Was Eve the First Deacon?

By Adam Brown –

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:12-15).

All complementarian churches agree that male headship in the church and in the home is biblical and important. There remains much disagreement, however, when it comes to deciding whether or not women can serve as deacons. In some complementarian churches, women do serve as deacons. In others, women do not. Which option is right? That depends, I suppose, on how we define the position of deacon.

There is surprisingly little written about the office of deacon in the Bible. Although the word, “deacon,” occurs 29 times in 27 verses of the Greek New Testament,[1] only 7 of these have any possible reference to the office of deacon in the governance of the local church.[2]

The relative scarcity of information about deacons is often supplemented by Acts 6:1-7, even though the word, “deacon,” is never employed in this chapter. This makes good sense because the Twelve (apostles) were clearly the overseers of the fledgling church and the Seven were selected to relieve them of certain responsibilities. Thus, it seems accurate to say that Stephen-and-company represent the church’s first deaconate.

While I am not opposed to the association of the Seven with the deaconate, I am persuaded that it is Eve, not Stephen, who is the worthier candidate for the title, Paradigmatic Deacon.

Reference to Eve, in 1 Timothy 2:13-15, is separated from 1 Timothy 3:8-13, the quintessential passage on deacons, by a mere 7 verses. Compare this to the 98 chapters that stand between Stephen in Acts 6 and the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3.

Indeed, Eve is part of Paul’s operating theological grid at precisely the moment he offers the clearest outline of church structure in all the Bible. By contrast, there is no evidence that Stephen ever crossed Paul’s mind when it came time to write about elders and deacons.

I wonder if many complementarians fail to identify Eve as Paul’s prototypical deacon simply because she was a woman. By contrast, Stephen fits our traditional bill effortlessly, simply because we can employ masculine pronouns in place of his name.

However, the case should be made that Eve, not Stephen, is Scripture’s definitive deacon.

To begin, it is helpful to note that Paul’s discussion about deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is located within a broader passage about church structure that stretches from 1 Timothy 2:11-3:16.

 

Macro-Structure of 1 Timothy 2.11-3.16

 

On both ends of this passage, Paul employs “household” imagery. In 1 Timothy 2:13-15, Paul justifies the role of men and women in the church by appealing to Adam and Eve, humanity’s original household. In these verses, Paul argues that the church ought to be structured along the same theological lines that established the first family unit. Likewise, at the end of this passage, Paul explains that he is writing these things so that Timothy might know how one ought to behave in the church, “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

Between these flanking references to the household, Paul outlines a simple two-part structure for the church (1 Timothy 3:1-13). This structure assigns leadership and teaching to overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and acts of service to deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13).

Since 1 Timothy 3:1-13 is bookended by appeals to the household, it follows logically that Paul is establishing a governing structure for the church that runs parallel to the family household unit. With the pre-Fall household of Adam and Eve serving as Paul’s reference point, it follows naturally that overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7) will reflect the mandate given to Adam and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13) will align with the mandate given to Eve.

This is, in fact, exactly what we see. Whereas overseers are to teach and exercise authority, there is nothing in the qualifications for deacons that would compel an active deacon, male or female, to violate the prohibitions given to women in 1 Timothy 2:12.

When we have eyes to see it, a job description that emanates from a careful study of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is exactly the kind of job description that we might give to a “helpmate” (Genesis 2:18). Deacons are to be believers, not teachers (1 Timothy 3:9); helpers, not leaders (1 Timothy 3:10); managers, not governors (1 Timothy 3:12).

All things considered, we should not be shocked that women are eligible to serve as deacons but that men are. It is not a concession – or a transgression – to appoint women as deacons, for, according to Genesis 2:18, women were created to be deacons (helpmates). Perhaps, any complementarian objections with regard to women deacons, stem from a failure to implement 1 Timothy 3:8-13 at all, or to conflate these verses with 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

With a wide-angle lens, many of our inhibitions about appointing women to serve as deacons begin to fade. A strong case can be made that Adam was the first overseer and that Eve was the first deacon. Though their household succumbed to sin, Christ is building the household of God on the very same pattern He established at Creation. Are we?

I am writing you these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

[1] Matt 20:26, 22:13, 23:11; Mark 9:35, 10:43; John 2:5, 2:9, 12:26; Rom 13:4 (twice), 15:8, 16:1; 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6, 6:4, 11:15 (twice), 11:23; ; Gal 2:17; Eph 3:7, 6:21; Phil 1:1; Col 1:7, 1:23, 1:25, 4:7; 1 Tim 3:8, 3:12, 4:6

[2] Rom 16:1; Eph 6:21; Phil 1:1; Col 1:7, 4:7; 1 Tim 3:8, 3:12

One thought

  1. Interesting. Never thought about Eve. When I was pastoring we had deacons and deaconesses. I based this on Phoebe from Romans 16 and 1 Timothy 3:11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. “Wives” being better understood as “the women”

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