My Thoughts. . .
Monday, May 27, 2019
“Deacons (diakonos/διακονος) likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain” (1 Timothy 3:8 RSV) . . . “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess (diakonon/διακονον) of the church at Cen’chre-ae” (Romans 16:1 RSV).
Timothy is with the church in Ephesus and Phoebe (Phebe) is with the one in Cenchreae. Were there men and women “deacons” in the Cenchreae congregation? Since Phebe is in Rome and Paul is addressing her “business,” the Roman church is familiar with her work and capable of supplying that assistance. The RSV and NRSV are the only major English translations that render diakonon as “deaconess” or “deacon.” All others primarily translate it as “servant.” Some have accused these two versions of heresy due to that translation.
The Greek words diakonos/diakoneo/diakonon are translated as “servant, minister, or deacon.” The word “deacons” is found 3 times, servant 8, and minister 20. The singular word “deacon” is found twice. All forms of “deacon/deacons” are in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 with the exception of another plural form located in Philippians 1:1. The word “deacon” in its singular and plural form are not translated. They are transliterated. This means the King James translation committee did not translate those three similar words but gave them an English spelling and ending. They also did this with the Greek word baptizo. They did not translate the Greek word baptizo because the Anglican Church primarily practiced sprinkling and pouring. The words diakonos/diakoneo/diakonon are correctly translated as “servant” or “minister.”
Why did the King James committee transliterate rather than translate and create this special word “deacon”? A deacon in the Anglican Church was an official position occupied by men who were ordained to work as assistants to the priests. This “official” position was recognized not as a “servant” but as a special church position with this special title. This ecclesiastical title was continued in all major English translations that followed. If the King James and following versions had been consistent, the word “deacon(s)” would not appear. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 would have the word “servant(s)” or “minister(s).” If the word “deacon(s)” is a valid translation of those three Greek words, each time those words appeared in Greek, all such passages could have been translated as “deacon(s).” Then we would read of those men in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 being called deacon(s), but so would Timothy, Paul, Jesus, Phebe, and a host of others be referred to as deacons. No one would fault either the RSV nor the NRSV and charge both with heresy if that consistency had prevailed.
The King James committee wasn’t satisfied with transliterating, they also ADDED the word “office” to 1 Timothy 3’s qualifications. It is a man-made rather than an inspired one. The men mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and Philippians 1:1 were men who were assigned different works. The King James Version is responsible for substituting an ecclesiastical title and honor for the work of those specific servants in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. That has cause future generations to continue to be misled with that historical mistake. Traditions can embed themselves so deeply into our psyche, that it is almost impossible for truth to penetrate that barrier.
Were Timothy, Paul, Jesus, or Phebe the same kind of servants as those described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13? No. There are two qualifications that would eliminate Jesus, Timothy, Paul, and Phebe from being appointed to that specific work. The qualifications are 1) “the husband of one wife” and they must have “children” (1 Timothy 3:11-12). That being the case, is the RSV and NRSV correct in translating the Greek word diakonon as deaconess or deacon? The answer is, “Yes.” Why? Because the word simply means “servant” or “minister.” In fact, every Christian is a “servant,” “minister,” or “deacon.’ Yet, every Christian is not the same kind of servant, minister, or deacon as those described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13!
Timothy worked with the church in Ephesus. He and Titus were given instructions concerning certain men that needed to be ordained in Ephesus and in Crete as elders. This too is a special kind of work. Titus did not receive the qualifications of those who would be appointed as 1 Timothy 3:8-13 servants. Only Timothy did. Just as the qualifications for these male servants is missing from Titus’ letter, the qualifications for women servants is missing from both. That absence does not exclude women as servants of the church, anymore that Paul’s silence to Titus excluded the 1 Timothy 3:8-13 servants from the work in Crete.
Much discussion has surfaced over whether a congregation may appoint women to be female servants in their congregation. One thing is certain, Phebe was a servant in the church in Cenchreae. When she was in Rome, the church there did not go into a mad frenzy over her being a female servant nor rebuke Paul for saying she was one. From those few statements, we may conclude that there were both male and female servants in some congregations. No females occupied the work described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. We see three kinds of “servant(s) or minister(s)” in the first century congregations. 1). Men who qualified as 1 Timothy 3:8-13 servants. 2). Other male members who were servants or ministers, like Timothy, Paul, and other men. 3). Women like Phebe.
The entire problem originated from the KJV adding a “special” definition to the Greek word diakonos/diakonon, diakoneo. We’ve had female servants in the church in our lifetime, but do not usually refer to them as “female servants or ministers.” That is our shortcoming. We use modern de-scripts, such as Bible class teachers, secretaries, and youth directors for primary and middle school children. If we continued to use the 1611 King James jargon, we would refer to those working women as deaconesses.
Tradition is a monster which continues to roam among us today (1 Peter 5:8).