Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day.

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Minister Ministry

Additional Links

In discussing these two terms we have to consider six groups of Greek words which occur in the Bible in connexion with ministering or serving. They run in triplets, each triplet consisting of a concrete noun, an abstract noun, and a verb-‘minister,’ ‘ministry,’ and ‘to minister.’ These six groups are-διάκονος, διακονία, διακονεῖν; δοῦλος, δουλεία, δουλεύειν; ὑπηρέτης, [ὑπηρεσία], ὑπηρετεῖν; [λάτρις], λατρεία, λατρεύειν; λειτουργός, λειτουργία, λειτουργεῖν; θεράπων, θεραπεία, θεραπεύειν. All these are found in the NT excepting ὑπηρεσία, which occurs in the Septuagint in Job and Wisdom, and λάτρις, which occurs only in the enlarged text of Job 2:9. With regard to nearly all of them it will be found that both the Authorized Version and the Revised Version use different English words to translate the same Greek word, while different Greek words are sometimes translated by the same English word. This could hardly be avoided without doing injustice to the meaning of various passages. In all languages words have different shades of meaning, and in some cases the same word has two or more very different meanings; there are very many instances of this in the Greek of the NT.

The fact that we have no less than six sets of words to express the idea of ‘minister’ and ‘ministry’ is strong evidence that there was as yet no regular organization of ministers with distinct titles indicating specific duties. This impression is confirmed when we find that English translators are unable to reserve a separate English word for each of the different Greek words. Evidently these different Greek terms do not each represent a class of officials; but individuals who undertake work of a similar character are called by the same name. On the other hand, the name varies, without there being in all cases a corresponding change of meaning. The same person, from somewhat different points of view, might bear four or five of the six names; and even from the same point of view might bear more than one of them. In the earliest congregations of Christians it was soon found that some individuals had certain gifts, and they exercised these gifts for the good of the congregation. Such useful persons were distinguished by words already in use for similar services. At a later time, when the Christian ministry became organized, some of these words acquired a technical meaning and designated Church officers with specific duties. It will be useful to exhibit the diversity of translation somewhat in detail.

διάκονος is found in Mt., Mk., and Jn., in all four groups of the Pauline Epistles, and nowhere else in the NT. In the Gospels it is rendered ‘servant,’ in the Epistles ‘minister,’ except Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:12, where it is rendered ‘deacon.’ διακονία occurs in Ac. and in all groups of the Pauline Epistles, except 1 and 2 Th.; elsewhere thrice. The usual translation is ‘ministry’; but we have ‘ministration’ (2 Corinthians 3:7-9; 2 Corinthians 9:13), ‘ministering’ (2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:1), ‘relief’ (Acts 11:29), ‘serving’ (Luke 10:40), also ‘service’ and ‘administration.’ The Revised Version changes ‘ministry’ to ‘service’ (1 Timothy 1:12), ‘service’ to ‘ministry’ (Revelation 2:19), ‘ministry’ to ‘ministering’ (Ephesians 4:12, 2 Timothy 4:11), ‘ministry’ to ‘ministration’ (2 Corinthians 6:3), and ‘administration’ to ‘ministration’ (2 Corinthians 9:12). διακονεῖν is always ‘to minister’ in Mt. and Mk., always ‘to serve’ in Jn., and nearly always ‘to minister’ in the Epistles: in Lk. and Ac. both translations are used-‘to serve’ most frequently. The Revised Version changes ‘administer’ to ‘minister’ (2 Corinthians 8:19-20), and ‘use the office of a deacon’ to ‘serve as deacons’ (1 Timothy 3:10; 1 Timothy 3:13). λειτουργός is rendered ‘minister’ in nearly all places; λειτουργία is ‘ministration’ in Lk., ‘service’ in Ph., and ‘ministry’ in Heb.; λειτουργεῖν is always ‘to minister.’ The translations of ὑπηρέτης vary between ‘attendant,’ ‘minister,’ ‘officer,’ and ‘servant.’ The Revised Version changes ‘minister’ to ‘attendant’ (Luke 4:20, Acts 13:5), and ‘servant’ to ‘officer’ (Mark 14:54). ὑπηρετεῖν is ‘to serve’ (Acts 13:36) and ‘to minister’ (Acts 20:34; Acts 24:23). These instances of variations in rendering the same word may suffice. The different shades of meaning between the groups of Greek words are of more importance; but the fact that ‘minister’ and ‘servant,’ with their cognates, appear in the translations of so many of the groups is evidence that the meanings frequently overlap.

