Saturday, July 8, 2017

May Women Vote In Church Decisions? III

Having made some preliminary remarks on our topic and having looked at the history of the debate, we will now begin an examination of the scriptures and arguments involved in this debate. The first thing I wish to prove is that NT scripture often speaks of things that were done by a church, by the whole church, often by a vote or some way of determining the mind of the church, and this would include every member, including women. Further, if this is proven, the case for women voting is sustained, and verses that require a woman's silence do not preclude her voting in a church conference.

Example #1 - Choice of Deacons

"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason 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 Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them."   (Acts 6: 1-6)

The first thing to notice in analyzing this passage is to distinguish some of the various groups and sub groups mentioned in the passage. First, there is that large group of disciples ("the number of the disciples" and "the multitude of the disciples"). Regarding this group, women are clearly included. Second, there is the group within the larger group and referred to as "the Grecians," and that group of "their widows," in contrast to "the Hebrews" and by implication "their widows." Third, "the twelve" is mentioned, which is of course the apostolic group. Fourth, there is that group of disciples who are addressed as "brethren" (Greek "adelphoi"). Fifth, you have "seven men." Sixth, you have "the whole multitude."

In this selection of the first deacons, who did the choosing of them? Clearly it is the "brethren." Further, it is these "brethren" that the apostles addressed and charged with the task of choosing "seven men." So, thus far, the choosing of deacons was to be done by the male members, unless the Greek word "adelphoi" may signify the entire fraternity of the church, including men and women. Some Greek scholars argue that the plural "adelphoi" is often used in the epistles in such a sense. Others do not agree and contend that "adelphoi" never includes women. In this passage I think it is fairly certain that "brethren" or "brothers" does not include the sisters. It was the brothers in the church that the apostles addressed and gave the responsibility of choosing a man, or brother, from among them to be deacons. Thus, so far, there is nothing in this passage that shows that the entire church, with the women, were involved in this selection or nominating process (unless, as stated, "adelphoi" includes the sisters - for those who want to research this further see here).

The New International Version translates "adelphoi" as "brothers and sisters," giving the translation as "Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you." Other translations do the same. If this is proper, then such would lend credence to 1) women members/disciples being involved in the choosing of deacons, and 2) women being allowed to be chosen as deacons. The latter fact may be implied from the words "from among you." Is the idea "from among you brothers" (male members) or "from among you brothers and sisters" (male and female members)?

It is reasonable, however, that "adelphoi" cannot include sisters, at least in this passage, because the apostles mention choosing seven "men," from the Greek word "andros," a masculine noun meaning a male. So, even if we grant that "adelphoi" denotes the whole church, including female members, there is still the apostolic limitation of choosing from among the whole church "seven MEN," not seven men and women. And, the fact that only men were chosen gives strong support to the limitation of the choice being limited to "men," and that it was the "brothers," the male members who did the choosing. Had the apostles wanted the whole church, male and female, to do the selecting of the candidates, then clearly "adelphoi" must include the women and is being used as a synonym for "the whole multitude of the disciples." Also, had the apostles desired that women be deacons, or "deaconesses," then they would have used "anthropoi" rather than "andros." In other words, they would have said "choose seven people (humans, male or female)" instead of "choose seven men (males)."

In the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges, they say this about the use of "adelphoi" in this passage - "One of the earliest names employed in addressing the members of the Church." Many Greek scholars agree that often "adelphoi" includes women. If this is the case in Acts 6, then clearly there is authority for women to be given a voice in the choosing of deacons.

But, even if we allow that Paul is addressing only the male members in his use of the word "brethren," and thus limiting the selection of deacons to the male members, nevertheless such a selection required the acquiescence of the whole church. This is obvious because 1) the apostles called the whole church together, male and female, and addressed them all ("the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said") and 2) the selection of the seven is said to have met with agreement from the whole church ("the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose").

In the statement "and they chose," does the pronoun "they" refer to "the brothers" (adelphoi) or to "the whole multitude"? Further, in the statement "they set them before the apostles," who are designated by the pronoun "they"? In the former case, if to the "whole multitude," which is unlikely, then 1) credence is given to the view that "adelphoi" does include sisters, and 2) then the entire church voted or had a voice in the choosing of these seven men. Thus, this in itself is sufficient justification for women being given a voice or vote when choosing deacons. In the latter case, it is doubtful that the whole multitude personally "set" the seven men before the apostles. It is rather probable that a few of the brothers actually ushered the seven men into the immediate presence of the apostles for them to lay their hands upon them. But, even in this case, it is a situation where the ushers were acting on behalf of the entire church and what is done by an agent may be said to be done by the principal.

Further, the word "pleased" is from the Greek word areskō and denotes what is approved or agreeable. How would one know if such "pleased" the whole church unless a vote of some kind were taken?

Keep in mind that Acts 6 and the choosing of these seven deacons is one of the passages that is used 1) to support congregational government, and 2) women participating in congregational voting. This is one of the verses that the Baptists who wrote the 1689 Confession referred to in upholding these views.

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