“Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works… if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.”
1 Tim. 5:9-10
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea… that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many…”
“…let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives [Greek: women] be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.”
1 Tim. 3:10-11
Order of Contents
Rutherford, Samuel – pp. 172-4 in The Due Right of Presbyteries… (London, 1642), pt. 1, ch. 7, section 7, ‘Of Deacons’
Rutherford here argues that 1 Tim. 5 describes a non-ordained office for widows serving the Church and the indigent.
A Reply to an Answer made of Mr. Doctor Whitgift Against the [Presbyterian] Admonition to the Parliament (1573)
“And if St. Paul in the choice of the widow to attend upon the sick of the church, which was the lowest office in the church, requires not only such a one as is at the time of the choice honest and holy, but such a one as has led her whole life in all good works and with commendation, how much more is that to be observed in the minister or bishop of the church…”
“There remains to speak of the widows which were godly, poor, women in the church above the age of 60 years for the avoiding of all suspicion of evil which might rise by slanderous tongues if they had been younger (1 Tim. 5:9). These, as they were nourished at the charges of the church, being poor, so did they serve the church in attending upon poor strangers and the poor which were sick in the church, whereof they were widows.
Now although there is not so great use of these widows with us as there was in those places where the churches were first founded and in that time wherein this order of widows was instituted, part of the which necessity grew both by the multitude of strangers through the persecution and by the great heat of those East countries, whereupon the washing and supplyng of their feet was required: yet for so much as there are poor which are sick in every church, I do not see how a better and more convenient order can be devised for the attendance of them in their sickness and other infirmities than this which St. Paul appoints that there should be (if there can be any gotten) godly, poor widows, of the age which St. Paul appoints, which should attend upon such.
For if there be any such poor widows of that age destitute of all friends, it is manifest that they must needs live of the charge of the church, and seing they must needs do so, it is better they should do some duty for it unto the church again than the church should be at a new charge to find others to attend upon those which are sick and destitute of keepers, seeing that there can be none so fit for that purpose as those women which St. Paul does there describe: so that I conclude that (if such may be gotten) we ought also to keep that order of widows in the church still.
I know that there be learned men which think otherwise, but I stand upon the authority of God’s Word and not upon the opinions of men be they never so well learned. And if the matter also should be tried by the judgement of men I am able to show the judgment of as learned as this age has brought forth which think that the institution of widows is perpetual and ought to be where it may be had and where such widows are found. Indeed they are more rare now than in the apostles’ times: For then by reason of the persecution those which had the gift of continency did abstain from marriage after the death of their husbands for that the sole life was an easier estate and less dangerous and chargeable when they were driven to fly than the estate of those which were married.”
The Rest of the Second Reply of Thomas Cartwright Against Master Doctor Whitgift’s Second Answer Touching the Church Discipline (1577), ‘That the Church Government by an Eldership in Every Congregation is by the Ordinance of God & Perpetual’, p. 54
“After he [Cartwright’s opponent] says that ‘those words cannot be extended unto all the precepts,’ first because, ‘the office of widows should be then necessary:’ But he does not consider that St. Paul ordains them not simply, but upon condition.
If he [Paul] had instituted the eldership with condition, if he had ordained that office [of elder] rather for the maintenance of the persons themselves than for the service of the church, if he had left so small choice of those to this office, as to that, namely that none might be chosen but poor, none but destitute of all friends, none under the age of sixty years: then he [the opponent] had said somewhat. And even now the perpetuity of that commandment touching widows remains in that sort [as] it was given: that is upon condition.”
Peter Martyr Vermigli
“‘He that shows mercy, let him do it with cheerfulness.’ And this seems to have been the office of widows and of old men, which were to that end maintained by the Church, that they should take care of strangers and of them that were sick. For good cause he commands these to have cheerfulness. For men that be weak and afflicted, are much relieved if they see their necessities are ministered unto with cheerfulness… Thus much spake Paul concerning the public ministries of the Church…”
Hexapla, that is, a Six-fold Commentary upon the Most Divine Epistle of the Holy Apostle, St. Paul to the Romans… (Cambridge, 1611), Biblical Exegesis, ch. 12, 3. ‘The Questions & Doubts Discussed’, 16th Question, ‘Of these several offices here rehearsed by the apostle in particular’, pp. 546 & 548-9 on Rom. 12:7-8
“2. By ‘ministry’, called [Greek]… thereby generally are understood such offices as concerned the discipline of the Church: specially conversant about the body and temporal things, either to relieve their poverty, which was the office of deacons in the distribution of alms, or to cherish them in sickness, which was the charge of widows, whose office St. Paul describes, 1 Tim. 5, or to watch over their manners, which belonged unto the spiritual governors.
