1 Timothy, Lesson 6: Deacons, Deaconesses, and the Role of the Church

pillar and butress of the truth (610x351)We finished with Paul speaking about the requirements for a man to serve as a deacon. What seemed unusual was that Paul had theological requirements for a man to be a deacon, but not to be an overseer! Deacons were to hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, which is knowing the content of the faith and living faithfully according to that. 

What this shows is an operating assumption that men will serve as deacons before serving as pastors. That’s when they are theologically examined. And so the requirements for overseers then become one of character and ability, as those men were already found to be theologically sound. 

Paul now veers away from deacons, but only for a moment.



Read 1 Timothy 3:11

“Their wives”: The word for “wives” or “women” is the same word in the Greek, gunaikas. So, this verse can either refer to the wives of the deacons, which is how the ESV translates it, or to deaconesses, referring to them as “women.”

The question is, “Why are ‘women’ mentioned in a section on deacons?” By location, and Paul’s use of “likewise,” they are, in some way, involved in diaconal service within the life of the congregation. At this point, it could be either wives helping their deacon husbands or women serving as deaconesses.

However, if Paul meant “the wives of deacons,” why does he mention needed qualifications for deacons’ wives but not for the wives of overseers? (This could be answered by the wives of overseers not needing any further qualifications, since Paul is operating from a worldview that overseers will first serve as deacons.) But that still doesn’t answer why Paul simply didn’t write “their wives”? What Paul wrote was this: “Women/Wives, likewise, are to be worthy of respect…”

For above reasons, your pastor is convinced that Paul meant “deaconesses.”


Description (ESV translation) Meaning
“dignified” Adjective: worthy of respect, worthy of honor, good character, serious-minded
“not slanderers” Noun: not gossipers, malicious talkers, or someone who speaks evil of another (this is the Greek word for “devil”)
“sober-minded” Adjective: could refer to not being a drunkard. Most likely, this refers to a life characterized by a sober outlook with self-control; well-balanced
“faithful in all things” Adjective: being faithful, trustworthy, and dependable, which grows from being in the Faith


For deaconesses, Paul only lists character traits and does not move outwardly from there, as he did for overseers and deacons.


Lesson 6, Requirements for a Woman to be an Deaconess


Excursus: The Biblical Role of Overseers, Deacons, and Deaconesses

In 1 Timothy 3, when we look at the biblical requirements for overseers, deacons, and deaconesses, we see that they all start with someone’s inward character traits and move outwardly from there. Overseers have the greatest movement beyond their character traits, even into the community at large. This shows that overseers have the greatest sphere of responsibilities.

Deacons also have an outward movement from their required, inward character traits. But with deacons, the movement does not go beyond those within the congregation. This shows that deacons have a more focused responsibility, primarily within the congregation. This smaller sphere of service also matches the meaning of the word deacon, which means “servant” and “assistant.” Note: this does not mean that deacons serve less, it just shows where and how such service is to take place.

Deaconesses have no outward movement beyond their required, inward characteristics. This shows that they have the smallest public role among these three spheres of service. This makes sense, for it matches Paul’s earlier injunction for women “not to exercise authority over a man [context = during worship] but to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 3:12). Further, of all the women in a congregation, a deaconess should especially model receiving what God has for her, not being like Eve during the fall into sin, where she spoke when she should have received from Adam (1 Timothy 2:14, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16). That’s also why only men may serve as overseers (1 Timothy 3:2): In such a role, they are to speak for God, where Adam had shirked his duties and remained silent. Note: As with deacons, this does not mean that deaconesses serve less, it just shows where and how such service is to take place.

 Lesson 6, Overseers, Deacons, and Deaconesses Compared



A Second Look at Deacons

Read 1 Timothy 3:12

  • What must a deacon be that is also a requirement for an overseer? Discuss if needed.


  • Do we find an outward movement from character trait (adjective, noun) to doing (verb)?


Lesson 6, Requirements for a Man to be an Deacon, Pt 2


Read 1 Timothy 3:13

  • What does Paul say for those who serve well as deacons?


“good standing”: Greek, bathmos: a step, a base or foundation, a threshold. In Greek culture, bathmos was a step to advance in grade or rank. Paul could mean that if a deacon served well, he could “move in rank” to serve as an overseer, for a deacon who serves poorly should not later serve as an overseer. This makes even more sense when we see that Paul makes no such statement for deaconesses.

