Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
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Introductory Consideration to Discussion of Deacons:
Are the Qualifications for Elders and Deacons
Essentially The Same?
When analyzing the two lists of qualifications we traditionally emphasize that “one is the list for elders and the other is the one for deacons.” As far as it goes, that is certainly correct. But isn’t this distinction almost an artificial one. Aren’t the qualifications for one office essentially the same as for the other?
The only case where there seems an inescapable difference is in regard to being “able to teach” (3:2), which is conspicuously absent in regard to deacons. But that leaves undefined how broad and inclusive their range of service is to be. We quite understandably think of deacons in terms of “skilled labor” versus the “managerial” function of the elder leadership. But would it not be assumed that deacons have enough knowledge to reasonably answer at least basic religious questions that come their way? To be a “teacher” though, quite possibly, in a much less intense fashion?
6:1-7 we have the appointment of what is hard to describe as other than
“deacons” or, at least “deacon like” leaders. (We will analyze their exact status in far
more detail when we actually enter into the section dealing with deacon
qualifications. Consider what follows as
a “Reader’s Digest” condensed introduction.)
They were to handle the welfare work of the
these “deacons” was Philip. He went on a
successful preaching mission to the city of
If at least two of the seven “original deacons” had advanced teaching skills, does it seem much of a leap of logic to assume that all were expected to have at least a moderate talent in the field? However much their primary target was the more “everyday” needs of doing whatever the local congregation needed to have done.
There are what appear to be two clear-cut verbal warnings that the two lists are intended to be, essentially, overlapping and the same. Verse 8 begins with “likewise deacons must be.” Would not the normal understanding of this be, “just like elders deacons must be”? Then there is verse 10 in regard to deacons, “but let these also first be tested; then let them serve.” But this is not even mentioned at all in the prerequisite list for elders. We only learn of it when we reach the requirements for deacons.
Secondly, there are repeated verbal or near verbal identical requirements in both lists, which is what we would expect if the two offices require the same prerequisites. In both the church leader must be married: “husband of one wife” for elders (3:2) and deacons as well ().
The moral quality of being “blameless” is required of both elders (3:2) and deacons ().
Keeping one’s children under control is found among the requirements for both elders (3:4) and deacons ().
The “not given to wine” of elders” (3:2) is conceptually equivalent to the deacon’s “not given to much wine” (3:8) One could argue that elders are prohibited from drinking at all, while deacons are permitted to drink a little, but it is hard to imagine in daily conversation that the two expressions were anything but synonymous. How could a person be “given to” wine--with its implication of addiction or excess--without being “not given to much wine”? (It is a pleasant “preacher joke,” however, to say that the distinction “probably is cause for a lot of persons to seek the job of deacon rather than an elder!”)
Thirdly, there are places where the requirements for deacon are made higher than those for elder, which makes absolutely no sense if the two lists are to be considered as rigidly separate. Assuming that the critical texts are correct, the “not greedy for money” does not belong in the text as a qualification for elders at all (3:3). It is found as an uncontested qualification for deacons in 3:8. (And in the list of elders qualifications given in Titus 1:7.)
Yet another case is found in the requirement that deacons “also first be tested” (). There is every reason to believe that the post of elder/bishop is far senior and “more important” than deacon—yet no such requirement is given in the elder list itself. If the two lists overlap and both sets of requirements are prerequisites for both respective posts, this makes full sense. But how does it do so if the requirement is not imposed on the more important one as well?
Fourthly, there are places where deacons are promised rewards not mentioned for the higher and more prestigious post of elders. “Those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (). Thus it is said of deacons and them alone. This special blessing is not mentioned in Paul’s list of elder’s qualifications given to Titus either (1:5-9). Furthermore having “great boldness in the faith:” doesn’t that language reasonably suggest boldness in teaching the faith? That they are, to a degree, “able to teach” as elders are to be (3:2)?
Fifthly, if there is not an intended overlap—with the requirements being for both elders and deacons—it would seem terribly easy to permit a morally lax standard for deacons. Is it really a good idea to permit deacons who don’t have a good reputation among outsiders (required of elders in 3:7)? How about not being “gentle,” “quarrelsome” or “covetous,” which is required of bishops but not mentioned in regard to deacons? The list could be expanded, of course. Some of these might be shoe-horned into the deacon’s prerequisite of “holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” (3:9), but do we really believe these were intended to be synonymous rather than supplemental to each other?
Hence it would strike this commentator as the best policy to expect a would be deacon or elder to meet the full set of requirements found in both lists—unless it clearly did not pertain to the office he is seeking. Frankly the only one that comes to my mind might be “apt to teach,” which might have little application to deacons who are individuals out to do the “work” (service) of the church rather than leading it in teaching or scriptural study. But even if we argue that, we have already seen that this isn’t as “iron clad” a generalization as it might seem.
A sixth problem is that there are qualifications for the wives of deacons (a lesser post) while there is none for those of elders: “Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things” (). Not one word is spoken of elders’ wives having to meet such criteria!
Our argument, of course, hinges upon these women being wives and not deaconesses. The actual wording permits either and there has been intense debate between the two alternatives.
Many of my readers and I myself are convinced that wives are under consideration, but that does raise a major problem: why is the character of the spouses of the lesser position regulated and not that of the higher? If the deacon qualification list is intended to be considered as a tool reinforcing the same fundamental requirements as elders, then the problem is resolved. It also resolves the oddity that in Titus only the qualifications of elders are given. The omission makes more sense if the early Christians recognized that the same requirements would automatically apply to both positions.
J. H. Bernard, who is convinced that the post of deaconess is actually under consideration considers this problem as a legitimate difficulty to those of us who make the text refer to the wives, but sees a possible way to avoid the difficulty:
The ancient interpreters took this [deaconesses] view of the passage, and it has been urged by many modern commentators that interpretation (a) is excluded by the absence of any corresponding regulation as to the wives of the ἐπίσκοποι, as well as by the silence of the writer concerning any domestic duties of the women in question. An argument e silentio is, no doubt, always precarious; and, further, it is to be remembered that a deacon’s wife would of necessity share his work which was largely occupied with the sick and needy, and it is thus intelligible that it would be necessary to have an eye to her character in the selection of her husband for the diaconate; whereas the wife of an ἐπίσκοπος is in no way partner of his responsibilities, and should not be permitted to meddle in the administration of the Church. The absence of any regulations for the bishops’ wives might be thus accounted for.
I readily concede the reasonableness of arguing that it would be realistic to add this as a specification designed solely for this office because of the nature of the work to be done. Would this then fatally weaken our proposition of identical requirements or would this simply be a situation where one peculiar to the work of deacons is added?
However . . . is the “work” of an elder’s wife all that irrelevant? From the standpoint of the elder, it is true that his wife is “in no way partner of his responsibilities” and “should not be permitted to meddle in the administration of the church.” That is all true enough—but anyone who doesn’t think she is going to be “envolved” in some manner or other is being blind to reality. She can either support him or become a major underminer of his. She can work to encourage others to see the wisdom of his ideas or, by silence, become a weakening element in his work.
Furthermore if there is supportive work to be done that falls within her talents, she is there to help. For example, are there not things she can discuss with a woman that her husband will feel uncomfortable doing? Are there not matters where she will be viewed as the more “sympathetic” figure even when the message is identical? This does not turn her into an elder, but shows that she is a capable helper to her husband.
If you do not understand this, think of the relationship of a preacher and his wife. He has his own unique obligations and duties, but his wife will ultimately play a major supporting role in how successful he is. The same is often true of the wife of an elder. She will either help lighten his work or make it that much harder. So, yes, there would be good reasons for the qualifications of a deacon’s wife to apply to the wife of an elder as well.
