Biblical Ministries for Women

4. The Biblical Diacomate of male Deacons: often helped by auxiliary fulltime Deaconesses

It must be noted that the first New Testament Deacons were all males — even though elected to take care specifically of neglected widows. Acts 6:1-8 & 7:2,21 cf. I Tim. 5:8-13. Yet even in apostolic times, it is certain that specially-qualified Christian ladies helped those male Deacons. And they did so in the ladies' own fulltime auxiliary church ministry — as Deaconesses. Cf. I Tim, 3:8-11 & 5:9-11 & Rom. 16:1-2.

Thus the same Paul mentions "the women" qualified to assist the male Deacons in I Tim. 3:8-11. Indeed, it is them whom he probably mentions again in 5:5-16, where they would seem to be mature women and especially diligent widows sixty years old and above. He also describes "our sister" Phebe not only as a patroness or "a succourer of many" but also as "a diakonos of the church at Cenchrea." Rom. 16:1-2.

Again, in the church at Lydda, Peter encountered the woman Tabitha or Dorcas who, by making "coats and garments" for impoverished widows, helped them in a similar way to the manner in which the first all-male Deacons did. Acts 9:56,59,41 cf. 6:1-8. Thus, not only the male Deacons but so too the "women" who obviously helped them, were to be respectable; unloquacious; circumspect; trustworthy in everything. I Tim. 3:8-11 cf. 2:9-11. Deaconesses' tasks apparently included especially: caring for widows and orphans; showing mercy to the sick; providing hospitality; and succouring many. I Tim, 3:8-11 cf. 5:3-16 & Jas, 1:27 & Rorn. 12:4-13 & 16:1-2.


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5. Deaconesses in early church history

Already in the later Pre-Christian synagogues, the office of Deaconess seems to have been developing (cf. the Talmud); and Paul discusses it as well established in the New Testament Church. Rom. 16:2 & I Tim. 5:11 & 5:9ff. Pliny mentions church diaconissae or ministrae in his 112 A.D. Epistle to Trajan; and so too do Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Theodore of Mopsuestia, the Apostolic Constitutions, and Chrysostom.

The Apostolic Constitutions give the following prayer "concerning a Deaconess" at the time of her church appointment: "O bishop, you shall lay your hands upon her in the presence of the Presbytery, and of the Deacons and Deaconesses, and shall say: 'O Eternal God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of man and of woman, Who did replenish with the Spirit Miriam and Deborah and Anna and Hulda (Ex, 15:20, Judg, 4:4, Luke 2:16, II Kgs, 22:14); Who did not disdain that Your only begotten Son should be born of a woman; Who also in the tabernacle of the testimony and in the temple did ordain women to be keepers of Your holy gates (Ex, 38:8ff, I Sam. 2:22, cf. Joh. 18:16-17) — do now also look down upon this servant of Yours who is to be ordained to the office of a Deaconess, and grant her Your Holy Spirit and cleanse her from all filthiness of flesh and Spirit (II Cor. 7:1), so that she may worthily discharge the work which is committed to her to Your glory, and the praise of Your Christ with Whom glory and adoration be to You and the Holy Spirit for ever! Amen.'"2

6. Schaff on the early church's Deaconesses

The renowned Swiss-American Presbyterian Church History Professor, Rev. Dr. Philip Schaff, has the following to say in his monumental work History of the Christian Church: "The office of Deaconess which under the strict separation of the sexes in ancient times and especially in Greece was necessary to the completion of the Diaconate, and which originated in the apostolic age (cf. Rom, 12:1-13), continued in the Eastern Church down to the twelfth century. It was frequently occupied by the widows of clergy….. Its functions were the care of the female poor, sick & imprisoned; assisting in the baptism of adult women; and, in the country churches of the East, perhaps also of the West, the preparation of women for baptism by private instruction. Rom. 16:1f.

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