Words Not Found in Scripture – Deacon

A couple weeks ago Arthur Sido posted about Academic Responsibility. His post was about a popular Christian History textbook’s misuse of Scripture regarding the description of a “Deacon”. I spent a few moments gathering some data for a comment on his post and felt like “Deacon” should be my next, “Words Not Found in Scripture.”

Deacon is a really good word for this series because it is more than just a meaningless word. In Christendom we have whole theologies built around the idea of the deacon office. But do we really understand what a deacon is? The word “deacon” occurs five times in the NKJV (Philemon 1:1 & 1 Timothy 3:8,10,12,13). However, the word itself is a transliteration of the Greek word, “διακονος”. διακονος (and it’s verb version διακονεω) occur in the New Testament a total of 66 times. Basically, around 7% of the time, the word is transliterated (or added to the translation)… obfuscating the true definition of the word. According to BDAG the meaning of διακονος is:

1. one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction, agent, intermediary, courier
2. one who gets somethign done, at the behest of a superior, assistant

and the meaning of διακονεω (the verb form) is:

1. to function as an intermediary, act as go-between/agent, be at one’s service
2. to perform obligations,
2a. perform duties, render assistance, serve
2b. wait on someone at table
3. to meet an immediate need, help
4. to carry out official duties, minister
5. care for, take care of

The Facts

  1. διακονος (n.) occurs in the Greek New Testament 29 times
    • Translated “servant” (and it’s derivatives) 18 times – NKJV.
    • Translated “minister” (and it’s derivatives) 8 times – NKJV.
    • Transliterated “deacon” (and it’s derivatives) 3 times – NKJV.
  2. διακονεω (v.) occurs in the Greek New Testament 37 times.
    • Translated “serve” (and it’s derivatives) 20 times – NKJV.
    • Translated “ministered” (and its derivatives) 14 times – NKJV.
    • Translated “administered” twice (2 Corinthians 8:19,20) – NKJV.
    • Translated “provided” once (Luke 8:3) – NKJV.
  3. 1 Timothy 3 has the word διακονος twice, in 3:8 and 3:12.
    • Both times it is transliterated as “deacon”, but in 4:6, it is translated as “servant” or “minister”.
  4. 1 Timothy 3 has the word διακονεω twice, in 3:10, 3:13.
    • In 3:10, the word διακονος is not in the Greek at all, yet the translators felt it was necessary to add “as deacons” after “let them serve”. Where “serve” is the actual translation of the word διακονεω.
    • Similarly with 3:13, the word διακονος is not in the Greek at all. The translators add “as deacons” after the “for those who served.”
  5. Jesus was called a διακονος (Romans 15:8).
  6. Paul was called a διακονος (1 Corinthians 3:5, 6; Ephesians 3:7; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:23,25).
  7. Jesus came to διακονεω (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27).

Conclusion

Based on my research and studies, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a “deacon” in the traditional sense of the word. A “deacon” is merely a servant, not an office to hold. The noun and verb in the Greek is translated “serve” 38 times, “minister” at least 22 times (25 if you count “administered” and “provided”). Only 3 times is it transliterated as “deacon” and twice it is added to the English text. So why did the translators believe that they should not translate the word in those places? Frankly, I find this very disturbing.

So, for all of you churchers who argue about deacons during business meetings. I’m sorry to tell you, you’ve wasted a lot of time. A “deacon” is not an office, it’s not someone who is voted on, a deacon is the person next to you who has been serving you and ministering to your needs. A deacon is the person who does not care about the title “deacon” as much as they care about the needs of those around them.

Comments

  1. Excellent post. Not sure about any of the Greek but it sounds reasonable.

  2. Hi, I’m a friend of Arthur Sido and found you via his blog. I really appreciated your post, and agree with the main thrust, but I think your conclusion is too strong perhaps.

    You wrote:A “deacon” is merely a servant, not an office to hold….So, for all of you churchers who argue about deacons during business meetings. I’m sorry to tell you, you’ve wasted a lot of time. A “deacon” is not an office, it’s not someone who is voted on, a deacon is the person next to you who has been serving you and ministering to your needs.”

    Well, I think I could agree if you had said, “a deacon is not an ‘office’ in the modern sense of the term”. But, at least the way Paul is using the word in the Timothy correspondance, it indicates someone who has to met a certain spiritual criteria and has to go through a period of testing (1 Tim 3:10) before they are allowed to serve. While there is no indication here of a congregational vote (though its not precluded either), at the very minimum Timothy was given the task of vetting those who could serve in this role. So, at least in 1 & 2 Timothy there seems to be some type of trusted servants who were to serve the body in a way beyond that of the other members. I admit, this is a far cry from the structure “office” that most churches have today, but I also don’t think we can reduce it to mean “anybody who serves in some way”.

    • Arthur,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Josh,

      I agree in a sense… the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 are qualifications that all Christians should meet (although we do not). I also see that there is a “test” or “approval” for these people to serve. The question is, why? In our normal day to day living, as Christians, we should have the mind of Christ, that of a servant. However, there appears to be certain tasks among the church that should be performed by those who actually meet these qualifications. They aren’t “serving as deacons” they are “serving”.

      1 Timothy 3:10 – These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach…

      Similarly in Acts 6, we see that there were qualifications for people who served the widows. Namely, good reputation, filled with the spirit and wisdom. Of course, one might say we should all meet those qualifications as well :).

      Thanks for commenting and making me think more about this.

      God Speed,
      Lew

  3. Lew,

    I would agree that the transliteration “Deacon” is an unfortunate term that really miscommunicates the true meaning.

    If I had my way, I would say (1) all Christians are to be servants, (2) and the church is to have some “trusted servants” who fill certain important roles/tasks within the church. Frankly, if we would substitute the word “deacon” with “trusted servant” in most constitutions we would go a long way to solving the problem. It’s hard to see yourself as a corporate board of directors when your ‘title’ is “Trusted Servant”.

    I think Paul is simply telling Timothy that he is to find those individuals in the congregation who are ALREADY serving the Body in a godly manner. Though all are to serve, some will display a greater level of spiritual maturity and humble-Christ-likeness. Paul, I think, is simply telling Timothy to find those men and entrust them (to a greater degree) with key aspects of ministry.

  4. I like.