Note once again the qualifications of a deacon’s wife: “Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things” (). Can you imagine the turmoil that will result if his wife does not meet those criteria and standards of behavior? Hence the qualification makes full sense regardless of how much active and direct involvement the deacon’s wife has in her husband’s assigned work. Similarly, the elder’s wife as well.
Although David R. Pharr does not directly deal with our current question, he is either aware of it or instinctively feels that the omission of any reference to an elder’s wife requires some explanation: “It is required that an elder be legitimately married. It was not necessary to explain what common sense would assume, i.e., the obvious necessity that the wife should be respected for her Christian character and good works (cf. Titus 2:3-5).”
The obvious problem you run into is why then should it be needful to mention these requirements when a deacon’s qualifications are mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 either--and not when the superior post of elder/bishop is discussed? The only logical alternatives would seem to be: (a) the two lists are intended to be supplemental rather than exclusive to one office or (b) that since it is mentioned about deacons’ wives but not elders’ that their status on such matters is irrelevant to whether a man is qualified to be an elder.
By the way Titus 2:3-5 is about Christian women in general and not church officers in particular. If that is enough to establish the obligation in regard to elders’ wives why should it have been needed to mention it in regard to deacons?
Randy Blackabay clearly struggles with the fact that the qualifications are just as logically appropriate to the spouse of one office holder (elder) as to the one directly under discussion (deacon). This is what he comes up with to try to “carry over” the requirement to both offices:
Brethren often look meticulously at the lives of the men being considered for the work of the eldership, but fail to look carefully at their wives. Many congregations have come to rue the day they made this mistake. It is one that can be avoided by looking carefully at the directions the apostle Paul gave in 1 Timothy 3:11. There Paul wrote, “Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.”
This passage often is ignored with respect to elders because it is situated in the midst of the continued instructions concerning the deacons’ qualifications. So, some have assumed it refers only to deacons’ wives. Such a conclusion is both unlikely and illogical.
Note that the word their has been added to the English text in an effort to clarify. It is useful if we see it in the context of the qualifications of both elders and deacons, somewhat confusing if viewed only in regard to deacons. All Christian wives should seek to achieve these attitudes and behaviors, but Paul said the wives of elders and deacons are required to possess them. Thus, indirectly, their behavior and attitude constitute yet another qualification for a man who would serve in either capacity.
It doesn’t make sense to assume that this divinely ordained requirement applies only to the wives of deacons. The example set by an elder and his family relationship is all the more crucial in leading, correcting, and overseeing God’s local flock.
I respect him for trying to establish the requirement being a joint one for both types of office holders. It does avoid potential problems caused by elders with ill-prepared wives. It does “make sense” that it would apply. The overwhelming problem is that the text doesn’t so apply it to both positions!
What I have argued creates and requires the linkage, however. Once one grants that both lists are, effectively, duplicative of each other then one automatically finds it essential to make the requirements mandatory for both offices: The entire list was originally intended to be such. If we accept my suggested scenario that we have essentially only one list, of shared/overlapping qualifications, the problem is removed of why “wives qualifications” would only be mentioned of deacons.
Of course there is an alternative explanation for the presence of these requirements in the deacon’s list but not the elder’s: That they aren’t about either. They are about a third church office, of deaconess. Indeed one could even reasonably argue that the case for a strong/rigid separation into two distinct lists of qualifications only makes sense if this is the case. As an advocate for the deaconesses reading of the text writes:
The Apostle now passes on to women in a parenthesis. Are these the wives of deacons or are they deaconesses? It would seem that the latter are intended, for there appears to be no reason why special rules should apply to the wives of deacons and not also to the wives of bishops which are not mentioned.
On the other hand, there is also a very good reason to mention the wives’ qualifications if the two lists are essentially one set delivered in such a manner to make it clear that they apply to both offices and not just one: Having not been mentioned in regard to elders, they had to be mentioned under deacons—or let the entire qualification for either office be dropped.
Seventhly, if the two sets
or qualifications are intended to embrace the same requirements, then
that would easily explain why the prerequisites deacons must meet are not
mentioned in Titus. Unless we are to assume that
deacons were not going to be appointed in
Objections to the “one set of qualifications” scenario: Things are required of the elder that are not required of the deacon. Before examining such cases, let us begin with the obvious: Perhaps the strongest objection is why two separate lists are given in the first place if the requirements are—at least essentially--identical? Why doesn’t Paul simply say “if anyone wishes to be an elder or deacon he must meet the following standards”?
Certainly the provision of two lists reinforces the fact that these are two separate offices and that a “deacon” is not simply another “form” of “elder” and vice versa. Dual lists are extremely useful to keep the reader in mind that different functions and duties come with the two posts.
Shared qualifications but not a shared work: The elders have a unique responsibility as to their work that is not on the shoulders of the deacons: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy ). “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Hebrews ). “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Alleged textual hints of more strict requirements for an elder than a deacon: (1) Teaching ability. It is argued that a comparison of the requirements for the two offices confirms that elders are required certain things that are not mandatory for a deacon. For example the ability to teach is specified for the elder (“able to teach,” 3:2) but not for the deacon. That can be effectively used as an indication that deacons do not have teaching and preaching as part of their obligatory duties. This does not rule out, however, that both may occasionally be done by them. It is simply not part of their primary responsibilities.
place we know of details about at least one of the particular functions of
deacons is in the early
As to Philip, we know that he
“went down to the city of
Would not that teaching and preaching be the exception rather than the norm among deacons--or to be technical in regard to Acts 6, “deacon like” functions? This would be a quite reasonable explanation for its omission from the explicit criteria for selecting them.
On the other hand, would one want in even the lesser post someone incapable of teaching? Would that not, therefore, it be an implicit qualification--on at least a “lesser skill” level? A qualification that “goes without saying”? They weren’t there with the core purpose of teaching, but it was quite proper for them to do so as means and opportunity came their way. Hence they needed to have a sound “knowledge base” from which to work. And the “skill set” required to share it with others.
(2) Length of time a Christian. Only for the office of bishop is it insisted that one be “not a novice” (3:6), while that time element is totally lacking in regard to deacons. The reason stated is lest he be puffed up with pride, i.e., due to the responsible leadership post he holds. Of course that could be omitted because it is rarely relevant to the post of deacon: How many people are likely to become conceited from their role of being, so to speak, church “dish washers?”
Even so, one could easily imagine the requirement being an implicit one—if not out of reasons of potential pride but simple prudence. Has that man demonstrated he will be a faithful disciple or is he one of those people who will volunteer for anything . . . and somehow, mysteriously nothing ever seems to get done?
A preacher told me about a certain member who periodically decided “we need a gospel meeting and we need to distribute literature throughout the neighborhood.” Somehow between implicitly volunteering and actually getting the announcements out, he always simply disappeared. Here we are dealing with a formal church office and ongoing responsibilities. Would it not be common prudence to demand a period of time to determine, through repeated contact and interactions, that he is willing to do the work that will go with whatever title his church position has? Hence it is not a requirement that seems to have any unique attachment only to the post of elder.
(3) The lack of “hospitable” being a requirement for deacons. If we assume that it was customary for elders to “advance” from deacon upward to the post of elder/bishop we might argue that this was a trait they were expected to develop while a deacon. But there is no indication that the kind of hierarchical church assumed by such a scenario was anywhere close to existence at this early a date.
