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A Paper Presented to Elder Board Solid Rock Bible Church


Joel Thomas

June 2009




Lexical Study


Standard Lexicons


Secular Usage


Old Testament and Apocrypha Usage


Contemporary Jewish Usage


Josephus Nominal Usage


Josephus Verbal Usage


Philo Usage


New Testament Nominal Usage


New Testament Verbal Usage


Lexical Summary


Woman as Deacons


Are Deacons in Acts 6?





Introduction The data within the New Testament concerning deacon is very limited in scope. The word for deacon (διάκονος) is used four times in the Greek Old Testament, one time in the apocrypha and 30 times in the Greek New Testament. 1 In addition to this the verbal form of this word (διακονέω) is used only 37 times. 2 In the modern church the word deacon has a very specific definition but the actual Greek words are generic. The words have the basic idea of service. 3 Before proceeding to defining the qualifications, roles and responsibilities of the deacon it will be necessary to identify the actual places where the word actually is used in the technical sense and not just in the generic usage of serving. Once that classification process is completed then the instances of technical usage will be examined in context to answer the following questions. The first question that needs to be answered is whether a deacon is a specific ministry or it is simply a statement of qualifications for service in the church. The second question that needs to be answered is that if the deacon is actually a specific ministry in the church is that ministry limited to men only or may women serve in that capacity. The last question that needs to be answered is whether the seven men chosen to help the apostles in Acts deacons or was that a separate potentially unique office that does not continue until today and whether any principles can be applied from that situation.

1 Bibleworks for Windows Ver. 8.0 (Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC).

2 Ibid.

3 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. by Frederick William Danker. 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 230.



Lexical Study

Standard Lexicons

The concept of service is expressed in Greek by several different words each of which

expresses a slightly different nuance of meaning. This range of meaning is expressed very well

by Hermann Beyer in his article in the Theological Dictionary of New Testament Theology

which states:

The concept of serving is expressed in Gk. by many words which are often hard to differentiate even though each has its own basic emphasis. → δουλεύω means to serve as a slave, with a stress on subjection. → θεραπεύω emphasises willingness for service and the respect and concern thereby expressed (esp. towards God). → λατρεύω means to serve for wages. In NT days it had come to be used predominantly for religious or cultic duties. → λειτουργέω denotes official public service to the people or to the state, being used in the LXX for service in the temple and in Christianity for service in the Church. ὑπηρετέω means at root to steer. In terms of service, it signifies esp. the relation to the master to whom the service is rendered. In Xenoph. ὑπηρέτης is often used in the sense of adjutant. As distinct from all these terms, διακονέω has the special quality of indicating very personally the service rendered to another. It is thus closest to ὑπηρετέω, but in διακονέω there is a stronger approximation to the concept of a service of love. 4

Secular Usage

In terms of secular usage there is quite a bit of evidence that by the time of the New

Testament there was an official concept in Greek society of an office in religious settings

expressed by διάκονος. 5 There are to be sure very significant differences but it does indicate that

4 Hermann Wofgang Beyer, “Διακονέω, Διακονία, Διάκονος,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 81.

5 James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930), 149.


the idea of διάκονος of being a religious office was certainly not foreign to the secular Greek


Old Testament and Apocrypha Usage

In contrast to the secular Greek usage there seems to be no concept of διάκονος as being

an office in Jewish culture at all. This is seen clearly in every single instance of its use in the Old

Testament as well as the Apocrypha. The word is only used four times in the Old Testament (all

in Esther) and each usage clearly refers to the servants of the Persian king. 6 The same sense is

also found in the Apocrypha in 4 Macc 9:17 where the servants of the Greek king are being

referred to in a rather derogatory fashion. 7

Contemporary Jewish Usage

The two other significant contemporary Jewish sources which need to be evaluated are

the Jewish historian Josephus and the Jewish philosopher Philo. The first source is the 1 st century

Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus uses the noun form 14 times. 8

Josephus Nominal Usage

The first usage is in his account of Jacob agreeing to work for Rachel. The actual usage is

an indication that she was the motivation behind his decision to serve Laban in return for

