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Bishops and Deacons

(Overseers and Servants)

Men and Women

"Bishop. [Gr. episkopos, 'overseer'] As used in the NT this term generally refers to a person serving as an 'overseer,' 'superintendent,' or 'guardian' over the church. Once (1Pe. 2:25, KJV) it is used of Christ the guardian of souls. The 'overseers' or 'guardians' (Gr. episkopoi) of Acts 20:28 are called 'elders' (Gr. presbuteroi) in v. 17. Such an interchangeableness of the two terms is attested by Chrysostom, who died in 407. He stated that in older times the elders were called overseers (or bishops) of Christ (First Homily on Epistle to the Philippians 1, in Minge, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 62, col. 183). Clement of Rome, who lived in the 1st cent. seems to confirm this (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corintians, ch. 44).

The character requirements and duties of a bishop are plainly outlined in 1 Ti. 3:2-7. An examination of these duties shows that originally he was not at all invested with the authority that some later possessors of that office assumed." SDA Bible Dictionary p. 147.

"Deacon. [Gr. diakonos, 'servant', 'helper.'] An official of the church whose qualifications are described in 1 Ti. 3:8-13. It is generally believed that the incident narrated in Acts 6:1-6 is a record of the institution of the office, although the name 'deacon' does not there appear. As a result of complaints that the Hellenistic Jewish widows in the church at Jerusalem were not receiving their share of daily relief, 'seven men of honest report' were selected to supervise the distribution of food, clothing, etc. (vs. 3,5,6). These men did not limit themselves to these duties, but labored also in active evangelistic work (v. 8; ch. 8:5, 26-40). In certain Protestant churches today the deacons are a lower order of the clergy rather than laymen charged chiefly with the temporal affairs of the church, and may officiate as church pastors." id. 261.

"Deaconess. A term appearing once (Rom 16:1, RSV), the rendering of the Gr. diakonos, here a feminine noun which means literally 'servant' or 'helper.' Phebe is mentioned as a diakonos of the church at Cenchrea. The word and its usage in this text suggests that the office of deaconess may have been established in the church at the time Paul wrote the book of Romans." id.

"Minister. In the OT generally the translation of a form of the Heb. sharath, 'to serve,' which term is applied: (1) to the attendants of a royal court, as in the case of those who served Solomon (1 Ki. 10:5; RSV 'servants'); (2) to the attendant of a person of high rank or office, in the sense in which Joshua ministered to Moses (Jos. 1:1); (3) to the priests and Levites, who were the 'ministers of Jehovah' as they served in the sanctuary and the Temple (Eze. 44:11; Joel 1:9, 13; etc.); (4) to the angels (Ps. 103:21; 104:4).

In the NT the term 'minister' is the translation of: (1) The Gr. huperetes, literally, an 'under-rower (from hupo, 'under,' and eretes, 'rower') of a galley,' and, by extension, 'a helper,' or 'subordinate,' acting voluntarily under another direction, as in the case of the minister (RSV 'attendant') of the Nazareth synagogue, who brought to Jesus the scroll of the prophet Isaiah for the scripture reading (Lk. 4:20), and John Mark, who ministered to Paul and Barnabas during the 1st Missionary Journey (Acts 13:5). (2) The Gr. leitourgos, ' one who discharges a public office,' 'a public servant.' This term is used mainly with religious connotations, as in the case of (a) Christ as a 'minister of the sanctuary' in heaven (Heb. 8:2); (b) the apostle Paul as an evangelist to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:16); (c) government officials who, though they do not all act consciously as God's representatives, fulfill certain functions ordained of God so that they are designated as 'God's ministers' (ch. 13:6). (3) The Gr. diakonos, 'a servant,' not as a standing in society, but as to activity, 'an attendant;' as of Timothy (1 Th. 3:2), Paul and Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5), and Tychicus (Eph. 6:21) as gospel ministers. Diakonos is also used of a church deacon, but when so used is translated 'deacon' (Php. 1:1; 1 Ti. 3:8, 12). In general, huperetes refers to a minister in relation to his superior, leitourgos in relation to his public responsibilities, and diakonos in relation to his work. All 3 terms are employed of ministers of the gospel. (4) The Gr. dunastes (Acts 8:27, RSV), 'a court official.' " id. 722.

NOTE: An important fact is absent from the above list concerning the word diakonosdeacon. That is, that said term is also applied to Jesus in Rom. 15:8, where it is translated "Minister," instead of "Deacon." This is important regarding the true nature and position of the leadership in the church. That is, if Christ, the "Head" of the church is called a "Deacon" ("Diakonon"), why has this office become so secondary in most denominations? As we will see, it is because men have stripped the word of its fundamental meaning, and instead covered it with shades of meaning of their own devisings in order to exalt some, and subordinate others. Also, the exact same form of diakonos (Diakonon) is applied to Jesus in Rom. 15:8 as is applied to Phebe (a woman) in Rom. 16.1.

