Home > Systematic Theology > Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 3-Chapter 25-The Office of Deacon

Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 3-Chapter 25-The Office of Deacon


In our English Bible the word deacon occurs in only five places: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (#Php 1:1); “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre” (#1Ti 3:8); “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless…Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (#1Ti 3:10,12,13). But in the Greek New Testament the word occurs many times and is translated minister or servant. And the word is applied to all kinds of ministers or servants: political, ecclesiastical, angelic, and Divine.

In #Ro 13:4, it is applied to the civil magistrate who is called “the minister” or “deacon of God to thee for good”. The apostles are often called ministers, the very word used for deacon. In Acts 1, Peter says in speaking of Judas, that “he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry” or deaconship (#Ac 1:17). And in electing Matthias to succeed Judas, the disciples prayed thus: “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two men thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry” or deaconship (#Ac 1:24,25). Paul, speaking of himself and Apollos says, that they were ministers or deacons by whom the Corinthians believed the gospel. In #Eph 6:21,22 Tychicus is called “a beloved brother and faithful minister” or deacon. The angels of God are declared to be deacons in #Heb 1:14: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister” or to deacon “for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” And our Lord Jesus Christ is called a deacon in #Ro 15:8 where Paul says “that Jesus Christ was a minister” or deacon “of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises.”

So you see the word itself has no religious connotation; it simply means a minister or one who serves. It is the context in every case which determines the application.

Now this word of general use and varied application is applied to a specified class of officers in the church. And our English version translates the word “deacon” to designate this class of officers. In #1Ti 3:1-16, they are mentioned along with the pastors or bishops and their qualifications are given. In the Philippian letter they are addressed along with the bishops, indicating that they hold office in the same church with the pastors or bishops.

In the letter to Timothy the duties of deacons are not given but only their qualifications. And this must be because their duties were already well known. Paul is simply telling Timothy what kind of men to ordain to the office. To discover their duties, we must go back to the beginning of the office and see why they were appointed. And this takes us back to Acts Sixth chapter, where a division of labor was necessary.


1a) It did not originate with the fo unding of the church. The church at Jerusalem existed some time before the office of deacon was instituted. A church can exist without deacons but it cannot function properly without them.

1b) It originated in a crisis. The days of persecution for the early church were naturally days of poverty. There were a few well to do but most of the members were poor. In the interest of the whole body a common fund was created to which contributions were voluntarily made by those able to contribute. Barnabas sold a piece of property on Cyprus and put the proceeds into this common fund. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property and kept back part of the price, pretending and claiming they had placed all of it at the apostle’s feet. And for lying to the Holy Spirit, they were killed on the spot.

This liberality on the part of the rich greatly increased the labors of the apostles who were giving out rations daily to those in need. The foreign born Jews complained that their widows were being neglected in this daily ministration. They charged that the apostles were showing partiality to the home born members. When the apostles heard of the complaint, they neither admitted or denied the charge. They suddenly realized the need of a division of labor, and recommended that the church search “out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” of feeding the poor. To use their own words, they said, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables” (#Ac 6:2). And the word “serve” here is the word for deacon. “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry” or deaconship “of the word.” In other words, they said, We will deacon or minister the word while these seven men deacon or serve tables. Here is a clear distinction between two kinds of official service or ministry, the one in spiritual matters and the other in material things.

Look at the results of this division of labor: “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (#Ac 6:7).

The church of Christ is a spiritual institution in a material or physical world. And while in the physical world it will have material or physical needs. We have many needs today the Jerusalem church did not have and its one major need is a minor need today. They had a multitude of poor people to be fed, while we have a comparable few. They had no church house to build and maintain, for they still used the synagogue as a place of worship and when they were put out of the synagogue, for many years they met in the homes of their people. Today we have church buildings for which there is no direct Scriptural sanction. But it is reason that we should have them. So this matter of serving tables covers all the material needs of a church: feeding the poor, feeding the pastor, feeding the janitor, feeding the furnace, feeding the light meter, and what not. Some things are left to sanctified human reason.

The reason given for deacons in the Jerusalem church was the necessity of a division of labor so the ministers of the word should not be hampered and encumbered with the material side of the church’s life. God calls His spiritual servants to a spiritual ministry, and this is to be a life of prayer and preaching the word.

2. It is interesting to see how other denominations regard this office.The Roman Catholic and Episcopal denominations make deacons a lower rank of the clergy who may preach and baptize. Baptists are not supposed to have any ranks in the ministry. The title “Assistant Pastor” is to be objected to because it is practically a recognition of rank. The early churches had a plurality of elders and were paid according to their work and not rank. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine” (#1Ti 5:17).

“Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things” (#1Ti 3:11). Does this justify women deacons or deaconnesses, or is the reference to the wives of the deacons. This is a mooted point. Dr. Carroll thinks it justifies deaconnesses and in his church in Waco, Texas, he used women as deaconnesses to look after certain matters that deacons could not well attend to, such as preparing women candidates for baptism, making inquiries into the homes, etc.

It is also thought by some that Phoebe was a deaconness in the church at Cenchrea. The Williams translation renders the word deaconness. It is exactly the same word rendered deacon in #Php 1:1 and #1Ti 3:1-16, gender and all.

A literal translation of #1Ti 3:11 reads thus: “Women in like manner grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” It is argued that this could not refer to women generally, nor to the wives of the deacons because the pronoun “their” is not in the Greek. And also because the context is dealing with official classes in the church. But the next verse says when literally translated, “Let those who serve or deacon be men of one woman.”

3. Duties of Deacons:

3a) Not a board of directors to run the church.

3b) Not a jury to discipline members.

3c) Not a pulpit committee to hire and fire the pastor.

Deacons may serve on the pulpit committee as individuals when the church is without a pastor. Nobody has any authority over the pastor but the church acting under the Lord. Let the deacons stick to their work which is that of serving tables, looking after the temporal and material affairs of the church.

4. Qualifications of deacons:

4a) Men of good report men with a good name in the community.

4b) Full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. Spiritually minded men and men of judgment.

4c) Grave or serious minded men not given to levity and frivolity. This is not to be taken as being grouchy or mean and sour faced.

4d) Sincere in speech, not double tongued, saying one thing to one person and another thing to someone else.

4e) Not given to much wine. In the light of the present distress, I would say, a total abstainer.

4f) Not covetous, not greedy of filthy lucre.

4g) Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Sound in the faith with conviction. Not official teachers but have opportunity for private witnessing.

4h) Men who have proved themselves faithful as members of the church.

5. Reward of Deacons:

Purchase to themselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith” (#1Ti 3:13). “For those who render good service win a good standing for themselves in their faith in Christ Jesus.” (Williams).

C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 3

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