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Data on Deacons

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8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, their wives b are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

5     Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6 But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, a 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

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 διάκονος.*

A.     General Uses of διάκονος.

1. “The waiter at a meal,” Jn. 2:5, 9.

2. “The servant of a master,” Mt. 22:13: ὀ βασιλεὺς εἰ̂πεν τοι̂ς διακόνοις. In this sense the Christian is a servant of Christ, Jn. 12:26. It is part of his task, however, to serve his fellows, Mk. 9:35; 10:43; Mt. 20:26; 23:11.

3. In the figurative sense, “the servant of a spiritual power,” whether good or evil, 2 C. 11:14 f.: του̂ σατανα̂, τη̂ς δικαιοσύνης; Eph. 3:6 f. and Col. 1:23:1 του̂ εὐαγγελίου; Gl. 2:17: τη̂ς ἁμαρτίας; R. 15:8: περιτομη̂ς; 2 C. 3:6: καινη̂ς διαθήκης. The action of the servant is to the benefit of the magnitude which he serves.

When it is said in R. 15:8 that Christ is a servant of the circumcision, this simply means, of course, that His work is on behalf of Israel.

More difficult is Gl. 2:17: “If, then, we who are accounted righteous in Christ are found to be sinners, is Christ a servant of sin? By no means.” “Servant” here might be rendered “promoter.” This would give us the following line of argument. In Jewish eyes everyone who does not keep the Law is a sinner (→ ἁμαρτωλός, I, 322; 325); this applies to all Gentiles, with whom Jews may not hold table fellowship. Thus, if Christ causes the Jews who follow Him to renounce the provisions of the Law, He is extending the domain of sin which embraces all the Gentiles.—Yet it is not impossible to keep to the stronger expression “servant of sin.” If we do, we must interpret the saying in the light of Gl. 2:20. Christ Himself lives and acts in the man who trusts in Him. If this man is found a sinner, this applies to the Lord Himself dwelling within him, as though He were enslaved to sin. The absurdity of the conclusion naturally illustrates the falsity of the presupposition, namely, the Jewish view of sin.2

4. As διακονος του̂ εὐαγγελίου the apostle (→ ἀπόστολος, I, 437) is διάκονος Χριστου̂ (2 C. 11:23) and διάκονος θεου̂ in a very special sense, with all the troubles and sufferings and with all the responsibility of this office (2 C. 6:3 ff.). In his description of himself from this standpoint, Paul usually prefers the term δου̂λος (R. 1:1 etc.; Tt. 1:1), which expresses far more clearly the fact that he belongs wholly and utterly to Christ or to God.

5. Timothy is a “servant of God” to the degree that with the preaching of the Gospel he confirms and admonishes the faith of the Thessalonians (1 Th. 3:1–3).3 Timothy is also called a true servant of Jesus Christ (1 Tm. 4:6). Epaphras is σύνδουλος of the apostles and διάκονος του̂ Χριστου̂ (Col. 1:7). Tychicus is διάκονος ἐν κυρίῳ (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7).

6. Heathen authorities can also be called the servants of God in the discharge of their office, since they are appointed by God and have the task of maintaining God’s order in the world (R. 13:1–4).

7. Paul describes himself in Col. 1:25 as a “servant of the Church” (ἐκκλησίας) in virtue of his divinely given commission. Paul and Apollos are no more than servants of both God and the Church as they use their gifts to bring the latter to faith (1 C. 3:5).

B.     The Deacon as a Church Official.

1. A distinction may be made between all these general uses and the employment of the term as the “fixed designation for the bearer of a specific office” as διάκονος in the developing constitution of the Church. This is found in passages where the Vulgate has the loan-word diaconus instead of the minister used elsewhere (cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Tm. 3:8, 12).

Members of the community who are called deacons in virtue of their regular activity are first found in Phil. 1:1, where Paul sends greetings to all the saints in Philippi σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις. Already in this phrase there emerges a decisive point for our understanding of the office, namely, that the deacons are linked with the bishops and mentioned after them. At the time of this epistle there are thus two co-ordinated offices.

