Friday, July 31, 2009

A Revealing Letter

I am still going through the material that proves the existence of women deacons in the West—so today, I’m back with a letter from Pope Benedict VIII to Benedict, Bishop of Porto. The Pope confirmed a number of privileges and concessions for the Bishop, among them the issue of ordination of women deacons:

“In the same way, we concede and confirm to you and to your successors in perpetuity every episcopal ordination (ordinationem episcopalem), not only of presbyters but also of deacons OR DEACONESSES (diaconissis) or subdeacons.”

Regarding this letter, Madigan and Osiek write:

“IN SPITE OF ALL THE EARLIER EFFORTS OF WESTERN COUNCILS TO ELIMINATE DEACONESSES, it is remarkable to find a pope, early in the ELEVENTH CENTURY not only recognizing the office of deaconess but acknowledging that THE RITE OF INITIATION IS AN ORDINATION” (“Ordained Women in the Early Church,” page 148).

In addition, notice that the “deaconesses” are placed in the same group as “deacons” and “presbyters.” Deaconesses were considered to be part of the ordained leadership of the church.

But the attitude of many evangelical conservatives today has strayed from the attitude of their ancestors. John Hammett, author of “Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology,” lays out both sides of the issue regarding whether or not women should be deacons:

“The Interpreter’s Bible treatment of this verse helpfully summarizes the arguments on both sides. In favor of seeing the verse as referring to deaconesses are the following:
1. It appears in a context dealing specifically with church order.
2. The word ‘hosautos,’ [meaning] ‘in the same way,’ is used in verse 8 to introduce the qualifications for deacons; its usage in verse 11 indicates the introduction of a new category parallel to deacons.
3. The virtues required in verse 11 are similar to those required for deacons, arguing for a similar office.
4. If verse 11 refers to deacons’ wives, why is there no reference to the wives of elders?
5. If the writer meant to refer to wives, he would have added the pronoun ‘their,’ but it is missing.

In support of the view that ‘gynaikas’ refers to the wives of deacons are the following points:
1. If the writer meant deaconess, why use ‘gynaikas’?
2. The list of qualifications is much shorter than that for deacons or elders, too short for a new office.
3. There is an office for women, discussed at length in 1 Timothy 5:9-16.
4. Deacons’ wives fits the flow of thought in verses 8-13 (deacons, their wives, their marital and family life).
5. Deacons’ wives would inevitably be involved in their ministries to some extent and, therefore, needed to be women of character, not prone to gossiping or drunkenness.”
(“Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology,” by John S. Hammett. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Kregel Publications, 2005, pages 199-200.)

After listing the arguments from both sides, Hammett gives his choice:

“Of the two sets of arguments the arguments in favor of deaconess appear to be the weaker…three of the arguments for seeing ‘gynaikas’ as wives (arguments 1,4, and 5) are quite strong and without convincing rebuttal from the opposing side. Therefore, it seems that 1 Timothy 3:11 is not a biblical basis for the office of deacon, but rather, adds another qualification for the office of deacon. To be qualified for the office of deacon, a man MUST HAVE A WIFE OF CHARACTER, who can be trusted to assist her husband in the diaconal ministry” (200).

I could attack all the arguments that Hammett lists for the other side, but I will invest my time in dealing with the three powerful arguments he thinks are the best against the idea of women deacons.
First, there is argument #1: “If the writer meant ‘deaconess,’ why use ‘gynaikas’? The term ‘deaconess’ did not come into existence until, at the earliest, the third century. Paul’s letter was written to Timothy in the first century AD; this means that the word ‘deaconess’ would not have been used here by Paul, since the term itself didn’t become a part of ordinary language until at least TWO-HUNDRED YEARS later.
Secondly, Paul uses the word ‘gynaikas’ to distinguish from the male deacons he has just mentioned in the text. The first deacons of the church were appointed in Acts 6, due to the need for servants to aid the everyday needs of the people (Gentile widows). The apostles said the following:

"It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, (C) full of the Spirit (D) and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry." (Acts 6:2-4, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The word for “men” here is “andras,” which means that only seven MALES were selected. Paul had to distinguish females (women) from males (men), so the word “women” is used instead of “deaconess.” The fact that Paul mentioned “women” in a section on deacons shows us that Paul was not as against women in church leadership as most conservatives believe.

