According to the Bible, can women be deacons in the church? Can women be elders in the church?
First off, what are elders and what are deacons? I will attempt to answer all this based off of what the Bible actually says, not so much by the current use of the terms in modern interpretations or tradition.
An elder means an “overseer” or “superintendent”, and according to the New Testament they can make decisions pertaining to the local church. Following the New Testament model, there are supposed to be multiple elders in each local church which make decisions together, as this is not left up to any one single person. It seems their ideal number may be twelve, as the first church was the one in Jerusalem which consisted of the 12 apostles.
It is known that elders could make decisions for the church based on the account of Acts 15:6-29.
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’— things known from long ago.
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.
By this passage, we know that elders have the ability to make decisions for the church. By this same passage, we also know that apostles also have the ability to make decisions for the church. In this passage above the elders and apostles made decisions together. And truly, the writings of Paul and Peter that compose so many books of the New Testament, which we still follow today, were in fact written by apostles.
As we covered in this article here, women can be apostles, such as Junia the apostle that is mentioned in Rom 16:7. And we also covered that the Holy Spirit gives His gifts as He chooses. Which means that regardless of if women can be elders, they can be apostles, and as such women can still have the ability to make decisions for the church in being apostles. And it is both elders and apostles who together made decisions for the church in Acts 15. This passage confirms both the decision making ability of apostles and elders at the same time.
As such, there is no reason to object that women could not be elders based purely on the idea that women are not able to hold a position of decision-making for the church. As many women as are apostles, a gift given by the choice of the Holy Spirit, they are all in the position to have the same ability as elders in making decisions for a church, inherently by being apostles. People seem to sometimes forget that being an apostle is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and does not just refer to the 12 apostles and Paul from 2000 years ago, but rather that it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that He has given to many Christians ever since, both to men and women, as He sees fit.
A deacon is a “servant” or “minister” which works in a church, for an elder or an apostle. They are not recorded to have been able to make decisions for the entire church, but their role is more to serve in the context of different ministries and needs. But within serving those needs, such as a food distribution to widows, they are potentially managing people themselves. In Acts 6:1-6 the twelve apostles had the people choose seven men to serve as deacons.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
Here we can see that the deacons were chosen, and then the apostles prayed and laid hands on them as part of the process of them becoming deacons. Timothy was likely a deacon, serving in the church of Ephesus when Paul wrote him. As 1 Tim 4:6 says,
If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister(deacon) of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
This word “minister” is actually the same word for as for deacon, as it is used in the qualifications for a deacon. This can also be gathered by the same laying on of hands process that was followed in Acts being recounted also in Timothy’s case in this same letter, showed in :
This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 1 Tim 1:18
Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 1 Tim 4:14, and also mentioned in Paul’s second letter, 2 Tim 1:6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
And so Timothy was actually a deacon, not an elder, and his role included setting an example and teaching sound doctrine to the church at Ephesus. He was charged with this by Paul: the instructions of the letter to him, and all of this teaching in the letter of 1 Timothy. And this was as a deacon.
There may be some confusion about this as the editors of the Textus Receptus and the KJV added into the Greek, as an editor’s note, that Timothy was the first ordained bishop (elder) of Ephesus, however this is not in the oldest manuscripts nor any until then in the early 1500s, in short just being their personal opinion.
The apostles seem to have ordained the first deacons by the laying on of hands. These deacons were selected by the people of the church, and then ordained by the apostles through the laying on of hands. In the case of Timothy and Paul, Timothy as a deacon had the task of teaching sound doctrine committed to him by Paul, who seems to have been one of the first to preach the Gospel at Ephesus, and spark the growing Christian church there. While Paul is not in Ephesus, he has Timothy stay there, and as a deacon he commits to him to teach sound doctrine. And so it seems that deacons could serve as teachers, as well as serving in capacities such as food distribution.
