The “Women” of 1 Timothy 3:11 -- By: Robert M. Lewis

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:542 (Apr 1979)
Article: The “Women” of 1 Timothy 3:11
Author: Robert M. Lewis

The “Women” of 1 Timothy 3:11

Robert M. Lewis

[Robert M. Lewis, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Tucson, Arizona.]

Although at a casual glance 1 Timothy 3:11 may seem quite simple, in reality it has been a source of controversy for centuries and has been a major force in shaping the ecclesiological framework of the church, past and present. This verse, of course, has been the interpretive launching pad for the rise of a select group of women known as “deaconesses” which many consider to be a third office of the church. Alongside this interpretation stands the now common belief that this verse sets forth no additional office at all. Rather these women are select only in the sense that they are the wives of those men who are deacons and should reflect their husband’s godly character.

Each of these interpretations has merit, as will be demonstrated in the following discussion. But they should not become so standard that new suggestions cannot be offered. It is the purpose of this writer to discuss the support for and problems with the two usual views and then to offer a third suggestion. It is this third alternative which the writer feels best meets the demands of the passage.

γυναῖκας as Deacons’ Wives

This first interpretation holds that these women are the wives of the male deacons being discussed in 1 Timothy 3. There is much to merit such an interpretation. The term γυναῖκας is the simple term for “wives.” The context is specifically on male deacons before and after verse 11. Having this verse wedged into this discourse seems clearly to indicate that these women are in some way related to those men being discussed. The marriage relationship is mentioned and the conclusion is that they are deacons’ wives.

Some object by saying that no such mention is similarly made of the wives of the ἐπίσκοποι. To counter such an objection, mention is made that only the wives of deacons could assist their husbands in actually carrying out their ministry while the elders’ wives could not. Indeed the wife of an elder would be strictly prohibited (1 Tim 2:12) from those teaching and ruling functions which he performs in the church. Concerning the deacon’s wife, however, no such prohibitions exist. On the contrary, as a deacon carried out his service and visitation duties, certain situations would arise which only a woman could perform. Such functions a de...

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