The next response Hammett valued was that “the deacon’s wife” fits the logic of verses 8-13. However, what is the true context of verses 8-13? Is it family life? Or is a godly family life part of the requirement for those who would serve in the church? The context of 1 Timothy 3 is the church, NOT the home.

Next, notice that the requirements of the “gynaikas” are very similar to that of the male deacon’s.

First, look at verse 8: “Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical…” (1 Tim. 3:8, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Now, look at the requirements for women:

“Women, too, must be WORTHY OF RESPECT, NOT SLANDERERS…” (1 Tim. 3:11, HCSB).

In the same way the man is to be “worthy of respect,” so is the female deacon.
Next, the male deacon is not to be “hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money.” Notice how Paul sums up the character of the woman—“self-controlled” (1 Tim. 3:11). Paul’s mentioning of “self-control” reminds us of Paul’s words regarding the women at the church at Ephesus in 1 Timothy 2:15. The word there in the Greek is “sophrosune, which means “self-control.” The problem at the church among the women is that they don’t know how to control themselves. But the godly woman who serves in the church in 1 Timothy 3 is to demonstrate self-control, not slanderize someone’s name; she should not be a gossiper.

Finally, there are other things to consider regarding the women mentioned here. Why would Paul list characteristics for women IF they were not to serve in the church, but only to be good “aids” for their husbands? Everytime Paul mentions a list in the New Testament, the list was to serve as requirements for a church position. So, if Paul is listing the requirements of women to match the requirements of men, then this must mean that Paul considered women to have a place in church leadership.
Contra Hammett, I am in agreement with those from the Interpreter’s Bible who argue that the word “their” is not used—as an indication of women (generic), not “wives.” The word “gynaikas” in the New Testament has a dual meaning: it can mean either “women” or “wives.” The problem is, in other contexts, we have an indication that Paul is referring to “wives” (usually is marriage). In this case, although home life is discussed, it is discussed for the sole reason that the home life would serve as an indicator of church life. This, then, wouldn’t disqualify the woman—for she worked in the home as well. Surely then, she would qualify for work in the church!

Look at 1 Timothy 3:11. There is a word in the Greek, “hosautos,” which means “Likewise.” The women, like WHO? Who are the women of 1 Tim. 3:11 to be like? I’m glad you asked: they are to be like the men mentioned in 1 Tim. 3:8-10. And what are the requirements for the men mentioned in those three verses? They are to demonstrate a certain character; and then, they are to be examined, tested, APPROVED to walk in the church as deacons. Once approved, they are then to serve. So, if the women are to be LIKE the men (in the same manner), then, the women are to also demonstrate a certain character, and are also TO BE TESTED, EXAMINED, APPROVED as women of character; then, they too, like the men, are to serve as women deacons.
But there is also one more thing that Hammett and most conservatives miss when they study 1 Timothy 3: that is, verse 12:

“Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently.”

Notice that this verse, verse 12, comes AFTER the discussion of women, not BEFORE! If Paul really wanted to make his point about women not being deacons, Paul would’ve wrapped up his discussion of deacons before the women (for, according to the skeptics, women would not have been deacons). But for Paul to write these words AFTER verse 11 shows us that women, like men, were considered to be potential servants of the church.

To make the point I’ve been making regarding 1 Timothy 3, go to 1 Timothy 5:

“Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, MANAGE THEIR HOUSEHOLDS, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us” (1 Tim. 5:14, HCSB).

Wait! Look at the words in capital letters. But, according to conservatives, only MEN manage their households. Surely, women can’t manage their households, can they?
According to Paul, they can; and they should. This is acceptable in the sight of God. So when Paul states that the deacons should be “managing their children and their own households competently” (1 Tim. 3:12), he is making the point that both male AND FEMALE deacons should manage their homes well. Paul isn’t excluding the female gender from leadership in the church.

Most conservatives, when telling women what they should do in church, go to 1 Tim. 2:11-15, or Titus 2:3-5. However, they fail to go to 1 Tim. 5 where women are to “manage their households.” I think the fact that the church doesn’t mention this passage is because we’re afraid to think of it. We’re afraid to imagine that Paul very well may have opened the door for women, and we shudder to think that we’ve been wrong all this time.