6 Bibleworks 8.0.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.


Rachel. 9 The second usage is clearly from the context referring to the royal servants of Saul

performing a specific action for him. 10 The third and fourth usage again refers to royal servants,

this time the servants of David who had been entrusted with a specific task. 11 The fifth instance is

a reference to the relationship between Elijah and Elisha as Elisha being both the servant and

disciple of Elijah. 12 The sixth and seventh instances refer to the servant of Elisha in the incident

where Benhadad was attempting to kidnap Elisha. 13 The eighth instance is a reference to the court

servants of the Persian king Artaxerses in the beginning of the Esther narrative. 14 The ninth

instance again refers to an official in the Persian court. 15 The tenth instance indicates the type of

position that Mordecai was appointed to by the king of Persia. 16 The eleventh instance is a

reference to a prominent Jewish priest and the subservient manner that he carried himself in

dealing with his brother. 17 The twelfth instance is reference to how Josephus himself saw his

transition from being a Jewish commander to serving the Romans. 18 The thirteenth instance is a

reference to the way the Zealots ended up serving a primary role in the destruction of

9 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 1.298.

10 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 6.52

11 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 7.201, 224.

12 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 8.354.

13 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 9.54-55.

14 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 11.188.

15 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 11.228.

16 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 11.255.

17 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 12.187.

18 Josephus Jewish War 3.354.


Jerusalem. 19 The last instance is used as a reference to how Vespasian saw Josephus‟s role in

providing a service to him by predicting his victory over the Jews. 20 What this data shows us is

that there is usually an official component to the usage of the word as well as always having the

idea of someone serving another person but not a religious component.

Josephus Verbal Usage

The verbal form of the word is used a total of forty times in thirty eight passages. 21 The

context of the first use is in the recounting of scene where the servant of Joseph confronts his

brothers with the accusation that Benjamin had stolen Joseph‟s goblet. 22 The second usage

consists of a description of how certain cords were used to draw veils within the tabernacle. 23 The

third usage is used to refer to the service of the priest in the tabernacle. 24 The next usage is used

as a reference to the servants that David sent back to Nabal with a message. 25 The fifth time it

was used refers to the request Amnon made for David to send Tamar to attend to him during his

supposed illness. 26 The next two passages uses the word to refer to the request of that Adonijah

19 Josephus Jewish War 4.388.

20 Josephus Jewish War 4.626.

21 Bibleworks 8.0.

22 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 2.129.

23 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 3.128.

24 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 3.155.

25 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 6.298.

26 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 7.165.


wanted Bathsheba to make for him to Solomon. 27 The next instance is in the narrative that

describes the confrontation between Elisha and the soldiers that were sent by King Ahaziah to

inquire of Baal-zebub (see 1 Kgs 1 for parallel account). 28 The next use of the word is a reference

to the ministry of the priests during the reign of King Josiah. 29 In the next instance the word is

used in describing the ministry of intercession by the prophet Jeremiah for the people who were

about left in the land after the exile to God. 30 Next sequential usage of the word is used to

describe the use of the sacred vessels by the concubines of the king of Babylon Belshazzar

during the party where he was judged by God. 31 The word is also used to describe Nehemiah‟s

service as the cupbearer for the Persian king. 32 In addition the word is used to describe the

serving of wine by the servants at the party that King Artaxerxes gave for the nobles in his

court. 33 The next passage refers to the servants of the Hasmonean king Aristobulus cleaning up

vomit. 34 Another reference is used to refer to Herod the Great taking care of his mother

personally. 35 The very next reference again also is used to refer to Herod the Great and his desire

27 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 8.5.

28 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 9.25.

29 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 10.72.

30 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 10.177.

31 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 10.242.

32 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 11.163, 168.

33 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 11.188.

34 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 3.314.

35 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 14:358.


to serve a magic potion. 36 The next usage is a bit different it indicates the purpose of the having

acquired a poison was to actually use it. 37 The next time it is used in Josephus it indicates

obedience by a person to a command. 38 The next two instances are referring to a woman serving

a man sexually all night long because she thought the man was actually a god. 39 The next time

Josephus uses the verb, he uses it to indicate that someone is placing themselves in a subservient

position to another person. 40 Josephus use of the verb in the next two references is indicative of

providing a service to someone. 41 The next four instances of the verb are used to indicate the

obedience of the governor of Syria to a command the emperor. 42 The next usage is used in the

sense of endeavoring to complete a task. 43 The next two instances both used word in the simple

sense of to serve. 44 The next time Josephus uses the verb it is used in the sense of a person being

subservient to their own desires. 45 The next usage is used in the sense of completing a task given

by an authority figure in a certain way. 46 The next verbal instance is used in the sense of being

36 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 15:224.