More meaningful to argue is that if the deacons did, indeed, play the role of “servant,” helping with whatever was needed—especially the elderly widows in chapter five—then a significant element of being “hospitable” could easily be read into the job requirements itself. They had to be receptive, kind, welcoming, encouraging to those they dealt with in order to fulfill their responsibilities well.
(4) Whether the children have to be Christians. A deacon must “rul[e] their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy ) while an elder must “hav[e] faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination” (Titus 1:6), i.e., they must be Christians. The problem is that in the Timothy list the qualification is “having his children in submission with all reverence” (1 Timothy 3:4)--i.e., have children who routinely obey him--which does not require a “be a Christian” qualification. For that matter the requirement in Titus 1:6 can be taken as faithful to the parent, i.e., obeying them and doing as they have instructed. The “obedient to the gospel” scenario is not required and, if anything, the absence of the requirement in 1 Timothy argues against it.
I readily concede that the Ephesians who heard the Timothy letter read—and Timothy himself—might be aware of such a corollary to the children requirement from what Paul had shared with them in the past. (At least at some point they would eventually have had access to the Titus letter as well--assuming it actually had the “believer” connotation to them.) But working from what they had in front of them—1 Timothy 3—there was nothing to make them require discipleship from the children. On the other hand, they might well have regarded it as common prudence. But that would still be something different from viewing it as “written in concrete.”
Able material defending the “Christian child” reading is available, but is not overly relevant in the current context. (In the case of Titus that would be a different story.) Hence we will leave our remarks at these.
(4) How many children there must be. One capable writer sums it up this way, “A more subtle difference between the qualifications is in the wording of ‘children.’ The Greek phrasing for an elder indicates two or more children while a deacon indicates one or more.” That word “subtle” is the key. It is a kind way of saying that if you are an able student of Greek a good case can allegedly be made--at least a reasonable one.
In a separate article he does exactly that. To the non-specialist, two arguments stand out. The first is one that Paul could have worded it in a manner to make crystal clear that any number of children would qualify the man, but he consciously chose a wording for elders that would more naturally suggest a multiple number requirement. The second argument is one from prudence:
The purpose of requiring children is to demonstrate the ability to manage the church (1 Timothy 3:5). As parents of multiple children will tell you, no two children are alike. Just because you are successful in raising one child doesn’t mean you can handle a variety of children. It makes sense that an elder demonstrate his ability to handle a variety of personalities in his household because he will have to do so in the church.
This is at
least partially neutralized by the fact that the deacon also will be
dealing with a wide spectrum of personalities.
Indeed, if their function tends to be in regard to “welfare” needs, the
intensity of the reactions they get may be just as strong. Think the widows in
Furthermore if the elder is required by the explicit language of Paul to have two or more children and that excludes a one child father, does it not have to follow that by the allegedly equally explicit language of Paul the deacon who has to have only a single child shouldn’t have more than that number? Does that not reasonably exclude all men who have two or more? How can we possible use the alleged “plural” to require multiple children for elders but (miraculously?) permit the “singular” child to allow deacons with more than one offspring? If the language is intended to be this specific, how in the world do we possibly escape this dilemma of the inconsistent application of language?
(More is discussed on the theme of how many children an elder must have when we study that particular subject in more detail in our Church Leadership Controversies volume.)
Requirements To Hold The Post of Deacon
TCNT: 8 So, too, Assistant-Officers should be serious and straightforward men, not given to taking much drink or to questionable money-making, 9 but men who hold the deep truths of the Faith and have a clear conscience. 10 They should be tested first, and only appointed to their Office if no objection is raised against them.
11 It should be the same with the women. They should be serious, not gossips, sober, and trustworthy in all respects.
12 Assistant-Officers should be faithful husbands, and men who rule their children and their households well. 13 Those who have filled that post with honour gain for themselves an honourable position, as well as great confidence through the faith that they place in Christ Jesus
This office is described as that of a “deacon” (diakonos) which means a servant or helper. The local believers already had background knowledge on the subject that Paul feels he has no need to develop within the current context. As Scott Lindsay rightly points out, they already knew the connotations the term currently carried as to duties and responsibilities:
Now we’ll think about that list in a little bit but first we need to answer the
question: What exactly is a deacon? What is this role and how is it meant to
function in the church? Well, I can tell you that asking the question is a lot easier
than answering it. For starters, the immediate context does not really help all that
much since Paul does not attempt here to provide a description of the deacons’
responsibilities. Just as he has done with the office of elder, Paul has only
concerned himself with outlining the qualifications for these offices--not with
describing the duties specific to each.
So, although we can draw some conclusions from the qualifications
themselves, it would seem from Paul’s manner of writing that he is assuming that
his readers already have some sort of working knowledge of what elders and
deacons were all about. Clearly, there were already some people functioning in
these roles in the Ephesian church.
In the broadest sense the language of “deacon” can refer to anyone who is acting in the role of helper, whether he holds the official office of deacon or not. Hence it is used . . .
Of the apostle Paul: “Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7). “ . . . he gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Colossians ).
Of the apostle’s co-workers who taught the gospel of Christ: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?” (1 Corinthians 3:5). “But that you also may know my affairs and how I am doing, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make all things known to you” (Ephesians ).
Of Timothy in particular: “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Timothy 4:6)
Of any Christian who is of help to another: “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew ). “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew ).
Of those in the “secular” world working under the orders of a superior: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it’ ” (John 2:5).
Of government serving the purposes of God: “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4).
A few thoughts on these appellations: Apostles were not only the top leadership in the first century church, they were also “deacons” because their leadership was always done as servants of the Lord rather than as independent masters over the church. We identify Timothy as a “preacher”--and thus he was--but, as 1 Timothy 4:6 above makes plain, he was also serving the Lord by only preaching the “good doctrine” that he had been taught rather than becoming a rules giving authority himself. Even secular government, to the extent that it punishes evil, is acting as a servant of the Lord assuring that evil is rightly punished. It is following the “guidelines” of a far superior and permanent authority.
The literal sense of a deacon functioning as a servant--or employee--of the Lord is shown in the applying of the term to our being “neighborly/helpful” to our coreligionists as they need it and the application of the term to those who work for us in our household or business.
In all of these a servant/deacon has lesser authority than the person he is servant to even though the servant/deacon may himself be exercising considerable authority in his own right. There is always the recognition of someone superior that he is answerable to. There is the sense of both responsibility and answerability.
The popularity of this term as a description of those doing service for another will become of special importance when we consider whether Phoebe--who is described with exactly that term in Romans 16:1--occupied a formal church office or whether it was simply an accurate and reliable description of what she doing. From the examples we have cited, the usage is broad enough to cover both.
In the context of 1 Timothy 3, a church office is clearly under consideration and there are prerequisites given to holding that office. The preservation of “bishop” and “deacon” don’t really convey much as to what the terms are meant to imply--although we may be aware of what modern denominations attach to them--but the substitution of alternate terminology creates the potential problem of the casual reader wondering, “by what authority do the positions of elder/bishop and deacon even exist? They aren’t mentioned!”
That deacons aren’t intended to be the top leadership in the church is shown by the fact that elders are described in ruling language and deacons in serving language. Also, the original and primary meaning of deacon as “servant” strongly argues that they are intended to be subordinates.
Ivie Powell rightly warns us not to yield to the temptation of oversimplifying the difference between the two posts:
Deacons are not “Jr. Elders.” Neither do they possess authority as elders. Many have been erroneously taught that elders are over the spiritual and deacons are over the physical, but this is simply not true. As “overseers,” elders are over all of the work. Deacons can assist elders in whatever capacity the elders deem necessary e.g. physical plant, finances, restoring members, teaching, etc.