6. ‘He that shows mercy’. 1. Some do understand this generally of all Christians, that they should give chearfully: as Chrysostom will have it the same with that precept, 2 Cor. 9:7, ‘he that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly:’ Theodoret, Haymo: but the apostle here speaks of the special offices of the Church.
5. But their opinion is rather here to be approved which in the first place take the office of deacons to be described, such as were elected by the apostles, Acts 6, and here the office of such, as were assigned to have a care of strangers, exiles, the sick, such were the widows, whom St. Paul would not have chosen under 60 years, 1 Tim. 5. Thus Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Gualter, Faius, Pareus, with others.
Now this showing of mercy: …3. such special works of mercy then are here understood, which belonged to the curing and attending upon the sick, aged, impotent, strangers, exiles, orphans, Pareus.
4. ‘with chearefulnes of heart’, gentleness in words, pleasantness of countenance: for all those are signified by hilarity or cheerfulness, Tolet: so Chrysostom… 3. again, such as were employed in these services, as old men and widows, are naturally given to morosity, and therefore they have need of this precept to dispose themselves to cheerfulness, Pareus.”
An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland… (Edinburgh, 1641), pt. 1
ch. 5, on Rom. 12:8, pp. 38-9
“…though it be ordinarily most convenient that the office of attending the sick be committed to women, yet it is not essentially necessary to the office: And as Aretius notes upon the place (Common Places, class 4, ch. 1, p. 746), we may under [Greek] comprehend not only widows appointed to attend the sick, but old men appointed to receive and entertain strangers: Which is also judiciously observed by [Peter] Martyr.
Besides, when the apostle, 1 Tim. 5, teaches what is required in widows, who should be made diaconesses, this he requires among other things, that they be not such as live in pleasures and idleness, and take not care to provide for their own houses, verse 6,8, [Greek], which though Erasmus and Beza turn in the feminine, quod si qua, yet our English translators, and many good interpreters, turn it in the masculine. And surely it shall have more weight if it agree to men as well as women, says Calvin upon that place. Now they who read in the masculine, that which the apostle says there of widows, will not, we suppose, blame us for reading, Rom. 12:8 in the masculine also, ‘He that sheweth mercie’…”
Male Audis [Bad Hearing] or an Answer to Mr. Coleman, his Male dicis [Bad Speaking]... (London, 1646), ch. 4, p. 35
“The thirteenth and last error [of Coleman, an Erastian] concerns the office of deacons. Not only a widow but a deacon is denied to be a Church-officer, or to have any warrant from Scripture.”
A Treatise of Miscellany Questions… (Edinburgh, 1649), ch. 5, p. 83
“Diverse resolve that text [Rom. 12:6-7] thus, that first the apostle makes a general division of ecclesiastical offices, ‘prophesy’, comprehending these that labour in the Word and doctrine; ‘ministry’ comprehending those that labor not in the Word and doctrine… Ministry, he subdivides into the office of the ruling elder, deacon, and the other of showing mercy, which was committed sometimes to old men, sometimes to widows.”
A Peaceable & Temperate Plea… (London, 1642), ch. 19, pp. 293-4
“Question 9: How is it that you have taken away widows, which was an office established by the apostles? Rom. 12:8. For some say they should be gone, because they were temporary, and the heat of the Eastern countries which caused sickness, required them; but they are not needful now. So says [Thomas] Cartwright. Others make them perpetual, as Fenner; some make them to be women, as Cartwright, some men, as [Walter] Travers, some neither men nor women only, as Beza and Junius.
Answer: The perpetual use of that office we think continues, that is, that there be some to show mercy on the poor, which are captives, exiled, strangers, diseased, distracted, and that there be hospitals for that effect, and surgeons, physicians, aged men and women;
But that widows were officers in the Church, as elders and deacons are, we think no; but that that service may be performed by men or women, as the Church shall think good. Cartwright thinks no other than what I say. Fenner thinks well that the sick should always be cared for, neither by men only, nor by women only, as Beza and Junius think, but by both as need requires.”
