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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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MINISTER. The word ‘minister’ comes from the Lat. minister = ‘ servant ,’ and generally it may be said that wherever it is found in the Bible, whether in OT or in NT, its original meaning is its primary one, service being the idea it is specially meant to convey.

1. In OT it is used (corresponding to the same Heb. word in each case) of Joshua as the personal attendant of Moses ( Exodus 24:13 , Joshua 1:1 ), of the servants in the court of Solomon ( 1 Kings 10:5 ), of angels and the elemental forces of nature as the messengers and agents of the Divine will ( Psalms 103:21; Psalms 104:4; cf. Hebrews 1:7; Hebrews 1:14 ), but, above all, of the priests and Levites as the servants of Jehovah in Tabernacle and Temple ( Exodus 28:35 , 1 Kings 8:11 , Ezra 8:17 , and constantly). The secular uses of the Heb. word, standing side by side with the sacred, show that it was not in itself a priestly term. Ministry was not necessarily a priestly thing, though priesthood was one form of ministry.

2. In NT several Gr. words are tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘minister,’ three of which call for notice. (1) hypçretçs is found in Luke 1:2; Luke 4:20 , Acts 13:5; Acts 26:15 , 1 Corinthians 4:1 . In two of these cases RV [Note: Revised Version.] has properly substituted ‘ attendant ’ for ‘minister’ to avoid misconception. The ‘minister’ ( Luke 4:20 ) to whom Jesus handed the roll in the synagogue at Nazareth was the hazzan , corresponding to the English verger or Scotch beadle. John Mark ( Acts 13:5 ) was the minister of Barnabas and Saul in the same sense as Joshua was of Moses, he was their attendant and assistant. In the other cases hypçretçs is used of the minister of Christ or of the word in a sense that is hardly distinguishable from that of diakonos as under.

(2) leitourgos . In classical Gr. this word with its cognates is applied to one who renders special services to the commonwealth, without any suggestion of a priestly ministry. But in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] it was regularly applied, especially in its verbal form, to the ritual ministry of priests and Levites in the sanctuary, and so by NT times had come to connote the idea of a priestly function. What we have to notice, however, is that no NT writer uses it so as to suggest the discharge of special priestly functions on the part of an official Christian ministry. Either the reference is to the old Jewish ritual ( Luke 1:23 , Hebrews 9:21; Hebrews 10:11 ), or the word is employed in a sense that is purely figurative ( Romans 15:16 , Philippians 2:17 ); or, again, is applied to a ministration of Christian charity ( 2 Corinthians 9:12 , Philippians 2:25; Philippians 2:30 ) or of prayer ( Acts 13:2; cf. v. 3), from which all ideas of priestly ritual are clearly absent.

(3) diakonos . Even more significant than the uses to which leitourgos and its cognates are put in the NT is the fact that they are used so seldom, and that diakonos and diakonia are found instead when the ideas of minister and ministry are to be expressed. This corresponds with the other fact that the priesthood of a selected class has been superseded by a universal Christian priesthood, and that a ministry of lowliness and serviceableness (which diakonos specially implies) has taken the place of the old ministry of exclusive privilege and ritual performance, diakonia is the distinctive Christian word for ‘ministry,’ and diakonos for ‘minister.’ But these nouns and the related verb are used in the NT with a wide range of application. The personal services rendered to Jesus by Martha, Mary, and other women ( Luke 10:40 , John 12:2 , Matthew 27:55 ), and to St. Paul by Timothy, Erastus, and Onesimus ( Acts 19:22 , Philippians 1:13 ), are described as forms of ministry. The man who serves and follows Christ is His minister ( John 12:26; ‘my diakonos ’ is the expression in the original); and the minister of Christ will not fail to minister also to the brethren ( 1 Corinthians 12:5 , 1 Peter 4:10 ). But while every true Christian is a minister of Christ and of the brethren, there is a ministry of particular service out of which there gradually emerges the idea of a special Christian ministry. We may find the roots of the idea in our Lord’s words to His disciples, ‘Whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister, … even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ ( Matthew 20:26 ff.). The minister at first was one who was distinguished from others by his larger services. He did not hold an office, but discharged a function. There were differences of function, indeed, and, above all, the distinction between those who were ministers of the word ( Act 6:4 , 2 Corinthians 3:6 , Ephesians 3:6-7 ) and those who ministered by gracious deed ( Acts 6:1 ff.). But whatever might be the ‘diversities of ministrations’ ( 1 Corinthians 12:5 ), the word diakonos covered them all. At a later stage, when differences of function have begun to harden into distinctions of office, the name diakonos is specially appropriated to the deacon (wh. see) as distinguished from the presbyter or bishop ( Philippians 1:1 , 1 Timothy 3:1-13 ). But diakonos still continues to be used in its wider sense, for Timothy, who was much more than a deacon, is exhorted to be ‘a good minister ( diakonos ) of Jesus Christ’ ( 1 Timothy 4:6 ). See following article.

J. C. Lambert.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Minister'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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