We see that Paul calls Phoebe from the church at Cenchrea a “diakonos" (Rom. 16:1), which is the term used in 1 Tim. 3 in the plural for “deacon” (diakonoi). Paul certainly didn’t have a problem using the term “diakonos” for a woman; and neither should we.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Council of Orange

Dear readers, we will now start our discussion of canons and comments on church practices. We have seen from a few inscriptions that, although the evidence is scarce, women did serve as deacons and deaconesses.

Now, however, we are going to examine church councils and their attempts to stop the advancements of women in the early church. Our beginning council to start will be the Council of Orange. We are given the following information about the council by Madigan & Osiek:

“The Council of Orange was convoked in November 441…with seventeen bishops from three provinces in attendance, it produced thirty canons on a wide variety of matters. SEVERAL OF THESE deal with the STATUS AND CONDUCT OF WOMEN IN CONSECRATED OFFICE. For example, one decreed that widows should make a profession of chastity and wear the proper dress…finally, Canon 26 deals with deaconess, in particular the question of whether they should be ordained” (“Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History,” page 145).

We are now gonna look at Council of Orange Canon 26:

“Female deacons (Diaconae) are BY NO MEANS (omnimodis) TO BE ORDAINED (ordinandae). If there are any WHO HAVE ALREADY BEEN ORDAINED (si quae iam sunt), let them submit their heads to the benediction (benediction…capita submittant) that is granted to the laity (quae populo impenditur).”

Notice that the council seems to be adamantly against women’s ordination: “female deacons are by no means to be ordained.” This says that women are not to be ordained for any reason whatsoever. Then, the canon presupposes some women have been ordained: “If there are any who have already been ordained…” The fact that the Council of Orange presupposes a thing tells us that women’s ordination did exist even as late as the fifth century. Last but not least, the “ordained” women are to be placed among the masses: “let them submit their heads to the benediction that is granted to the laity.” Here we find that these women were to be demoted, pulled down, from their places of ordained authority.

Madigan and Osiek write regarding Canon 26:

“It seems quite likely that the forbidden practice [ordaining women] had been occurring in the early fifth century in Gaul. That would account both for the canon having been promulgated at all and for its force…the recommendation to receive the blessing given to the laity is thus intended as a ritual act intended to UNDO THEIR [deaconesses] ELEVATION TO THE CLERGY AND TO RESITUATE THEM WITH THE PEOPLE, where they belong” (145, 146).

Although this canon tells us of the ordaining of women in Gaul, it suggests a bigger problem than just that of the council’s disagreement with a certain church practice:

“The forbidding of ordinations in this Western province is of special interest because it is unambiguously clear from several sources that, in the East, female deacons WERE BEING ORDAINED PUBLICLY AT THE SAME TIME BY IMPOSITION OF HANDS AND PRAYER OF THE BISHOP and using prayers similar to those used in other sorts of ordinations. In other words, in the East female deacons were considered wholly part of the clergy in the fifth century—probably the very understanding the fathers at Orange were at pains to avert in the West” (146).

The practice of ordaining women was making its way from the East, and this likely would have terrified the Council to write to the churches to stop this practice. The fact that the Council responded this way tells us that women’s ordination was a real thing in the West (and the East).

Funny, but, isn’t this different from what we’ve ALWAYS heard about women’s ordination? Isn’t it amazing that it’s been called a “liberal” practice, a “work of the feminists,” but, yet, it was also a practice of the early church? Most of you, my readers, have probably never even read of something like this before. It seems that conservative Christians are not very aware of their church history; for, if they were, they wouldn’t make such claims about the practice of ordaining women. The fact that conservative Christians know very little of this information does not mean that it does not exist, or that Madigan’s and Osiek’s information is wrong—rather, it demonstrates an attempt to suppress the information.

