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Notes for Interpreting 1 Timothy 3:11 Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 September 2006

Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (ESV)

 1.      The difficulty here is in understanding who Paul is addressing.  The term in Greek is simply gunaikas which can be translated ‘women’ or ‘wives’ depending upon context (see 1 Timothy 2:8-12, Ephesians 5:22).  The term ‘their’ has been inserted into the text by the translators (as you see in the note of the ESV).  Thus, it would read: Women likewise, or Wives likewise.

2.      Of course the question is this: which one is Paul addressing?  In all honesty, this is very difficult.  I have heard arguments for both.  I lean towards translating it as women.  Why?

a.       There is nothing overtly connecting these gunaikas with the Deacons.  Of course, grammatically, it could simply be assumed, so this is not definitive.

b.      The term wsautw, translated ‘likewise,’ signifies a shift in who Paul is addressing (see 3:8 and 2:9).  In fact, in the Greek, the introductory phrase in verse 8 is almost identical to the introductory phrase in verse 11.  Yet, he could simply be shifting to address the wives of the deacons.

c.       Paul lists no qualifications for the wives of elders (see 3:2-7).  Surely if it is important for Deacons’ wives to be faithful then it is important for Elders’ wives to be the same.  So, what is Paul doing? 

i.      I think it would help us at this point to take into consideration the context of our passage.  In 2:8-15 Paul argues that a woman is not to teach or have authority over a man (v. 12).  The only real distinction between the qualifications for elders and deacons is that elders must be able to teach.  Thus, it is obvious that a woman cannot be an elder, for that would contradict 2:12. 

ii.      But I would argue that since a deacon is not required to teach, then a woman could serve.  Or even if you were not comfortable having a woman as an official deacon in the church, she could still serve like a deacon without the official title.  Again it comes back to your view of the deacon office.  If the office is one of service and not necessarily authority, then a woman can serve.  If the office holds authority over men, then a woman is automatically disqualified based on 2:12.  Based on Paul’s distinction between elders and deacons, I see deacons as faithful servants of the church, called to meet needs that elders cannot without sacrificing devotion to the ministry of the Word and prayer.

3.      Conclusion: Again, I lean towards the interpretation of Women likewise.  Whether these are ‘official’ deacons or not is hard to say, but women can do the service of the deacons.  There are implications on both sides, so we want to be as careful and as faithful as we can be.  If you take the position that Paul is talking about wives, then you must examine the wives of the Deacons, or candidates, to see if their wives disqualify them.  I admit that it very well could be ‘wives,’ thus I use the word ‘lean’ to describe my position.  In the end, for the reasons listed above, I take it to be ‘women.’  That may not be as concrete as you would like, but I want to be careful for the sake of the text.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 September 2006 )

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