Deacons: Are They Biblical?

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Question: Are deacons biblical?

Answer: Yes; the office of deacon is set forth as ordinary and perpetual in 1 Timothy 3:8–13, Philippians 1:1, Acts 6:1–6, and Romans 16:1.

In 1 Timothy 3:8–13, Paul identifies two offices of government in the church: “the office of overseer” (1 Tim 3:1) and “deacons likewise” (1 Tim. 3:8). Deacons must meet certain qualifications, mostly pertaining to high moral character. Candidates for the office of deacon must “be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (1 Tim. 3:10). Faithful deacons are promised a great reward (1 Tim. 3:13). The office of deacon is as clearly defined as the office of overseer (aka elder/pastor).

Philippians 1:1 identifies the same two offices of government: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” The office of deacon is once again set forth as ordinary and perpetual in the church. Romans 16:1 identifies Phoebe as “a deacon [diakonos] of the church in Cenchreae” (NIV). While some translations call her a “servant,” it is most likely that she was an ordained servant, that is, someone appointed to the office of deacon.

Acts 6:1–6 records the institution of the office of deacon (aka the Diaconate) by the apostles. When a practical need threatened to distract the church’s primary teaching officers from “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4), seven men of high moral character were chosen and formally appointed or ordained “to serve tables” (diakoneō, from which we derive the word “deacon” or “servant”). Deacons are formal servants who care for the church’s external/practical needs so that the church’s primary teaching officers (overseers/elders/pastors) can focus on the church’s internal/spiritual needs.

The church has always believed that deacons are biblical and that it is the responsibility of every church to appoint qualified deacons according to Christ’s revealed will for his church’s governance. For more on how the Bible’s teaching about deacons has been understood throughout church history and in the Methodist tradition, see the resources linked below or search “deacons” at holyjoys.org.

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of holyjoys.org. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.