I’ll cover the issue of women’s ordination in more detail in the months to come; for now, though, I’d like to recommend a book for all to read: the book is called “The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination” by Gary Macy. I will cover this book in the days to come so stick around.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Women Deacons In the West: Inscriptions

It’s now time for what I promised: that’s right—we’re now going to dive into the study of women deacons in the west. According to Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek,

“The Western epigraphical evidence for female deacons is slim, probably because of the vagaries of inscriptional survival, IN VIEW OF THE EFFORTS OF COUNCILS OF THE FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES TO ELIMINATE THEM…that so much effort was given to suppression has to indicate more of a custom than the few inscriptions and literary references reveal” (Madigan & Osiek, “Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History,” page 143).

We have evidence from church councils that reveal women serving at the altar, a practice that most would consider today as being the role of the Pastor, elders, and deacons. The only way we know such practices existed is because church councils constantly wrote to forbid such practices (although many churches continued and pushed the patience of councils even further).

The first inscription comes from Rukuma in Africa Proconsularis. It is carved into a slab of limestone:

“Accepta the deacon[ess].”

According to Madigan and Osiek:

“This tomb inscription dates from the late sixth or early seventh century. All we know of Accepta is her name and her title. This is the only female deacon attested to in Africa” (page 143).

We only have one female deacon in Africa—but it is enough to alert us that, even in Africa, women deacons were present.

The next inscription comes from Rome and tells of a woman who made a vow:

“By the gift of God and of the Blessed Apostle Paul, Dometius the deacon and controller of the monies of the holy, apostolic and papal chair, together with ANNA THE DEACON[ESS], his sister offered this vow (hoc votum) to the blessed Paul.” (144)

We are told that both Dometius and his sister had a Latin abbreviation, “DIAC.” We know that Dometius was a deacon, but we are not so sure that Anna was a deacon. The reason is because the inscription is dated from the sixth century; and from the fifth century onward, the female title of “deaconess” was also in operation.

The next inscription is a sixth-century inscription from Doclea, Dalmatia:

“AUSONIA THE DEACON[ESS] (diac) for her vow and that of her children (filiorum).”

We are not sure how to translate this title, but it does tell us that the office of deacon for women also existed.

The last inscription comes from Ticini in St. Trinitas (Gaul):

“Here in peace rests the deaconess (diaconissa) Theodora of blessed memory, who lived in the world for about 48 years. She was buried here on July 22, 539.”

Madigan and Osiek give us an interesting note here about Theodora’s tomb inscription:

“Along with the several synodal and conciliar decrees from the fourth through sixth centuries, also translated in this collection, this inscription gives evidence for the existence and activity in Gaul of deaconesses, DESPITE THE ATTEMPTS OF THE COUNCILS TO ERADICATE THEM, LIMIT THEIR ACTIVITIES, OR FORBID THEIR ORDINATION. As this inscription demonstrates, THESE DECREES REMAINED AT LEAST TO SOME DEGREE A DEAD LETTER” (144, 145).

I find it fascinating to think about church synods and councils issuing decrees against the ordination of women. Today’s conservative churches conduct themselves as if they have always held the orthodox position. However, the churches of ancient times allowed women to serve in leadership positions—against the personal beliefs of church councils and leadership. I don’t know what you think of all this, but it should seem strange that we have to go to tomb inscriptions and church documents forbidding such practices to be able to find them. What this reveals is that the practices of the ancient churches have been hidden because today’s churches deem women’s ordination to be “a black mark of the past” and choose not to talk about it.

What I want you, my readers, to do is to start showing these types of evidence to people around you who believe that women’s ordination has been unorthodox and heretical. If the churches believed what the councils did, why do ANY grave and tomb inscriptions exist? And, what’s worse, is that those who served on such councils got to see these inscriptions during their own lifetimes. The fact that these memorials were “tangible rebellions” against councils should make us question what we believe orthodoxy to be.

In my next post, I’ll start tackling church canons and church councils.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Church Fathers on 1 Timothy 5:3-13

I’m here to supply more information from Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek’s book, called “Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History.”
1 Timothy 5:3-13—

“Honor widows who are really widows. If any widow has children or grandchildren let them first learn to honor those of their own house and to repay the services of their parents, for this is pleasing before God. But the true widow who has been left alone has hoped in God and remains in prayer and supplication night and day. But the one who continues in self-indulgence, has died while still alive. Commend these things so that they might turn out to be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for one’s own and especially a member of one’s household, that one has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years old, has been married only once, is seen to have done good works, has raised children, provided hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, helped those in distress, and pursued every good work. But refuse younger widows, for whenever they may feel the impulse that alienates them from Christ, they want to marry. They incur judgment because they set aside their first faith. But at the same time, they also learn to be idle, running around to houses, not only idle but even gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say.”