We cannot gather with any certainty from this reference what constituted the special work of these officers. It is highly improbable that the reference is to two different aspects of the work of the same men,4 since this is supported neither by the context nor by 1 Tm. 3:1 ff., 8 ff. Nor can there be any doubt that the description of office has here become a definite designation.5 Nevertheless, we are not told what the offices involved. Attempts have been made to deduce this from the contents of the epistle. It has often been argued that special thanks are due to the bishops and deacons for the affectionate gift which was sent to Paul in prison and which they collected.6 This seems to be a very likely reason for the particular mention of ἐπίσκοποι and διάκονοι in this epistle. E. Lohmeyer sets this in the light of the main purpose of the epistle, namely, to strengthen the Philippians in a time of persecution, in which their leaders were in prison. As he sees it, this gives us the main reason for the special greeting to them.7 There is no proof for this conjecture. The task of the διάκονοι can in fact be deduced only from the actual name of their office and from their later function.

That the diaconate stands in the closest relationship to the episcopate is confirmed by 1 Tm. 3:1 ff. Here an account is first given of the way in which a bishop must conduct himself (vv. 1–7), and this is followed by a list of the requirements for a deacon (vv. 8–13).

Like the bishops, deacons must be blameless and temperate, having only one wife and ruling their houses well. While the bishops must satisfy many other demands, including an aptitude for teaching, deacons are not to be doubletongued or avaricious—qualities necessary in those who have access to many homes and are entrusted with the administration of funds. Yet inward qualities are also demanded of good deacons. They are to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

That the primary task of deacons was one of administration and practical service may be deduced a. from the use of the term for table waiters and more generally for servants; b. from the qualities demanded of them; c. from their relationship to the bishop; and d. from what we read elsewhere in the NT concerning the gift and task of διακονία.

Appeal is frequently made to Ac. 6 in explanation of the rise of the diaconate, though the term διάκονος is not actually used. On this view, the deacons undertake practical service as distinct from the ministry of the Word. It is to be noted, however, that the Seven are set alongside the Twelve as representatives of the Hellenists, and that they take their place with the evangelists and apostles in disputing, preaching and baptising. This fact shows (→ 85) that the origin of the diaconate is not to be found in Ac. 6. It is possible, however, that ideas gained from the existing diaconate influenced the author when he gave its present form to his rather puzzling source concerning the relationship of the Seven to the Twelve. If this is so, Ac. 6 may be regarded as indirect evidence concerning the diaconate.

If we ask concerning the origin of the diaconate, we must start with its relationship to the episcopate. It is mentioned with this in the earliest sources, and was never separated from it. The διάκονος is not merely the servant of the church, but also of the bishop. Two problems arise: a. how two integrated offices came into existence; and b. how the Greek words ἐπίσκοπος and διάκονος came to be used to describe these offices.

a. There were two offices in the Jewish synagogues. Conduct of worship was entrusted to the ראֹשׁ הַכְּנֵסֶת, the ἀρχισυνάγωγος, who was accompanied by the חַזַּנ הַכְּנֵסֶת, always translated ὑπηρέτης and never διάκονος in Greek. If any model is to be sought for the Christian offices of bishop and deacon, this is where we shall find it. It must be remembered, however, that the activity of the ἀρχισυνάγωγος and the ὑπηρέτης is restricted to worship. The direction of the synagogue is in the hands of the elders. There are also collectors of alms (גַּבָּאֵי צְדָקָה) who for their part have no connexion with the conduct of worship.8 Thus we have in the Jewish community many points of initiation for the Christian offices of bishop and deacon, but neither here nor in paganism are there any exact models which are simply copied. The creative power of the early Church was strong enough to fashion its own offices for the conduct of congregational life and divine worship.

