International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Many have sought the origin of the diaconate in the institution of the Seven at Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-15 ), and this view was countenanced by many of the church Fathers. The Seven were appointed to "serve tables" (
Paul says, "I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant (the Revised Version, margin "or, deaconess") of the church that is at Cenchrea" (Romans 16:1 ). This is by many taken as referring to an officially appointed deaconess; but the fact that there is in the earlier group of Paul's epistles no clear evidence of the institution of the diaconate, makes against this interpretation. Phoebe was clearly an honored helper in the church closely associated with that at Corinth, where likewise evidence of special ecclesiastical organization is wanting.
In Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy send greetings "to all the saints ... at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." Here then we find mention of "deacons" in a way to suggest a formal diaconate; but the want of definition as to their qualifications and duties renders it impossible to affirm with certainty the existence of the office.
In 1 Timothy 3:8-12 , after prescribing the qualifications and the method of appointment of a bishop or overseer, Paul continues: "Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless. Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." Deacons and deaconesses are here provided for, and the character of their qualifications makes it clear that they were to be appointed as dispensers of alms, who should come into close personal relations with the poor.
We conclude, therefore, that the Seven and Phoebe did not exercise the diaconate in a technical sense, which appears first certainly in 1 Tim 3, although it is not improbably recognized in Philippians 1:1 , and was foreshadowed in the various agencies for the dispensing of alms and the care of the poor of the church instituted in various churches at an earlier date. See also BISHOP; CHURCH; CHURCH GOVERNMENT .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Deacon; Deaconess'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/d/deacon-deaconess.html. 1915.