That the “welfare function” of deacons is missing from his list tells us much of either how changing socioeconomic conditions have lightened that need or, far less complimentary, the willful inclination to blissfully overlook the entire area as “not ever the church’s responsibility.” That the church was never intended to be a welfare institution for the entire world is a fundamental Biblical reality. What is owed the world is the saving message of Jesus as Redeemer (Matthew 28:18-20) rather than a daily meal.
But could it also be a fundamental reality that congregations are willfully oblivious of how either the congregation or its members could take a weight off those members having hard economic times . . . are in ill health . . . or simply old? Do we allow the fact that we do not have a massive problem or many severe cases, blind us to the good that modest assistance could provide?
But to return to our textual analysis, it should also be emphasized in passing—but emphatically--that the qualification list is just like that of elders: both represent the prerequisites required to hold the office. They aren’t mere ideals; they must actually be found within all those wishing to hold the position.
Although the idea
of deacons even potentially defining any of their responsibilities as envolving teaching will strike the ears of many—including
myself when I began the first draft of this manuscript—as rather odd. But that such can be the case, can be seen in
the example of the deacon like servants chosen to help the needy in Acts
6. We have already touched on some of
what could be said, but here we want to develop in more detail the issue we
largely skirted as to whether these can be considered “really” deacons and what
functions they fulfilled in the
Are the Appointed Men in Acts 6
There is no better place to begin a study of deacons than the text of Acts 6 since it virtually inevitably becomes envolved in such a study at one point or another. The relevant passage reads:
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
5 And the saying pleased the whole
multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man
full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus,
Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from
7 Then the word of God spread, and the
number of the disciples multiplied greatly in
There has been much discussion of whether these were truly “deacons” or not. (For one thing, the elaborate qualifications in 1 Timothy are not given for them to meet.) But they were unquestionably fulfilling the kind of duties we today would naturally think of in considering what people in that post would do—humanitarian helpfulness, the non-preaching “practical” burdens to make sure that the congregation’s full needs are met.
John MacArthur provides two especially interesting arguments for us to consider as arguing against them occupying an official deacon position:
 The New Testament never refers to the seven men as deacons. In fact,
the book of Acts never refers to deacons, something we would expect if those
seven men were the first of a new order. One would expect them to be in
evidence in Acts 11 when a
famine occurred in
that the church at
the elders in
 Those seven men were chosen for a specific task. They were honest
so they could be trusted with money, and they were full of the Spirit and wisdom
so they could discern the needs of people. They were chosen for a one-time
crisis, not installed into a full-time office. If they had been chosen as deacons, we
can be confident they would have appeared later on in the book of Acts.
Interestingly all seven of them had Greek names. If they were to be an
ongoing group of deacons in the
would have all been Greek Jews. But if they were appointed for the specific task
of relieving Hellenistic widows, it makes sense that the people would choose
Greeks to do that.
They were certainly “de facto deacons” if not full “de jure deacons,” to invoke the modern distinction between “official” and “unofficial;” the label stresses the practical identicalness even if not an official one. Barton Stone is surely arguing along this line when he contends that “they were not called deacons, but filled a diaconate” J. W. McGarvey concisely sums up the actual terminology used of them in his Original Commentary on Acts: “The seven are not styled diakonoi, deacons, but they were selected to attend to the daily diakonia (Acts 6:1) and their service is expressed by the verb diakoneo (Acts 6:2) the same which expresses the duty of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:10-13.”
Two things should be noted about these individuals. First of all, two of this modest sized group of six had unquestionable major teaching skills. Stephen is distinguished, even in verse 5, from the rest of the deacons because he was so specially “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” He even worked miracles (verse 8) and so successfully argued the case for Christ (verses 9-10), that his foes set up lying witnesses to railroad him into a death penalty (verses 11-15).
Then there was Philip who, in chapter 8, preached to and converted the Ethiopian eunuch through his explanation of the scriptures. These two men both could teach, but also did so with great effectiveness.
Even on the more
“mundane,” every day level, the practicalities of their humanitarian assistance
would also envolve some teaching as well—not just by
these two but by the other four as well.
Not “classroom” type but “one on one” and “small group” type. As Ron Graham of
According to Acts 6, the appointment of deacons was precipitated when “there arose a murmuring’ because some were being “neglected” and this had a Jews-versus-Greeks element to it (Acts 6:1). The deacons had to deal with that situation, and what sort of situation was it? Was it a practical problem, a spiritual problem, or a combination? Obviously it was a combination. We should not imagine that the deacons rectified the situation just by sitting behind a table handing out coins, or running around serving soup to ladies.
Certainly, they would ensure this task was done properly, but they would also need to correct the bad attitudes that had contributed to the problem in the first place. In short, as they served and took charge, they would need to give people sound teaching on such things as family responsibility, Jew-Gentile relationships, contentment, tolerance, helpfulness, humility, and so forth.
Scott Lindsay reminds
us that there are two distinct groups envolved at
this stage--the twelve apostles and the six “deacons/helpers”--and that they
played supplemental roles in the development of the
Both of these groups have differing emphases in their ministry and yet the
reality is that they both need each other, and they need to work in a
complementary fashion. We see here that there is a willingness on the part of
Stephen and company to take up on themselves certain responsibilities and
engage in sacrificial ministry, not only for the good of those who would directly
benefit from their ministry--in this instance the neglected widows--but also for the
good of the church as a whole which would indirectly benefit as a result of the
apostles being freed up to more fully devote themselves to the ministry of the
word and prayer. In short, their attention to the personal and physical needs of the
people would free up the apostles to address their spiritual needs.
This sort of sacrificial, complementary perspective on ministry is one
which the church in our own day would also benefit greatly from--namely,
learning to see that our individual ministries are valuable, not only for what they
are and what they immediately accomplish, but also because when they are done
well, the effect is to free others to more fully devote themselves to their roles
within the Body of Christ, with the result that the whole body benefits.
In a similar manner we
can rightly note that both elders and deacons are intended to play distinct
roles in a congregation today due to where the emphasis of each is
That still leaves us with the question of whether these men were merely “functioning” in the de facto role of deacons or “actually held” the formal post as in 1 Timothy 3. Derek Gentle, for example cites Acts 6 with the comment, “The Biblical account is quite clear on the founding of the deaconship and nowhere does Scripture repeal the original purpose”—which was, as noted in the heading above this remark, “the benevolence ministry.”
John MacArthur provides this concise analysis against them being “official” occupiers of the post of deacons however:
The question that comes up now is this: Were the seven men listed in Acts 6:5 fulfilling an office of deacon? The traditional interpretation of Acts 6 is that these men were the first deacons. Notice that verses 1–2 say, “[The Hellenistic] widows were being overlooked in the daily serving [diakoneo] of food.… ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve [diakonia] tables.’ ” Some say that the use of those Greek words implies that these men were chosen to fill the office of deacon. . . .
The only compelling support that the men were deacons is the use of the Greek terms diakonia and diakoneō in the text. That is inconclusive, however, because the term diakonia is used in Acts 6:4 in reference to the work of the apostles themselves. So there is no reason to conclude that the office of a deacon is meant in verse 5. The New Testament never refers to the men listed in Acts 6:5 as deacons. Only two of the men are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture (Stephen and Philip), but they are nowhere called deacons. . . .
situation that brought about the calling of the seven men. There were many people in
Note that all
seven of the men who were chosen had Greek names. If these men were being appointed to the
But the work they did was such that what better one word term is applicable than “deacon” to describe it? Whether we apply the title to them or not, aren’t they doing the work of such a person? Aren’t we in grievous danger of arbitrarily making a fine technical distinction when in practice there is none that really needs to be made--that they were in substance if not in formal title “deaconing?”
