Monday, October 12, 2009

Christian women: deacons or servants?

The King James Version of Romans 16:1-2 makes Phoebe sound insignificant:
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.
However, Controlling the Words notes,
...the King James Version identifies a woman named Phoebe as a "servant." The same Greek word is translated elsewhere as "deacon." But since women were not allowed to be deacons in King James' church, the more generic translation was adopted. The Greek word can certainly mean servant, but in the context of the New Testament it was also used to designate a particular office.
Bill Colsher said:
Συνίστημι, the word usually translated as "commend" can also mean "put in charge" (kings do it to generals right before they march off to war). Its position at the start of the sentence makes it rather more emphatic as well. So it might really be saying:

I put Phoebe in charge of you all, she being a deconess in the church in Cenchrea; as a result, accept her amoung yourselves...
I would use "deacon" instead of "deconess," but otherwise, Bill's version rocks.

For a little more about her role: A Reexamination of Phoebe as a “Diakonos” and “Prostatis”: Exposing the Inaccuracies of English Translations.