Deacons or Servants – Larry Steers


In his greeting to the Philippians Paul addressed “all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). Who were the deacons and what was their responsibility?

 The King James Version has stood the test of time for four hundred years. There is an enduring legacy of poetic beauty to the KJV which makes it very easy to read and to memorize. Many other paraphrases and  translations have appeared, gained a degree of acceptance for a short time, and then have faded from the book store shelves.

Having read the biographical data relative to the lives of the translators of the King James Version one is impressed by their outstanding qualifications in both Hebrew and Greek. The accuracy of any translation of the Bible depends not only on the manuscripts available to the translators, but also on the facility which they have in the original languages. Also vital is their ability to translate into English using suitable words to express the thoughts and intent of these manuscripts.

We hold tenaciously to the concept of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the original scriptures. They are, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the unerring Word of the living God. However, for all of their ability, for which we must give thanks to God, the translators were only men.

Bishop Bancroft, one of the chief translators, expressing no doubt the edict of  King James, laid down the basic rules to be followed. Each of the three groups of translators, those at Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge, had a set of guiding principles set before them. Note two of these edicts:

1.         “the ordinary Bible read in church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.”

Hence the Bishop’s Bible did have a great influence on the KJV.

2.         “The old ecclesiastical words to be kept.”

The King made it abundantly clear to the translators that the Episcopal structure of the established Church, and the traditional beliefs about ordained clergy were to be reflected in the new translation.

With these requirements of the King in view we would notice the word DEACON found in the King James, and also in other versions. In the KJV DIAKONOS is translated “deacon” three times ( 1Tim. 3:8. 12, and Phil. 1:1 ). It is apparent, that this translation has introduced a measure of confusion regarding the significance and application of the concept purposed by the Spirit of God as it applies to a New Testament Assembly. DIAKONOS, found thirty times in the New Testament, identifies a person who is doing a spiritual work for God. While it is translated “deacon” in the three references indicated above, for the other occurrences the translators used “minister” or “servant”.

The word “deacon” identified an ecclesiastical position in the established church of that period. However, it does seem the translators realized that they faced a difficulty following the Kings edict to use the Bishop’s Bible, and to accurately give the sense of DIAKONOS. They fulfilled their instructions in part, and followed the Bishop’s use of “deacon” in Philippians. 1:1 and 1Timothy 3:12. However, they  changed the Bishop’s use of “deacon” in 1Timothy 3:8 to the far more correct word “minister”.

It is interesting to note that John Nelson Darby (JND) in his New Translation gives “minister” in all three passages. Also, notice that the English Standard Version (ESV) follows the KJV and keeps the word “deacons.”

In each of the following references the KJV uses “minister” for the Greek word DIAKONOS. The Apostle Paul describes himself as an able minister of the new testament (2Cor.3:6), and “but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God” (2Cor.6:4). He challenges the Corinthians, “ are they ministers of Christ? – I am more” (2Cor.11:23). Paul states to the Ephesians, and to the Colossians that by the power of Divine grace he was made a minister (Col.1:23, Eph.3:7). He calls Tychicus “a faithful minister” (Eph.6:21, Col.4:7) and refers to Epaphras as “a faithful minister of Christ” (Col.1:7). Timothy is a “minister of God” (1Thess.3:2) and “a good minister of Jesus Christ” (1Tim.4:6). He reminds the Corinthians, that along with Apollos, they were “ministers by whom ye believed” (1Cor.3:5). This clearly refers to the heralding forth of the Gospel at Corinth. Phebe (Rom.16:1) is called “a servant (DIAKONOS) of the Church”.

Sir Robert Anderson in his book “Types in Hebrews” on page 139 states in the footnote “there is no scriptural warrant for applying the word deacon” in a special sense to the seven of Acts 6:5, – the duties assigned to them pertained to the eldership, when the church was fully constituted”.

DIAKONOS describes those who are raised up, and gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve in a spiritual capacity in fellowship with a New Testament Assembly. So often, this concept is relegated to material matters. It is evident from the use of the word as indicated above, that they are servants who minister the Word of God for the edification of the saints, and preach the Gospel for the salvation of sinners.