The one point made by MacArthur that does seem of ongoing relevance is that the men were appointed to deal with what was assumed to be a relatively short-term problem rather than an ongoing on. Would that not serve as legitimate modern justification for appointing honorable brethren to deal with specific problems that may last for weeks or months but which we do not anticipate becoming permanent duties? Would they not become “deacon like” even if the formal post and name is not given to them?
historical aside: The evolution of deacons from a service role in the
church to that of governing. The
obvious example of this is in the
“In the later half of the eighteenth century, a new concept of Baptist deacons emerged and continues to exist in many churches today. This was the view of deacons as church business managers. This view stressed to a seemingly excessive degree the administrative function of deacons and tended to distract from other areas of service previously given equally strong attention” (Charles W. Deweese, The Emerging Role of Deacons, Broadman Press, 1979, page 34).
The drift started as an effort to “Relieve the minister from the secular concerns of the church” (A Treatise on Church Discipline, Charleston Association, S.C., 1774 cited by Deweese).
But by 1846, R. B. C. Howell was using new
terminology, saying that deacons are, “A board of directors, and have charge of
the all the secular affairs in the
Howell regarded the spiritual ministry of the pastor and the temporal ministry of the deacon as separate areas, or departments: “. . . The pastor has supervision of all the spiritualities of the church, and is therefore bishop or overseer in that department; so the deacons are overseers of all her temporalities, of which they have full control” (page 12). He stated, however, that, “It is not, lastly, the duty of deacons to rule in the church” (page 66), explaining that, “Deacons are not ruling elders” (page 69).
There were those, at the time, who saw
this trend as a cause of concern. In
Before we pass on to a detailed analysis of the requirements that are clearly applied to the official office of deacon, one more comment that is directly relevant to the wording of our text needs to be noted. Notice that the beginning words of verse 1 Timothy 3:8 are “Likewise deacons must be” and then the qualifications are given. In 3:2 the Greek text speaks of what the elder “must be;” here the words are a translators’ addition. However it is unquestionably fully justified since the criteria are clearly held up as standards to be met. Unless they were clearly labeled “possible standards” or such like, the presentation of them as if they will be there—period . . . well that surely requires the interpretive gloss that they are essential. Similarly the use of the term “likewise deacons must be” conveys the same thought since the elders’ criteria are presented in “must” terms. (The term “likewise” is in the Greek text.)
As in the case of
elders, such language proves that, “They are not merely helpful guidelines.
All of these qualifications are mandatory. They are requirements
which God has laid down for the office of deacon in His church. No man may be a deacon in the
This means that is so even when the men being considered are our friends or relatives. If we “cut slack” for them so they can have church office, how are we going to expect others to abide by Biblical criteria on whatever envolves them personally?
Comparative translations: Only one of our cross-section of versions retains “reverent” (WEB). In common usage we most often use the term in reference to respect toward God and the respectful manner it is proper to have in a worship service. All the alternatives put the emphasis on what we ourselves are rather than our attitude toward God. “Worthy of respect” (Holman, NIV) invokes that element by stressing that it is a key element of our character, of what we are. Probably with the idea of bringing out this, the GW opts for “of good character.”
Others suggest “dignified” (ESV, NET) or “men of dignity” (NASB). Luke T. Johnson is both right but a bit misleading when he writes, “I repeat the point that in antiquity authority was positively correlated with dignity in bearing.” Unfortunately that language, at least in our society, can easily carry the overtone of pomposity. A person with a tad of arrogance who, if not currently looking down his nose at us, may well do so if we turn our back.
That is far from its intent in our text. Instead the imagery intended--to present it in a modern form--is that of “a man who does not play the fool.” “The word is the opposite of being a goof-off or clown. A deacon should have a seriousness of purpose about him, so that those he serves sense that he is concerned for them and so they trust and respect him.” In other words, he takes his “church work” seriously. He is a person who treats his responsibilities with the respect and priority they are rightly due.
That he is “worthy of respect” or “dignified” is not intended to suggest he is better than you are, but to show his dedication to fulfilling his duties in all areas of life. It is not that he is supposed “to be humorless and stiff,” but that he is to “show the proper seriousness in matters” as they “seek to minister to people’s needs.” This is in accord with Paul’s principle in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” In other words he adapts to each person’s changing circumstances.
J. Hampton Keathley III wisely suggests that the expression means, “He is one who takes his life and work seriously as a part of his devotion to the Lord. He has a vision for his life’s purpose.”
individuals typical display the traits of being “serious” (chosen by ISV) and
having a “serious demeanour” (
“Not Double-Tongued” (3:8)
Comparative translations: This rendering is commonly maintained (ESV,
One is certainly “sincere” (NIV) if one avoids acting this way, but wouldn’t “truthful” or, if one wishes to keep the negative in the wording, “not liars” be more accurate and better? Stressing the negative nature of the requirement, NET’s translators’ notes endorse “insincere” and “deceitful” as reasonable alternative descriptions of what is being prohibited.
The core idea is that the person is routinely “telling the truth—and not altering or distorting the facts or changing one’s story depending on the situation.” “This is the person who changes their message depending on who they are talking to.” We are talking about either consciously or unconsciously being deceptive and misleading. In the most “innocent” case, perhaps one is simply being so desirous of pleasing whoever one is talking with, that the narrative is changed so the other will hear what they prefer to hear--rather than any actual commitment. Even in that kind of case, will he have any self-restraint in doing the same thing when it becomes self-beneficial? Hardly likely!
There are those who say one thing to brother D and the exact opposite to sister G. Since this trait tends to become repetitious and an on-going pattern, the word usually does get around: “Take anything he says with a considerable ‘grain of salt.’ ” Of such people it can be said, “Trust them as far as you can throw them.” With most people that isn’t very far!
The person has demonstrated that their claims, assertions, and promises are not to be trusted. Relationships between individuals are based on at least a basic element of trust. Remove that and why should anyone have anything to do with you if they can possibly avoid it?
Although being two-faced can make utilitarian (not moral) sense if a big enough issue is involved, doesn’t it strike you that most of those who become this way do so over minor or even petty-ante matters as well? Why in the world go to all this trouble when the issue isn’t that important in the first place? Why corrupt your soul when you aren’t really getting anything out of it? Are we so immature, so childish, that we can’t handle even the petty disagreements that truth telling might produce? Many seem to be that way.
A person who is guilty of doing this repeatedly is going to inevitably develop the reputation of someone who can’t be trusted. To him—or her—the truth is whatever advances the momentary interest. Today it may be one thing and tomorrow it may be another. Or the story may even shift on the same day. Nothing is “fixed;” everything is totally “flexible.”
Although I have no interest in going out of my way to present true stories of human folly, this narrative of the Civil War both illustrates our point and shows how the trait can land up getting us humiliated:
civil war in
His eyes were dim,
but he quickly noticed the uniforms, and supposing himself in the presence of
the Northern staff, began protesting his loyalty to the
The old man put on his spectacles, and recognizing the uniform, explained that his heart was with the South in the great struggle, and that his only son was a soldier in the Southern army.
Gazing around the room, he recognized the Northern uniforms also, and was bewildered. At last he leaned both hands on the table, and surveying the entire party, he said, “Well, gentlemen, this is a little mixed; but you just go on and fight it out among yourselves. I can live under any government.”
No doubt feeling a fool and quite happy to get out of their presence by this point. So we can feel when our own double-dealing catches up with us.