37 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 17.74.

38 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 17.140.

39 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.74, 77.

40 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.125.

41 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.193-194.

42 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.262, 265, 269, 277.

43 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.280.

44 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.283, 293.

45 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.304.

46 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 19.34.


subservient to the command of an authority figure. 47 The next two times the verb has the meaning

of carrying out the commands of an authority figure. 48 The subsequent usage again has the idea

of being subservient to the commands of an authority figure. 49 The last usage is a participle being

used as noun and has the generic idea of being servants. 50

The meaning of the both the noun and verbal forms within the works of Josephus is best

scene as encompassing two root concepts. The first important concept is that of serving another

person is seen in each and every usage. The second important concept that is commonly though

not universally used is the idea of performing the service under the direct authority and

supervision of another person. This is very important since it seems to indicate that one of the

base nuances of this word is the idea of being under and authority when exercising the service. If

this nuance shows itself within the works of the Jewish philosopher Philo it will definitely be

necessary to use this nuance in our analysis of the usage within the New Testament.

Philo Usage

Unlike Josephus the noun form is only used five times in Philo and the verbal form is

only used once so this analysis will be much shorter. 51 The first noun usage within Philo is used

47 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 19.41.

48 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 19.42.

49 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 19.194.

50 Josephus Jewish War 4.252.

51 Bibleworks 8.0.


in the sense of describing the service the ears did for a person. 52 The second time Philo uses the

word to describe how God uses various people in his service. 53 The next instance of Philo using

the word has its meaning the way God serves people by giving gifts to people. 54 The fourth time

he uses the noun its meaning is the service that the ears have been used as a service. 55 The last

usage is used to indicate people who were waiting to serve at a meal. 56 The only use of the verbal

form is used to indicate the service that slaves give to their masters. 57

The usage in Philo is much more generic only in the last instance of the noun and the

only verbal indicate the presence of an overall authority over the person who is serving. Since

Philo uses the word infrequently it is probably prudent not to place too much weight his usage

one way or the other.

New Testament Nominal Usage

There are twenty nine uses of the noun form of the word in the New Testament. 58 The

word is used three times in the Gospel of Matthew. The word is used in Matt 20:26 in the sense

of a servant under the authority of another person. Specifically this is the passage where Jesus

talks about what it takes to be great in the kingdom of God and it indicates that to great in the

52 Philo On the Posterity of Cain 1.165.

53 Philo On Giants 1.12.

54 Philo On the Life of Joseph 1.241.

55 Philo On the Life of Moses 2.199.

56 Philo On the Contemplative Life 1.75.

57 Philo On the Contemplative Life 1.70.

58 Bibleworks 8.0.


kingdom of God you need to place make yourself a servant. The second passage where the word

is used is in Matt 22:13 where it is referring to a King talking to his servants. The next passage is

Matt 23:11 where it is used in the context of comparing how the order priority would not be like

the Jewish leaders thought it would be but that the greatest people in the kingdom of God would

be the servants. The only passage that seems to imply an official position is Matt 22:13 with a

king and his royal servants.

There are two passages where the word is used in the gospel of Mark. The word is used

in Mark 9:35 and it has as its meaning the generic idea of being a servant to everyone else. The

next use in Mark is in Mark 10:43 and it has the same meaning as Matthew 20:26 as a person

being under the authority of another person.

The word is used three times in the Gospel of John. The first two uses refer to the

servants at the marriage in Cana in John 2:5, 9. The third use is in John 12:26 where Jesus is

speaking of how his servants will serve him. In all these cases it seems clear the word is being

used in the more generic sense of service not an official role.

There are three instances in the book of Romans. The first instance is in Rom 13:4. The

word in that passage in reference to the God ordained service that earthly rulers provide for us.

The second instance is in Rom 15:8 and it is used to the Christ‟s service to the Jews in

confirming the prophecies. The last reference is in Rom 16:1 which states “I commend to you

our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;59 This reference seems to

be indicating a possibly official role/office that that this woman had in church at Cenchrea. This

passage will need to be looked at later to verify whether that implication is correct and what role


a woman might be allowed to have in a church. This reference is clearly the only one in Romans

that could have that sense.