Madigan and Osiek:

“It seems that two different practices about widows are spoken of here. First, widows who truly have no means of family support should be maintained by the Church. Second, there are qualifications for being accepted into this group that imply further services: a successful career as wife and mother and proven ability to provide hospitality. Probably this is an early reference to what later develops in many places as an ‘order of widows,’ which served as the service organization of the early church, especially for works of charity to needy women and hospitality to visitors. Given average life expectancy in antiquity, sixty was an advanced age. The sharp words about widows as wandering gossips reflect the informal female communication network that functions in most traditional cultures, which men typically disdain because they are excluded from it. It will be a repeated stereotype in later literature” (21, 22).

I. Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:9

“Above all, the Apostle believed he had designated the age which those to be received into the order of widows (in ordinem viduarum) ought to have attained. Some people, however, not considering his reasons for wanting to indicate this age, have wondered whether it was fitting that deaconesses (diaconissas) be ordained (ordinari) before this age” (Theodore, 22).

Madigan and Osiek:

“One is frustrated by this being translation from the Greek. Nonetheless, from what we know about widows and deaconesses from other texts, we can draw certain conclusions. First of all, Theodore (unlike for Epiphanius of Salamis), widows seem to be part of an ‘order’ and thus PART OF THE CLERGY. The same might be said of deaconesses. Indeed, they are ordained so far as Theodore sees it; this in fact corresponds to what was happening in the Eastern church from the fourth century on” (22).

II. Pelagius, Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:9

“He wanted such deaconesses to be chosen so that they might be examples of living for all.”

Madigan and Osiek:

“Here Pelagius identifies widows and deaconesses and sees their role as an exemplary one in the community” (22).

It is now at this time that I will supply the conclusion to our study of commentary on passages regarding women:

“Generally, wherever female deacons are already known and accepted, the biblical texts are read to support the practice that is already done. John Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theodore know and accept women deacons. The possible exception here is Origen, for it has been argued that, other than this passage, there is a total lack of evidence for women deacons in Egypt, and so he could not have been writing about the church of Alexandria. There is much more possibility that he knew the rise of the female diaconate in Caesarea, however or other places in his extensive travels. Be that as it may, he is the strongest to claim ‘apostolic authority’ for the institution. Pelagius knows of it, but only in the East, and seems neutral to it. But he conflates widows with deacons in 1 Timothy. Ambrosiaster, never known as someone favorable to women, prefers to put Romans 16 in a general framework of ministry, and resists the reading of women deacons in 1 Tim. 3:11. But the biblical texts are only the first step” (22, 23).

In my next post, I will start to tackle Women Deacons in the West. For those of us who inhabit Western Civilization, the upcoming work will be of monumental significance.

The Church Fathers on 1 Timothy 3:8-11

In this post, I will tackle the comments of the church fathers regarding 1 Timothy 3:8-11. The information supplied here will consist of the comments of church fathers as well as that of authors Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek.
1 Timothy 3:8-11 reads:

“In the same way, deacons are to be serious, not given to double-talk, not with a tendency to much wine, not eager for dishonest profit, holding to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be approved, then let them perform their diaconal ministry blamelessly. In the same way, women are to be serious, not irresponsible talkers, sober, faithful in all things.”

“It is not clear whether the women of verse 11 are female deacons or wives of the male deacons of the previous verses, since Greek does not have different words for ‘woman’ and ‘wife’ nor for ‘man’ and ‘husband.’ Two factors suggest that female deacons are referred to here. First is the mention of the female deacon Phoebe at an earlier stage of the development of ministerial structures in the Pauline churches (Rom. 16:1-2). Second, the structures of verse 8 about men and verse 11 about women are parallel: the first three words of the Greek text are exactly the same except for gender changes. If female deacons were still referred to by the masculine designation as in Rom. 16:1, there would be no other way to make a gender distinction in verse 11, the generic term ‘diakonoi’ already having been used in verse 8. Some modern commentators opt for wives of male deacons here, but as we see below, quite a few early commentators understood the text as referring to female deacons” (18). – Kevin Madigan & Carolyn Osiek

