Monday, July 13, 2009

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.


  1. Excellent points on this subject. It is interesting how the Church fathers had such a range of views within the Orthodox Church. THanks for the commentary!

    Fr. Darren Simpson, Benedictine
    Anglican Church in North America

  2. Friar Simpson,

    Thanks so much for commenting...continue to read the blog and write. Please feel free to become a follower.


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