Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13

This is part three on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’
For part two, click here: Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16


1 Timothy: Intro & Context
By the writing of 1 Timothy, Paul and Timothy had been ministry partners for well over a decade. Years earlier, Paul had planted the church at Ephesus, and preached at the Hall of Tyrannus for over two years. Timothy would later become the pastor. 1 Timothy was written by Paul from Macedonia, to Timothy in Ephesus, regarding some of the struggles of that congregation. It is not possible to know exactly what was happening, but some of the issues can be reconstructed. In fact, Douglass Moo’s advice should be heeded:

We cannot be at all sure about the precise nature of the false teaching and, particularly, about its impact on the women of the church…we must be very careful about allowing any specific reconstruction…we will, then, take a cautious approach to this matter[1]

Whatever was happening, the Gospel was being distorted. See figure 1.

Figure 1.                                   
Descriptions of False Teaching in 1 Timothy:

1:3       Other doctrine
1:4       Myths
1:4       Endless genealogies
1:4       Empty speculation
1:6       Fruitless discussion
1:7       They don’t understand
1:19     Some have rejected these truths
1:19     Some have shipwrecked their faith
4:3       Forbid marriage
4:3       Demand abstinence from certain foods

From what can be reconstructed, it seems that some of the false teaching may have revolved around the women of the congregation. Paul mentions that some of these teachers were forbidding marriage (1 Tim 4:3) and that some women had already turned away to follow Satan (1 Tim 5:15). Whatever was happening in the congregation, the women were likely involved.

In this first chapter Paul puts forth his core advice: command certain people not to teach other doctrine. As one would expect, charging into a congregation, telling people their teaching is wrong, and possibly removing some from positions, will create quite a stir. Conflict would be inevitable. As a result, he tells Timothy in chapter two to pray for all of those involved so that the members of the congregation might lead a quiet and tranquil life. In other words, as Timothy deals with the conflict, he ought to actively work toward peace. Finally, as Paul tells Timothy to seek the peace, he has a word to each gender: The men are to pray and lift up holy hands—and do it without anger or arguing. What Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is said in the context of working toward peace in the midst of conflict. In chapter three, in sharp contrast to the false teachers that had come into Ephesus, Paul sets forth some standards of leadership.

1 Timothy: Translation of 3:1-13

This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy—one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap. Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.[2]

1 Timothy: Exegesis of 3:1-13
Please note that 1 Timothy three is presented first because some of its conclusions affect the interpretation of later chapters. Chapter three of 1 Timothy is not Paul’s official treatise on the various leadership positions in the church. If he were asked to write such a document, it is likely he would have included various other principles. As stated earlier, the point of First Timothy was to respond to the false teachers that had infiltrated the church at Ephesus. Moreover, we get the sense that some of these false teachers were using their position as a means of financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5). Although we have no evidence that the false teachers were deacons or overseers, they were certainly influential. Paul’s listing of the characteristics of both deacons and overseers is in direct response to the misuse of either sanctioned or unsanctioned leadership positions at Ephesus.

There is no way to know the origin of the slogan Paul quotes in verse one, but it does raise a curious question: Does a person need a calling to be a pastor, or is the desire and community affirmation enough? Regardless, Paul affirms the slogan as trustworthy and then goes on to list fourteen attributes of an acceptable overseer. Notice that of all fourteen characteristics, two are a matter of circumstance (being a recent convert and marriage), while two are skills—teaching and managing his household well. Not all teachers are overseers, but all overseers must have the ability to teach. They must also have the skill to run an effective household. The other ten characteristics concern the character of the overseer. Contrary to what is often practiced, Paul places the eligibility of overseers primarily on character. We tend to look at degrees, previous success, or even a person’s social connections within our denomination. Paul puts character first.

Beginning in verse eight, he moves from overseers to deacons, but he compares them when he says ‘likewise.’[3] Meaning, the attributes of a deacon are similar to an overseer. The deacons are given nine characteristics, which, outside of managing a house well, are all issues of character. Once again, in contrast to the greedy false teachers that have infiltrated the church, these leaders must be people of character.

In verse eleven, Paul says that the gunaikas must have certain character traits as well. Gunaikas can mean ‘wives’ or ‘women.’ It is interesting to note the KJV, NIV, and ESV add the possessive ‘their wives,’ indicating they are under the men serving as deacons. The CSB and NAS do not include the possessive, but the NAS uses ‘Women’ while the CSB uses ‘Wives.’ There are several possibilities as to what Paul meant here. See figure 2.

