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Rubel Shelly - Faith Matters - The Deaconess

In an issue of Faith Matters from Woodmont Hills, Rubel Shelly notes that Restoration leaders recognized the deaconess. However, they looked after women where men could not go and served as sewing circles. The word Deaconess occurs only in the King James Version and, like Easter and unknown tongues, was used without any special endorsement. For his article on women Click Here.

See Rick Atchle's justification of elder selection of deaconesses at Richland Hills in Fort Worth.

Rubel Shelly notes that:rubel shelly, rubel shelly, rubel shelly,

"In closing his epistle to the Romans, Paul sent personal greetings to several people who had been "a great help" to him; there are eight women named in Romans 16:1-16. The first one named was the person who appears to have carried the epistle to Rome for him, "Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea." The word "servant" is the Greek term in feminine form that is used of deacons in the New Testament literature. Many biblical scholars believe there was a female order of deacons in the first century. Among those in our own heritage who have subscribed to this view are Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Moses Lard, and Robert Milligan.

Comments: rubel shelly, rubel shelly,

We might say that the masculine form is used for the deacon who has been identified or pointed out as qualified to be assigned tasks by the Pastor-Teachers or elders to care for the people in the local community or to be sent on errands. There is no evidence that a deacon ever "presided at the Lord's Table" or any of the roles of the modern church. One can perform a work for the church without being a "preside over" or "non-sedantary" performer of modern ritual.

There was no word in the Greek for "deaconess" so this is a King James Word. Therefore, when works for women are defined the Restoration Movement, like the Catholic Church, adopted the word Deaconess to define works excludively among women and in those ares where men could not intrude.

Therefore, there is noting in the Restoration Movement history that we have found which defines the "office" of the Deaconess any terms similar to the word Deacon.

Restoration Movement Writers

We have not just quoted these early writers without proof but we have linked to a resource so that you can read what was really quoted along with their COMMENTARY which never equates the female servant of the church to the male deacon.

"In Christian Union Thomas Campbell puts deaconess in parenthesis but then says: That the former (elders) were also called stewards, pastors, and teachers; officially teaching and ruling the churches for their spiritual edification and comfort.

The latter--called deacons, or servants; officially attending to the distribution of the contributions of the churches, for charitable and religious purposes: Acts 6. 2, 3; Rom. xvi. 1, 2. "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples, and said, It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this

J.W. McGarvey

"Had there been others with her, they would doubtless have been also commended] our sister [our fellow-Christian], who is a servant [Literally, a "deaconess." For deacons, see Acts 6:1-6; Phil. 1:1, etc.

The word "deaconess" is found only here; but this single reference with commendation stamps the office with apostolic sanction and approval,

though the attempt to revive the office in our modern churches has not as yet met with any marked success.

Pliny, in his letter to Trajan (A. D. 107-111), mentions deaconesses, saying that he extorted information from "two old women who were called ministræ." The Latin minister (feminine, ministræ) is the equivalent of the Greek diakonos, or deacon] of the church that is at Cenchreæ

J.W. McGarvey asks the question of whether Phoebe was a Deaconess.

Commenting on Alexander Campbell on "The Deacon's Office" in the Christian Baptist, William Kimbrough Pendleton wrote:

"Campbell treated the office of Deacon as official but then notes that: In the discharge of this duty there would, necessarily, arise cases in which men could not, with propriety, act; especially in a country, like the East,

where the social intercourse between the sexes was restricted by so many forms;

and, therefore, we find that into this order females were introduced, evidently by apostolic sanction. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, xvi. 1., speaks of Phoebe, as a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea, who had been a helper of many, especially of himself; and in the 1 Epistle to Timothy, iii.11-12, we interpret him as describing their qualifications for office.

Women did then and do now assist in baptism or bathing sick women. At times she would have been called a deaconess but without any overseeing role in the church.

Another article agrees that the deaconess would always assist the women getting undressed for the "bath" or baptism."

Amongst the Greeks who paid so much regard to differences of sex, female deacons, or deaconesses, were appointed to visit and wait upon the sisters.

However, Campbell makes some leaps of scholarship which are better labeled as "we conclude" or "this is a necessary inference."

Campbell did not discuss the word "labor" as predicated of men in the New Testament, and he seems to have read into it here his own assumptions about what roles were appropriate for women.