b. The same is true of the terms adopted. These arose in the world of Gentile Christianity, though Jewish Christianity contributed the term πρεσβύτερος.9 Yet in pre-Christian Greek we never find the words ἐπίσκοπος and διάκονος used in the Christian sense, whether individually or in the distinctive Christian relationship. Early Christianity took over words which were predominantly secular in their current usage and which had not yet been given any sharply defined sense. It linked these words with offices which were being fashioned in the community, and thus gave them a new sense which was so firmly welded with the activity thereby denoted that in all languages they have been adopted as loan-words to describe Christian office-bearers.10

The secular sense of διάκονος corresponds to the meanings of διακονέω and διακονία. It denotes one who waits at table, Xenoph.Hier., 4, 1 f.; Demosth., 59, 33; with οἰνοχόος and μάγειρος, Hdt., IV, 71 f.; Athen., X, 17; with ἀγοραστής, Xenoph.Mem., I, 5, 2; or “messenger” with ἄγγελος, κη̂ρυξ and σπονδοφόρος, Poll.Onom., 8, 137; Soph.Phil., 497; “servant,” Aristot.Eth. Nic., VII, 7, p. 1149a, 27; Luc.Alex., 5; τυράννου, Aesch.Prom., 944; “steward,” Demosth., 59, 42; Aristoph.Av., 70 ff.; “as” sistant helmsman,” Xen.Oec., 8, 10 and 14; “baker,” “cook,” “wine-steward” as σωμάτων θεραπευταί, Plat.Gorg., 518bc; “statesman,” Plat.Gorg., 518b; of a woman “maid,” Demosth., 24, 197; 47, 52. It is rare in the LXX, and occurs only in the secular sense. In Est. 1:10; 2:2; 6:3, 5 it is used for the courtiers and eunuchs of the king (Heb. מְשָׁרֵת). Acc. to Prv. 10:4, the fool shall be the servant of the wise.11 In 4 Macc. 9:17 a prisoner addresses spearmen who torture him: ὠ̂ μιεροὶ διάκονοι. The word is first used in relation to God by Joseph. on the one side and Epict. on the other. Joseph. also has the customary meanings in Ant., 6, 52; 7, 201 and 224; 11, 188 and 255. The word corresponds here to the new Heb. שַׁמָּשׁ. Elisha ἠ̂ν ʼΗλίου μαθητὴς καὶ διάκονος, Ant., 8, 354, just as the rabbinic pupil is the servant of his master. But Joseph. can also call himself διάκονος θεου̂ (Bell., 3, 354) or τη̂ς φωνη̂ς του̂ θεου̂ (Bell., 4, 626) on account of the revelation given to him concerning the reign of Vespasian.12 In Epict. we often find the idea that the cynic is the servant of God. Thus Diogenes is the διάκονος of Zeus in Diss., III, 24, 65; cf. III, 26, 28; IV, 7, 20. Either in description of calling, or with reference to activities in sacral unions, διάκονος often occurs on inscriptions, mostly in lists of similar titles. Thus in 3rd century (b.c.) Troiza it occurs after ἱαρο]μνάμονες and μάγειρος (IG, IV, 774) or between γραμματει̂ς, κα̂ρυξ and παι̂δες (824). Again, a 1st or 2nd century (b.c.) list of names from Acarnania contains the following: πρύτανις, ἑστία, ὑποπρυτάνιες, μάντις, αὐλητάς ἱεροφόρος, μάγειρος, διάκονος, ἀρχοινόχους, ἱεροθύτας (IG, IX, 1,486). And there is a similar list on the pillar of a temple to Apollo dating from at least the time of Christ’s birth (IG, IX, 1, 487 and CIG, II, Add., 1793b, p. 982). This is probably how Inscr. Magn., 109 should also run. There can be no doubt that the reference is to cultic actions, sacrifices, consecrations etc. But the work of the διάκονοι obviously remained the same, i.e., the serving of food, since they are always mentioned after the cooks. Thus H. Lietzmann can describe as a cellarer’s guild the κοινὸν τω̂ν διακόνων which acc. to CIG, II, 1800 dedicates an inscription to Egyptian deities.13 Yet this is obviously a sacral rather than a secular guild, as we can see from the fact that a priest stands at the bead. Similarly the inscr, from Metropolis in Lydia (CIG, II, 3037) mentions male and female deacons along with priests and priestesses. According to Inscr. Magn., 217 κομάκτορες, κήρυκες καὶ διάκονοι took part in the dedication of a statue of Hermes.14