Figure 2.                                  
Possible interpretations of gunaikas in 1 Timothy 3:11

  • Servant girls of the deacons
  • Wives of the deacons
  • Women who are deacons
  • Wives of the deacons who are also deacons

Paul could have meant that these deacons have female helpers who help them do their task. Since the Greek is ambiguous, he could be referring to the wives of the deacons. He could also be referring to women who are deacons, what we typically call deaconesses. Finally, it could be that these ladies were both deaconesses and wives of deacons. Though there is significant debate over what Paul is saying, most of it is irrelevant because of something that is often overlooked.

One aspect that is literally lost in translation (or transliteration) is the meaning of the word diakonoi and its cognates. Unfortunately, we transliterate the word instead of translate it. In SBC life, a deacon is an ordained position. It is also referred to as an office. In koine Greek, however, the word simply meant a servant. It was used to describe someone who waited tables. In fact, there are various uses that support this definition:

“On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (diakonoi)” Matthew 20:26 CSB

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant (diakonoi) of all.” Mark 9:35 CSB

“If anyone serves (diakone) Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there My servant (diakonoi) also will be. If anyone serves (diakone) Me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26

“For government is God’s servant (diakonoi) to you for good” Romans 13:4 CSB

“But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister (diakonoi) of sin? May it never be!” Galatians 2:17 CSB

“I have become its minister (diakonoi), according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known” Colossians 1:25 CSB

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant (diakonon) of the church in Cenchreae.” Romans 16:1 CSB

On multiple occasions this word, whether a verb or a noun, refers to someone who serves. It is strange, then, that we take the same word and transliterate it into an office. One might ask for a rationale for unilaterally dismantling the office of deacon. The burden of proof, however, rests upon the one creating a word that does not exist in scripture. Curiously, both the ESV, KJV, and the NAS translate ei tis episkipos oregetai as ‘office of overseer’ when the word ‘office’ is not present. One might argue that it is implied, but it is only implied by our culture and thus the translation is isogetical rather than exegetical. The CSB and NIV properly translate the phrase without the word ‘office.’ Regardless of one’s view of this particular verse, only the KJV adds the word ‘office’ to the position of deacon (1 Tim. 3:1,10, 13).

If a deacon is not an office, what is it? It is simply a position of leadership. In fact, the best translation of diakonoi is simply ‘servant-leader.’ Why not servant?—because a simple servant would not require such high standards. Someone who shows up early to help set up chairs could be a seeker. Diakonoi best describes someone who serves in a way that is affirmed by the church. A Biblical diakonoi is someone who has been given responsibility, but is not an overseer or elder. The best contemporary example is something akin to today’s director. The director of the food pantry ministry is not an elder or overseer. He or she does not need to know how to teach or translate Greek. He or she is a servant who takes away work from the elders/overseers so that they can focus on the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6:2). Today’s children’s director, choir director, head janitor, or office administrator best fits the description of diakonoi.

Some might argue that we do not ordain these positions. That is true. But ordination, as practiced by contemporary Protestantism, is not Biblical. We only find one instance of the word ‘ordination’ being used in the New Testament. It is found in Titus 1:5 in the KJV only:

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.[4]

That is Old English and every significant translation (CSB, NASB, NIV, ESV) uses the word ‘appoint’ rather than ‘ordain’ to translate katasteses. In the Old Testament, human ordination was used for only one thing: to set aside Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. Unless we abandon priesthood of the believer, we may not apply Old Testament ordination to New Testament elders and overseers—certainly not deacons.

1 Timothy: Conclusion from 3:1-13
The issue of deacons, ordination, and women in ministry is Biblically irrelevant. Since a deacon is a servant-leader, women can and always have been Biblical deacons. Since there is no such thing as a New Testament ordination, such a practice is also Biblically irrelevant.

We do run into several cultural issues, however. In SBC ecclesiology, we do practice an affirmation process we call ordination that is usually set aside for the position of elder/overseer. We also have deacons that do not function as diakonoi, but as elders/overseers. In today’s SBC culture, it would not be appropriate to ordain a woman a deacon, because today’s deacons generally act as Biblical overseers/elders. Moreover, even though New Testament ordination does not exist, we generally use ordination to affirm a person in the role of an overseer/elder. Since that is the case, it would also not be appropriate to ordain women.

Women in Ministry: Intro
Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:1-2
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28
Women in Ministry: Current practice & belief of the SBC
Women in Ministry: Personal practice & belief
Women in Ministry: Epilogue

[1] Piper and Grudem, ed., Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 180-181.

[2]1 Timothy 3:1-13 (CSB).

[3] 1 Timothy 3:8 (ESV).

[4] Titus 1:5 (KJV), Emphasis added.


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