The triplets connected with δοῦλος and θεράπων are somewhat closely allied. The δοῦλος, ‘slave’ or ‘bondservant,’ is in a permanent condition of servitude to the person whom he serves, and he cannot free himself from it. The θεράπων renders temporary and voluntary service. Both words may be used of man’s relation to God: Moses is called the θεράπων (Hebrews 3:5, the only place in the NT in which the word occurs) and the δοῦλος (Revelation 15:3) of God; and in the Septuagint both words are used to translate the same Hebrew word (ebed): e.g. Numbers 12:7, Judges 2:8. θεραπεία is used (abstract for concrete) of a body of domestic servants (Luke 12:42), and of the special service of healing (Luke 9:11, Revelation 22:2). θεραπεύειν means ‘to serve’ in any way, and also ‘to treat medically’ and ‘to heal.’ The verb is very frequent in the writings of the beloved physician, and, except Acts 17:25, always in the medical sense. Except indirectly in the metaphor of the healing leaves (Revelation 22:2), this triplet is not used of spiritual ministry by man to man; and neither θεραπεία nor θεραπεύειν is found in any Epistle. Nor is the δοῦλος triplet used of man’s spiritual ministry to his fellows. Both δοῦλος and δουλεύειν are used of service to God or to Christ, but the nearest approach to spiritual service to man is Philippians 2:22, where Timothy is said to ‘serve’ with St. Paul ‘in furtherance of the gospel.’

It is probably correct to say much the same of ὑπηρέτης and ὑπηρετεῖν. They indicate a more dignified kind of service than that of the δοῦλος, but they are commonly used of attendance to physical needs or external duties rather than of ministration to souls. The ‘attendant’ in Luke 4:20 is one who looks after the fabric and the books, not one who preaches in the synagogue. Acts 13:5 probably means that John waited on Paul and Barnabas, attending to their bodily wants, so as to leave them free to preach. He had not been set apart for missionary work as they had been (Acts 13:2). The exceptions are Luke 1:2, Acts 26:16, and 1 Corinthians 4:1, where the idea of spiritual ministration is prominent. But in none of these three passages is there any allusion to the derivation of the word (‘under-rower’), as if it meant a rower in a ship of which Christ was captain.

The three remaining triplets are different, for all of them are frequently connected with the idea of religious service. In the article Deacon, Deaconess it has been pointed out that διάκονος, which in classical Greek commonly implies ignoble service, such as waiting at table, in Christian language has high associations. We find the nobler use of the term in the teaching of that anima naturaliter Christiana, Epictetus. ‘The philosopher should without distraction be employed only on the service of God.’ ‘I think that what God chooses is better than what I choose: I will attach myself as a servant to Him.’ ‘I obey, assenting to the words of the Commander and praising His acts; for I came into the world when it pleased Him, and I will also depart when it pleases Him.’ ‘I depart as Thy servant, as one who has known Thy commands and Thy prohibitions’ (Diss. III. xxii. 69, xxiv. 65, xxvi. 28, IV. vii. 20). In the Septuagint διάκονος and διακονία are rare (ten times in all), and διακονεῖν does not occur. St. Paul calls heathen magistrates ‘servants (διάκονοι) of God’ (Romans 13:4); and all idea of ignoble service is excluded when apostles are called διάκονοι (1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Ephesians 3:7, Colossians 1:23). The whole triplet has for its root-idea the supplying of serviceable labour, whether to the body or the soul. διακονία is used often of the sending of money to help the poor brethren in Judaea (Acts 11:29; Acts 12:25, 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 9:12-13, Romans 15:31). Archippus is told to take heed to the ministry (διακονία) which he had received in the Lord (Colossians 4:17) for work in the Church of Colossae, but we are not told what kind of ministry it was.