"Elder. [Heb. zaqen; Gr. presbuteros.] ...The term 'elder' is applied to a member of the Christian church in Acts 11:30, where reference is made to certain church leaders in Judea. A comparison of Acts 20:17 with v 28 (cf. also 1 Ti. 3:2-7; Tit. 1:5-9) seems to indicate that the terms presbuteros and episkopos, literally 'overseer,' generally translated 'bishop,' are used synonymously (in Acts 20:28 episkopos is rendered 'overseer,' KJV, and 'guardian,' RSV). Thus the qualifications and offices of an elder and bishop would be the same..." id. 301.

The Order of the Ministry (diakonia)

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry(diakonia), for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." Eph. 4:11-14.

"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." 1 Cor. 12:28.

"They continued stedfastly in the apostle's doctrine..." Acts 2:42.

"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." Eph. 2:19,20.

"(...the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;... Whereof I [Paul] was made a minister (diakonosdeacon)..." Eph. 3:4,5,7

It is clear from the foregoing that the "doctrines" and "practices" of the church are established by "apostles" and "prophets," and by them alone. They are the ones to whom the "gift" has been given. The "evangelists," "pastors," and "teachers," are gifts given to promulgate the doctrines brought forth by the "Spirit of Prophecy" through the apostles and prophets.

Who is included in the "ministry" (diakonia) of the gospel? Is it exclusive to men? Are women permitted to "minister" (diakoneo) only in some lower "order" or function? What does the Bible actually say regarding "the ministry" – diakonia? Let's see.

Since it has been admitted that there were women who were ordained as "deaconesses" (diakonon) in the apostolic church, and in many churches today, we shall examine this "office" first. Here is what the Catholic Church has to say about the history of deaconesses.

"There...can be no question that the deaconesses in the fourth and fifth centuries had a distinct and ecclesiastical standing, though there are traces of much variety and custom.... Further it is certain that a ritual was in use for the ordination of deaconesses by the laying on of hands which closely modeled on the ritual for the ordination of a deacon. For example the Apostolic Constitutions say: 'Concerning a deaconess, I Bartholomew enjoin, O Bishop, thou shalt lay thy hands upon her with all the Presbytery and the Deacons and the Deaconesses and thou shalt say: Eternal God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of man and woman, that didst fill with the Spirit Mary and Deborah, and Anna and Huldah, that didst not disdain that thine only begotten Son should be born of a woman; Thou that in the tabernacle of witness and in the temple didst appoint women guardians of thy holy gates: Do Thou now look on this thy handmaiden, who is appointed unto the office of a Deaconess and grant unto her the holy Spirit, and cleanse her from all pollution of the flesh and of the spirit, that she may worthily accomplish the work committed unto her, to thy glory and the praise of thy Christ.' " The Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 651 This is not in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

There are three indicative forms of the word diakonos, which appear in the New Testament. They are (1) diakonos – which refers to the worker, (it also spelled diakonon, and diakonoi – plural) (2) diakoneo – which refers to the work, (3) diakonia – which refers to the office of the work of the worker.

(1) Diakonos, in its varied forms, appears 30 times and is translated "minister(s)" 20 times, "servant(s)" 7 times, and "deacons" 3 times. It is applied to Jesus (Rom.15:8), Paul and Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5), Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21, Col. 4:7), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), Phebe, a woman (Ro. 16:1), civil rulers (Ro. 13:4), and devils (2 Co. 11:15).

Since there is only one basic word in the Greek, why is there more than one word in the translation – minister, servant, deacon? There is no contextual support for different "shades" of meaning in this word. It's varied translations are based on the presumptions and opinions of the translators, and their efforts to establish a foundation for the practices of their day. If diakonos is translated "minister" when refering to Jesus and Paul, then it must also be translated "minister" when in reference to Phebe, a woman, and not "servant," as it has been. It has only been because of false interpretations of the role of women in the ministry (diakonia) of the gospel that this perversion exists. Similarly, if it is translated "deacon" in some places (which is a true transliteration of the word), then it should also be translated such when applied to Jesus and Phebe.

Likewise in 1 Tim. 3:8, to maintain uniformity of translation, "deacons" should be translated "ministers." To maintain the true meaning uniformity is absolutely necassary. It would not be confusing at all to refer to "ministers" as "deacons," or "servants," for that is the original meaning of the one word diakonos . It has been by introducing, and maintaining the different words that caused so much confusion in the order of the ministry, and usurped the position of women in the gospel ministry. Why is Phebe called "servant," and Paul, and others, are called "ministers," if not for the fact that translators (who are all men) have chosen to do so in order to suppress the truth, and maintain the unequal status quo?