The Divine Right of Church Government... (London, 1646), Introduction, p. 12
“For the choosing of widows that are poor to take care of the poor and sick in hospitals, we think it just as necessary now as then, though no ways if there be none sick and poor in the Church:
But that widows were Church-officers ordained, as were deacons, Acts 6:6, we never thought, and therefore we do not see that the wanting [lacking] of such widows, is the want of a positive institution of Church-policy; for other positive things of policy that should be of perpetual use, and not all of the same kind, and of equal necessity: I see no reason (which I speak for apostles) which were necessary then, and not now;”
Antapologia, or a Full Answer to the Apologetical Narration of Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Nye… (London, 1644), p. 92
“To the deacon you [the congregationalists] added the church-widow as a distinct officer, and as necessary for the perpetual government of the Church.”
The Casting Down of the Last & Strongest Hold of Satan, or a Treatise Against Toleration & Pretended Liberty of Conscience… (London, 1647), 17th thesis, p. 76
“Independents themselves, though they hold [that] the substantials of Church government and order ought to be the same in our times that they were in the apostles’, yet they do not in all circumstantials nor accidentals judge [that that] discipline now binds; and I suppose if Hagiomastix had thus reasoned against their Independent government and order, that if that tied us in these days, then we are bound to all circumstances and accessories, as to the number of seven deacons, etc. as to widows just of such an age, etc. or else the office of deacons and widows are ceased in the Church, they would have laughed at him for his folly, and yet this is the way of the man’s reasoning against the command of God, Deut. 13:17, the command itself must be wholly abrogated, or else all accessories and formalities accompanying it Christians are tied unto…
Love, humility, hospitality, are graces and moral duties commanded under the Gospel, and yet all these with many others of the like kind that I could instance in, had in the apostles’ days, those primitive times, some accessories and appendixes, ways of manifestations of them which are now ceased, as the feasts of love, the kiss of love, washing the saints’ feet, etc. in which humility, brotherly love, kindness to strangers were expressed, as proper and peculiar to that condition the Church was then in, and the customs of those countries, etc.”
The Lady’s Calling... (Oxford, 1673), pt. 2, section 3, ‘Of Widows’, p. 219 Allestree (1619-1681) was an Anglican.
“12. There was in the primitive times an ecclesiastical order of widows, which St. Paul mentions, 1 Tim. 5, whose whole ministry was devoted to charity. They were indeed of the poorer sort, fit rather to receive than give alms; yet the less they could do with their purses, the more was required of their persons: the humbler offices of washing the saints feet, the careful task of bringing up children, and a diligent attendance on every good work. And sure there is parity of reason that those who upon the score of their wealth, exempt themselves from those laborious services should commute for it by more liberal alms.
In the warmth and zeal of Christianity, women of the higest quality performed both sorts of charity, forgot their greatness in their condescensions, yet assumed it again in their bounty; founded hospitals, and yet with a labor of love, as the apostle styles it, Heb. 6:10, disdained not sometimes to serve in them. But these are examples not like[ly] to be transcribed in our days: greatness is now grown to such an unwieldiness that it cannot stoop though to the most Christian offices, and yet can as little soar up in any munificent charities: it stands like Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image: a vast bulk only to be adored.”
Zepperus, Wilhelm – ‘The Qualifications Needed to be a Deaconess’ in ch. 22, ‘On the Office of Deacons & of Alms’ in Ecclesiastical Polity… (Herborne, 1607), p. 600
Zepperus, who was German reformed, first treats of the office of deacons in the chapter from 1 Tim. 3, and then proceeds to treat of ‘deaconesses’ (note 1 Tim. 3:11) from 1 Tim. 5. He does not put them or par with each other or speak of any ordaining with respect to deaconesses.
