Who is a Deacon?

“For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 3:13

Once I researched what it is to be a deacon, I was surprised to learn the “office of a deacon” was never an office. It appears tradition has transliterated a Greek word into a position of power in various church denominations. Was this the original intention of the “office”? The opening quote is from the King James translation of the Bible. The English Standard Version has a more honest translation:

1Ti 3:13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

In the English Standard Version, instead of office of the deacon, the word is simply “deacon”. What exactly is a deacon though? Where does the word come from? The Smith Bible defines the word as this:

Deacon. The office described by this title appears, in the New Testament, as the correlative of bishop. See Bishop. The two are mentioned together in Phm 1:1; 1Ti 3:2; 1Ti 3:8. Its original meaning implied a helper, an assistant. The bishops were the “elders,” the deacons were the young active men, of the church. The narrative of Acts 6 is commonly referred to as giving an account of the institution of this office.
The apostles, in order to meet the complaints of the Hellenistic Jews that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, call on the body of believers to choose seven men “full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom,” whom they “may appoint over this business.” It may be questioned, however, whether the seven were not appointed to higher functions than those of the deacons of the New Testament.”

Where does this term “office of the deacon” originate? The short answer is that it was invented by the translators to reflect the traditions of the church. Here is the passage with the Strong’s Numbers:

1Ti 3:13 For G1063  they that have used the office of a deacon G1247  well G2573  purchase G4046  to themselves G1438  a good G2570  degree, G898  and G2532  great G4183  boldness G3954  in G1722  the faith G4102  which G3588  is in G1722  Christ G5547  Jesus. G2424

Deacon is used for Strong’s G1247, and the words “office of“ are not there in the Greek, and do not appear to have any merit in the first century context. Let’s look at Strong’s G1247:

Thayer Definition:
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

The word deacon comes from daikoneo, and appears to be the origin of the English word, deacon. It is easy to find how this word daikoneo, and its various forms that are used in the New Testament. It is usually used as a verb for ministering and serving. In this example, we see women were daikoneo. or “deaconing”:

Mat 27:55 And G1161  many G4183  women G1135  were G2258  there G1563  beholding G2334  afar off, G575 G3113  which G3748  followed G190  Jesus G2424  from G575  Galilee, G1056  ministering G1247  unto him: G846

The modern meaning of the word seems to be a reference to this scene in the acts of the apostles:

Act 6:2 Then G1161  the G3588  twelve G1427  called G4341  the G3588  multitude G4128  of the G3588  disciples G3101  unto them, and said, G2036  It is G2076  not G3756  reason G701  that we G2248  should leave G2641  the G3588  word G3056  of God, G2316  and serve G1247 tables. G5132
Act 6:3 Wherefore, G3767  brethren, G80  look ye out G1980  among G1537  you G5216  seven G2033  men G435  of honest report, G3140  full G4134  of the Holy G40  Ghost G4151  and G2532  wisdom, G4678  whom G3739  we may appoint G2525  over G1909  this G5026  business. G5532

So there was a group who were prayed over that were given the duty to serve tables in this example. If we look at Timothy 3:8, we get another form of the word, Strong’s G1249.

1Ti 3:8 Likewise G5615  must the deacons G1249 be grave, G4586  not G3361  doubletongued, G1351  not G3361  given G4337  to much G4183  wine, G3631  not G3361  greedy of filthy lucre; G146
1Ti 3:9 Holding G2192  the G3588  mystery G3466  of the G3588  faith G4102  in G1722  a pure G2513  conscience. G4893

Thayer Definition:
1) one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master, a servant, attendant, minister
1a) the servant of a king
1b) a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use
1c) a waiter, one who serves food and drink
Part of Speech: noun masculine or feminine

Is Paul speaking of something different in verse 8 than he was in verse 13? Even in 1b of the definition it uses the word “deacon” when that word would not have existed at the time daikonos was being used in Greek. This word daikonos is present when Paul is speaking about Phebe, a sister who is a servant of the church in his letter to the Romans. Why is the same Greek word translated to servant in the case of Phebe, and translated to a new word, deacon, in the letter to Timothy?