I. John Chrysostom Homily 11 on 1 Tim. 3:11

“Some say that he is talking about women in general. But that cannot be. Why would he want to insert in the middle of what he is saying something about women? But rather, he is speaking of those women who hold the rank of deacon. ‘Deacons should be husbands of one wife.’ This is also appropriate for women deacons (diakonoi), for it is necessary, good, and right, most especially in the church.” (John Chrysostom)

Madigan and Osiek write:

“The point that John makes is still disputed in the interpretation of the text from Timothy (see discussion on the text itself above). Here the commentator is clear which option he favors. In John’s churches in Antioch and Constantinople, female deacons or deaconesses were well known. His application o f the one-marriage rule to women deacons seems to suggest that in late-fourth century Antioch, they were allowed to marry and so need not have been celibate” (19).

II. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:11

“ ‘In the same way, women’ that is, the deacons (diakonous), ‘are to be serious, not irresponsible talkers, sober, faithful in everything.’ What he directed for the men, HE DID SIMILARLY FOR THE WOMEN. Just as he told the male deacons to be serious, he said the same for the women. As he commanded the men not to be two-faced, so he commanded the women not to talk irresponsibly. And as he commanded the men not drink much wine, so he ordered that the women should be temperate”- Theodoret of Cyrrhus.

Madigan and Osiek:

“Theodoret is another commentator on 1 Timothy who interprets the women as deacons. He understands that the author has the same expectations about the virtuous conduct of both male and female deacons” (19).

III. Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:11

“Paul does not wish to say this in this passage because it is right for such [deacons] to have wives; but since it is fitting for women to be established to perform duties similar to those of deacons.”—Theodore of Mopsuestia

Madigan and Osiek:

“For Theodore, as for his Greek contemporaries, there is an order of deaconesses, that is parallel in status and function to the male diaconate. Accordingly, he goes on to comment that such women must be discreet (non accusatrices), capable of keeping confidences so as to prevent arguments and divisions (divortia) in the community. When he comments on 1 Tim. 5:9, we learn more about how he views their status and place in the hierarchy” (20).

IV. Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:11

“But the Cataphrygians seize an occasion for error. Because women are spoken of after deacons, they argue with a vain presumption that female deaconesses (diaconissas) ought to be ordained (debere ordinary), although they know that the apostles chose seven male deacons. Was it that no woman was found to be suitable (idonea), when we read that, among the eleven apostles, there were holy women? But—as is the wont of heretics, who build their thought on the words of the law rather than its sense—they oppose the Apostle by using his own words. Thus, when he orders women to be silent in the church, they on the contrary attempt to vindicate for her the authority of her ministry”—Ambrosiaster, page 20.

Madigan and Osiek:

“Ambrosiaster assigns the origins of the office of deaconess to ‘the Cataphrygians’—the name that he and (as we shall see) Augustine and John of Damascus give to the Montanists. Here he uses the holiness of the women among the apostles to underline their unsuitability for diaconal ministry. DESPITE their holiness, THEIR GENDER EXCLUDED THEM FROM SUCH MINISTRY. Oddly, he uses the apostolic injunction against speaking in church to suggest that women were excluded from a form of ministry that did not require, or even allow, female speech there. In his Commentary on Romans, he resorts to philological grounds to deny the institution of the female diaconate” (20).

V. Pelagius, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:11

“He [Paul] orders that they be selected similarly to the way in which deacons are chosen. Apparently, he is speaking of those who still today (adhue hodie) in the East are called deaconesses (diaconissas)” (Pelagius, 21).

Madigan and Osiek:

“Pelagius, writing around 410, sees here apostolic foundation for the female diaconate. Again, his comment suggests that he believes the Western diaconate no longer exists at the same time that it suggests its Eastern counterpart does. In his eyes, then, there is a vestigial practice in the East for which the church of Rome had no parallel. There is allusion here to qualifications for induction to the diaconate—pudica means ‘chaste’ or ‘pure’—but no reference to liturgical or pedagogical function, or to ecclesiastical status” (21).