From these examples we can see that the διάκονος might have a cultic function. But it is a long way from this pagan conception of the deacon to the Christian. If the inscriptions teach us anything, it is that the original meaning of διακονει̂ν (“to wait at table”) persisted. In accordance with the saying and example of Jesus, early Christianity made this the symbol of all loving care for others. Here is the root of the living connexion between ethical reflection on service in the community and the actual diaconate. Again, the persistent sense of waiting at table is reflected in the fact that the Christian office had its origin in the common meal at the heart of the life of the community, namely, the Lord’s Supper. Only in this way can we understand the later history of the diaconate, which has always consisted in assistance at divine service as well as in the external service of the community.

With the episcopate, the diaconate achieved its full stature only with the passing of the first, charismatic group of apostles, prophets and teachers. The capacity for diaconate was also a gift (1 C. 12:28). It is worth noting, however, that ἀντιλήμψεις and κυβερνήσεις are not among the charismata which in the next verse are stated not to be given to all members of the community. To exercise these offices the Christian needs to be elected and called rather than specially endowed by God. The transition from the first group of office-bearers to the second may be seen in 1 Cl., 42, 1ff. according to the sequence: God, Christ, the apostles and the bishops appointed by them. Clement is obviously conscious of a break in the development at the latter point, and he therefore supports the institution of bishops and deacons by an appeal to the widely divergent text of Is. 60:17: καταστήσω τοὺς ἐπισκόπους αὐτω̂ν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ τοὺς διακόνους αὐτω̂ν ἐν πίστει. The origin of this rendering, and its significance for the history of the development of the diaconate, have not yet been elucidated. An interesting point is that Cl. derives both episcopate and diaconate from the one root. In Did., 15, 1 the summons to elect bishops and deacons is already self-evident. It is also stated that these succeed to the ministry of prophets and teachers. Cf. also Herm.v., 3, 5, 1; s., 9, 26, 2. The position of deacons naturally changes with the rise of monepiscopacy. They become much more subordinate in relation to the bishop. At the same time, a clear distinction arises between deacons and presbyters. In 1 Cl., 44 presbyter is still an imprecise term for the leaders of the community, but now three distinct offices of bishop, presbyter and deacon emerge in this order (Ign.Mg., 2, 1; 6, 1). Thus deacons are to have in the church an honour similar to that of Christ, bishops to that of God (Tr., 3, 1). This gives us the basis of the later hierarchy, though the development was slow. Deacons are assistants, representatives and often successors of the bishops, e.g., Eleutherus in relation to Anicetus.15 Shortly before 250 Fabian divided Rome into seven districts, each set under a deacon.16 Explicit directions concerning the office and consecration of deacons may be found in the Hippol. Canons, the Syrian Didasc. and the Apostol. Constitutions. These bring to an end the development of the diaconate in the early Church.

2. Alongside the deacons there were also deaconesses. Their history begins with R. 16:1 where Paul describes Phoebe as τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμω̂ν, οὐ̂σαν διάκονον τη̂ς ἐκκλησίας τη̂ς ἐν Κεγχρεαι̂ς. It is, of course, an open question whether he is referring to a fixed office or simply to her services on behalf of the community. Similarly, there is no agreement whether 1 Tm. 3:11 refers to the wives of deacons or to deaconesses. It is indisputable, however, that an order of deaconesses did quickly arise in the Church.17 A particular part was played here by widows who, on the strength of their chaste conduct on the one side and their loving service on the other, already received official recognition in 1 Tm. 5:3 ff.

