Was Phoebe a Deacon?

February 19, 2016

The question is raised by a number of modern translations including the 2011 edition of the NIV. The new NIV has “our sister, Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” (Romans 16:1). The footnote gives an alternate translation of “servant,” but another footnote on deacon reads, “The word deacon refers here to a Christian designated to serve with the overseers/elders of the church in a variety of ways; similarly in Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8, 12.” The 1984 edition of the NIV had the reverse: servant in the text and deaconess in the footnote. Other translations using deacon in this passage include God’s Word, NLT, NRSV, and the Voice. The NJB and the RSV used “deaconess,” and the more traditional reading of “servant” is found in the KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, and ESV.

The Greek word in question is diakonos, which means servant or helper. Deacon is a transliteration of diakonos. Transliteration is when we give the letters of one language using the closest corresponding letters of another. Some variation may exist as I’ve used an “I” for iota and a “K” for kappa where deacon has an “E” and “C.” I’ve given the Greek ending, where deacon anglicizes the ending by dropping off the last two letters. So why the transliteration?

The usage in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3 indicates the servants are in an appointed position in the church with qualifications. There is a sense in which all Christians should be servants, but not all Christians are appointees having the qualifications listed in 1Timothy 3:8-13. Among those qualifications, by the way, is the qualification “husband of one wife.” In church history, there is no evidence for women as appointed servants (deacons or deaconesses) until the third century. Maybe we would have been better off not coining the word deacon, but the issue would still remain: was Phoebe an officially appointed servant or not?

This is not a question of whether women can do valuable service in the church. They certain can. The church would be impoverished without their service. The question is whether they were appointed in the sense of Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8, 12 as the 2011 NIV footnote reads. The evidence is simply lacking for this view, and church history doesn’t have such appointments until the third century.

Phoebe was certainly a servant. She was likely the letter carrier for Paul’s letter to the Romans, a very responsible task. But was Phoebe a deacon in the sense of the NIV’s footnote? The evidence points to no.

Stronger and Happier Marriages

February 16, 2016

When marital dissatisfaction grows, our culture tends to tell people that they have just married the “wrong” person. Willard F. Harley in His Needs, Her Needs observes, “We think the dynamics of a good marriage depend on some mysterious blend of the ‘right’ people. Or if a marriage turns out badly, we call the two people ‘wrong’ for each other….More frequently with marital breakups one or both partners lack the skills or awareness to meet each other’s needs.”

Dr. Bill Flatt, a counseling psychologist, observes, “Without God and His power, married couples are left without sufficient strength, guidance or motive to grow through difficulties.” The guidance of scripture and the strength of our faith can help us work through the difficulties. Flatt suggests a list of things to help unlock the door to intimacy in marriage:

  1. Take time for each other.
  2. Establish priorities and live balanced lives that allow time for rest, leisure activities and each other.
  3. Listen empathetically to each other.
  4. Express feelings in a kind way.
  5. Be willing to stay with the marriage and work through the problems and anxieties caused by close interaction.
  6. Express affection continually, including nonsexual touching.
  7. Get competent counseling if the marriage is stuck or either partner has a desire to do an emotional cut-off.
  8. Learn what it means to love spouse with agape, unselfish concern.
  9. Be trustworthy.
  10. Read appropriate, helpful books.
  11. Try to understand and meet your partner’s needs.
  12. Be romantic.
  13. Do not take your spouse for granted.
  14. Concentrate upon what each partner likes about the other person.
  15. Look for strengths rather than weaknesses.
  16. Try to make your spouse feel special.
  17. Take time for sex.
  18. Compromise on different desires and frequency problems.
  19. Tell your spouse daily something pleasing that he/she did.
  20. Find a way to get out of double binds. Allow your spouse a possibility of being right.

As people who believe: “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6b), may we learn and apply Harley’s observation. “Become aware of each other’s needs and learn to meet them.” If we are biblically grounded to understands God’s intent for marriage and have the practical understanding to make marriage what it ought to be, the result will be stronger and happier marriages.

The Friend Who Really Knows Me

February 5, 2016

God searches the hearts and minds of everyone. That thought can bring a certain fear to our lives, especially if we have been living carelessly with excuses we know will not stand the test. But, the same thought — God searches the hearts and minds of everyone — can also bring comfort.

We sometimes hide who we really are from others. We put our best foot forward in public as the saying goes. This best self may be like buildings on a movie set — an impressive façade that hides what is really there. But there is a yearning that competes with our attempts to mask ourselves. The desire is for a friend who really knows me — a friend who knows, understands, and helps. Some of the passages that depict God’s intimate knowledge of us, indicate that God can be that sort of friend.

… whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)… (1 Kings 8:38–39, ESV)

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23–24, ESV)

And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27, ESV)

I realize that there is a tension. Abraham is called “friend of God” (James 2:23), and God is called “the Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42). Yet, God’s intimate knowledge of my heart and mind does not necessarily lead to terror. In the Christian life, where forgiveness is available, and growth in Christian maturity is ongoing, God’s knowledge of me can be a comfort. God is the friend who really knows me.

Do the Book of Revelation

February 1, 2016

People like to speculate about the Book of Revelation. It has suffered much at the hands of its readers. If you are interested in the symbols of Revelation, I recommend Stafford North’s Unlocking Revelation: Seven Simple Keys. But there are a number of ways to get a handle on Revelation’s message. I think if you grasp the seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, you have a pretty good idea what the book is about. Revelation contains seven beatitudes (1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, and 22:14). If you understand these beatitudes, I think you have a pretty good idea of the message of the book. But there is even another way.

The sixth beatitude in Revelation reads: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7, ESV). This beatitude says the book is about doing. Revelation contains 96 commands, but most of those have to do with the dramatic action of the visions. If we narrow the list down to those commands that have application to all Christians, the list is shorter.

  • Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. 2:5
  • Do not fear what you are about to suffer. 2:10
  • Be faithful unto death…. 2:10
    Therefore, repent. 2:16
  • Only hold fast what you have until I come. 2:25
  • Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die… 3:2
  • Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. 3:3
  • Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 3:11
  • … so be zealous and repent. 3:19
  • And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” 14:7
  • Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” 18:20
  • And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 19:5
  • Worship God. 19:10, 22:9 (with the implication worship God only)
  • Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. 22:11

Read Revelation and pay particular attention to the commands. If you practice these commands, I think you understand the message of Revelation. Jesus and John want us to do the Book of Revelation.