(2) Diakoneo appears 37 times and is translated "(ad)minister(ed)(ing)" 25 times, "(to)serve(ed), that (doth) serveth" 10 times, and "office of a deacon" 2 times. The work is applied equally to men and woman (Matt. 8:15, Mk. 1:31, Lu. 4:39, 8:3, 10:40, Jn. 12:2).

In 1 Tim. 3:10 &13, the singular words diakoneitosan (v. 10), and diakonesantes (v. 13), are translated into whole phrases, "let them use the office of a deacon," and, "that have used the office of a deacon," respectively. The words "the office of a" are not in the Greek nor actually supported by the context. If the translators had maintained uniformity in translation, these verses would read as follows: "let them minister" (v.10), and "that have ministered" (v. 13).

(3) Diakonia appears 34 times and is translated "(ad)ministr(y)(ation)(ing)" 28 times, "serv(ice)(ing) 4 times, "relief" once, and "office" once. Again, when speaking of the "ministering" of Paul, Timothy, and other men the word is translated "ministry," while when used in connection of a woman (Martha – Lu. 10:40) it is translated "serving."

That there are only two main "offices" in the ministration of the gospel, and that all other callings fall within these two catagories, and that, at times, they are even interchangeable (that is, that one person can simultaneously hold both "offices") can be seen from a comparison of the people who have held those "offices."

The word "pastor" (Eph.4:11), poimeen, is translated "shepherd(s)" in all other places.

(1) Jesus – Apostle (Heb. 3:1), Bishop (1 Pet. 2:25), Shepherd [Pastor] (1 Pet. 2:25, Heb. 13:20), Minister [diakonos - Deacon] (Rom. 15:8).

(2) Paul – apostle (Rom. 1:1, 1 Cor. 1:1, etc.), deacon (1 Cor. 3:5, Eph. 3:7), minister [huperetes ] (Acts 26:16), [leitourgos ] (Rom. 15:16).

(3) Apollos – apostle (1 Thes. 1:1, 2:6), deacon (1 Cor. 3:5), minister (1 Cor. 4:1).

(4) Timothy – apostle (1 Thes. 1:1, 2:6), elder [presbuteroi ] (Tit. 1:5), deacon (1 Tim. 4:6).

(5) Judas – apostle (one of the original twelve), bishop (Acts 1:20).

Since Judas had a "bishoprick" which he lost, then by implication, all of the other apostles also had "bishopricks." They were all episkopos, overseers, superintendants, guardians, bishops.

In 1 Tim. 5:1, where it is written "Rebuke not an elder," the Greek word is presbutero, while in v. 2, where it is written "elder woman," the Greek word is presbuteras, a single word, which the feminine form of the one in v. 1. Not only were there female deacons (such as Phebe), but there were also female "elders." As noted in the definitions quoted earlier, presbutero (elder) is used synonymously with episkopos (bishop).

The New Testament testifies to at least five women who were endowed with the Spirit of Prophecy; Anna (Lu. 2:36), and the four daughters of Phillip (Acts 21:8,9). Prophets (male or female) are listed second to apostles in the order of the ministry of the gospel. If God ordains woman to the second highest calling in the ministry, that of prophetesses, then on what authority can men honestly forbid women from the other positions of responsibility such as, elders, pastors, and administrative personnel; conference leaders (general or local), and "ministers" in general? According to strict Bible usage, there are no "ministers" who are not "deacons," and the highest Deacon is Jesus (Rom. 15:8).

In the establishment of the remnant church God chose a young woman, Ellen G. White, to be His messenger. At that time women were not thought of as being used by God in any position of leadership in the ministry of the gospel. This thinking God had to correct. The history of following God's leading through whomever He may choose, and the results of choosing to follow men's private ideas, without the gift of inspiration, can be clearly seen from the history of the keeping of the Sabbath in the beginning of the movement. It was God, who through a woman had to correct the time of the commencement and ending of the Sabbath, because men, specifically Joseph Bates, kept getting it wrong, because of presumptuous reasonings. That is, the leading men said it was to be kept from 6:00 pm to 6:00 pm, rather than from sunset to sunset. That was the practice for their first ten years.

Therefore, we must allow the Holy Spirit of truth in to correct this matter as it applies to women, and the work, privileges, and responsibilities of those currently called "deacons" especially in regards to matters such as the ordinances of the Lord's house.

Yours, for the restoration of all things,

Doug Mitchell

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