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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

41 - Can Women Be Deacons - Romans 16

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Romans 16

3. Deaconesses?

3.1. 16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

3.1.1. There are some people would indicate that women can’t be deacons in the church. The word that is translated deacon in this verse is the Greek DIAKONOS. Diakonos means servant and you will find some translations that use the word servant here. It becomes clear when you take in the whole of the New Testament that we see many places where women are serving, two of them in this chapter.

3.1.2. This is addressed only two places in the Bible, the first being here in Romans 16 including later in the chapter and the second being in first Timothy 3:11. Let me share the whole section beginning in verse eight: 8 Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, 9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. 10 But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. 11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

3.1.3. Just before this section of first Timothy three Paul shares the qualifications for elders beginning in verse two: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

3.1.4. There is a similar list in Titus chapter 1

3.1.5. Elders are required to have the following characteristics which are not listed for deacons; able to teach, gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, having his children in subjection, not a novice, must have a good testimony among those outside.

3.1.6. The lists are very similar. Both include the term “husband of one wife”. It is this phrase that causes confusion and conflict among some. It’s my own view that the “husband of one wife” spoken of here is not to indicate that only men can be in either position, although I don’t support the idea of women elders and I’ll say why in a minute. The distinction, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); Is one of the keys here. Head of household experience is a necessary precursor to eldership.

3.1.7. The list for deacons says in verse 11 “likewise, their wives” which some (and I am one of them) see as inclusive of women as deacons. The word translated here as “likewise” can be translated “also or too”. In the context this becomes a continuation of the qualification for deacons.

3.1.8. Another qualification of elders is that they be “able to teach”. Which is not a qualification for deacons. Now we can reference this back the purpose of elders and deacons given in Acts 6:2-4: 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

3.1.9. In the chapter immediately before the qualifications for elders, Paul tells Timothy beginning in verse 12: 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

3.1.10. The main qualification for elders is “able to teach” it is the responsibility of elders to instruct the congregation. Paul even supplies the reason that he does allow women to teach, and I know this will be unpopular, but he says that it was Eve who was deceived. Women in general are more easily governed by their emotions. Men are often influenced as Adam was by the important women in their lives. The idea being here that to properly govern the church requires a less emotionally influenced man. This is supported further by the idea that an elder “not be a novice”.

3.2. The second woman deacon appears in the very next verse, verse three:

3.3. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

3.3.1. Priscilla, a woman, is listed as a coworker of Paul. She was obviously serving the church. This is what it means to be a deacon, to be a servant of the church. Not to be an instructor or ruler over the church.

3.3.2. We can also see an argument from silence throughout Paul’s writings about elders and governance of the church. There are several references to women who serve the church, but none of women being elders in the church, or teachers.

3.3.3. And finally on this topic we have a number of examples of women serving in hospitality and administrative roles in the early church. These are the very roles in acts six.

4. House Churches?

4.1. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house.

4.1.1. There are those who see this as an endorsement of house churches and as restricting churches to peoples homes, and while some of you know I’m not a fan of the mega-church movement I don’t see this verse as restricting churches to people’s homes as some do. I just see this Paul stating a fact that the church met in this case at the home of Priscilla and Aquilla. All over the world even today, especially where there is no or very little organized church, or where the church is underground as in communist China or in some Muslim countries, people are meeting in homes.

4.1.2. My objection to mega-churches is not because I’m convinced that house churches are best. My objection to mega-churches is three things: First, a pastor is supposed to be a shepherd. Jesus gives us the example saying: “14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” John 10:14. It’s simply not possible for human pastor to know 500 people or 500 families in any true sense of the word “know”. So while they may have the title pastor, they are not truly shepherding. Some churches attempt to solve this problem through a series of associate pastors or “small groups”. My own belief is that this is an admission of the failure of “knowing” of the mega-church. Second, the mega-church tends to be very much a theater putting on a show for the audience. You have professional musicians, a professional multimedia and big-screen experience that is as much entertainment as it is an experience of worship. Third, the number of resources that end up spent or tied up in these institutions seems to me to be very different from what we’ve seen Paul explaining throughout this book. The idea that if we have resources beyond our needs they should be shared with brothers and sisters who are in need.

5. Various greetings

5.1. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.

6. More Woman Deacons

6.1. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

7. Continued Greetings

7.1. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

8. Watch for divisiveness

8.1. 17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

8.1.1. There are those in the church who will get on their doctrinal hobbyhorse and attempt to separate one brother from another or to set up camps or factions within a church. I’ve seen the situation where a particular group of people said about to ouster a pastor. Or another group who insists on a certain doctrinal position and is willing to split from the church over it. Sometimes these things may be necessary but not often. The overriding principle is to sort out how we can work together in love for the benefit of the kingdom and not a separate over “disputable matters”.

9. Obedience produces a good reputation

9.1. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. 21 Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.

10. Amanuensis

10.1. 22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.

10.1.1. It is claimed that Paul had vision problems. Whether or not this is true he used an amanuensis. He dictated his letters. Much writing was done this way at the time and even now is done this way. It allows for more of a “stream of consciousness” kind of writing. In preparation for this broadcast, I use dictation software. This could be considered a modern-day amanuensis. A lot of writers today use this type of software. It allows thoughts to flow more naturally than simply hand writing or typing.

11. More Greetings:

11.1. 23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.

11.1.1. In 1929, an inscription mentioning an Erastus was found near a paved area northeast of the theater of Corinth. It has been dated to the mid-first century and reads "Erastus in return for his aedileship paved it at his own expense."

11.1.2. Aedile was an elected office of the Roman Republic. Based in Rome, the aediles were responsible for maintenance of public buildings (aedēs) and regulation of public festivals. They also had powers to enforce public order and duties to ensure the city of Rome was well supplied and its civil infrastructure well maintained, akin to modern local government.

12. Second Grace

12.1. 24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

12.1.1. In verse 20 Paul also says he wants the grace of Jesus to be with them. This last section of the chapter seems like he was intending to wrap up but kept adding one more thing.

13. Established in Obedience by Faith

13.1. 25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

13.1.1. Paul sums up by saying you can see from the prophets who Jesus is as he’s been explaining for 16 chapters now. Demonstrating to the Jews in Rome that the prophetic writings or for purposes of establishing who Jesus was when he came. The idea being that the Jews would recognize the Messiah because of their knowledge of the Scriptures and the Gentiles would recognize the Messiah because only God can tell the future.

14. Housekeeping


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