            For this vital work the Holy Spirit has given essential qualifications in 1Tim. 3:8-13 which must be adhered to (verse 8). We embark on a dangerous path if we lower scriptural requirements. They touch the servants PERSONAL LIFE, verse 8, his SPIRITUAL EXERCISE in verses 9 to 10, and his DOMESTIC RESPONSIBILITIES in verses 11 to 13.

In verse 8 the servant must be “grave”. There is a sense of dignity and seriousness which commands the respect of others. He would be one who graces the public platform in a careful, reverent, and dignified manner, which commends the Lord he serves as an ambassador. He is not “double tongued”, making a statement to one person, but giving a different view to someone else, or saying one thing but meaning something else.

The Spirit of God solemnly demands in verse 8 “not given to much wine”. The sense of this statement is “not giving assent to wine”. In our day, social drinking has become an issue. This is intended to lower inhibitions, loosen actions, and increase unguarded conversation all of which is a violation of careful, reverent deportment, and self control. Paul reminded the Ephesians in Eph. 5:18, “be not drunk with wine”. Mr Vine in his Dictionary of New Testament Words tells us that the word “drunk” is an inceptive verb. An inceptive verb emphasizes the commencement of an act. The sense is “don’t take the first drink”. Those who study alcoholism suggest strongly that the alcoholic is made on his first drink. They indicate that fifteen percent of those who do take that first taste will become an alcoholic. This individual may not be stumbling down the street inebriated, but is a person so addicted that he cannot live without his drink. This should be sobering to any contemplating any form of alcoholic beverage. Some may jump quickly on the word “much” in 1Timothy 5:8 but Paul could not write “any” as he gave allowance for medicinal purposes. Today we have doctors and medical prescriptions. Also, as well, the cup at the Lord’s Supper should contain wine.

The servant is “not greedy of filthy lucre”. This could be rendered “base gain” or “money getting”. He has not adopted methods bordering on dishonesty.

He must hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (verse 9). “Mystery” does not mean mysterious, or a puzzle which requires evidence and clues to solve. It means truth which cannot be apprehended by the natural man, but is made known by Divine revelation to those who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. This implies scriptural truth which can be understood, and not knowledge withheld. It embraces the body of truth, the faith. SUNDIDEEIS is a compound word ( sun = with plus oida = to know ) and therefore implies co knowledge,  or the witness borne to one’s conduct by their conscience. Conscience apprehends the will of God which is designed by the Creator to govern our lives along with the Word of God. It distinguishes what is morally acceptable from  the sinful, commending the good and condemning the evil. A pure conscience is a cleansed conscience (Heb. 10:22 ), void of offence ( Acts 24:16).

For a brother to engage in this great work there must be a proving time (verse 10). This corresponds to “not a novice” in verse 6.  A new convert would not be given a Sunday School class or be put quickly on the Gospel platform, or thrust quickly into any aspect of the Lord’s work. The duration of this period of probation may vary with different individuals. However, time is required that they might be “found blameless”, that is unimpeachable, accused of nothing that would be a detriment to their personal testimony, or that would negatively affect the assembly. Why is this so vital? A poor testimony would stumble sinners, grieve the Saints and dishonour the Lord.

In verse 11 most would give “women in like manner”. There is no possessive pronoun in this statement so “their” must be omitted. In Romans 16:1, Phebe is called  “a servant ( DIAKONOS )of the church”. Grave indicates with a serious sense of dignity. She is not a slanderer, one who falsely accuses others. As one who is sober she conducts herself with aura of stateliness. This sister is “faithful in all things” She is faithful to her God, to the Word of God, to her husband, and to the assembly. This sister, moving in the fear of God, with commendable attire would be an example for younger sisters to emulate.

While various expositors look at verse 12 “the husbands of one wife” differently, it should be clearly stated that he has eyes for his wife only.

“Rule” in verse 12 means to go before with care and diligence. He is an example to his children as he presides over his house. No one can save their children but every father must live a godly life before their them.

DIAKONOS implies a servant whose service is in the spiritual realm. Every brother who stands with the Word of God in his hand to preach the Gospel must have the qualifications of 1Tim.4:8 to 12. The same is required of one who ministers spiritual truth to believers. So often we relegate this to material matters and lose the tremendous significance of the contextual meaning of DIAKONOS.

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