“confidence”: Greek, parrasia: boldness and frankness relating to speech, outspokenness, a right to speak out. In a 1st-century secular Greek context, parrasia referred to freedom of speech.

Context: Paul wants Pastor Timothy to understand that a deacon’s “good standing,” an advancement of rank and his “confidence,” outspokenness, and right to speak out are not two separate items, but are related to each other. (This, also, is one of the functions of “and” in the Greek.)

Paul is telling Pastor Timothy (remember that he is not writing to a congregation or deacons) that a deacon who serves well may later serve as an overseer. That’s when he will have the right to be outspoken and “confidently” speak out. That’s preaching. This understanding also matches the outward movement of the requirements for an overseer, which move into the public sphere (1 Timothy 3:7).

In an LC-MS context, our vicars serve as deacons, pastoral assistants, later advancing in “rank” (bathmos), with the right to speak confidently as an overseer. (However, contrary to Scripture, we don’t ordain them, laying hands laid on them, placing them to serve in such an assisting role [see Acts 6:1-6]).


The Church

Read 1 Timothy 3:14-15a

  • What is Paul hoping to do?


  • Why did Paul write what he did to Pastor Timothy?


  • Why does Timothy need to know “how one ought to behave in the household of God”?


Read 1 Timothy 3:15b

  • What is the household of God?


“church”: Greek , “assembly.” Except for James 2:2, the New Testament doesn’t call the Christian community a “synagogue” but, instead, “church.” This deliberately evokes the qahal yahweh, “the Lord’s assembly,” during Israel’s wandering in the desert. Like the qahal yahweh, the Church is also a people called out of the land of darkness and slavery into a covenant with God (Numbers 16:3, 20:4; Deuteronomy 23:2-8; Micah 2:5).

Paul used the word “church” for the local assembly. We see this when he called the congregation at Thessalonica the “the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). He also used “church” to stand for the universal Church, the “Church catholic,” which is Paul’s meaning here.

“The living God”: A title for God that the Old Testament frequently used (14 times in the Old Testament, two times in the Old Testament Apocrypha), which Paul also used: Romans 9:26; 2 Corinthians 3:3, 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; and 1 Timothy 4:10. It contrasts the one, true God with false gods that cannot move or speak. Because God is living, then how one behaves in the worship assembly matters.

  • In relation to the truth, what is the Church?


  • As Lutherans, we would have preferred if Paul said that Scripture was a “pillar and buttress of the truth.” However, Paul refers to the Church in this way. So, what role does the Church play in the life of the Christian? 


Excursus: the Relationship between the Scriptures and the Church

The Scriptures are the inspired truth of God, whom God inspired writers to put down into human words.

2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness.” But as profitable as Scripture is for us in our lives, Scripture is not “a pillar and buttress of the truth,” the Church is.

Since “Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness” and the Church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth,” then we need both in our lives! Neither one is optional; both have a God-given role in our lives as God’s people.

A proper understanding of Scripture brings you to value the Church. A proper-functioning Church brings those within her to value the Scriptures. It’s not an either-or reality. Properly valuing the Church does not take away from Scripture; instead, it brings you to understand the content of Scripture as God intends. That’s why “the Church of the living God, is a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

The Church has a role in teaching and correcting, even correcting someone’s misunderstanding of Scripture. The Apostle Peter tells us, “You should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). So, according to Scripture, no one may not have his own interpretation of Scripture! That means what you or I may think that a Scripture passage means is irrelevant. What matters is this: What does God, through the writer, mean in a passage of Scripture? That’s what matters—not your “personal interpretation.”

And that’s where THE Church (not any particular congregation or denomination) is to act in our lives. THE Church keeps a “me and Jesus” approach from damaging our faith life. THE Church lets us know—as a pillar and buttress of the truth—what is the truth, what is the proper understanding of God’s Word, the Scriptures.

If we take the Scriptures seriously, then we must take Christ’s Church seriously. They are both twin pillars of our faith. If we only value the Church, then we demean the Scriptures. If we only value the Scriptures, then we belittle the Bride of Christ, the Church.

Jesus has redeemed us, not into chaos and confusion, but into a harmonious unity of mind and Spirit. Jesus’ pure doctrine fuses us together, through faith, into His own death and resurrection. That’s why true Christian freedom begins with believing that the crucified, risen, and ascended King who bought us back from our sin will not tolerate our use of that freedom to prop up our sin and rebellion. “Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil” (1 Peter 2:16), which includes the idea that there is such a thing as someone’s own a private interpretation of Scripture.


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