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Anglicized form of the Greek word diaconos, meaning a "runner," "messenger," "servant." For a long period a feeling of mutual jealousy had existed between the "Hebrews," or Jews proper, who spoke the sacred language of palestine, and the "Hellenists," or Jews of the Grecian speech, who had adopted the Grecian language, and read the Septuagint version of the Bible instead of the Hebrew. This jealousy early appeared in the Christian community. It was alleged by the Hellenists that their widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of alms. This spirit must be checked. The apostles accordingly advised the disciples to look out for seven men of good report, full of the Holy Ghost, and men of practical wisdom, who should take entire charge of this distribution, leaving them free to devote themselves entirely to the spiritual functions of their office (Acts 6:1-6). This was accordingly done. Seven men were chosen, who appear from their names to have been Hellenists. The name "deacon" is nowhere applied to them in the New Testament; they are simply called "the seven" (21:8). Their office was at first secular, but it afterwards became also spiritual; for among other qualifications they must also be "apt to teach" (1 Tim. 3: 8-12). Both Philip and Stephen, who were of "the seven," preached; they did "the work of evangelists."
The office described by this title appears in the New Testament as the correlative of bishop. [BISHOP
] The two are mentioned together in (Philippians 1:1
; 1Ã‚Â Timothy 3:2,8
) Its original meaning implied a helper, an assistant. The bishops were the "elders," the deacons the young active men, of the church. The narrative of Acts 6 is commonly referred to as giving an account of the institution of this office. The apostles, in order to meet the complaints of the Hellenistic Jews that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, call on the body of believers to choose seven men "full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom," whom they "may appoint over this business." It may be questioned, however, whether the seven were not appointed to higher functions than those of the deacons of the New Testament. Qualifications and duties.
Special directions as to the qualifications for and the duties of deacons will be found in Acts 6 and (1Ã‚Â Timothy 3:8-12
) From the analogy of the synagogue, and from the scanty notices in the New Testament, we may think of the deacons or "young men" at Jerusalem as preparing the rooms for meetings, distributing alms, maintaining order at the meetings, baptizing new converts, distributing the elements at the Lord?s Supper.
The word diakonos
is found in (Romans 16:1
) (Authorized Version "servant") associated with a female name, and this has led to the conclusion that there existed in the apostolic age, as there undoubtedly did a little later, an order of women bearing that title, and exercising in relation to their own sex functions which were analogous to those of the deacons. On this hypothesis it has been inferred that the women mentioned in (Romans 16:6,12
) belonged to such an order. The rules given as to the conduct of women in (1Ã‚Â Timothy 3:11
; Titus 2:3
) have in like manner been referred to them, and they have been identified even with the "widows" of (1Ã‚Â Timothy 5:3-10
DEACON; DEACONESS [ISBE]
- de'-k'-n, de'-k'-n-es: The term diakonos, and its cognates occur many times in the New Testament, as do its synonyms huperetes, and doulos, with their respective cognates. It may be said in general that the terms denote the service or ministration of the bondservant (doulos), underling (huperetes) or helper (diakonos), in all shades and gradations of meaning both literal and metaphorical. It would serve no useful purpose to list and discuss all the passages in detail. Christianity has from the beginning stood for filial service to God and His kingdom and for brotherly helpfulness to man, and hence, terms expressive of these functions abound in the New Testament. It behooves us to inquire whether and where they occur in a technical sense sufficiently defined to denote the institution of a special ecclesiastical office, from which the historical diaconate may confidently be said to be derived.
Many have sought the origin of the diaconate in the institution of the Seven at Jerusalem (Acts 6), and this view was countenanced by many of the church Fathers. The Seven were appointed to "serve tables" (diakonein trapezais), in order to permit the Twelve to "continue stedfastly in prayer, and in the ministry (diakonia) of the word." They are not called deacons (diakonoi), and the qualifications required are not the same as those prescribed by Paul in 1 Tim 3:8-12; furthermore, Stephen appears in Acts preeminently as a preacher, and Philip as an evangelist. Paul clearly recognizes women as deaconesses, but will not permit a woman to teach (1 Tim 2:12). The obvious conclusion is that the Seven may be called the first deacons only in the sense that they were the earliest recorded helpers of the Twelve as directors of the church, and that they served in the capacity, among others, of specially appointed ministrants to the poor.
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" (Rom 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 Phil 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 Tim 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 Phil 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.
William Arthur Heidel
Also see definition of "Deacon
" in Word Study