"In this state of things the deacons had something to do. They were intimately acquainted with the families and wants of the brethren, and in paying a christian regard to these and the duties of their office they obtained an honorable rank and great boldness in the faith, or fluency in the doctrine of Christ. Conversant with the sick and the poor, intimate with the rich and more affluent brethren, familiar with all, and devoted to the Lord in all their services, they became eminent for their piety and charity, and of high reputation amongst their brethren.

Once every week these contributions were made, and as often were the appropriations made in times and circumstances that required them.

Out of the church's treasury, then, the poor and distressed widow above three score, or the sick and afflicted disciple was relieved. The Lord's table was continually furnished with bread and wine. The bishops' also, according to their labors and their need, were supplied. And thus every thing was promptly attended to in the Lord's institution which could afford spiritual and temporal comfort to all the subjects of his kingdom.

However, Campbell is in agreement with all of church history that while widows and nuns were dubbed deaconesses, they did not "head up ministeries" or take authority in the assembly

Amongst the Greeks who paid so much regard to differences of sex, female deacons, or deaconesses, were appointed to visit and wait upon the sisters.

Next, Campbell resorts to necessary inferences. Nevertheless, he again concurs that this work was that of service and did not meet the definition of being a Christian Minister or Pastor which inhers i the word "diakonos." Furthermore, the deacons must be qualified as "full of the Spirit" or "holding the mystery of the faith" to make the, like the elders, apt to teach:

Of this sort was Phebe of Cenchrea, and other persons mentioned in the New Testament, who labored in the gospel. The seven persons mentioned and appointed to the service of tables, Acts vi. though not so denominated, were nevertheless invested with and fully possessed of this office. The treasury was entrusted to them-the widows' tables, and every table which required service was attended by them. The direction given the Corinthians respecting the treasury, and the instructions to Timothy and Titus concerning the choice of deacons, also concerning the support of widows and bishops, all concur in furnishing the above views of this office and work.

It has been noted that the loose use of the word "deaconess" didn't fly any more in the Restoration Movement than it did among the historical Catholics:

Contributions are made for the necessities of saints. The deacons are acquainted, and, through them, the whole fraternity, with the circumstances of all. Under its wise and wholesome discipline care is taken that every member capable of labor, work with his own hands, diligently at some honest calling.

Alexander Campbell is very explicit in denouncing for either sex what is implied in selecting deaconesses in the mega churches or mega-towers of Babel like "temple states" which go beyond the prescription for the deacons:

It was not so much per annum to the bishop, nor so much per annum to the poor, nor so much per annum to the Lord's table; but according to the exigencies of each and the ability to contribute, was the extent of the treasury and the distribution of the stewards or deacons of the congregation.

The plain and simple state of the case is this: Christian congregations in primitive times, had need of money or earthly things as well as we. They had rich and poor members. Their poor were such as could not, either through bodily infirmities, or through the inadequate proceeds of their labor in times of embarrassment, furnish their own tables. Those who had to spare were then called upon to supply their wants. And in many instances they not only contributed to the wants of their own poor, but to the wants of those of remote christian communities, in times of general scarcity or pecuniary difficulties.

The indolent, slothful, and bad economists are censured, admonished, and reformed, or excluded. The Lord's table is constantly furnished. The bishops' wants and necessities always supplied, and no one deprived of any necessary good. There are persons fitted for every service; and those who attend continually on this good service, become eminent in the faith, and after refreshing others are again in turn refreshed themselves.

The contracting of heavy and oppressive debts is proscribed. No brother is allowed to enthral himself or others in any sort of worldly speculations which incur either anxiety on his part or inconvenience to others. The aged, feeble, and helpless are taken care of by the brethren.

In this view of the deacon's office, we cannot but concur with the sayings and views of the primitive fathers who considered the deacons as the treasurers of the congregation, and as appointed to the service of tables, viz. the Lord's table, the poor's table, and the bishop's table.

Campbell's exegesis is for the most part not explicit in this essay, and some of his interpretations may be questioned, but it is clear that he believed the churches in the New Testament had female deacons who, like the male deacons, administered church finances in attending to the needs of the poor.

Because the church had no other "collections" (not commanded) it is a fair conclusion that neither Paul not Campbell extends the women's role beyond ministering to the sick or poor or needy: that is what Phoebe did for Paul

In "Ancient Order" number 32, with the subtitle "Official Names and Titles" (Christian Baptist 7 [1829], 17-18), Campbell summarized his views on several church offices including deacons:

Deacons [will apply] to those males who are the public servants of the whole congregation. Deaconesses, to those female public servants, who officiate amongst the females.