In my next post, I will cover the comments of the church fathers regarding 1 Timothy 5:3-13.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Phoebe, Part III

I’m back to continue the series on “Ordained Women in the Early Church.
The church fathers had interesting thoughts regarding women in ministry in the early church. Phoebe served as a biblical case for women, but the church fathers had differing ideas about Phoebe and her role.

Origen (185-253) commented regarding Phoebe:

“This passage teaches by apostolic authority that WOMEN ALSO ARE APPOINTED (constitui) IN THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH (in ministeria ecclesiae), in which office Phoebe was placed at the church that is in Cenchreae…therefore this passage teaches two things equally and is to be interpreted, as we have said, to mean that WOMEN ARE TO BE CONSIDERED MINISTERS (haberi…feminas ministras) in the church, and that such OUGHT TO BE RECEIVED INTO THE MINISTRY (tales debere assumi in ministerium) who have assisted many; they have earned the right through their good deeds to receive apostolic praise” (Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, “Ordained Women in the Early Church,” page 14).

Madigan and Osiek write,

“It is regrettable that the text survives ONLY in Latin translation, which makes it more difficult to arrive at any definitive interpretation. It may well be true that the exact juridical status of the female ministers, their relationship to male hierarchy, ritual induction, and qualifications (other than a record of charity and assistance) are left unclear here. It is even unclear whether ‘ministra’ should be here translated ‘minister’ or ‘deaconness.’ Likewise ‘ministerium’ could signify ‘diaconate’ rather than ‘ministry.’ The most literal translation is presented here simply on the principle of caution. But it is not impossible pace Martimort, that Origen had the institution of deaconesses and the ministry of the female diaconate in mind” (14).

While we can’t be sure of what “ministry” and “ministers” meant, at the basic level, we can assume that Origen allowed for the possibility of women to serve in the church.

The church father John Chrysostom (c.347-407) had this to say:

“See how much he[Paul] distinguishes her, for he mentions her before all the others and calls her ‘sister.’ It is not a small thing to be called Paul’s sister, and he adds her status by calling her ‘deacon.’…how can she not be blessed, WHO ENJOYS SUCH A WITNESS FROM PAUL, who is able to help him who set the whole world straight? This is the finishing touch on her good deeds, since he goes so far as to say ‘and of me as well’ (e.g., that she is patron, ‘prostatis’). What is this ‘and of me as well’? Of the herald of the world, of the one who suffered so much, of the one who satisfied countless numbers of people. BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, LET US IMITATE THIS HOLY ONE!” (15).

According to Madigan and Osiek,

“Chrysostom acknowledges Phoebe’s rank of deacon, probably equating it with the office of deaconess that existed in his day, and with which he was quite familiar (see his relationship, for instance, with Olympias)” (15).

At the end of Chrysostom’s quote above, he states, “both men and women, let us imitate this holy one!” We can see how much Chrysostom prized Phoebe here in Romans 16:1-3.

The heretical monk Pelagius wrote regarding Romans 16, verses 1 and 2:

“Just as even now in the East, deaconesses (diaconissae) are seen to minister in baptism to those of their own sex, or in the ministry of the word, so we have found women who have taught in private (privatum docuisse feminas invenimus), as did Priscilla, whose husband was named Aquila” (Pelagius, quoted by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, “Ordained Women in the Early Church,” page 17).

Madigan and Osiek tell us,

“This text can be interpreted in two ways. First, one might suppose that Pelagius presumes that the female diaconate in the West, once extant, no longer exists. This may well be an indication that it no longer existed in Rome…alternatively, Pelagius might presume that the office had never existed in West. If this is true, the text could be interpreted to mean that Pelagius was not yet aware of the existence of the office in the West” (17, 18).

There were far more women in the diaconate in the East than in the West (but there were far more female presbyters in the West than in the East).

In my next post, I will tackle the comments of the church fathers regarding another passage on women: 1 Timothy 3:8-11.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Phoebe, Part II

I’m back, continuing my research on Phoebe. I promised you that I would provide seven commentators’ remarks, so that is what I’ll do. I’ve provided three of them; I’ll provide three more as well as comments from some of the church fathers regarding this passage.

