The original meaning of this word is an attendant, assistant, helper. It is sometimes translated minister, that is, servant, as in Mt 20:26; 2Co 6:4; Eph 3:7. Deacons are first mentioned as officers in the Christian church in Ac 6, where it appears that their duty was to collect the alms of the church, and distribute them to such as had a claim upon them, visiting the poor and sick, widows, orphans, and sufferers under persecution, and administering all necessary and proper relief. Of the seven there named, Philip and Stephen are afterwards found laboring as evangelists. The qualifications of deacons are specified in 1Ti 3:8-12.
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 (Ac 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" (Ac 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" (1Ti 3:8-12). Both Philip and Stephen, who were of "the seven," preached; they did "the work of evangelists."
The appointment of the seven was designed to remedy the "murmuring of the Grecians (Greek-speaking Jews) against the Hebrew, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration." The apostles said, "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve ("be deacons to"; diakonein) tables," i.e. secular business. It is an undesigned coincidence confirming the narrative, that, while no mention is made of their country, their names are all Grecian. The church's design evidently was that, since the murmurers were Grecians, their cause should be advocated by Hellenists. There was a common fund to which most disciples contributed by the sale of their property, and out of which the widows were relieved; a proof of the strong conviction of the truth of Christianity, which could constrain men to such self sacrifice. It is doubtful whether these seven correspond fully to the modern deacons of either episcopal or congregational churches.
On the one hand, the distribution of alms was the immediate occasion of their appointment; on the other the qualifications involved higher functions, "men ... full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom." The result was, "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; and Stephen (one of the seven), full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people." Philip, too, was an "evangelist." They were probably commissioners to superintend the deacons in distributing the alms, so that the Grecian (Hellenist, Greek-speaking Jewish) widows should not be neglected, and at the same time to minister in spiritual things, as their solemn ordination by laying on of hands implies. The "young men" (Ac 5:6,10, neoteroi) imply a subordinate ministration answering to the "deacons" (Php 1:1; 1Ti 3:8, etc.).
As bishops and presbyters or elders are different aspects of the same upper ministry, so "young men" and "deacons" are different aspects of the same subordinate ministry. Clement of Rome (1 Corinthians 42) notices that the Septuagint (Isa 60:17) prophetically use the two together. The synagogue had its "pastors" (paruasim) and its subordinate "deacons" (chazzanim) or ministers (Lu 4:20). The church naturally copied from it. The deacons baptized new converts, distributed the bread and wine of the Lord's supper (Justin Martyr, Apol., 65-67), and distributed alms, at first without superintendence, afterward under the presbyters. The diaconate was not a probationary step (as now in episcopal churches) to the presbytery. What is meant by 1Ti 3:13 is, "they that have used the office of a deacon well are acquiring to themselves (not "a good degree" for promotion, but) a good standing place" against the day of judgment (1Co 3:13-14); not a step to promotion.
The Gr. word diakonos, as well as the corresponding verb and abstract noun, is of very frequent occurrence in the text of the NT, but in English Version is always translated 'servant' or 'minister' except in Php 1:1; 1Ti 3:8-13, where it is rendered 'deacon,' these being the only two passages where it is evidently used in a technical sense.
In the Gospels the word has the general meaning of 'servant' (cf. Mt 20:26; 23:11; Joh 2:5,9). St. Paul employs it constantly of one who is engaged in Christian service, the service of God or Christ or the Church (e.g. 2Co 6:4; 11:23; Col 1:23-25), but without any trace as yet of an official signification. Once in Romans we find him distinguishing diakonia ('ministry') from prophecy and teaching and exhortation (Ro 12:6-8); but it seems evident that he is speaking here of differences in function, not in office, so that the passage does not do more than foreshadow the coming of the diaconate as a regular order.