So, we are left with absolutely not authority to assign deaconesses over a work for which the church has no authority and indeed cannot tolerate without abandoning the role of church as "school."

Pendleton notes that the "deaconess" (which is not an English word) did things which male deacons could not do. That would not include heading up a ministry or ruling over a fraction of the education program.

2nd. The duties of the deacons are, to collect the bounty of the church, appropriate it to the necessities of the destitute brethren, and execute whatever function may be proper and necessary to the discharge of these.

This will involve a general care for the sick, and a discreet provision for the wants of all such as are needy. In the faithful and benevolent performance of these duties, the deacons procure for themselves a good degree and great //54// boldness in the faith. But besides this,-the most important and honorable part of the deacon's duties,-they are to serve the church in its puplic [sic] worship, ministering upon the Lord's table, attending to the current expenses, and other secular interests essential to the good order and comfort of the body.

These duties,-the nature of the office, the example of the Synagogue, and the history of apostolic usage designate as incumbent upon the deacons.

3rd. Besides Deacons, every church should have Deaconesses, whose duty it is to perform such offices as cannot be so well performed by deacons, and especially such to females,

as could not with delicacy and propriety be laid upon the deacons. This both Scripture and decency require. W. K. P.

Aiding women in baptism has always been relegated to women.

Walter Scott

}We could name a church in which the sisterhood are in the habit of assembling once a week at the house of one of the Deaconesses to sew and make garments for the poor and needy; but to name the church is wholly unnecessary and it might be improper as I mention it merely to recommend the charitable custom to the sisters of other churches, that they also may be fruitful in good works and adorn their holy pro- fession by deeds of love and benevolence; for if weexcel others in our views of divine truth, it is but reasonable that we should excel them in righteousness also.

W. S.

"Then a note is added: Since he capitalized "Deaconesses," it appears that Scott understood this as an official function in the congregation. Alexander Campbell taught that deacons were responsible for administering church funds to furnish tables, namely, the Lord's table, the bishop's table and the tables of the poor ("Ancient Order XIX, Christian Baptist 4 [1826], 77-78; Extra issue on "Order," Millennial Harbinger 6 [October, 1835], 507). Deacons thus made provision for worship and provided food as needed for the teacher and for the needy.

"The sewing circle obviously went beyond considerations of food in meeting the needs of the poor, and Scott approves their work in language that echoes 1 Timothy 2:9-10. Scott does not indicate what other activities deaconesses or women in general might have undertaken, and we need not assume that they were limited to charitable work. On the other hand, Campbell did teach that women deacons officiated specifically among women (Christian Baptist 7 [1829], 17-18), so we might assume that this unnamed "Deaconess" was, among other things, the organizer of the sewing circle.

None of these are leadership or stand up-speak out roles.

In another note, Campbell restricted the role of women servants: "He assumed that the women deacons administered church resources to poor women and widows,

where propriety would not permit men into the women's quarters to attend to the needs of women." Campbell apparently never provided exegesis for his opinions.

B.W.Johnson wrote: rubel shelly, rubel shelly,

"8-10. Likewise must the deacons. The ancient church understood that the seven appointed in Acts, chapter 6 were the first deacons. They were not called deacons, but filled a diaconate. In Phil. 1:1, we find deacons existing. Their office (work) seemed to have been to look after the temporal matters of the church, and especially to care for the poor and the widows.

"The Revision says, "Women must be," etc. I believe that the Old Version is nearer right. The duties of women generally are not spoken of in the midst of a discussion of elders and deacons. Either deaconesses are meant, or the wives of bishops and deacons; more likely the latter. We know that an injudicious wife may mar the work of a church officer.

"The word ("deacon") in the Greek. The word also means "servant," as rendered, but we know that there were deaconesses in the church of the first century, and Paul, in giving her a recommendation, no doubt mentions her office.

To say that she was a servant of the church, would convey no special distinction. In the East, where women were so much secluded, deaconesses would be a necessity. Paul evidently refers to them. 1Ti 5:9,10 evidently refers to them; Ignatius, a companion of the apostles, mentions them in one of his epistles, and Pliny does also, in his famous letter to Trajan, early in the second century.