The relationship between widows and virgins varied in different parts of the ancient world. Both groups had ecclesiastical functions with respect to women members of the Church. In the East the widows were primarily responsible, and though from the time of the Syr. Didasc. there was an independent office of deaconesses, this fell into decay in the early Middle Ages.. In the West an independent order of deaconesses never developed in the Roman Church

1247 διακονέω [diakoneo /dee·ak·on·eh·o/] v. From 1249; TDNT 2:81; TDNTA 152; GK 1354; 37 occurrences; AV translates as “minister unto” 15 times, “serve” 10 times, “minister” seven times, and translated miscellaneously five times. 1 to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon. 1a to minister to one, render ministering offices to. 1a1 to be served, ministered unto. 1b to wait at a table and offer food and drink to the guests,. 1b1 of women preparing food. 1c to minister i.e. supply food and necessities of life. 1c1 to relieve one’s necessities (e.g. by collecting alms), to provide take care of, distribute, the things necessary to sustain life. 1c2 to take care of the poor and the sick, who administer the office of a deacon. 1c3 in Christian churches to serve as deacons. 1d to minister. 1d1 to attend to anything, that may serve another’s interests. 1d2 to minister a thing to one, to serve one or by supplying any thing.

Deacon — Anglicized form of the Greek word diaconos, meaning a “runner,” “messenger,” “servant.” For a long period a feeling of mutual jealousy had existed between the “Hebrews,” or Jews proper, who spoke the sacred language of palestine, and the “Hellenists,” or Jews of the Grecian speech, who had adopted the Grecian language, and read the Septuagint version of the Bible instead of the Hebrew. This jealousy early appeared in the Christian community. It was alleged by the Hellenists that their widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of alms. This spirit must be checked. The apostles accordingly advised the disciples to look out for seven men of good report, full of the Holy Ghost, and men of practical wisdom, who should take entire charge of this distribution, leaving them free to devote themselves entirely to the spiritual functions of their office (Acts 6:1–6). This was accordingly done. Seven men were chosen, who appear from their names to have been Hellenists. The name “deacon” is nowhere applied to them in the New Testament; they are simply called “the seven” (21:8). Their office was at first secular, but it afterwards became also spiritual; for among other qualifications they must also be “apt to teach” (1 Tim. 3:8–12). Both Philip and Stephen, who were of “the seven,” preached; they did “the work of evangelists.” [2]

Elder — a name frequently used in the Old Testament as denoting a person clothed with authority, and entitled to respect and reverence (Gen. 50:7). It also denoted a political office (Num. 22:7). The “elders of Israel” held a rank among the people indicative of authority. Moses opened his commission to them (Ex. 3:16). They attended Moses on all important occasions. Seventy of them attended on him at the giving of the law (Ex. 24:1). Seventy also were selected from the whole number to bear with Moses the burden of the people (Num. 11:16, 17). The “elder” is the keystone of the social and political fabric wherever the patriarchal system exists. At the present day this is the case among the Arabs, where the sheik (i.e., “the old man”) is the highest authority in the tribe. The body of the “elders” of Israel were the representatives of the people from the very first, and were recognized as such by Moses. All down through the history of the Jews we find mention made of the elders as exercising authority among the people. They appear as governors (Deut. 31:28), as local magistrates (16:18), administering justice (19:12). They were men of extensive influence (1 Sam. 30:26–31). In New Testament times they also appear taking an active part in public affairs (Matt. 16:21; 21:23; 26:59).

The Jewish eldership was transferred from the old dispensation to the new. “The creation of the office of elder is nowhere recorded in the New Testament, as in the case of deacons and apostles, because the latter offices were created to meet new and special emergencies, while the former was transmitted from the earlies times. In other words, the office of elder was the only permanent essential office of the church under either dispensation.”

The “elders” of the New Testament church were the “pastors” (Eph. 4:11), “bishops or overseers” (Acts 20:28), “leaders” and “rulers” (Heb. 13:7; 1 Thess. 5:12) of the flock. Everywhere in the New Testament bishop and presbyter are titles given to one and the same officer of the Christian church. He who is called presbyter or elder on account of his age or gravity is also called bishop or overseer with reference to the duty that lay upon him (Titus 1:5–7; Acts 20:17–28; Phil. 1:1).


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[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (1 Ti 5:1-10). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]Easton, M. (1996, c1897). Easton's Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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