There are six instances in the books of First and Second Corinthians. The only instance in

First Corinthians is in 1 Cor 3:5 and it is used general sense of how Apollos and Paul served the

Corinthian believers by preaching the gospel to them. The first instance in Second Corinthians is

in 2 Cor 3:6 and in this case Paul is describing how God made them servants of the New

Covenant. The next usage of the word is found in 2 Cor 6:4 where it used to describe how Paul

and his colleagues are servants of God. The third and fourth uses are in 2 Cor 11:15 where it

being used to describe how the servants of Satan disguise themselves as servants of

righteousness. The last instance is in 2 Cor 11:23 where Paul is asking the question whether

some people are servants of Christ. In all of these cases there is no possibility from the context

that there could be an official role they are all used in the more generic sense.

There is only one use of the word in the book of Galatians. The single use is found in Gal

2:17 where Paul is a rhetorical question about whether Christ is a servant of sin. Since sin is a

concept not a person or an organization this clearly not referring to an official office or role of

any sort.

There are two uses of the word in the book of Ephesians. The first instance in the book of

Ephesians is found in Eph 3:7. This verse is indicating that Paul was made a servant of the

gospel. This could possibly taken as being an official role in the church but in the immediate

context Paul is talking about his specific ministry not a role within a local church. The second

instance is in Eph 6:21 where the Tychicus is call a faithful servant. Again this could possibly be

59 Rom 16:1 NASB.


usage indicating an official role for him with the Ephesian church but in this case that is not

possible since Tychicus is being sent to the Ephesians with the letter.

There is only one instance of the word in the book of Philippians. The single instance is

in a very significant place. It is found in Phil 1:1 where Paul and Timothy are greeting the

leaders of the church specifically the overseers and deacons. There are two important reasons

why this should be seen as an official role in the church. The first reason is that from the

Pastoral Epistles that overseer role is an official role in the church. The second reason is that it is

the presence of the Greek conjunction 60 that was translated with the English word andties the

overseers and deacons together with the church at Philippi.

The word is used four times in the book of Colossians. The first time the word is used is

in Col 1:7 where it used in reference to a leader in the church named Epaphras. At first glance

this would seem to be an ideal case for a reference to an official role in the church but in this

case it is misleading since the verse is emphasizing his service to the church using both this word

and the word indicating that he was a fellow slave with the people in the church. This seems to

indicate not an official role but more as a co-laborer with the people in the church. The second

time the word is used is used in Colossians is in Col 1:23 where Paul is using the word in

reference to his ministry as a servant of the gospel. The third time the word is used is in Col 1:25

where it is used in reference to Paul‟s service to the church but in this case the context is clearly

indicating the universal church not a local church. The last instance of the word is in Col 4:7

where it is used in the same manner as Eph 6:21 in reference to Tychicus who is being used to

carry the letter to the church in Colosse.


The last three uses of the word are all found in First Timothy. The first two uses of the

word are found in 1 Tim 3:8, 12. In these two cases it is very clear that there is specific role

within the local church envisioned. This is clear from use of Greek word 61 that is translated either

as likewise or in the same manner. This word is an adverb that is used to mark a comparison with

the topic that precedes it. In this case it is the requirements for being an overseer in the church.

This is clearly an official role within church so it is logical from the context that deacon in the

passage also refers to an official role within the church. The third usage of the word in First

Timothy is in 1 Tim 4:6 where it referring to Timothy being a servant of Jesus Christ. This is

clearly the more generic sense of the word not an official role since Timothy is actually an

elder/overseer rather than a deacon.

New Testament Verbal Usage

In terms of the verbal form of the word it is used 32 times in 37 verses. 62 There are six

instances of the verbal form used in the Gospel of Matthew. The first instance is found in Matt

4:11 and it is used to describe the service the angels performed for Jesus after his temptation by

Satan. The second time Matthew uses the word is in Matt 8:15 where it used in reference to the

service that Peter‟s mother-in-law performed for Jesus after he healed her of her fever. The next

two uses of the word are in Matt 20:28 and it is used in reference to Jesus‟ giving his life as

ransom for other people in the crucifixion. The fifth use of the word in Matthew is found in Matt

60 καὶ

61 ὡσαύτως

62 Bibleworks 8.0.


25:44. It is used in this passage to describe the service that people give to the people who are

most in need that Jesus equates with how they treat him. The last instance of the word in Gospel

of Matthew is found in Matt 27:55 and it describes the type of service that the women who

followed Jesus performed for him. The only case where it is clear that this is describing service

within an official appointed office is in Matt 4:11 where it describes the angelic service to Jesus

after his temptation.

