Scot McKnight: What is a Deaconess?

McKnight in the book, The Blue Parakeet writes in regards to the distinction between a deacon and a deaconess that “When Paul calls her ‘deacon,’ he is not thinking of ‘deaconesses’ in our churches who clean up communion cups in the church kitchen” (183).

Oh dear…I’m just going to state that there is plenty of reason to believe that only men were elected to be deacons in the ancient church but I know there are plenty of arguments against this idea as well. I start out with Acts 6:1-6 which is when, traditionally, the diaconate is said to be initially founded.

For since they perceived such to be the mind of their ruler and teacher, they put the matter to the test of facts.— It is also a subject for wonder, how it was that the multitude was not divided in its choice of the men, and how it was that the Apostles were not rejected by them. But what sort of rank these bore, and what sort of office they received, this is what we need to learn. Was it that of Deacons? And yet this is not the case in the Churches. But is it to the Presbyters that the management belongs? And yet at present there was no Bishop, but the Apostles only. Whence I think it clearly and manifestily follows, that neither Deacons nor Presbyters is their designation: but it was for this particular purpose that they were ordained. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 14 on Acts)

Stephen, who shows up later in Acts 6, is traditionally considered the first archdeacon. In addition, 1 Tim. 3:8-12 suggests that if a deacon is married, he is to have only a one-wife maximum (not a one-wife minimum). Again…

Ver. 11. Even so must the women be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of Deaconesses.

Ver. 12. Let the Deacons be husbands of one wife.

This must be understood therefore to relate to Deaconesses. For that order is necessary and useful and honorable in the Church. Observe how he requires the same virtue from the Deacons, as from the Bishops, for though they were not of equal rank, they must equally be blameless; equally pure. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 11 on First Timothy)

So there is good reason to suggest that the diaconate was closed to men only. Then again, some have argued that the diaconate can be open to women as well. Phoebe’s title “deacon” could very well be an honorary title given to her as the wife of a deacon. We unfortunately don’t have much to work with other than the later extra-Biblical tradition. So I will let the theologians sort out whether Phoebe was a deacon or just given that as an honorary title for being the wife of a deacon. For now, my own church would favor the latter.

But let’s get back to McKnight’s assertion as to what a deaconess does vs. what a deacon does. Where does McKnight get his information from? My own church, the Anglican Church in America, restored the ancient order of deaconesses. This is what they say a deaconess does according to their official canons:

(b) The following are the chief functions which may be entrusted to a Deaconess:
(1) To care for the sick, the afflicted, and the poor;
(2) To give instruction in the Christian Faith;
(3) Under the Rector or the Priest in charge, to prepare candidates for Baptism and for
(4) To assist at the administration of Holy Baptism of female candidates.
(5) Under the Rector or Priest in charge to organize, superintend, and carry out the
Church’s work among women and children;
(6) To organize and carry on social work; and in colleges and schools to have a responsible
part in the education of women and children, and to promote the welfare of women
students. (Section 48.2, Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church in America)

This, incidentally, was what the order of deaconesses did back in early Christianity at well. For being an expert on early Christianity, Dr. McKnight is either ignorant of this (which would not be surprised based on the crap that is fed seminarians nowadays), or he is being wittingly deceitful about this subject and inserting his own impressions on the subject. The primer would make him stupid and not worth listening to. The latter would make him a pathological liar who’s arguments should be met with suspicion. I prefer the latter so I can give him a Jesus-face-palm.

About Emperor Thomas I

Catholic monarch of the New Roman Coalition. Consecrated to the Apostle Thomas, the Holy Martyr Sigismund, and the Holy Martyr Olaf II.
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