. The more literal the translation, the more difficult it is to truly interpret the Word of God. Also I think Scripture Interprets Scripture as well, since the NT does clearly call Phoebe a DEACON, and says Junias was an Apostle, that there were female prophets,and PRESBYTES/ female elders, and teachers like Priscilla, this sinks your cherry picking of Scripture, especially since Galatians is the first of Paul’s writings. Men and women are equal in the eyes of God and not just for salvation.

  8. brent bacon says:

    Too much hatred towards int COC in general here. You have a hatred for the COC even though almost every COC I have know are different. Independent. Blanket statements like the ones you make your harmful to you argument of biblical knowledge because it shows no love and patience or even building up of another. Tear down, demean, and call the stupid, blind, and pretty much worthless is getting you nowhere but iscolation. If you are every in Illinois, stop and the Canton Church of Christ- but we will not wash your feet unless you wear sandals and have donkey poop all over them after walking there on dirt roads.

    • Gary Cummings says:

      Brent, I have no intention of visiting any COC, just as I will not visit a Church of Satan or the Moonies. I know the COC code and drill. Been there, done that, preached it and left it.Thank God I only wasted 6 years of my life with the COC cult and not more.

  9. brent bacon says:

    My point made- thank you.

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