Mark uses the word five times in his gospel. All the uses have parallels in Matthew and

they function in the same manner in each case. Mark 1:13 is parallel to Matt 4:11. Mark 1:31 is

parallel to Matt 8:15. Mark 10:45 is parallel to Matt 20:28. Mark 15:41 is parallel to Matt 27:55.

The verb is used eight times in seven verses. The first use is in Luke 4:39 and it is parallel

to both Matt 8:15 and Mark 1:31. The use in Luke 8:3 is unique to look and the word is used to

describe the financial support the women that followed Jesus. In Luke 10:40 the word is used to

describe the way the Martha was serving dinner to Jesus by herself. The next instance is in Luke

12:37 where it describes the way that a master will serve his servants if he finds them alert and

active when he returns. The following use is found in Luke 17:8 where it is used in the sense of a

master having his slave to serve him his dinner before the slave could eat his dinner. The last

three instances are use in the Gospel of Luke and they are found in Luke 22:26-27. These last

instances are used to give an example of how leadership is to be exercised with an attitude of

service. There does not seem to be any uses in Luke that indicate an official service role in the

user of this word. There seems to be a more generic sense and at last a couple of time where

table service is the primary meaning.


The verb is used three times in the Gospel of John. The word is used first in John 12:2 to

describe Martha‟s serving dinner to Jesus. The next two instances are found in John 12:26 where

it is used to describe how God the Father will honor anyone who serves the Son. Again like most

of the rest of the uses the word is used in John in the generic sense or in the sense of table


The word is used twice in Acts. The first use is in Acts 6:2 where it is used in a

hyperbolic sense to impress the people of the need for the Apostles to not serve tables but that

they needed the time to exercise spiritual leadership. The second instance in Acts is in Acts

19:22 where it is used to describe the relationship between Timothy and Erastus and Paul. The

first instance while it is in the context of the choosing of the seven is nonetheless not used to

describe any official role in fact it is used in the more general and common usage of table

service. This second instance is clearly an official role but not within the local church but simply

as apostolic helpers of some sort.

The verb is used only once in the book of Romans. The only instance is found in Rom

15:25 where it used to describe Paul‟s type of service he is planning on giving to the church in

Jerusalem during his trip to take the relief offering he has been collecting for them. This usage is

clearly used in the generic sense of the word and not in any sense an official office in the church.

Second Corinthians contains three instances of the word. The first time it is used is in 2

Cor 3:3 where it is used to in a metaphor to describe how Paul sees the believers in Corinth as

being a letter sent by God that he delivered. The last two times the verb is used are in 2 Cor 8:19-

20. This case does indicate that word is used in the sense of commissioned role but in this case

the commissioning was by God to Paul to minister to the believers. In both of these cases there


seems to be implicit in the context and official commissioning in the uses but the commissioning

in this case was to the church not in the church.

The word is used twice in 1 Tim 3. The first use is in 1 Tim 3:10 where it is used to

describe how the deacons should be allowed to serve as deacons after they have been tested. The

second use of the word in 1 Tim 3 is in 1 Tim 3:13 where it is describes that rewards for serving

well as a deacon is that they will be well regarded in the congregation. Based on the same

analysis of the noun forms in this passage (See above, page #13) it seems best to take this type of

service as being officially sanctioned/commissioned service that comes with having the office of

deacon in a local church.

There is only one use in 2 Timothy. The single instance is in 2 Tim 1:18 where Paul is

describing the personal service that the family of Onesiphorus did for him while he was in

Ephesus. This clearly is not talking about a specific role in the local church.

The last usage by Paul 63 in the New Testament is in the Book of Philemon. The verb is

found in Phlm 1:13 where it used in Paul‟s plea to Philemon to allow Onesimus to be sent back

to him to continue to serve in his ministry in Rome. Again this is a generic usage of the word and

does not refer to any specific role.

