Thursday, October 15, 2015

Deacons in the Church: A Brief Bible Study

* These are the notes I handed out at a Bible study on deacons in the church.  

The Church: Deacons

1.     Mention of deacons (diakonos) as an office in church: Philippians 1.1; 1 Timothy 3.8, 12; and maybe Romans 16.1.

2.     Qualifications: 1 Timothy 3.8-13

a.     Similar to those of elder shown in chart[1]:

1 Timothy 3
Above reproach
Above reproach
The husband of one wife
The husband of one wife


Able to teach
Hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught—give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it
Not a drunkard
Not a drunkard
Not violent
Not violent

Not quarrelsome

Not a lover of money
Not greedy for gain
Manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive
His children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination
Not a recent convert

Well thought of by outsiders

Not arrogant

Not quick-tempered

A lover of good




b.     Consequently, if a moral qualification is listed for elders but not for deacons, that qualification still applies to deacons.  The same goes for those qualifications listed for deacons but not for elders… The differences in the qualifications, then, signify traits that are either particularly fitting for the officeholder to possess in order to accomplish his duties or especially needed in light of particular problems in the location to which Paul writes (in this case, Ephesus).”[2]

c.      Qualifications specific to deacon list

                                               i.     Dignified (1 Timothy 3.8)

1.     Word “dignified” (semnos) occurs only 4 times in NT (Phil. 4.8; 1 Tim. 3.8, 11; Titus 2.2)

2.     Characterized as people who are honored and respected by those who know them.

                                              ii.     Not double-tongued (1 Timothy 3.8)

1.     Sincerity of speech

2.     Not slippery with words

                                            iii.     Sound in faith and life (1 Timothy 3.9)

1.     Refers to the doctrinal beliefs of deacons

2.     Although deacons are not required to be able to teach (as are elders—1 Timothy 3.2) they do need to understand the faith and live in accordance with it

3.     “One might think that this requirement is not necessary because deacons are not responsible for teaching in the church.  Yet, as church officers and leaders, they have influence on the lives and beliefs of others.  Furthermore, simply because deacons are not required to teach does not mean they are not permitted to teach.”[3]

                                            iv.     Tested (1 Timothy 3.10)

1.     Personal background

2.     Reputation

3.     Doctrinal understanding

4.     Current service in the church—where are they already serving?

3.     1 Timothy 3.11—Deaconesses or Wives of Deacons?

a.     Arguments for deaconesses

                                               i.     The absence of qualifications for overseers’ wives: why would Paul give qualifications for deacons’ wives but not for overseers’ wives?

                                              ii.     Phrase “in the same way” (“likewise”—NASB) in 1 Timothy 3.11 most likely indicates a transition from one office to another, as it does in 1 Timothy 3.8 (from elders to deacons).

                                            iii.     The parallel sentence structure and similar characteristics in verse 8 and 11 (including the lack of article before “women”) also suggests two distinct but related offices.

                                            iv.     The absence of qualifiers such as “their” in the Greek: note that “their” is added, e.g., in the NIV, suggesting that the translators felt this is needed in English.[4]

                                              v.     “The Greek word for ‘women’ in 1 Timothy 3:11 is gunaikas.  That refers, most likely to women who are in the office of deaconess.  The only way Paul could refer to women in verse 11 would be to use the Greek word gunaikas, because there is no feminine form of diakonos.  The same form of the word diakonos is both masculine and feminine; it would have been unclear for Paul to use just the term diakonos if he wanted to refer to women servers.  He had to identify them as women.”[5]

b.     Arguments for deacon’s wives

                                               i.     Greek word gune/gunaikas is translated “wife” in verses 2 and 12.

                                              ii.     Not a clear separation that Paul is now talking about a separate office of female deacon.

                                            iii.     If reference to women deacons then why is there no reference to marital status and fidelity as with elders and deacons?

                                            iv.     “It would be strange for Paul to give the qualifications for male deacons in verses 8-10, interrupt himself to introduce a new office of female deacon in verse 11, and then return to the qualifications for male deacons in verses 12-12.”[6]

4.     Romans 16.1—Phoebe as Deacon or Servant?

a.     “…a diakonos of the church which is at Cenchrea.”

b.     Only time Paul uses the expression of diakonos with a particular church—this may indicate an office and not merely a general posture of service.

c.      Others, such as Tychicus (Eph. 6.21), Epaphras (Col. 1.7) and Timothy (1 Tim. 4.6) are designated diakonos of “the Lord” or “Christ” or “Christ Jesus.”

5.     Acts 6.1-6—The First Mention of Deacons?

a.     Many see the seven men of Acts 6 as the first deacons.

                                               i.     The language of diakonos is not used but other similar words are used

1.     diakoknia: verses 1 and 4

2.     diakonein: verse 2

b.     Others see the seven as the first elders[7]

                                               i.     Later in Acts when food relief is sent to the Jerusalem church it is sent to the “elders”—Acts 11.29-30

                                              ii.     Some of the men in Acts 6 had other ministry functions

1.     Stephen: spoke the word of God and performed signs and wonders—Acts 6.8

2.     Phillip

a.     Identified as an “evangelist”—Acts 21.8

b.     Spoke the word of God and performed miracles—Acts 8.4-13, 26-40

     [1] Chart from Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2008), 110.  Italicized words are the qualifications that only appear in one of the lists.
     [2] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 233.
     [3] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 235.
     [4] These first four points (i.-iv.) are from Andreas Kostenberger, “Can Women Be Deacons?”  Available online:
     [5] John MacArthur, “Answering Key Questions About Deacons.” Available online:
     [6] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 254—points i.-iv. are all from Merkle.
     [7] This is John MacArthur’s view (“Answering Key Questions About Deacons”) as well as NT specialist Graham Twelftree People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke’s View of the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2009), 168-169.