One could sermonically derive a further moral lesson from this requirement by “expanding” it: “double tongued” becomes “hearing it from one tongue and sharing it with your tongue,” i.e., gossiping. Although not what Paul has in mind, the principle itself is true enough: private matters need to be kept private rather than shared with others not directly envolved in handling the matter. Fellow deacons or elders may well be brought in—where and when appropriate—but what is talked about is not to become fodder for the gossip mill.
Nor--and this is the even harder matter--there are things that it is simply improper for you to share even with your spouse. Just as there are burdens and responsibilities she bears without burdening you with them, delicate membership matters need to be handled just as discretely on your own part. Except, of course, in the situation where she has first hand knowledge of the matter or subject. Then her counsel might be of great value indeed.
There are matters folks will discuss only if they trust you and your discretion. Unfortunately there are many people—and not always outside the church leadership—who have not learned discretion or the responsibilities that come from such trust.
Another moral lesson one could sermonically develop from the wording--though it is certainly not the actual point being made--is to avoid vulgarity. As one denominational preacher puts it, “It is so incredibly hypocritical to speak spiritually at church and carnally at work. To praise God around Christians, and curse around heathen. Many Christians have great need to repent in this area.” He rightly cites James 3:9-10 as prohibiting such behavior in all social contexts. But it is hardly the point being made in the current passage.
“Not Given to Much Wine” (3:8)
Comparative translations: The nature of the “not given to” is made
clearer by such wordings as “not drinking a lot of wine” (Holman) and “not
indulging in much wine” (NIV). The
habitual element is stressed by “addicted to wine” (ISV) and “addicted
to much wine” (ESV, NASB, WEB,
It should also be noted that it is clear that beer was widely consumed in the first centuries as well. Oddly enough, a recipe from an Egyptian alchemist in the fourth century has survived; as has the recipe for (alcoholic) mead from the first century from the hand of no less than a Roman senator!
In light of the popularity of non-wine intoxicating drinks even in that time period, the intended lesson is perhaps better expressed when we read “not given to excessive drinking” (NET) or not “addicted to alcohol” (GW). Indeed if estimates of the popularity of beer in the early centuries are anywhere close to accurate, do we have any real choice but to assume that Paul intended his language to cover these as well? I don’t think anyone could seriously argue that Paul was prohibiting drunkenness only from wine and nothing else! At some point strict literalness should yield to strict accuracy.
There are many who, out of the best of motives and recognizing the hideous destructive power of alcohol use when it gets out of hand, insist that there must be a total ban on its consumption. As a voluntary act this is highly praiseworthy—especially in our society which seems to know far more about getting drunk than in maintaining a modest consumption. Even so the most natural interpretation of our text would still be far less, “Total abstinence is not enjoined, even on a deacon.” Perhaps the practical meaning of “not given to much wine” is to “be able to stop after that first or second drink.”
That kind of restraint would have made sense in their day just as much as ours: Whose eyes has not seen or heard of the idiocy that people can get into because of overindulgence? And what will the observers be saying if they don’t think much of Christians in the first place? How much more vigorous and intent their tauntings if church leaders like elders and deacons are the perpetuators?
Although “it is clear that Greco-Roman society considered wine consumption to be significantly beneficial, in a wide variety of ways, provided that moderation was employed,” the problem then as today was that theory often “went out the window” when the opportunity for abuse arose. Overindulgence came from two types of people: poorer folk drank to wipe out their sorrows and frustrations at life. The alcohol was an end in itself. Those higher up the economic totem pole—from which important intellectual folk were drawn—loved to combine extravagant meals (feasting) with getting drunk . . . preferably at someone else’s expense.
And by their excess made a mockery of their claims to be a superior sort of person. Here’s the kind of satire pagans themselves could throw at philosophers who were so sure of their superiority to others—but betrayed their claims when it came time to “party.” We present the mockery presented by Lucian of Samosata (c. 120-200 A.D.):
[54:] Whom have we now? is this Thrasycles the philosopher? sure enough it is. A halo of beard, eyebrows an inch above their place, superiority in his air, a look that might storm heaven, locks waving to the wind — ’tis a very Boreas or Triton from Zeuxis’ pencil. This hero of the careful get-up, the solemn gait, the plain attire — in the morning he will utter a thousand maxims, expounding Virtue, arraigning self-indulgence, lauding simplicity; and then, when he gets to dinner after his bath, his servant fills him a bumper (he prefers it neat), and draining this Lethe-draught he proceeds to turn his morning maxima inside out; he swoops like a hawk on dainty dishes, elbows his neighbor aside, fouls his beard with trickling sauce, laps like a dog, with his nose in his plate, as if he expected to find Virtue there, and runs his finger all round the bowl, not to lose a drop of the gravy
[55:] Let him monopolize pastry or joint, he will still criticize the carving — that is all the satisfaction his ravenous greed brings him —; when the wine is in, singing and dancing are delights not fierce enough; he must brawl and rave. He has plenty to say in his cups — he is then at his best in that kind — upon temperance and decorum; he is full of these when his potations have reduced him to ridiculous stuttering. Next the wine disagrees with him, and at last he is carried out of the room, holding on with all his might to the flute-girl. Take him sober, for that matter, and you will hardly find his match at lying, effrontery or avarice. He is facile princeps of flatterers, perjury sits on his tongue-tip, imposture goes before him, and shamelessness is his good comrade; oh, he is a most ingenious piece of work, finished at all points, a multum in parvo. I am afraid his kind heart will be grieved presently. . . .
There were a goodly number of Christians who indulged in such things prior to their conversion (though few as philosophers, one would think). The apostle Peter writes of how this was common among “the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, and abominable idolatries” (4:3)—the very kind of partying Lucian describes. The proper Christian standard was to no longer participate in such “excess of riot” (4:4), but if one did—through weakness of the flesh or the desire to keep the friendship of others—can one doubt that mockery would soon occur? And enter the local mythology of “you know how those Christians really behave when they have the chance!”
So what Paul writes is only directly for the benefit of the would be deacon. It is ultimately for the reputation of the entire congregation as well that they avoid such.
“Not Greedy for Money” (3:8)
Comparative translations: Although some preserve this wording intact
(Holman, ISV, WEB), the specific reference to money is typically glossed out in
such readings as “greedy for gain” (NET) and “greedy of base gain” (
The traditional rendering makes no assertion as to how that greed for financial advancement spins out in actual practice and some prefer to stress the dishonorable means often used to gain it: “not pursuing dishonest gain” (NIV) / “not greedy for dishonest gain” (ESV). For example, the greedy person is inherently likely to play games with the quality or pricing of a product, for example—hence “dishonest.” But do we regard that specific form of greed to be the sole target of Paul’s rebuke? Is the probability high enough to justify explicitly inserting it into the text?
Others parse the text to refer to dishonorable means to make the money rather than involving the abuse of the buyer. Hence GW speaks of how the deacon “must not use shameful ways to make money.”
Luke T. Johnson, in effect, argues that the underlying Greek can cover all these things and prefers the rendering of “do anything for a profit:” “My translation is unusually free, since the term aischrokerdés is exceptionally rich in cultural associations that are no longer obvious to contemporary readers when it is translated as ‘eager for shameful gain.’ The basic idea is captured by ‘people who do anything for a profit,’ but it would be better to add the value judgment ‘they have no shame’ (aischros).”
In addition to the inherent virtue of honesty, it should be noted that--with modest exceptions--the first century was an all cash economy:
In New Testament times those who served in the church would be
involved in passing out money to widows, orphans, and needy people. They
would also be collecting money and dispensing it for various purposes to carry on
the business of the church. There were no banks and audit firms, so every
transaction was made in cash. The people who handled the money actually
carried it in a little purse on their belt. The temptation was always present to use
the money for one’s own purposes. So an official servant in the church had to be
free from the love of money.