There are two instances of the verb in the Book of Hebrews. Both instances are contained

in Heb 6:10. In both cases the word is describing the nature of the service a person has for other


63 The author of this study does not include potential uses in the Book of Hebrews because of the anonymous nature of the book. It is certainly possible that Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews it is by no means certain therefore it best to err on the side of caution in assigning authorship.


The final three instances of the word are all contained in 1 Peter. The first instance is

found in 1 Pet 1:12 where it used to describe the service performed when the gospel is preached.

The last two uses are in 1 Pet 4:10-11. In 1 Pet 4:10 it is used in the generic sense to describe the

service rendered when using a spiritual gift. It is used in 1 Pet 4:11 to describe the actual

exercising of the gift of service. In 1 Pet 4:10 the word is being clearly used in the generic sense.

On the other hand it is possible that the gift of service is a role in the church but based on the

immediate context and how the gifts in general are being described this seems very unlikely. The

mostly likely understanding is that the word is that the gift of service to the church is simply to

service the church, helping to meet the needs of the church.

In summary, the usage of verbal form in the New Testament is as follows. The most

common usage is simply generic service. The second most common usage of the word is that of

table service. The only clear usage of the use of the word in the New Testament as referring to

the service of a person in specific commissioned role in the New Testament is the 1 Tim 3:10, 13

which is the passage that lays out the qualifications for deacons in the local church.

Lexical Summary

There are four important conclusions from this study. The first important conclusion is

that the use of the word for a specific commissioned role within the church is only found in two

certainly 64 or possibly 65 three passages. The second important conclusion is that in all instances

the word implies at least an informal commissioning of some sort. The third important

64 Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3:8, 10, 12, 13.

65 Rom 16:1.


conclusion is that the word implies service in a humble sense. The last important conclusion is

that word always implies that the service/authority that is exercised is always exercised under the

authority of another person.

Now that we have verified that there seems to be a specific role envisioned in the New

Testament, it is necessary now to look whether the scripture allows the possibility of women

serving in that capacity.

Woman as Deacons

In order to evaluate the possibility of women serving in the role of deacon we must

evaluate two passages, Rom 16:1 and 1 Tim 3:11. Rom 16:1 is really dependent on the outcome

of our evaluation of 1 Tim 3:11 therefore discussion of that passage will be deferred until after

the evaluation of 1 Tim 3:11. The only discussion concerning Rom 16:1 that is necessary at this

time is that there is nothing inherent in the grammar or context of the verses that requires it to

either be a female deacon or simply a servant in the church in a generic sense either option is

possible from the context.

The goal of this next section is to identify the primary interpretational options for the

identity of the women in 1 Tim 3:11. “Essentially four positions have been taken: (1) The

women are inherently part of the διάκονοι, (2) they are “deaconesses” distinguished from but

comparable with the διάκονοι, (3) they are female assistants to the διάκονοι, or (4) they are the


wives of the διάκονοι.66 Basically these options can be lumped together into three conceptual

groupings. Options 1 and 2 are basically the same except for the terminology.

Marshall also lays out the arguments in favor of options 1 and 2 in the following way:

(1) Just as in v. 8, the use of ὡσαύτως in v. 11 suggests that a distinct, though similar, group is now under consideration; furthermore, δεῖ εἶναι must be understood from 3:2, as with διακόνους ὡσαύτως in v. 8, and this suggests that the section is parallel to the two preceding sections (Oberlinner, 141). (2) If „wives‟ were meant, it would be normal to indicate this with a possessive pronoun or the definite article. (3) No feminine form of διάκονος existed to serve as a technical designation; in lieu of this, a generic reference to „women‟ in the context of a discussion of deacons would be sufficient to indicate female deacons. (4) The conspicuous lack of a reference to the wives of overseers makes it unlikely that the reference here is to the wives of deacons. Why should the wives of deacons, as opposed to overseers, need special qualifications? (5) Rom 16:1 (Φοίβην διάκονον) is a clear example of a female deacon (cf. Pliny, Ep. 10:96; Didasc. 3:912). (6) In this context, the virtues required are similar to those required of deacons and are thus those of church workers. 67

The first argument is invalid because if it were true in the sense the author indicates then

overseers and deacons would be the same office and they clearly are not. This construct in fact

more likely indicates we are viewing a different category of people with similar but not identical

requirements. The second argument may or may not be generally true but the two significant

uses in 1 Tim 3:2 and 1 Tim 3:12 are clearly referring to wives and they do not have either a

definite article or a possessive pronoun attached. The third argument is correct but with this

construct being parallel to both deacons and overseers it makes the argument moot. The fourth

argument is the most significant but seem to be mitigated by the different nature of the overseer

66 George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward Gasque (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 171.