Before the first apostles ordained any elders, they first ordained the 7 deacons. As Paul and apostles traveled around to new churches in various cities, they left deacons there to teach. Some time later, they ordained actual elders in the churches, as Acts 14:23 states:
So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
The word here for “appointed” means “1) to vote by stretching out the hand 2) to create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty 3) to elect, create, appoint” and it inherently describes the same process of laying on hands that was practiced with deacons.
It seems that generally, a new church was to be begun by an older church. It was first led by apostles. Then, in this case, the apostle put a deacon there to serve the baby church and help to grow it up, like a child of the parent church. Then once there were Christians who had grown up in the church enough to be more mature, the apostles would either directly, or have the deacon under the apostle, go through a process of the people of the church choosing elders from among them. And both the deacons and the elders of the new church were ordained by the laying on of hands of either the apostles, elders, or the deacons of an older church.
In this it seems that the elders were grown up to replace the apostles, and once ordained, they served the new church in the fashion that the apostles which founded the church once had served. And in this then they also ordained their own deacons, or the apostles ordained deacons from among them as well. There seems to have been some flexibility in how this worked, but most definitely those more experienced in Christ acted parentally over a baby church until those in it has grown up to a more adult maturity, and then the younger church came to manage itself.
In the elders being, in fact, a replacement for the apostles in a grown-up church, it is no wonder that apostles and elders seemed to both make decisions together for the church. In fact the apostles (or those ordained by them) had been like parents to the new church elders, who were later ordained.
In general, there seems to be much in all of this that was based off of necessity in a world of forming new churches in new places, and an ever-expanding growing of the Christian church. And it seems that once apostles or those ordained under them had established a new church, they often travelled on, starting more new churches. Elders and deacons were ordained from the people of that area, by choice of the people, and later with guidelines or qualifications being met, to keep fulfilling the roles of the apostles etc. who had started the church and then left.
Timothy was a deacon serving an apostle, and was to instruct the church on choosing its own elders and its deacons. Eventually Timothy seems to have left Ephesus, as Paul indicates in 2 Tim 4:13, When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
And so all of this indicates that a deacon had a varied role, of being under either an apostle or an elder, who served in some way, which could vary from food ministry to teaching ministry, even in enforcing the instructions of an apostle who was not present, like a deacon might teach or enforce the instructions of an elder in a church once it was grown and independent. And it seems that the elders replaced the role of the apostles who originally founded a church, which means an apostle already had all the authority and responsibility of an elder when the church started.
And so again, as Junia was mentioned as an apostle, it would seem she had this role as well, and just like Paul, for a time in some new church, she had all the authority of an elder, prior to ordaining elders in that new church once it reached independent maturity. And like Paul, she may have had deacons ordained which she charged to serve in some capacity in the church. Taking all this into account, again there seems little reason to object to a woman having the authority and responsibility of an elder in a church.
There are no women clearly mentioned as elders of the Christian church in the Bible. There is one woman mentioned specifically to be a deacon, and the word used of her “diakonos” is the same word that is used as in the requirements of deacons found in 1 Tim 3.
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a deacon of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a patroness of many and of myself also.
The word here for “patroness” is “prostatis”, a feminine noun. It means, “a woman set over others, a female guardian, protectress, patroness.” It is a noun form of the verb “proistemi” which means, “to set or place before a) to set over b) to be over, to superintend, preside over c) to be a protector or guardian 1) to give aid d) to care for, give attention to 1) profess honest occupations”. This verb is used specifically both in reference to the deacons and elders of a church:
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction. 1 Thes 5:12
the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with diligence; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Rom 12:8
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) 1 Tim 3:4-5
Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 1 Tim 3:12
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 1 Tim 5:17
And so if this verb means “to lead, to manage, to rule, to have charge over” then the feminine noun form of this verb means a female “leader, manager, ruler, lady in charge”, in the same way that the verb “to run” equivalents in a noun form to “a runner”. The reference here to elders, and in general to church leaders and those with charge over others, shows that in fact Phoebe’s description of being a “patroness” could be better translated as “leader, manager” and directly ties to her being a deacon.
And so as a leader/manager in being a deacon, it seems that Phoebe, like Timothy, had responsibility and authority over others in the church through serving as a deacon.