Rom 16:1 ( G1161 ) I commend G4921  unto you G5213  Phebe G5402  our G2257  sister, G79  which is G5607 a servant G1249 of the G3588  church G1577  which G3588  is at G1722  Cenchrea: G2747

In the English Standard Version it looks like this:

Rom 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,
Rom 16:2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

I don’t have the luxury of being educated in the Greek language to know the difference between daikonos and daikoneo, but it appears Paul is using them in a similar context in his letter to Timothy. Let’s look at the whole passage of scripture concerning the qualifications of a deacon, servant, minister, or attendant of the congregation: This is from the English Standard Version:

1Ti 3:8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.
1Ti 3:9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
1Ti 3:10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
1Ti 3:11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.
1Ti 3:12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
1Ti 3:13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Why are these two Greek words used many times throughout scripture for attendant, servant, ministering and serving, yet only three or four times translated to the made-up English word “deacon” or diaconus in Latin? Could it be that the tradition of men has made this title deacon into more than it was intended to be? It is just a question. Is there enough evidence to lock women out of serving and attending in the congregation? Does any congregation actually do that, or is it just the official title of “deacon” that some congregations do not allow women to hold? All of these are valid questions. After all, what is a deacon in terms of the entire New Testament, but an attendant or servant of the church? One who ministers the basic needs to the widows, orphans hungry and destitute? Maybe today, deacons only pass out communion once a month? More importantly, what are the qualifications to serve the congregation according to Paul?

  • Must be dignified, meaning honorable and honest
  • No double talk, meaning not saying one thing to one person and something else to another
  • Not addicted to much wine
  • Not greedy for dishonest gain
  • Only have one wife
  • Hold the mystery of the faith with clear conscience

Should this list not be relevant of anyone who is serious about serving Yahweh? What is Paul referring to when he says “mystery of faith”?

I am not trying to diminish the “office of the deacon”. This is merely an attempt to show how tradition pushes meaning onto the text that may not necessarily be there. For example, in the book The Baptist Deacon by Robert Naylor, on page 23, the author states that in the bible it says, “a deacon must not be given to much wine” then he goes on to say that this actually means a deacon must completely abstain from drinking any alcohol. As much as someone may wish that is what the text says, it does not say that. Here is some history of un-fermented wine from Wikipedia:

Thomas Bramwell Welch (December 31, 1825 – December 29, 1903) was a British–American Methodist minister and dentist. He pioneered the use of pasteurization as a means of preventing the fermentation of grape juice. He persuaded local churches to adopt this non-alcoholic wine substitute for use in Holy Communion, calling it “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.”

If a deacon could be addicted to too much wine, that implies this beverage he is speaking about is alcoholic. Has anyone ever been addicted to too much grape juice? What would be the down side to that from Paul’s perspective? Another example of pushing doctrine on a text happened at a funeral I attended. The person performing the funeral service read the following words of the Apostle Paul:

1Th 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
1Th 4:14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
1Th 4:15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
1Th 4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

1Th 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

He went on to explain that Paul actually meant the souls of the dead were already in heaven with Jesus. As much as that is the narrative of many doctrines, it’s not in this section of scripture, and in my opinion, hard to make a case for in scripture at all. It is having a learned belief system first, then imposing that belief system on the scriptures. There are many examples of this, and it is one of the reasons there are over 40,000 denominations in Christianity.

Looking at this situation where the word deacon is actually just a word to describe someone in the congregation that serves, ministers or attends to work that needs to be carried out, it should be fair to conclude that anyone who serves in this type of capacity in the congregation or “church” should be the type of person who Paul describes in Timothy 3:8-13. The list of attributes Paul gives for a servant of the body of Christ is very similar to the words of Jesus on how to obtain eternal life in these passages:

Mat 19:16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
Mat 19:17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
Mat 19:18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
Mat 19:19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Can we assume Jesus referred to all the commandments here or just the ones listed? If it is just the ones listed we would have to say Jesus was implying Yahweh was no longer concerned with idolatry, sabbath keeping, graven images, coveting, and using His name in a worthless manner.

Therefore, we could conclude that anyone who serves in any capacity should follow the guidelines for being a servant in the church outlined by Paul in his first letter to Timothy. Who would that exclude? It would exclude those who are not “tested and proven blameless”, something similar to the new converts described at the first council. James, whose real name is Jacob, said the following:

Act 15:19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
Act 15:20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
Act 15:21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

Gentiles, or people from the nations, would not necessarily be familiar with the commands Yahweh gave to Moses, so they gave them a place to start, Torah commands that the people of the nations of that day would be deeply steeped in breaking, such as: temple prostitution, idol worship, and drinking blood from their temple sacrifices. As they met on the sabbath, being new converts, they would continually learn the ways of Yahweh in the synagogue, eventually becoming “tested and blameless” and able to serve in the congregation of believers. These first steps for believers are found in the Torah. First, the instruction not to eat blood:

Lev 17:14 Indeed, the life of all flesh, its blood, is in its life, so I said to the Israelites, ‘You may not eat the blood of any flesh, because the life of all flesh is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.’

