When we talked Sunday (June 5, 2011) about “Recognizing new Deacons,” we didn’t take the time to talk about the word choices in verse 11. Sometimes the Greek manuscripts behind our English text can be legitimately interpreted in multiple ways.
In this case, the Greek word is γυναῖκας. The English word “wives” is used in the NIV, the NKJV and the ESV translations while the English word “women” is used in the NASB and Darby translations and … here’s the surprise … both are “correct!”
So the team of translators working on a particular translation like the NIV or the NASB has to make a choice: which way are we going to interpret it — “wives” or women.” They typically look for clues in the context (remember, “Context is King”) that would reveal the intent of the original author and then decide accordingly.
Usually, you will find a tiny note in the margin of the translation indicating that there was a choice to be made and there is an alternative reading that is also acceptable. So for example, the margin note in the NASB for this word says “Either deacons wives or deaconesses.”
Here is a somewhat technical discussion found in the footnotes from the NET Bible that discusses the choices that the translators were faced with in this particular case in verse 11, along with some reasons why — or why not — a particular decision was made…
Or “also deaconesses.” The Greek word here is γυναῖκας (gunaika“) which literally means “women” or “wives.” It is possible that this refers to women who serve as deacons, “deaconesses.” The evidence is as follows: (1) The immediate context refers to deacons; (2) the author mentions nothing about wives in his section on elder qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7); (3) it would seem strange to have requirements placed on deacons’ wives without corresponding requirements placed on elders’ wives; and (4) elsewhere in the NT, there seems to be room for seeing women in this role (cf. Rom 16:1 and the comments there). The translation “wives” – referring to the wives of the deacons – is probably to be preferred, though, for the following reasons: (1) It would be strange for the author to discuss women deacons right in the middle of the qualifications for male deacons; more naturally they would be addressed by themselves. (2) The author seems to indicate clearly in the next verse that women are not deacons: “Deacons must be husbands of one wife.” (3) Most of the qualifications given for deacons elsewhere do not appear here. Either the author has truncated the requirements for women deacons, or he is not actually referring to women deacons; the latter seems to be the more natural understanding. (4) The principle given in 1 Tim 2:12 appears to be an overarching principle for church life which seems implicitly to limit the role of deacon to men. Nevertheless, a decision in this matter is difficult, and our conclusions must be regarded as tentative.
We usually don’t like ambiguity. Especially in the Bible! Evangelicals take the Bible to be “inspired and inerrant” — inspired by God and without error in the original manuscripts.
But careful scholarship is our friend here, not our enemy. And it wisely cautions us against building an argument — or worse yet a doctrine — around a single word in a single verse.
Practically, some scholars and churches take the “wives” reading as indicating two things: first, that Deacons must be men, not women; and second, some groups insist that Deacons must be married since the text gives instructions about their wives.
Other scholars and churches, taking the “women” reading, see freedom here for both women and men to serve the church in the role of Deacons and Deaconesses.
Historically, GNBC has seen the role of Deacon as reserved for men — a position taken not only from the choice of the word “wives” but also from the context of the instructions to Elders and to Deacons here.
But again this is not something — like the multiple views of the timing of the return of Jesus — to break friendship and fellowship over. Well intentioned, sincere followers of Jesus might honestly see this differently!
This is another of those cases where grace and humility are required. Then again, I think grace and humility are always required…
Resting in Him,