And this means that at some point someone ordained Phoebe in the same way that Timothy was ordained as a deacon, by the apostles’ laying on of hands, praying and prophesying over her.
Also mentioned regarding laying on of hands is receiving the Holy Spirit, as in Acts 8:14-17:
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
And also in
He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. Acts 19:2-6
Although on the day of Pentecost, and also the first time that any Gentiles received Him, the Holy Spirit simply was given to the believers, it is true that the apostles also laid hands on people and prayed over them for them to receive the Holy Spirit, after their baptism.
While deacons and elders were chosen by the congregation, following certain qualifications, and were ordained by the laying on of hands with prayer and prophecy, it may be that being an elder or deacon involved a gift of the Holy Spirit.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Rom 12:6-8
Here the gift of leadership is mentioned, and compared to gifts of the Holy Spirit such as prophesy and teaching. As such, it seems that leadership in the church is considered a gift of the Holy Spirit.
1 Cor 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
Here a gift of the Holy Spirit of “governments” is mentioned, and this is sometimes called the “gift of administration”. This is probably the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit of leadership.
It could be that this sort of ordination by the apostles carried with it a prayer for the Holy Spirit to give the gift of governments or leadership to the deacon or elder. This would be very much like the cases in which prayer and laying on of hands resulted in new believers receiving the gift of tongues for the first time. Only in this case, it was a gift of administration or leading.
And so in a very real way, it seems the Bible teaches that those who were deacons or elders were seen very much as servants of the Jesus, doing administration, as a gift of the Holy Spirit. And that is while others had received the gift of apostle, or prophet, teaching, etc. and served in those ways.
It is interesting this gift of “governments” (in order above) was the last of all gifts listed besides tongues. It could be that the church who selected its own elders and deacons from among themselves were led by the Holy Spirit to pick those who seemed to have already been given a gift of administration or leadership. And so when these people were ordained, the prayer and laying on of hands was for them to develop this gift in full which they already seemed to have been given by the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps much in the same way that the disciples served under Jesus, then served Him as apostles, the emphasis on the role of later elders were that they were supposed to be like the first disciples, serving under Jesus as their Lord. Truly, the leader of the church is Jesus, and so elders should be viewed not as the leaders of the church, but as the servants of Jesus Christ who is the leader of the church. As the first disciples were all apostles, starting new churches and travelling, this is the first gift listed, and the one that pertains the most to the great commission of spreading the Gospel to new people. Whereas elders and deacons of an established local church did more in the way of maintenance and administration of the foundation that the apostles had laid. While elders had decision making ability for the church once it was matured, their decisions were to largely be based on the foundation and rules and teachings and doctrines that the apostles had already established. The elders were not in a position to develop a new way, just like the disciples who followed Jesus, but rather to maintain the way which had been taught to them, as the disciples stuck to what Jesus had taught them, and the elders were only to make decisions in how what they had been handed applied in new minor variations of circumstances, for the established body of believers there.
It should also be noted that elders and deacons were not necessarily defined as teachers, prophets, evangelists or apostles in their role in serving the church. Apostles would be sent out, and teaching was a different gift also. Church gatherings at this time are also described to have been far more interactive with those of many different gifts participating in a more open fellowship. In many ways, the original Christian Church of the New Testament was very different than how the church looks today. And in some ways it was the same. But there is little to nothing described here in the Bible which resembles many churches today in which there is one pastor, who teaches, helps, administrates, and often leads in decision making, with a board of elders that usually follow the pastor. It has been said that 10% of the church does 90% of the work, but this was not so much the case back then, in which everyone used their gifts in a more shared way, and the emphasis was more on the Spirit of Jesus leading the church, speaking up through the many people of the congregation, rather than only more through any 1 man, or even a group of elders. There has been much either corrupted or changed through the last 2000 years, which may still need to be restored.