67 I. Howard Marshall and Philip H. Towner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, International Critical Commentary (London: T&T Clark International, 1999), 493-94.


ministry, specifically teaching and leadership which women forbidden to have in 1 Tim 2. The

ministry of a deacon in service would much more lend itself to the involvement of his wife. The

fifth argument is not valid at all without proving first and foremost that that a female deacon is

possible and that has not been established yet. The last argument is again possible but again like

with argument four it is much more likely that the very nature of the offices caused the Paul to

add the additional qualifications for the wives of deacons.

Johnson in his commentary lays out four arguments in favor of options 3:

1. The connective hōsautōs seems to differentiate between men and women in the same function (compare 2:89). 2. Although 3:12 mentions that helpers should have one wife, 3:11 does not identify these women as their wives. 3. The characteristics sought in the gynaikes are strikingly similar to those desired in the male helper, with “not be gossipers” matching “not be duplicitous,” “dignified” matching “dignified,” and “faithful in every respect” matching “hold unto the mystery of faith.” 4. In Rom 16:1, Paul names Phoebe as a diakonos of the church at Cenchrae, so we know that he had no difficulty with women holding such a position. 68

Argument one is actually much less weighty that you would initially think because again

as noted above if that were the case overseers and deacons would be the same office and that

clearly is the not the case. The second argument is possible but realistically you could just as

easily argue the opposite way that now that Paul has set out the qualifications for deacon‟s wives

that he is not emphasizing that the deacons are to be faithful to their wives. The third argument

really depends on the purpose for the reinforcement for the wives and as has been argued

previously it seem that the role of deacon‟s wife would lend itself to much more involvement in

the ministry of the deacon rather than the ministry of an overseer. Again the last argument is

68 Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible, vol. 35A (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 228-29.


again an assertion without proof. You have to prove the possibility of a female deacon before

you can use it to argue in favor of it.

Marshall lays out the arguments in favor of option 4 when he states:

(1) The fact that the qualifications concerning „women‟ are placed in the midst of the deacon code, instead of on their own, and the cursory nature of the qualifications and the lack of detail do not suggest that something so important as church office is in mind. (2) A reference to „wives‟ fits in with the immediately succeeding reference to deacons‟ being married (3:12). (3) γυνή is too general a term to designate an office, but is a common reference for a „wife‟. (4) Prohibitions against women teaching and ruling in 1 Tim 2:1115 make a reference here to women workers unlikely; widows (5:9f.) are an exceptional case where certain competent women may engage in limited aspects of ministry. 69

The most important argument in favor of option 4 is the first argument. It would seem to

be very strange to simply jump out of the deacon qualifications and give a one line set of

qualifications that do not relate to them in some way. You would expect that if Paul were going

to address a new class of people that he would use a more distinct grammatical or context marker

to make sure his audience did not miss the point. The other three arguments while helpful are

not definitive. The first argument really carries the weight and makes the case.

Based on this analysis it seem best to take the reference in 1 Tim 3:11 to women as

specifically referring to the wives of the deacons and that women should not be allowed to

function as deacons or deaconesses in the church. This is of course not absolute and we should

definitely exercise grace in this area but it is important for churches to take a position on issue

such as this and not be afraid to take unpopular though Biblical stands.

69 Marshall and Towner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, 493.


Are Deacons in Acts 6?

