Deacon’s wives or Deaconesses? 1Tim. 3:11
Can a deacon be disqualified due to the bad behaviour of his wife? I suppose there would be people who would like to interpret 1Timothy three verse eleven that way. To what extent should translators of the Bible, with their superior knowledge of the original languages and insight into the culture be lead by the context to choose a word that would enforce a specific understanding of a verse?
Let us consider some versions of this verse:
(ASV) Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.
(ALT) In the same manner, women [or, [their] wives] [are to be] worthy of respect, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in all [things].
(KJV) Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.
(NIV) In the same way, their wives (Since 2011-edition: the women) are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. (Note: or deaconesses.)
Common English Bible: Women who are servants (Note: or “wives”)
NLT: In the same way their wives… (Note: Or the women deacons. The Greek word can be translated women or wives.)
The Greek word “gunaike” used here, is usually used to refer to “wife”, but can also refer to woman in general. Therefore the versions with “their wives” or “women” are both grammatically correct yet impact on the understanding of the verse. What should the translator consider in making a choice?
In 1 Tim. 3:1-13 Paul gives guidelines for the character and attributes needed for persons serving in the Church.
Verse 1-7: Elders
Verse 8-10: Deacons
Verse 11: Women
Verse 12-13: Deacons
Looking at the context, three possibilities for the interpretation of women are possible:
1. Women in general, indicating female members of the Church.
2. The wives of deacons.
3. Women serving in the Church, be it in general, or as deaconesses.
Let us consider these possibilities with reference to the context:
1. Women as members of the Church. 1) It is unlikely that Paul had women in general as members of the Church in mind. In no epistle of Paul does he mention specific requirements for women in particular, other than the general guidance to all believers. 2) This verse is inserted in the middle of the discussion of specific requirements for officials of the Church. That makes it highly improbable that Paul would insert general directions at this place. The American Standard Version could be understood in this way.
2. The wives of deacons. 1) This remark is encircled by the discussion of the qualifications for deacons, making it easily understood as part of that category. 2) The common usage of the word is “gunaike” is wife. 3) Nowhere does Paul use this word to indicate deaconesses but like in Rom.16:1, he uses the proper word for deacon. 4) Paul puts great emphasize on the unity between husband and wife (1Cor.9:5) which could be underlying to the wife accompanying her deacon husband on his visits to houses in need. The KJV as well as the NIV prior to the 2011 edition makes this choice.
3. Women performing general duties in the Church, or specific indicating deaconesses. The Church Fathers Chrysostom (†407) and Theophylact (†1077) supported this meaning. 1) Exactly the same introductory construction is used here for “women”, as in verse eight for deacons. In both cases “similarly” is followed by identifying the group or office bearers, followed by a parallel set of qualifications applicable; even as for overseers in verse two. 2) There is no direct connection to deacons like “their wives” or “the wives of deacons”. 3) Like verse eight, the construction in verse eleven has no verb, but presupposes the verb in verse two: “it is necessary for … to be”. 4) It is obvious that Paul had people in mind that would perform some duties in the Church. If he restricted it only to the wives of deacons, he would diminish the pool from which such helpers could me chosen. 1Tim.5:3-11 indicates that inter alia widows played an important role in the early Churches. 5) Paul emphasizes the equality of man and woman before God (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 11:11) and therefore surely also in the official offices of the Church. When Paul handles the qualifications for overseers and deacons, it is the ideal place to also look at the qualifications needed for serving women. 6) The qualifications are very similar to those indicated for overseers and deacons. It is unlikely that the similar requirements would be applicable for someone not in official office. 7) Verse thirteen is an appropriate conclusion to both man or woman deacons, though verse twelve is out of step, especially when one takes in account that many of women that could qualify, would be single women or widows.
Greek grammar does not make a choice, but any translation into English inevitably necessitates a choice. To my opinion the translator should make his choice, but indicate alternatives in the margin. I personally prefer the version of the Common English Bible: “Women who are servants…” or rather, “Women who serve in the Church…”, but then the version becomes more of a paraphrase
If you were to be the translator, how would you handle this verse?
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