We need money to live, but we also need far more than just money. By centering our lives on this one aspect of life, we permit it to drive out the other personal, societal, and spiritual interests that are necessary to live a truly full life. We destroy relaxation, we destroy relationships, and we become obsessed with one thing and one thing only. It blinds us to the quiet and enjoyable aspects of a life that are nearly always there—if we only slow down, take a deep breath, and allow ourselves to see them.
As just noted, since deacons would be the obvious individuals taking care of any food needs of the members on behalf of the congregation–think of the case of Acts 6:1-6 in particular—pilfering or even more serious financial misdoings would be particularly open to them. Hence the imperative of financial honesty, which is motivated by having the right attitude toward obtaining financial gain.
But the potential problem could go even further than this if they seem to demonstrate special talents in handling financial and related problems. “Since church members may seek the guidance of a respected deacon in the handling of their own finances, deacons should never use their trusted relationship with church members as an opportunity to ‘fleece the flock.’ Deacons should concentrate on what they can give to the church, not what they can gain from their service.” Even for the most honest soul, church office holding should never be viewed as a means to grow their secular business.
Having a Clear Conscience
While Living One’s Religious Faith (3:9)
“Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure
translations of “holding:” Either “holding” (Holman, NASB, NET, WEB,
In all of these the trait envolves continuously embracing, refusing to let it go, staying loyal to it, never surrendering faith in it. Unyielding persistence, if you will.
Comparative translations of “holding the mystery of the faith:” That wording is still dominant (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, WEB), but some prefer to gloss it with wording that shows that “faith” specifically functions as a synonym for the New Testament system of religion. Hence “the mystery of the Christian faith” (GW) and “the mystery of the faith now revealed” (ESV).
They were “holding the mystery of the faith” because what it was composed of was not revealed at all in the Old Testament or it was spoken of with language that could be deduced from the Torah and prophets only after the foreshadowing became concrete reality. They were holding to a “mystery” that was—to Christians—no longer a mystery; they had its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth and both His and His apostles’ teachings. The NIV brings out this reality very well by substituting “the deep truths of the faith.”
aimed in the same direction is “the secret of the faith” (ISV) and “the secret
truths of the faith” (
As Ben Witherington III rightly notes, “The term mysterion in 1 Timothy 3:9 refers to something once obscure, unknown or hidden that has now been revealed. Fee translates the phrase ‘the ‘revealed truth’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1, 7; 4:1; Ephesians 3:3-9).” If you wish to narrow the point down further, he suggests that “[i]t seems to refer to the salvation available to us as revealed in and through Christ.”
Ralph Earle sums up the situation, “Today the word ‘mystery’ implies knowledge withheld; in the Bible it indicates truth revealed.” It was, if you will, what used to be a mystery . . . what once was a secret but no longer is.
Comparative translations of “with a pure conscience:” Most concur in substituting “with a clear conscience” (ESV, Holman, NASB,
There is no contamination of their conscience since it is “pure” or “clear.” They fully and completely embrace the faith and have no doubts that, when all is said and done, it will forever remain sound and reliable. “What you see is what you get:” They are hiding or obscuring nothing. There are no “mental reservations” or secret denials of the revealed truths.
What this comes down to is that they live their Christianity without any legitimate need to feel guilty. They aren’t trying to be two things at one time—a servant of the Lord actively assisting others . . . as well as a self-centered soul cultivating whatever hidden vice that obsesses them.
Of course no Christian or church leader is perfect, but what Paul has in mind are those cases where our uncorrected weaknesses have driven a “Grand Canyon” between what we publicly do and what we privately crave. James B. Coffman makes a fine point when he observes, “Paul made a great deal of the conscience; and, while a clear conscience does not prove one is right, an impure conscience most certainly proves one to be wrong.”
Tested Before Serving ()
Comparative translations of “Let these also first be
tested:” Almost everyone retains “tested” (ESV,
Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB).
Perhaps because “tests” most commonly—though far, far from
exclusively—come in a written form and Paul clearly does not have
this in mind--one might reasonably substitute “evaluated” (GW).
That word tested has varying, but quite compatible connotations: “The verb dokimazō has three stages: test, (2) prove by testing; (3) approve as the result of testing. Perhaps all three are in mind here.” Since their being permitted to hold the office of deacon is contingent upon their passing this testing, it is hard to see how any other conclusion would be possible.
The Greek word dokimazo is also used of how all Christians examine and test themselves:
[As to how we partake of the Lord’s Supper:] 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (1 Corinthians 11).
[As to whether we are truly faithful to the Lord:] 5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified (2 Corinthians 13).
[As to whether we are really what we think ourselves to be:] 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another (Galatians 6).
It is also
used of our examining doctrines and beliefs we are asked to embrace (Romans
12:2; 1 Thessalonians ) and it
is also used of a congregation selecting individuals to accompany Paul in
carrying donations to needy Christians in
Comparative translations of “then let them serve as deacons:” “Let them serve” (ESV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB,
Note that this testing is presented as obligatory, not optional: “Let these also first be tested.” This is not a recommendation to consider doing such. It is presented as just as essential as the other qualifications that are presented. This isn’t like a probationary period in a secular field and if you pass through it acceptably, you gain “permanent” status. This is a period before you are given the post at all and during which you vindicate that you possess the specific skills and abilities you will need when appointed. Then and only then comes the appointment.
The logic of the demand is obvious: You want to be sure the person can do the job. Nowadays a college degree is often given far more importance than the pre-job testing that used to be routine procedure far and wide. It is assumed that if you have that degree then you surely can adequately perform in a certain position. Sometimes this works out quite fine, but in other cases you simply become a burden the remainder of the staff must endure.
A spiritual parallel: You are currently in a congregation where you have been a member for a number of years. You appear to have a reasonable degree of Biblical knowledge. You seem to live an upstanding life. You work in a responsible secular job. Theoretically you should have no great problem as an elder or deacon.
But theory is not always well connected with reality. The congregation needs to go beyond the superficial and investigate whether you have the practical skills to carry out your new position as well . Most readers--with a sense of exasperation or horror if they have lived long enough--will recall how a certain coworker gained a promotion that s/he superficially seemed well qualified for, only to discover that they had temperamental or judgment problems that were only exposed after gaining the new post. Paul is urging a congregation to try to avoid the problem by taking steps to assure that the person is both qualified and able to undertake the new assignment before he is given it.
That word “also” is not to be overlooked. It tells us that this is a qualification for an elder as well. No one is to be granted an official “title” until the congregation is confident that he can fulfill the duties of that post. This can cover a number of aspects--verifying what you know about the person through the experiences of the other members is an obvious one. There are others as well.
For example, since an elder is supposed to be “apt to teach,” requiring him to teach a months long course in whatever Biblical book or subject interests him would demonstrate that he has ongoing talent. That he can handle questions. Challenges. Queries that he isn’t prepared for. In addition a single sermon shows he “won’t pass out” from standing behind the pulpit; a larger number presents him with a whole bunch of additional challenges.
A deacon might be tested by being
assigned some specific duty and successfully performing it over a designated
period of time. This would demonstrate
that he takes the role of deacon (servant) of the church seriously and is
someone you can count on not only today but tomorrow and next week and next
month as well. A quality you
unquestionably want him to have since the post of neither elder nor deacon has
an automatic and designated termination date built into it.