Sexual immorality as defined by Yahweh, told to Moses:

Lev 18:1 Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Lev 18:2 “Speak to the Israelites, and say to them, ‘I am Yahweh your God.
Lev 18:3 You must not carry out the practices of the land of Egypt, in which you lived, and you must not carry out the practices of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you; and you must not follow their statutes.
Lev 18:4 You must carry out my regulations, and you must observe my statutes by following them; I am Yahweh your God.
Lev 18:5 And you shall observe my statutes and my regulations by which the person doing them shall live; I am Yahweh.
Lev 18:6 “‘None of you shall approach anyone who is his close relative to expose nakedness; I am Yahweh.
Lev 18:7 You must not expose your father’s nakedness or your mother’s nakedness—she is your mother; you must not expose her nakedness.
Lev 18:8 You must not expose the nakedness of your father’s wife—it is your father’s nakedness.
Lev 18:9 As for your sister’s nakedness, whether your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born abroad, you must not expose their nakedness.
Lev 18:10 As for the nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, you must not expose their nakedness, because they are your nakedness.
Lev 18:11 As for the nakedness of the daughter of your father’s wife, she is your sister, a relative of your father; you must not expose her nakedness.
Lev 18:12 You must not expose the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s close relative.
Lev 18:13 You must not expose the nakedness of your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s close relative.
Lev 18:14 You must not expose the nakedness of your father’s brother; you must not have sex with his wife—she is your aunt.
Lev 18:15 You must not expose your daughter-in-law’s nakedness; she is your son’s wife; you must not expose her nakedness.
Lev 18:16 You must not expose the nakedness of your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s nakedness.
Lev 18:17 You must not expose the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, or her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter; you must not take her as wife to expose her nakedness; they are close relatives—that is wickedness.
Lev 18:18 And you must not take as wife a woman with her sister, to be a rival-wife, to expose her nakedness before her during her life.
Lev 18:19 “‘And you must not have sex with a woman to expose her nakedness during her menstrual uncleanness.
Lev 18:20 And you must not have sex with your fellow citizen’s wife, becoming unclean with her.
Lev 18:21 “‘And you shall not give any of your offspring in order to sacrifice them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am Yahweh.
Lev 18:22 And you shall not lie with a male as lying with a woman; that is a detestable thing.
Lev 18:23 And you shall not have sexual relations with any animal, becoming unclean with it; and a woman shall not stand before an animal to copulate with it—that is a perversion.
Lev 18:24 “‘You must not make yourself unclean in any of these things, because the nations whom I am driving out from your presence were made unclean by all of these.
Lev 18:25 So the land became unclean, and I have brought the punishment of its guilt upon it, and the land has vomited out its inhabitants.
Lev 18:26 But you (neither the native nor the alien who is dwelling in your midst) shall keep my statutes and my regulations, and you shall not practice any of these detestable things
Lev 18:27 (because the people of the land, who were before you, did all these detestable things, so the land became unclean),

Lev 18:28 so that the land will not vomit you out when you make it unclean just as it vomited out the nation that was before you.
Lev 18:29 Indeed, anyone who does any of these detestable things, even those persons who do so shall be cut off from the midst of their people.
Lev 18:30 Thus you shall keep my obligation to not do any of the statutes regarding the detestable things that they did before you, so that you will not make yourselves unclean by them; I am Yahweh your God.'”

Finally, these new converts were given the command about idolatry. To this day, believers struggle with these verses by still using the symbols that other religions worshiped their gods with to worship Yahweh.

Deu 12:29 “When Yahweh your God has cut off the nations whom you are about to go to, to dispossess them before you, and you have dispossessed them, and you live in their land,
Deu 12:30 take care so that you are not ensnared into imitating them after their being destroyed from before you, and so that you not enquire concerning their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods, and thus I myself want to do also.’
Deu 12:31 You must not do so toward Yahweh your God, because of every detestable thing they have done for their gods Yahweh hates, for even their sons and their daughters they would burn in the fire to their gods.

The other group of people Paul is excluding from serving or ministering in the church are those who blatantly are in opposition to being “blameless and tested”. If someone spends years in the congregation of believers and still does not qualify for Paul’s requirements of servants or “deacons”, it must mean they are double tongued, adulterous, greedy or covetous, alcoholics who do not hold to the faith of Jesus. This is a group of people who refuse to study and learn the ways of Yahweh, or are in opposition to his ways. Jesus explains:

Mat 5:18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Mat 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Here Jesus states our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. These Pharisees did not worship in spirit and truth. They added commandments and stipulations to the commandments of Yahweh, following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. They looked good on the outside but were like “whitewashed tombs” on the inside.

Mat 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
Mat 23:28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Strive to meet the qualifications of “the office of a deacon” even if you are never actually a “deacon”. It simply means that you are loving Yahweh and loving your neighbor, as the two greatest commandments state.

Feature photo credit Emma Vail

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