There are several passages in which the διάκονος triplet seems to be used of personal service to St. Paul rather than of ministerial service in the Church: διάκονος (of Tychicus, Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7), διακονία (of Mark, 2 Timothy 4:11), διακονεῖν (of Timothy and Erastus, Acts 19:22; of Onesimus, Philemon 1:13; and of Onesiphorus, 2 Timothy 1:18). διακονεῖν is clearly used of supplying bodily needs in Acts 6:2-3, where the Seven are elected ‘to serve tables.’ But the Seven are not called διάκονοι, and there is no evidence in the NT which can connect them with the ‘deacons’ at Philippi or Ephesus. To call the Seven the first deacons is a conjecture which can be neither proved nor disproved.

It may be mere accident that θεραπεία and θεραπεύειν are never used in the NT in the classical sense of Divine worship, although both are used in this sense in the Septuagint (Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15, Isaiah 54:17, Daniel 7:10, Judith 11:17). For Divine worship, the NT writers use either λατρεία and λατρεύειν or λειτουργία and λειτουργεῖν, words which may signify adoration of God in general and sometimes sacrifice in particular. λατρεία or λατρεύειν is used of heathen worship (Romans 1:25), of Jewish worship (Acts 7:7, Romans 9:4, Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 13:10), of Christian worship (Romans 12:1, Philippians 3:3), and of worship in heaven (Revelation 7:15; Revelation 22:3). In Apost. Const. viii. 15, ad fin., ‘mystical λατρεία’ is used of the eucharist. But in the Septuagint , in connexion with religious worship, the group λειτουργός, λειτουργία, λειτουργεῖν is more common. The classical use of these words for the rendering of public services, or contributions to the State, at Athens, prepared the way for the religious use; and it is probable that the employment of these expressions by the writers of the NT in describing Christian worship is not entirely due to the influence of the Septuagint . Numerous papyri of about 160 b.c. or earlier show that λειτουργία and λειτουργεῖν were frequently used in Egypt in this ceremonial sense (Deissmann, Bible Studies, Eng. translation , 1901, p. 140). The different members of the triplet occur in the writings of St. Luke and St. Paul, and all three in Hebrews: e.g. Luke 1:23, Acts 13:2, Philippians 2:17, Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 10:11 (see Westcott, Ep. to Hebrews, 1889, ad loc.). In his full notes on Philippians 2:17 (Philippians4, 1878) Lightfoot remarks: ‘The Philippians are the priests; their faith (or their good works springing from their faith) is the sacrifice: St. Paul’s life-blood the accompanying libation. Commentators have much confused the image, by representing St. Paul himself as the sacrificer.’ This passage is one of those which point to ‘the fundamental idea of the Christian Church, in which an universal priesthood has supplanted the exclusive ministrations of a select tribe or class.’ In the NT all Christians have in Christ that immediate access to God which is the special privilege of priests, and the sacrifices which they offer are spiritual-their wills, praises, and prayers. The priesthood belongs to Christians, not as individuals, but as members of the Church, in the ‘royal priesthood’ of which each has a share; and the sacrifice which each brings is service and self-consecration, made acceptable by union with the sacrifice offered by Christ. When certain selected individuals exercise priestly functions on behalf of the whole, they act as organs or representatives of the community. But we need to consider the point at which ‘sacrifice’ and ‘priesthood’ become metaphors.

Literature.-F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, 1897; T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, 1902; A. W. F. Blunt, Studies in Apostolic Christianity, 1909; C. H. Turner, ‘The Organisation of the Church’ in The Cambridge Medieval History, i. [1911] ch. vi., Studies in Early Church History, 1912; L. Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church, ii., Eng. translation , 1912.

A. Plummer.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Minister Ministry'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Mind (2)