As for women as deacons, yes women could be deacons. Phoebe is mentioned as one in the Bible. So let’s look at the qualifications which she must have met to have been ordained as a deacon:
Deacons — in like manner grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not given to filthy lucre, having the secret of the faith in a pure conscience, and let these also first be proved, then let them minister, being unblameable. Women in like manner grave, not false accusers, vigilant, faithful in all things. Deacons let them be of one wife husbands; the children managing well, and their own houses, for those who did minister well a good step to themselves do acquire, and much boldness in faith that [is] in Christ Jesus. 1 Tim 3:8-13
Paul makes it clear here to specify that women can be deacons. It can be assumed that all of the same qualifications, of being grave, not given to much wine or filthy lucre, having the secret of faith in a pure conscience, being unblameable, being proved first, all apply to not only the male but the female deacons also. But in specific Paul wants them to make sure that women deacons are also grave, not false accusers, vigilant, and faithful in all things. Women are mentioned primarily for this, as he apparently thinks these are more likely problems a woman might have. But of course, not being a false accuser is a qualification for a male deacon also, and the qualifications more targeted to female deacons also apply to the male.
And he wants to make sure that if the deacon is a husband that he only has one wife. In a culture of polygamy this is very understandable to mention as a requirement. As we have covered, a man with more than one wife, in truth is an adulterer. This requirement did not apply to a woman, as she only was able to have one husband. This did not need to be specified as it was unheard of, and any woman trying this would simply be understood as an adulteress. In truth, a man may only have 1 wife, but men have long thought they could make this decision up for themselves, though in truth Jesus revealed that it is God alone who joins 2 people in marriage, and marriage has always functioned by God’s rules, no matter what rules men made up about it. So a deacon must not be an adulterer, claiming 2 or more “wives” (or “concubines”).
As for the children, both a woman or a man may lead their children or house well, so there is nothing gender-specific here. As 1 Pet 3 specifies, a husband and wife “co-dwell” together. And a woman is said to manage her children and house in 1 Tim 5:14 (this same letter)
So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
Apparently in this list, because we know Phoebe was a deacon, we can also know that the phrase “one wife husbands” does not mean that a deacon must be married, nor a man. We can also gather this from the case of Timothy, who is not mentioned to have been married, but also was a deacon. So a better translation for understanding would be “a deacon if a husband must have only one wife”. It can also be assumed that Timothy did not have children, so that portion should be understood as “if a deacon has children they must be well managed”.
The language in this passage is obtusely gender-neutral in the Greek. It would have been possible to write this in a way which was very specific that deacons had to be men, like by saying “deacons must be men” however that is not said. Not only that, but the pronouns used are gender neutral, and open. In what ways the words do seem masculine, it is not specific, but in keeping with the all-inclusive use of the masculine tense in Greek. In other words, if Paul wanted to indicate only men could be deacons, his writing style seems to go out of the way to confuse the reader as to let the reader think that gender is not a qualification.
And this is the exact same style as is used in the passages regarding elders, which also seem to have been intentionally written to be open and gender neutral, and could have easily been written to be very masculine specific, but were not. And again, they could have specified “an elder must be a man” or even “if any man wants to be an elder” but they do not, instead saying “If any one wants to be an elder“, and nothing in here says definitively that an elder must be a man. Below is a translation from the Greek reflecting the earliest manuscript of these passages, the Codex Sinaiticus. I have highlighted in blue anything that seems to indicate only a man can be an elder.