Bishop N.T Wright has this to say about Phoebe:

“The implication is that Phoebe is a businesswoman who is able to travel independently, and for Paul to trust her with a letter like this speaks volumes for the respect in which she was held; so it is no surprise to discover that SHE IS A DEACON IN THE CHURCH. Attempts to make ‘diaconos’ mean something else fail: to call her a ‘servant of the church,’ with the NIV, does indeed offer a valid translation of the word, but it MERELY PUSHES THE PROBLEM ON A STAGE, since that would either mean that Phoebe was a paid employee of the church (to do what?) or that there was an order of ministry, otherwise unknown, called ‘servants.’ ‘Minister’ (REB) is imprecise, because the word is used for several pastoral offices in today’s church; ‘deaconess’ (RSV, JB, NJB) is inaccurate, because it implies that Phoebe belonged to a specific order, of female church workers quite different from ‘deacons,’ which would not be invented for another three hundred years” (N.T. Wright, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002, pages 761-762).

N.T. Wright confirms Phoebe as an example of women who would have been part of the order of deacons. Notice that the term “deaconess” wasn’t invented until THREE HUNDRED YEARS LATER! Why did the name change take place for women? Because of a movement within the church to suppress women from ordained office. We’ll get to that in several days.

Thomas Schreiner, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, states the following about Phoebe:

“Scholars debate, however, whether she held an office…is Paul commending Phoebe because she served in a variety of UNOFFICIAL ways in the church at Cenchreae? It is impossible to be sure, BUT FOR SEVERAL REASONS IT IS LIKELY THAT SHE HELD THE OFFICE OF DEACON. First, 1 Tim. 3:11 PROBABLY IDENTIFIES WOMEN AS DEACONS…second, the designation ‘deacon of the church in Cenchreae’ suggests that Phoebe served in this special capacity, for this is the ONLY occasion in which the term ‘diakonos’ is linked with a particular local church. Third, the use of the masculine noun ‘diakonos’ also suggests that the office is intended…women deacons were probably appointed early, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE OTHER WOMEN NEEDED ASSISTANCE FROM THOSE OF THEIR OWN SEX IN VISITATION, BAPTISM, AND OTHER MATTERS…” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Academic, 1998, page 787).

Notice that Schreiner talks about the necessity of women deacons, not their existence itself. For him (he quoted Pelagius as the source regarding women deacons serving other women), the office itself was created because of the existence of other women. As I told you in the last post with Leon Morris, to argue that women deacons were needed to help women is like saying that men deacons were created in Acts 6 to help other men! That’s insane. The diaconate was not just an office created to help meet the physical day-to-day needs of the congregation, it was an office of honor, of such honor that the apostles told the church to choose seven men from among the congregation who were full of the Holy Spirit and strong in the faith (Acts 6:3). If these men were selected as godly examples in the community, and were prayed for through the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6), then why undermine the honor of women deacons by arguing for the NECESSITY of the office? It seems as if by doing this, Schreiner (while appearing to cut down the office of women deacons) is actually EXALTING it, since to argue its necessity would make it seem to be MORE VITAL than the male diaconate!!

One more thing regarding Thomas Schreiner: after the above quote given in the Baker Exegetical Commentary, Schreiner writes this footnote:

“The office of deacon, however, must be distinguished from that of overseer/elder. One should not conclude from Phoebe’s role as a deacon that she FUNCTIONED AS A LEADER OF THE CONGREGATION” (787).

To see whether or not Schreiner is correct let’s go to Philippians 1:

“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus, to all the SAINTS in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, INCLUDING THE OVERSEERS AND DEACONS” (Philippians 1:1, NASB).

According to this verse then, deacons are part of the church leadership! The same thing is demonstrated in 1 Timothy 3. Since that text lists women as deacons (according to a group of characteristics), then women as well as men are in church leadership. Schreiner’s remark, then, is based on a certain view of women in ministry that this text does not uphold. For those who need a syllogism, I’ll provide one:

I. Overseers and deacons are both in church leadership.
II. Phoebe was a deacon.
III. Therefore, Phoebe was in church leadership.

I will leave Schreiner’s view of women here for the moment. In my next post, I will examine the ancient view of Phoebe according to the church fathers.