Hmmmmm... A Woman Deacon...

This was something I noticed in preparing for a class on leadership in the early church this week, and it has to do with deacons, specifically women deacons.

In fact, the only time that we have the term deacon (διάκονος) attached to a proper name in the New Testament who doesn't have another "role" or some other reason why we shouldn't translate this term as "servant" is in Romans 16:1: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae." (TNIV)

There are a few other instances where the term "deacon" or "servant" (both the term διάκονος) are used in connection with a proper name, but all of these the case can be made should be understood as "servant" instead of "deacon." Here are the other cases...


Timothy as a διάκονος of God (1 Thessalonians 3:2)
Here Timothy is referred to as "God's coworker (διάκονος). The idea here is of a "servant" not what we would refer to as the role of a "deacon."

Epaphras as a "fellow διάκονος" (Colossians 1:7)
Here Epaphras is referred to as "our dear fellow servant (διάκονος)". He is a "fellow διάκονος" of Paul and Timothy (the authors of Colossians) and therefore cannot be considered here to hold the role of "deacon."

Tychicus as a "fellow διάκονος" (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7)
These two references to Tychicus are virtually the same. In Ephesians 6:21 he is referred to as a "faithful servant (διάκονος) in the Lord" and Colossians 4:7 has him described as a "fellow servant (διάκονος) in the Lord." Very much in the same with Epaphras. Tychichus could not be a "deacon" alongside Paul, but he could however be a fellow "servant (διάκονος)".

Paul as a διάκονος of the Gospel (Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23)
In Ephesians 3:7 he is a "servant (διάκονος) of this gospel". Paul, here in Colossians 1:23, describes himself as a "servant" (διάκονος) of the Gospel. Both of these references exclude Paul as a "deacon" because he was unmarried and filled the role of an apostle.

Does Christ διάκονος sin? (Galatians 2:17)
Paul writes, "But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinner, doesn't that mean that Christ promotes (διάκονος) sin? Absolutely not!" (TNIV). Or looking at the ESV: "But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant (διάκονος) of sin? Certainly not!"

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I include it to be exhaustive in the usage of
διάκονος + a proper name.


Paul and Apollos as διάκονος (1 Corinthians 3:5)
Here Paul reminds the Corinthians that Apollos and himself are not "special" or "extraordinary". He says, "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants (διάκονος), through whom yuo came to believe..." (TNIV). We have no evidence to assume that Apollos could have filled the role of a "deacon" and we know Paul could not do so.


Jesus as a διάκονος of the Jews (Romans 15:8)
Paul writes, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant (διάκονος) of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy."

Jesus could not and did not serve in the role of a "deacon."


Phoebe as a διάκονος of the church in Cenchreae (Romans 16:1)
This brings us to our last example of the term διάκονος + Proper Name in the New Testament. If there are any references in the New Testament to a specific person being a "deacon" this is it. Notice a couple of differences in this passage from the other references of διάκονος + a proper name in the New Testament.

 

(1) There is another term for "servant" (δοῦλος) that could have been employed.
(2) This is the only reference of the term
διάκονος that is tied to a specific, local congregation (the church in Cenchreae).
(3) There is no reason from the text itself to assume that she filled another role that prevented or made unecessary such a position (e.g. she is not mentioned as one of Paul's "fellow servants" (
διάκονος).
(4) The instructions concerning "deacons" (
διάκονος) in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 are not gender exclusive in their instructions for "deacons" (διάκονος).

 

So what do we do with this? Hmmmmm... Let the conversation begin.