Deacon, Deaconess - Encyclopedia of The Bible (2024)

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Encyclopedia of The Bible – Deacon, Deaconess

Resources Encyclopedia of The Bible D Deacon, Deaconess

Deacon, Deaconess

DEACON, DEACONESS (Gr. διάκονος, G1356, servant, table-waiter, Luke 10:40; 17:8f.; 22:25ff.; John 2:5, 9); of royal servants (Matt 22:13); of service or ministry in general (Mark 10:43-45 [Jesus]; Acts 1:17, 25 [apostles]; Rom 11:13 [Paul]); of local Christian leaders, possibly an official title (Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3:8, 12, 13 [See also Ministry]). In Romans 13:4 the word is applied to secular rulers.

1. Origin. In Gr. thought, service (diakonía) was considered unworthy of the dignity of free men (Plato, Gorg. 492b, “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?”), except when rendered to the state (Demosth. 50, 2; Plato, Leg. 955). In Hel. times the term diákonos is applied to certain cult officials (MM p. 149); more generally, Epictetus described the wise man as a servant of God (Diss. III, 22, 69 et al., see Kittel, II, p. 82). Judaism viewed service much more positively, but the LXX used other terms to describe it (diákonos only in Esth 1:10; 2:2; 6:1, 3, 5; Prov 10:4; diakonía in Esth 6:3, 5). The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 40ff. (Yebed Yavé) is described in the LXX as slave (doûlos toû Theoû, 42:19) or “child” (paîs, 52:13) rather than as diákonos. Some aspects of the OT concern for the poor perhaps anticipate the charitable functions of the Christian deacon. The relationship of the “ruler of the synagogue” (hyperétēs, Luke 4:20) and his attendant (ḥazzān) shows certain similarities to the later correlation between the Christian bishop and his deacons, but the functions involved were very different and there is no evidence of any causal link between the two sets of offices.

2. Christ as deacon. The unique source of all Christian diakonía, and its perfect prototype, is found in Him who, being Lord, made himself servant (diákonos, Rom 15:8) and slave (doûlos, Phil 2:6). By His incarnation as the messianic servant of the Father and by His messianic suffering, Christ completely inverted the servant-master relationship and transvaluated the dignity and honor of serving and suffering. Contrasting his own servant-role with both the power structures of Gentile authority and the ambitious strife of the disciples, He affirmed that “whoever would be great among you, must be your servant (diákonos), and whoever would be first among you must be slave (doûlos) of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve (diakonêsai) and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45, cf. 9:35; Matt 20:20-28). Luke, who places the episode in the table context of the Last Supper, concludes the account with the declaration of Christ, “But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27, ho diakonôn). In the fourth gospel the same servant-nature of the Son is dramatically illustrated by His washing the disciples’ feet prior to the Supper (John 13:1-11).

All three synoptic gospels refer to the women who followed Jesus and ministered to Him (Luke 8:3; Matt 27:55; Mark 15:41); Peter’s mother-in-law, healed of her fever, arose and ministered to the disciples (Matt 8:15; Mark 1:31; Luke 4:39). Whereas the master customarily dines before his servant and expects the required attentions as a matter of course (Luke 17:8), at the final marriage feast the Master Himself will seat His faithful servants at His table, don the apron of table service and wait upon them (Luke 12:37, cf. John 12:25f.).

A curious rabbinic parallel occurs in the Mishnah: when Rabban Gamaliel II astonished his fellow rabbis by rising and serving them at table, Rabbi Jehoshua commented that “Abraham was greater than he, and he served at table,” while another confrere added, “God himself spreads the table before all men, and should not Rabban Gamaliel therefore arise and serve us?” (SBK II, p. 257). In the judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46, the Son of man will separate the sheep from the goats on the basis of diakonía: the Son acknowledges those who ministered to Him (25:44) in feeding, clothing, sheltering and visiting “one of the least of these my brethren.”

