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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Deacon

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DEACON . The Gr. word diakonos , as well as the corresponding verb and abstract noun, is of very frequent occurrence in the text of the NT, but in EV [Note: English Version.] is always translated ‘servant’ or ‘minister’ except in Philippians 1:1 , 1 Timothy 3:8-13 , where it is rendered ‘deacon,’ these being the only two passages where it is evidently used in a technical sense.

In the Gospels the word has the general meaning of ‘servant’ (cf. Matthew 20:26 || Matthew 23:11 , John 2:5 ; John 2:9 ). St. Paul employs it constantly of one who is engaged in Christian service, the service of God or Christ or the Church ( e.g. 2 Corinthians 6:4 ; 2 Corinthians 11:23 , Colossians 1:23-25 ), but without any trace as yet of an official signification. Once in Romans we find him distinguishing diakonia (‘ministry’) from prophecy and teaching and exhortation ( Romans 12:6-8 ); but it seems evident that he is speaking here of differences in function, not in office, so that the passage does not do more than foreshadow the coming of the diaconate as a regular order.

In Acts the word diakonos is never once employed, but Acts 6:1-6 , where we read of the appointment of the Seven, sheds a ray of light on its history, and probably serves to explain how from the general sense of one who renders Christian service it came to be applied to a special officer of the Church. The Seven are nowhere called deacons, nor is there any real justification in the NT for the traditional description of them by that title. The qualifications demanded of them ( Acts 6:8 , cf. Acts 6:5 ) are higher than those laid down in 1 Timothy for the office of the deacon; and Stephen and Philip, the only two of their number of whom we know anything, exercise functions far above those of the later diaconate ( 1 Timothy 6:8 ff.). But the fact that the special duty to which they were appointed is called a diakonia or ministration ( 1 Timothy 6:1 ) and that this ministration was a definite part of the work of the Church in Jerusalem, so that ‘the diakonia ’ came to be used as a specific term in this reference (cf. Acts 11:29 ; Acts 12:25 , Romans 15:25 ; Romans 15:31 , 2Co 8:4 ; 2 Corinthians 9:1 ; 2 Corinthians 9:12-13 ), makes it natural to find in their appointment the germ of the institution of the diaconate as it meets us at Philippi and Ephesus, in two Epp. that belong to the closing years of St. Paul’s life.

It is in these Greek cities, then, that we first find the deacon as a regular official, called to office after probation (1 Timothy 3:10 ), and standing alongside the bishop in the ministry of the Church ( Philippians 1:1 , 1 Timothy 3:1-13 ). As to his functions nothing is said precisely. We can only infer that the diakonia of the deacons in Philippi and Ephesus, like the diakonia of the Seven in Jerusalem, was in the first place a ministry to the poor. The forms of this ministry would of course be different in the two cases, as the social conditions were (see art. Communion), but in the Gentile as in the Jewish world it would naturally be a service of a responsible, delicate, and often private kind an inference that is borne out by what is said in 1 Tim. as to the deacon’s qualifications.

Comparing these qualifications with those of the bishop, we observe that the difference is just what would be suggested by the names bishop or ‘overseer’ and deacon or ‘servant’ respectively. Bishops were to rule and take charge of the Church ( 1 Timothy 3:5 ); deacons were to ‘serve well’ ( 1 Timothy 3:13 ). Bishops must be ‘apt to teach’ ( 1 Timothy 3:2 ); deacons were only called to ‘hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience’ ( 1 Timothy 3:9 ). That the work of the deacon and his fellow-servant the deaconess (wh. see) was of a house-to-house kind is suggested by the warnings given against talebearing ( 1 Timothy 3:8 ) and backbiting ( 1 Timothy 3:11 ). That it had to do with the distribution of Church moneys, and so brought temptations to pilfering, is further suggested by the demand that the deacon should not be greedy of filthy lucre ( 1 Timothy 3:8 ) and that his female counterpart should be ‘faithful ( i.e. trustworthy) in all things’ ( 1 Timothy 3:11 ).

J. C. Lambert.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Deacon'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/d/deacon.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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