Voet, Gisbert – ch. 1, ‘On Deaconesses’ in bk. 2, tract 4, ‘Of the Assisting Helpers of a Sacred Minister & of Ministers’ in Ecclesiastical Politics (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), vol. 3, pp. 508-14
Voet here distinguishes between offices in the Church by apostolic ordination and those by way of a fitting practice or custom of the apostolic Church. Amongst the latter are included certain delegated positions (possibly temporary), due to nature needs and necessity, such as is exampled in 2 Cor. 8:16-17; Acts 11:22; 15:1,22,30,33. Voet also includes in this category precentors (who lead the singing of praise), readers of Scripture, and convocators of assemblies, that is, moderators.
Voet distinguishes between those that are of permanent need in the Church, and those that are transient, or temporary. He also distinguishes between those that are more properly occupied around the internal nature of the ministry, such as deaconesses, proponents (those training for the ministry), consolers, catechizers, readers, music teachers and precentors, and those that are more properly occupied around external matters of the ministry, such as messengers, janitors, convocators of assemblies and wardens.
Voet interprets Phebe in Rom. 16:1-2 to be a deaconess, which he connects to the prescriptions about widows in 1 Tim. 5. Voet obviously has no qualms about the term ‘deaconess’, but he nowhere places them on par with ordained deacons.
Voet treats of the other offices of natural necessity in the following chapters:
Hiedegger, Johann H.
Locus 27, ‘On the Government of the Church’, section 20, ‘On the Order of Deacons,’ p. 335 in The Marrow of Christian Theology: an Introductory Epitome of the Body of Theology (Zurich, 1713)
Locus 27, ‘On the Government of the Church’, sections 57-58 in A Body of Christian Theology… (Tigur, 1700), vol. 2, pp. 586-87
On the Early Church
Schwertley, Brian – I. ‘The Historical Evidence’, pp. 2-17 in A Historical & Biblical Examination of Women Deacons
Schwertley is against female deacons. He here surveys in some detail the complex issues in the early Church surrounding their conceptions and practices of the function of widows in serving the Church, and being an extension of her ministry to the needy.
Schwertley, Brian – I. ‘The Historical Evidence’, pp. 17-19 in A Historical & Biblical Examination of Women Deacons
In the Reformation After Calvin
Schwertley, Brian – I. ‘The Historical Evidence’, pp. 19-20 in A Historical & Biblical Examination of Women Deacons
This section highlights the French and Dutch reformed Churches, and mentions the view of a 1600’s baptist.
On the Westminster Assembly
Schwertley, Brian – I. ‘The Historical Evidence’, pp. 20-22 in A Historical & Biblical Examination of Women Deacons
The Westminster Assembly and divines spoke much to this issue; their strain of reasoning in general is in the trajectory of Rutherford’s thought.
On Rom. 16:1-2
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.”
Schwertley, Brian – II. ‘The Biblical Evidence’, pp. 50-57 in A Historical & Biblical Examination of Women Deacons
Schwertley is against female deacons. He gives a summary of the 3 major views of this passage on pp. 56-7, namely, that (1) Phebe was an ordained deacon, that (2) she was an unofficial servant, and (3) that she was of the order of widows. Schwertley gives reasons for preferring the last interpretation.
On 1 Tim. 3:10-11
“…let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives [Greek: women] be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.”
Schwertley, Brian – II. ‘The Biblical Evidence’, pp. 57-62 in A Historical & Biblical Examination of Women Deacons
“If Paul is not referring to the wives of elders and deacons, and is not referring to women deacons in the same office as men deacons, then… The most logical and natural alternative would be to regard ‘women’ as referring to the servant-widow class that assists the deacons by ministering to the needs of women.
[Hendricksen:] ‘… he regards these women as the deacons’ assistants in helping the poor and needy, etc. These are women who render auxiliary service, performing ministries for which women are better adapted…’…
The interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:11 as referring to ‘women’ who assist the deacons who belong to the order of widows described in 1 Timothy 5:9ff. is also exegetically superior to the ‘women in the same office’ view when the broader contextual matters are considered.” – pp. 60-61
On 1 Tim. 5:9-10
Schwertley, Brian – II. ‘The Biblical Evidence’, pp. 63-70 in A Historical & Biblical Examination of Women Deacons
“The question that remains to be answered is: are these widows placed on a list in order to receive aid or in order to serve the church? All the evidence indicates that what Paul clearly had in mind was an order of widows set apart in order to serve the church. There are a number of reasons why this interpretation is superior.” – p. 63
“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.”