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Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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The appointment of the seven was designed to remedy the "murmuring of the Grecians (Greek-speaking Jews) against the Hebrew, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration." The apostles said, "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve ("be deacons to"; diakonein ) tables," i.e. secular business. It is an undesigned coincidence confirming the narrative, that, while no mention is made of their country, their names are all Grecian. The church's design evidently was that, since the murmurers were Grecians, their cause should be advocated by Hellenists. There was a common fund to which most disciples contributed by the sale of their property, and out of which the widows were relieved; a proof of the strong conviction of the truth of Christianity, which could constrain men to such self sacrifice. It is doubtful whether these seven correspond fully to the modern deacons of either episcopal or congregational churches.

On the one hand, the distribution of alms was the immediate occasion of their appointment; on the other the qualifications involved higher functions, "men ... full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom." The result was, "the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith; and Stephen (one of the seven), full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people." Philip, too, was an "evangelist." They were probably commissioners to superintend the deacons in distributing the alms, so that the Grecian (Hellenist, Greek-speaking Jewish) widows should not be neglected, and at the same time to minister in spiritual things, as their solemn ordination by laying on of hands implies. The "young men" (Acts 5:6; Acts 5:10, neoteroi ) imply a subordinate ministration answering to the "deacons" (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, etc.).

As bishops and presbyters or elders are different aspects of the same upper ministry, so "young men" and "deacons" are different aspects of the same subordinate ministry. Clement of Rome (1 Corinthians 42) notices that the Septuagint (Isaiah 60:17) prophetically use the two together. The synagogue had its "pastors" (paruasim ) and its subordinate "deacons" (chazzanim ) or ministers (Luke 4:20). The church naturally copied from it. The deacons baptized new converts, distributed the bread and wine of the Lord's supper (Justin Martyr, Apol., 65-67), and distributed alms, at first without superintendence, afterward under the presbyters. The diaconate was not a probationary step (as now in episcopal churches) to the presbytery. What is meant by 1 Timothy 3:13 is, "they that have used the office of a deacon well are acquiring to themselves (not "a good degree" for promotion, but) a good standing place" against the day of judgment (1 Corinthians 3:13-14); not a step to promotion.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Deacon'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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Thursday, May 28th, 2020
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