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5. Deacons

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The word “deacon” means “servant.” It was used of those who waited on tables serving food and did menial work.1 Deacons are the servants of the church. Their ministry seems to have begun in Acts 6:3-4 when the apostles sought men “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” who would serve the widows in the church. This allowed the apostles to focus on prayer and ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). It seems that deacons fulfill a similar role, supporting the work of elders in the church.

First Timothy 3:8-12 gives the requirements for deacons:

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not two-faced, not given to excessive drinking, not greedy for gain, holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And these also must be tested first and then let them serve as deacons if they are found blameless. Likewise also their wives must be dignified, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in every respect. Deacons must be husbands of one wife and good managers of their children and their own households.

Like the requirements for elders, deacons must have godly character. The primary difference between the requirements of an elder and a deacon in Chapter 3 is the fact that an elder is “an able teacher” (v. 2). As the title “deacon” or “servant” suggests, they focus on the manual aspects of the church, like finances and administration, so that the elders can focus on ruling, preaching, and prayer (cf. Acts 6:4, Heb 13:17). With that said, though their primary role isn’t teaching, they must know God’s Word and practice it faithfully. First Timothy 3:9 says they should be “holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

There is some debate over whether 1 Timothy 3:11 allows women to serve as deacons in the church. The NET and other versions say, “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect.” However, since “wives” in the Greek can be translated as “women,” some interpret the verse as giving requirements for deaconesses instead of the deacon’s wives (cf. NIV, NASB, etc.).

What are evidences for translating the word as “women,” instead of “wives,” allowing for female deacons?

  1. The addition of the word “likewise” (v. 11) seems to be introducing and distinguishing a separate group from the elders and deacons.2 Paul also introduced and distinguished the deacons from the elders with the word “likewise” (v. 8).
  2. “There is no possessive pronoun or definite article connecting these women with deacons.”3 The possessive pronoun “their,” in some translations, is supplied by the translators for understanding.
  3. There is no requirement given for the elders’ wives in the previous verses (1 Tim 3:1-7). Why would there be requirements for the deacons’ wives and not the elders’?
  4. There seems to be biblical evidence for women deacons in the NT. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is given the title of “servant” or “deacon.”
  5. Since the deacons’ ministry is not primarily ruling and teaching, which Paul taught was reserved for qualified males (1 Tim 2:12, 3:1-7), there seems to be no biblical reason for women to be disqualified from the position.

Therefore, many believe that deacons can be both males and females who have godly character, know God’s Word, and have a heart to serve.


  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. Who are deacons and what are their roles in the church?
  3. Can women serve as deacons? Why or why not?
  4. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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1 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 83). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 130). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 130). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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