What are "Deacons" in the Bible?


Anyone who studies administrative service in the New Testament as it pertains to the local Church will become aware quite quickly that the Scriptures relate much information concerning the character of the individual seeking an office in the church. What seems to be lacking, is the description of what they are to do. Obviously, God must be far more interested in who we are, than what we do as church leaders. If the church is lead by Godly leaders, this certainly is more important than any “job description” for them could be.

The Descriptive Term “Deacon

1. The term deacon is a transliteration of the Greek “diakonos”. The term was used in three common forms in the Christian Scriptures: “diakonos” (a servant);”diakonia” (service); and “diakoneo” (to serve). The use of the word apparently originated in serving food:
a. The wine servants in Jn. 2:5 and 9 at the wedding of Cana, where Jesus turned water to wine.
b. Lk.4:39 where it refers to a “waitress” as in Jn. 12:2; Lk.10:40; Lk. 17:8.
2. The word was also used in a general sense of serving and meeting of practical daily needs”. Roman government workers were seen as servants in this context (Rom. 13:3 and 4).
3. Those Hellenistic Jews who desired to be followers of Jesus (Jn. 12:36) are told that they must be willing to follow Him, as well as serve Him.
4. The term is used in the letters to the Corinthians in a “spiritual” form of service:
a. The support of saints is called service (2 Cor. 8:3-4).
b. The “ministries” of 1 Cor. 12:5 of the Spirit of God through believers are “service”. This same idea is employed in Rev. 2:19; 2 Cor. 4:1, 9:1.

Questions about Official Recognition of the Office in Scripture

1. An officer in the church?
The office of Deacon was established early in church history, by Apostolic authority, to care for temporal needs of the church.
a. They appear to have been the group called out to care for the financial divisions of needs for the
widows in Acts 6, though the term Deacon is not used in the noun form in the passage. (The verb “serve” is used in v.2).
b. We know that they held an office in the church, because they were mentioned in connection to it (Phil. 1:1), and standards concerning their character were specified in the Word (1 Timothy 3).
c. It apparently was understood to be people who were gifted with the intense desire and ability to serve people (Rom. 12:7).

2. What do they do? What is their function?
A deacon, from what we can discern from the passages above, is one who “God has equipped with a serving heart, and practical hands.” He is a man who has the greatest satisfaction in the Lord, serving Him in the temporal needs of the church.
a. In the first century, this idea included serving food to tables of hungry crowds, and dividing to the widows according to their need. It still includes such things.
b. A modern application of the office is to make them the caretakers of the buildings and practical needs (under the direction of the Elders), which God has entrusted to His church, (including the recording of the financial stewardship). They care for the bills as they come in, and keep accurate records of such things as are necessary to be responsible stewards.
c. They accept the direction of the Elders in caring for the flock. In practice, they may be called upon by the Elders to aid individuals by issuing them financial help, or some practical assistance. They must be prepared to call on congregants to aid each other as well.

3. Is it an all male group in the Bible? Are the women mentioned the wives of Deacons?
Women have an office. Though the passage of 1 Timothy 3:11 may be unclear in English, (as it regards this problem) it appears somewhat more clear in the original language.
a. The context of the passage is the selection of officers, and their qualifications (3:1).
b. The term translated in many texts “their wives” is the word “gunaikos”, and means “women”, not “wives”. There are many instances in the Bible where the term is clearly not the wife, and this term is used.
c. The key to seeing these women as “officers” is the term translated “likewise” at the beginning of verse 11. Note it is used in the beginning of verse 8 when the discussion shifts from Elders to Deacons. It appears the discussion shifted again in verse 11 to an office of females who desire to serve.
d. The women are not necessarily the wives of Deacons: The “Deaconess” in verse 11 is not specifically the wife of a Deacon (though this may be the case). She is simply a woman who meets the qualifications of character, with four special qualifications: reverent, not a slanderer, temperate (balanced), and faithful in all things.

4. Who Qualifies to be in an official office of Administrative service (The Deaconate)?
The following qualifications may be drawn from the principles of Paul’s writing to Timothy:

a. Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-16)
1. reverent
2. not double-tongued
3. not given to much wine
4. not greedy
5. holding the faith in pure conscience
6. tested
7. found blameless
8. one wife
9. ruling children and household well

b. Deaconesses (1 Timothy 3:11)
1. reverent
2. not a slanderer
3. temperate
4. faithful in all things

5. What is the difference between the Elders and Deacons?
Functionally, we may illustrate the relationship and the difference by a godly “marriage”. Elders have the responsibility for the vision and direction of the flock, and spend much of their time in the study of the Word to identify the timeless principles that should be governing the congregation. Deacons focus on the practical service of the flock, under the direction of the Elders. Elders listen to the needs and desires
of the Deaconate, and try to act in a way that builds them up. Deacons try to offer faithful service to reflect well on the Council of Elders.

a. Eight Important Priorities of Eldership were sketched out by Paul in Acts 20:28-35, when he was addressing the Ephesian Council of Elders:
1. To keep right (personally) with God and lead others to do so (20:28).
2. To feed the flock (Biblically with truth) and lead (“oversee” in v. 28).
3. To warn, defend and protect the flock from the enemy and his representatives (20:29-31).
4. To study the Word, share it with a gracious and optimistic spirit (20:32).
5. To stay free from self interest (20:33).
6. To work hard at caring for themselves and those around them (20:34).
7. To be models of unselfish giving, especially to those who are weak (20:35).
8. To be public examples of prayerful men (20:36).

b. The Functional Work of the Deaconate is only inferred in Scripture, but the passages help us see they:
1. Are recognized as appointed servants of the flock (Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; Acts 6:6).
2. Are people who accept appointment and direction from the Elders (Acts 6:6).
3. Are men and women of industriousness and busy (Rom. 16:2).
4. Are well thought of in the congregation, filled with the Spirit and faith (Acts 6:3-5).
5. Are known as care givers to many (Rom. 16:2).
6. May be gifted speakers and teachers, as in the case of Stephen (Acts 6:5; cp. 7:1ff)
7. Serve practical needs of the flock (“tables” in Acts 6:2).