Stedfast the word: If any one the oversight doth long for, a right work one desireth; it behoveth, therefore, the overseer to be blameless, of one wife a husband, vigilant, sober, decent, a friend of strangers, apt to teach, not given to wine, not a striker, not given to filthy lucre, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money, own house managing well, having children in subjection with all gravity, (and if any one own house [how] to manage hath not known, how an assembly of God shall take care of?) not a new convert, lest having been puffed up may fall to a judgment of the devil; and it behoveth also to have a good testimony from those without, that may not fall into reproach and a snare of the devil. 1 Tim 3:1-7
1 πιϲτοϲ ο λογοϲ ει τιϲ επιϲκοπηϲ ορεγε ται καλου εργου επι 2 θυμει δι ουν τον επιϲκοπον ανε πιλημπτον ει ναι μιαϲ γυναικοϲ ανδρα νηφαλ̣ιο ϲωφρονα · κοϲμι ον · φιλοξενον 3 διδακτικον · μη παροινον · μη πληκτην · αλλα επιεικη αμαχο 4 αφιλαργυρον του ϊδιου οικου κα λωϲ προϊϲτανο μενον · τεκνα ε χοντα εν υποτα γη μετα παϲηϲ ϲε μνοτητοϲ 5 ει δε τιϲ του ϊδιου οικου προϲτηναι ουκ οιδεν πωϲ εκ κληϲιαϲ θυ επι μεληϲεται 6 μη νεοφυτον ϊ να μη τυφωθειϲ ειϲ κριμα εμπεϲη του διαβολου 7 δει δε και μαρτυρι αν καλην εχιν α πο των εξωθεν ϲεμνουϲ ϊνα μη ειϲ ονιδι ϲμον εμπεϲη και παγιδα του διαβο λου ·
If any one is blameless, of one wife a husband, having children stedfast, not under accusation of riotous living or insubordinate, for it behoveth the overseer to be blameless, as God’s steward, not self-pleased, nor irascible, not given to wine, not a striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of strangers, a lover of good, sober-minded, righteous, kind, self-controlled, holding according to the teaching to the stedfast word, that may be able also to exhort in the sound teaching, and the gainsayers to convict. Titus 1:6-9
6 ξαμην ει τιϲ εϲτι ανηεγκλητοϲ μιαϲ γυναικοϲ ανηρ τεκνα εχων πιϲτα μη εν κατηγορια αϲωτιαϲ η ανυπο
7 τακτα · δει γαρ τον επιϲκοπον ανεγ κλητον ειναι ωϲ θυ οικονομον μη αυθαδη μη οργιλον μη παροινον μη πληκτην μη αιϲχροκερδη
8 αλλα φιλοξενον φιλαγαθον ϲωφρονα δικαιον οϲιον εγκρατη
9 αντεχομενον του κατα την διδαχην πιϲτου λογου ϊνα δυνατοϲ η και πα ρακαλειν εν τη δι δαϲκαλια τη ϋγιαι νουϲη και τουϲ αν τιλεγονταϲ ελεγχι
As seen above, the only thing in these verses that indicates that an elder must be a man is the qualification that he must be be the husband of one wife. The exact same phrase is found in the qualifications for a deacon. As is clear in the case of deacons this only means “(to be a deacon) if a husband must have only one wife”. We can tell this by the context that Timothy was a deacon, and seems to have been single, and because Phoebe, a woman, was a deacon.
As such, there is every reason to think that the phrase has the exact same meaning in the list of qualifications for elders, namely that “(to be an elder) if a husband must have only one wife”.
In the qualifications for deacons, it can be assumed that all the qualifications that seem to be more specific towards women are also applicable to men, such as “not false accusers”. And vice versa, women deacons should not be “given to filthy lucre” same as the men. As such, it seems that if the qualifications for elders are written in the same way, that all the qualifications for a woman to be an elder would be the same as for a man, excepting that it is assumed she only will have one husband if she is married.
It could be argued that Paul specifically mentions women as deacons, but does not specifically mention women as elders. This would not be surprising, as at that time it may be that women were not anticipated to be elders. There are in fact no female elders mentioned in the New Testament. However, this in itself in no way precludes women from being elders today, as the Words of the Bible in no way seem to restrict a woman from being an elder. While Paul seems to have written expecting that elders would be men, it also is clear that his God-breathed words left it completely open for women to be elders as well. Because, truly, Jesus is the Word, and God wrote the Bible.
The argument could be made that all of the 12 apostles were male, and as they were the original church leadership, that women should not be elders based on this precedent. But this argument fails in that Junia is mentioned as a female apostle, and as such it is clear that the first 12 apostles being male really doesn’t matter, as later apostles were female. In the same way, even though the first deacons were male, it is clear that later deacons were also female, because of Phoebe the deacon.
