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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Deacon, Deaconess

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‘Deacon’ or ‘deaconess’ (διάκονος, masc. or fem.) means one who serves or ministers. In classical Greek the word commonly implies menial service. In the NT it implies the noble service of doing work for God (2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 11:23, Ephesians 6:21, 1 Thessalonians 3:2), or ministering to the needs of others (Romans 16:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:15, 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:1); and the meaning of the term, with its cognates ‘service’ or ‘ministry’ and ‘to serve’ or ‘to minister’ (διακονία and διακονεῖν) is nearly everywhere quite general and does not indicate a special office. The only passage in which special officials are certainly mentioned is 1 Timothy 3:8-12, where 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to women deacons (Revised Version ) rather than to wives of deacons (Authorized Version ). But it is highly probable that ‘with [the] bishops and deacons’ (Philippians 1:1) also refers to special officials; although it is just possible that St. Paul is merely mentioning the two functions which must exist in every organized community, viz. government and service. A church consists of rulers and ruled. The case of Phœbe, ‘διάκονος of the church which is in Cenchreae’ (Romans 16:1), is doubtful. She may be a female deacon; but this is very unlikely, for there is no trace of deacons or other officials in the church of Corinth at this time. Phœbe was probably a lady, living at the port of Corinth, who rendered much service to St. Paul and other Christians. Milligan (on 1 Thessalonians 3:2) quotes inscriptions which show that διάκονος (masc. and fem.) was a religious title in pre-Christian times. The Seven (Acts 6) are probably not to be identified with the later deacons. The special function of deacons, whether men or women, was to distribute the alms of the congregation and to minister to the needs of the poor; they were the church’s relieving officers. They also probably helped to order the men and the women in public worship. The qualities required in them (1 Timothy 3:8-12) agree with this: ‘not greedy of sordid gain,’ and ‘faithful in all things,’ point to the care of money. See articles Church Government and Minister, Ministry.

Literature-F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, London, 1897, pp. 196-217; M. R. Vincent, Philippians (International Critical Commentary , Edinburgh, 1897), pp. 36-51; article ‘Deacon’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) .

Alfred Plummer.

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

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