In Acts the word diakonos is never once employed, but Ac 6:1-6, where we read of the appointment of the Seven, sheds a ray of light on its history, and probably serves to explain how from the general sense of one who renders Christian service it came to be applied to a special officer of the Church. The Seven are nowhere called deacons, nor is there any real justification in the NT for the traditional description of them by that title. The qualifications demanded of them (Ac 6:8, cf. Ac 6:5) are higher than those laid down in 1 Timothy for the office of the deacon; and Stephen and Philip, the only two of their number of whom we know anything, exercise functions far above those of the later diaconate (1Ti 6:8 ff.). But the fact that the special duty to which they were appointed is called a diakonia or ministration (1Ti 6:1) and that this ministration was a definite part of the work of the Church in Jerusalem, so that 'the diakonia' came to be used as a specific term in this reference (cf. Ac 11:29; 12:25; Ro 15:25,31; 2Co 8:4; 9:1,12-13), makes it natural to find in their appointment the germ of the institution of the diaconate as it meets us at Philippi and Ephesus, in two Epp. that belong to the closing years of St. Paul's life.
It is in these Greek cities, then, that we first find the deacon as a regular official, called to office after probation (1Ti 3:10), and standing alongside the bishop in the ministry of the Church (Php 1:1; 1Ti 3:1-13). As to his functions nothing is said precisely. We can only infer that the diakonia of the deacons in Philippi and Ephesus, like the diakonia of the Seven in Jerusalem, was in the first place a ministry to the poor. The forms of this ministry would of course be different in the two cases, as the social conditions were (see art. Communion), but in the Gentile as in the Jewish world it would naturally be a service of a responsible, delicate, and often private kind
????????. This name is generally applied to the seven who were chosen to superintend the distribution of the funds of the church in Ac 6:3; but they are not there called deacons, and though the name may be applicable to them, yet it cannot be restricted to such service. The term applies to any service not otherwise specified. The Greek word is more often translated 'minister' and 'servant' than 'deacon.' It twice refers to Christ, Ro 15:8; Ga 2:17; also to Paul and others, Col. 1: 7, 23, 25; to magistrates, Ro 13:4; and even to Satan's emissaries, 2Co 11:15. The Epistle to the Philippians was addressed to the saints and to the 'bishops and deacons,' or overseers and servants. In 1Ti 3:8-13 the moral qualifications of the deacon or minister are given, but what his work was is not specified; it is evident that they carried out their service officially. The service of deacon must not be confounded with 'gift.' Phebe was DEACONESS of the assembly in Cenchrea. Ro 16:1.
The office described by this title appears in the New Testament as the correlative of bishop. [BISHOP] The two are mentioned together in
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
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.
DEACON, from the Greek word ????????, in its proper and primitive sense, denotes a servant who attends his master, waits on him at table, and is always near his person to obey his orders, which was accounted a more creditable kind of service than that which is imported by the word ?????? a slave; but this distinction as not usually observed in the New Testament. Our Lord makes use of both terms in Mt 20:26-27, though they are not distinctly marked in our translation: "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your deacon; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." The appointment of deacons in the first Christian church is distinctly recorded, Acts 6:1-16. The number of disciples having greatly increased in Jerusalem, the Greeks, or Hellenistic Jews, began to murmur against the Hebrews, complaining that their widows were neglected in the daily distribution of the church's bounty. The twelve Apostles, who hitherto had discharged the different offices of Apostle, presbyter, and deacon, upon the principle that the greater office always includes the less, now convened the church, and said unto them, "It is not reasonable that we should leave the ministration of the word of God, and serve tables: look ye out, therefore, among yourselves, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they (the multitude) chose Stephen, and six others, whom they set before the Apostles, &c.
The qualifications of deacons are stated by the Apostle Paul, 1Ti 3:8-12. There were also, in the primitive churches, females invested with this office, who were termed deaconesses. Of this number was Phoebe, a member of the church of Cenchrea, mentioned by St. Paul, Ro 16:1. "They served the church," says Calmet, "in those offices which the deacons could not themselves exercise, visiting those of their own sex in sickness, or when imprisoned for the faith. They were persons of advanced age, when chosen; and appointed to the office by imposition of hands." It is probably of these deaconesses that the Apostle speaks, where he describes the ministering widows, 1Ti 5:5-10.