If anything, the pattern is that while men were first to be apostles and deacons, later women were also. And so if this pattern were to be continued, it would show that while men were the first to be elders, then later women were to be also.
And so it is clear women can be deacons, and there are also many reasons to think women can also be elders. To sum up the reasons:
1. Because the qualifications for elders contain no qualifications to preclude women, excepting “husband of one wife” which obviously only applied to men
2. Because “husband of one wife” means in context “if a husband, then he must have only one wife” as shown by the cases of both Timothy (single) and Phoebe (female)
3. Because the qualifications for deacon are obviously for both men and women regardless of who it is more targeted at, they applied to both genders
4. Because the language is intentionally broad and gender-neutral in the qualifications
5. Because if elders were to only be men the text could have clearly stated “elders can only be men”.
Therefore, it seems that the most Biblical view to take of these passages, looking at the contextual meanings, is that women can be elders the same as men can.
6. This is further supported by women being able to be apostles, who have the role of ordaining elders and deacons, and have charge over them at least temporarily. Also that in being apostles, women can make decisions for a church, and teach them as Paul did in his letters to Timothy, a deacon under him who was raising up a newer church. This is also supported by women being able to be deacons, who also seem to be able to teach and guide a newer church, and under an apostle, even facilitate the ordaining of elders and deacons. Without even looking at the qualifications for elders, it is clear that between women being apostles and deacons that they may teach, make decisions for the church, start new churches and guide them, and also ordain elders and deacons. This is weighty in and of itself.
7. Added to this, is that the lists of qualifications for elders do not clearly specify men, nor preclude women, but rather are written to be unnecessarily gender-neutral (if specifying men-only).
8. Even if in fact women were not yet elders at that time, which is in truth an unknown either way, this is not an argument that they can’t be, but only that they weren’t yet. However, the pattern of apostles and deacons was that men were the first, and then women followed and were as well. This is 2 witnesses to a pattern that men doing something first was irrelevant in whether or not a woman could do the same thing later. And it adds weight to a precedent that female elders were to follow male elders.
Adding it all together the argument becomes very strong that women can be elders. As such, the stance of a Bible-believing Christian who believes women today can be elders is completely justifiable and supportable by the Word of God. The Words of God seem to completely allow for women to be elders, ever since then, and this includes that they definitely can be now.
The fact is that most arguments that some people make that women cannot be elders are based not on the language of the qualifications listed here in 1 Timothy or Titus, but self-admittedly their arguments are based on passages like 1 Cor 11, 1 Cor 14, and 1 Pet 3, none of which in truth teach anything that shows that women cannot be elders.
The objection that a wife cannot be an elder or deacon because she would be in a position of authority over her husband if he is not one, ignores that God is fine with a wife being able to do or have something that her husband can not do or does not have. God did not have a problem with Eve being able to eat from a tree that her husband Adam could not eat from, but rather Adam was the one that seemed to have a problem with this. God is fine with a wife being able to have something more than her husband, which he does not have, or her being able to do something that he cannot do.
The same goes for any gifts of the Holy Spirit, which actually arguably include gifts of administration to be an elder or deacon. As in a marriage love means the husband seeks the way of his wife, to do as she wants, and she seeks to do what he wants in submitting herself to him, neither one has more authority than the other in decision-making, but rather the Bible teaches they should meet in the middle, if each is loving and submitting equally. As such, it affects a marriage no more for a husband to be an elder, or have a “greater gift” than his wife, than for a wife to be an elder or have a “greater gift” than her husband (though again, in 1 Corinthians 12 the gift of administration is the last gift listed besides tongues). The Bible does not teach a double-standard, but rather the Bible teaches equality and acceptance of God’s will for each person’s calling and giftings from God, without any discrimination from gender or marital status (except for the adultery of polygamy).
Women in fact can be deacons, and can be elders, and this is a completely Biblical position to take, which can be supported by scripture accurately and taking the Bible most literally as the Word of God.