From these teachings it becomes clear that all Christian diakonía, and indeed the whole Christian life, is a participation by grace in the Servanthood of the Son of man. This diaconate-in-Christ marks the entire Church; we are partakers in the communal life and in the corporate servanthood and suffering of the Suffering Servant (cf. Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:24-28). According to Romans 12:7 and 1 Peter 4:7, this diakonía is a distinctive gift of the Spirit within the Body of Christ, along with (or manifested in) such gifts as helps, liberality, mercy, and hospitality.

3. Christian ministry. Throughout the NT the Gr. terms “deacon” (diákonos) and “deaconate” (diakonía, ministry) are consistently used in the broad sense implied in the above data; of the more than 100 occurrences of the terms, few even hint at the ecclesiastical office which later developed. The noun diakonía is used of financial aid (2 Cor 8:4; 11:8; Rom 15:25; the offering is both diakonía and koinōnía, Rom 15:26; 2 Cor 8:4), of beneficence (Acts 6:1), and of personal assistance with regard to temporal needs or in evangelistic and missionary efforts (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor 6:15; 2 Tim 4:11; Rev 2:19). The title diákonos is applied to Christ (see above), the Twelve (Acts 1:17, 25), Paul (1 Cor 3:5) minister of God (2 Cor 6:4); of Jesus Christ (11:23); of new covenant (3:6); of Gospel (Eph 3:7, Col 1:23); of the Church (Col 1:25), Timothy (1 Thess 3:2; 1 Tim 4:6; Acts 19:22, with Erastus), Tychicus (Col 4:7; Eph 6:21) and Epaphras (Col 1:7). Thus the term is applied to an area of ministry which includes the apostle, missionary, evangelist and prophet—in effect, all the varied forms of Christian ministry (1 Cor 12:5; Eph 4:12).

Some have seen in Acts 6 the initiation of the diaconate as a church office, since the passage employs the noun diakonía (6:1, 4) and the verb diakoneîn (6:2), and introduces the significant distinction between the “ministry of the Word” (6:4) and the “ministry of tables” (6:1, 2). But the seven are nowhere called “deacons”; Philip is in fact called an evangelist” (21:8) and subsequent accounts emphasize the role of the seven in disputing, teaching, preaching and baptizing.

The salutation of Philippians 1:1 seems to refer to the diaconate as a specific and relatively defined function within the congregation, closely associated with the bishop (or overseer), perhaps esp. in administration of the contribution for which Paul thanks the Philippians. The same quasi-official use reappears in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, again closely linked to the bishop. The requisites for the choice of deacons fit those required for the administration of congregational funds and for house-to-house visitation, two functions typically ascribed to the deacon in patristic lit. (Hipp. Ap. Tr. 9, 21, 23-25, 30). These two passages stand alone as instances of a more technical official sense of the term. Patristic lit. illustrates the progressive definition of its official character, along with the gradual distinction of the bishop and presbyter to constitute a threefold ministry in which the deacon assists the bishop.

4. Deaconess. The synoptic gospels give curious emphasis to the diakonía of certain women (see above). In Romans 16:1 Phoebe is described as a diákonos (RSV, “deaconess”), but since the form is masculine, without article, and since the first indications of an office of “deaconess” appear only in the 3rd cent., it is highly doubtful that the v. refers to a specific and definite church office. The “women” of 1 Timothy 3:11 prob. refer to the wives of deacons rather than to deaconesses. These passages, however, plus the role of widows indicated in 1 Timothy 5:3-16 and 1 Corinthians 7:8 may point to the earliest origins of the development of the later office of deaconess.

Bibliography B. Reicke, Diakonie, Festfreude und Zelos (1951); G. Kittel, TWNT II, (1964), 81-93; J. McCord and T. H. L. Parker, Service in Christ (1966); H. von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries (1969).

Deacon, Deaconess - Encyclopedia of The Bible (2024)


What does the Bible say about deacons and deaconess? ›

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

Who is a deacon deaconess? ›

The new testament deacon and deaconess is a “lead servant” in a publicly recognized and commissioned office in a church that exists to assist the elders in administrative and logistical tasks related to the financial, mercy (benevolence, relief, social welfare), and facilities ministries of the church, so that the ...

