Deacon, Minister, or Servant – Part 2

In our previous post examining the origin, development, and necessity of deacons, we began with Acts 6 as our introduction, noting that diakonos/deacon did not occur there despite it being so often used as the proof text for the origin of deacons. From there, we moved to look at the occurrence of diakonos in Scripture, including the broad range of those who are referred to by this word. We left with the question on whether all those who were called diakonos held the “office of deacon.”

Recall that this Greek noun occurs 29 times in 27 verses and is the word commonly translated as minister or servant. However, it is also conspicuously transliterated as deacon, though we must remember that this is not a translation and even still that it only occurs three times, in 1 Timothy 3:8, 12 and Philippians 1:1. Continuing our excursus, in this post we will shift our focus to the other diak- noun, diakonia.

Occurring 34 times in 32 verses, the most common translations are ministry and service, with some other exceptions. As noted previously, where diakonos often describes the Who that is performing the service, i.e. servant or minister, diakonia refers to the What service or ministry is taking place. Before moving to our passage(s) in Acts, we may note a very interesting occurrence of diakonia in the gospel account from Luke. The passage is cited below
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

Luke 10:46
In this passage, we have both the noun diakonia (serving) and the verb diakoneo (to serve). This verse highlights the general nature of the words and their use in a non-technical way. Martha’s service in tending to her guests, including our Lord, likely included most tasks which might fall under the umbrella of hospitality.

That said, we turn now to the Book of Acts to begin our examination with Acts 1:17 and 1:25 along with Acts 6:1 and 6:4, those used as the proof for deacon origination.
For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” Acts 1:17
…to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

Acts 1:25
These two passages are instructive and help us with interpreting Acts 6 as well as subsequent uses in Acts and the epistles. We immediately note that the apostles referred to their work as diakonia, rightly translated as ministry or service. How should we understand this relationship? It is probably reasonable to understand diakonia or service/ministry as the overarching umbrella under which their apostolic ministry was one type or kind.

This is precisely what we see from the uses in Acts 6. Note the two occurrences below.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4
While we have discussed these two passages ad nauseum throughout our series, we simply want to note that here we have two distinguished occurrences of diakonia. In the first verse, it refers to that which is distributed to the Hellenist widows. We might simply classify this use under the heading of benevolence, which may be familiar language to some. In the second verse, it again refers to the apostolic ministry as we saw in chapter 1. What exactly is included in the apostolic ministry is a broad question, but we do know that at its heart is the Holy Spirit empowered, bold proclamation of the gospel to sinners. This lends itself to our prior conclusion that diakonia has a broad range of application. But more evidence is needed.

Using these two meanings as our introduction, we find them repeated throughout Acts. Acts 11:29 and 12:25 both are used in reference to benevolence while Acts 20:24 and 21:19 are both used in reference to the apostolic ministry. As with the entirety of our series, we’ve seen that Acts so often functions as a central doctrinal hub from which the epistles spoke out from. We would then expect to see this pattern of meaning and usage of diakonia to continue.

Of the three uses in Romans, Romans 11:13 is an apostolic usage while Romans 15:31 is in reference to benevolence. This leaves Romans 12:7, which we will look at later. In 1 Corinthians our word occurs only twice, surprisingly, with the first in 1 Cor. 12:5, which we will look at alongside the remaining passage from Romans 12, and the second from 1 Cor. 16:15 in reference to the, “service of the saints” performed by the household of Stephanas. It could be that these servants were distributing benevolence, as it were, however given the context of 1 Corinthians 16:16 (fellow worker), it seems more likely that they were more in-line with some sort of apostolic related ministry.

By far and away the overwhelming usage of diakonia, in the New Testament occurs in 2 Corinthians (11x). While the usage here continues our pattern of benevolence (2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:1, 12, 13) and apostolic ministry (possibly 2 Corinthians 5:18; 6:3; 11:8), it also introduces for us a third category or at least a subheading under the apostolic usage. This occurs in 2 Corinthians 3, specifically 3:7, 8, 9; 4:1 (possibly 5:18) and describes the ministry of the gospel, or what the gospel does.

The remaining uses are of interest as well. While Ephesians 4:12 falls in-line with the discussion on Romans 12:7 and 1 Cor. 12:5, Colossians 4:17 is a similar case, as with the household of Stephanas discussed above, only here the reference is to Archippus. In the letters to Timothy, we find three uses: 1 Timothy 1:12 (apostolic ministry), 2 Timothy 4:5 (Timothy’s evangelistic ministry), 2 Timothy 4:11 (apostolic ministry). Finally, we have a use in reference to the ministry of angels (Hebrews 1:14) and a reference to the ‘service’ of the saints in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9).

With that survey of the New Testament usage of diakonia completed, we’ll turn next time to look at our three cases identified above: 1 Corinthians 12:5, Romans 12:7, and Ephesians 4:12.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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