First Deaconess 1969 Baptists

At the annual meeting, "Mrs. F. Burnham", an English immigrant who was baptised in October 1952,271 was elected onto the board as "deaconess". For the first time in the history of the church a woman had been elected onto the board.272

The passage which is twisted out of shape to allow the "office" of the deaconess is sandwitched between two verses dealing with the deacons. It goes into it discussing the deacon and comes out of it discussing the deacon. It would be pretty poor work of the Holy Spirit to make such a mistake and inject the Deaconess in the middle where the anticedant is clearly the deacon's qualifications, his wifes qualifications and his wife limited to just one (or just once married):

Deacons as a Group

And let these (deacons) also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 1 Timothy 3:10

Deacon's Wives or "Deaconess"


Even so must their (deacons?) wives (gune g1135) be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 1 Timothy 3:11 (wives NIV, KJV, NKJV, LIV, NAS, NSV)

Each Deacon One sober Wife

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife (gune g1135), ruling their children and their own houses well. 1 Timothy 3:12

1. Because gune is the Greek word in both verse 11 and verse 12 and if it means deaconess in verse 11 would this demand that the deacon be the husband of just one deaconess?

2. If the Deaconess gune must be grave and sober does this mean that the wife gune can be a tramp?

3. If the Holy Spirit intended to introduce the "Deaconess" and fully aware that there is no Greek word for a female deacon, He would have been as smart as a street Greek and said "Even so must the Woman Deacons be sober."

Earlier, Paul demanded that:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife (gune g1135), vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 1 Timothy 3:2

1. If gune means "Deaconess" in verse 11 why wouldn't gune mean "Deaconess" or "Elderess" in verse 2? Or would it mean just Deaconess so that an elder must only marry a Deaconess rather than just a non-ecclesiastical "woman."

2. If in 3:11 we follow the advice of the modern defender of the office of Deaconess then the Holy Spirit was simply careless and we should translate it:

Even so must the Deaconess (supplieddiakonos g1249) be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 1 Timothy 3:11

4. Then there is no qualifications for the wives of elders or the wives of deacons. They must simply rule over them to keep them under control as he does his children!

(The Elder must be) One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity 1 Timothy 3:4

Under another heading we noted that there was no word for "Deaconess" at this time. Women were enrolled in the church to receive charity and they were expected to minister to the younger women (no male "counselors" of young women here). No one in the history of Catholic innovations was a Deaconess ever allowed to serve or rule over a male.

The ancient scholars who made the office official and then disbanded it understood that Deaconess applied to the widows as Johnson notes:

Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore (60) years old, having been the wife of one man, 1Tim 5:9

(She was a mininister in that she was): Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. 1Tim 5:10

Because of the general identity of the "widow in deed" with the modern word "Deaconess" then no married woman could be a deaconess, and no young woman could be a deaconess and, more damning to the modern "office," she must be pledged to celibacy or be a virgin who has never married or never involved with a man.

If you gag at the word "servant" you might call these women deaconesses. However, this is always recognized as a work rather than an ecclesiastical office. It gives her no more authority than the women who do meals on wheels, make quilts, prepare food and clothing for the needy and on and on. This would give no authority for women to do an end run around Paul's prohibition of speaking or stand up roles for women "when the church comes together."

The goal of Rubel Shelly and Jubilee 98 is to open the door for "a wider public role for women" and music. The first step may be to call those noble women who have always done the work by an official title like "preacher" to elevate them above their sisters. However, as almost always, when a good work well under control by some good sister is made into an ecclesiastical, pyramidal-structure office of the "Diaconate" who heads the committee, the good work often comes to a screeching halt and we all know it.

Conclusion: there is no aid and comfort for these misused scholars of the Word who make modern scholars sound like children catering to the "eighth-grade-level-woman's" market for most books (about the author, of course.)

If most "ministers-turned-masters" became Phoebe's instead of the other way round the church and world would be a nicer, quieter, less divisive place.

Richland Hills Church of Christ and the Deaconess

The Deaconess - Rubel Shelly is

Huldah - Prophetess - Librarian?
Ezekiel 13 - Women in Ministry - Rubel Shelly
1 Timothy 3:11 - Deaconesses
Deacon in The Catholic Encyclopedia
Deaconess in the Catholic Encyclopedia
Deaconesses in the Council of Nicea A.D. 325
Women Deacons (Deaconesses) - Didascalia
Women Deacons (Deaconesses) - Tertullian
Women in Worship - Deaconesses - Lifting Holy Hands

Kenneth Sublett

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