One can attempt to limit the “also” to the deacons alone: after all, it is not listed under the qualifications of elders, thereby limiting its application to deacons alone? Furthermore it is the sixth qualification for deacon with five others in front of it. But would it make any sense for Paul to expect that the person qualifying for a subordinate position should be tested and not the person for a more important one?
The person being tested in these ways does not yet occupy the post of either elder or deacon. He is simply carrying out the kind of tasks that would be expected of such a person when he does. J. W. McGarvey was making a similar point when he wrote:
Paul says of the deacons, “Let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless” (1 Timothy ). Some understand this to mean that the candidate for the deacon’s office shall be put to work in the duties of the office until it is ascertained whether he can perform them well or not, before he is ordained; and that the term also in the sentence refers back to the Elders previously mentioned, indicating the same in reference to them.
It should be observed, however, that Paul does not say that the proving he speaks of is to precede ordination, but to precede using the office. It would be reversing Paul’s order, therefore, to require the candidate to use the office as a means of proving him. Instead of proving him first, and then letting him use the office, it would be requiring him to use the office first of all.
In other words, if the testing fails it would envolve the paradox of “kicking him out” of an office after he is already in it--a situation that is totally avoided if the testing comes first.
“Being Found Blameless” ()
Comparative translations: “Blameless”
is widely retained (ESV, Holman, ISV,
NET, WEB). The NIV opts for the rather
vague “there is nothing against them.”
The qualitative element in blameless is stressed by wordings such as “if
he has a good reputation” (GW) and even more so by “if they are beyond
reproach” (NASB) and “when found to be of unblemished character” (
Arichea and Hatton’s translators’ guide notes that the Greek word “means ‘irreproachable’ and is a synonym for ‘above reproach’ in 3:2,” one of the qualifications for the eldership. “This is confirmed in the list of qualifications for elders in Titus 1:6-7 where Paul uses the same word for elders as he uses for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:10. Paul uses this same word for both deacons and elders.”
Of course the individual is far from perfect. But there is a profound difference between someone who gives every indication of not only striving to do the right thing, but also actually doing it as their daily norm . . . and the person who doesn’t really care all that much one way or the other. The first has a reputation of standing by his principles, of being “blameless” in behavior.
 The first time I came across a reference to this possibility was long after the initial draft of this section was written: John MacArthur, Church Leadership, “Deacons--Part 1.” (Accessed: July 2019).
 Chuck Smith, Bible Commentary on 1 Timothy, at:
https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/1-timothy.html. (Accessed: July 2019.) This is actually a collection of sermons though he gives the title “commentary” to what he says.
 H. Bernard, Greek Testament, on 3:11.
 David R. Pharr, “Qualifications of Elders.”
 Randy Blackabay, “Choosing
Elders (Part 6)—Elders’ Wives: The
Often-Overlooked Qualification” (part of the Knollwood
Church of Christ [
 Allen, 281.
 Witherington, Letters and Homilies, 240.
 Merkle, “Ecclesiology,” 191, makes both points.
 Donald G. Fleming (Bridgeway Bible Commentary) provides the Acts texts as examples of this, at:
https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/1-timothy.html. (Accessed: July 2019.)
 [Unidentified Author connected with La Vista Church of Christ], “What Qualifications Does an Elder Need That a Deacon Does Not?,” at: http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVanswers/2006/05-09.htm. (Accessed September 2016).
 Witherington, Letters and Homilies, 240.
 [Unidentified Author connected with La Vista Church of Christ], “An Elder Need That a Deacon Does Not?”
 [Unidentified Author connected with La Vista Church of Christ], “When Paul Speaks of ‘Faithful Children’ in Titus 1:6, Did He Mean Faithful to God or Faithful to the Parent?,” at: http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVanswers/2005/01-22.htm. (Accessed: September 2016).
 [Unidentified Author connected with La Vista Church of Christ], “An Elder Need That a Deacon Does Not?”
 [Unidentified Author connected with La Vista Church of Christ], “Must Elders Have More Than one Child?,” at: http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVanswers/2005/06-14.htm. (Accessed September 2016).
 Arichea and Hatton, 71-72.
 Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 3:8-13,” at:
Esco_lindsay%5Esco_lindsay.Timothy.16.html/at/I%20Timothy&nbsb;3:8-13. (Dated August 2009; accessed: July 2019.)
 Ivie Powell, “Qualifications of Elders and Deacons,” from the Gospel Gleaner, at: http://gospelgleaner.com/?page_id=807. (Accessed: September 2016).
 DeWelt, 68.
 John MacArthur, Church Leadership, “Deacons--Part 1.”
 Barton Johnson, People’s New Testament (online).
 Ron Graham, “Qualifications of Elders—Part 2.”
 Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 3:8-13.”
 Derek Gentle, “The Biblical Role of Deacons,” at: http://www.baptiststart.com/print/role_of_deacons.html. (accessed: October 2016).
 John MacArthur, “Key Questions About Deacons.”
 Derek, “Deacons.”
 Allison, “Deacons (Part One).”
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 227.
 Steve J. Cole, “Servants: Official And Otherwise (1 Timothy 3:8-13),” at:
https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-10-servants-official-and-otherwise-l-timothy-38-13. (Preached 1994; published April 2013; accessed: July 2019). Links at Bible.org.
 Ron Daniel, “1 Timothy 3:1-13.”
 Keathley, “Qualifications.”
 Bratcher, 31.
 Ibid, 31, also embraces the “sincere” rendering as an appropriate one.
A. McMickle, Deacons in Today’s Black Church (
 Rich Cather, “1 Timothy 3:8-16,” at:
http://www.calvaryfullerton.org/Bstudy/54%201Ti/2018/54%201Ti%2003b.htm. (Preached: February 2018; accessed: July 2019).
 Kretzmann, Popular Commentary, online.
 From Christian Herald magazine as reprinted in Joseph S. Exell, Biblical Illustrator.
 [Unidentified Author], “The Requirements of a Deacon (I Timothy 3: 8-13),” at: http://www.pulpitpages.com/uploads/9/5/3/2/9532717/2._the_requirements_of_a_deacon_-_1_tim.38-13.pdf. (Accessed: October 2016).
 Ron Daniel, “1 Timothy 3:1-13.”
Duggan, “Americans Still Favor Beer Over Other Alcoholic Beverages,” Well-Being
https://news.gallup.com/poll/238100/americans-favor-beer-alcoholic-beverages.aspx. (Accessed: December 2019). The poll does not explain the missing 1%.
 David Lipnowski, “We Brewed an Ancient Graeco-Roman Beer and Here’s How It Tasted” (The Conversation website), at:
tastes-94362. (Accessed December 2019.) The article elaborates on how they
successfully recreated the beer in
 Vincent, Word Studies.
 Rich Cather, “1 Timothy 3:8-16.”
A. Mudd, Constructive Drinking in the Roman
Empire: The First to Third Centuries A.D
(PhD dissertation at the
 Lucian of Samosata, “Timon the Misanthrope, 53-54, from The Works of Lucian of Samosata, translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1905), part of the online Lucian of Samosata Project, at: http://lucianofsamosata.info/TimonTheMisanthrope.html. (Accessed: November 2016.)
 Johnson, Letters, 227.
 John MacArthur, Church Leadership, “Part 2.”
 McMickle, Deacons, 27.
 Witherington, Letters and Homilies, 241.
 Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” 367.
 Coffman, Commentary, online.
 Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” 367-368.
 Arichea and Hatton, 74.
 McGarvey, Eldership, 74.
 Arichea Hatton, 74.
 Allison, “Deacons (Part Two).”