The relationship between Acts 6 and 1 Tim 3 is ambiguous at best. Before comparing

the qualifications that seem to be used in both passages it is probably best to outline the problem

that was going on in Acts 6. R. Kent Hughes lays out the implications of the situation very well

in his commentary when he states:

Acts 6 shows us Satan trying to disrupt the inward peace of the early church. Wonderful things were happening as the new church grew by leaps and bounds. Three thousand received Christ at Pentecost. Another 2,000 were added shortly thereafter. Acts 5 tells us that many more were then added to the church. Satan, unhappy about God‟s successes, sowed a spirit of murmuring and gossip among God‟s people, hoping to set believer against believer. 70

There are basically two major issues that are contributing to the problem in Acts 6. The

first issue was the attempt to fuse people from two very different Jewish subcultures into the

church. At the very least the two groups broke down along linguistic lines but it was quite

possible that the Hellenists not only spoke Greek but also had adopted a certain amount of Greek

culture. 71 The exact nature of the differences does not really need to be defined for this study.

The only thing that needs to be understood is that there were significant suspicions and biases on

both sides of the issue. The second issue is the plight of widows in first century Palestine. Polhill

in is commentary explains the importance of this issue when he states “In Jewish society widows

were particularly needy and dependent, and the Old Testament singles them out along with

orphans as the primary objects of charitable deeds. The Hellenist widows may have been a

particularly sizable group. Diaspora Jews often moved to Jerusalem in their twilight years to die

70 R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books,

1996), 93-94.

71 Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 240-47.


in the holy city. When the men died, their widows were left far from their former home and

family to care for them and were thus particularly in need of charity.72 These widows were

dependent on the food distribution from the church to live and the Hellenistic widows were not

getting their fair share. This was potentially a matter of life and death and it seems that it really

was not caused by malice only that the apostles were overtaxed with taking care of both the

spiritual and physical needs of the people. God used the situation to force the issue and get the

apostles to accept help.

The relationship between Acts 6 and 1 Tim 3 hinges on three issues. The first issue is that

the word for deacon is not used at all in the book of Acts. In the Acts 6 the related verbal form is

used but it is clearly used in the context to refer to serving tables and it does not imply at all that

apostles were creating the official church office that is found 1 Tim 3. The second issue is

whether the qualifications in the two passages match. The qualification in Acts 6:3 is very simple

that the seven men be filled with the Spirit and wisdom. This is very rudimentary as compared to

1 Tim 3 where there several very specific qualifications. The third issue that needs to be

addressed is the method of selection. In Acts 6 the congregation selects the candidates and the

apostles approve of them on the other hand the deacons in 1 Tim 3 seem to be selected directly

by the elders and there is no implication of congregational involvement.

Based on these considerations it is probably best to see the role in Acts 6 as being a

transitional role in the church that was specific to the situation in Acts 6. This is especially

important since Acts was written at about the same time as 1 Tim and it seems strange to me that

72 John B. Polhill, Acts, New American Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery, vol. 26 (Nashville, TN:

Broadman Press, 1992), 179.


Luke who was very good at adding explanatory comments would not see fit to not comment on

this as being the first instance of the deacons. It is probably best simply to see this role as simply

a good example of the need for people to serve in the church to help out the leadership and to let

them concentrate on leading the church and to not allow distractions by important needs to

interfere with their primary calling in the church.



There are three important conclusions of this study. The first conclusion is that based on

the lexical examination that the word for deacon always contains two elements. The first element

is a sense of service. The second element is that the sense of service is a commissioned service.

The service of a deacon is to be exercised under the authority of another person. In the context of

the church the service of the deacons would be carried out under the delegated authority and

supervision of the elders. The key take away would be that the elders simply could not hand

absolute authority over the deacons because the ultimate responsibility and accountability to God

would still reside in the elders. A contemporary example of this would be that the elders could

delegate the preparation of the budget to the deacons but that ultimately the elders would need to

examine the document line by line and make appropriate changes if necessary because God is

going to hold them accountable for that budget.

The second conclusion of this study is that evidence for allowing women to serve as

deacons is very slim and the biblical evidence seems to point in the direction of the wives of

deacons serving with their husbands in a collaborative effort. This is not to say that women

cannot serve in the church this only serves to restrict the official role of deacon to men.


The last conclusion of this study is that the role in Acts 6 does not seem to correspond to

the role described in 1 Tim 3. This is not to say it is impossible that the role in Acts 6 could be a

precursor role to the role in 1 Tim 3 but there is absolutely no biblical evidence for that

happening so it best to exercise caution. The main application that can be taken away from Acts

6 is that the leadership in the church needs support to be able function properly and that

ultimately God created the role of deacon to help them.



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