Where is deaconess mentioned in the Bible? ›

As Clement of Alexandria made mention of Paul's reference to deaconesses in 1 Timothy 3:11, so Origen of Alexandria (184 AD to 254 AD) commented on Phoebe, the deacon that Paul mentions in Romans 16:1–2: This text teaches with the authority of the Apostle that even women are instituted deacons in the Church.

Is there a female deacon mentioned in the Bible? ›

Paul writes at the end of Romans, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae . . .” (Rom. 16:1–2). Phoebe is called a servant, a diakonos, which is the same Greek word used for deacon in 1 Timothy 3 and Philippians 1:1.

Can deacons be female? ›

Women deacons did participate in baptism, whereas male deacons didn't for the most part; women deacons did visit the sick. Women deacons also anointed ill women; male deacons never anointed. There are sacraments that, historically, women deacons performed that men deacons never did and still can't do.

What does 1 Timothy 3 11 mean? ›

1 Timothy 3:11 in Other Translations

11 In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. 11 No exceptions are to be made for women - same qualifications: serious, dependable, not sharp-tongued, not overfond of wine.

Is a deaconess a deacons wife? ›

Diakonissa is a Greek title of honor that is used to refer to a deacon's wife. It is derived from diakonos—the Greek word for deacon (literally, "server").

What are the qualifications of a deaconess? ›

Paul's instructions to the men deacons also applied to the women deaconesses. He told both to be grave, not double-tongued or slanderers, sober and not addicted to wine, and faithful. It is important that today's deacons and deaconesses meet these qualifications.

Who was the first deaconess in the Bible? ›

The name Phoebe means "pure", "radiant", or "bright"; and was the name of a Titan in Greek mythology. Some scholars believe Phoebe was responsible for delivering Paul's epistle to the Roman Christian church. Phoebe is the only woman named as deacon in the Bible.

What are the duties of a deaconess in the Bible? ›

The deaconesses will: Prepare the bread and grape juice. Arrange the emblems and covering on the table. Dispense water and basins for the women during the Ordinance of Humility, giving particular attention and assistance to visitors, new members, and the aged.

What is a deacon 1 Timothy 3? ›

Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:8-13

The deacons were at first appointed to distribute the charity of the church, and to manage its concerns, yet pastors and evangelists were among them. The deacons had a great trust reposed in them. They must be grave, serious, prudent men.

Is there a difference between deacon and deaconess? ›

The deacons generally minister to men and the deaconesses to women and children, or each deacon or deaconess is attached to a specific ministry in the church (deaconess of media, deacon of benevolence ministry, etc.)

Was Phoebe a deaconess? ›

In the final chapter of Romans (16:1-2), Paul introduces Phoebe to the Roman church. She is called a deacon (transliterated) or servant (translated) of Cenchreae. Baptist churches that see “deacon” as an office, like J.D. Greear's church, ordain women as deacons.

Was Lydia in the Bible a deacon? ›

In Acts chapter 16, Lydia does not receive a formal leadership title or office; for example, apostle, or prophet, or teacher, or overseer, or deacon.

What religions have female deacons? ›

In Christianity, the ordination of women has been taking place in an increasing number of Protestant and Old Catholic churches, starting in the 20th century. Since ancient times, certain churches of the Orthodox tradition, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church, have raised women to the office of deaconess.

What are the 8 duties of a deacon in the Bible? ›

The Duties of a Deacon
  • Pass the sacrament.
  • Watch over the Church.
  • Warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.
  • Assist the bishop with temporal things.
  • Fellowship quorum members and other young men.

What disqualifies a deacon? ›

A man is disqualified for the office of deacon if he is addicted to strong drink or other intoxicating substances. Such a person lacks self-control and is undisciplined.

What does the Bible say about a deacon's wife? ›

The wives of a potential deacon must be "dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things." "Dignified" is similar to "dignity" as used with elders in verse 4. "Slander" as used here refers to all forms of gossip, backbiting, and other malicious talk (1 Timothy 5:14; 6:4).


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