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Can women be deacons or elders?

Quick Answer: Can women be deacons or elders? There is no Scripture that forbids women from being pastors/elders or deacons. The two verses commonly used to argue against women in leadership (1 Timothy 2:12; see also 1 Corinthians 14:34-35), are addressing specific situations in the early church. There are various examples of women in leadership in the New Testament.

Diving Deeper: Scripture teaches that women were involved in the shepherding and ministry of the early church. In Romans 16:7, a woman named Junia is listed as being a fellow prisoner with Paul because of her work with the Gospel. Romans 16:1 speaks of a deaconess named Phoebe who was central to the work of the church. In addition, women are shown to be prophesying in 1 Corinthians 14. Acts 21:9 also states that Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied. There are even instructions for how women should prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:5.  Note that prophesy is speaking to the church for its “strengthening, encouraging, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3-4) – a role typically carried out by church leaders.

But what about 1 Timothy 2:12? And what about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? In both passages, Paul is addressing specific contexts unique to each church congregation.

First, 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing beliefs of the cult of Diana in which Ephesian women were being elevated above men (1 Timothy 2:12). The cult of Diana also taught that Eve was created first and that only Adam was deceived – a concept that Paul combats directly (1 Timothy 2:14). The cult also taught that women should not bother with getting married (to men) and bearing children. This is precisely why Paul states that women will “be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:14). Paul’s point is that women will have a fruitful life bearing children and that anything taught to the contrary should be rejected. So, within this context of false teachings, Paul is urging Timothy to keep the women in Ephesus from pushing the doctrines taught by the cult of Diana.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, women, who were among the most unlearned in society, were wanting to ask questions and likely interrupting the church service to do so. Paul’s solution to the problem was for the women to remain silent and learn at home from their husbands.

In conclusion, neither passage directly prohibits women from being pastors/elders or deaconesses. The big picture is that we are all one in Christ Jesus and we are not ultimately identified by external appearances (Galatians 3:28). We are free to be ourselves as males and females and participate in all that God is doing in His kingdom.

Let’s Make It a Conversation!
1. What has been your view of women as deacons or elders?
2. How does the presence of Junia, Phoebe, and women prophets in the New Testament impact your view?
3. Do the two situations (the cult in Ephesus and the disruptions in Corinth) help you understand the two challenging passages? Why or why not?

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